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TOWARD THE SIMPLE LIFE

The end. The door closes. We begin our new, simpler life in the little house in the country.

Having survived the great Amazon Scam which infiltrated Larry’s computer, the Debit Card Scam wherein someone gained access to the Farm’s debit card and bought fifty-nine dollars of make-up. (The bank declined two other attempts at the card but somehow let this one through. The make-up purchase is under investigation. A debit card, bank-people. Don’t you have to know the code to use it?)

Okay, the “Simple Life” continues tomorrow, when we get up and drive to Portland for a performance at Center Stage with the White-Davises. Spend two nights in a hotel in town so that I/we don’t have to drive there again for the Tuesday evening Book Tea.

We won’t know what to do in Portland during those two days when we don’t have the condo, I worry. No, Larry says, we can go to a MAC store and get his computer straightened out. We can get that replacement glass chimney for the lamp in the bedroom. You can go to the fabric outlet. We’ll get the Bose speaker fixed.

You can learn how to have fun in Portland, Vik says. We’ll take you to a movie. But . . .

Simple?

We spent Thanksgiving in Seattle with the Ederers and the Peter Viehls. Eleven of us, enjoying Jenny’s new house, Tom’s spatch-cocked turkey, all five grandkids being cute and beautiful and funny. It is confirmed that stuffing requires Jimmy Dean sausage in the formula, and that pumpkin pie and mincemeat pie are well augmented by pecan pie.

Just now it’s December 3. Larry is coming in from moving potted plants into the greenhouse. Pulling up the spent flowers in the garden. Ricardo and his crew have been mowing the lawn, raking leaves, dead-heading plants to complete the job started two days ago, before the snow got too heavy.

Here’s the antique clock we hauled down here (I mean, the movers hauled it) because we didn’t know what else to do with it. It looks pretty weird in the corner of the living room — and it doesn’t work. So? In our bedroom? Well? First, of course, we won’t make it stand on the coasters, which look like little slippers or something. We’ll have it fixed, and then decide if we can sleep through the ticking and the on-the-hour gongs.

Just for fun this afternoon, Larry put together a swing for the chickens. This was inspired by a note from Kathy Abraham with a link to instructions. Chickens get bored, too, as you may not be aware, and ours definitely need some diversion. I do understand the concept of pecking order, and Grace takes it quite seriously. They’re all molting now, not laying eggs, so a little recreation seems appropriate. Larry does roll his eyes, but how cute is this?

I’ll thread some beads on the rope, if I can find some large enough. And if I ever see a chicken swinging on it, I’ll grab a photo and post it. Thanks, Kathy!

This afternoon the truck from the moving company drove up with the two reading lamps which had failed to appear with all the other boxes and packages. We were sure we hadn’t left them in the condo, but then we were also sure we hadn’t left my green dress and fleece jacket there either. (Fortunately out agent, the fabulous Susan Suzuki, had retrieved them and we could collect my wayward clothes from her office on the way to Seattle.) The lamps weren’t so easily recovered, as it seems they’d been hidden behind some packaging and had travelled to Palm Springs and back in the movers’ truck before being discovered.

This evening we met Allen down by the gate. He’s made a box for package delivery on the outside of the gate to replace the plastic bin currently serving duty. The box was created with wood from one of the many fallen oaks on the property. He’ll mount it tomorrow afternoon, and when I get back from you-know-where I’ll take a photo and send it next time.

Allen offered to help Larry fix the actual gate sections to new, heavy, steel posts, which should work to correct the problems illustrated in my last post. Allen is maintenance of the best kind — you’ve met him and his massive machinery in earlier posts, and you remember that he’s the bee guy, too?

Larry and I have succumbed to another round of Great British Baking show, but tonight we have a fire, candles, the two new lamps and two good books to entertain us. We can catch the GBBS while we’re tucked into the hotel tomorrow evening. Pretty sure they won’t have an oak fire blazing in the fireplace to tempt us otherwise.

COUNTRY LIFE

Oh My God! Look!

He’s standing at the front window, and I look out. I see the camellia loaded with buds, I see the grass newly growing on the driveway, I see — Oh My God. The Heritage Tree.

See the stump, at the base? Where we had a tree service take down the original main trunk of this beautiful Oregon White Oak, as, apparently suffering from rot, it threatened the site of our new little house-to-be. We used the massive chunks of wood to create an artistic installation in front of the copse, called “Oakhenge,” hahaha. And now the remaining half of the tree is on the ground.

We’ve become resigned to seeing the oaks fall, but not the giants. Not the iconic hundreds-of-year-old giants with names of their own, who were here in the time of the Kalapuyas. Memento Mori? For sure.

We practically have Mitch on speed dial, and have called to see if he’s available on Sunday to bring his chain saw. (The rural way to “call Maintenance?)

Speaking of Mitch, here are he and Larry dispatching a cherry tree in the orchard. This tree succumbed to some sort of tree virus and had to go, but we’ve learned that growing cherries is just a complicated way to feed the local flocks of birds. We’ll replace this tree with some other, more defensible fruit next spring when the bare roots are available. A bad week, apparently, for trees.

If you live in the country, you’re going to need a pick-up. The older and more beat up, the better, at least for cred down at the hardware store. Thus, we have our Bob. Bob-the-Truck, who featured in an adventure the previous weekend. Delivering this pile of split wood (from yes, another downed oak.) to our place at Black Butte.

All going well until the return trip when, after a quick lunch in Monroe, the battery died. Triple A, a couple of hours sitting in the cab, and we made it home.

