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My snowy home on a hill.

I keep leaning toward complaints, but then I simply can’t follow through: this snow is spectacular.

I live in the Columbia River Valley, just 45 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This tends to keep my little piece of Paradise green, even in the depths of winter. But Mother Nature has been on a cold bent lately. Well, heck, I can’t even say “lately,” because it’s been cold and snowy for a couple months now. I’ve lived in very snowy places most of my life, and so this doesn’t compare, but I am still enjoying it.

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Jamie and Phil after the big snow, when they were still interested in it.

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The ladies have had enough snow and are running for shelter.

My chickens seem to be fine with it, but they do not like being cold. They hide in their little home most of the day rather than walk around in bare feet in the snow. They don’t eat much, leaving the chicken feed to the chipmunks. I expect to see some pretty fat chipmunks in the Spring. I need to go out each day, dump out a chunk of ice from their bowl, and refill it with water. They have also figured out that they can eat the snow.

They also aren’t laying, and I do not blame them one bit! Who would want to produce a massive egg once a day in the freezing cold? Not me.

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Looking past the apple tree into the neighbor’s yard.

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Beaver Creek burbles along gaily with no interruption.

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The sun came out for a few days, brilliantly lighting it all up. Those are my tracks in the foreground. I just can’t stay indoors when it’s this pretty out.

My photos aren’t as good as I would like. My camera is still fried from my trip to Chile. I haven’t made it to a camera doctor yet. The weather has been so rotten that roads are sketchy, and it hasn’t been worth an hour+ drive into town. Also, I’ve been sick, sick, sick. Feeling much better now, but annoyed by this lingering cough to clear out my lungs. Sounds like I have COPD.

Anyway, my iPhone camera is picking up the slack. I hope you enjoy the photos. It’s been pure winter deliciousness here.

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Our gorgeous Christmas tree!

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Tara balancing new sketchbooks.

 

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Evening sun making the treetops glow.

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I rarely need to, so I do not own a decent shovel.

I found out that a blogger friend of mine was  shorthanded on, as she put it, “young energetic people,” and I answered the call. Luckily it was pre-major snowstorm, and though cold, we did our work on a beautifully sunny day. The van was parked at the storage unit and we spent the whole day emptying the storage unit and filling the truck. It was windy, and when the sun dropped we nearly froze our patooties off, but we got the job done and went home elated and satisfied. It was discovered the next day that the truck had been loaded beyond legal weight and it had to be dismantled. That day I had to work and couldn’t help.

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TS inside the moving van.

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These tracks just melted my heart.

I’ve got a little good news that’s probably exciting only to me, but I’ll share it anyway. I mentioned in November that I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from military trauma. I’ll explain more about making disability claims with VA (The US Department of Veterans Affairs) later, but for now I’ll just say that I made a claim in 2008. The claim was denied in 2008 and again in 2009, so I appealed it in 2010. My appealed claim has languished for some reason. It’s still pending. I finally lost my patience and contacted my Congresswoman to stir things up a little, and it worked! Next week I will attend examinations in support of my claim. These consist of super-quick health evaluations not designed for treatment, but to assess the problem, then make an educated medical opinion on whether that problem could be related to military service. Then I wait around for someone to make a final legal decision. I’ll give it another year and then contact my Congresswoman again if necessary. Honestly, I think it has been long enough and my impatience is not out of line. If my claim is granted, any medical condition found by VA to be related to military service is then covered by VA for free. All doctor visits, medications, procedures. There is also a monthly stipend based on any loss of function determined to impact my employability. It would be a help.

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World made black and white.

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Playing with the sepia feature.

 

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Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

After the heat of Santiago, I arrived at the airport in Portland to the winter season once more. In a few hours I was home in Rainier, where a thin layer of snow still covered the ground. Over the week that followed, more snow fell. It’s not a lot of snow as far as snowy places go, but for our area it is unusual. And just in time for Christmas!

Winter is not so bad when it's this pretty.

Winter is not so bad when it’s this pretty.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Chicken tracks.

Chicken tracks. When I arrived home, the chickens were lose and running free through the snow. They missed me and were glad to be led home.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Deer don't mind snow much.

