Monday, April 30, 2012

Egg Train

Nina and Nora waiting for the egg train

Nina wasn't moving fast enough.  By the time I got my camera to document the commotion, Latifah had jumped from the floor, crowded past Nina, and headed straight in to the nest.  My picture noted that Nina was first in line at the cozy door (she's the black hen), but now Noisy Nora was on the train as well.

Noisy Nora
As regional hen manager, my Things I get to do today include developing a queueing process for egg ladies on urgent business.

Noisy Nora* (aka Nora Jones Chicken) has plenty of advice for me.  Her strident comments start first thing in the morning, before reasonable chicken keepers are yet out of bed, and continue throughout the day, depending on how much she "needs" my attention.  All previous Nora chickens (there have been four Nora's so far) have had gentle, sweet voices like their name sake.  But this hen has been taking lessons from a fish-wife.  I just wish I could make out what she is shouting about.

Katy waiting her turn in the egg train

And now, moments later,  the queue includes Katy Perry Chicken as well. There's a method to their chicken logic.   Regardless of all the cackling, squawks, and chatter, they are figuring it all out and laying eggs everyday without my help.

Katy--not waiting any longer
"Here I come whether you're off the nest or not.
 Just pull in your big ego.  I'll use the box next to you."

Just grab you ticket, take a number, get in line for the nest box and pray that Queen Latifah Hen is not holding court when the egg comes irreversibly down the track.

*Noisy Nora is the title of a children's book about a "middle-child" mouse whose parents are busy with older sister and younger brother.  Nora demands attention in her own way.  Rosemary Wells is the brilliant author and illustrator.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Do Not Bend

The message of this envelope struck me as absurd.  Of all the Things I get to do today at least 90% of them will include bending something, and I've already bent this envelope twice.

Being almost an official Senior Citizen, bending keeps me in shape.  I intend to keep doing it regularly and as often as I like.  Why should senior citizens, or any citizens for that matter, not bend?

This envelope has been on my desk for two weeks waiting for this blog to come into being.  I wanted to write about being bent by these thoughtless commands from nobodies in general and these folks in particular.  They're from Tampa, Florida, if that matters.  For the record I have nothing against Tampa.  I was there once.

Now is the moment of revelation:  what is in the envelope?   A real-estate ad?  Information about super absorbent, disposable undergarments?  An investment opportunity?

This is hard to believe.  The content of the precious "Senior Citizen Offer"--"Do Not Bend" envelope from Tampa, Florida, is a magazine subscription offer!  For Sunset Magazine!  Last time I checked, you couldn't subscribe unless you lived on the West Coast of the USA.  And the folks in Tampa want me to know I'm special but still do not want me to bend.

Well, at least it wasn't an offer from AARP or for Depends.  Life is good, and it just got better.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Start with a Pink Bucket

1.  Equipment: Potting soil, newspaper,
wine bottle with straight sides.

It's been going on for days.  When the seedlings from the indoor nursery have moved to the outdoor greenhouse play pen and begin to get their legs, it's time for their own pot.

2. Take a section of the newspaper, cut off the fold (paper cutter
is great), cut the sheet in half vertically so your resulting
sheets are about 5 1/2 x 23".  Wrap paper around the bottom
end of the wine bottle covering about 3" of the bottle.

I'm such a tender-hearted fool.  Not one of all the seeds stuffed into one tomato-seed hole failed to take hold.  And who am I to cut them off after such valiant effort?  Not me.

3. You want enough paper hanging over to fold/moosh into the
center cavity to "secure" the bottom.  Gently slide out the bottle.

The arithmetic tells the story: planning on 9 Oregon Spring Bush tomato plants--9 holes times 4 seeds equals 36.  And that is the way it went for nearly all the seeds I started. So I've been potting up tomatoes, cucumbers, zinnias, eggplant and peppers--114 all together--I just counted them.  It's taken days to settle them all in.
4. Quickly add a generous scoop of soil before the paper
changes its mind and decides to be flat again.

A meditative process, it is, scooping out the little clump of plants, talking to them sweetly and tugging gently to separate them from each other, then tucking them snugly into their new homes.  And that is where the rub comes: new homes for 114 plants!  Don't think I've ever had that many little pots to reuse--maybe if I'd saved them for ten years, but I haven't.

5. Add your seedling, more soil to snuggle it in.  Press it down
to remove air cavities around the roots.  Water lightly.

