Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Garden Before and Afters, and More

We're starting to settle in a bit around here, but what with moving, getting chicks, planting a garden, unpacking, oodles of grocery shopping (re-stocking a kitchen from nothing is a lot of work!), having lots of visitors and spending lots of time with out-of-town friends while prepping for next weekend's wedding of two very good friends, we're staying pretty busy!

The house is slowly taking shape, but once we got the kitchen mostly organized, our next priority was the garden. Jessa (Matt's sis) came over on Friday night, and again last night with her boyfriend Eliot, and we put in a lot of work on the garden beds and cutting back the jungle at the back of the garden. It's been hot and muggy here, so we've been mostly gardening in the evenings, going outside after dinner when it's cool, and working until it gets dark. Here's some photos I took of the garden on the day we moved in:
(Click Photos to Enlarge)
 The compost bins were full of big sticks and being encroached upon by stray raspberry canes and lots of weeds. 

 This bin was literally a massive pile of sticks with a stack of tortillas on top, all covered in flour. I'm pretty sure the previous tenants had no idea how to actually use a compost pile...

 A view of the garden area from upstairs. The beds are fantastic, with trellises and everything, but were about six feet high in weeds when we arrived. 

 The near bed on the left is mostly in strawberries (which are bearing full bore right now- we're getting about a quart per day), and the one on the right was full of thistles.
 This was the raspberry jungle at the back of the garden. We also discovered what we think is a gooseberry bush. 

Another bed of strawberries hidden in the raspberry patch!

And after we put in a few hours' work:

 One raised bed ready to be tilled and planted. 

 This bed on the side of the house was mostly spearmint and was really compact, rocky soil. Jessa and I tore into it with a hoe and a turning fork, pulled out most of the mint and enriched it with compost and potting soil to help aerate it. It now is home to some cabbages, winter squash, marigolds, and parsley and a clump of chives that was already there.

 Matt went to town on the jungle area and the compost bins. It's SO much nicer now. The raspberries are all cut back and the strawberries are accessible, and he cleaned up and reorganized the bins so we can do a rotational compost system. Most of the sticks have been pulled out and gone into our yard debris bin (Portland has an awesome program where yard debris are collected curbside with garbage and recycling. We'll compost things like grass clippings and leaves and small weeds, but the bin is awesome for big sticks and root wads).

 This is another bed on the side of the house that was completely taken over by mint. I started tearing it apart yesterday morning, and then Jessa took it over last night and transplanted in a couple stray strawberry plants we found.

One of the raised beds after being tilled and enriched. Now home to tomatoes, basil and marigolds, and the "bare" space is planted in greens and radishes, with peas against the trellis. The radishes were up this morning, only four days after they were planted!

Elsewhere in our home:

The little fluffballs are all doing great, no signs of weakness or listlessness. They are growing like crazy, and are bigger every morning than they were the night before! They are all still healthy and feisty, and so far the call every morning from the spare room is "Five alive!"
 The Rhode Island Red and the Gold-Laced Wyandotte.

 The G-L Wyandotte at the top, the big Salmon Faverolle, and the wee Australorp.

We are finally done with all the bulk shopping to set up our kitchen, and got these pantry shelves set up a couple days ago, as there is no actual pantry space in our house. I think once they're organized, they'll look great and be totally handy.

The big sink (which I LOVE, by the way) is posing a challenge, as a drainboard doesn't work with the lip of the sink standing so high above the counter. Matt's mom gave us the over-sink drying rack, so I think the system is going to be to prop the rack and drainboard up over the lip while washing dishes (using a two-dishpan system to save water), then put the drainer in the sink at the end to open up the counter space. 

Matt and I just put in another stint in the garden after he got home, and have everything in the ground! Now it's time to make some dinner and continue with the unpacking. Hope all is well with you and yours.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Out of the Chaos, Order Emerges

We've lived in our house for two days now, and we are describing it to people as "made of awesome." We keep discovering things about it that we love, and on top of adoring the house and the property, we are having the fun of re-discovering all of the kitchen gear, clothes, gardening stuff, and furniture we forgot we had. There are still big piles of random in every room, all the dry goods I bought in bulk yesterday are still in grocery bags on the kitchen floor, and we've been spending a lot of time washing dishes after discovering that mice got into a couple boxes of kitchen items while in storage and chewed up all the paper they were wrapped in and left droppings everywhere. However, order is beginning to emerge, and home is starting to appear:

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
 The still chaotic spare room, into which we shoved everything during moving to keep the mayhem to a minimum.

