Friday, February 24, 2012

We've Rounded the Bend!

I can finally say with certainty that we survived the winter, at least to the point that the constant signs of impending spring will keep me going until it really kicks off. The weather over the last few days has been stormy and blustery, switching between torrential rain and blue skies in the course of five minutes, but with that distinct freshness to the air that promises spring. This morning dawned bright and clear and sunny, and we woke up to bird song (as Matt points out, we wake up to "birdsong" every morning, but this morning it was tweety birds in addition to the squawky birds). While my ever-present stack of books and papers told me I should be inside writing a research paper, I made an executive decision to spend the morning outside, which turned out to be a good plan, as now it is 1 PM and the clouds have rolled in again. I puttered around, pulling out dead lemon balm stocks and cutting back the out-of-control roses in our curb strip, and pulled up lots of chickweed and purslane for the hens to scratch through. It feels like spring! You still have to look closely to find proof, but when you seek them out, the signs are everywhere:

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 Buds on the Asian pear.

I don't know what these will be, but the leaves are pretty!

Pussywillows over the driveway.

 The rhubarb is thriving!

Lots of new growth on all our rosebushes.

 The first camellia blossom, and many more on the way....


 The garlic is growing away- apparently mulching it with rabbit poo was a good idea! As far as I can tell, every clove we planted is well on its way to bulbhood.

I think these are going to be the little purple lilies that are so common here in the spring. Whatever they are, they're coming up absolutely everywhere.

Next week is March, and in three weeks we plant potatoes! For me that's the true start the growing season, and I'm very much looking forward to it- it will be the perfect antidote to finals week!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Winter Vegetable Roast

A simple veggie roast is our standby quick meal, and the baked version of another standby meal, the Fry-Up. You can use whatever vegetables (or meat) that you have on hand. We made ours two nights ago with potatoes, onions, garlic, and half a yellow bell pepper.

Mix everything with liberal amounts of olive oil and whatever herbs or spices you like, and bake until it's done. This is also really good with cut up sausage in it, and almost any vegetable makes a great addition- celery, carrots, squash, or greens like kale and chard. We've also done this with slices of lemon in it! This one we ate with smoked herring for some protein, and steamed carrots, another standby in our house. I cut up carrots into thin strips (not nearly so elegant as matchsticks, but along those lines), steam them for five minutes or so, and then dress them with extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon juice, and pepper. The trick is to get them cooked just the right amount, not mushy but not hard.

(Sorry about the photo quality. The lighting in our kitchen at night is abysmal). 

The last few days, I have been able to come home a couple hours earlier than usual, and it has made me so happy to get extra time at home, in the daylight, to do outside chores, and cook and clean, and hang out with Matt. Unlike the last couple of weeks, I have done the cooking for the last few dinners, the veggie bake and then a cheesy tuna noodle casserole last night (not as heart-healthy as most of our meals, but comfort food for Matt, who has come down with a cold). Tonight I'm planning to make a simple veggie soup and a salad. It makes all the difference to feel connected to home again after a couple weeks of chaos and class and late nights.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A New Chicken Run!

I came home yesterday to find that Matt had been hard at work, fencing off the western side of our backyard to keep the chickens off the back lawn:

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This is part of our effort to reclaim our backyard, and have it lush and green and free of chicken poo by the time summer rolls around. Now I will be able to lay on a blanket in the backyard this summer with the chickens nearby, but not walking across me! We were also concerned for our fruit trees. We protected the bottoms of the trunks with chicken wire, but know that excessive chicken scratching can bother the trees. All the trees in the new chicken run are lilacs, and while we want them to bloom beautifully (I can't wait! Just a couple more months!), they are not a source of food for us like the apples and Asian pears are.

 The simple wire gate where we can get through to the garage.

I wanted to be in on the building of the run, but this week has been incredibly busy for me (I'm writing this in one short morning break before heading to campus again for a Friday-and-Saturday class) so Matt ended up doing it himself. We had been looking for supplies on both Craigslist and Freecycle for a couple weeks with no luck (chicken wire and fencing are in high demand in Portland), so Matt ended up going to the local hardware and getting all the supplies, and some other things we needed, for $30, so it still didn't cost too much. Also, the t-posts and wire will be something we can take with us when we move and use for a long time in the future. This run was a solution to the need to give the chickens room to roam without going on the grass, that won't damage the property here at all- we can take down the run in a matter of minutes and no one would even know it had been here (apart from all the chicken scratch!).

Happily digging. 

The next task is to re-attach the coop door with the hinges on the side, and rig it with a pedal so the chickens can let themselves out in the morning. We know several people that have done this to keep their chickens quiet in the morning, and given the racket that our flock makes wanting to get out of the coop at first light (which will end up being around 4 AM in the height of summer...), we are all for it!

Over in the garden is a new little tent of reemay (protective cloth/webbing that keeps plants warm and lets in 75% of sunlight) that we set up on Monday night when our first little green seedlings got transplanted outside.

Under the tent, our little cold-hardy greens are doing just fine! Kale, arugula, mizuna, mibuna, yukina, and miners lettuce. I also planted a batch of sugar pod peas on Monday- I might be jumping the gun a little bit, but I just couldn't wait to get a few things in the ground!

Upstairs under the lights, some spinaches and pak choys are growing away, and we clipped leaves and our first salad of them two nights ago. There is absolutely nothing like fresh fresh greens in the dark of winter. I could practically feel the vitamins hitting my bloodstream. We won't transplant those little guys (spinach doesn't transplant well anyway), but will just keep eating from them until they give out.

