Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Doing Laundry with Cats

Just remember, while I tell you about my laundry, that I've been snowed in.  I didn't go to work for many days.  I changed from one pair of pajamas to another, for days on end.  It was wonderful, really.  I read books.  I cleaned my house.  I matched my socks.  I washed laundry - all of it, every curtain, rug, blanket, sheet, pet bed, and stitch of clothes.  And, because I'm a total nerd, I took pictures of my cats while I did laundry, and now I'm sharing my laundry thoughts with you.  

And I do have laundry thoughts, believe it or not.  I've been thinking a lot about laundry ever since my electric dryer failed, back in November.  Do you see my new clothes dryer?  I've mentioned before that I like to use my outdoor clothes line, but I haven't had to rely solely on a clothes line since I was a little kid, and I've been a little afraid to go without a dryer.  But, when the dryer died, we decided it was a good time to give a dryer-less lifestyle a trial.  If we could manage to live happily without a clothes dryer, especially during the winter, when hanging clothes outside isn't as much fun as summer days in the swimming pool, then we could forgo the expense of a new dryer, the expense of using it, and the space it will take up in the tiny house we are planning to move into.  

After four months of hanging clothes in the house to dry, I think I'm ready to state that not having a dryer suits us just fine.  We have a house with three adults, and we have less of a bottleneck with our new system than we did when we had our old and slow dryer.  We hang our clothes straight from the washer onto hangers, and once they are dry they go right in the closet.  Socks, underclothes, and towels hang on the rack to dry.  Big things like sheets and blankets get draped over the rack or open closet doors, and because of the dry winter air, everything dries faster than I thought it would.  The only drawbacks so far is that some days my clothes are more wrinkled than they used to be, but I've never minded wrinkles bad enough to iron my clothes anyway.  A nice perk is that instead of my jeans feeling tight, now they feel lose when I put them on, and I don't think it's just because of all the vegetable juice I've been drinking.  

I'm a little surprised to find that I actually enjoy doing the laundry this way.  My friend once said she enjoyed hanging laundry, and I was surprised because my lingering childhood impression was that it was definitely a "chore" that I was glad to get out of.  But now that I have less pressing games to play, hanging the laundry with the cats is sort of relaxing.  As you can see, we are easily entertained.  Where does that dripping water go?  It's so amazing.  If we angle our heads just right, we can get a drink without getting water in our ears, too.  Hanging out in the bathroom with snapping towels and clanking clothes hangers is great excitement, especially when the faucet gets turned to a fast drip.  

Even timid Ditto can't stay out of the action for long.  

If you ever wonder why my bathroom sink has kitty prints and cat hair in it, now you know.  Stalking drips is a favorite game of ours.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tea with Chickens

When we got the first dusting of snow following the sunny day before, I thought I would take a cup of tea outside with the real camera and take pictures of a chicken tea party.  I bundled up in my down work coat and hat with ear flaps, and brought tea in one of the mugs made by our potter friend Joe.  I stepped onto the back porch, took three pictures, and then quickly retreated.  It was so, so cold!  

Sorry chickens, no tea for you!  Brrrr...

Even Puck didn't linger long.  Chicken tea parties are for summer months only!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Playing with a Real Camera

After over a week of snowy landscape, it's fun to look back on these photos from the day before we received over a foot of snow to blanket everything thing in my yard.  Oh no, there's a fox in the barn yard!  Puck looks like he's up to no good, doesn't he? 

The weather was so nice, that I found myself outside raking up the compost overflow, and picking up little bits of trash that have magically appeared in the corners of my yard.  Some of this trash is food wrappers from foods we've never eaten, toys I've never seen before, and random bits of plastic that I can't identify.  I blame the wind and my messy neighbors, but I know that if I didn't have so much vegetation these bits of garbage wouldn't be able to hide so well in my garden.  It's not until this time of year, when everything has decomposed to a point where I can see the ground again, that the hidden debris is revealed. Can you find Puck snoozing in a weak sun beam in the photo above?  Can you see June inside a tomato cage in the garden bed?   

I took these pictures using a real camera, not my cell phone.  Brandon has a good camera that he uses for photographing art work.  He also has an older "good" camera that I've claimed as my own, even though Brandon was pretty sure my phone camera could take as good a picture.  I wanted to make sure, so I spent some time with the camera taking photos so we could compare.  

I must say, it was fun to play photographer with a camera strapped around my neck, and I enjoyed the ability to zoom in and out with a large lens.  All of sudden my yard sculpture and standing vegetation was very photogenic!

