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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.

 

Gimpy doesn't know this is her last dandelion.

Gimpy doesn’t know this is her last dandelion.

Disclaimer! This is a story about butchering one of my chickens, and it involves killing of an animal, as well as photographs of the process. Please proceed only if you are prepared for it.

The history of Gimpy is relevant to what happened to her yesterday. I’ve got the three Hussies, whom you have met. They are Tawny, Jamie, and Phil. They have lived here a year and are now resignedly behind their chicken fence and dutifully producing eggs, clucking, scratching up the earth, and all things pleasantly chicken-like.

Early this summer I decided I was ready for two more, and purchased two Ameriana pullets. I tried to introduce them to the Hussies, but they were small, and scared, and The Hussies pounced and pecked and I had to remove them right away into a separate little pen I constructed outside the big one. One lovely day I opened the fence to allow them to roam through the grass. I was feeling overly confident about their safety, since the Hussies had survived nearly a year free, and I did not pen them up again in the night.

We had a visitor.

I am standing inside my bedroom, photographing the back yard through the sliding glass door.

I am standing inside my bedroom, photographing through the sliding glass door our visitor surveying the chicken pen in the back yard.

I know I should be upset about the coyote, but instead I was thinking, "It's so pretty!"

I know I should be upset about the coyote, but instead I was thinking, “It’s so pretty!”

A coyote killed one of the pullets and nearly killed the other. Her eye was scratched and bleeding, and her leg was so injured that she couldn’t walk. She huddled in her little box for three days, mostly unresponsive. I couldn’t get her to eat and could barely get her to drink. On the fourth day I readied my axe and went down the hill to get her and kill her, poor thing.

However! On day 4 she was suddenly alert, had eaten all her food and was looking at me, asking for more. Despite having to drag herself around on one leg, the hen had a will to live. It took about a month, but her leg healed. In the meantime, I began calling her Gimpy.

I tried multiple times to introduce her into the pen with the Hussies, but they attacked her every time. She was lame and couldn’t outrun them, and cowered in corners while they plucked out all the feathers on the back of her neck. Finally I gave up and let her have the run of the farm. I thought maybe when she was grown, and strong, she could fight back. Her leg got better and she wasn’t limping anymore by late summer.

Gimpy got as sassy and belligerent as an lonely and neglected only-child can get. She learned to fly over the 10-foot chicken fence, and would go in there to scrounge for food and taunt the Hussies. When they came after her, she flew out. I was beginning to worry that she would teach them to fly out too.

Then she began harassing the cats. For fun, Gimpy would chase all three cats whenever she spotted them. Even Chaplin, the big young male who had no business running from dumb fowl, would tuck his tail and lower his ears and slink off when she came his way. Instead of the cats teaching the bird a lesson, she had the four-legged predators under her claw.

She came onto the porch every day, and kicked their catfood in all directions so that it scattered and fell beneath the porch, inviting a family of raccoons who has now made nightly visits every single evening for three weeks. Gimpy didn’t eat the catfood, she just scattered it. She pooped all over the place, particularly onto my lawn mower, because her favourite nighttime roost was its steering wheel.

She started coming after me when I went outside. Flying at me across the grass, pecking my legs and shoes.

I left the slider open on a warm day and she came right into the house and perched up on a ceiling light in my bedroom, and pooped on the carpet. I grabbed her by the feet, wings flapping like crazy, tossed her outside and closed the slider. Five minutes later she was back, and hid under the bed! She had found the other open door and came right back in.

“Alright. That’s it bird! You are more valuable to me as food.”

D came over to help with the butchering, and while he was on his way, I began watching YouTube videos. You truly can learn to do anything with YouTube. I had a pot of water heating to 160 degrees, a sharp knife, gloves, a slipknot hanging from a rafter, and my camera ready when D arrived.

D is a bit of a softie when it comes to animals and death, growing up on Long Island and living in cities all his life. I fully expected that since this is my farm and my chicken and my idea, then I would have to do the dirty work. But he stepped right in and did the absolute worst of the tasks. I am so grateful! 🙂

Gimpy, still alive, and might I say... what a beautiful bird.

Gimpy, still alive, and might I say… what a beautiful bird.

