Homeward Bound… well, not yet…

Fun Fact: The Simon and Garfunkel song “Homeward Bound” was penned by Paul Simon while he was stranded at a train station in Widnes, England.

An industrial town — Widnes is best known for other exports, such as “Blinky” the three eyed fish, Black Lung, and Sporty Spice (though, to be fair, she wasn’t born there; only educated during her formative years) — so when you listen to the lyrics of Homeward Bound, you can understand why he longed so much for ‘home’.

It doesn’t take the “amenities” of Widnes however to make us long for home.

We could be in an amazing place, with friends and family, and still have that twinge within us for ‘home’ — our own bed, that crispness in the air, a walk among the garden beds with your morning coffee… I think when you have put so much work into your homestead, that longing can be even more pronounced. In reality, when you work so hard to improve what you have – you pour yourself into the land. Blood, sweat and tears; time, intermingled with soil, mulch and earthworms. Leaving, is ultimately like leaving a bit of yourself behind…

Therefore, the desire to return to that place you have painstakingly amended, mulched and altered to become your own little slice of heaven is that much more pronounced.

I’m feeling that longing today. We’ve been travelling since the 19th, and we’re not home yet.

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted anything new. In fact, my last posts were the night of the big windstorm. Since that night, our life has been a bit of a whirlwind, and a roller coaster of ups and downs. That evening, Shannon’s grandfather lost power at his home, and headed out to the shop on his property to fire up his generator. While out in the shop, he had a massive stroke, and passed out on the shop floor, where he was found the next morning. He never regained consciousness and passed away soon after in the hospital.

Frank was a good man and I appreciated the opportunities I had to glean from his years of wisdom.  He had what some term, “country wisdom” –a type of wisdom that is disappearing rapidly today — and provided us with a lot of good suggestions on the building of our coop.  (Though, humorously, his experience with chickens jaded him somewhat. Years and years ago, he and his wife had a large flock of chickens on their farm, and the roosters had gotten mean enough Dixie wouldn’t go out and get the eggs anymore, telling him that if wanted the eggs — that he could go deal with them. The coop had gotten termites, and the birds were starting to become more of an annoyance than a benefit, so he went outside one morning, gathered up the eggs, butchered the chickens, and set the coop on fire to get rid of the termites.) Despite his overall disdain for chickens, he was genuinely interested, and excited about what Shannon and I were doing on our little farm. He was strong in his faith, raised 3 wonderful children who have all grown and raised families of their own. He lived a good life, and we will miss him terribly. We say our final goodbyes this coming Friday morning.

So with the events surrounding Frank’s death in the back of our minds, we made the push to get everything ready before our trip. I finished the insanity of the final two days before break and my brother-in-law and I frantically tried to get the metal on the coop roof so that the framing could dry off while we were gone to Texas. We managed to finish that Tuesday night, (the 18th)

On the 19th, with Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3 packed into the car with all our stuff, we nosed the Swagger Wagon in the direction of Spokane and put the pedal down. Driving through blizzard conditions, we managed to make it in, get the car unpacked and get Thing 1, and Thing 2 set up with Grandma, nab a couple of hours of sleep; then Shannon, Thing 3 and I boarded a plane series of planes the next morning for Brownsville, Texas and ultimately South Padre Island.

We spent 4 days in SPI, where we had a chance to relax, meet new family and friends, and witness one of the happiest of human events as my wife’s brother and his lovely fiance became husband and wife. We all shared a beautiful house a stone’s throw from the beach and with 16 people in fairly tight quarters, we got to know each other REALLY well. Jokes were made, much fun was had, and we had a lot of good laughs. The wedding was beautiful, right down on the beach with the sun shining, the bride glowing, and smiles beaming on the faces of all.

There is something beautiful about being witness to the beginnings of a new life together, so much so that I almost feel bad about what we did to their car. But all joking aside – we wish them nothing but the best, and were so happy to be able to be a part of it.

