Country Living Series

Friday, May 25, 2018

Flying the coop

One of my favorite birds is the humble robin.

It's hard to resist photographing these perky, fearless thrushes. They's so durned photogenic.

We had a robin's nest on the rafter in our barn.

I often saw one parent or the other with beaks stuffed with goodies for the babies.

These delectable treats were then shoved down the throats of whatever mouth looked widest.

Pretty soon the fledglings got so big, they sorta slopped over the edges of the nest. They looked like lazy bums lounging in bed, waiting for mama to feed them.

I thought the jaunty tufts of feathers above the eyes was a particularly nice touch.

On May 18 I went out and saw one of the fledglings had flown the coop.

Suddenly everywhere I turned, fledglings would explode in awkward flight away from me. There were only four, the standard number of chicks, but they seemed quite invisible until they would suddenly scatter away from me (making it hard to photograph them). It must have been quite a task for the parent birds to keep track of where their offspring were, since they keep feeding them for a couple more weeks until the kids learn to catch their own food.

Meanwhile I saw a parent with what looked like new nesting material (curiously, they never use the same nest twice). No time to waste! Must start another brood!

And so summer continues....

Thursday, May 24, 2018

One of these things is not like the other...

A couple days ago as Don and I were driving out, he glanced up at some approaching Canada geese flying in a classic V-formation. "That's a nice-looking flock," he remarked.

But as the flock got closer, we noticed something unusual: a white bird flying amidst the grey/brown Canada geese.

I snatched my camera and managed to get a shot. I believe the interloper is a snow goose.

Mixing species is certainly nothing unusual. A few years ago in November or December (I forget which), I was driving down our two-mile dirt road on the way to town. At a low spot, I braked to allow a small flock of turkeys to walk across the road. I had to rub my eyes and take a second look, because there in the midst of the turkeys was ... a pea hen. As in, a female peacock. In north Idaho. In early winter. Just walking calmly with the turkeys.

(Not my photo)

I guess if you're all alone in the world, you'll grab whatever company you can.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Q&A: Laundry, eggs, meals

Here are a few recent questions posed by readers:

“Can you tell us a little bit more about your system for hanging clothes, please? I can’t really tell how it’s done on those larger clothing items. Looks like a great idea though.”

Once upon a time, I had a regular clothesline.

Clearly it was great for summer use, but not so great for winter use, so during inclement and cold weather I just used our (propane) dryer.

Then two things happened.

One, we ran short of propane in January 2008, during a time when there was too much snow on our rugged dirt road for the propane delivery guy to fill our tanks. We had to severely curtail any and all propane use, including the dryer. So I went to a local hardware store to see about a standing clothes drying rack. The sales clerk showed me the only one they had left in stock, sitting on a shelf, for the rather exorbitant price of $45. “But it’s broken,” I said to the clerk, pointing to a fractured dowel.

“Then I’ll drop the price to $30,” he said.

“But it’s also broken here.” I pointed to another fractured dowel.

“$15 then.”


I took the rack home, mended the dowels with wood glue, set it up in front of the wood stove, and hung a load of laundry. It only held one load, but it dried the clothes beautifully. I remember looking at it and telling Don, “I’ll never use the dryer again.” And I haven’t.

I used that single indoor clothes rack exhaustively throughout all winter weather thereafter. The only annoying thing is it really didn’t hold sheets well – it was far too small. So when it came time to wash sheets, I only washed one set at a time and draped them over the handrail of our stairs to dry.

Then the second thing happened: My outdoor clothesline broke from overuse in October 2010 (dropping four loads of wet laundry to the ground).

So Don built me a clothes rack suspended from the ceiling of our upstairs, which has a pitched roof.

Originally the rack was on pulleys suspended by paracord, the idea being I would raise or lower the rack as needed. As it turned out, I literally never moved the rack at all – it was at a fine level for hanging clothes – and the only disadvantage is it blocked the doors to a tiny second-floor deck.

A couple years ago, Don removed the rack, split it in half length-wise, and rehung it in another part of the upstairs under the sloped ceiling (on permanent supports, not pulleys), so now we have full access to the little outside deck.

This clothes rack absolutely revolutionized our household laundry. It easily holds four loads of laundry. I hang shirts on hangers along the edges.

Sheets are no trouble at all – I remember once when we were all recovering from the flu, I had everyone strip their beds and I washed all the sheets and hung them without a problem.

I have two standing racks I use for socks and dish towels.

Interestingly, Older Daughter requested a standing rack as a birthday present last December. Growing up with line-dried clothes, at first she thought a clothes dryer was kinda neat (she’s a live-in nanny with a professional family in New Jersey), but now she understands dryers are expensive to operate and batter the clothes around. She uses her collapsible clothes rack when needed and folds it away in her closet when it’s not in use.

And so the legacy continues.

Next question:

“What do you do with your extra eggs? Do you barter, or feed them to Darcy or what?”