The farmers on YouTube explained that if you hang a chicken upside down, it does not fight. This turned out to be true. We hung Gimpy up by her feet over a wheelbarrow that I had put there to catch the blood. D grabbed her neck in one hand and with the knife in his other hand, took her head off. What YouTube did NOT prepare us for was that the chicken went ballistic at that point. The chickens butchered online all died properly on camera, and went instantly lifeless, but Gimpy’s body tried to fly away headless and thank goodness her feet were tied to the string. It lasted over a minute, maybe two minutes. Wow. It was astonishing and unsettling, but we both knew that chickens can do this, so we waited it out.

D and I both pulled feathers off the bird after we had soaked it in the hot water. Thomas the cat came up to investigate.

D and I both pulled feathers off the bird after we had soaked it in the hot water. Thomas the cat came up to investigate.

If the water is heated to the right temperature, the feathers are easy to pull off.

The feathers come off cleanly, in less than 10 minutes.

I brought the pot of hot water outside. The Internet had recently taught me that it should not be boiling, which would cause the skin to tear, but rather very hot water, to loosen the feathers. We dunked her in a few times, sloshed her around to get the water in through the feathers. And viola! Feathers simply brushed off.

The next step was the surgically precise removal of her innards. D was not prepared for that part and immediately volunteered for cleanup, which suited me just fine. I was very excited to try my hand at butchering. I am not sure how appropriate this is, but I was plumb tickled when things on my chicken happened exactly like YouTube said it would. The feet came off easy-peasy. I cut out the crop and severed the trachea. I went to the back end and carefully, carefully cut around the outside of her backside until all of her guts came out perfectly intact. The point is not to break anything because it would contaminate the meat. I reached inside the body cavity and pulled everything out. From anus to trachea, all connected.

I know! It should be gross! But I kept saying, “This is SO COOL!” Every so often D would come by the kitchen and I would say “Look at this!” And he would realize something else needed to be cleaned, and would leave.

I didn't break anything that wasn't supposed to break. And it all came out first try. Except... oops, where's the heart? I reached back inside and found the heart too.

I didn’t break anything that wasn’t supposed to break. And it all came out first try. Except… oops, where’s the heart? I reached back inside and found the heart too.

I simply *had* to split the gizzard and see what is inside. This is the organ filled with little stones that grind up a chicken's food for her.

I simply *had* to split the gizzard and see what is inside. This is the organ filled with little stones that grind up a chicken’s food for her.

I gained a new understanding of surgery. I thought that merely putting a sharp knife to body parts would split everything. But it’s amazing how each organ is contained and separate from each other, with surprisingly tough membranes. I could cut one membrane to split it, but the membrane right beneath it would hold together. I see how surgery is possible. With a steady hand, you can push things gently aside and cut precisely the thing that needs cutting. It is amazing.

When it was all done, Gimpy looked like food. D and I guess she’s 4 or 5 pounds now. He said, “I can’t believe she was running around your yard an hour ago!” I was going to wait to post the blog till I cooked her up, but I was too excited to show you. So until I get the oven heated up, this is my bird:

One small, farm-raised chicken, ready for baking.

One small, farm-raised chicken, ready for baking.

 

I started running again, in the mornings before work. Here's downtown Portland at my favourite time of day.

I started running again, in the mornings before work. Here’s a marina in Portland at my favourite time of day. I work in one of those tall buildings.

My blogger friend Marlene (insearchofitall) asked in her post: “What are you up to?” All the usual little bits of life are going on at breakneck speed.

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”                         ~ Lewis Carroll

Tara voted for the first time in the Oregon primaries. This is a photo of Tara volunteering to get other college students registered to vote.

Tara voted for the first time in the Oregon primaries. This is a photo of Tara volunteering to get other college students registered to vote.

Interesting bit of news: my father is moving to Romania. A modern romance is behind it, of course. He met his wife online because they both play the same computer game. They have interacted for years, flirted and fell in love for a year, then last summer my Pa flew to Romania and married her. The plan originally was to bring her to the U.S., but the paperwork is proving too much of a challenge for two intelligent humans to overcome, so Pa has given up and will move to Romania. He expects to be gone in less than a month. Hopefully together at last in time for their one-year anniversary.

Last month I made an emergency trip to his place on the Snake River, south of Boise, Idaho, to help him pack up the giant house. That was after two of his sisters and a nephew-in-law showed up to host a yard sale for him and start the packing. This week a sister and a niece will arrive to do more of the same: haul things to the donation store, maybe hold another yard sale, pack more stuff. It was good to see my Pa, and I made a bonus stop at a fave winery just up the road from his place and accidentally bought two cases of Ste. Chapelle wine.