Deer don’t mind snow much.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

Tara and I bought a $5 tag from the U.S. Forest Service and went up into the mountains to collect a tree. We didn’t find much in the way of trees, but we had a great adventure. Soon after we entered National Forest land, we came upon a couple of young men trapped in a little car on an icy bridge. They had tried to cross the bridge the night before and became high-centered on the snow berm in the middle, and couldn’t get any traction on the ice. They had spent the night out there and were SO glad to see us! I towed them off the bridge with the Jeep and we pushed the car to help them turn it around and get them out of there. They looked in pretty good shape, but were ready to eat and get warm again.

Waterfall in the forest.

Waterfall in the forest.

Tara bundled up.

Tara bundled up.

Things turned violent.

Things turned violent.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

front of the old note

front of the old note

back of the note

back of the note

In the chill, it’s obvious my thoughts keep going back to those warm days such a short time ago. I’m still peeling from the sunburn, but the mosquito bites are all healed. Yay! I’ve got the stamps on my passport to prove it really happened. I was gathering some of the money together to send to my brother, who collects foreign currency as I do, and it occurred to me that my Uncle Sean was a missionary for the Mormon church in the 1980s and did his mission in Chile. He sent me a 100 CP note back then and I still have it. The currency has de-valued, and Chile doesn’t even *make* 100 peso bills anymore.img_2697

 Merry Christmas everyone and have the happiest of New Year’s celebrations! My long, annual Christmas missive is delayed, obviously, but I’ve had a really productive December. I spent two weeks on vacation, I finished the Mt. Hood Cherokees newsletter this morning, and sent it out to everyone on the mailing list. I’ve got all Tara’s presents wrapped. The tree is up and simply gorgeous. Santa comes tonight and we are all very excited about it!

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…

I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.

I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.

Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. 😉

The Hussies behind a fence.

The Hussies behind a fence.

Eggs in their proper place.

Eggs in their proper place.

I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.

I had to pick up two more 4x4s in the Jeep, which is not made for hauling lumber.

My Jeep is not designed for hauling lumber, but that didn’t stop me.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.

The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!

Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.

There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.

I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Working in a dense and unkempt flower bed, I spotted a solitary egg out in the rain.

Working in a dense and unkempt flower bed, I spotted a solitary egg out in the rain.

Over the weekend I found a nest.

A little background: I have not yet built a proper fence that is high enough to keep my hens penned. They simply lift like multicoloured Harrier jets and launch over the four-foot fence. They roam far and wide, doing their own thing, and get into enough trouble that I have been calling them The Hussies. Only one of them comes home to lay, and till recently, I had no idea where most of the eggs were laid.

My good friend was visiting from Boise and stayed with me for four days. Sunday we were in the mood to do yard work. The weather was wholly uncooperative, and the heavens opened up and poured all day long. We donned hats and jackets and boots (my friend was shocked I did not have Wellies) and went out anyway. We raked muddy leaves and hauled heaps of wet sticks and branches and built up two new slash piles for burning at some future date.

Why did the chickens cross the road?

Why did the chickens cross the road?

My friend doing yard work in the pouring rain.

My friend doing yard work in the rain, in Wellington boots.

The Hussies like it when I do yard work and particularly when I dig, because whenever I come across a worm I make sure one of them gets a crack at it. The ladies were hanging around, clucking, pecking, scraping their beaks across stones in a manner that suggests wiping their chins of grime. They did not alert me to the discovery I was about to make, of a treasure stockpile of which at least one of them was well aware.

As I untangled dead sticks and blackberry brambles from ferns, I spied an egg on the ground, exposed and lying atop some coals discarded from a long-ago fire in the woodstove. I hollered at my friend to come over and see.

He was dripping wet head to toes, with hands stained yellow from the dye leeching out of his sopping wet calfskin gloves. Happy for an excuse for a break, he came over to where I was working, and I walked closer to the egg to show him where to go.

I walked closer and got a new view. Something pale-coloured beneath the ferns. Something light in the dark. I bent down and spotted the motherlode of eggs! There were NINETEEN eggs piled up! Carefully tucked into a nest of decaying pine needles and ferns, was a pile of eggs, laid one at a time in patient confidence. It looked like a turtle nest. I was so excited I was hopping around with glee.

Wait, what is that in the ferns?

Wait, what is that in the ferns?

The motherlode

The mother lode

Look at these brown and beautiful eggs!

Look at these brown and beautiful eggs!

