Friday, January 27, 2023

Aw nuts

This is a beautiful photo of Mt. Fuji taken by Younger Daughter.

Younger Daughter is in a froth of frustration. She's been stationed in Japan, if you remember, but now her term of enlistment in the Navy is finished. However after much thought, she decided to re-up for another (shorter) enlistment IF the Navy would meet her "dream sheet" requirements. Rather to her surprise, they did.

She is now coming back to the States for some additional training before heading to Europe for three years of shore-duty. Since she hasn't been home in over three years, she hoped to spend a couple weeks with us before heading to the training center.

It was for this reason we postponed our Christmas gift-exchanges: We were waiting for Younger Daughter to join us. We even kept our Christmas tree up, since she hasn't seen many for the last few years.

To her bitter disappointment, Younger Daughter must report to training almost immediately. We won't have a chance to see her before hand. However she's already been approved for a generous amount of leave (almost a month) in May, which is certainly a prettier time of year to visit anyway. We'll have a nice long visit before she heads to Europe.

I guess we can take the Christmas tree down. The neighbors were probably looking at us funny anyway.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Winter leaves

During our first autumn here in our new home, I was delighted to be tasked with the job of raking leaves. Deciduous trees are so rare in the inland northwest that raking leaves was a fun novelty.

I looked forward to doing the same thing this past fall, but we had an early snowstorm before the trees lost the majority of their leaves.


We had something of a January thaw, however, and I didn't want to leave the wet compressed leaves on the grass until spring. So, in the temporary absence of snow, I gathered up a rake and pitchfork and got busy.

It was a multi-day process. Some days were fairly warm (highs in the high 30s), others were cold and the leaves were frozen to the ground.

Before and after:


One sections of the yard took longer to rake because it was in the shade of the shed, and got no sunlight. The leaves stayed frozen to the grass.

I tossed any random sticks I found into the fire pit...

...which Mr. Darcy would promptly raid.


Gradually the chore was accomplished.

The yard certainly looks improved.

Side yard, before and after:


Right now the leaf bin is filled to overflowing and it's too close to the house, but that's okay. It's just a temporary structure until we get the chicken yard built, at which point these leaves will become the foundation for our chicken yard compost pile.

We have snow moving in this weekend as well as bitterly cold temps (well below 0F), so I'm glad to get this chore buttoned up before that.

Raking leaves in January. Who'da thunk?

Monday, January 23, 2023

New life for old trees

When we first moved to our new (to us) home in late 2020, we were delighted to discover the property came with fruit trees, notably apples. Some of the trees were young, but we have three mature trees, evidently the remnants of an old orchard. You can see two of them below.

These stately trees were wildly overgrown. As a result, they produced scads of little bitty apples, most of which were way too high for us to reach. The wildlife like them, though.

Then last year, our older neighbor hired some arborists to work on her (young and healthy) fruit trees, something she does on a regular basis (which is no doubt why they're so healthy). Before the arborists left for the day, Don asked them to come look over our overgrown apples and give us an estimate as to what it would cost to bring them back into shape.

After viewing the neglected trees, they said it would be a multi-year project (no surprise), and quoted us a reasonable price for the amount of work involved.

Last week they came out and got to work. This is what they started with: a chaos of overgrown, tangled branches.

This is the upper tree. You can see why it only produced itty bitty apples.

The middle tree is to the left, and the lower tree is to the right. Kinda hard to distinguish everything with winter's leafless landscape, but these are the three main trees the arborists hoped to tackle.

They got right to work setting up ladders and donning safety equipment. You can gauge the size of the trees with the arborists standing below them.

Much of their efforts were directed at pruning away deadwood and exposing the strongest branches. They warned us the trees would "sucker like crazy" in the spring. Next year's treatment would involve removing "three out of four" of the new suckers, selecting which ones would bear the best fruit.

The arborists focused on the two upper trees first. A pile of branches started accumulating.

