Our Extraordinary Solar/Wind Hybrid Powered Clothes Dryer

A few months ago, with the awareness that a clothes dryer is the most energy hungry appliance in the house after a fridge, we bought an extraordinary invention.

It is a wind and solar powered hybrid.

It requires no energy to run, and dries clothes in just a few hours.

It scares crows.

It is…

a Hill’s Hoist!

hill's hoist

Oh, Hill’s Hoist, How I love thee. I love that you hold all of my families clothes with ease. I love that you can wind down to easily load the clothes, or wind up to spin in the air. I love how efficient you are. I love how reminiscent you are of our other home, Australia.

Could I have been scrappier? Sure, and we are – we actually have a clothes line made from leftover nylon rope on our porch. But damn, the hoist is a thing of long term, sun-drenched beauty, and dries our clothes in about 3 hours in the full sun. That’s my kind of investment!

Scrap Appeal

When I was growing up, I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be intelligent, and interesting, and funny. I craved feeling self-assured, put together, chic. 

I never thought to work towards being scrappy.  That one is coming much, much later in life.

When some think of scrappy, they think dirty, untidy, or all over the place. For me, however, scrappy is the epitome of being a true farm girl by leveraging what you have to create what you need. 

There is a woman who lives across the country in upstate New York named Jenna Woginrich.  She has redefined the word scrappy – if you look it up in the dictionary, chances are her photo will be a gleaming beacon of all things scrap.  She, a single woman in her early 30s, has managed to create a thriving farm with all sorts of livestock and pays her mortgage without having a traditional full-time office job. Of course, she works something like 100 hours a week to maintain her animals, do graphic design, and teach workshops on everything from playing the fiddle to making soap, as well as writing a truly magnificent blog (Cold Antler Farm – one of my all time favorites). However, she mostly does it, I’d argue, by having an overwhelming amount of scrappiness.

Jenna Woginrich

(source)

Our friends down the road who own Stoneboat Farm, also have just a crapton-o-scrap.  In the time that we managed to plant a few tomato plants and have a baby, they launched a thriving CSA, sell at several large supermarkets, and have their gorgeous vegetables at a dozen restaurants…and also have a baby. Again, it seems like half of their methodology is simply by being scrappy and using what they have. (As well as tons of passion and knowledge and experience…but that’s not the point of this particular post.)

Stoneboat

(Source)

As a New York City girl, I never had to covet this quality. If a shoe was wearing out, you threw it out.  If the handle broke off a mug, you threw out the mug. Buying consignment was only done if it was by a designer, and thanks to my parents profound generosity, do without wasn’t a concept I had around anything I needed, or many things I wanted. 

Now that we own a farm, however, scrappiness is a premium trait, as HOLY CANOLLI, a farm is an expensive place to live. Raising animals is a mind-blowingly expensive proposition if you want to raise them safely, on pasture, and with local and organic feed, which we do. And it only gets more expensive if you buy all the infrastructure that they need new.

laying hens

So, slowly but surely, we’re building up our scrap appeal.  Instead of buying new tin to cover their chicken tractors, we’re using scrap metal from a barn roof that was being pulled down up the road. Instead of buying a tractor, we’re making due with wheelbarrows, a 10 year old ride on mower we’ve named Stu, and a lot of walking. Instead of buying new furniture, we’ve mostly gratefully accepted family and friends cast-offs and loans (a new bookshelf, however, is definitely on the way.) 

chicken tractor

Don’t get me wrong – we are a long, long way from ever being able to call ourselves scrappy (Anthony is much closer. I still look to Amazon before Craigslist. <— working on it). However, at least now I have a clearer sense of what I am working towards – a life of sane and happy usefulness, with much scrap and less waste. 

The Catch-22 Of Motherhood: Why Don’t You Sleep When the Baby Sleeps?