Here's where the straight wine bottle is a huge help.  First you drink whatever is left in the bottle.  Then, if you are able, follow the rest of the instructions--the pictures will help no matter what state you are now in.

6. These lettuce boxes hold six plants nicely and help keep the
sides of the pots moist.  WARNING:  this type of pot dries out
 rather quickly.  Keep an eye on them and water as needed.

 You really must begin with a pink bucket.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Catcher in the Rye*

I thought there was a limit, but apparently there's not.  Sewings skills can be used just about everywhere.

Bones, just the bare bones

My sister was lamenting the demise of the grass catcher for her push mower. She brought it over so I could commiserate with her.  Maybe a short memorial service would be appropriate, a prayer or something. My heart wasn't into sympathy or mourning, and I pulled the rest of the disintegrated fabric from the catcher skeleton. Horrors!  Now it was just bare, naked bones, and I'd shown and paid no respect at all.

The next day remorse set in, and the image of warming up my sewing machine loomed large.  Since I was headed out on an errand that took me right next to the fabric store, picking up the parts for this project was simple.

and ready to mow
Brand renewed
So with a sewing machine, a drill, a hammer, pliers, 1/2 yard of fabric (only this came from the fabric store), thread and a couple yards of wire, new life--a new "body"--was breathed back into the grass catcher.  Just never can tell what will be part of the Things I get to do today.  Be prepared.

*It was not really in the "Rye."  But "Catcher in the Sewing Room" doesn't have the same ring or name recognition.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bolt Salad

I eat some pretty strange things.  My family can tell you that's true.  They tend to be more than a little suspicious of things I collect from the yard to eat.

Creamy blossom and bronze buds of bolted arugula
I love most greens, especially the spring, tender ones. Experimenting with new plants and eating different parts of the plant are Things I get to do today before dinner.  In the past I've been known to make salad entirely from weeds from between the rows, not lettuces in the rows.

Arugula is a hardy green by most standards. It sprouts up fast even in wet, cold weather. It refuses to die back in the fall when frost flattens most of the rest of the garden. And now (it's a biennial), it has bolted, getting ready to make seeds for the next time around. The blossoms have four, leggy petals in creamy yellow. I'm sure they are good to eat.

Tossed with rosemary olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

So I collected flowers and leaves for our salad. Romaine, chard and sorrel were the other players.  It was delicious.  FYI: the flowers are sweet and fragrant tasting, not peppery like the leaves.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fine Threads

Details on Dame Apple

Dressmaking still interests me.  I could spend hours as part of the Things I get to do today looking at fine fabrics, detail work in pockets and plackets, and perusing new patterns for garments.

It's a modest show this year after all the pruning and shaping

So since Dame Apple did her thing a week ago with the blossom, buttons and bows,  I've been all over it.

A luscious branch next to the path

It seems that the finest people-garment is nothing compared to the perfection of this ancient tree, her ability to grow leaves and to make the most delicate and robust blossoms all at the same time.

No queen's wardrobe could be better

Now that her dress has come to maturity, fully flowered for this season, those of us who've watched the process and the end result are wildly blessed.  Thank you, Your Highness.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tea for Me

Purple pot

I do it every morning.  Using this funny little tea pot with the broken handle loop is part of my morning routine.  The pot holds enough to satisfy me and to maximize the tea bag.  Perfect all around.

A puff of steam escapes the top of the pot 

Rituals can be very helpful--I always know at least one of the Things I get to do today--adding security and stability and good flavor to the beginning of every day.

If it's a chilly morning, I pour my cup and place it on the left side of my plate.  The pot stays on the right. Between bites there's a place to get both hands warmed back into comfort.  With the hot liquid in the belly and hands toasty, the day is off to a smart start.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Winter's Worth of Lint

The heater was in the way.  We cleaned carpets yesterday since it was 80 degrees out, a dramatic shift from the 55-and-raining routine of the past months that was predicted again for us in few days. But we wanted to clean where the heater sat, so I picked it up to move it.  My eyes took it all in.

A winter's worth of lint and dust
A bent wire from last cleaning attempt adds to the disarray 

The heater bowl is slightly upturned and, as a result, collects stuff, mostly dust and lint, and looks hideous most of the time.  In the past I've tried cleaning it (the wire "safety cage" absolutely cannot be removed) by slipping the narrow vacuum cleaner attachment between the wires.  This returned exceptional frustration and marginal cleaning results.

