RHUBARB SEASON

Several years ago, Charlie Clark gave Larry some rhubarb starts from his garden in Olympia Washington. A simple thing. Larry claims that he and his brother loved to pick specimens from their dad’s garden in St. Paul, wave the great leaves at each other in mortal combat, then chew on the stalks until gone.

You can’t eat rhubarb stalks like that, I protest, but he sticks to the story. Little boys, it seems, will eat anything. So he planted Charlie’s starts in a modest corner of the orchard and sat back to wait. He did not count on our chickens’ appetite for the worms and grubs that thrive under those great leaves. Or their pleasure, perhaps, in the shade the leaves offer on a hot spring afternoon.

Whichever, it became a case of man vs. chicken. While the birds never seemed to peck at the fruit/vegetable itself, wait. Excuse me a moment while I consult Google to learn the taxonomy of this plant. Okay, got it. In 1947 a New York court declared rhubarb a fruit, as that is the way the plant is most often prepared. Why did it become an issue for the courts? Something to do with taxes, my source explains. I’m comfortable with this decision.

Anyway, our chickens would scratch at the soil until the root base of the plant was exposed. Larry began the defensive system with a simple row of iron gates we had stockpiled in the barn from a former project, and this worked for a time, until Rhody remembered that she is a bird and could fly. We would hear Toast complaining as she paced back and forth along the barrier, apparently unable to make the intellectual leap that she, too, is a chicken and has wings.

Larry refortified the cage with a gate on top to serve as a lid. Rhody found a narrow opening through which she could slip. Larry added more ironwork, until this is what we have:

Yes, it looks a little messy, but finally:

Enough for one batch of rhubarb crisp. And this is just the first harvest.

Last Friday, Larry had arranged for service on his car at the Lexus dealership in Eugene. He prepared to leave at 6:45 that morning to arrive for his 7:45 appointment. As he would not be allowed to wait in the service area for the work, he planned to take a folding chair and a book, and to spend the hour reading in the parking lot. Masked, of course.

But as he dressed and brushed his teeth, I became a little envious of the outing this would provide. We’ve been sheltered quite a while now, and the trip to a car dealership actually sounded inviting. I would follow him down in my little car, and we could spend the hour shopping at the Eugene Whole Foods! As it happens, they allow old people to begin shopping there at 8:00, and they didn’t even ask to see our identification. Just another barb that must be endured as we age.

The phone call we awaited to say the car was ready told us instead that it would be another 2 hours. What! Good thing I’d come along, huh? We decided to spend the time at the Camas Mill and Bakery, just a short hop up 99, where we’ve enjoyed looking at their artisan bread flours. There we found some gorgeous rhubarb/berry turnovers which we could have for breakfast. The baker himself was there, and when I asked about the rhubarb, he said it had come from his freezer.

So how do you freeze it, I asked. I, myself, just chop it up and toss the chunks in a bag. No, he said, roast it first. Wow. I chop it, he explained, toss it with a little sugar, and roast it just until it has exuded its juice and caramelized a bit. Then I scrape the fruit (he actually called it fruit, very well informed) and the juice into bags and freeze them.

But the chickens are not the only predators we have to contend with. We are not alone here on this one hundred acres. Look at this:

The remains of our spring lettuce crop. It’s not the chickens this time. But who? Ah, unfortunately, while Larry’s cage prevents anyone from attacking by the orchard route, what about from outside the orchard? Larry has diagnosed ground squirrels, and yes, there are a lot of them about. So he envisions a cage apparatus he will construct out of left-over shelf scraps and chicken wire. But first, he has to plant the big garden before the promised rain of next week:

How will he keep the ground squirrels out of this patch? Good question. He no longer has his shotgun. We don’t have a dog. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Every morning for the last three days, I’ve gone out the front door and been greeted with a mess of dried grass, moss and sundry debris, courtesy of some bird who wishes to nest on the lights just aside the door. Not a good plan, I tell the bird who scolds me, a robin I think, though I can’t see her. I clean the mess. I arrange the spike apparatus which is supposed to keep birds from squatting on various ledges under the eaves and by the fireplace.