Fine, until this Monday when Larry had a breakfast with the boys in Wilsonville, where he was to collect a used walk-behind weed whacker from friend Tommy. Breakfast got cancelled, Larry didn’t get the message, called me from the freeway about half way home. Bob-the-truck once again non-functioning.

This time he got towed, got a ride with the driver, deposited our Bob at the local Chevrolet dealer and came home with the determination to find another beater truck which actually ran on demand.

Okay, but what’s been going on in the country kitchen? Mostly freezing the production from the garden. Like all the apples, tomato sauce, tomatillo sauce. That one for the first time, and it’s really good. Not sure how to use it, I mean, sure, enchiladas, tacos maybe, but I’ll have to do some research. I haven’t yet found a good way to use up all those 30 pound Napa cabbages, but we’re whittling away at them in the raw. We’ll see how long they can last in a refrigerator.

There must be a thousand cooking blogs out there, and I like to read them, but I’ve not yet found a recipe for left-over French fries. So I’m a genius maybe, because I sauteed some onion, tossed in the fries from yesterday’s pub lunch, chopped some left-over grilled pork tenderloin in the processor, added some chicken broth and let them all simmer for awhile. The stuff is delicious. I’ll spoon a dollop of sour cream on top and whistle Yankee Doodle for dinner. I amaze myself.

We’ve been enduring a plague of flies, generated, it seems, from the application of chicken manure on the pasture across the road. When we bought this property, we had to sign a document from the county to the effect that this IS the country. There will be farm activity, noise, smells, associated with the practice of agriculture about which we cannot expect redress. The smell of the manure was bad enough, but each day, lately, we watch flies bat against the windows, never really knowing how they all even get inside. Where they eventually die, even if we don’t swat them. Larry is particularly besieged by one species of tiny fly which is fatally attracted to his hair. Don’t laugh! (okay, I kind-of do.)

Then came the lady bugs. By the millions, I swear. Migrating? Dunno. But they’re called lady bugs because Europeans once prayed to the Virgin Mary to protect their crops. The lady bug swarms arrived and ate the insects threatening the farmers’ crops. A miracle from Our Lady. So we must appreciate them, even though they lie dead on the porches each morning, after failing to gain admittance to the house. The flies get in, why can’t they?

But now the really big deal. This blog is really meant as a log of our move-to-the-country while old, so I have to include for future reference the news about the still-potential sale of the Portland condo. Eight more days til closing, and so far, it’s looking almost on. We learned today that all contingencies had been removed — which means if they walk away, they leave the earnest money behind. Yeah, this is huge alright. I don’t need to include details, except to say that there are a lot of details to clear out of drawers, off of shelves, under sinks before the day of their occupancy, Nov. 18. I don’t have photos to share, not yet, but you can imagine. Right?

This evening, Larry and I are going to an actual movie! I know, seriously? It’s a documentary at the Darkside Cinema, called Elemental. But that being so, I need to make a salad (Napa Cabbage of course) and get that soup stuff on the table.

Next time we are together, perhaps our condo will be but a memory. I will let you know.

CHAPTER TWO

In which Tracy comes by to clip some wings. Tracy is the former owner of our two new chickens — an engineer at HP who also raises Islandic sheep, and manages her flock of some 30 chickens, all of whom are apparently sufficiently well-trained to free-range about the property and put themselves to bed in their coop every evening. Says she knows how to clip feathers, and agreed to show me how.

She uses a pair of ordinary kitchen scissors, and here’s the technique: you sit down among the birds who have come to you for a treat, grasp a chicken by the leg and soothe it in your lap. Spread out the wing and find the end feathers, clipping them above the shaft, which is still live. You will probably never need to know this. But the intricate beauty of a simple chicken feather is enough to stop your busy life for a moment of wonder.

As we didn’t know which chicken required this intervention, both the new girls were so treated. Tracy says they don’t care. Grace, who has never attempted flight, to our knowledge, escaped Tracy’s attention.

We opened the door to the run, and the chickens quickly dispersed about the orchard. Tracy and I fell into conversation in the shade of one of the apple trees, and were pretty surprised when we saw Miss Clipped Wings strutting by OUTSIDE the fence.

Right. WTF? We brought her back inside and watched her escape again. See the wire stretched across the gate in the photo below? Easy peasy. The simple addition of, yes, chicken wire across the base of the gate seems to have, these three days later, done the job.

Simple, Larry asks?

The drama of life without an oven has come to an end with the installation of our new model this morning. It was only a month, but some of the inventions we attempted were pretty pitiful. Cook one of the frozen left-over casseroles in the microwave? An explosion of cheese sauce all over the oven and noodles of baked cardboard. Yes, I know you’re supposed to cover something you cook in the microwave. How could I have forgotten?

Bake a loaf of bread on the barbecue? Fine, if you like a blackened crust and underdone interior. It tastes okay, once you saw off the charcoal.

We were fortunate enough to score an invitation to dinner from our neighbors, Marjorie and Ted. Amy and Mike, Marjorie’s sister and husband, had come to the valley, and would take home a load of firewood from our endless stash. In return for a dinner Mike would cook, of the game he’d harvested. Goose and pheasant, sauteed in butter, with some special seasonings of his devising. Both these people are wild-life biologists, and we heard, among other things, how it is possible to identify a wolf-kill of, for example, a rancher’s cow. Or find a spotted owl’s nest. Pretty cool stuff.

I thought I remembered picking shot out of a pheasant I roasted once that Larry had shot, back in Minnesota days. He says it never happened. He certainly has not shot anything since. So much for life off the grid.