I've been thinking a lot recently about how it's late summer in the Southern Hemisphere right now. Back in New Zealand, the north will be steaming hot and everything will be lush and green. Man, I miss that! (What I don't miss is working in the packhouse, which is where I was a year ago!)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

This Week...

...lots of homework was done. And a lot still remains to be done this weekend.

...I managed to get my hands back into knitting, even if it was just a few rows on a dishcloth I started two months ago. It felt good.

...we took down the light on the chicken coop. It's light till almost 6 pm now, and the change doesn't seem to have affected the hens at all. We still get 5 eggs most days!

...I got my hair trimmed up again. Still loving this hairstyle.

...our little kales, arugulas and other cold-hardy greens are hardening off on the front stoop during the day. My plan is to have them in the ground on Monday or Tuesday. mama has a big birthday- today! Happy Birthday, Mom! You make 60 look great!

In the next week, we'll celebrate Jessa's birthday on the 14th, and then my brother Tighe turns 29 on the 19th! Lots of birthdays to go around at this time of year when spring is just starting to show itself.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our Sunny Saturday

It's been a really glorious weekend here. After working hard all week, I was able to take a day off from schoolwork yesterday and spend a good long Saturday with Matt, soaking up the sun (and wind) on a beautifully clear, crisp day. We started the morning right with a good sleep-in, then whipped up some buckwheat pancakes (using the recipe from Nourishing Traditions) and ate them with some yummy local bacon and a variety of canned and frozen fruit and berries that we have been rationing out carefully since this summer. Those peaches and raspberries just taste like little spoonfuls of sunshine, it was perfect.

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We spent a couple hours of the afternoon working outside and doing some organizing in the garage, reveling in having the sun shine down on our faces and the clear, cold wind blowing spring towards us. Matt cut back the roses that we have badly neglected since summer, leaving all the new growth that has popped out in the last week. I took a wander around the property, picking up bits of garbage that have blown in, been dropped in our curb strip, or been dug up by the chickens. Then I went and played with the compost heaps, giving both of our active heaps a big turn while the sun was on them.

Both heaps are coming along wonderfully.

Until last week, this section was still full of sticks and other big yard debris, but finally we got it all sent off to the city compost site, and this space is now free for all of our chicken- and rabbit-straw. It will compost on its own, and we can also take from these heaps to add to our other compost piles. We are keeping the two piles separate because the rabbit straw and droppings can be applied directly to the garden as mulch, but the chicken stuff can burn plants if it isn't yet composted. Matt asked how we would keep straight which heap was which- I said Rabbit goes on the Right, because they both start with R! 

Taking a good look at the havoc the hens have wrought on our backyard this winter, we have begun toying with the idea of fencing off the western side of the yard, under the lilac trees, to create a large chicken run that will connect to their coop:

With this big section fenced in, they'll still be able to free range, but we'll be able to reclaim the lawn before summer. Last summer the chickens were too young to be ranging much, so we had the lawn free of chicken poo and full of nice green grass for lounging around on, and a great yard for summer parties. Since we've been letting the hens out to range most days, this is what our back lawn now looks like:

Because it's winter, the grass hasn't even been able to fight back. We'd like to have it green and healthy again for summer, and also we're pretty sure our landlord wouldn't be too excited to see it like this. So I think we'll be perusing Freecycle for some more chicken fencing and temporary fenceposts.

We had a beautiful hike around Powell Butte later in the afternoon, with glorious views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and from the top of the butte, a view of the very tip of Mt. Jefferson, away to the south. Back home, we cooked up one of my very favorite curries for dinner, which we hadn't made since before we went to New Zealand. It's so delightful, all spices and pineapple and sweet potatoes and coconut milk. The recipe is in this post. It's also wonderful because it's completely lactose- and gluten-free, and you could easily make it without the chicken and substitute veggie stock or water for the chicken stock, and have a vegan meal.

As you can see, the recipe makes a very generous amount of curry, which happily means I'll be eating this for lunch for the next few days!

I have a goal for myself for the coming week(s), which is to be more productive in the evenings. Unlike the last couple weeks, when I crashed into bed and veged out every night after dinner, I want to accomplish at least one small task every evening, whether it is finishing knitting a dishcloth, baking a batch of cookies, or doing some mundane task like organizing my desk. I want to do more with my time, and I know from experience that doing these small tasks helps me keep my energy up.

I hope you all had a lovely weekend, and that you are feeling rested and ready for the week ahead!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Few Observations From the Week

As you may have noticed from my lack of posts in the past couple of weeks, school and my internship have been eating my life. I am almost around the bend (just in time for mid-terms...), but still have quite a pile of work hanging over my head. I miss blogging regularly, but having not cooked, crafted, or even been at home all week, it's hard to come up with subject matter and summon the brain power. This week, though, in between coping with Biostatistics, researching funders for my nonprofit grantwriting class, and carrying out an epidemiological assessment for my course in Health Promotion Program Planning, a few things have been reaffirmed for me:

1) Calculating intersecting probabilities makes we want to set things on fire.

2) Doctor Who is the perfect antidote to an overworked brain robbed of energy.

3) There is a definite promise of spring in the air. February is always the time when that shift happens here, and this morning it is clear and sunny, and I spotted a patch of daffodil sprouts on my way to the bus stop.

4) I have a wonderful and capable partner who has been amazing at keeping our home organized and functioning and our chickens and rabbits alive and well while I've been swamped in homework and study groups. He's done all of that while job searching and helping a local community development agency set up a community garden at one of their housing sites. This week, he also had to undertake the grim task of dispatching a nest of baby rats while I was safely ensconced in a study lounge at school. I feel so lucky to have him.

With that, it's back to the books.