The next morning, there is the nest materiel again. I clean it again, replace the spikes, tying them in place this time with tape. That should do it.

Well, no. This is one determined mother bird:

This is what I find the next morning. See how cleverly she’s used my spikes as the warp to her woofs. I can’t destroy this work of art, so we will just have to live with the bird poopage this year, until her babes have flown away in the fulness of summer. Yes, I looked up warp and woof . . . funny words, but weavers know what to make of them.

I wish I had a photo of the gray fox who hunts the field in front of the house some evenings. She’s beautiful. Of maybe it’s a male. Can’t tell from the distance, as she’s (so I think) not much taller than the Roemers Blue Fescue that is thriving now in the Fish and Wildlife acres.

The grass is lovely in the late evening sunlight, a native plant that will, it’s hoped, be able to out-compete alien, invasive, evil Astoria Bent Grass.

In closing today, I have an announcement: Our county, Benton County, has received permission from the governor of Oregon, to begin reopening restaurants and businesses, albeit within guidelines, tomorrow. What will that look like? Will we be able to finally get those haircuts? Is this dangerous? Evidently Kate believes in us!

ANOTHER MONDAY

Some days are more interesting than others — take Monday, for instance. We looked out and saw our new shed, towed behind Andy’s South River truck, moving up the driveway. We’d seen nothing of the building, just a list of dimensions and choice of color. But it’s so cute!

This photo is out of order, but my phone had, of course, run out of juice just as it arrived, and I wanted you to see it before we move on. I know, we didn’t get it for its visual appeal, and both Andy and Larry looked bemused at my enthusiasm. It is so cute!

We wondered how Andy could move the thing to its landing spot behind the orchard (see last blog) without a crew of piano-movers or similar. But engineering saved the day.

It won’t stay this clean and perfect for long, but before we can start moving stuff over, we have to have a ramp. Larry’s on it, planning materials, tools, shopping, happy to have a shiny new project that doesn’t involve dirt, weeds, chickens or cows.

Off to Google, because maybe one could purchase a ramp? What fun would that be? We found a YouTube site called “build your own ramp.” Perfect. This woman, April Wilkerson, is awesome. Thirty-something, got tools, whips together a ramp in a couple of hours, after first dislodging heavy rocks, sawing down the overhang on the shed doors, placing cement support blocks, whistling Dixie for all I know. And her next post offers ways to optimize storage inside the ramp for, for example, her motorcycles. Wow! Do not mess with April.

And speaking of cows, no sooner had we put away the lunch dishes than we noticed a cow uproar, again. This time, caused no doubt, by Scott’s truck. He marched through the — what shall we call it? the middle pasture? — to check on the watering tank. The cows know what’s up and gather, mooing to their children, by the barn gates:

A cattle drive for our afternoon entertainment!

But something is wrong. There’s no current in the hot wire along this new pasture. Jake has to find the interruption and, no surprise, it was found at the place where a post had been moved to accommodate the new shed’s arrival. A cowboy wears many hats!

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go through the torture of trying to edit this image. I believe I now understand that I must always shoot photos horizontally if intended for the blog. God. So annoying.

Anyway, in conversation with Scott while this was going on, we learned that he had been director of the Eugene and Corvallis livestock auctions for many years. And in fact, when the Great Quarantine has lifted, we should come on down for the show. Cattle, horses, goats, not sure what else. But they have a cafeteria, great food, and lots of action. Why ever not? You want to come with us?

Just a note from the kitchen. At David’s suggestion, on hearing that I meant to expand my repertory, here we have our first tofu fingers:

That’s slow cooked broccoli and coconut-lime rice on the side. Verdict? Edible, but I won’t bother you with the recipe. Tonight we’re going to support a local restaurant by ordering take-out. Yes, that was a sigh of relief you heard. From both of us!

I want to leave you with a word of love and hope for Teo Praslin, Allison’s cousin, who is fighting for his life today in Huntington Hospital. He’s been a physician’s assistant for twenty years, and in the course of his work, contracted Covid. We owe him and his colleagues so much. Get well, Teo.