Life with a simple country garden? Larry’s little acre has been blessing us all summer . . . with, among other successes, at least four 30-pound Napa cabbages. That’s a lot of cabbage to work into the meal plans. I wonder if it will be easier now that I have an oven?

And speaking of life in the country, we were awakened last night, midnight or so, by a furious scratching in the wall behind our bed. Somebody preparing winter quarters, apparently. We checked with our builder this morning to learn exactly what type of insulation had been used, and he said not to worry, nothing could penetrate. Yeah, well. You trap or poison the thing, it dies, and you live with the smell unto eternity? We did a perimeter search this morning and found nothing except an overgrown jasmine plant, which we will trim later, honestly. I know what you’re thinking. It’s one of the chickens, right?

MOSTLY SEPTEMBER

A person likes to think she’s at least as smart as the average barnyard chicken, but this afternoon, that reassuring affirmation was definitely tried. Here’s why:

The newest member of the flock. We don’t know her name yet, and she has a sister, whose name we also don’t know. But it doesn’t matter at the moment because we can’t tell them apart anyway.

I don’t imagine that our grandson, Will, who has named other items of farm equipment, reads these blogs, but if you’re out there, Will, can you think of appropriate names for these two? They are of the Speckled Sussex family, an English breed, but Meagan and Kate won’t do. Larry rejects “Speckles” and “Freckles” and we hope you can do better.

To set the scene, here’s a photo of our one remaining bird, after the untimely death of Madeline “Maddie”, cause unknown. This is Grace:

We have had a little experience, and knew it would be challenging to introduce the chickens to one another, so we proceeded slowly. The S.S. breed is known as one low in the pecking order, and apparently, Grace had done her homework. She began the festivities by attacking both the newbies, to the point that we determined to separate them for a few hours.

However, all of them have to get into the coop by sundown, so we opened the door to the run where Grace was pacing, planning her strategies.

We left them to sort themselves out, and were surprised this morning to find Speckled No.1 outside the orchard, having a walk around the place. The fenced-in, impenetrable orchard. How ? ? ? Maybe she hopped onto the planter box and flew on from there?

A daring capture, featuring a cardboard box and an unenthusiastic Larry ensued. Success, with little injury all around. We relaxed, went off on an errand after lunch, and returned to find Miss Speckled outside the orchard again. Of course, it may be Miss Speckled No.2. How would we know?

An undignified attempt at seduction via corn-scratch failed, and the hen strolled off into the weeds of the back acres, laughing at us. We supposed she would find her way back, but were a little concerned as it’s hot and she would have no access to water. She can get out, but not back in.

An hour or so went by. I found I couldn’t immerse myself in the Isabel Allende I’ve been reading, or even worse, to practice, more about which later. I went back out, found the girl nestling against her sister on the other side of the fence.

Larry and I tried a circling maneuver, he with the box, I with a cup of treats. Aha! We had her penned in a corner up against the coop. Not stupid, she, she attempted to squeeze between two sections of fence, and nearly managed to arrive back in the run where she belonged. Almost. But stuck. Unable to move in or out or underneath. Larry left me with the box, guarding the slot into which she’d inserted herself and went to get wire clippers.

Okay, I do have scratches, from her or the wire I don’t know, but I did get her stuffed into the box, the top secured by the time Larry got back. Hooray for me! We decided to imprison all of them into the run, no one getting out into the orchard, for several days. And, it being dark now, Larry has just come in to report that all three are roosting inside the coop.

Whew. A reminder that our chosen life here on the farm has its unexpected adventures.

Now we’ll have a flash-back. Banjo camp, after all. Why on earth would I want to go to Banjo Camp? Not like I expect to join a band, dazzle friends and family with my skills. Not sure, but here’s one plausible reason:

Last week we went to a pot-luck picnic with an organization we’ve joined, and this was to be the first in-person opportunity to meet the other members. We were lucky and found seats across the picnic table from an ex professor of oceanography and his wife. They entertained us with stories of sailing across the Pacific from California to New Zealand in a 36 foot boat, with a one year old baby. Yikes! Sailed up to Alaska with, this time, the two year old and a new baby. Stories about whales, the barrier reef, storms.

The professor having wound down, another participant looked at me and asked “what do you do?”

Right. I spread my arms wide, leaned back, and said “I play the banjo.”

They were speechless.

I’ll go practice when I finish this.

See? You never know. Camp was fun, but, moving on, this past weekend we went over to Black Butte for the Sisters Folk Festival. It being sister Martha’s birthday, we went to her house for the celebration with my nephew Ben and his family.

Jenny was there while some alterations were being made to her brand new house, so we had some rare daughter-time with her.

The Festival was as advertised — loud bands, banjos, guitars, fiddles, singers, all what you’d want in a festival. We had just the one-day tickets, so came back Sunday. In time to collect the new chickens and begin to write this blog.

If any others of you can think of chicken names, remember Will is busy, please let me know!

AUGUST, EARLY

ohmygod ohmygod OH MY GOD!

“I suppose I’m going to read about myself now,” Larry says when he’s back on dry land. “Don’t make it some big deal, because it wasn’t.”

Well, it was pretty . . .

“My kids will think they have to take away my drivers license, or something, and I wasn’t hurt, no harm done.”

It’s probably not apparent that he’s just climbing out of a hidden water hole in an otherwise dry creek. I didn’t react quickly enough to take a shot while he was chest deep in there, but I was very busy worrying. Should I call someone, should I get a rope, are you hurt . . .

“God, Jane. Just let me get my feet under me. I’m fine. I’ll crawl out.”

