Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year!

The last 2 months have been a crazy blur - we went to the SEMA convention in Las Vegas for Subietech (our first business trip ever!), made some wonderful new friends to spend the holidays with, took a little vacation to Palm Springs and Los Angeles, and then I got sicker than sick with Stevens Johnson Syndrome (don't google it, it's disgusting). I was laid up for weeks, and I'll be recovering well into 2016. On the bright side, it has given me a new zest for life, and a lot of time to reflect on things we would like to do in the new year!

SEMA is pretty boring if you don't like cars...

Red Rocks National Park - a.k.a. what I did while Mike was at SEMA.

When we first moved to Bend and changed our lifestyle, we imagined we'd have lots of land and be starting a homestead where we worked to feed ourselves. A year and a half later, we realize that our idyllic daydreams were A: unrealistically ambitious for an urban couple, and B: not what we really wanted. What we really wanted was to live lightly on the earth (as much as possible in the modern world) and to know exactly where our food comes from (grow/raise *some* of it), while living reasonably close to culture/fine dining, an airport, and a hospital. We still want to travel, play with our pets, have afternoon tea, and take naps (that last part is all me). If you own a true homestead, there is no time for any of that. 

And, we actually cannot afford a farm. Farmers are secretly rich. Seriously. Farm equipment and buildings are crazy expensive.

Homesteading: the dream

Homesteading: our reality - pets, camping, foraging, and the pear tree.

We accomplished a lot in 2015 towards our goals - we remodeled our fixer upper with all eco-friendly appliances, got the compost bins built (reducing our trash), tidied up the yard, put up a fence, and started keeping chickens. I also found all sorts of local sources for produce, honey, bread, and meat. Of course there are lots more things we can do better, and we will definitely keep trying to do so. For one thing, I'm going to can and preserve a bunch more food for winter 2016, and figure out a place to store it.

Our new bunnies - just pets, not meat.

We also added 6 new family members! Introducing LDP, short for Lou Diamond Phillips, the big dark bunny on the right, and Momo (which means "peach" in Japanese, or "dumpling" in other languages, either of which is appropriate!), our little gray bun on the left. They are in a temporary pen on some very temporary linoleum in our living room, until we can build them proper, modern living quarters. LDP is part Flemish Giant, and is larger than the kitties, which amuses us to no end.

The other 4 family members are of course, the chickens, who live in a very expensive coop in the side yard. In retrospect, however, the expense was well worth it. They've been snug, safe, and warm all winter, and while we watch those who built cheaper coops and runs struggle with snow, predators, collapses and fires, we are grateful we splurged and built something extremely sturdy and insulated. 

One major goal for 2016 - clear this demolished deck and make a patio!
What does 2016 have in store? Well, I finally got my sewing machine unpacked, so there's a world of curtains, quilting, and other things to get started on. We are having the yard excavated and spring will bring us a blank slate to begin building on. We'll be planting a new fruit tree, a variety of berries, and building raised beds from our demolished deck pieces...and then there's a patio to learn (i.e. Google how to) to pave. Not to mention gardening, round two - I hope to redeem myself from 2015's failures. While we do have trips planned, I think 2016 will be a year where we concentrate on staying home and feathering our nest. We're starting to get more involved with things in Bend, and we're meeting people with the same ideas and values that we have. There's definitely something to be said for creating a little home to be happy in, and building a community to be happy with. Wishing everyone happiness and fulfillment in 2016!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Oregon is Ridiculous.

I'd never been to Oregon, or even looked at pictures of Oregon, before I moved here last year. I think that Oregonians do a really great job of keeping this place a secret. It is just unbelievably beautiful here, and since we live pretty much smack dab in the middle of the state, we can be anywhere in Oregon in about 3 hours.

It's chanterelle season, and our schedules allowed us to plan a random Wednesday off to go mushroom hunting. This is our second chanterelle season, and we are slowly learning what type of environment these mushrooms favor. Of course, I usually get totally distracted from hunting, because the forest is just completely surreal. I feel like I'm in some contrived movie set. It's cool and quiet, there are no bugs (seriously!), and everything is soft, lush, and green. 

Imagine being completely surrounded by this, no other humans in sight.

I wish I could share the smell. Fresh, clean, totally oxygenated.