LIFE GOES ON ANYWAY

Busy around here this week. Starting Monday morning with a call from a neighbor: Your cows are stampeding!

Right. And what are we supposed to do about that? I looked it up later. Apparently one is supposed to ride alongside them — stop right there. Ride what alongside them? These momma cows weigh about 1200 pounds each, they’re protective, they’re lactating, which provides a somewhat cumbrous gait but does not slow them down, and they are on their own.

Whatever caused the ruckus, by the time Larry got down the road on the ATV, they had all stopped running, reorganized themselves, and resumed grazing. Just a thought: maybe the neighbor shouldn’t walk her dog in that pasture?

At around nine o’clock, Andy from South Shore Structures arrived with a back hoe on board. He was here to clear the site for our new shed being built for placement behind the orchard. Looks kind-of tiny!

He came back later in the morning with a truckload of rock for the foundation. Which he carted by the wheelbarrow-full across the new sod under the homestead tree. Much appreciated. Apparently the completed shed itself will be delivered Monday next. I guess that agricultural infrastructure is permitted under the Corvid closures, though I didn’t think to ask. I do know that Andy is glad to be able to work.

Tyson Whitehead’s crew drove up next, well masked and gloved, to begin work on bringing our internet capacity up to speed. We’ve had line-of-site from a company tower 75 miles away, one click better than dial-up. Honestly, I wouldn’t care — and we would not have begun this project under present circumstances, but Tyson is persuasive, and the equipment had been secured, was good to go. Computer work, he says, also exempted from the closure.

For the next two days, these guys camped out in the garage closet, squeezed through the crawlspace under the house, trenched through the lawn, put up a disk, showed us how to finally use our Sonos speakers. It’s strange to think that we know them only from their eyes above the masks, and when Sam, the tree-trimmer rang the doorbell, we thought it was Owen from Tyson’s crew. Both tall, dark-haired, masked men?

So what was Sam doing here? We’d called on him earlier to prune our new maple trees, and he’d explained that he’d closed up shop and couldn’t help. So what changed? Bored, he said, and ours was a job he could do by himself. Plus, he, no surprise, needs the work. I do not know what rule might apply to him, but if house cleaning crews are allowed, so might tree pruning be?

And speaking of house-cleaning crews, mine phoned to say they were ready to work, but I asked them to wait another two weeks, and see where we are. Meanwhile, I’ve had opportunity to remember life as it used to be, before I ever had anyone else clean my house. I can do this, I tell myself. Of course I can, but I had forgotten to clean the guest bathroom, used by all those guys the last couple of days, and ugh. That was a shocking wake-up.

Guess you didn’t need to know that. Okay, so I’ve spent this morning trying to make masks for Larry and me. Should be easy. I know how to sew, have my machine. I even have some nice white fabric backing from some older project, a pack of elastic — stuff I’d hauled down here from my “office” in Portland because what else would I do with it. Three hours later. Much humbled, I produced one mask. But it’s a prototype and now I’m good to go tomorrow. We do have commercial masks we’ve been using, just so you’ll know, but I thought it would be a fun project. Ha.

Escaping outside, I sanded the picnic table and benches which had spent the winter outside, unprotected. With an electric sander, of course. We plan to bring our hand-painted tile table, secured on a long-ago trip to Florence, to the patio here when/if our condo sells. But the sale looks to be a long time coming, so this summer we’ll enjoy our tired old wooden furniture again and count ourselves lucky on days like this when the sun shines and the birds sing.

Ten thirty and time for bed! Sleep tight!

MARCH 31

Why all the cow photos? I need to know how to manage my blog, so this is a learning experience for us all. The first photo, taken with the camera held vertically, transferred to the blog laterally. I went through the process of editing, and by some indulgence of the gods, succeeded in setting these cows on their feet.

The second photo, with camera held vertically came through as per, no editing necessary. Huh?

The third photo, taken this morning on my walk down the road, held horizontally, also came through as per. I do not get this!