Which, as you see, he did. We were tansy hunting. His job to wrench the plants out by the roots, mine to clip off all the blossoms into the bin. (See them in there?) The good news, he wasn’t hurt, and the even good-er news was that he’d forgotten his phone that morning, and thus it was safely at home on the dresser instead of in the creek.

Drama on the farm.

We escaped on Friday for a quick overnight to Black Butte, staying with Martha, going to a concert featuring Tim O’Brien. A nice respite, an evening under the stars with sweet music at a park in Sisters.

But when we got home, Allen was at work on an oak tree that had fallen some time in the last year. I’d posted a photo at that time, amazed at its size and age. It has lain there of course, ever since, harboring an owl, according to our neighbor, and providing scaffolding for the relentless blackberry vines which would consume it, given time.

We supposed the wood was rotten, but Allen came to give it another look. He’s a valuable scavenger, taking the trunks of other fallen oaks on the property for the mill he’s building in his back yard. I know. Who does that? We haven’t been invited to see what this mill looks like, and hope to have a chance at some point.

But here are some photos of the process:

You may wonder how I happened to be down there taking photos? Fortunately, Larry had heard his arrival and came to get me and my camera. Well, my phone, actually, I don’t even know where my real camera may be. I suppose Larry hoped this might be the lead story this week?

Ha. Earlier, the pasture along Llewellyn had been mown, the seeds reaped, and it was time to bale the remaining straw. Here’s what that looks like:

This is just the beginning of the baling process. Now there are bales strewn about the field, waiting in the sunshine to be collected.

Several posts ago I told you that I was having fun planning to play some music with a friend who plays the guitar? We seem to have mutually run into about a hundred miles of reason while this wouldn’t work very well. But he, Dick, did tell me about a new banjo shop which had arrived in Sisters, and that I should have a look.

Planning, as I was to be in Sisters, see above, I checked this out, learned the name of the owner and looked him up. Sent him an email requesting an appointment to have him sharpen up my banjo before I head off to banjo camp in September. Never heard back.

Okay, picked up the phone and left a message. Didn’t hear back, until a few days later when I got a text from him. He’s in France, so won’t be able to help. But was I interested in lessons? Whoa! Did he mean, like, on line lessons?

I don’t know. Who is he, anyway. Of course I turned to Google and found him: “See, when I was on stage once with the Dixie Chicks, and . . . ” Oh. And he was offering lessons? A couple of texts later, when I learned that he would be back in Sisters, I turned to a piece of advice I’d recently heard: Don’t let fear keep you from reaching for your goals. I know, something my new Apple watch would tell me. In fact, maybe that’s where I did hear it.

Anyway, why not. Let’s do this, I told him. “Could you send me a record of your playing so I can see where “you’re at (sic)”? he asks. (I’ll work on his grammar later.) (When we’re really good friends) In the mean time, speaking of fear! Send him a record of my playing? Um. Right.

But I did it, and am nervously waiting to hear something back. So far, what with being in France, both of his texts to me have arrived at about 1:30 a.m., waking me, of course. Maybe tonight? He says that he’ll be back in Sisters soon, so the idea of lessons isn’t quite so ridiculous. Except it is. Hey, remember what your watch told you?

I’ve just asked Larry if he has anything to add for the blog and he says no, can’t think of anything. So that’s it for today.

FARMING?

Sometimes it’s like this. Five o’clock, but he’s awake anyway, and this is the morning he plans to spray the thistle, blackberry, and tansy. Overcast, cool, no wind. It’s hard work. Carrying a 3-gallon pack of glyphosate spray on his back through the hip-high grasses of the Fish and Wildlife acres.

He’s quiet, tries to slip out without waking me, but it’s okay. I’ve been awake for awhile, too. “I can drive the ATV so you can just get in and out to spray,” I say, but he says no. The stuff is evil. You have to wear a mask and goggles, and it wouldn’t help much, anyway.

I guess not, but I wish he didn’t have to do this. What’s the equation that connects Roundup with these toxic, invasive, plants? This is the question, isn’t it? We can’t just hire our “guys” for this work — have to have a pro, and just try to find one.

Here’s tansy ragwort:

“It is toxic to all classes of livestock but most toxic to cattle and horses. At doses likely to be ingested, it causes a chronic liver disease that is seen as a cirrhosis-like hepatic degeneration. Affected animals generally die within several weeks or months after the tansy ragwort has been eaten.”

I don’t know if “our” cows are stupid/hungry enough to eat the stuff, but we’ll have to try to keep them safe and healthy.

There’s a natural control, the Cinnabar moth, so Larry will look before spraying to see if a given plant has the caterpillars on board. Here’s one. Pretty, huh?

Exhausted, Larry comes in at noon or so, after spraying three loads of chemical spray. Me, the DDT-queen, I hate using the chemicals. My dad was an entomologist/chemist who dreamed of making the Willamette Valley feed the world using the stuff. And yes, I know what DDT means, not that anyone ever asks. Guess I’m not the DDT queen any more,

Next day, Sunday, we decided to go to the beach. I wanted to swing by a little town called Eddyville on the way. Our daily paper obituary section featured the death of a 97 year-old woman named Wilma Mae Eagleson. What! Eagleson? You know that’s my maiden name, right? So who is this person?

I hoped to poke around, find the drug store, ask about her family. Yeah, well, no luck. This Eddyville does have a post office, but that’s it. No cosy little grocery, actually no nothing that we could see. Hmm. The long-lost relative will remain lost. On to Newport and the harbor.

