Friday, October 15, 2010

We have a rare bird

While we were moving our chicken coop from our house out to Sharon's farm, the chicken's had a good time in their temporary home; under the trampoline. It took us two evenings and since it wasn't all that secure under the trampoline, we made a little area in the back of the garage and carried them in there to sleep at night. It was quite an ordeal transporting all five chickens back and forth that night and morning, but all was well. We spread straw all over the floor and provided cardboard boxes and pet carriers in case anyone wanted to get cozy, and they just slept until I got them out in the morning. Gratefully Snowball was in one of the pet carriers, so I was able to just pick up the whole thing and move her to the trampoline area. She is the most flighty and easily startled bird, while the rest are quite mellow and tame. Interesting, because she was hand-fed and raised with lots of holding and petting. Well, come to find out, there's a biological reason she's so wild acting; turns out that she is a "Silver Lakenvelder", a chicken breed that hails originally from Germany and they are known to be less sociable with humans. She gets along great with the other birds though, lays beautiful tinted white eggs, and is a handsome bird that loves to be outdoors with the other chickens. Her breed is rare, but not critically endangered. She has inspired me to check into other rare breeds and potentially raise mostly endangered chicken breeds. Peck is a "Light Brahma" and is a sweet and friendly bird who has kind of taken over as the leader of the flock. She lets everyone know when it's bedtime; when the Black Stars were smaller, she would gather them up and literally sing them to sleep. I had no idea that chickens did that, but Peck sits in there cooing in the sweetest little voice that sounds just like a type of singing until everyone settles down.

Here is Snowball:


Their temporary under the trampoline digs:

Snowball and Peck with two of the Black Stars getting their daily outdoor time. The Black Stars are named Matilda, Venus, and Athena:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First Eggs!

How did we end up with chickens? I have been wanting chickens for several years, but hadn't found or had the opportunity. Last April, there was a chicken show at the fairgrounds over the weekend, and when we came into work Monday morning, found that a chick had been left behind. She was running around the barn frantically and one of the ladies caught her and put her in a box. She called OHSU and they asked her to find someone willing to take it home, as they weren't driving all the way back out from Portland for one little chick. Nobody could or would take her and I figured, why not? Yes, I can think of a few reasons now why not, but it seemed like a fine idea at the time and even though it has been an ordeal, I don't regret the decision.
We brought her home, made a little pen out of a rubbermaid tote, drove to the farm store in Carson for some food, bedding, dishes, and a heat light, and set "Snowball" up in the garage. Sharon took pity and offered her a buddy, as chickens are flock animals and really do need other chickens to be with, and she had 15 chicks. We gratefully took in "Peck" to keep Snowball company. Peck was just a few days old and Snowball was about 3-4 weeks, the 3rd week of April. They got along immediately and hunkered down together at night from day one. I started reading about chickens and learned that while 2 chickens do okay, 3-5 is really the best minimum for a decent flock. On May 5th, Dickey Farms had another round of chicks come in, so we went out and picked up 3 Black Stars, or Black Sex Links, 2 days old. I don't know why I didn't take more pictures, they were just little balls of black fluff, so cute.
We set up a 2nd brooder and raised them separate from the 2 bigger chicks, since they needed a little more heat and I wasn't sure how they would all get along.
By the middle of May, we were taking the big chicks outside everyday for some fresh air and exercise, they had a bigger pen in the garage, and it was time to build a coop. We scavenged materials around here and bought a few things like chicken wire, screws, poultry tacks, and plywood.
To make a long story short, everything went great for a couple of months, the chickens all got along after we introduced them, and we were all enjoying the new additions, when we got a visit from a city planner who told us we couldn't have the chickens and they would have to be removed. It is the most ridiculous thing, but quite common to have ordinances against chickens, many people in towns and cities are working to change the laws, but not here yet. We were given until August 20th to move the chickens, so we moved the entire coop out to Sharon's place. I am hoping to get the law changed here, but the city told me that it will take at least 6 months and by then we will be moved out to the property where chickens are allowed. I will still help folks here, but in the meantime, the chickens live in Carson, and we have to drive daily to care for them and collect eggs. We let them out into the barn yard while we are there and they have a great time running around, scratching, pecking, and eating bugs and weeds.
The first eggs were a real thrill for everyone, they came the 2nd week of September and we have been getting eggs daily since then. We have gotten five eggs in one day twice, and a double yolker 3 times.