I see I’m boring you. But I do have a story. Yesterday, Larry and I decided to walk down the road after lunch to get fresh air. When we topped the first hill, we saw the cattle truck parked down by the barn, and picked up the pace. We hoped the two guys we saw were here to collect Cow 15, pictured above, who’d been reported to be limping.

I wish you could see the choreography of the two men on their ATVs as they cut them out of the herd. Those things race across the pasture’s bumps and heaves fast enough to launch them airborne, you’d think. Not as picturesque as cowboys on horseback, I guess, but pretty entertaining anyway.

The cows understand the game and cow pandemonium ensues. I love this! It doesn’t take long for Jake and Scott to get Number 15 and her baby in the gates by the barn. Not, as the expression has it, their first rodeo.

The dance of the gates is interesting, too. I hadn’t paid enough attention to understand that there’s a series of gates which swing open and back to contain the chosen animals. Only thing missing in this show was a good ranch dog.

Jake and Scott are perfect in the roles — pretty beat-up old guys, don’t look much better than the truck they came in. Funny, nice. You’d like to hear their stories, or I would.

Back in the house, I looked up “foot rot,” the field diagnosis for the lame animal. Whoa. This is not a visual I’d recommend for the casual passerby. No wonder she was limping. The article referred to the “toes”. Strange. A cloven hoof, yes, but one doesn’t think of the component features as toes. Cow 15 and baby will be taken back to the barn for treatment, and I don’t know if they’ll be back here.

When I saw the rest of the herd this morning I wondered what, if anything, the animals make of all this. We seem to have two separate herds, with the ones I photographed all the Black Angus. I think. I asked Jake about this earlier, and he said all these animals had been in the same barn when calving. ( I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t say they were “friends.”) A couple of days ago I saw two adults rubbing noses, and earlier, have seem them licking one another. Obviously they have some connection.

See how far social isolation can take you? You have time to ponder cow existential questions. Larry’s back home with the news that Simply Mac cannot resolve his computer problem. His 10-year old computer. This probably won’t end well, so let’s go have lunch.

STILL MARCH, CONT.

Well that was silly. I’m never going to France, so why would I spend any time learning French? I’m not that bored. So, no. Forget I said it.

Our herd of cows has multiplied again. Enjoying our morning coffee yesterday, our attention was drawn to the now-larger cow/calf herd barreling down the upper pasture northward to the barn. Huh? So Ryan or Jake must have been driving them, but when did all those new cows arrive and how did we miss them? Forty in all, my neighbor, who counts them, tells me. Larry took the ATV down to the barn to investigate, fearing that there had been a mass breakout from the barn pasture. But no, the gate separating the fields was closed, so there must have been human intervention in the move. Apparently it isn’t important to keep us informed, so we shrugged and came back to have breakfast.

Late that afternoon we got a call from Allen, who was picking up his bees in Eugene and would be here to install them by 6:30 Here’s what that looked like:

Okay I hate Word Press! It allowed me to edit the first photo but not the next. Does anyone out there know how to navigate Word Press? No wait. I can’t have a temper tantrum about my blog right now. Sorry.

So here’s the hive Allen made. Gorgeous, huh? There will be some thousands of bees and one queen, whom you can pick out in the photo directly above. I know, it would be easier if it weren’t sideways on the page. Grrr. Allen will be tending them, bringing sugar water to feed the “brood” who are maturing inside the cells you also see above. Interesting stuff! He doesn’t plan to sell the honey, but says we can have all we can ever use. Nice.

This morning we looked up from our morning coffee again and saw two wild turkeys in the yard. The male was puffed up, tail feathers spread open like a peacock (I didn’t know they did that) while the object, apparently, of his affection simply ignored the show. The display not enough, he began to sing his gobbling song, also to no avail. She kept her head down and meandered out of the yard into the pasture. Last seen, the poor fellow had crawled under the fence to join her, whereupon he adjusted his marvelous tail feathers and kept dancing and singing. Our neighbors tell us wild turkeys are a scourge and I believe them, but this grey morning we were glad of their company.