As they headed off on their honeymoon, the rest of us enjoyed one last night at the house, and headed back to Spokane on another plane series of planes. Sitting here in Spokane the day after we got back has given me some time to reflect on the trip, and the differences between the two states. Texas is a beast all its own, and I think the differences are even more pronounced when the two states you’re comparing are Oregon and Texas. In that vein, I’ve put together a top 10 list of “Jeff Foxworthy” like observations from our trip.

10) You might be from Oregon if you have a moral debate with yourself before attempting to throw away your glass beer bottle, then ultimately wash it out and put it on the counter because you just can’t bear to throw it away… Recycling? What’s that? (Actually, we all had a good laugh at the billboard that said, “Recycling: Join the Movement”)

9) You might be from Oregon if the concept of NIMBY actually means, Not In My Back Yard. In Brownsville, the acronym should be PPAWWTPIMBY, which stands for, Please Put Another Waste Water Treatment Plant In My Back Yard… The most commonly asked question as we drove through it was, “Did you fart?” No? Oh… it’s just ANOTHER Waste Water Treatment Plant right in the middle of everyone’s backyards…”

8) You might be from Oregon if you look all over the store to find the beer aisle, and think to yourself… Where is it? What?! THIS IS THE BEER AISLE?! Where are all the microbrews?

7) You might be from Oregon if you see stands on the corners of streets in Brownsville with small windmills, and shout, “YES!! THEY HAVE DUTCH BROS. COFFEE”, only to find that no.. they’re purified drinking water dispensers… You’re definitely from Oregon if you outwardly sobbed after you made that discovery.

6) You might be from Oregon if you are a beer snob, coffee snob, AND drinking water snob. I drank some water at the Brownsville airport that made me wonder if I was actually drinking reclaimed waste water. I should have known something was up when my rental car agent handed us two bottles of purified water…

5) You might be from Oregon if you are used to signs that say, “Caution, Ice on  Roadway.”, “Look for Falling Rocks”, “High Wind Warning”, and are prepared for appropriate action… but you take a moment’s pause at the sign with flashing lights that says, “Watch for Pelicans when Flashing,” then think to yourself… what exactly AM I supposed to do about that?!

4) You might be from Oregon if you’re the only person getting ready for the beach wearing a sweatshirt, hat, and long pants.

3) You might be from Oregon if you are mildly offended by waffles shaped like the state of Texas, and to get your revenge — you cause a Category 5 ‘syrup tornado’ in the Dallas/Forth Worth, San Antonio, and Midland areas. Actually, in retrospect, this might be more of a sign of mental instability than a regional quirk.

2) You might be from Oregon if your concept of getting around in your state is just hopping in your car and driving to where you need to go, and being astonished that simply getting around in Texas requires multiple days in a car or air travel.

1) You might be from Oregon if you’re surprised at the police presence at the local Walmart… Actually, that’s not a difference…Thank you Walmart for making us feel at home.

In all actuality, all the above observations were made with tongue firmly planted in cheek. We had a fabulous time, and really loved spending time with the family on South Padre Island. I’m already plotting and planning when I can get away to SPI again for a bit longer period of time. It’s a beautiful place — and the warm sun, tropical breezes, and relaxing location was a much needed vacation from the snow, ice and stress of home.

Despite all that, as I sit here in Spokane typing this blog entry, my mind can’t help but wander back to the homestead; the chicken coop, our upcoming projects, my own bed… and I am excited to return to it.

There’s a quote by novelist George Moore that hangs on my wall at home, and in the last couple of years, it has become one of my favorites.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.

-George Moore

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May you all find whatever you’re looking for; you might want to begin your search in the backyard…

Cheers,
Ben

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Kale Me Maybe…

As promised earlier, the recipe for the AWESOME soup we’re having this evening.