One of my dearest friends moved from Honolulu after 16 years and now lives right here, almost beneath the St. John's Bridge!

One of my dearest friends moved from Honolulu after 16 years and now lives right here, almost beneath the St. John’s Bridge!

I have been asked to take two of his four cats. Yes, my Pa is the Crazy Old Cat Man. Thomas and Yeowler won’t be going to Romania and need homes. Racecar is going to hate life for awhile, as she doesn’t get along with any other cat – ever – for as long as they live together (I know this through painful experience). I may get in touch with my grumpy side too, if this cat interaction goes like the last attempt did. My hope is that, since all of them are older cats, and since the boys have group skills they could teach to my princess, maybe it will be ok. I am also hoping that I can keep the two cats alive. They aren’t mine and I’m feeling extra pressure  to keep them well. Anyway, cross your fingers for us.

It took around two months, but the chicken pen is done. The chicken pen man is also my wood delivery man. He is getting married in a week, and getting ready for the wedding has taken precedence over the chicken pen, which I can certainly forgive. Also, we had a few setbacks, the biggest being when we discovered that only 10 inches down is an enormous slab of rock underground, so he couldn’t bury half the 12-foot 4x4s into the dirt for stability. Instead, he had to buy concrete and set them that way. Not to mention having to saw the tops off half the 4x4s so they would be the same height as the ones buried two feet into the dirt.

Hen fence under construction.

Hen fence under construction.

Jailed hens

Jailed hens

I used Paint Shop Pro to lighten this up from a dark morning shot.

I used Paint Shop Pro to lighten this up from a dark morning shot.

Chainsaw carving inside the lawnmower repair store.

Chainsaw carving inside the lawnmower repair store.

The three remaining hens (because Lacey got hit by a car): Tawny and the twins: Jamie & Phil are now behind wire. So far, no escapees. I suspected a higher wall would do the trick. It has no top, but chickens aren’t the best fliers, so I believe this will be sufficient as long as winged predators don’t find them. As I told Marlene, they get distressed when they see me at a distance and can’t come running like they do (omigosh it’s the sweetest thing ever to have fat, saucy chickens running to you at the moment they hear your voice). But, like goldfish, they soon forget they are in a pen, and get happy again for a couple hours, till they remember again that they are penned up. I will get new chicks, but not this year, as I simply don’t have the bandwidth to add babies to my list of chores.

I mowed the huge lawn one time, and noticed the riding lawnmower was not running well. My neighbor borrowed it and when he brought it back he said the same thing. So I called and asked about repair time. They said it would be about 10 days, and I figured that was fair, so with the help of my neighbors and their trailer, I got the tractor to the shop. When I dropped it off he told me, “Better plan on two weeks, to be safe.” Thirty-five days later I finally got it back. I need to remember it’s the country, and country schedules are not the same as city schedules. Besides which, it’s probably the worst time of year to take in a lawnmower, since everyone else in the county has also just discovered their machine isn’t working at its best.

My best friend's son feeding chickens.

My best friend’s son & chickens

Neighbor girl: chicken wrangler

Neighbor girl: chicken wrangler

The grass got deeper and deeper, so I called a professional lawnmower, who was going to stop by and look at the place and give me an estimate. But he threw out his back. A week later he called me up, and since my tractor was still not home, I said I was still interested. We agreed on a time to mow. That morning he contacted me once more to say his tractor had to go into the shop (the same place mine went to). He figured it would be back in a couple days, and said he could mow my lawn the following week. I told him nevermind.

We've had a couple bonfires to burn up the branches collected over the winter.

We’ve had a couple bonfires to burn up the branches collected over the winter.

Light blue irises from the Morrison House, and purple Irises from Mom.

Light blue irises from the Morrison House, and purple Irises from Mom.

I began my jungle mowing project last night in the rain, and some of the grass is chest high. It is slow going. Grass that high mostly just lays down when a mower goes over it, rather than acquiesce to a haircut. I anticipate a multi-week project to get it under control again. If you remember my story from the first time around, this one will be worse. Plus side: the riding lawn mower has a drink holder. Turns out, Ste. Chapelle in a tumbler fits nicely.