We like to go to a restaurant there called Local Ocean. Fish and sea food right from those boats. Lesson learned: Don’t order the grilled calamari salad unless you like sushi-grade calamari, aka grilled inner-tube salad. Disappointment! The crab cakes were awesome. But don’t plan on picking up some crab meat to take home and make your own. $69.95 a pound. Yikes!

This morning, Monday, it’s still cool at 6:00, and we’ve decided to get out in the fields and pull the tansy that didn’t get sprayed on Saturday. It will be in the 90s by this afternoon, so we hop to it. We’ll just drive around the same F & W acres, check to see if the sprayed plants have wilted. This time, I’m allowed to help:

We clip the buds from the thistle, bag them in the paper bags we use to hold the tansy, and chop the plants to the ground. Can’t do much about the blackberry, not by hand. I drive the ATV, and Larry can’t help asking. “Do you keep taking your foot off the pedal?” You know how your mom used to drive that way — speed up, slow down, make you crazy? “No,” I say. “It just does that.” He rolls his eyes. It’s true! It does!

The End. For today, anyway. We’ll get up again in the morning to walk the fenced-off creeks, in which we see more tansy. But for now, we’re relaxing in our cool, air-conditioned house. We’re watching a baby swallow who fell from his nest. Mom and Dad keep feeding the little one, but I hope he/she. figures out how to fly, stat.

Larry wants to buy a new printer for his computer this afternoon. Seems “they” don’t repair broken models. This will be a challenge, that is, getting a new printer to bond with his computer. Hmm. Late breaking: he’s spoken with Peter, who advised him to take his problem to Best Buy. They will, he asserts, be able to get everything connected and working. We’ll see. But suddenly it’s dinner time, and there was a 40 minute wait to talk to a Best Buy guy in Springfield. Maybe you know that the World track-and-field Championships have been in Eugene for the past 10 days. Good reason to avoid Springfield/Eugene. Maybe tomorrow?

Supposed to be another heat wave this week, temps in the 100’s. Any farming gets done will have to be done early. I’ll let you know.

4th of JULY

It was going to be great. Allison and her mom had the beach house for the holiday, the far-flung kids would all be there, Jenny and Tom had found a way to join the party, and, here’s the amazing part, Jan and his family would be joining us all for the big celebration. You remember Jan, our exchange student from Germany all those years ago? Jan, pronounced “Yan,” in case you’re confused, his wife Angelika, and their Lotte and Oskar.

Great enough that I cowboy-ed up and climbed on an airplane, the second flight in a fortnight, I might add. Yeah, what’s a fortnight? Okay, longer than that, but still.

We arrived in the foreign country of Newport Beach, CA. Or more specifically, the island of Balboa, to learn that Angelika had tested positive. They would not be joining us.

Well, damn. Okay, maybe Jan and the kids could come over as planned the next day, and we would all sit outside, masked.? Meanwhile, A and P’s friends, the Lees, had offered a ride down the canal atop their pontoon boat. It’s so gorgeous there, you would want to immediately quit your jobs, sell your houses, and move to Balboa. But you can’t. Not unless you have about 8 to 10 spare million for one of the houses on sale there in the realtor windows.

It’s true, but I do want to make one thing clear: Allison’s great grandmother had purchased their place in 1925. Not sure if that was for the land or if the cottage had already been built, but it cost $1500, Margie, Allison’s mom told me. It’s pure charm, adorable, surrounded by expensive splendor. Right on the canal, you can sit on the patio and watch people canoe, paddle board, jump off the bridge.

But I want to stop here and perform a public service. It’s about the important bitter-sweet rules of being an old lady. Of which I am one. You know how you look at an elderly person and think “do I look that old?” Yes, in fact you do.

We’ll start here. I’ve been led to believe that old people fall down all the time. I haven’t witnessed examples of old people crumpled here and there all around, but at every intersection with a person of the medical persuasion I am asked “Have you been falling?” My advice, therefore, is Watch Your Step. Don’t trip, stumble, think no-one will notice. “There goes another one down,” and your Primary Care will hear of it and take away your driver’s license. Or your daughter-in-law will tell your daughter, and that’s just as bad.

Next, yes, extra-long black false eyelashes are definitely in style right now. We’re all so tired of those masks covering up our beautiful smiles, so let’s focus on our eyes. But they’re not meant for you, my fellow LOL. Little Old Lady. Tattoos? Probably better give them a pass. Okay, how about those super short skirts or shorts which reveal the whole butt from the thong out? I’m thinking no. Please.

It’s okay if you can’t figure out how to acquire your boarding pass on your phone. Make your son do it. Calling for Uber from Starbucks can be tricky if your phone won’t do what you tell it to, but don’t worry. There’s a young person nearby who will be willing to help. You just have to ask, and if she calls you “honey,” that’s okay, too.

People may want to do things for you that you can do perfectly well yourself. And “Are you okay to walk here, on the sand?” Of course you are. “Can you manage these stairs, or should we take the ramp?” Jesus. No snapping. You have to accept this sort of thing with the grace which you have learned in your long years.

We know how funny we can be at a gathering. Right? One grandkid tells a cute story about how he was busted buying beer, how he had to give up the fake I.D., turn over the beer and ride his sorry ass home on his bike. But your story about how Boris Johnson’s resignation is the first instance in history of sinking ships leaving the rats just isn’t equally funny in this setting. Wait for your book club. They’ll get it.

Above all, don’t try to use a foreign language. What do “swag” or “queen” even mean? Not what you think.