Lacey! Are these your eggs? Thank you ma'am!

Lacey! Are these your eggs? Thank you ma’am!

Egg farmer

Egg farmer

For anyone curious, eggs are laid with an antibacterial membrane, an invisible coating called a bloom, that seals the eggs and protects the freshness as well as holds in moisture. Eggs can be stored at room temperature for weeks like this, as long as the eggs are not washed. Eggs can be refrigerated for months unwashed, and will stay fresh. The weather around here has been in the 40s and up to around 50 degrees some days, so I call that refrigerated. However, with all the rain, they may have been “washed.” We used the egg floating test. Put an egg in a bowl of cool water. If it lies horizontally on the bottom, it’s very fresh. If it tips up, but stays in contact with the bottom: still fresh, but less so. If it floats: no good, throw it out. All my eggs were good! As of this morning, we’ve eaten them all.

Snow coming down at my place

Snow coming down at my place

Longtime friends of mine recently returned to their Spokane home from a New Year’s vacation in Australia and remarked on leaving the greenery down under and arriving at the whitery at home. I have shamelessly adopted their humor as my own. 🙂

chicken in snow

chicken in snow

I live in a valley that is about 500 feet in elevation. That’s not really worth raising an eyebrow at in the Pacific NW, but it does mean a bit more snow than if I were at sea level. The cold air sinks to the bottom of my valley and means the snow lingers a little longer too. I like it. I’ve lived in places most my life where winter was a serious situation: Vermont, Colorado, northern Nevada, Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts, and the worst winters of all in Idaho. It’s luxury not to have to shovel snow for months, but I also miss having the white stuff around. I only need enough to make it feel like winter is here for real.

In the past six weeks we’ve had enough snow to warrant some photos and a post.

Looking at the tiny hen house from the deck.

Looking at the tiny hen house from the deck.

Chicken hussies were not phased by their first snow, and treated it as they do everything: tasting it. Snow proved edible, and they spent all morning eating it.

Chicken hussies were not phased by their first snow, and treated it as they do everything: tasting it. Snow proved edible, and they spent all morning eating it.

This is Jamie. I can tell her from her twin by the patterns on her back.

This is Jamie. I can tell her from her twin by the patterns on her back.

What's up? Chicken butt!

What’s up? Chicken butt!

Looking up at the house. Even in the winter I am pretty sure I need a couple of trees hanging over that deck. Guess I'll be planting this spring.

Looking up at the house. Even in the winter I am pretty sure I need a couple of trees hanging over that deck. Guess I’ll be planting this spring.

The pond froze over, so the wild ducks went off to find a more accommodating home.

The pond froze over, so the wild ducks went off to find a more accommodating home.

So remember when I blogged about the flooding here? The creek water was so high that it eroded the banks and turned everything that was left to mud. A couple days later there was an enormous downburst in this area, and that blasted high winds into the trees in Rainier. Mature trees were snapped off everywhere, at about 30 feet up from the ground, blocking many roads. Many more were torn right out of the soggy ground, and laid flat. This was the case on my property, where most of the trees down were those whose roots were exposed and loosened due to the flooding. Fresh snow on the downed trees makes it easier to see them on a dark winter day.

Alder in the creek. In total, I have eight trees down. Six are in the creek.

Alder in the creek. In total, I have eight trees down. Six are in the creek.

The log resting horizontally here shows high water level back when the creek flooded.

The log resting horizontally in the air was dropped there when the creek flooded.

Tara and I made a trip up to Moyie Springs, Idaho to visit my stepdad. Our timing was not so great, as we encountered a storm in Hood River, Oregon (about an hour out of Portland), and the snow and slick roads continued all the way through Kennewick, Washington through Spokane and Coer d’Alene, and finally stopped coming down in Sandpoint (about an hour from our destination). It was a 12-hour day, but the Dragon Wagon (my Jeep) did a great job and we were safe all day long. We arrived at Jim’s house to dry ground, but by morning the storm had caught up with us.

View from the Hood River Starbucks as we got some fuel for the road.

View from the Hood River Starbucks as we got some fuel for the road.

View from Jim's cabin in Moyie Springs the morning after we arrived.

View from Jim’s cabin in Moyie Springs the morning after we arrived.

Jim loves antique cars, and so I'm going to assume these are here intentionally, waiting under the snow for some future TLC.