Irises are in bloom and when the first one put up a bud, I cried. My mother brought me several plants down from her north Idaho mountaintop when she was alive and visited us every year in Portland. She also brought lavender and peony which I still have. Anyway, the flower blooming was like having my mother here, and that’s what made me cry. I miss her so much. She brought the flowers when I was living on Morrison Street, and we called our house the Morrison House. I always name my houses – strange that I haven’t named the current one yet. Then we moved to the Blue House, where I lived when most of you got to know me. The irises have come along. Amazingly, the light blue ones bloomed this year, when they never bloomed at the Blue House. The blue ones are from the Morrison House, and I thought those were all lost. But now I have a little piece of that home too, and it is good for my soul. I’m sentimental that way.

The view from my office.

The view from my office.

Vulture in the forest.

Vulture in the forest.

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeaks

Blackheaded Grosbeak

Blackheaded Grosbeak

I installed the first of several bird feeders outside my office window. It took a week for the birds to discover it, and now they are there all the time. Most beautiful so far is probably the Evening Grosbeak. One of the many Blackheaded Grosbeaks flew into a window one day, and did not recover. So far, no new and exciting birds from what I’ve already seen out here, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time and season before word of the feeder spreads.

Speaking of exciting birds, vultures have been perching outside my window. Not sure what it is about this particular spot, but I’ve seen four at a time up there in the trees. Typically they are deep in the foliage, and disappear as soon as I go outside. I did manage to get a shot of one on a stump, through the window.

…and so that’s what I’ve been up to. Oh yeah, there is my job which makes it all possible and yet keeps me too busy to ever really enjoy my place. I put in about 60 hours a week at my job, including commuting. If you add up all the hours when I sleep, it really doesn’t leave much left. Somehow, I manage to mow the damned lawn, wash dishes, do  laundry, see my boyfriend, help my dad, camp with my kid, volunteer for the Cherokees, and update facebook! ha ha! Life is a giant puzzle and I find such delight in discovering pieces that fit.

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.

My pretty little pond.

My pretty little pond.

It’s been a great week for people working their butts off for me. I only hope that I am worthy. In return, I’ve exchanged a big, wide-open door policy: you are all always invited. Plus, there will have to be some kind of official house-warming party. Tara and I are thinking maybe the 22nd of August. We will fit you in between J & T’s wedding, and Kumoricon.

It would be great if we are done scrubbing by then, or even done with primer painting. We certainly won’t be unpacked yet, but you will forgive us. 🙂

This is what the TV room looked like a week ago, and what it still looks like now. Well, except for the mattress on the floor. We have the beds set up now.

This is what the TV room looked like a week ago, and what it still looks like now. Well, except for the mattress on the floor. We have the beds set up now.

The person I bought the house from is not as clean as I am. He lived here for four years and I am pretty sure there are things he never did in four years, like clean the refrigerator or mop the wood floors. He also smoked inside the house, so the place reeked. Tara and I opened the windows and doors on our first day of occupancy, and they have not closed since. The place still stinks, but it doesn’t reek.

Obviously, Tara and I were in full agreement that we didn’t want to unpack our clean things into the filthy house. So we still have nearly everything in boxes, and we are scrubbing.

My friends who heard the story volunteered to come scrub with us – yay!

N mows the enormous lawn past our new adorable chicken coop.

N mows the enormous lawn past our new adorable chicken coop.

Our new babies have most of their feathers now, and are getting to know their new home. We have room for only four, but four eggs a day should be enough. :)

Our new babies have most of their feathers now, and are getting to know their new home. We have room for only four, but four eggs a day should be enough. 🙂

Racecar helps from the deck, in the way that cats do.

Racecar helps from the deck, in the way that cats do.

Last Sunday co-workers and spouses showed up. We all took on a different task, turned up the stereo, and worked hard. N soon found out that I had purchased a used riding lawnmower, and hinted until I realized she wanted to mow. Off she went and didn’t come back for about two hours. She is awesome! K didn’t want to clean but noticed how there were piles of trash at the base of several of the trees on the property. He put on gloves and began hauling old tires and rusted metal and rotting wood up the hill to the shed on the side of the house. G had lots of experience with scrubbing hospitals and felt most at ease scouring a bathroom, and went to work. Really? She wanted to clean my bathroom? I am humbled. B showed up with wife T and they brought a new chicken coop and got that set up for me.

Tara cleaned up another bathroom, and I continued the extended project of scrubbing the kitchen. The refrigerator took 3 hours earlier in the week, and this day I was washing cabinets. I found a melted KitKat bar on the top shelf above the sink. It took lots of water and a knife to gouge it out of there. “How did you know it was a KitKat?” Tara asked. “Because when I can get a large enough piece of the wrapper up, I can read it.” Eeew.