I found the first chanterelle of the season, and it was a big one! I was pretty proud of myself.

Chanterelles are a weird mushroom in that they like a little bit of sun. A lot of times we find them on slopes, or in a bare patch of ground, but always near trees, and usually in groups. They are social that way.

The un-cool thing about them is that they have these gills that just trap dirt. It's a lot of work to clean them, cook them, and freeze them when you get home (this is one mushroom that is awful dehydrated). But hey, that's better than paying $38-$40/pound for them, fresh.

Another pretty forest shot!

We met a little forest friend on the way. It's a rough-skinned newt, which are really common on the west side of the Cascade Mountains (the rainy side). They're lethally poisonous, but only if you eat them. They're safe to pick up and are super cute with orange or yellow bellies. 

Golden chanterelles - my favorite - poking up out of the dirt.

We hit up Proxy Falls on our way back to Bend, which is only accessible from late May to late October. The trail to get there is about 1/2 mile. The full trail is a loop, takes you past two waterfalls, and is only 1.5 miles in total. Completely worth it, and an easy hike.

We looped to the right, which ascends through a cinder rock field, covered in moss.

Next was an old growth forest, with a well maintained trail.

We weren't really prepared for what the falls looked like. They were STUNNING. And so much larger than we could have imagined. And just....well, magical. We were hungry and tired from hiking 5 miles that morning, and we still sat there for a good 30 minutes, just breathing it all in.

For perspective, Mike is sitting on that log at the bottom of the falls, in a dark plaid flannel shirt. You can just barely see him to the right of the middle of the picture.

The moss to the left of the falls kept making me think there was a rainbow in my picture!

Close up shot, standing under the falls.

Oregon continues to amaze us, every day. There are so many places we still haven't seen yet, but we're knocking them off the list, one by one. It'll take us at least a few years to see everything in this state, so we might be here for awhile!

The Three Sisters mountains, seen as we passed over Mt Washington on our way home.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Feathering Our Nest - With Chickens

One of my daydreams, once I had a yard, was to get chickens and have fresh eggs. If you have researched anything about homesteading, then you know that almost everyone has chickens (if not goats, sheep, cows, pigs, ducks, geese, etc.). So we jumped on the urban-backyard-farmer/homesteader bandwagon and started building a chicken coop. 

Luckily, we have awesome friends! Josh and Bernice pitched in to help us build our ambitious coop and run, which turned out being a lot more expensive and labor intensive than we realized. But it was a great lesson in construction. We situated it in our side yard, in between the compost bin and the pear tree.

Building the frame - after a whole day of digging the foundation.

Working on the floor of the coop

Harvesting pears while the guys are working on the coop

In case you're wondering how we figured out how to build a coop, we solved that as we solve all our problems - by Googling it. I researched the hell out of coops and chickens, learning as much as I could about their needs, health problems, climates, etc. After hours upon hours of staring at the computer screen, I concluded that it was well worth the $30 to pay for plans - so we bought the "Garden Coop," which you can find online. It's very well designed and super easy to alter, customize, and make to suit your space and budget. 

Mike made it all pretty with cedar siding, to match the fence.

Part of the roof and wire up, and Bernice staining the wood

We got all fancy on the inside - painted the walls a cheerful yellow and insulated them with styrofoam packing stuff (so proud of repurposing the styrofoam from all our boxes!). We also cut way bigger doors than they proposed, and laid vinyl parquet tile floors, for ease of cleaning. Turns out this was great foresight, because I clean the coop every day. I can't stand poop.

The inside of the coop after we laid the vinyl tiles and painted

Almost done! We got a proper lock for the human door and finished the roof
and the siding on the coop wall that faces the run. The chickens also get
to forage around the side yard, pear tree, and compost bins every day.

Learning about chickens has been fun and life-changing. Chickens can be nasty. The term, "pecking order" really has meaning now. Their hierarchy isn't a pyramid; it's a linear line. There is one top chicken, and everyone else falls in line below, and there truly is a bottom chicken on the totem pole. It took us a little bit of time (and some re-homing of a little tiny fluffball chicken we named "Death Metal" because she was so mean) to get the balance just right. We still have one "bully" chicken (the 2nd to last on the hierarchy), but no one is bleeding and for the most part, they like each other.

