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!