 The kitchen was the first room to be unpacked. 

 Roses from a few of our dozen or so bushes!

We finally found the toolbox last night and were able to put the legs back on the table. The awesome overalls were an early birthday gift from Matt, from Rosie's Workwear. I can't get enough of them. 

And finally, this morning, we brought home a tiny wee flock:
From top to bottom we have a Barred Plymouth Rock, a Salmon Faverolle, a Rhode Island Red, a Gold-Laced Wyandotte, and an Australorp. They have taken up residence in the brooder box in the spare room closet, and so far all are healthy, active and feisty!

I'll be back soon with a more organized update, but as it's the weekend Matt and I are trying to get as much done as possible while he doesn't have to work. We are alternately unpacking inside and sorting out the garden outside, and are thoroughly loving our new life, our new home, and our new little peepers!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Moving Day!

So tomorrow is moving day, and tomorrow night we'll finally sleep in our own house! On the one hand, it's a pretty big, momentous thing that I'd like to take the time to really reflect on. But on the other hand, I'm already exhausted at the thought of moving all of our stuff, and really wish I could just time-warp ahead to the unpacking and arranging part, which is much more my cup of tea. So I'll leave it short and sweet today. But since I'm going over early tomorrow to pick up the keys, I'll try and remember to take some photos of the empty house and yard before moving anything in, so I can have some fun with "Before and After" photos on the blog once we're unpacked!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Exploring and Finding Home

On Friday Matt and I went wandering and exploring in our new neighborhood (on a GORGEOUS day, one of few Portland has seen so far this "summer"), and we are both really excited about it. I am really looking forward to living in this particular area. We have always loved Southeast Portland, but this is a neighborhood we were only slightly familiar with and have never lived in before. It's a bit further out than we've lived before, but as we wandered around the shopping area of the neighborhood, we found that we'll have almost everything we need within about a ten minute walk of our house. Our house is about eight blocks from the main drag, which, happily, is home to the following:
  • A branch of Multnomah County Libraries (which rock, by the way)
  • A cute family-owned hardware store
  • Two (two!) Thai restaurants (this is dangerous for me...)
  • A branch of my bank
  • The aforementioned awesome family-owned bike store
  • A family owned sausage-heavy deli that has been around since the 1920s, and uses only local and free-range meats in their products. 
  • A fantastic artisan woodworking studio with a bin out back of free scrap wood!
  • Several cute cafes and coffee shops
  • A family-owned furniture store that has new bed sets for great prices, for when we can afford a new bed (i.e., not the futon we've been sleeping on for the last couple of years)
Among other things. Sadly, the only supermarket in the vicinity is a Safeway, which I detest, but it does house a Post Office branch, which is handy. However, we plan to do once-a-month or so supply trips to the good bulk grocery stores and get everything else at farmers markets and local shops, so the Safeway will hopefully only be used for the occasional time when we run out of something that we need immediately. The only thing I was really bummed about was that our new area was a long ways from any of Portland's farmer markets, but lo and behold, as we walked around we saw banners advertising a brand new farmer's market that will be opening the weekend after we move in, in the parking lot of a bank about seven blocks from our house!  So I'm kind of feeling like we have it made.

The other great news is that we have a move-in date, and will be official tenants of the house this Thursday, June 23rd! The downside is that Matt starts working full-time tomorrow (he will be leading outdoor education camps with an organization that teaches wilderness survival and homesteading skills, how awesome is that?) so I will be in charge of getting most of our stuff to the house on Thursday and Friday. I've rounded up a posse of girlfriends and a couple vehicles, so I'll pick up the keys Thursday morning and start the Big Move! We're so happy to be able to get in so early, so we can really start settling in and have a space of our own for the first time in most of year. Also, this will be the first time that Matt and I have lived together in a space that we have shared ownership of; I have moved into his apartment in the past, and he moved into mine last summer, but we've never had a place that was truly both of ours. We're both looking forward to it. Of course it will change a little bit when we get a housemate starting in August, but we'll have a little while to enjoy the place on our own and get all the kinks ironed out before then.