That’s all the livestock news for the day. I will tell you that I Googled the first plant from Integrated Resource Mgmt. list as per my set of intentions. Piper Willow and Sitka Willow. Both native, stream-bed shrubs which like to grow where their feet are wet. So that’s a start. Au revoir!

STILL MARCH

Okay, this is not about the virus. You can go ahead and read it. Just a story of two simple, old people grappling with life on a farm. Supposed to be funny, and I depend on Larry to provide material. He’s really good at it.

Last night I overheard him tell someone the phone: “no, we’re not doing much. Just hanging out. Reading.”

This from a man who spent the morning stringing wire between posts of the rail fence in order to prevent the new baby calves from wandering out onto Llewellyn. See, on Tuesday night a calf was found wandering on the road. A passing motorist and a neighbor managed to get the calf back behind the fence, and called our neighbor Terri, who called us. Who called Ryan, who didn’t answer. So, we’re it. And it’s raining. We’re not experienced at stringing wire, of using a “come-along” to tighten the wire. But we managed to string enough so that any calf who escaped up- stream from this work would still be confined to our property by the entry gates.

This from a man who weeded the daffodil bed in front of the orchard. Who planted 50 onion sets and 30 lettuce and cabbage plants, in the rain. Who cleaned the chicken coop.

See how funny he is?

This morning we decided to walk down the road in lieu of working out in our garage gym, and were surprised to see that our herd had doubled overnight. How did we fail to notice? And then there he was, a black calf wandering along our driveway. Oh man. If he turned left when he ran from us, we’d have a chance of getting him back behind the fence where his mother was mooing at him. If he turned right, he’d be out in the field where we’d never corner him.

Luckily, he went left, but in his haste to get away from us, struggled through the 2nd and 3rd strands of barbed wire governing that section. Ouch! We counted the newcomers and find we now have 28 animals:

Down at the barn we found a guy from Integrated Recourse Management, here to plant trees and shrubs along the creeks. His company is hired by Benton County, and he planned to plant 950 stems over two days. Wow! We had significant loss over the winter from the 6600 planted last year, so this was welcome news. I took a photo of his list, for my own benefit because I want to learn these plants. I’ll talk about this later.

Larry wanted to finish up his work load for the day (cleaning the gutters!) and then go play golf over at the school course. Alas, they’re closed, of course. If only he had listened to Charlie and built a couple of golf holes on the property. With golf off the table, he decided to go burn the 5 piles of slash down in the north east corner by the road, which we’d generated last fall from a tree fallen across the fence:

A reasonable exchange of entertainment. Who doesn’t like a good fire?

What I wanted to say about the plant list: I’ve been counseling myself that this is a great time to work on the many self-improvement projects that have lined up:

  1. Practice my 5-string and memorize a set-list against the improbable day when someone asks me to play something.
  2. Practice my piano and learn some credible songs. I don’t care if anyone asks me to play because who would?
  3. crank up my Pimsleur French tapes and spend a specific amount of time each day at this.
  4. keep studying Africa.
  5. And look up, study and learn the plants on the list I mentioned. I could make a folder of them, then check on their progress through the year.

If any of you would like to choose one of the above and take it off my back, it would be a big help. Because, remember, I have to clean my own house now, cook three meals a day, help Larry with fence, burning, planting, and other farm-related chores.

Keep in touch. Write to me! I’d love to hear from anyone who reads this — I don’t know how you leave a comment on the blog, but you can always reach me at janeviehl@mac.com

MARCH

Came in like a lion? Well, yeah, but I have nothing to add to all that has been said about our situation this March, so will simply go on to describe life at our farm.

I was walking up the driveway on Wednesday, noticed this truck backing up. We already had 5 new cow/calf pairs in the pasture, but apparently more were on the way and I was going to get to watch them unload.

I asked Jake, the driver, how old this baby is, thinking a couple of weeks. Nope, born yesterday. Seriously!

Here’s Momma, with another baby right behind. Mom’s a little behind on her hygiene, or maybe dirt happens when you’re riding in a cattle truck, but you’ll get an idea of how tiny the babies are.