But, the downside is that carrying the camera around the yard was quite cumbersome when it came to doing little spontaneous chores.  Raking was nearly impossible without bumping the camera while I worked, and I missed the ease of sticking my phone in my pocket when I wanted it out of my way.

I like the way this camera could capture some of the atmosphere of the bright but chilly day as sun beams shimmered on the lens.

And because I could zone in without loosing clarity, I was able to catch the chickens taking dust baths without disturbing them.  In the photo above, Pork Fat is giving herself a good shake after rolling around in the dirt.

Also, something about the clear day, or maybe the long focus of the camera, made me more interested in the landscape surrounding my yard.  I normally focus in on my garden or my animals, and crop the surrounding neighborhood from my sight and photos, but with this camera, I was more interested in the long view from many vantage points, like the photo above, from the back porch.  Our neighborhood is old, and most of the houses, mobile homes, and utility lines seem to have been arranged organically, as there was space to place them.  Because our house sits slightly higher than others, when the trees are leafless, our view broadens to include roof tops and distant forests near the river.  From my kitchen window I can see a large pasture with five horses, and hear them snort and whinny.

Overall, I think the real camera was fun to use, but not as practical as my cell phone.  The photos were harder to link to the blog, and the large files size makes them take longer to load.  I may use it anyway sometimes, just so I get a little more respect from my chickens during photo shoots!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shameful Sock Management

Brandon and I recently confessed to a group of friends that our socks were out of control.  I didn't realize it would, but admitting to shameful sock management is excellent motivation for facing a giant suitcase full of unmatched socks with a can do attitude.  

We explained to our friends how we lazily stopped matching our socks, and that what used to be a small basket of unmatched socks eventually evolved into a large heavy suitcase which we would lift to the bed and rummage through daily searching for something to wear.  The situation was so ridiculous, that I was once asked if we sleep in a pile of clothes, because there's almost always a pile of socks on the bed.  It's funny to think of burrowing down into a pile of socks like a gerbil, but we always stuffed the overflow of socks back into their case each night, and then repeated the crazy routine the next day.  Someone asked how this was easier than just matching the socks once they have been washed.  It's not, especially when the suitcase is as heavy as ours, as my back can testify.  

Occasionally, my mother would visit and be so appalled by the sock situation that she would match them all up and it would take us months and months to get it back to an embarrassing state (thanks, Mom!).  Those were always such good months...  Just imagine, what if we lived with matched socks all the time?  Maybe we can do better.  Turn a new leaf, as they say, and be good citizens who match our socks.  

The cats and I settled in for an epic evening of sock matching.  When Jamie saw the pile of socks on the table as I organized by type and color, I could tell he was impressed.  Not impressed with my efforts so much as the sheer quantity of socks!  How many pairs of socks do you think a person should have?  After questioning my friends, I heard a range of numbers from seven pairs to fifty pairs.  I was curious to know how many pairs I owned.  

This is what ninety-seven pairs of socks looks like.  Ninety-seven!  When I told Brandon how many pairs of socks I had, he started calling me a sock hoarder until he counted his own and realized he had more than sixty pairs himself.  When I took careful stock of all my socks, I wanted to keep them all.  Turns out, I have a wide variety of sock needs.  I need hiking socks and socks for my waders, fuzzy socks and comfortable socks, summer socks and dress socks, toe-socks and novelty socks, and gym socks and leg warmers.  I might really like socks.  

I managed to cull my sock collection down to seventy-nine pairs.  I realize that this is still a lot of socks, but now they all fit snugly into two drawers.  It's been several days since I matched all our socks, and so far we are keeping up.  Of course, I've had plenty of time at home to do things like matching socks, so the real test will be the next time we get really busy, and I remember that I have drawers full of matched socks, so why shouldn't I just toss clean socks in a basket, you know, for matching later.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Auxier Ridge and Double Arch

Once again, we had perfect weather for a long hike at the Red River Gorge last Saturday.  This time our friends led us on the Auxier Ridge to Double Arch trail, which was 7.68 miles long.  The photo above is the first spectacular view of the cliffs on Auxier Ridge, and you can see the trail that follows the top of the cliff line.  This may be my favorite trail so far.  

I love trails that include both views from high places and stream side hiking in the valley bottom.  I spend time working in streams in all types of habitat, and it is a pleasure to be near a stream that is not polluted. The trails in general are in great shape in the Gorge.  I never see garbage left lying around from other hikers.  

Can you see the blue sky showing from inside Double Arch through the trees? 