The following Wednesday, Marlene Herself, from the blog Insearchofitall, and son Tech Support came over. TS had moved wrong and hurt his back, so his name switched to Moral Support for the day. He brought his good camera, and the tripod was up on the back deck in about 5 minutes while Marlene and I made a plan of action.

I suggested that Marlene sweep the cobwebs off the front of the house and porch. The kitchen still wasn’t done, and that’s what Marlene felt comfortable with. She even insisted on washing our dishes from the day before. “I was going to wash those up real quick,” I said. “No, I will do them,” was the response. Marlene is not a woman to be trifled with.

So there was yet another friend, up to her elbows in Mr. Clean, washing out cabinets, the microwave, and ending by mopping the floor on her knees (I felt so bad about that and tried not to let her do it, but again I found it is very hard to tell Marlene what to do.) I went out to the front with a broom over my head, and cleared cobwebs, and spiders, and about 40 of those little white egg sacs (shudddderrrr) that were all over the front of the house and draping down from the porch roof. Then I swept it up and cleared away broken tiles and cigarette butts.

The end of the day was time to rest and enjoy the land.

The end of the day was time to rest and enjoy the land.

The tip of this Foxglove is still blooming. There are only two left on the property and I'm glad I get to see them before their season ends.

The tip of this Foxglove is still blooming. There are only two left on the property and I’m glad I get to see them before their season ends.

A glass of wine, a flat rock in the shade, and the gurgles of a creek are the right combination for restoring my soul.

A glass of wine, a flat rock in the shade, and the gurgles of a creek are the right combination for restoring my soul.

The kitchen is clean now so I have begun unpacking dishes and utensils and food – a priority! The bathrooms are clean now so we actually feel clean when we are done using them – another priority!

There is no way we could be this far along without the generosity of my friends. How amazing it is to let people help you. I have not asked for help for most of my life, but in the last couple of years have been practicing how to let my friends help me when I need it. I thought it would be humiliating to admit that I can’t handle everything myself. But I find instead that the greater result is that I am flattered over and over when people actually seem to like helping. And the friendships grow closer.

Standing beside the back deck, looking out toward the Back Forty.

Looking out toward the Back Forty. You can see Beaver Creek on the right.

I tucked my camera in among the boxes on our first run out to the house yesterday. We arrived at 1:30 pm, so the sun was bright and direct. In different light, I’m sure I’ll be able to show the property better, but in the meantime, here is a first look.

I haven’t much to say about the house itself. It’s nice. It’s bigger than I need. It’s a long Ranch in the shape of a rectangle with a small kitchen and small bathrooms, considering the size of the large bedrooms and two living rooms. But enough about the house. I bought this place for the land.

I am standing beside the road that runs past the house. Creek on my right, and the Jeep on my right, backed up to the door for unloading.

I am standing beside the road that runs past the house. Creek on my right, and the Jeep on my left, backed up to the door for unloading.

A year-round creek has trout and crawdads.

A year-round creek has trout and crawdads.

The pond hosts a painted turtle who likes to sun himself on the tiny island.

The pond hosts a painted turtle who likes to sun himself on the tiny island. It’s also stocked with Perch, Bluegill, and Smallmouthed Bass. The man who sold the place to me said he only fished with his grandsons and they caught and released. I plan to eat what I catch! Yummy!

This is behind the pond, a park-like area that holds a few Wood Duck boxes on the trees.

This is behind the pond, a park-like area that holds a few Wood Duck boxes on the trees.

Standing beside the pond, looking up at the house on the hill.

Standing beside the pond, looking up at the house on the hill.

The back of the house, with the long deck. I expect to spend many days on that deck. Don't you think it needs a couple of trees?

The back of the house, with the long deck. I expect to spend many days on that deck. Don’t you think it needs a couple of trees?

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?

A livable place, should one have the opportunity to live here.

A livable place, should one have the opportunity to live here.

 Laurie, Marlene, Pauline, and the rest of you who have asked me these past few weeks, “Hey Crystal, what’s the news on the house?” Well, here is an unofficial, totally non-committal update.

The photo above would theoretically be my new home, should the planets properly align.

As I told Laurie, I’m superstitious. I blogged a month ago that I found a home to purchase. And then I tantalized you by saying how close to paradise it’s going to be. And I still won’t get into the reasons why I think it’s paradise, because I worry that if I rave too much, or flash a bunch of photos, it will evaporate. My fingers are crossed, I’m hopping from one foot to the other, hands balled up, trying not to shout how excited I am.