Jim loves antique cars, and so I’m going to assume these are here intentionally, waiting under the snow for some future TLC.

Now these are clearly well loved cars. Tara and I have been for a ride in the one in the center.

Now these are clearly well loved cars. Tara and I have been for a ride in the one in the center.

What do you do when it snows? You shovel, of course.

What do you do when it snows? You shovel, of course.

Now granted, these photos don’t show the worst of what winter can be. Snow only piled up about two inches deep here, and after four days it melted. We’ve had a few more snow falls since, and as you see from the photos, it is just enough to cover the ground. The temps were low in Moyie Springs, down around 18 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. Here in Rainier it dropped into the 20s for a few days, but now it’s up into the nice toasty 40s again and all the whitery is gone.

So I’m satisfied. My Winter check box has been checked, and I’m ready for Spring now.

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Lacey wants me to hold still so she can find out whether the large black round thing on my face is edible.

The Chicken Hussies, I’ve been calling them. They are saucy and misbehaved. They are rarely home, running around the neighborhood bringing dishonor upon this house. They don’t come when I call them and I dont know where they are half the time. When they do show up, they run to me at first with joy of recognition. That turns into clucking complaints, demands, unceasing inquiries about the availability of grain. They peck my hands and my shoes, and mutter that the feed I give them is tiresome and they would prefer leftover oatmeal. “Remember that time when you fed us oatmeal?”

These hens leave their, shall we say, “fertilizer” all over the deck and the front porch, and in the equipment shed on the side of the house where they sleep. It’s a sure sign that they know where they belong. And yet do they stay here like proper ladies? Never. I fear their reputations are ruined.

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“Oh, it’s a camera? Well, here, I think this side of my head is more photogenic.”

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In back, left to right, Lacey, Jamie, Phil. The red one is Tawny.

The once sensitive topic of reciprocity has become more of a common theme. Admittedly, I am the one who brings it up. I explain about the cost of hay, feed, fencing. I explain about having a full time job and getting phone calls from irritated neighbors who wish for me to spend my off time collecting chickens from their properties. I tell the Hussies I’ve resorted to forcing my evening visitors into chicken-wrangling, in which I throw a tarp over the sleeping group and together we haul them down the hill and put them back into their perfectly darling chicken house filled with dry fluffy hay. They reply, “We were wondering what that was all about.”

Then I cautiously bring up the topic of eggs. THE POINT OF ALL THIS.

They pretend not to understand. “What are these ‘eggs’ of which you speak? Forgive us, we are dumb chickens. Is that a spider?”

One morning after a successful chicken wrangling, I was out on my deck with a cup of coffee. I looked with satisfaction and pleasure, down the hill at my lovely ladies: Tawny, Lacey, and the twins Jamie and Phil. They were safely inside their fence, clucking contentedly, eating grass, scratching for spiders. I was filled with such love for them, I called down “Good morning my chickies!!”

All four froze and turned to see me for the first time, squawking “Mom!” in unison. As you would expect if there were four Harrier jets ready for a mission, the ladies rose into the air and shot toward me. One after another, they lifted straight up and over their four-foot fence, then rocketed through the air up the hill in military formation, directly to me standing on the deck. I’ve never seen chickens fly like that. I thought the appropriate response would have been to scold them to teach a lesson, but instead I was flattered.

Still no eggs. I looked up “hussy” in Urban Dictionary and one of the definitions was “chicken.” So I had to look up chicken, and one of the definitions is a female with attractive breasts and thighs. Do you think it’s time to remind them of what happens to chickens who don’t lay?

This morning a new kind of fowl caught my attention.

Something pure white in the pond caught my eye from the kitchen window. I stared and had mostly convinced myself it was a duck. Multiple ducks, from the appearance of movement. I got out the camera and used the zoom lens to confirm. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen ducks on the pond.

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Male and female Hooded Merganser moved to the far side of the pond when they saw me sneaking down the hill toward them.

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The group of six female mergansers also decided to scoot away when I showed up. Here I captured only one straggler.

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I think it looks like a proper pond for the first time. Ducks are an excellent accessory.

In the past I have accidentally startled a lone goose, who exploded skyward as soon as I was spotted. I would love to have some long term pond-dwellers. I crept slowly down the hill, hoping not to frighten them, I hid behind trees, and crept as close as I dared. I watched them dive for goodies underwater, then pop back up onto the surface.