We were able to walk into the arch, and see how there are trees growing above the opening. My understanding is that the arches in the Red River Gorge were formed when fractures in the stone were weakened through erosion associated with drainage, and when both sides of a ridge were worn away, these week spots in the stone were exposed to more weathering.  

We settled in for lunch at Double Arch.  When I showed Jamie this photo, of him eating trail mix under the arch, he said it looks more dangerous than he felt it was at the time.  People fall in the Gorge every year, so the danger is very real.  

Because there were other hikers enjoying the view from underneath the arch, we climbed some stairs carved in the rock and found a perch above the arch to enjoy our lunch.  It felt like being on top of the world.  I shared some of my home made protein bars, and we all needed lots of water to wash them down, since they are very dense and dry.  Brandon said it was a choking hazard to walk while chewing them.  It may be time to try another recipe, huh? 

When we continued our hike, another arch in the stone above the trail was glowing as the sun shone through the opening.  It was beautiful, and made me wish I was a better photographer.  

I wasn't concerned about falling icicles during this hike, unlike our last hike, so of course Jamie managed to stand under some ice as it fell, and got pelted with ice chunks.  Luckily he wasn't hurt, but we all got to yell "LOOK OUT" and squeal when we saw and heard the ice tumbling from the cliff line above. 

We stopped by another arch called Star Gap, and we got to scramble down some rocks on the way.  

Poor Puck was left at home, since he's too out of shape for his bad hips to handle such a long and rough trail, and we're too out of shape to carry him when he gives out, but our friends dog Lionel didn't miss a single thing.  Lionel hiked every step, and clambered over every rock with no problems.  He looks quite dashing in the sunlight, too.  

From under the Star Gap arch, we could see a spherical hole in the stone, like a round rock was dislodged, but couldn't find the missing stone ball.  

Although the distance we hiked was similar to the hike to Cloud Splitter, from a few weeks ago, we hiked this trial faster, and were also less exhausted at the end.  I would like to think that my hiking skills have improved, but I think the reality is that this trail was slightly easier to hike.  It wasn't so easy that I wasn't famished though, and we were all more than ready for a dark beer and spicy hot dog at Sky Bridge Station.  Oh man!  Beer and food is such a great thing after a hike!  We had a great time recounting our adventure and playing darts.  I'm already looking forward to our next hike.  

Because the women's rest room was occupied, I braved the men's room at the bar and laughed when I saw this sign.  I've never seen a bathroom sign more likely to encourage men to wash their hands!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Golden Dog and House Progress

Sunday was Puck's twelfth birthday.  To celebrate, Brandon cooked him his very own piece of bacon for breakfast.  I'm not sure he understood the significance of this gift (that was my bacon!), since he swallowed it in a single bite and then continued to beg for more.   An online dog age calculator tells me that twelve dog years is equivalent to sixty-four in human age.  Once we arrived at the farm, Puck and I took a long walk through the fields and admired the way the color of his fur matches the golden broom sedge waving in the wind.  At sixty-four, he's a golden dog beginning his golden years.  

He may be older, but he is not more dignified!  He rolled ecstatically in something smelly in the grass, which left him upside down in in a very Winnie the Pooh Bear pose.  Oh, bother.    

Puck is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.  I once shopped online for a t-shirt with a corgi, and there were numerous shirt options that featured corgi butts with slogans like "Nothin' Butt Corgi, Corgi Butts Drive Me Nuts," and " I Heart Corgi Butts."  I admit, I think Puck's butt is cute too, but I was surprised that there's a market for so many t-shirts with dog butts.  

Puck is more than happy to roam the fields with me, but when it comes time to go in the house to work, he refuses.  We're beginning to wonder if the house is haunted, because if I make him come inside, he shakes all over and follows close on my heels.  As soon as someone opens the door, he makes a run for it.  He would rather lay under the truck in the snow and mud than come in the dry house.  This is not a good sign for his future life here!  I'm hoping that once the loud air compressor, nail gun, and scary saws are no longer in play, he will learn to relax in the house.  I'm also hoping that we won't need to call the Ghost Busters before we can move in.  As you can see in the photo above, we have working lights and drywall spackle progress, so I'm getting more convinced all the time that we will actually live here some day.   

Having real light fixtures and fewer gaps in the walls really does make us feel like we making progress, despite the cold weather and our brief work days.  

While I focused on more drywall work, Brandon framed in the pantry door.  We found a set of doors with neat knobs at the Habitat for Humanity Store.  The smallest door is now the door to the pantry, and the slightly larger door will be directly across the room for the bathroom door.  These doors are recycled, but the are good solid doors with interesting knobs, and we got them for a very good price.  I'm more than a little excited about the pantry.  I day dream about my pantry, reorganizing the imaginary shelves with all the overflow from my crowded kitchen.  I'm determined to do a better job organizing my new kitchen, and having a handy place to store all my equipment is going to be fantastic, I'm sure.    