For the last few years I never thought this could happen because my name is currently on another mortgage that I cannot currently escape from. In January 2008 I bought a house with a guy I was dating at the time. I am not at all comfortable with sharing enormous investments and would have preferred either his name on it or mine, but not both. However, we were told that in the state of Oregon, no matter what the relationship, if multiple adults will consider the property their home, then everyone’s name goes on the mortgage. It was the sixth house I have purchased, and the FIRST one that had another person’s name on it. The idea of that grated (I’m a very independent woman, ha ha).

The economy crashed and he lost his job and I carried us for a year till he got another job. Then he lost that one too. And I carried us again. Times were hard. So hard in 2008 and 2009. Though he was finally working again in 2010, a lot of things piled up until I couldn’t bear it anymore and left the relationship and moved out, leaving him in the house since he loved it so much. He said his intent was to refinance and get my name off it. I fully support that idea, as soon as he can possibly arrange it.

Instead, he lost his job again.

So what I have now is a house on my record that is not mine, that I am not welcome at, that has many many months of missed and late mortgage payments, that I have no control over, but it somewhat controls me.

The ex-boyfriend and I barely communicate now, but I still have access to the website of the mortgage lender, and guess what I discovered several months ago? Viola! One full year of mortgage payments have been made in full and on time! This means that I no longer appear as such a great risk, and I can qualify for a loan in this window, while it lasts. (Quick! Before he loses his job again!)

I also mentioned in an earlier post that there are not many houses on the market here, and that they are rising in value. I knew exactly what I wanted and I would not settle for anything less. That meant I had to search far and wide for a place. I found it well outside of Portland. It will be an hour and 10 minute drive from home to work from now on, so thank goodness I work at home and only have to head into the office one day a week. Next month I will say goodbye to City Girl and get to know Country Girl again. I miss her. I haven’t known her for oh, so long.

You will see my new journey chronicled, as I make that transition. In fact, today I was negotiating the price of a used tractor, and The Uncles called to see how many chicks I needed so they can start raising them for me in their incubation cages. I like to begin all my adventures feet first.

That is… once I am certain the adventure is actually going to happen. Stay tuned.

The tea house

The Tower of Cosmic Reflection tea house

Right in the middle of Chinatown (but of course), Portland boasts the lovely Lan Su Chinese Garden. There is bounty for the senses in this carefully arranged space. Occupying the land of one city block, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, and that makes the experience even more remarkable when you step inside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

Portland’s sister city is Suzhou, famous for its gardens. Sounds from the word Portland and Suzhou were taken to form the name Lan (orchid) Su (arise/awaken), so the name of the garden can be poetically interpreted as Garden of Awakening Orchids. It was completed in 2000 by professional artisans from Suzhou in only 10 months, using materials that came primarily from China (including all that rock – wow!).

It’s surprising how much of the city outside disappears once inside the garden.

From the scholar's courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

From the scholar’s courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

We arrived just as a tour was beginning, so we followed the group on stone-paved paths beneath covered walkways  and through courtyards and buildings. When the tour was over we continued to wander wherever our fancy took us.

After some time the sky darkened and the rain fell harder, and we stepped into the tea house. We were able to select from a large menu of teas which was brought to us in a tea service. After we were shown how to properly use the tea service, we were left to enjoy it. Tara ordered a moon cake, and we shared that. The sweetened bean paste reminded me of the bean paste desserts I had in Japan.

The inscription above the moon door reads "Listen to the Fragrance," encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The inscription above the moon door reads “Listen to the Fragrance,” encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Our tea service.

Our tea service.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

It was a good way to share the day with with my child, and I’m so glad I have a teenager who was actually excited to come here and couldn’t wait to eat a bean cake. Tara is so very different than who I was at age 17, and I am in awe of that wonderful person.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

When I broke camp I had only a few miles left to go, but also the most difficult part of the trail ahead of me. Since I’m out of shape compared to previous years, I intentionally chose an easy trail. However, the last 2 1/2 miles climb nearly 2000 feet to Grizzly Meadows.

Steep elevation climbs bring the views and the waterfalls that make it all worth the trouble. In no time I was marveling at Thompson Peak holding court at 9000 feet among the shorter, but just as spectacular, peaks nearby. Glaciers on the north face are each noted to be 2 miles across, but the map needs some updating because the snow fields are now tiny. I could only identify one glacier, so perhaps the second is gone forever.