They’re at home now in the pasture directly around the barn, where our wild daffodils are, at the moment, in bloom.

The weather is so gorgeous just now — low thirties at night, sixty in the afternoon. Too bad most of my chores take place inside. Yes, we did pay them anyway, but our cleaning ladies are on hold for awhile. I hope they’re enjoying this time off, despite everything.

But with all the fruit trees in bloom, the birds making nests, it’s clear that Mother Nature is simply ignoring the virus and bringing spring anyway. Thank you!

A story: our dear friends Ursel and Epi Scheffler, with whom we sailed the Baltic in 2018, sent us a note with a photo from Brazil where our same ship is touring South America. A later note informed us that the ship was experiencing the familiar cruise-line misfortune, at anchor outside Manaus, Brazil, with passengers unable to disembark. Even though no-one on board has tested positive for corona, the Brazilian government deemed them too dangerous to allow them to travel to the airport for their flights back to Germany. So they will now be sailing across the Atlantic, hoping to find a welcome harbor in Hamburg. Quite an adventure, one I’m amazingly grateful that I don’t share!

Another story, this one funny, has our friend Dick Edwards in his garden planting his onion sets. With his knee replacements, he was doing the job sitting on a bench or stool, tipped over backwards, twice, and reflected on how silly an old man can be. Our resident old man immediately took this as inspiration, and spent the day yesterday preparing the garden for his onion sets.

Today he’s similarly employed creating a screened planting bed for the cabbage and lettuce sets he acquired. This involves plastic tubing, some orchard netting, some boards and staples. This to keep the chickens from treating the new plants as their banquet. They’ve gotten very clever about flying over the gates we’d used last year. I’d show you a photo, but the time lapse between camera and computer mandates that it’s not possible. In any case, a good project to fend off the boredom of quarantine.

Tomorrow the folks from Benton County are supposed to come to add some 600 new trees and shrubs to the stream-side enclosures. The original planting of 6000 experienced a pretty big failure, so we’re hoping for better success with these. Also on the calendar for next week is the arrival of some bee hives, to be managed by Allen, who, you may remember, worked on the landscape. Should be fun.

A note from a vesper-sparrow research team asked if we’d allow them to set up a station on our property with the goal of establishing a colony here. This involves a play-back recording to lure the birds here, and periodic visits from the team to check. As the song of this bird is lovely, hence its name, we of course agreed.

This day has somehow slipped into lunch time. I’ll go check on the garden project, wish you all well, harboring at place in your homes. I hope you can find a way to enjoy this glorious sunshine, though it probably doesn’t include baby calves and intransigent chickens 🙂

NOT YET SPRING

Hey, where you been?

Yeah, I don’t know. Hibernating? On sabbatical? Daylight Savings tomorrow, by the way. It doesn’t look like spring out there, but cheer up!

So, moles are a good place to start today. I mean the moles that live in one’s nice newly-planted grass. Just Googled them, and while I couldn’t get a photo to share with you, they’re just little brown furry creatures, and don’t go thinking they’re cute. Here’s what he/they/it is/are doing to our lawn:

Those little flags indicate the place where our hired expert has placed traps. As we see, the mole is laughing at him. Yesterday Larry gave up and dumped poison down the newer holes, and yet another mound has appeared this morning. Back in the day he would have parked in a folding chair with his shotgun and waited. He didn’t think he’d need the gun when we moved to the city, and so gave it away. Bad decision?

Almost kind-of funny, man here on top of the food chain defeated by this wretched little pest. What he could be finding to eat that’s so delicious in our underlying pottery-grade clay is a mystery, but here we are.

This morning, Larry and Mitchell, our “hand,” are out cleaning up the remaining downed oak — the one that crushed the iron gate earlier this winter. Ryan, Cow Guy, says he’ll be bringing some cow-calf pairs onto the property in a week or so, which has inspired the lumberjack operation currently in progress. We don’t have skills or equipment to fix or replace the gate, so will have to turn that job over to Ryan’s crew.