I recently had a chat with a friend about motherhood and the profound, earth shattering, and indescribable lack of sleep that had accompanied the joy and delight of bringing a small human into the world. He asked me the classic question that often comes in the form of well-meaning advice from doctors, the childless, and perhaps those who have revised sense of history of what it was like to have small children:

“Why don’t you sleep when the baby sleeps?”

Ethan not asleep

It seems so obvious, right? The kiddo takes 2-3 40 minute to 2 hour naps each day.  If I’m so tired, why wouldn’t I just take naps when he sleeps?

It has something to do with this a strong desire to feel like a human being, not just a mom.  As Ethan’s primary carer (sidenote: I would love to find an alternative term to stay-at-home mom, but this one is too clinical. Any suggestions? Homemaker? Domestic Engineer?) I spend the vast majority of my day either entertaining him, or feeling guilty for not entertaining him while cleaning, taking care of the chickens or garden, or performing any other task that is required during his waking hours. (sidenote 2: mommy guilt. It’s real and it’s brutal, at least for me.) When he’s asleep, the last thing I want to do is take a nap myself, as it’s the only time I have to write, read, or simply be by myself. 

Ethan sleeping

Especially considering I am working very hard on putting my phone and computer away when he is awake, this is the time to feel connected to the outside world and engaged with life outside the farm.  However, this is problematic as when I am exhausted, it’s doubly difficult not to zone out and scroll through instagram when he’s feeding, or even be able to enjoy playing with him and seeing the world through his remarkable, fresh eyes.

A friend recently asked me if I miss using my brain. While this stung (I feel like my brain is put to good use raising a baby, as well as taking care of my family, as well as starting a small business, but thanks so much for asking!) I do know that more sleep would absolutely help the fuzziness that surrounds my every day interactions. However, right now, even with the fuzziness, connecting to others and my personal pursuits is worth the sacrifice. 

Own Your Life. Own Your Choices.

Inertia is a dreadful sensation.  That feeling of being stuck, of dullness, of being absorbed by the dreary quicksand of day-to-day life. That is how I’ve felt for the past several months. In between moments of giddiness at seeing my son roll over and hearing him giggle, brief glimpses into how extraordinary it is to live on a farm and grow vegetables, poultry, and two maniacal kittens, and treasured times of tenderness with my husband, the sneaking suspicion that I have nothing to contribute has seeped into my consciousness. 

I have this idea that before, because I worked in a high stress, no money job in a very fancy hospital, I was more of value.

I have this notion that because I am living off my husbands income, I am inching closer to being a waste of space.

Even though I would gladly defend any parent and their choice to stay “at home” (bullshit phrase, as most parents who are the primary caregivers to their children are rarely in the house), my choosing to do so in some way means I have failed. 

While Ethan naps, I have been frantically googling “flexible psychology jobs” Hillsboro, even with the knowledge that I have no real interest in leaving him with another carer at this point.

While out in my garden or feeding my chickens or cleaning out their pen, I have this notion that I have failed everyone who has had faith in my intellect, my business acumen, and ability to earn an income.

I’ve also been a treat to be around, I assure you.

However, today, sitting in a local coffee shop to get out of our scalding hot homestead (102 degrees at last check), while filling out the paperwork to establish ourselves as an LLC, it crossed my mind that our little farm is now my business. The chickens, the vegetables, our future livestock, and most of all, the conscientious upbringing of our son (who currently is in his carseat, wearing just a diaper, sucking on a metal spoon – so we’re working on the conscientious part) – this is my job. My profession. And I can bring all the skills and intelligence that I used working at the hospital and more to make this farm a success.

This simple change of perspective has had a profound impact on the lens I use to view my life.  I could get all philosophical about it, and talk about how undervalued stay-at-home parents and farmers are, or how the only reality is the one we’re living, but plenty of others have described these concepts beautifully.  The TL;DR version of this is simply that the only person who can make me feel better about my life is me. I choose how I view my life.  I can choose to listen to the people who talk about how amazing and busy and hard-working I am (hi, mom!) or to the voices that say because I don’t get a fortnightly pay-check, my contribution to society is less than. Or, I can choose to keep doing what I’m doing, learning what I’m learning, and thank my lucky stars that my life is the abundant gift it is. 