Soon a shape emerged from beneath all the shagginess. It was starting to look like a tree again, rather than an overgrown bush.

While the head arborist focused his attention on the first tree, the other two worked on hacking back the second tree.

This is definitely a line of work requiring a good head for heights.


Though the day was freezing cold, they were soon shedding coats.

Look at the size of these trees dwarfing the two people in their branches!

At one point, we asked the head arborist, in his professional estimation, how old the trees might be. Based on location and rainfall, he guesstimated around 75 years.

Three-quarters of a century. We were glad to be able to start bringing these beautiful mature trees back into productivity.

By the end of the day, two of the trees were as "done" as they could be for the first go-round, and the arborists got a start on the third tree as well (it was getting dark or they'd have done more). Look at this pile of branches they removed!

They had brought a chipper with them, but (a) it would have been impossible to get it down the steep slope where the trees were located; and (b) we preferred they focus on doing as much work as possible on the trees themselves rather than spend time chipping the branches. Don and I will burn the branches later on.

The two upper apples looked like new trees by the time the day was done.

This is the upper tree, before and after (different angles).

This is the middle tree, before (on the left) and after:

Now I can't wait until summer to see how these trees look in all their renewed glory!

Thursday, January 19, 2023

What are your best cheap meal ideas?

In response to my recent post "Shopping, ug!" on the subject of inflation and availability, one reader wrote: "Prices are going up and have gone up every week I’ve been shopping. My husband and I both work and we have not gotten pay increases. The grocery bill is really hurting our family right now. I’d love to get ideas on cheap meal ideas for a family."

Cheap meal ideas – I think that's an excellent topic to bring up.

Already a few readers have chimed in. One wrote: "I have 5 children & when they were all home I would make economical meals that stretched. I made some of my own sauces, etc. You can check out budget101 for ideas, along with searches for frugal recipes. I made up meal plans of what to do with hamburger, chicken, etc. I had summer meal plans & busy night ones. It worked for me."

Another reader: "Also check out Living on a Dime website; they have a huge amount of frugal tips and recipes (for free), along with their 'dining on a dime dime' cookbooks (e-book or hardback) available, excellent resource, all of their resources have helped me immensely."

Yet another reader wrote: "Snacking, aka, refrigerator grazing, can sabotage any budget. Plan snacks, not just meals. And find a way to incorporate them into your overall nutrition plan for your family. Don't make other snacking easily available. Something else that can sabotage the budget is everybody's other half. Spouses who shop together are more accountable to the process and each other. Family meetings. The whole family needs to get involved in the planning and budgeting process and the why's and how's. I was listening to a program about an Indian tribe once, and at tribal meetings, children also had a voice. Sometimes it's the voice of a child who helps guide the way."

I think frugality is on everyone's minds these days. Please comment and provide your favorite ideas for eating on the cheap. It will help all of us, not just this one reader.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Dream big, I always say

I noticed our neighbor's cat in our pasture the other morning, focusing on something.

This section of pasture appears to be a rich hunting ground, and we often see our neighbor's cats making short work of voles and mice. But this time the cat was looking a little beyond a small rock outcrop. She seemed nervous, too.

But whatever she was stalking certainly had her attention.

Interestingly, a couple of turkeys walked past just about then. It seemed the cat and the turkeys completely ignored each other, though to be fair those huge (by comparison) turkeys could be why the cat appeared nervous.

Turkey: "Hey, watcha doing?" Cat: "Shut up. Shut up!"

I finally saw what the cat was focusing on: a couple of male pheasants.

Well, that's ambitious. Those pheasants are nearly as big as the cat. Dream big, I always say.

Another turkey walked by the pheasant. Can you imagine the conversation? Turkey: "Pssst. Hey Charlie, the cat is after you." Pheasant: "Thanks, Hank. Let him try."

Pheasant: "I seeee you!"

Cat: "Nuts. The jig is up. Retreat!"

Ah, kitty drama.