Mitch is determined to burn the accompanying slash pile, but I’m not seeing any plumes of smoke. The county informs us of the dates and hours on which we are allowed to burn, and today’s the day. Not exactly raining, but the air is heavy with sweet Willamette Valley mist. Good luck, Mitch!

The Fish and Wildlife people have been busy spraying the 13 acres they’ve devoted to wild flowers. This means a flotilla of ATVs with boom sprays criss-cross in front and back of the house. I wish they didn’t have to use chemicals — kind-of not the point here, but we have to defer to their knowledge.

Meanwhile, Benton County sent a couple of crews to spray the trees and shrubs they planted along the stream beds. Well, I mean the weeds between the trees and shrubs. So, more spray. Damn. I recently had to complete a health survey (having to do with the fact that my doctor seems to think I’m old or something) and: am I exposed to agricultural poisons? Heck yes. (Do I have small area rugs in my home, etc., she just wants to keep me safe. Bless her heart.) With all this agricultural poison going around, what’s up with that mole?

Okay, the global pandemic. Are we over-reacting, or just being careful? California has declared a state of emergency — what does that mean? Are we going to be able to make our trip to Palm Springs with Tom and Dorsey next week? And why do people think that toilet paper is the one indispensable commodity to stockpile? The jokes have started showing up, so I guess that’s a good sign.

Larry has just returned from the back forty, and we’re heading out to stockpile some groceries for the weekend. Hope I don’t regret taking the virus lightly. You all be safe now, and I’ll see you next time.

SURPRISE !

We’re on our way to meet Amy in Eugene for my birthday dinner, and we’re late because Larry didn’t get started on his bread early enough this morning, and there’s too much traffic because there’s a game at the U and we’re going to a bar in the U district before we head over to the restaurant, and why are we going to a bar anyway because I don’t drink, but we’re supposed to be early because Amy has something to do after and there’s no parking space so I get out and go on in to Taylor’s and there’s Amy who says come on over and meet a couple of my friends, and . . .

Surprise! Happy Birthday! and there is my family, flown to Eugene from LA and Seattle. OMG. I am so surprised! Everyone but David, who of course couldn’t get off work to fly over from Oahu, and Tom and Will, because Will has school. But Andrew and Amy and Charlie and Alli and Peter and Allison and Jenny–and they all don’t believe me that I’m truly surprised, but they did it. All the texting and phone calls under my nose and I had no idea. Wow.

No, children, we do not ask a lady’s age. No, even when it’s her birthday and she’s obviously pretty darn old and shouldn’t she be proud of that? No, my darlings, we don’t ask. And when the affogato dessert comes and there are lit sparklers on it, well, that can’t be helped, but you weren’t there.

Here’s the fun part: Jenny and Alli and Charlie spent the night at the farm, while the others spent the night in Eugene and all came up for breakfast. Sat around playing Scattergories in front of the fire, discussing whether on not there are aliens in space. Conclusion: yes, because the universe is huge beyond our ability to imagine. Thought you’d want to know.

Was this your best birthday ever, Grandma? Yes, and yes.

So it’s the new year, and one of our resolutions is to get off the farm more often and see what Corvallis really looks like. Yesterday there seemed to be a break in the clouds so we bundled up and headed to town. There’s a nice paved walk along the Willamette as it flows through town, so we found a parking space and headed north.

Gray sky, the river is high, lots of ducks, and hey, wait a minute. For my birthday I’d said that I’d like to see if my Verizon contract is mature enough to allow me an upgrade to my phone. My current edition is a 7 and Apple has gone up to 11. My sister, Martha, has a new phone with an awesome camera, and her photos prove it. Here’s a shot of some geese at Black Butte taken over the New Year’s holiday, but you should see Martha’s image taken as the same time. Of course, you can’t, so use your imagination.

So we went to the Verizon store, and found that sure enough, I can get an upgrade, and so can Larry. In fact, they’re having a two for one sale just now on Apples, but if we were to take advantage of that offer, one of us would have to have a new phone number. Hmmm. How much trouble would that be?