Grow, baby, Grow!

Well, from a giant lawn to a thriving vegetable garden and home to 56 chickens, a lot can change in a few short months!

We are growing:

  • Zucchini
  • Kale (3 types: lacinato, red russian, and curly leaf)

kale

  • Tomatoes (green zebra, old german, and a few others including a few cherries)
old german tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
carrots and parsnips
  • Cucumbers
  • Winter squash
  • Herbs (all of the major ones)

We are harvesting:

  • Cucumbers!  Wow, what a bumper crop we’ve had of amazing white cucumbers. They can be a bit tricky to harvest as they are covered with little spikes and turn yellow very quickly, but they have done amazingly well.cucumbers
  • Zucchini. A few, anyway. There apparently wasn’t enough pollination, so next year we should plant them near flowers. 
  • Kale! Oh, how beautiful and abundant kale is.
  • Garlic.  We planted our garden in February and harvested the whole lot a few days ago. Most were fairly small heads, but we had a few large ones which we’ll save for next years seed.
  • Herbs – I only just realized after having a huge garden of abundant herbs that I not only don’t cook enough with herbs, I really don’t know what to do with them.  Besides chives in eggs and basil for pesto, I’m a bit at a loss for non specialized dishes.

The chickens:

We are raising 6 laying hens with one rooster (named Fabio.) They are hilarious and are becoming eggcellent layers (sorry.)  We get between 2 and 5 eggs per day, although that will hopefully become more consistent with time. 

 

chickens

We are also raising 49 meat chickens (we started with 51, but lost two – more on that in the next post.) They are freedom rangers from Freedom Ranger hatchery, and except for the aforementioned two, have proven to be lively, hearty little creatures. We plan on slaughtering them here on the farm with several of our experienced friends in mid-October.

chickens

Other animals:

After five long years of pressure, my darling husband broke down and let me adopt two kittens for “mousing” (read: cuddling.) They are absolutely precious and a delight to have around. I adore them. Their names are Luke and Leia.

kitten

I think that’s everything we have. And boy, is it good. 

 

 

I Don’t Know Jack

This is the last time I will ever say this on this blog: Please pardon my absence. Not because it won’t happen again, but because honestly, it feels pathetic to say such a thing when A) it keeps happening, B) my blog is probably not something you’ve been checking 10 times a day, frantically pressing refresh on, waiting for my inspiring content about chickens or kale, and C) it’s just life, and life happens. However, in the spirit of friendship, please pardon me for not writing. I’ll try not to let it happen again, but no guarantees. See point C.

In my next post, I will show you some photos of my garden, which to my neophyte (and hungry) eyes looks spectacular. The garlic stalks rise above the weeds in a defiant crowd, the kale is springy, and the tomato plants are not yet dead

I still do not know anything at all about gardening, save for “oh, water helps avoid tragic death” and “Fish emulsion is like lemon ginger tea: it might not be the exact perfect cure, but it won’t hurt, and it’ll probably make your plant feel better.” We started approximately 120 tomato seeds, and five survived to germination.  Zero had enough strength to make it into the ground, as I knew the word up-potting but not the actions surrounding it. Kale, carrots and parsnips are the only vegetables we started from seed. In the paraphrased words of Erica Strauss, if you want to feel like a badass gardener, try growing kale in the Pacific Northwest. 