I'm pretty sure Puck's birthday wish was that at the end of the growing season we mow a nice trail around the perimeter of the fields so he doesn't have to leap through so much tall grass on his little legs when we take a walk.  Maybe now that he's twelve, we should consider this.   

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pork Fat on My Shoulder

On mornings when I have to leave for work before the sun is up, I ask Brandon to feed the chickens once they are awake.  Because Pork Fat has found a new defensive strategy, which involves flying onto my head when Mrs. Hall chases her, I couldn't wait to hear from Brandon when I asked him to give the ladies their breakfast one morning this week.  It wasn't long before I got a text - Porkfat certainly makes feeding more interesting. Ha!  The problem with having a chicken fly onto my head, is that chickens are not graceful flyers.  She normally waits until I have my back turned, and then a noisy flapping and squawking chicken is trying to find purchase on my head or shoulder.   It scares me every time, which makes me laugh, which does not discourage her from doing it.   

Mrs. Hall and June are good chickens. If they can fly, they have never tried landing on me, and they are both making pretty eggs now.  

I recently scoured the yard looking for hidden Pork Fat eggs, and didn't find any.  I tried encouraging her by showing her Mrs. Hall's eggs.  See, Pork Fat, this is what you are supposed to be doing, not flying on my head!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Protein Bars on Snow Flakes

Last Friday, I didn't have to go to work.  I was so excited by the idea of a week-day all to myself, that I couldn't decide the best way to spend my time.  I ran through my entire mental list of things I tell myself I would do if I didn't have to go to work (build? sew? produce food? write a novel? create music? become fit? save the world?) and finally settled on catching up on some quality couch time with the cats, housework, washing laundry, and baking to stay warm.  It was perfect! 

While I would have loved to bake pies, cakes, and cookies on my day off, I tried to remember that I will not want to carry any cakes or cookies up a mountain during our summer hike, so I restricted myself to baking more protein bars.  I started by spreading a mixture of almond slivers, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut, and crushed cocoa beans on a baking sheet and toasting them.  Filling the house with the smell of toasted nuts was wonderful.  

The toasted nuts were lovely, smelled great, and tasted great, but what I didn't expect was the sounds they make.  A bowl of nuts right out of the oven crackles and pops like a bowl of rice crispy's!  I'm not sure why this makes them taste better, but it does.    

After I was done tasting them, I put the remainder in the food processor and ground them until they looked like bread crumbs.  The recipe I was following also said to use some almond flour.  Since I didn't have almond flour, I also ground some un-toasted almond slivers into a course flour.  I measured out some almond butter too.  These protein bars are really like almond patties.  

When Brandon started going to the gym regularly, he wanted to add some protein powder to his vegetable smoothies.  The main ingredient in most of the protein powders that are sold for weight lifters have sugar as their main ingredient, and use soy protein.  There are so many scary warnings about eating unfermented soy on the interweb that drinking it by the scoopfull didn't seem like a good idea.  So, Brandon selected unflavored and organic whey protein. I added some of his whey protein powder to the nut mixture.  

I also added some healthy coconut oil, and two eggs, fresh from the nest box.  Brandon thinks I'm deluded, and that I can't really tell Mrs. Halls eggs from June's eggs, but I think I really can.  The egg at the top, which is larger and speckled, is Mrs. Halls.  The egg on the bottom is smaller and has no speckles, so it came from June.  I don't know why he doubts me.  It's so obvious, right?

 A little vanilla, a little honey, and a big scoop of raisins, and the protein bars were ready to be spread in a dish, sprinkled with more coconut, and baked.  I would not say these are easy to make.  There are many steps, and many dishes dirty, but since I had an entire day off work - who cares!

And in the spirit of leisurely baking on a cold winter day, I decided to layer the bars under the glass cake dome using snow flakes cut from freezer paper between the layers.     

It's been a long time since I cut paper snow flakes, so my skills were a little rusty.

By my third attempt though, I was sufficiently impressed with my snowflake that I wanted to pose it by the window for photographs.  

The final verdict?  The snow flakes were fun and toasted nuts are wonderful, but these home made protein bars do not taste like cookies.  They are dense, and a little too dry.  They were eaten, so they weren't bad, and they are actually quite filling.  I think my next batch will get more honey, and more fruit, and I will be more careful to not cook them too long.  
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