Fold a damp rag so it will slide through
the fattest openings.  Use the handle of a
wooden spoon to work the rag over the
offending surface.  

So for now I know that the Things I get to do today will include coming up with a better way to chuck the crust and dust off the heater.  Just simply cannot set a dirty appliance back down on a freshly cleaned carpet.

An old toothbrush did the trick on the bottom rim
and groove, and pliers were a simple fix for the bent wire.

And, of course, it was easier than could be imagined.  The rest of you have probably figured it out long before this.  Well, now we all are in on the secret.  Happy Spring Cleaning to the gang!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Roll Call

Today's the day.  Yup.  All the girls have checked in.  Now I'm thinking back to very early winter when none of the girls was laying.  I remember taking in the first one, and then learning how to count all the way to two.  Surely, keeping track of the hens laying records as they were first figuring it all out would make a terrific two-year-old's project:  if you can hold up two fingers, you've got the egg counting thing covered.

Katie, Lena, Nina, Latifah and Nora laying it on the line

But now, now, it takes me both hands, full to overflowing on some days, to bring in their gifts as one of the Things I get to do today.   

"Katie Perry Chicken, thank you, dear. Such a rich shade of tan."

"Miss Nina Simone Chicken, got your work done early today as usual, I see.  Thanks so much.

"Nora Jones Hen, I do say, such a big handsome egg you lay, lovely, just lovely."

"And Queen Latifah Chicken, what do we have here in the nest? Thank you for remembering where to put it this time."

"And my darling, shy, Lena Horne Hen, such a delicate, warm egg you just laid. Thank you, sweet shy one."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Green Algae Dance Competition

I had a dance date today:  at the top of my extension ladder,  with the first runner-up for the Oregon state plant, a type of green algae.  Our actual state plant/flower is the Oregon Grape, which is probably sprouting in the gutters on my house and on my roof while I'm not looking because I'm busy with the algae.

Duster and pole.
Removed cover from duster.
Secured it on pole with a rubber band and duct tape.

Yes, back to the algae stuff.  You've seen my sweet little piazza with its new kiwi trellis.  Well, covering the piazza is corrugated polycarbonate roofing.  I put the piazza together and the roof on last summer in July.  It has had all the rains of fall and winter to settle in and become intimately acquainted with things that grow in this state and our state--green algae being the most friendly.  When I designed my sweet space, the roof slant was made fairly flat to save on materials.  I was not thinking about the fir needles from the trees outside our property that would shower down, settle in and make cozy nesting for other things to grow. And so on balmy evenings as we sit in front of the chiminea and look up, there's our first runner-up.

All set up for action and dancing

This morning rain made it perfect for dancing at the top of a ladder with a scrubber on the end of a skylight-opening extension pole to see who would come away with the top prize--Things I get to do today--the algae or me.

Tools and results:  the closer channels are partly cleaned

Thirty channels eight feet long to scrub full length with a tool invented using a duster cover from my favorite store and that very helpful extension pole equals a gentle, morning, upper-body workout.

View from the top:
scum on right and left of cleaned channels

If you are shorter than six feet tall, you should not try this trick at home.  It requires arms and legs at least six inches longer than whatever you currently have.

Sparkling and clear:  ready for a warm, restful weekend

I haven't checked the result scores yet, but I'm pretty certain I won.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Assault and Soda

It was somewhere between bitter and sour.  My nose is sensitive to things gone "bad"--dish or wash clothes and bath towels--and I'd been pursuing the odd smell in the shower for months.  Despite my random efforts, the smell persisted until it grabbed my attention and flung itself in front of all the other Things I get to do today.

Shower deodorant--soda and boiling water
Armed with--what does one use when the cause is not clear?--baking soda by the pound and boiling water, I took it on. Several days ago it seemed that the smell was coming from the shower drain. Down went 3/4 cup of baking soda followed by two quarts of boiling water.  The steam that came up was not reassuring.  Waited five minutes while another pot of water boiled. Added another cup of baking soda. Scalded the dickens out of it with more boiling water.

Assaulted the tub drain the same way, though it had not yet ripened. Soda and boiling water. My thinking was that the soda would neutralize the acidy stuff and the boiling water would soften and wash away sludgy soap and hair conditioner scum.