If they decide to stay, I hope they don’t talk to the Hussies, or I’ll likely find myself building another ineffective pen and buying more pellets for ungrateful birds.

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Frosty pond on Thanksgiving Day.

After rain and clouds and fog and darkness, we’ve had a week of sunshine. Sun in November means there is no protective blanket of clouds and the ground is exposed to the frigid atmosphere. Lows in Rainier have been in the 20s (below zero Celsius) at night and warm up to around the freeze/ melt point during the day (most people saying “freezing point,” but meteorologist say “melting point”). Despite the cold, the sun makes me happy. And when it’s cold day after day, and you walk in the air and breathe deeply while chasing chickens or chopping wood, you get used to it in no time.

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I am no longer worried about the pond being too warm for the fish to stay healthy. Interestingly, I have no concerns about the effects of a frozen pond on the fish inside.

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Frost is adornment for the leaves and grasses and branches. When the sun hits them, the land sparkles.

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My friends told me this plant looks like kale. I’m pretty sure it is not kale, but I haven’t identified this random weed growing on my property. I do agree that it’s as pretty as kale.

The chicken hussies (so-called because of their stubborn insistence on misbehaving) are periodically in their pen. I capture them, and I force visitors to help me wrangle chickens, so on occasion all four are inside. But they lose their patience and fly out within days. Or hours. They used to be content to scratch the dirt and eat the grass within feet of the house, but in the past month have decided that no distance is too far to roam. I usually have no idea where they are.  Thanksgiving morning I walked down to the chicken pen to visit the only chicken in there at the time.

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Tawny examines a crust from leftover key lime pie.

After chatting with Tawny, dumping out the solid block of ice and refilling her water dish with liquid water, I noticed something white that looked like paper trash down by the creek. It was not trash but the most amazing ice sculpture! I’m guessing that the cold temperatures froze the moisture inside the sticks, and when the ice swelled, it was forced to squeeze out of the sticks. Anyway, what do you think happened?

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I brought the two branches up from the creek to the deck, so I could photograph the ice better.

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It was very difficult to get my camera to show what I saw: delicate feather-like wisps of ice that clumped together in a chilly pillow.

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As soon as I touched these mounds of ice, they crushed and melted beneath my fingertips.

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I was totally captivated by the ice.

I have been worn out with my commute. I spend three hours a day in traffic, sometimes four. I can’t stand driving to begin with, so it really takes a toll on my spirit and my ability to get stuff done at home since I’ve been deprived of all that time. But the upside is, I am slowly learning my new job and gaining a tiny bit of confidence. In a few months I will probably be released to go back to working at home.

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My view every single day when I leave work and begin the long trip home. Well, usually it’s raining.

Hair care I find to be a menace, and once I have a hairdresser that suits me, I stick with that person till something drastic pulls us apart. When I lived in Boston, I continued to schedule haircuts for when I flew back to California, ha ha. Well, I have moved from Portland to way out in the country, and only recently made it back into the city to get my hair cut. I like it long in summer, so I can pull it back into a ponytail. I like it short in winter.

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Short hair is a good way to show off enormous earrings!

I was asked out on a date a few weeks ago, and he and I hit it off, which is CRAZY because this guy is proud to call himself a conservative Christian Republican. I may be nuts. I am proud to call myself a liberal atheist who refuses to align with any political party. In my Thanksgiving phone call to my Pa, he laughed and said, “Well, I’ll bet you two have some rousing conversations!” So… it could make for some future rants in my blog that could offer some real entertainment. Stay tuned. 😉

Tara has been home the last two weekends and I am *so* happy to have my kid at home. I didn’t realize how much of a hole there was until it was filled and I felt the peace of it.

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Last weekend, Tara came home because there was a performance by the dancers at their old studio.

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It is like family being there, even for me. I love these girls and have watched them grow into stunning young women athletes.

Tara got their first tattoo yesterday. It was an event. Tara has wanted a tattoo for years, but I would not give consent. The kid is now 18 and I relinquished my right to say “no.” If the plan had been to get a tattoo on the face or neck, or someone’s name, I would have protested, but instead Tara wanted a honeybee on their thigh. I can totally live with that. I think the tattoo is beautiful. While I was there I showed the artist my sadly distorted faery on my abdomen (who looked lovely until I got pregnant), and she had some ideas for how to make her pretty again. I may soon go under the needle myself.