What I’m saying is, it’s fine to be old you. Wear something expensive and gorgeous, even if you pick it out at the Good Will store, and smile your beautiful enigmatic smile. Remember that you were young once, and they’ll be old soon enough. Then have another glass of that lovely Moet.

Back to Balboa! Jan and his two kids did come over to the cottage the next day. We sat outside, wore our masks, and managed to have a lovely, funny time. His daughter, Lotte, is the age Jan was when he arrived in Oregon to live with us for a year. She’s beautiful, and it’s hard to comprehend how mature 16 years old can be. Of course, Covid changed everything for those school years in Germany, too.

And our grands? Amy living in a brownstone in New York, working. Charlie spending a semester in Vienna, then a couple of weeks in Jordan, I think, riding an uncooperative camel. Alli in Europe and what she loved most was her time in Poland, visiting, among other wonders, a salt mine. The little cat which adopted her in Mykonos. Andrew cooking lamb racks with Grandma Margie, and Will working for a moving company over the summer. Better pay than the golf course of last year, and more interesting.

Here’s the one photo I can offer:

Left row front: Will, Alli, Jenny. Top, behind the POLY shirt, Charlie, Andrew, Peter, Amy. Front row middle: Margie, Allison. I’m assuming you can identify me, Larry.

Okay, so how long is a fortnight? Fourteen days. Seems the old English counted the nights, not the days, so “fourt” “fourteen” and “night” was because the two-week period was fourteen nights.

Back home at the farm, the dishwasher is chugging, Larry reading the Economist, and me? I need to go practice! Banjo camp is approaching.

JUNE 2022

First, Peter came for the weekend. He’s discovered a start-up commuter airline which flies between Burbank and Eugene. Score, right? He came alone this time, bearing a surprise gift:

Three pounds of kumquats. And what does one do with three pounds of kumquats?

Make jelly, of course. The kumquat is a citrus fruit, and you may eat the whole thing raw, skin, seeds, and all. But the jelly is a process. You have to slice them and extract the seeds. This takes three grown adults about 2 hours total for this many pints. You chop the fruit in the processor, add sugar (lots of sugar) and pectin and boil the mix. The 7 1/2 pints you see here used about one fourth of the fruit.

Yum! I made another batch and will be passing this jelly on to friends, but I have another pound to go. Okay, I’m a good, inventive cook. First I used some in my morning smoothie. I’m thinking kumquat crisp? Why not. Salads? Sure. But it’s golden and I’ll freeze what I can’t use for the long winter ahead. Thanks, Peter!

Of course we put the boy to work:

Drive the tractor! So there was this mulch pile, right in view, out next to the shed. Grass clippings at first, but then garden debris, the shavings from the chicken coop, and, most recently, the broken daily broken egg that Maddie, Chicken Number Two, has been laying of late. Whoa. Getting pretty ripe in addition to just plain ugly.

I’m surprised we waited for Peter’s visit. Seriously. Sigh. Farming is a lot of work!

I take advantage, whenever I can, to ask one of my kids or grandkids for help in the brave new world of, for example, Instagram. Although I’m statutorily too old to participate, yes, I do know that, I asked Peter to set me up with an account. Wanted to follow Amy in New York, Charlie wherever in the world, and Alli off in Europe. And the rest of them wherever. Fine. I’m in. Now I’ve just read a book which was constructed entirely from Instagram posts, and it was actually pretty entertaining. Okay, no one uses blogs to communicate any more but what even is a hashtag, anyway? Just looks like a pound sign. Right? I’m afraid I’m stuck with the blog. Sorry.

To continue, when our little house in the country was being built, we knew we wanted to have a gate at the end of the driveway. Which is about a third of a mile away, and out of sight of, the house. And of course, the meant gate posts. Not sure what we’d imagined, but what we got was this:

Nothing particularly wrong with this, but the whole thing just looked completely out of scale. The cross-post had to be sufficiently high to allow the fire trucks to pass (surprising how much control the fire district has over one’s driveway). And so there it stood, relating to nothing.

Allen and Mitch, our go-to guys, were on it.

They repurposed all the wood, and here we have the result. This feels like a nice and quiet “here you are at the Viehls” instead of” THE VIEHLS!” or at least I think so. (And I’m the one who counts, in case you haven’t noticed 😘):

This morning, Marjorie-from-across-the-field took me with her to a nearby equestrian competition, and I’m going to try an experiment. If it works, here’s a video she took:

Um, nope, won’t travel across. But here’s a still photo, so you can get the idea:

We were sitting just off the edge of the grass, watching these gorgeous animals compete. I mean, the riders were competing — I don’t know if these horses sense any competition. Marjorie says the sport is a lifetime commitment, and she should know. She’s ridden for much of her life in events like these, and still would/could if she wanted to. Amazing.

I grew up horse-crazy, but for me it was riding Babe, a lumbering old swayback nag, behind my sister, dreaming of Zane Grey and the purple sage. I had no idea. You can only laugh.

Larry is just back from a few days with the Nature Conservancy at the Zumwalt Prairie in North-eastern Oregon. This was to have been a long-planned trip with friends Vik and Gordon, but. You know. First the White-Davises couldn’t make it, then I had my toe surgery and can’t wear boots, so Larry had a solo outing.

Next up, a trip to California on board Avelo Airlines for the 4th of July. We’re meeting Jan Scheffler, our exchange student from long-ago. He’s brought his family to show his kids the US. Apparently they wanted to see Malibu, Hollywood, Disneyland, instead of Corvallis. Huh. Going to be such fun to see them, and in the meantime, I’m going to try a re-learn how to send photos via text to recover the quality demonstrated in the jumping horse just above.