Here is the coop:

And here are the boys with the first eggs:

I will make another post later with better pictures of the chickens and describe their types and temperaments.

Ealom's Art

Ealom had a fantastic opportunity last month to attend a class on creating characters for comics taught by a professional comic book artist. The kids got to submit their comic book covers to The Maryhill Museum of Art for display in their "Comics at the Crossroads" exhibit. We went to the opening event of the exhibit, where the kids got to present and talk about their art pieces, and attend the social event afterwards. Here he is, his cover is on the lower right:

As an added bonus, which was probably even more fun than the event itself, was the attendance of COUSINS! Maryhill is in between Yakima and Stevenson, and we were thrilled that Katy was able to come and bring 3 of the kids. Here are the boys under a sculpture entitled, "The Taco Bell":

I had gotten out of the habit of blogging last summer, so I am going to share a couple of photos from another class Ealom took a year ago. This class was "Claymation" and was held at OMSI, all day long for a week. The class was incredibly inspiring and Ealom learned a lot, still using skills he learned at that class in his current projects. I am disappointed that he couldn't go again this year, but we plan on sending him next year.
Here he is outside the studio holding the DVD he made, entitled "Gump":

And inside:

I will try to upload the claymation he made at that class to Youtube and link it here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Property History

My job does have some perks, such as asking around about local history, and someone is sure to know something. I asked Jeananne Wiseman, who was born and raised in Stevenson, about our property. She actually remembered the folks who owned the house on our property, but couldn't remember when it was torn down. Her aunt used to live just around the corner and Jeananne remembered walking around the area. I'm going to be asking more questions and talking to more people, but I want to write down what she told me so far.
The house was built by Miles and Mildred Stevenson, relatives of the founders of our town. According to Jeananne, Miles was an enormous man with an equally matched appetite for alcohol and fighting with his wife. Rumor has it they were both fighters when they drank and had some rip-roaring times. Miles was a logger and lived to a ripe old age, but not sure when he died. Mildred died about 4 years ago at age 98. Jeananne recommended visiting the local museum and asking them about the place. She also said she'd bring in some photos of Stevenson from the 1940s when the road through town (now Highway 14) was gravel and the sidewalks were wooden. She has pictures of the house she was born in, which is now the Marylin Bolles Art Studio downtown.

Wildcrafting at the Property

So, the previous property owners were telling the truth; there are indeed apple trees down by the creek, and while I had thought there wasn't any fruit, we found some. It was nearly three weeks ago when we found the apples, gleaned about 2 gallons from the ground and picked a few from the trees. The trees are old and neglected, but we got enough apples to make a crisp combined with blackberries. Yum!
Here is our harvest, along with gift veggies from our next door neighbors garden:

Here is the crisp:

Black bears love apples also. This picture was taken yesterday. Yep, that's black bear scat chock full of apples. The fellow wildcrafter was spotted on the neighbor's property the night before. Wishing we had a really big dog.

Excavator and surprise

The excavator came out and removed an entire area of brambles in less time than we spent making a little path through it. This is the same area where you can see our little path in the post below:

A shot of the enlarged meadow (building site):

And surprise...there used to be a house here, which was apparently torn down and the spot used as a dump. Of course, they left the foundation, and I have no idea if it was broken up before or if our kindly (ha) excavator tore it up and moved monstrous chunks of concrete around. Luckily it's not at our building site, but out at the front of the property next to the road. It would be cool if there were actual treasures in there, but I'm pretty sure it's mostly junk. Aidan and I did find 2 forks and 2 butter knives, which he promptly put to use digging at some copper wire and tubing that was stuck in the ground. As soon as I told him you could trade that stuff in for cash, he was all over it. :) He'll have to come back with a shovel of course, but Gil and I had a good chuckle watching him squatting in the dirt trying to dig with a knife and fork. I am guessing the dump to be 1920s-1970s, perhaps the house existed 1920s-1950s? It's interesting, I am going to try and find out more about the history here. Gil is looking at parts of an old wringer washer here along with a chunk of the foundation:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The path