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From this photo you can’t tell how much pain my kid is in.

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honeybee

It’s the season for giving thanks, and I am so grateful. For having a perfect child and an open mind, for having a father I can call, and a stepfather who calls me. For the reminder that I am a woman that a man could love. I am grateful that it’s so cold I think about the weather, and grateful that I have chickens to worry about. I am grateful for a troupe of gorgeous dancers and their parents and siblings who hug me every time I show up. I feel lucky to have a job many miles away, and I know I am lucky to have a home that fills up when my Tara and my Racecar kitty are here with me. I am so grateful that I turned out to be a person who never ceases to be fascinated with investigating the world around me.

New flag hanging at the house.

New flag hanging at the house.

Time for a catch-up post! It has been wet and chilly lately: unusually early for these parts, but I suppose that balances the remarkably early hot and dry weather we had the end of May and during June. The weather this week is unmistakably Autumnal.

And that makes me panic a little: wait! Summer can’t be gone already! I’m barely getting my mind wrapped around this new house and I haven’t spent enough time sitting back and enjoying it. Yet, if I think about it, I realize there has been much afoot, because I am Crystal and Crystal cannot sit still.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don't even know it's there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

In different light, and in different weather, the landscape reveals itself to me. Typically the pond is so camouflaged that people don’t even know it’s there. But one morning it was all I could see out there.

The pond on another day. Though it's in the center of the photo, it's hard to know I am looking at a pond.

The pond on another day. Though it’s in the center of the photo, it’s hard to know I am looking at a pond.

I had a housewarming party. For me this is a complicated negotiation of life goals and stepping outside my comfort zone. My Internet personality may not show it, and my real life personality certainly masks it, but I am a solid introvert. I find that being around a gathering of people is often so mentally exhausting for me that I usually prefer to avoid them. So planning a party? I was a dervish that week, spinning 14 hula hoops in different directions. Afterward – I am not kidding you – I spent two days not talking to anyone, not cooking or cleaning or doing anything that needed doing, and playing video games in my slow recovery.

Don't I know it!

Don’t I know it!

The background to that plan is that this summer my friend G came to see the property, and announced, “Crystal, you MUST host many parties. This place is made for parties.” I thought seriously about that. I’ve been pretty lonesome ever since Arno and I broke up, and I am adamant that I will not fall in love again until I am comfortable being without a partner. Parties would force my introvert self to make friends. 🙂

Also! I can take that risk as long as G helps me. In her I have finally found one of those friends that everyone should have. We have dozens of things in common, are delighted by all the same exact non-typical things, she’s as odd as me, she’s as mentally and emotionally unpredictable as me. So, while I have a lot of mainstream and socially acceptable interests and talents, now there is at least one person around whom I can fall apart into eccentric quirkiness, and she won’t bat an eye.

With her encouragement, I invited everyone I could think of to the potluck. I even walked to the house of the neighbor I hadn’t met, in order to invite her, and we had a great conversation. My Uncle showed up, my brother and his girlfriend from Seattle, people from work, a group of Tara’s friends, and the leader of my Cherokee group came out with her dogs. Friends that I’ve only known a couple months came out here. The weather was perfect, the food turned out amazing (a recipe for pulled pork I had never tried before, and some gluten-free enchiladas).

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

For all the hours that people were at the housewarming party, I never thought to bring out a camera, till we spotted the sun setting through smoky forest fire skies.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

Tara is less afraid of heights than I am.

The housewarming party was a great success and I am riding that wave to the next one: a Samhain bonfire party, which must wait till the forest gets a good soaking.

Part of getting ready for the party involved painting the two living rooms, finished WHILE the first people arrived, ha ha. The house was a series of shades of white, but now we’ve got green, blue, and *purple* walls. I love the purple fireplace room – can’t wait to get a good shot to show you.

I’ve had an electrician come out, a fireplace inspector, a well and pump specialist…so much work to be done here, and so many things to learn. Appointments are all set for the experts to do their magic and get this place ship shape.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

Seafaring robots dressed for the party.