It’s ten o’clock, and my Apple watch has jumped around on my arm to get my attention. Wants me to pause and reflect a moment. Isn’t that so sweet? I’m kidding. Who asked it to be my meditation counsellor? The other annoying habit is to interrupt my walks down the road to observe that it looks like I’m exercising. Would I like to record my activity? I have pointed out that “I can just take you off, you know,” but it does’t listen. Do any of you have Apple watches? Can you control them? If so, let me know how.

Meanwhile, I am going to jump into bed. Try to win the Spider game for today, and then to keep reading an excruciating painful/brilliant book a friend loaned: Stoner, by John Williams. On second thought, maybe I’ll just listen to a Lisa Jewell book on Audible. Stoner breaks my heart. My Apple watch approves my choice.

G’night!

ONE HUNDRED ACRES

“Hey Jane! Come here quick!”

So I did:

This may or may not be the “cougar” I saw earlier, but this is definitely a bobcat. We saw his cropped tail, though we couldn’t catch a photo to document it.

What do we know about bobcats? About 18 inches long, 12-14 inches tall at the shoulder. Most of the photos on Natl. Geo showed a tawny, mottled coat. Our guy is tawny, can’t tell about his spots. They can leap 12 feet, and dine on rabbits and rodents and unsecured chickens. This photo is west of the house, on the Fish & Wildlife acres. Kind of exciting, right? Don’t worry, our chickens are secured.

“Hey, Larry! I think Ryan’s here to move the cows across to the other pasture!”

The red truck and trailer parked halfway down the driveway must mean a cattle drive was underway, and Larry wouldn’t want to miss that. We each poured a cup of coffee and took up a post where we could see the action.

There were two cowboys on the job, Jake and Anthony, and it was raining. Down-pouring. One of them got the ATV off the trailer while the other took down the rails and wire from the fence on opposite sides of the road. Might have been more entertaining if they were on horseback, but this isn’t Montana, so.

The cows are aware that something is afoot, and they bolt for the farthest corner of the pasture. Not visible, but there is a fence between them and the rail fence close to the house. They can’t come any closer to us:

And the fun begins. This pasture slopes down the hill and through a stand of oaks. These are herd animals, is a so if one goes, they all go. The trick will be to persuade one of them to notice the gap in the fence, but after half an hour, none of them has spotted it.

Back and forth, the rain coming down. Mud splashing on their boots — made me reconsider my childhood dream of becoming a cow girl.

But all’s well, they did eventually make it through, and now they have approx. 30 acres of lovely grass to eat, some giant oaks to shelter under, and now Jake and Anthony can go home. Show over.

For perspective, the first photo of the bobcat shows the field between my camera (phone) and the cows. Same direction.

“Cross my heart-Hope to die-Poke a needle in my eye?”

Where did this come from? A child-hood rhyme? As I’m currently being treated with, in actual fact, a needle in the eye, I become curious.

I look it up: I find that the phrase originated in eras of plague and contagion. Those who died were buried in mass graves. This practice sometimes led to an unconscious or comatose patient mistakenly pronounced dead, and buried. To avoid this, caregivers were said to stick a needle in the eye of a patient to determine his status. Still alive?

Yikes! Not sure why the phrase migrated to childhood, and an assertion of truth telling, but if you’re wondering why I’m having a needle stuck in my eye, it has to do with broken blood vessels and built-up pressure and the necessity of seeing a retina specialist. Point is, yesterday I spent the afternoon in a certain amount of misery, and with a profound empathy for anyone with impaired vision. Poor me. But it’s fine this morning, and now we’re all a little more informed about certain medieval medical care Right?

On Saturday we made it home from a quick trip to Boulder to watch granddaughter Alli graduate U of Colorado. We’d meant to visit her, certainly earlier in her academic career, but this was the first time we’d actually done so. Feeling both appalled at how quickly 4 years went by, and able to blame Covid for our dereliction, we’re happy for her and believe her life will be interesting and rewarding.

How did we like Boulder? Hmm. It’s beautiful, tucked just under the Rockies, so if you simply look West, you’ll fall in love. Don’t look east. It does not end. Not a tree to be seen — okay a slight exaggeration — but it’s so flat and empty! Every so many miles along the highway from Denver to Boulder there are sudden vast acreages of new housing. All crowded together into instant cities with no apparent shopping, theaters, sandwich shops and etc. There will be an old farm house with outbuildings and fences and then all those sudden houses surrounding the remnants of someone’s dream of the west.

You all know how much I dislike air travel. Hasn’t changed. Ugh. Our flight to Boulder left Portland at 5:30 a.m. We spent the night in an airport motel, expecting an empty terminal and a quick hustle through security. Hahaha. I visited with some of my neighbors in line, but didn’t learn why so many of us were in such a dither to get to Denver that morning. As an old person, I’m not required to remove my shoes to get through security, but my artificial knees guarantee that I’ll be patted down after the MRI or whatever that machine produces. But this time, after the “pat-down” with latex gloves, I’m told to stand aside, I will need another, more complete examination. Would I like to go somewhere private?

What? What does this complete exam involve? Oh God. Well, whatever, no, I do not need/desire a private space. Why this, anyway? Apparently some lotion I used in the motel has causes alarm. Oh, yeah, I love to fly.

Safely home, Martha is coming this afternoon and we’ll go to the ballet in Eugene. It’s an adaptation of Taming of the Shrew. If you have nothing better to do, look up a summary of the play. Or, of course, read the original play in your “Complete Works of Shakespeare” Pretty confusing, but I expect the dance will be gorgeous despite the dubious take on the duties of Woman.