Upper left is our best layer - about 5 eggs/week. The white is the sweetest,
the silver (lower left) is the mean one, and the littlest one (lower right) is the smartest!

I'm not sure if we'll end up naming them. Chickens are weird little creatures - pretty closely related to dinosaurs, actually - and although ours are all friendly and you can pet them and pick them up, there is something really primitive and savage about them. Did you know they can cannibalize each other and their eggs? 

Regardless, we do nothing but the best for them. I clean their coop and run every single day, we spend hours playing with them in the backyard, and we sprout and ferment all their food. Everything they eat is organic, whole grains or veggies, non-soy, non-corn, and real (I don't believe in those pellets, crumbles or "feed" you buy in the store - it looks too much like kitty litter). 

Fermented grains in the jars, and sprouting mung beans, lentils and wheat.

Despite all this, Mike is still weirded out by the fact that the egg comes out of a chicken's butt. The first egg tasted like tuna fish because I had been feeding them tuna (high protein) to help them through molting season. After that, we switched to an all vegetarian (plus bugs) diet, and they get greek yogurt, peas, lentils and sprouted beans for protein, plus these disgusting mealworms that I've been raising in a bin - I won't gross you out with a picture of that. The eggs taste MUCH better now. But Mike still isn't a fan because now we know how dirty chickens can be, and we see how eggs are produced. I'm slightly weirded out but less so (I've eaten some pretty crazy stuff in my life), and even though I think bugs are THE WORST, chickens can turn earwigs, spiders, and mealworms into some pretty yummy eggs!

Seeing where our food comes from makes me believe that if we got more involved, like raising a pig, goat, sheep, cow, etc, it'd be pretty easy to go vegetarian or even vegan. It's so easy to eat something that's packaged pristinely in the grocery store. You never see the poop and the blood and the feathers and the fur. There's a lot of labor, and life, and sweat and dirt that goes into making a meal. If it's this disgusting on an organic-free range-happy life level, imagine how gross it is on an industrial-battery cage-stockyard level.

We've had the chickens about one month now, and our conclusion...

It's been super educational, in terms of getting to know your food and learning about the care of another animal. We'll have to have chickens for at least a year or two to "re-coop" expenses (see what I did there?), but they're relatively inexpensive to maintain, even doing all organic, non-soy, non-corn, *true* free range. I'd say that our 4 chickens probably cost about $20/month. This just about breaks even for what I'd pay in the store for free-range organic eggs ($4.50-$5.00/dozen large), but I have peace of mind knowing exactly what is in my eggs, I can control the nutritional content of the eggs through what I'm feeding the chickens, I know the chickens are truly happy, safe, and loved, and they are really fun to have. We'll see how we feel after a year! 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Living That "Bend" Life

It's been a crazy fall involving more than a few camping trips, chickens (that's for a later post), and our never ending house and yard remodel. We've been making a conscious effort to enjoy the "Bend Life," and get out there to do what we couldn't do when we were working all the time. Sometimes I still feel anxiety about not being "productive enough," or getting things accomplished around the house or yard. And I do still stress about money. But then I remind myself that our house projects will still be there tomorrow, and I can always go in to the office a few extra hours if I want. Life is short and precious, and what's important is getting out there and enjoying it!

With that in mind, we took advantage of Bernice and Josh's visit over Labor Day weekend to go camping at Crater Lake in Morty. We loved it so much, we went back the following weekend with our local friends. It's a gorgeous and well maintained National Park that is only 1.5 hours from our house, and their campground has flushing toilets, showers, a restaurant and a camp store.

Crater Lake was smoky from the wildfires. That's Wizard Island in the middle.

The smoke didn't detract from the gorgeous turquoise water!

Mike and Morty enjoying the view.

Mike purchased another vehicle, a Subaru Sambar, a right-hand drive tiny truck from Japan. It's mostly for work and has been helpful for the house, but it's also a fun little truck that we can take off-roading and camping. To say that Mike loves this truck is an understatement.

All set up with the hammock to watch the blood moon eclipse

good perspective pic of how small the Sambar is! Pic by Ken Bethe

A peek at Broken Top from our campsite

The Sambar all set up for sleeping in the back!