All the hoopla took place earlier today.  I've put off checking the results, not wanting to be disappointed enough to come up with another plan.  Upon gathering my wandering courage a short time ago, I discovered, hallelujah-hooray, the drain is essentially odor free.  So the other thing I get to do today is write that down so I'll remember it for any future similar situation.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Triangle of Onions

I seldom do what most folks do.  Grew taller than most women (6' 1")--that set the bar right off--which was really out of my control, but gave me the foundational premise from which to work.  Admitting right up front here, however, that it took me at least 40 years to ease out of the need to conform, to slide into the joy of being myself, to expand a bit more every day into possibilities.

Waiting for imagination to strike--to be planted soon
Wow!  What that has to do with onions is yet to be revealed.  My bag of 80 onion sets has been waiting on the kitchen counter for a month nearly. They were white onions.  I was waiting until a convenient trip out to buy sets for yellow onions.  Done.  The bags (3 all together=240 onion sets) have sprouting slowly into the Things I get to do today for at least two weeks as other things pushed to the fore. Daily promises to the three-bags-full were broken.  But today I got a firm grip on my determination, and though it was time for a dinner I had not yet prepared, I planted onions.*

Triangle of onions

Contrary to the instructions on the bag, designed to keep all of us in conformity and an ordinary state (boring, same-old-same-old, mundane, unimaginative, uninspired, dull), I planted the onions in my flower bed, and not in rows, either.  I thought waves would be nice. I planted two two-row waves.  And then I planted a triangle--between the larkspur and the peony.  They told me they would be happy there.  I believe them.

*After sharing with neighbors and friends and planting a few to fulfill my promise, there are plenty left to tuck here and there about the yard in the sunny spots.  Just too fun for words.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's a Slippery Slope

Once you get started, you're a goner.  This gardening/yarding thing has me outside so much I missed my Tai Chi class last Thursday--plum forgot all about it until 3:15 in the afternoon.  Today I remembered, but when I got back, I took all that focus and relaxation right out in the dirt as though I'd never been away for a minute.

Empty slope fit for only weeds.
Right out of my yard catalog of Things I get to do today is make a space to plant my Critter Mix.  I found Critter Mix in my seed catalog.  The folks at this company make available at a reasonable price a whole pound of greens seeds like collards and kale and lettuces that you can grow to feed your chickens.  That is so cool I can hardly see straight.  My problem would be, here in the city, limited lot size without the quarter acre needed to grow all these goodies for the girls. The garden beds are for growies for us people to eat not for the hens.

Old treated posts and 2x4's--a nuisance to store

So I started looking around in the yard for space of hen kale.  And there it was:  totally useless space in its current configuration, but totally perfect space if I were to gather together a pile of rotted off posts and 2x4's from an old berry trellis and a fistful of rusted rebar stakes.

The project got much worse before it got better--pretty typical of projects.
However, Handy Andy's know that and simply shift into compound low.
Slimy folded stuff is nasty, old landscape fabric found five inches down.

Armed with this equipment I spent the rest of the afternoon making terraced beds on a slope that has grown only weeds for the past 30 years.  Wow, does that feel good!  And better yet, it isn't slippery any more.

Ready to plant.  Oops! Better order the seeds, do ya' think?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cute Kefir Cheese

Kefir ready to drink or make cheese

Maybe it's the alcohol.  I'm loving all the kefir that has been turned out in this kitchen in the last week and a half.  I've consumed nearly all of it myself.  It can have up to 3% alcohol, but I'm sure mine is closer to .5%--just a little fizzy on the tongue.

Kefir cheese--about four hours of draining off the whey.

Making kefir cheese is one of the simplest Things I get to do today. Pour the kefir (grains removed and placed in a jar of plain milk for another brewing) into a cheese cloth and suspend it until it's reasonably dry--up to 8 hours. When I unwrapped the cheese cloth, all I could think was,  "That's the cutest little cheese I have ever seen."  Next I'll salt it and season it a bit and spread it on crackers or toast.  It's very similar in texture to fresh goat cheese (chèvre).

If you want some grains to start your own kefir, I'll have some to share soon.  Just comment on this post and we can get it going.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Francies for Her Dress

Button blossoms

Dame Apple is putting on the bling. She is now spring-young enough to make her dress be covered with shades of pink and white:  pretty buttons and bows tied carefully to the tips of each branch and branchlet. Deep at heart, she must be a 7-year-old designing her finest Easter dress.