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Taken directly from Mother Earth News, it was the perfect answer to the question, “What do I do with Kale?” Particularly if you’re like us and don’t care for Kale chips…

“Kale/Potato/White Bean Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Turkey or Chicken sausage, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 3 cups chopped red potatoes (cut into 1 inch cubes)
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 8 cups coarsely chopped Kale leaves, tough stems removed
  • 1/2 tablespoon snipped fresh Rosemary
  • 1 (15 ounce) can white beans, rinsed, drained (or dry beans precooked)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 Cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese for garnish (optional)

Directions:

  1. Brown sausage 3 to 5 minutes in large pot or Dutch Oven. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, or until onions are limp. drain any excess fat from pot.
  2. Add chicken stock, potatoes, carrots, celery, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are near tender. Add kale, rosemary, and white beans. Cook 5 minutes more, or until carrots and potatoes are tender.
  3. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual serving bowls and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

The soup was delicious, and went well with a Widmer Hefeweizen, though admittedly, there isn’t much that it doesn’t go well with, but it also paired well with an Angry Orchard Crisp Apple.

…Give it a shot, Kale’s good for you, I promise.

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

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Just took this picture from our bedroom window… Ok. That’s not true.

But today sure felt a lot like the picture above here on our modest little piece of Oregon. As often occurs this time of year, the winter rains begins to fall in earnest (Yes… there’s a difference), the wind picks up to near gale force gusts, and the air has a special kind of bite that only comes with late December in Oregon. It was simply not the kind of day to be outside doing anything, so we tackled some Zone 1 projects. Our house.

With the chicken project in full swing, my garage, den, and laundry room area – where we’re staging materials, tools, etc.. looked like someone rolled in a hand grenade and quickly closed the door in a misguided attempt at organizing it… So we spent the morning today taking care of the mess and getting it all cleaned up and organized. The project is nearing its end, and we’re looking forward to having things back in order – I can only take so much clutter before I start going insane, my wife can take far less. It finally got to the point I couldn’t stand it anymore, which means Shannon hasn’t been able to deal for the past 3 weeks… Thankfully the doctor says the patches of hair will grow back.

I spent the rest of the afternoon researching backyard beekeeping. Bees are our next live animal project after the chickens get put in. We’ve got the spot figured out, have the flight path diverter already in place, and will be researching further how to go about it, but step one – I need to build a bee box. I’m going to stick with the Langstrom style box, as I’ve got a couple of friends that have both – and greatly prefer the old tried and true Langstrom over the Top Bar… though I have much more reading and study to do into the topic we’re going to start taking the first few cursory steps. Anyone who has experience in this, I’d love to hear from you. (Comment or email me.)

Once that was finished, I figured it was time to update as I took a few days off following the events of Friday morning. I decided that ultimately writing down what I did that day wasn’t terribly important following the news that we were receiving, and as a parent I had much more important things to do. I’m going to refrain from commenting on the events, and I have refused to be drug into the arguments that have been flooding my Facebook feed. I have many liberal friends whom I work with in the school system, and I have many conservative friends from other walks of life, and the past 2 days my Facebook feed has been one giant argument over gun control, and why the other user group are idiots. (Between this and the inevitable annoyance of December 21st’s Mayan Fiasco, I’m thinking a Facebook break may be in order until sometime in mid-February) Regarding the events in Connecticut, I’m choosing to stay out of it, and I will continue to do that on here. I don’t want to turn this into a place where I rant about politics and issues of the day – there are plenty of other folks who do that in the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the street corner… frankly, one more voice joining the cacophony is a waste of breath.

This blog is not about the evil in the world. It’s meant to be about the beautiful things in life. It’s about getting dirt under your fingernails — building, creating and producing. Being content with what you have, working hard, living, loving, and learning… being able to look back when the race has been run and knowing you have made a difference, that things are better than they were when you started. That’s the goal on our little parcel of land. 