I’ll let you know if you should pick up that huge Complete Works. Good luck!

WE’RE A FARM AGAIN

Finally! Thirty heifers were delivered yesterday afternoon to the pasture around the barn. I’ve been wondering where “our” animals have been this year. The two large pastures are being prepped for planting with fescue, and won’t be available for grazing for another year, so there’s that. But the area around the barn is ripe and, at last, here they are:

And there they go.

They wouldn’t pose for a photo, but you get the idea.

We know heifers are female, right? I went to Google to learn how old they might be, when they might be bred (if they have been bred) and whatever else I might learn. Yes, all female cows are born with and have visible teats, but only those who are pregnant or have previously borne calves will have visible udders. Ours do not.

You know how, when you summon Google, you will see a list of questions which might be of interest on the subject? One inquiring mind posted the question: “What is a female bull called?”

Huh. Seriously? Ponder that for a moment and I’ll tell you the answer later.

No, I’ll just tell you now. The answer is a COW. The same person may be wondering what you call a female stallion. A city dweller, I’m guessing.

Before the heifers arrived, I had been meaning to write about earthworms. I’d walked down the road in the rain earlier in the week (by “road” I mean our driveway) and was amazed to see the tiny tubes of earthworm on the surface. Our road is gravel, pressed down by the years into a cement-like consistency in the two vehicle tracks. How do these unclad, boneless creatures manage to penetrate this barrier, and why, as they’re then visible to the busy robins?

I couldn’t learn how they do it, but there seem to be two theories about why. The rain, it is said, replicates the sound of moles digging, and the earthworms come to the surface to escape. The second idea is that the earth is saturated by the water and oxygen therefore scarce. They come up to breath. This one sounds more likely.

I watch them move, fascinated. Alive, but? Will they slip back down, through the cement after the rain? I walked the road several days later and there wasn’t a worm to be seen. So I don’t know.

We’ve been having a chicken problem. One of them has been laying eggs with the shells either too unsubstantial to contain the yolk and surrounding white, or she has been pecking at the shells after she lays them.

We have our chicken bible, and there were suggestions. Either insufficient calcium in the oyster shells we provide, or she’s aging out of the game. A menopausal chicken? Could be. We don’t know how old she is — this being Maddie — and as Rhody has already retired, it seems possible. But after several weeks of finding a mushed egg in the nest each morning, requiring a thorough cleaning, we went to WilCo to speak to their Chicken Guy.

He wasn’t able to provide a diagnosis, except to say that if I were feeding them chicken scraps, I should stop the practice. Didn’t like that advice. Of course chickens should have your celery tops, potato peels, or so I’ve been led to believe. Maybe not.

We discussed our choices. Larry is still unwilling to chop off heads. As am I, goes without saying. We can’t keep her out of the roost, can’t just toss her out of the car on the side of the road, which seems to be how others relieve themselves of unwanted pets. Just to be clear, I suppose these animals are pets, but not in the accepted definition of the word. We don’t pet them, for example. We enjoy watching them, we love having the eggs, but when necessary, we’ll do what we have to. Which is take them to the vet, endure their misunderstanding of the nature of our relationships, and have them euthanized.

But for the last two days, she’s laid two complete, unbroken eggs, earning a reprieve. Maybe it was the kitchen scraps?

Larry and I and were both startled to find last week that there’s something wrong with our new bathroom scale. After changing the battery and giving it another day or so to regroup, we were faced with the unfortunate conclusion that it was time for a “reset” of the humans involved in the equation. So there have been 8 days now, of dismal dining. Smoothies several times a day, salads with very little dressing, and “blended soups.” Probably exactly as you’d imagine a “blended soup.” Larry has shone in the project, shedding pounds with ease, while the woman in this story struggles to lose so much as an ounce. You’re right. It isn’t fair at all.

A brighter note, literally: Since leaving my band, back before Covid, I’ve been wishing to play somehow, with someone, as the trad banjo is not really a solo instrument. As finding another band is vanishingly unlikely, I picked up my five-string, bluegrass banjo and have been reacquainting myself with the instrument. I know, instrument of torture, as The NewYorker and other purveyors of taste would have it. “You can tuna fish but you can’t tuna banjo, haha.”

At the same time, a friend, Dick Sandvik, and I had been engaged in the sort of comment, upon seeing one another, that we should get together and play sometime. Dick plays guitar and sings, and has published his music, so you can see this would be pretty cool. For me. But it’s the kind of thing, you know, “we should” but never do.

And then I signed up for banjo camp in September and it began to get real. Suddenly, the idea of a practice buddy was too tempting to resist, and we are trying to get something to work out — remotely of course, as Dick and I live 150 miles apart.

Okay, I’ll try to record a song and send it off to Dick, who can then add his guitar and voice to the project. Yeah. That’s such a fun idea. In the first place, you have to have a microphone outside the computer. Easy enough. I buy a microphone.

In the second place, a recorded banjo solo — by me — sounds about as inviting as, as, well, you finish the sentence. Dick gently suggests I should acquire headphones in order that I might listen to the metronome — oh yeah, you have to have a metronome. Which I do, so no problem? But the metronome shouldn’t be in the recording, hence the headphone idea.

That’s where we are this evening. Tomorrow I’m going to get my Covid booster, and am going to Best Buy to explore this idea of headphones. And here’s a promise: IF I can manage it, if it’s even possible, when Dick and I do work up a respectable song, I’ll post it here. Dick, are you listening?

Meanwhile, keep up the good work! See ya.