Problems get easier when you can throw money at them.  While I know it is doable to start seed to create a garden in the ground in clay soil, it’s much easier when you can afford to buy soil (as we did), build raised garden beds (as Anthony did), or cover your tomatoes with a custom hoop house (as Anthony did). (As a caveat, life in general is easier when you have a remarkably wonderful partner to get you through it.) It’s also easier when you have time to devote to your plants, which we do, even though it often feels as though life with an infant goes in some bizarre combination of warp speed and snail. We purchased seedlings from a local farm, soil from Portland, fish emulsion from a Marijuana growing supply store, juniper from a dude named Mark, and the rest from Amazon or Home Depot.  Not exactly the vision of simplicity and living la vida local I had when starting our private Eden. 

All this is to say that I am just another bozo on the bus, and am delighting in the fact that it looks like we may be able to eat a kale salad and a green zebra or two before the summer is out. 

 

Highlight Local: Manaia Coffee House and Island Grill

This weekend, we ventured into Hillsboro to check out the local Farmer’s market.  We adore PSU’s market, but we wanted to get a feel for the local flavor and meet the vendors. It was a broiling hot day by Hillsboro in May standards – 85 degrees and sunny.  So, almost as soon as we got there, we wanted to take a break to get Ethan out of the sun, and found our new favorite local brewhouse, Manaia Coffeehouse and Island Grill

Mainaia Coffee House

The space is beautifully designed to be both spacious and welcoming.  It’s designed with wood and brick, with a variety of seating options from chairs to bar stools to a couch in the back. 

Manaia Interior

They brew locally roasted Longbottom Coffee, and have a wide variety of fancy sweet drinks as well as the more traditional espresso based beverages. 

Manaia Menu

They also offer a small but thoughtful food menu that reflects the Samoan flair of the cafe, and includes options for all diets, from vegan to paleo.  They use pastured, GMO-free chicken which is a really delightful touch.

Manaia menu

I love their use of color and pops of personality throughout the space. They have a wall that highlights local artists, as well as a kids corner. Now that I have one, I think every coffeeshop would benefit from having a kids corner!

IMG 3414

kids corner

Their coffee is really quite tasty, and it’s such a warm, lovely place that I’d rather come here and spend a morning than go to any of the more high-brow coffee houses in Portland proper.  The locals seem to agree, as we went in a few times during the day and it was always crowded with people from all walks of life, from toddlers drawing on the chalk board to seniors chatting leisurely over their cuppa.

Definitely highly recommended if you’re in Hillsboro!

When the babe’s away…

The dog does play.

Chewy in Ethan's bed

Then and Now

It’s amazing how much can change over the course of a few months.

Here’s the garlic then…

garlic then

Garlic now.

garlic now

Chickens then…

Chickens then

chickens then 2
 
Chickens now.

Chickens now

Chicken brooder…

Brooder

Chicken coop!

Chickencoop

Fruit trees while I was pregnant…

fruit trees

Fruit trees now that he’s out!

blossoming tree

And of course, baby then…

Ethan then

And Ethan now!

Ethan smiling

What a great smile, am I right?

Also, just a few shots of our gorgeous blooming flowers…

wisteria blooming

roses

Amazing Sunday night dinner on the porch, with a little vino.

salad for dinner

Happy Monday!

Don’t worry…

Bee Happy!

bees

We have bees now!  So exciting. They are actually loner bees from a man named Bee (true story!) and they’re busy buzzing and pollinating our fruit trees.  They are such fun to watch!  Here are some fun bee facts:

Bees are the only insects that eat food produced by man.

Honey bees have 170 oderant receptors, compared with only 62 in fruit flies and 79 in mosquitoes. Their sense of smell is so precise that it can differentiate between hundreds of different floral varieties and tell whether a flower carried pollen or nectar from many feet away.

A toxin in bee venom called meltier may prevent HIV.

During chillier seasons, worker bees can live for nine months. But in summer, they rarely last longer than six weeks – they literally work themselves to death.

To make one pound of honey, the bees in the colony must visit 2 million flowers, fly over 55,000 miles and will be the the lifetime work of approximately 768 bees.

Honey is the only food that includes all substances necessary to sustain life, including water.

Happy Wednesday!