All of the above. We barter them, we sell them, and a few go to Mr. Darcy. A few years ago, we bartered eggs for Younger Daughter's music lessons. We have several neighbors who buy eggs, and I have a lady in Coeur d’Alene who will take eight or ten dozen eggs whenever I’m in town (every few weeks). Yesterday I had fourteen dozen eggs in the fridge (!!) but thankfully my buyer in Coeur d'Alene took the whole batch. Obviously the chickens don’t lay this heavily year-round.

Last question:

“Also, now that you are empty nesters, how much time do you spend making meals and what are some of your typical meals? You have mentioned Don loves sandwiches so do you go simple with just the two of you?”

Yes, Don is a sandwich guy, so I make sure we always have fresh bread in the house (I use a bread machine and make about three loaves a week).

Since the kids are gone, we don’t jointly cook much, so we just forage whatever is in the fridge. We have a freezer full of beef, so sometimes Don cooks a roast, slices it, and that becomes lunch meat. Of course we’ll eat any leftovers when we host the neighborhood potluck.

Right now the garden is just getting planted so we don’t have much by way of fresh food (unless we buy it), but we have a pantry full of food I canned up, so we’ll often raid that. In short, we just eat when we’re hungry and have whatever is on hand.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How much car can you afford?

I stumbled across an interesting article recently entitled "Find out how much car you can afford with 20/4/10 rule." The idea, it seems, is not to spend too much on vehicles. Consider this passage:
"The 20/4/10 is a good example of one. It can help you get solid starting numbers to help your car buying decisions. Here’s how it works:

• 20% down payment on the car.
• 4-year car loan or less.
• 10% or less of your gross monthly income goes towards car expenses including gas, insurance, DMV fees, repairs, parking/speeding tickets, and interest payments.

Imagine you want to purchase a new car for $30,000 and you earn roughly $50,000 a year. That means you need to put at most a down payment of $6,000 (20% of the cost) and spend no more than $417 a month (10% of your income) on expenses for it."
I found this to be appalling advice, especially coming from a website entitled "I will teach you to be rich." How can you become rich if you "invest" (cough cough) in financially losing strategies by putting yourself in extreme debt for something that does not hold value? Hellooooo?

How's this for a concept: If you earn $50,000/year, you have no business buying a $30,000 car. New cars literally -- literally -- lose half their value the very second the wheels leave the car lot.

If you're trying to be rich, I imagine the first rule of thumb is not to spend money on things you can't afford, especially things that don't hold their value. Foolish people that we are, we buy used but reliable $2000 vehicles for cash and drive them until they fall apart.

Of course, we're not rich, so what do I know? Maybe it's better to listen to the experts.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A day in the life

A friend and I were noodling around a blog post called "A day in the life" in which I would document what I do in a 24-hour period, thus answering the eternal question of "What do you DO all day?" now that we're empty nesters. So I did just that -- documented a couple of sample days, namely Thursday May 17 through Friday May 18.

Thursday, 5 am
Got up, made tea, scanned the news on the Internet, started some writing projects.

6 am
By this point Amy and the calves started to bellow. At the moment, Amy is a nurse cow; she's nursing not only her own calf, but Little Orphaned Anna as well, after her mother Polly died. Amy will tolerate Anna's nursing, but only when her own calf is nursing. To make sure both calves will nurse simultaneously, we put them in a separate pen at night and I let them out in the morning.

Because Amy can get a bit testy with Anna, I usually stand and hold the lead rope to keep Amy quiet. It can be boring until I remember to look around and enjoy the scenery. I imagine there are a lot of people who wouldn't mind watching the dawn come in and listening to a chorus of birdsong.

When Amy finished nursing the calves, I put her down in the pasture with the other cows until noon or so. I released the chickens and checked for any morning eggs.

6:20 am
Back into the house to work on my tea and on the computer. I'm a morning person and my brain is most alert during this time of day, so it's the logical time to write. On this particular day, I finished up my WND column...

...and drew up a calendar for my writing commitments over the next couple of months to make sure I don't miss any deadlines. I sent article queries to two parties and got no bites. I worked on an article I have due in a week.

8:30 am
It's my turn to bring dessert for the Friday potluck, so I made a quadruple batch of shortbread cookies.

10 am
By this point Mr. Darcy was bouncing around the house, ready for his walk, so Don and I took him out to stretch his muscles and run. He's still technically a puppy and boy does he need his exercise. It's been cooler in the last few days, cloudy and raining at times.

10:30 am
Breakfast (brunch?), then Don and I peeled off for our separate tasks of the day. He went into the shop. I coated tankards for a production run we're finishing up.

When they were all coated (for the first time -- we coat twice), I put them on a shelf to dry.

11:30 am
Then it was into the garden. I'm still prepping beds, weeding and adding compost, then planting. On this day I worked on watermelon and cantaloupe tires. Weeding:

Adding compost:

Planting (pardon the misspelling):

12:00 pm
Time to fetch Amy in from the pasture so she could feed the calves. She's often a bit grumpy about this, so I sweetened the deal with a bit of grain. Sometimes she eats the grain and sometimes she doesn't.