Finally, we wandered down to the Urban Farm Store this afternoon and had a look at chicks and supplies and asked a lot of questions, and came home with a bag of chick starter feed, so we'll be all prepared for getting our chicks home on Friday or Saturday. We're borrowing the rest of the brooder setup from my cousin and her husband, and will have a couple months of chick time during which we will build the outdoor coop and small chicken tractor we have planned. Sometime this winter, barring unforeseen circumstances, we will have fresh eggs from our own little backyard flock!

So there are lots of new and exciting things on the horizon for us, and at this time next week we will be in our own house, unpacking and organizing and tending to little peepers and planting a garden, all at the same time! Whew! It will be a lot to do, but I am so very ready for it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Going By Bike: Goodbye Sheila, Hello Dorothy!

One of the many reasons I was excited to get back to life in Portland was because that means, for me, going by bike. I have commuted by cycle since moving to Portland for college, and the only car I have owned was Lucy, our faithful old van in New Zealand. Now that I'm home, I am so happy to be back on two wheels, riding familiar streets and enjoying Portland's awesome bike culture, with zero carbon footprint. Portland is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the states, and you can get just about anywhere by bike, on designated low-traffic bike routes or in bike lanes on main streets. You can take your bike on the bus, streetcar or MAX (light-rail train system) with very little hassle, and there's a bike shop every five blocks or so throughout the city. These days, a lot of businesses are giving incentives for biking to work, and more and more people  are doing so because the cost of gas and the environmentally friendly nature of biking.

All of that said, I was stoked to get home and pull my bike out of storage, which I did last Monday.  Sheila, a 7-speed Centurion road bike that I bought used for $200 in 2003, has been my trusty steed for my entire life in Portland, and I've loved her dearly.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

We've clocked countless thousands of miles together, been in two wrecks together (one, a me-vs.-train tracks fiasco, the other due to a driver who made a right turn without looking first), and once hit a cat together (which is terrifying and emotionally heart-wrenching when you're in a car, and epically more so when you're on a bike. Don't worry, the cat was ok, just very sorry it jumped out of a bush right in front of us!).
However, in the months leading up to our departure for New Zealand, it became apparent that Sheila was getting increasingly decrepit, and as she had never been a great fit physically, I began to think that maybe I'd get a new bike when we got home. When we came home with less money than we'd anticipated, I thought I'd try and keep Sheila limping along for another year or two. Then on Monday I noticed that the rubber tread on one of her (admittedly ancient) tires was actually peeling off from the side of the tire, and knew it was only a matter of days before the tire completely self-destructed. I guess that's what five years of wear and tear and then nine months in storage will do. After biking around to a couple different shops for professional opinions, it became abundantly clear that the work it would take to keep this bike functioning well and safely for another couple years would amount to about $300-- approximately what it would cost to buy a nice used bike in better condition. Thus, I made the decision that it was time for Sheila to retire (at least from my use), and to go up for sale on Craigslist.

I assumed that I would have to go with another used bike due to my budget limitations, but today I am the proud owner of a brand new 21-speed Trek commuter bike that fits me to a tee, and cost me $455, six months of tune-up service included. I have always gotten amazing service from the Bike Gallery (of which there is a branch about 10 blocks from our new house! Also they are a local, family-owned business.), and once again they wowed me with their great deals and service and helped me find a bike that fits my proportions and needs and is very durable, and yet doesn't totally break the bank. She has been christened Dorothy, and is an absolute dream to ride.

This is one of those up-front investments that will pay for itself a hundredfold in the long run. If I can make a $200 used bike last for 8 years of constant use, surely this one will last me at least 20.