Two fabulously gorgeous and athletic hikers refilled their water bottles at China Creek with me. I contemplated the unfairness of it all: gay men can be some of the most attractive humans on the planet, and they get to hook up with each other. D’oh! They were planning to summit Thompson Peak the next day, and planned to camp at the Meadows with me that night.

Falls on Grizzly Creek

Falls on Grizzly Creek. What do you see at the bottom? That’s right: swimming pool!

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

“Somewhere between the upper and lower meadow, one of the most incredible mountain vistas I’ve ever witnessed comes into view.” ~Art Bernstein, in Best Hikes of the Trinity Alps

Bernstein was not kidding. This place is amazing.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views. Grizzly Meadows in the foreground is surrounded by a shelf holding Grizzly Lake. Thompson Peak rises above it all. To see the falls, click this image for a larger version.

Pool beside my camp.

Pool beside my camp.

I found a place to set up camp beside a pool on Grizzly Creek at the base of the falls. My original intent had been to hit the scramble trail next, following cairns up the cliff. It would be another 1000 feet in one mile. At that point I was exhausted and simply didn’t have the heart for it. I had achieved 18 miles with no injuries, but I was wiped out. I imagined that a good night’s rest could give me the inspiration I needed, and spent the rest of the day playing in the meadow. I dropped my nalgene of wine into the creek to chill.

A doe lingered on the edges of my camp all afternoon. She was even skinnier than the other deer I had seen so far. I hope it means only that it’s early in the season, and not that she is starving.

After a good soaking in the pool beside my tent, in which I even unraveled my braids and let the water run through my hair, I felt good enough to climb over boulders and investigate the woodpeckers and snakes and other delights. In three days I had only one pestering blister, and I had to be grateful that I can still do this kind of thing, when many of my friends suffer with knee and shoulder and spine injuries that are forcing them to slow down in life.

In the evening I sat on a big rock in the center of the creek and let a refreshing breeze blow through my hair. I ate smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps and had a cup of wine. The chilled wine was so good I had a second cup. I had been planning to share the last of the smoked salmon with the gay men, who had camped at the lower meadows, but my hunger finally kicked in and I finished every last bit of the fish, down to licking my fingers.

The falls from Grizzly Lake

The falls from Grizzly Lake

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

This is the last mile of trail. Bernstein writes, "The trail's slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots." Ha, ha.

This is the 19th mile of trail. Bernstein writes, “The trail’s slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots.” Ha, ha.

I looked at the cliff in front of me and… felt dismay. I could not summon the spirit to climb. Though I would be able to leave the pack at the bottom, I still didn’t have the heart to go on. I suspected I wouldn’t feel any different in the morning. I was so tired. It was so hot. And I was alone. I yearned for the enthusiasm of a friend to bust out with a smile and say, “Come on, Crystal, let’s go! You can do it!” But the deer was only interested in my leftovers, and the couple were conserving their energy for the next day’s climb. It had been nice to relax for hours, and I went to sleep feeling good, despite my misgivings.

The next morning the only thing on my mind was going home. I watched the orange sunrise light up the peaks and then drip down the steep slopes. I put my leftover oatmeal on a rock for the doe. I wished the guys a good climb as I passed their camp (btw, gay men are still gorgeous, even when you catch them brushing their teeth in a creek). Before the sun even touched the meadow I was on my way out. I took more photos.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

Gray squirrel looks at me

Gray squirrel looks at me

Ponderosa pine cones

Huge Ponderosa pine cones

The remarkable bark of a Madrone tree.

Remarkable bark of a Madrone

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

It took me two days to get back to the trailhead. I was disappointed to have been so close to the lake and then let it slip away. But by then I had other things to be excited about, because once I got out of the mountains I would be heading to the coast to pick up my kid from her dad’s house. Instead of thinking of my missed opportunity, I thought about how great it would be to see Tara again.

Let me tell you, on day five this sight was aaaaalllmost as awesome as Grizzly Meadows:

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Yes, I’m a nature girl, and yes I love the modern world. I’m a woman of complexity, what can I say? The Jeep seemed the epitome of luxury, with cushioned seats, AC, and satellite radio. I admit the stereo was blaring The Prodigy as I wound my way back out of the Alps, grinning.

 

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