Monday – we roof the coop!! The roof is framed, we’re just waiting on metal at this point, and since it’s salvage metal, there are holes in it already – so we want to wait until we get it to put the stripping down so we can avoid caulking holes. I’m stoked for getting the roof on it, and letting the framing dry out while we head down to Texas for my brother-in-law’s wedding. Once we get back we’ll be able to do some of the finishing work and get the siding on it. It’ll be tricky fitting everything in over break this year, as we’ll be spending a few days in sunny South Padre Island, Texas… then visiting my family in not-so-warm-and-sunny Spokane, Washington. We’ll have to fit finishing the coop around that and my winter Steelheading schedule… you have to have priorities you know…

As I finish typing this, I can smell the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. The sounds and smell of chicken sausage frying, the scent of onion wafting gently through the air — today’s menu choice is Kale/Potato/White Bean soup, and it’s a perfect pairing for the day, as you can see from the picture above – it’s definitely a soup kind of day. 

I’ll post a picture of the finished soup as well as the recipe later this evening in case you want to try it – we stole it from Mother Earth News, and it is delicious, you should definitely try it.

I Dream of Chickens…

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work. — Colin Powell

I seriously doubt that General Powell was talking about building a chicken coop when he said this quote, but there has been sweat, determination, and hard work built right into the framing of this coop. For those of you who are unaware – we’re in the process of adding chickens here at the homestead. We’re excited as this is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, and was finally legalized in our city year before last due to the outspoken crowds that stormed city hall. We can keep 5 birds now.

Once it’s done, I will do a big long post that shows the whole process from start to finish… but we’re not there yet.

We have managed to do two things on this coop that I am exceptionally proud of…

1) It is made from entirely recycled/salvaged materials. We pulled all our framing lumber from a couple of house demolitions, and managed to scrounge up the rest of the materials from various places. The only materials we have purchased new are the fasteners.

2) We are taking great pride in our finished product, so we’re both on board with making the best coop we can build with what we’ve got to work with, both the most beautiful and the most functional — and it’s looking incredible. I truly can’t wait to do the step by step post and show you all what we’ve put together… Patience…

However. With all of that said – I am beat. Near Brain Dead… While the dream of this chicken coop and our own backyard flock is finally coming to fruition, the 4-6 hours of extra work a night in the rain and weather on top of teaching insane middle school students just prior to Christmas Break is beginning to take its toll.

Good news is… I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Both with work, and with the coop – it’s finally getting to the point where it’s almost there. Just a little bit more and it’s all downhill from there.

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There was a HUGE bright spot in our work tonight however, we framed in the roof system and it’s up and in place… and my lovely wife made us homemade pizza. Hard work ALWAYS goes better with homemade pizza and Widmer Hefeweizen.

Goodnight.

Ben

You trying this recipe is naan-negotiable…

Ok.

If you’ve ever read Genesis 25 and shook your head in silent resigned judgment as Esau comes back from a long hard days hunting with nothing to show for it – half starved and near death – only to sell his inheritance, his very birthright to his somewhat conniving brother Jacob…

Put that judgment on hold…

No seriously. I believe I’ve just eaten a bowl of this stew, and you need to cut the man a break…

Shannon whipped this up for dinner recently, and it is absolutely delicious. You have to try it. I would have taken pictures of the finished product, but it was gone before we knew what had happened. I’ll have to get some pictures the next time around.

“Esau’s Dilemma”
(adapted from LaBelleChef’s Vegan Red Lentil Soup recipe on Allrecipes.com)

  • 1 tbs peanut oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tbs minced fresh ginger root
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 cups homemade chicken broth
  • 1/2 can coconut milk
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, and cook the onion, ginger, and garlic until onion is tender. Mix the lentils, squash and cilantro into the pot. Stir in the water, coconut milk and tomato paste. Season with curry powder, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are done. Hide your birthright.