Getting around town by bike is one of those things that is absolutely integral to my life, and I hardly know what to do without it. Sure, sometimes it's a pain to ride up a big hill or make the 5-mile trip home after dark in the rain, and it can be tempting to drive, but ultimately I love traveling under my own steam, feeling my own physical power pushing me along. I love having exercise built into my day, and not having to set aside time to get a workout. I love being outside, smelling the flowers and feeling the sun, wind and rain, and laughing when the elements get a little too ridiculous (ever had to walk your bike home through 6 inches of unexpected snow? Or biked across a bridge in 40 mph winds? Sometimes you just have to laugh...). I love not having to pay for gas, parking, insurance, or any of the other huge expenses that go into owning a car. And I love knowing that my pedals don't need any petroleum products to make them go, and don't leave anything behind them but the traffic jams; no exhaust, no smog, no negative environmental impact. I also love that time on my bike is time to think. When I'm on my bike, I can't be doing anything else; it's just my time to pedal and think, and process what happened that day, or plan out what I need to do when I get to work or home, or just enjoy the scenery passing by while my body works out its kinks and burns off its day. I think it's the best kind of therapy, and I always feel great when I arrive at my destination!

I'm proud of my decision to get a new bike that is wonderfully comfortable for my body and makes riding easier (hills are so less intimidating now!). I know that this is a way to keep myself healthy, be kind to the earth and my fellow citizens, and save myself a LOT of money. This bike cost me $455 up front, and I already have my helmet, bike gloves and rain gear, and this morning I transferred my fenders, lights, and light brackets from Sheila to Dorothy. I do need a new U-lock, because my old one won't fit around Dorothy's slightly beefier frame. Apart from that, a bike takes approximately $60 worth of maintenance per year, and depending on what kind of tires you have and how much you ride, those need replacing every 2-5 years (at $25-40 per tire). One of my goals for the next year is to do most of my own bike maintenance, and their are loads of free clinics in town where I can learn, so hopefully this will cut down on my tune-up expenses. When I think that right now a tank of gas alone costs around $60 in Portland (for a sedan), the decision is already made for me.

Hopefully if you don't already go by bike, this will inspire you a little. I know for many people it's not an option- living out in the country, having a disability or injury or a job that requires a vehicle can make biking next to impossible. But if you're able, think about using a bike to ride to work even just a couple times a week, or to the farmer's market on weekends, or whatever. There are so many kinds of bikes, and ways of biking with kids and even babies (over 6 months old), and trailers and panniers for groceries and textbooks, that there is something available for almost everyone and every situation. Every little bit counts, and it can be such a fun thing besides. We all rode bikes as kids--how did that get to be a thing that people grew out of?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Home At Last

I'm back! After lots of wonderful vacationing, time with family and friends, and far too many plane rides for even my taste, Matt and I are back in Portland, for good this time! And after a few weeks off from writing, I am excited to be back, and although we are still a couple weeks away from moving into our new rental house (we are currently staying with my cousin, just a few blocks from my old apartment!), I am going to launch myself back into writing about our plans for our little homestead in the city, changing our shopping routines, and getting ourselves some chickens! (Yes, chickens!)

As you can see, I'm still messing around with the layout here, trying to find a template I really like, and I'm almost there! I just need some fresh photos, but those will have to wait until I actually have plants and chickens to take photos of. Do note that I've updated the links in the sidebar, lots of cool and useful stuff there. The Get Rich Slowly site is one of my new favorites. It has loads of helpful hints for saving money, shopping efficiently, and also a lot of good information around bigger financial things like mortgages, credit cards, loans, etc.

Although we're home, we're mostly still living off of the things we took to New Zealand with us. I am SO tired of these clothes. I've gotten a few things at Goodwill and I found an awesome free skirt hanging on a power pole yesterday (I love Portland), but mostly we're trying to hold out until we unpack our storage unit. We attempted to retrieve fresh clothes from the unit before we went to Hawaii, only to discover that in our slightly haphazard packing of the unit, all of our clothes ended up at the very back, underneath all of our furniture. Whoops.