12:20 pm
I put Amy back in the pasture with the other cows. On the way back, I slipped a string through the faucet handle near the well pump. The other day one of the cows, using the faucet as a scratching post, turned on the water for a few hours. The string prevents the handle from being pushed up.

12:30 am
Back to the garden, where I moved compost and weeded beds. At this point the rain had held off and we weren't sure if it would skirt around us (as it often does), so I watered as well. (As it turns out, I shouldn't have bothered.) We have the drip system set up but not connected yet.

I noticed the potatoes are just starting to poke up.

I also saw an American Goldfinch from a distance.

3:30 pm
Time for barn chores. I put some hay in the pen for Amy and the calves...

...gathered any eggs I found (at the moment I'm getting between 7 and 11 eggs a day)...

...and fed and watered the chickens.

The calves eat the hay, but what they really want is milk.

"Where's mama?"

4 pm
But first it's time to take Mr. Darcy out for his long run. We have two routes we can take him: either on the road for a two-mile circuit, or over a neighbor's field to a point we call the Overlook, then looping back on a dirt access road to the house.

At this point the weather was thickening. (You can see the cows as distant black dots on the grass.)

This time we chose the field walk. The neighbor is an absentee fellow we know very well and he's given us full permission to walk his land whenever we want. The field walk is shorter than the road walk, but Darcy can run more freely...

...through nice broad fields.

Approaching the Overlook.

The Overlook is a point where the property drops sharply into the canyon that surrounds us. This photo doesn't do justice to the splendid view.

5 pm
I threw in a load of laundry...

...then did dishes. With just the two of us, I only do dishes once a day. Before:


Hanging laundry.

6 pm
Time to bring Amy in from the field for the night. On the way to fetch her, I saw several Hoary Redpolls flitting about.

Usually I have to haul Amy in since she's reluctant to leave the grass, but tonight her udder must have been full because she actually came without a lead rope.

The weather was definitely thickening up. Evidently I shouldn't have bothered watering the garden.

In the corral, I held Amy on the lead rope while the calves nursed, then unclipped the rope and left the animals to themselves. Then it was time for a much-needed shower.

7 pm
Ah, my evening indulgence: a glass of iced wine and a book.

8:30 pm
Time to give the parrot some attention. With the departure of Younger Daughter into the Navy, we have her Quaker parrot Lihn for the next few years. It's become an evening routine to release her from her cage and let her fly around and get some exercise. Usually she ends up sitting on my finger (while I wear a glove, or she'll nibble my cuticles to death as she "grooms" me). She'll groom herself and attend to her feathers as I watch mindless YouTube videos.

9 pm
Don and I shood the sleepy calves into their separate pen for the night, then I closed up the chicken coop as well.

10 pm
Bedtime (for me). Don's a night owl and he stays up later. When two people live and work together 24/7, it's important to have one's own quiet time. Evenings are Don's quiet time; mornings are mine.

Friday, 5:15 am
I awoke to a power outage and rain. Lately we've been getting some short-term outages of a few hours. Rather than scanning the news or working on writing projects, I made tea and drank it while reading a book.

6 am
Repeat routine with chickens and cows.

The power came back on when I was out in the barn. Later it was chilly enough to start a fire in the cookstove, first time in a couple weeks. I took advantage of the surface heat to cook breakfast, a broccoli-onion stir-fry that makes Older Daughter gag but which I love.

10:30 am
After taking Mr. Darcy for his walk (with umbrellas), Don departed for the shop and I sat down to second-coat the tankards.

11:30 am
Because it was raining too much to work in the garden, I finished washing and hanging laundry.

12 pm
Fetched Amy up from the field for the midday feeding. Afterwards, I dipped the shortbread cookies in chocolate and let them cool for tonight's potluck.

2:30 pm
The rain eased enough for me to get a bit of gardening done. I transplanted the broccoli I started in the house several weeks ago.

Then I weeded out one of the beds in which I'll transplant the peanut seedlings. I also weeded the pea beds. (It's a good thing I rather enjoy weeding, isn't it?)

The peas are coming up strongly.

4 pm
Time for Mr. Darcy's evening walk. Don and I took him along the road, where he dragged a suitably macho and manly stick for at least a mile. Good dog.

5 pm
Showered and got ready for the weekly potluck, this time held at our neighbor's house.

6 pm
Full house for the potluck -- I counted 27 attendees. Man I love these potlucks.

8:30 pm
Home. We closed in the calves and chickens and I let the parrot out to play.

And that, dear readers, is a typical routine for a couple of our days. Obviously tasks vary from day to day and with the needs of the season, but this is a typical sample of the varied work we do. It's nothing profound or earth-shattering, but it's peaceful, calm, and productive (for us).