We attended a Tiki party at the home of Arno’s brother and sister-in-law, and I learned a little about being a gracious host. The gathering was relaxed and comfortably whimsical, because the couple fills their home and lawn not only with the best kind of people, but also with fabulous thrift-shop finds and creative inventions. Structures around the place included Tiki gods with fires, Tiki gods blowing bubbles and spewing steam, a monkey dangling from a vine, hula dancers shimmying, and a 12-foot volcano that erupted frothing bubbles. So much fun.

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

Left to right: they are Jamie, Tawny, Lacey, and Phil all misbehaving and getting ready to poop on the deck where they are not welcome!

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

The Jeep is baptized in straw.

Learning includes taking care of the growing birds. My chickies are now practically hen-sized and hen-shaped, but no eggs yet. They are big enough to intimidate the neighborhood cats, so I let them roam free around the acreage during the day. They are getting saucy and healthy on grass and bugs, and they have claimed the place as their own. I have the worst time trying to keep them off the deck. One day I had the sliders open and I caught them in the house! I purchased my first bale of hay, and my first 40-pound bag of chicken feed. “What kind do you need?” asked the woman at the counter. “uhhh….” was my eloquent reply. Next time I’ll have an answer.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Robert Lewis tells a story with the help of audience members. Tara is on the right.

Tara's reed basket.

Tara’s reed basket.

Showing the colours

Showing the colours

Tara and I managed to get to only one Cherokee gathering this summer, but it was a good one. We went to Eugene for a combined potluck with both the Tsa-La-Gi group and the Mt. Hood Cherokees, for announcements by visitors from the Nation in Oklahoma, and awards and gifts presented by Chief Baker. Tara went directly to our friend Robert, who was working at the basket-weaving station, and made a gorgeous basket. Robert later told us some stories about our favourite clever hero: Jistu (Rabbit). We also got our full-color picture ID cards for the Nation, so fancy compared to the old paper ones.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

Families sit on the beach in the evening, with a view of Longview, Washington.

A puff of steam from a factory looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

A puff of steam from a mill looks ominous in the otherwise romantic evening.

We joined the local annual festival here in tiny Rainier, and gathered at a pretty park right on the Columbia River with hundreds of others as the sun went down. The Washington side of the river hosts a seaport, with barges and tugs, lumber and pulp mills and their narrow towers reaching to the sky and covered in lights. It’s not at all pristine, but I’m growing to love those sparkling towers at night. I can find beauty anywhere.

My new home office

My new home office

At work two announcements came that have captured my interest: first, a job opening for a new position that I am applying for. It’s still with VA, and in the same office, but on a different team. I’ve got 8 years yet before I hit my 30 and can qualify for a pension, and rather than 8 years of doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 8 years…I may as well try to learn a new job and keep my brain fired up! So cross fingers for me. The other announcement came this week: no more mandatory overtime! Thank the gods! I cannot even express to you how wiped out I am from 4 years of mandatory overtime. Who knows when VA will find more money and set us back at it again…but for now, I am going to revel in the luxury of a regular 40-hour work week.

That is enough news for now. I’ve jabbered long enough. I’ll leave you with a couple more deer photos. I know it’s old news, but I still love to see them.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

The most I have ever seen on the land at one time.

Look at how pretty this Black-tailed deer is.

Look at this pretty Black-tailed deer.

The blonde chicks are Rhode Island Reds, and the other two I don't know. But I have time to figure it out before they come live with us.

The blonde chicks are Rhode Island Reds, and the other two types I don’t know. But I have time to figure it out before they come live with us.

We finally have the house. The purchase closed on Monday.

Things are topsy-turvy here, so this won’t be a real post, but I wanted you to know why I’ve been absent. Also, I know several of you are wondering how it’s going. 🙂

The seller is still living there for a few days, so Tara and I have not moved yet. We will spend the Independence Day weekend hauling boxes and lifting furniture.

Good things have happened in the last week: 1) The seller agreed to let us begin moving in before our official move-in date. That is so generous of him. 2) The person who now owns the home we are renting agreed to let us stay 5 more days since we can’t move yet. Wow, talk about generosity. 3) I have lots of friends who have been helping us move! 4) The Uncles have loaned me their pickup to haul stuff, since all the local moving companies are booked through July (it will save money anyway, so that’s nice too). 5) Even though the house is in disarray, our kitty, Racecar, seems only mildly irritated. I think she is still doing ok, and that eases my heart.