We're still waiting for a move-in date for our house. It will be July 1 at the latest, but the current tenants thought they would be out around the 20th, in which case we will probably be able to move in a few days after that. Matt has already done some research on chicks, and the Urban Farm Store is getting a shipment in on June 24th, with all the breeds we want. With any luck, we'll have our own place by then. I've been doing some garden planning, as we'll be starting our garden so late in the season that there's not a moment to spare- for me, getting some plants in the ground takes priority over unpacking! We'll be able to buy pretty advanced starts for most of the things we want to grow, so I've been doing some comparison shopping to see what the best buys are.

I also decided that my free time right now (Matt already landed a job, but I'm still searching) is best put to use putting together a price book, so that when we move in and supply our kitchen, we'll know where to get the most bang for our buck. It's actually kind of fun, going to grocery stores without buying anything. I got a little looseleaf notebook and spent an hour at Fred Meyer today, writing down the best prices they had for all of the main staples that we buy. I felt like I was sleuthing out some kind of big corporate mystery, seeing the trends in pricing between brands and noting that at particular places you can only buy small bags of whole wheat flour, nothing over 5 pounds! Wow.

That's probably enough of my musing for now. I'm short on new photos at the moment, so sorry about all the text, but thanks for reading, and boy, is it good to be back!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hello from Maui!

Well, hello! I've completely lost track of time again, but after more than a week here on Maui, and well over a week since returning to the U.S. of A., I thought I'd jot down a short check-in. I can't describe (and won't try to) all of the emotions of coming home, the long flight from Auckland, the feeling of seeing friends and Matt's family again, how I was moved to tears by the smell of Portland when we stepped out of the car at Matt's dad's house, and how long it took to get past the jet lag. I had thought it might be a mistake to jet off to Hawaii so soon after getting home, but it turns out that we really needed a vacation! We were exhausted and basically broke, and this trip is entirely on Matt's dad's dime, so we have the luxury of not worrying about money here; in celebration of his 70th birthday, K wanted to get the whole family together at the hotel they have always gone to here in Kahana. So here we are, on the 7th floor in a relatively luxurious condo, with temperatures never dropping below 70 F at night, palm trees and ocean and flowers everywhere you look, and we have our dark tans back! It's not the sort of vacation I would ever buy for myself, but as it is, it's exactly what we needed. In the two days between flying in from Auckland and flying out to Kahului, we re-learned driving on the right (ok, Matt did. I still haven't gotten behind the wheel yet), ate Mexican food twice, saw our new house and signed the lease on it, and saw ALL of our good friends, the new babies, and a newly bought house- all at once. It was all so incredibly good, but also incredibly overwhelming, and as good as it was to be home, it was kind of nice to escape to this tropical paradise and decompress for ten days and spend time with Matt's family!

Now that our vacation here is drawing to a close (we fly back to Portland on Sunday), I'm feeling so relaxed and happy, ready to go visit my family for the next week, and so looking forward to getting back to Portland and building a home with Matt at our sweet little house. I can't tell you how excited I am by it- it's small, but the yard and garden more than make up for it. Just for a preview,  the backyard alone sports rhubarb, two established strawberry patches, a healthy tangle of raspberries, an apple tree, and two Asian pear trees! Not to mention massive bushes of mint and rosemary, lots of rose bushes (this is Portland, after all) and so much space for so many delicious vegetables. I can't wait to get in there and get my hands in dirt again.

I have lots of ideas for my blog (you'll notice the new bright look, as I've been tooling around with the layout and design settings) that I hope to get rolling once I'm settled back in Portland in the middle of the month. Until then I'll probably be out of the loop again, enjoying a second vacation up in the woods of my childhood, catching up with my parents and my brother and sister-in-law next week. I plan to soak it up and enjoy it all as much as possible, but am very excited to set up housekeeping again once we move into our little bungalow.

Until next time, here's a few photos of our time here on Maui, where I very much hope to return someday.
 Soaking wet from the Kakalele Blowhole on the northwest coast.

Me and Jessa at the ruins of an ancient 3-acre Heiau, or temple, on the Hana Highway.

 That's me snorkeling with a massive sea turtle at Black Rock on Ka'anapali Beach!

With my sweetie at breakfast in Lahaina on our first day here.