Snowing! pic by Ken Bethe

We were lucky to catch snow already this season - we woke up to big fat flakes! The pic above shows some of the people we went camping with; other local shop owners and van enthusiasts. I'm in the black puffy jacket and winter hat - Mike and I are always prepared when it involves winter camping, and we were toasty despite sleeping with just a tarp over us.

And since it's now fall mushroom season, we got out there for a couple scouting trips. It was gorgeous and even when we find only a few mushrooms, we still get a nice walk.

Hiking around Suttle Lake

Mountains, forests, and lakes - we never get tired of this view.

Some super cool volcanic rocks covered in moss - that's Mike at the top!

I've been watching the weather reports so hopefully I'll target the right place at the right time and we'll find ourselves some chanterelles. 

Stay tuned for our next post when I introduce our new little chicken friends!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What We Did On Our Summer Break

I can't believe how fast the summer went - my last post was in early June and it's already mid August! Whoops. I guess we just got wrapped up in home life here in Bend. Although it doesn't feel like we're getting much done, when I look back on the last couple months, we have been moving forward, slowly but surely.

We've taken a little break from interior home remodeling and moved our attention to the outside, which is really refreshing. The inside stuff started to feel like homework.

Mike mowing the lawn with our new lawn mower.
We put in an all new fence, which you can see was desperately needed! The old fence was original from 1992, had never been taken care of, and the posts were just plain wood, so it blew down in a storm we had in February (our neighbors put up the lovely black plastic to show where their property line is). 

Side fence and back corner, before

Side fence and back corner, after

Mike did all the work of clearing the yard, getting rid of the weeds, raking up the gravel, and supervising the fence guys (who we found off Craigslist - we never learn). They weren't the most professional, but hey, they did the heavy lifting. And now our yard is a blank slate to start designing!

Back yard and fence, before

Back yard and fence, after

One thing I'm working on is making our whole yard edible. In with food - out with grass (mostly). We will have one little area of grass in a shady spot in the backyard, where the cats can lounge. But I'd like for everywhere else to have native plants or fruit/veggie/food bearing flora, and pavers/woodchips/etc. 

We have a good starting point with our fruit trees. We've got three - red plum, large crabapple, and Bartlett pear. The plum tree is being strangled by an aspen, and our neighbor hates the crabapple (and keeps bribing us to remove it), but the pear tree is doing well.

the plum tree in the background and the one delicious plum I ate!

the crabapple tree - I'm going to attempt crabapple jelly.

the pear tree in July

the first pears I picked, in mid August

I'm already learning so much about pears - for one, they have to be picked unripened, because otherwise they ripen from the inside out, and get all mealy. You turn them 90 degrees and if they snap off the tree easily, they're ready to be picked. Then you put them in cold storage, and after that, take them out as you want to ripen them. Whew! If you want to can or preserve them, that's a whole other process (which I'm going to attempt here in a few weeks).

In the meantime, we have lots of fallen, wormy pears and crabapples, so we got going on our compost bin. Mike built it from all the scrap wood and leftovers we had from the fence.

Having a garage is the best!

Framing it out - these are leftover 2x4 scraps.

Creating sides with leftover fencing strips

repurposed the old fence for slats in the front, which slide in and out

I love that the sides and the top are all thin slats, I think it gives what could be a very rustic and disgusting compost bin, a little bit of modern urban flair. 

Mike in his handiwork!

In the backyard and ready to be filled!

We still have to get some chicken wire or something for in between each bin, but I have already started filling box #1. I saw this method online and it sounded awesome - basically you start with one box, and once it's filled, move on to box #2. At some point, you can shovel out box #1 and dump it into the next empty box (hence the sliding front pieces). This way it gets turned/aerated, and composts faster. Once you're done filling box #2, the first box you aerated should be done composting and you can empty it into your garden. Then just repeat!

Hopefully by next growing season, we'll have some nice compost for our raised beds. It's pretty awesome to have this box for our veggie/fruit/coffee/egg/paper waste. We're cycling stuff back into making our food, which is way better than having it sit in a landfill somewhere. Our garbage has already reduced by half.

Now I'm off to go chop up some of our tree trimming pile to throw in my new bin!