My goodness, brambles are hard work to get rid of. I know that goes without saying (or writing) but whew! We cut a crescent path through the woods from one corner of the east side of the building site/meadow to the south end and it took us almost three hours. I had hoped to hack all the way to the creek on the east side of the meadow because I wanted to see how steep the slope there is and the previous owners told us there were apple trees over there, but about 15 feet in, we discovered a deer path going south and decided to just widen that back up to the meadow, since after 3 hours, we were ready to be done with that area, I know how steep the hill is, and I spied some ancient looking apple trees that are either done producing for the season or completely retired.
We had already spent two hours before that picking berries, hacking at the sides of the driveway, and removing snags and some brambles from the creek path. The creek path is one that is clearly used by deer and perhaps even neighbors. I removed several dangerous looking snags, lots of dead logs and branches and over-hanging brambles, and I have to say, as hard as the work was, it was all very satisfying, the scratches and sore muscles being well worth it.

Here is a "before" picture:

Oh, and of course, this before picture: ;)

And here is after 3 hours of heavy labor:

I will try and not focus on the fact that we took out less than 1% of what needs to be removed, and the ones we chopped down still have their big knotty roots in the ground, which will re-sprout and still need to be dug up or chopped up somehow (rototiller?) if we want to plant anything else there. Boo to people being irresponsible stewards of the land! This is what happens when land is logged and then ignored. The excavator will be removing some of it, but that tears up the land so badly, including anything native that has survived the logging and invasive species onslaught, that we are hoping to save some of it. I have uncovered many native plants and if we we just tear up the land, it will all be lost. We will be doing it in some areas anyhow, and replant, plus we do want a small lawn and garden areas. The excavation (backhoe) also churned up all the topsoil and it is a clay mess and can destabilize the land. The one good thing about it is that it brought a lot of the rocks to the surface, which we are going to try and use for landscaping.

We signed the papers!!!

Finally, six months and multiple headaches later, the property is in our name! We are so thrilled, I cannot begin to describe how much. We signed on Friday and went out Sunday to assess the work and have a picnic. We couldn't help ourselves, brought out the tools and chopped a path into the woods off the side of the building pad. 5 1/2 hours later...with a bucket of blackberries and scratches on hands and arms, we have a beautiful little meandering path and more room on the sides of the driveway. Now we can almost drive all the way in with the windows down! haha.

Here is the the driveway from the road, catching Ealom in the act of blackberry picking:

Here is the driveway from the building site (we are calling it "The Meadow"):

The Meadow / building site:

What Aidan spent 80% of his time doing the last 2 days at the property (the other 20% was at the creek):

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trip to the Coast

We had a great time at the coast this year. We are members of the NW Civil War council, participating in living history and battle reenactments about 5 times a year. It started out as a good excuse to go camping, not to mention great rates (free w/ our membership) and stays at beautiful state parks. The Ft. Stevens event falls on Labor Day weekend every year and we decided to stay an extra day and go exploring further north. We headed out to Ft. Stevens on Friday evening, setting up camp in the dark with a slight sprinkle. We have a large cabin tent and with our 10x10 canopy and 20x30 tarp covering the whole set-up, we stayed dry and toasty. We have gotten spoiled on having our business stuff to take camping; hot water hand washing station, folding tables, marine cooler, etc., which is all quite nice and makes camping pretty smooth. We would eventually like to go all rustic and camp with the living history group, but for now we stay in "modern camp", since we have all of the equipment already.
The weather cleared up Saturday, and stayed beautiful all Sunday and into Monday. Gil had a fun time playing soldier, the boys had a great time camping, going to the beach on their own, hiking and biking around and I had some much needed rest and relaxation. Saturday night was the dance and Gil and I danced the Virginia Reel, some other fun "period" dances and Aidan and I waltzed.
Sunday night was the company potluck, and everyone was asking when we are going to get our Civil War gear and camp with them. This is our 2nd full year doing this and I did notice 2 families that have joined after us are already camping in "Civilian Camp". I'd love to, but we are saving up for a real house folks!
Monday afternoon we headed north to Cape Disappointment and the weather turned nasty. Fitting name, eh? We got camp set up and went to the beach, getting completely soaked and chilled in the foggy rain. We stayed warm and dry in our shelter though, and the rain let up long enough for us to sit around the campfire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows.
Tuesday we got packed up and went to Long Beach to visit Marsh's free museum and gift shop, which is something unto itself. The place is packed with trinkets, stuffed animals that are falling apart because they are so old, crazy old antiques, a "mummified alligator man" (oi vay!) and all of these old contraptions dating from the mid-19th century that you can put a coin in and get some sort of show; organ machines, periscopes, games, weird little shows, you name it. It was really amazing and quite entertaining. After that we headed up to Ocean Park to visit Jack's, a general store that has all kinds of old-fashioned gadgets and candy. The boys spent all their money on candy and I spent mine in the kitchen section. Got those cool little corn-on-the-cob holders, a neat nutcracker, some beautiful wooden utensils, canning supplies, rootbeer extract, and other fun goodies.
I guess we were all tuckered out because nobody cared to go to the beach again, just ready to go home, where we arrived at 9pm at night. What a trip!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thoughts on unschooling