6) And just this morning I was able to hook up the old washing machine and do a load of laundry. We have been using my machines, but since they have been moved, I wanted to re-install the old machines. I had to purchase a new bilge pipe since the old one was cracked (like me!). I got the hot and cold water mixed up at first and we dropped about a gallon of water onto the floor while we got that unhooked again. Tara was filling cups with water while I ran and dumped them into the sink. It was pretty funny.

The Uncles have been raising baby chicks for us so that by the time we are ready with a coop, the chicks will be large enough to live out there. Just imagine: fresh eggs. Isn’t that a delicious thought?

Malaikahana Recreation Area, on the north shore of Oahu

V’s idea today was to give us a tour of the island and give us a sense of where we are on Oahu and the setup of the island. It was a very good idea. His condo is smack in the middle of Honolulu, and so we headed north-east-ish out the Pali Highway and began our counterclockwise loop of the island.

The Pali Highway (Hwy 61) on Oahu

ginger flower

Right away we were in the jungle forests I recall from my one other visit to this archipelago state. V chose the winding roads vs. highways when possible. In between drooping dripping vines, we spotted fog-topped peaks in the distance. The scenes kept reminding me of the movie King Kong. Ha ha! One constant delight through the day was the scent of ginger blossoms. We saw golden and white ginger, each with different but intoxicating aromas.

wild chickens

We stopped for a grand vista at the Pali lookout. In the parking lot we were delighted to find wild chickens pecking through the grass. I assume they were domestic birds at some point in their heritage, now the hens clucked to their chicks to keep out of the way of tourist children. The view from the Pali lookout was pretty awesome, and very windy. This was the site of a significant battle in Hawaiian history, in 1795.

View from Pali Lookout

At the Pali Lookout. It was windy!

Chinaman’s Hat

Our next stop was at the Kualoa Regional Park. The park sloped gracefully onto a wide empty beach and then opened up into a vast expanse of brilliant sun and sea. Not too far off shore is an island V calls Chinaman’s Hat, whose name is also Mokolii. Tara and I were equally eager to spend time walking this beach, splashing through the water, picking up broken pieces of coral for souvenirs. We eventually left the beach and walked to a nearby ruins of the Kualoa Sugar Mill, the first sugar mill built on Oahu. It was closed in 1871 when owners realized there was not enough rain in that spot to grow cane for sugar.

V and T on the beach at Kualoa Point

ruins of sugar mill

We drove through Kaaawa, and I was delighted to hear that one pronounces all three of those a’s in the name. After that we found our favourite beach of all on the north shore (photo at the top). We loved the Malaikahana Recreation Area beach so much we decided then and there to make it an actual destination on Friday, and spend hours there. The appeal of this beach is that it has all the stunning scenery and almost NO people! We walked a long way down the beach and spotted three people lying on towels, and one person in a vehicle parked for the view. Other than that, it was our beach. V said usually he didn’t see anyone at all there. It is truly mystifying to me that people are thrilled to be shoulder-to-shoulder on the popular beaches, yet leave this equally stunning beach to the sand crabs. Since we didn’t surf Monday, we made plans to try to surf here on Friday (which might also give our sunburns time to heal).

red-crested cardinal

We stopped for a great meal near the beach in Laie and I had fish and a banana daiquiri, in keeping with the vacation/island theme. Then we moved on to continue our tour. We came back through an island valley again, and the highway rises overlooked Pearl Harbor for a brief time, long enough to spot an aircraft carrier and several Navy ships docked. They looked so impressive. I wanted to take a look, but on the highway we were removed from the shore and traffic was a mess, so we drifted past. V took us up into the hills in hopes of a good view of Pearl Harbor itself, but houses understandably crowded the slopes, leaving no good views for us tourists.

crepuscular rays over Honolulu

Sunset over Waikiki

Our final stop of the day was on Round Top, which V had been lauding since even before we made the trip. A Must-See View! So we made our way up there, growing weary from our long day but still ready for continued adventure. The late day approach turned out to be a boon, since we hit the overview point right at sunset, and captured some truly stunning photos all along the shore: of Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Waikiki, and Diamond Head.

Diamond Head made golden by light

Another sunset photo from Round Top showing a plane leaving the Honolulu airport (sorry for all the sunset pics, but they were just so awesome!)

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