I’ll let you know what we decide, but I would like to have a camera with a zoom option.

Meanwhile, back to our exploration of Corvallis, we found a bagel shop in the street across from the river and realized that this has definitely been missing in the experience of our life on the farm. Got some to bring home, and the rain started.

Back at home, the sky clear again, we set out to walk to Muddy Creek and check for river otters or beaver dams, and discovered that we have a new downed tree in one of the north pastures. Luckily, our grandson Andrew is looking for farm work, and may be available to come help saw up this new one.

What do you think, Andrew?

At the moment, yes, it’s raining again, and I have to get this off to the ether and go make our late lunch/early dinner. Heading to Portland for a quick overnight for Larry’s Monday-morning-breakfast-with-the-guys and my stop in at the needlepoint shop to get my new canvas framed.

Next adventure: Molokai with friends a visit with David. Sunshine!

DECEMBER

One of those gray, foggy days. The fog lifts to reveal low, gray clouds that settle in for the duration. Dark Sky says it’s 46 degrees, feels like 46 degrees. So, December. But the solstice is behind us and the light is on the way back.

This is a story about an obsession. Larry, who has been diagnosed by his wife as borderline OCD, has set about the learn the art and craft of bread making. While of course I support this challenge, the on-the-ground take away is that we’ve had to eat a lot of learning curve. “Oh dear God,” I have been heard to say, “you’re baking another loaf?”

See, he’s been in thrall to Paul Hollywood — he of the Great British Baking Show — okay I just looked up “thrall” and learned that a thrall was a slave or serf in the Scandinavian lands back when. Did you already know that? Anyway, Larry’s journey eventually took him to the world of sour dough. We took a field trip to watch a demonstration at a flour mill/bakery down the way in Junction City. It was interesting, though neither of us particularly liked the bread the artisan created that night. We bought some of the mill’s bread flour, and the following attempt was fairly dismal.

Then Larry discovered Michael Pollan’s book, “Cooked.” His procedure is somewhat like that of the Junction City fellow and Paul H, and the next iteration by L was comical to watch, but damned if the bread wasn’t good. Really good!

A few more tweaks and here we are:

As usual, the computer won’t allow me to correct the orientation of the photo. I apologize, but this was awesome bread. I have not, by the way, been able to find a person in the area who speaks Word Press, so we just have to live in a sideways world.

Changing the subject, here’s another photo. Sideways? I’m about to find out:

This is Mitch, our new “hand.” He’s an employee of our landscape guy who’s looking for extra work during the landscape slack season. He recently married a woman with three small children, as in 3,4, and 5, and the two of them added one of their own to the tribe. So yeah, he needs the work. He’s amazing. Strong, hard-working, and he actually shows up. Here’s the result of the last two day’s labor:

Right. We needed more firewood, but here’s what the tree looked like on the ground:

It had crashed into and broken one of the internal fences and its farm gate, so it had to be sawn in order for the fence to be repaired.

I note that these photos arrived right-side up, so whatever.

As it happened, we were going to be here alone over the Christmas holiday, as our 3 families had plans that did not include the farm. Jenny and family would be in Palm Springs with the Ederers (their turn), David and Caroline would be in New Zealand, and the Peter Viehls at home in Pasadena. We’re fine by ourselves, but at dinner with friends in Portland, also alone over the day itself, we made a plan to see a movie and then go eat Chinese.

We got tickets to see Little Woman, the only film that we could fit into the schedule. Probably not the best movie ever, especially not when viewed from 4 rows back, the best seats we could find. But we all looked forward to dinner at P.F.Chang’s. Closed. Really? The next two restaurants in the area were either too busy, or out of food already. We finally found a spot in a bar that had just opened, two tables in the kitchen area, nice, super loud music, and, surprise, great sliders, wings, fries. Christmas dinner? We can do better, but it was fun and funny and the Pierces are good friends.

Speaking of Christmas, here’s my present from Larry this year:

It looks like the same stone that provided the wall. The birds should be happy — I know I am.

We leave tomorrow for Black Butte. Snow? We’ll see. See you next year!