A lot has been swirling around in my head regarding educational philosophy over the past several months and the path that we have taken, one definitely less traveled. We have been attending a group nearly every Friday that is composed of mostly unschoolers. I have often called myself "eclectic" because even when we studied using the Charlotte Mason method, we would often spend days and even weeks just doing as we pleased and that made us all quite happy.
We really do prefer the natural learning that takes place in an unschooling environment, but that seemed so scary for some reason. Cultural programming, public school propaganda, fear of the unknown, etc. and now thankfully I am ready to let go of all of that and really do our own thing.
We attended an unschooling conference two weekends ago called "Life is Good" and I saw firsthand the joys of natural learning and why I have been drawn to this path. I am recognizing how controlling I am/have been and I don't like it. I've always considered myself a fairly relaxed parent and maybe compared to much of our society I am, but we have a long way to go! The wonderful thing is that I have some really great friends who unschool that are great examples as we have turned our focus to this new path.
One thing that really draws me to unschooling is the opportunity for children to learn how to make decisions for themselves. I see so many people around me having an extremely difficult time making decisions, and I realize that the more I allow my kids to make their own decisions, the more comfortable they will be in doing so.
I'd like to share one thing that happened while at the conference that really helped me to see my controlling nature.
Aidan was playing DS with a buddy and the rest of us went in to see Kimya Dawson perform. Gil, Ealom, and I were sitting there laughing and enjoying it so much, I just knew Aidan would like it also, so I ran out to get him. Well, Aidan wanted to continue DS with his buddy. I started to try and convince him that he would really enjoy the show. Ginger Sabo was sitting nearby (it was her son Aidan was playing with) and she just said something along the lines of, "He can be here, it's no problem", in a very kind and calm voice. I had to think about that for a split second, but in that moment, I knew that she was right and I knew that he'd be just fine and that's exactly what this whole philosophy hinges on; letting him make that choice. I felt this wave of calm come over me as I thanked her and went back to the concert without Aidan. How wonderful that he could decide what was going to be the best place for him to be at that moment. So many times we don't know what we want. Why exasperate that problem by controlling a kid's every move?
Another challenge was becoming comfortable with the term "unschooling", since it seemed perhaps negative to me, with the "un" and all. The ah-ha came when I was telling my friend about the kids and I drying some herbs to make tea with and she asked me, "Is that for homeschool?" In response, I heard these words just came out of my mouth, "No, we were just doing it, not for school...just because we wanted to do it...we don't even DO school, uhm, we, uh, well, we unschool."
All of a sudden it had just clicked for me and all of these ideas suddenly made sense, the term unschool suddenly had meaning to me and I "got it". School has nothing to do with what we do, it's lost it's power over me. Wow! Big ideas.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Future Muñoz homesite