We needed something to go with it as a side, so Shannon and Thing 1 worked to make some Whole Wheat Naan to go along with it. This has become one of our favorite new recipes as we’re working to have fresh vegetables, hummus, and feta cheese around for a bit of Mediterranean flair, and we much prefer the naan to the Pita.

“Naan-yo-bidness”
(Whole Wheat Naan Recipe from CheekyKitchen)

  • 1 pkg active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups very warm water
  • 2 tbs maple syrup
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2-3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (We prefer Bob’s Red Mill)
  • Olive Oil to prevent sticking and burning

In a large bowl, combine the water and yeast. Whisk in the maple syrup. Allow mixture to sit for 3-5 minutes. Then, whisk in the salt and stir in just enough flour with a wooden spoon to form a dough that follows the spoon around the bowl. Sprinkle more flour onto the dough if needed to keep it from sticking while you knead it lightly in bowl. Cover and set aside for 1 hour.

Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Use olive oil to prevent sticking. Generously cover a clean work area with flour, then pull the dough off in golf ball sized pieces. Roll each piece of dough in the flour, then use a rolling pin to roll it about 1/4 inch thickness. Transfer to your hot skillet, cook until golden brown (about 60-90 seconds), then flip with a pair of tongs and allow the other side of your naan to cook until golden brown (about 60 seconds later).

You won’t regret giving this dinner a try. Seriously. Pair this with a Shock-Top Belgian White beer, or a favorite light or wheat beer so as not to overpower the curry and spices, and you’re headed for the land of happy tummy.

On an unrelated (well, semi-related note) — what’s your best ‘Naan’ pun?

Go.

Day Off.

No work on the coop tonight.

Both Matt and I took a much needed night off. Matt had some overtime to do, and I’m way backed up on grading. So we took tonight off in hopes of getting some stuff done. We’re back at it tomorrow night – we’ve got to go pick up some metal roofing pieces, roof stripping, and prep the materials for setting up the roof system and water collection system on Wednesday night.

The night wasn’t totally devoid of chicken stuff though — the sale on chicken feed at Copper Creek ends tomorrow so I zipped out this evening and picked up two big bags of Layer Ration to stash in the garage while it was on sale with coupon. (can’t beat $14.99 for 50lbs). Got home to unload the feed, and as soon as I opened the truck door, I could hear Thing 3 screaming from outside the house (she’s teething…) I was this close to closing the truck door and just driving around for a few hours — but I had way too much to get done tonight.

So I put on my big boy pants, unloaded the feed and headed inside… as you can probably imagine, it was exponentially worse in the house.

It was then that remembered an old country remedy for teething… Whiskey.

…The baby’s still screaming, but it doesn’t bother me near as much anymore.

Beginnings…

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”
–Laura Ingalls Wilder

When my wife and I bought this tiny worn-out house on a busy main thoroughfare here in Oregon, we had no idea that our adventure would bring us to this point. We had figured we’d be here for a couple of years and move into something larger – hopefully some place with some land so we could garden extensively and get livestock as both of us had dreamed.

… then the bubble burst.

Our house value plummeted along with everyone else in the nation, and reality set in that we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Our dream of a home in the country has morphed somewhat… and it was decided — if we can’t get to the country, we’re going to bring the country to us. We decided that instead of dwelling on what could have been, we’d be content with what we have.

So our family of 5 embarked on the next stage of our journey. Living the ‘country’ lifestyle — with its values and ethics — right here in the middle of the city.

With 50 feet of 17th Street Frontage, the sirens are constant, and the traffic can be maddening — but on our modest 50′ x 135′ lot, we have installed a large garden, composting systems, are in the process of adding a backyard flock, water collection, and have tilled up the front yard to begin farming all that space previously wasted on grass… down the rabbit hole we go.

Join us as we embark on this adventure. Share with us the highs and lows, celebrate in our victories and learn from our mistakes, it’s going to be quite the ride.

–Ben and Shannon