La Belle Dame 

Somewhere on the list of Things I get to do today I wish I could for a moment be Dame Apple, exploding with excessive good taste into a show-stopping garment, elegant beyond human words.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Blissed on My Butt

It's been awhile since I've sung any hymns.  Yesterday this old one sprang out of nowhere, drawn by the glorious bright orb in the clearest of blue overhead.  "Heavenly sunshine, heavenly sunshine, filling my soul with Glory Divine."  That's as far as my memory would take me, and that was enough. It was straight from heaven, no matter what your religious views, and it filled my soul, my heart and my body.  It was bliss.  You can tell we have been seriously missing the sun in Portland.

Gloriously healthy peony in its protective support

I was sitting on the earth making the beds of collected flowers, shrubs and various plants look prettier.  Some of you would call it weeding, but the emphasis and the spirit of my task is entirely different from the drudgery that is associated with that term.  I was taking my time and taking my time all at once.  It was bliss.  It doesn't get any better than this in the Things I get to do today--play in the earth, rearrange for my pleasure the beauty of these that grow, and bless each with my heart and love as they are seen and touched.
OMG (in the very best sense)

Shock and awe!  What to my wondering eyes did appear?  I discovered that the lovely twig cages used to protect perennial shoots from spring-loaded chicken feet were still very much alive.  They are sprouting leaves.  Next puzzle for Handy Andy:  plan for keeping the twig cages but not have them grow into vigorous variegated Dog Wood bushes around my favorite flowers!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friends Forever

Towels in a sad state
Please tell me this happens in your house, too. We have matching, still-useful, aging, frayed-edged bath towels.  I love drying off with them. They are thick enough and soft enough to do a good job while being thin enough to let go of their moisture in place that is already pretty wet.  But now they are looking ragged and down-right shabby.  For anyone wanting abundance to flow in, shabby bath towels are a no-no, to say nothing of having what looks like rags hanging on the towel rack.

But they're my friends!

Cleanly finished edges restore their self-esteem.  I feel better, too.

I'll just buzz the edges of those babies with my serger as one of the Things I get to do today to increase my abundance, my feel-goods after a shower, and the overall good looks of my bathroom. Bet there's another three good years in those towels. Some friends are nearly forever.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Don't-Fence-Me Inn

Proposed location of the new "inn"
My girls feel free though they now live in a double-gated community.  They are happy as can be about that new development.  You see, before, their hen pen was about half its new size. It's been expanded with a new fence to a larger gated community called the Don't-Fence-Me-Inn.

When Gwyneth was coyoted over the short fence and out of existence last fall,  the hen pen shrank in size and grew a higher fence.  During the winter and spring, the girls have had several afternoons a week to roam the whole yard while I keep an eye.  But now the peas are up.  The lettuces are up. Spinach is up.  Arugula (the chickens don't eat this!) is up.  From now on into summer is simply not a good time for eager, scratching-to-China, pecking hens to be loose in the yard.

So my heart and brain were eager to come up with an expanded area they could be turned out to that would feel like freedom without endangering the plant babies.  The new area includes a compost pile that needs their vigilant turning capabilities.  These chickie-babes have to earn their keep.

Lowering stepping stones for gate clearance

It's been pushing on the list of Things I get to do today for several weeks now, this chicken fence idea.  Thought of using some of the cedar fence boards left from the woodshed.  Thought of several not-so-clever plans for corralling the farm gals.  All the recycle-reuse ideas seemed to create an unattractive visual and had marginal success predictions on keeping the hens in. Today was the day to make fence. Simple solution: poultry netting--in plain terms--chicken wire.
Removing layer of old landscape fabric.
Post can't go through it.

Prep work:  1) Check stepping stones   2) Locate and sink posts

Unrolling this stuff is a two-person, large-
vocabulary task.  I wired the roll to this post
 (my second person) to help me out.

3) Talk sweetly to the squirrelly, chicken wire fence material  4) Get tough with the chicken wire 5) Secure the gate
Placed the gate hinges on the 1x3 and
zip-tied it to the T-post.

"FREE" at last and up to their elbows in
rich, bug-filled duff.

By now the hens are literally standing with their beaks pressed against their first gate wanting to expand their territory with a great rush of wings and churning legs.  Happier hens I have not seen in some time.*

The all-new Don't-Fence-Me Inn

*A commercial chicken-farmer once said there was no way to tell if a hen was happy.  Totally clueless he was since his hens had never, never had the delight of this experience.