I’ve had my eye on this neighborhood called Fern Meadow in Stevenson for over a year now and recently a parcel there became available. We put in an offer and it was accepted. It’s about a mile up the hill from town in an area of newer homes, with private newly paved roads, private wells & septic systems (just out of city limits), CC&Rs to avoid too much hillbilly (haha) action, but not overly restrictive, and it’s relatively flat for this area. It’s Stevenson, so of course there are rolling hills, huge rocks, and the entire area rests on a massive clay shelf in ancient and gulp, recent, slide zones. All properties in Skamania County in fact, must have a Geo Tech test to make sure your property will not be sliding down onto your neighbors in the near future. A massive earthquake would be devastating I’m sure, but there are no major fault lines right in Stevenson. The main issue is just that it’s the Columbia Gorge and every bit of the Gorge has moved and slid about at some point in history because of the Columbia River, glacial action in the past, and the fact that there is a lot of clay in the ground.
At the county planning office, Teddy (county planner) showed us a huge map of the entire gorge, which shows all of the slides over time. It’s extremely interesting to see how they were formed and how they all overlap each other. There is currently an active slide above Fern Meadow (the Maple slide) but it’s headed down the hill on the other side of us directly towards the LDS church, which will be swept away at some point in the next 100 years if they can’t stop that one (don’t know how they could), but it’s also sliding from the bottom, which is the Piper Slide; the lower part of the same slide across the street down the hill from the church. One family’s home (a block from the church) is currently sliding down the hill and the county built them a brand new home directly across the street from our new property, so clearly where we are buying is in a relatively safe area and not expected to slide any time soon. Kinda crazy though, eh? You can see all of this on Google Earth if you want to check it out. Just type in Stevenson, WA and zoom in. It’s hard for me to tell exactly what I’m looking at sometimes, but it is interesting.
Soooo, on to the property, now that we’ve had our geography lesson. lol!
It’s 3 acres, with a well, driveway, cleared homesite, Geo Tech tested, Kanaka Creek goes right through the property with a little waterfall, tons of native vegetation and wildlife (4 deer ran past us last time we were there), and it’s QUIET. Yippy! It’s in Stevenson, so of course it is partially sloped, but nothing major and there are plenty of flat spots. The slide thing might freak some people out, but after looking at several other properties that looked they were literally hanging on for dear life to the side of the gorge, this one looks wonderful.
It was kind of dark when I took the pictures, but I think you can see somewhat; the first one is the waterfall (my favorite feature on the lot!), next is the driveway (built in 2004, so overgrown a bit), and last is the view from the front of the property with the home across the street. The homesite is in the back and is mostly private. Look at all of those brambles! I know 2 boys who are going to be gearing up with machetes and going to work. :-)

Looking for that perfect land

We've been looking for a place to call (permanent) home for almost 2 years now and finally put in an offer that was accepted! We've done a lot of research and our dream has been to find land that we can garden, have a few chickens, build tree houses and forts, and basically just run wild and enjoy nature right at home. I have researched cordwood and cob building, even living in a yurt, but we always keep our options open and even living in a fairly conventional home is fine, as long as we have some land to get creative on.
We have looked at dozens of bare land lots, as well as fixer uppers (even in Portland)and several nice homes on 1/2 acre+ lots, and put in one formal offer on a cute cottage on 1/2 an acre across the street from the library, which was a wonderful location right in town, but our offer wasn’t accepted, even $20k OVER asking price in this market?!? Which tells you something about Stevenson real estate; it’s just not suffering as much as other parts of the county. We are very grateful that our offer wasn’t accepted however, as we were totally doing the Tevya thing; “On one hand…., on the other hand…” lol.
The arguments:
Pros: It was cute as a button, 1950’s Cape Cod, all wood, we knew the previous owner (he died there last summer), he created beautiful gardens, all mature, nice landscaped creek, walk to everywhere in Stevenson, BUT…
Cons: busy corner (this was a huge one for us, as it’s one of the busiest corners in town and we felt a LOT of trepidation about it), part of the lot is steeply sloped, tiny kitchen and dining room, and there would be a few older house issues (they all have some!).
Soooo, after that disappointment, we set out determined to buy land and have a new home built on it. We have looked at LOTS of properties over the past 2 years, as far north as La Center, WA (not counting the sneak peaks at Mat-Su land!), east to Goldendale, WA, as far south as Estacada, OR, and west as far as Banks, OR. Phew! We’ve looked at so many Columbia Gorge properties; I was offered a job by Mal & Seitz Real Estate to be an agent – no joke! They are across the river in Cascade Locks and I went looking at properties over there with an agent named Ginger. We talked so much and I shared with her so many different loan options & building/developing ideas that I really impressed her and she said whenever I want to take the exam, they’ll save a desk for me. She even called me later to assure me that she was serious. :-) I love educating people on their professions – lol! At least Ginger appreciated it and I may even take her up it, I would enjoy working with her some more and I am looking at future career options. I’ve also had to educate my loan officer over at USDA rural, but that’s another story which hasn’t been nearly so enjoyable and has caused me a lot of unnecessary stress. I am going to make this a single blog post and talk about the new property in it’s own post, up next! :-)