Monday, December 22, 2014

Our House

I wanted to include in our Christmas letter that our new wood stove heats our entire 804 square foot home.  But my husband thought, that with all the other stories, this little factoid, the "804 square feet," would drive everyone to think that we are completely batty, out of our minds, LOCO, crazy to live in such a sized house.  I'm sure that if someone offered to add on a couple rooms, I would gladly take an extra bathroom or a more lively-sized living room.  Its not like we don't have a television because we abhor teli, or because we're so above it that we would only watch NOVA, its that we would watch it too much.  It would pull us away from all the life happening, so we prefer not to tempt ourselves.  The same with our house.  Its not that we resolutely prefer our tiny house, its that its the house that came with the location, which is heavenly.  So the house is heavenly right along with it.

This is the season when all of a sudden, our house seems more cramped.  With colder weather, we naturally spend a bit more time indoors and then there's that Christmas tree we had to cram into the space between the living room and the kitchen.  We have too many books.  However, books are one thing I cannot part with.  Specifically, children's books.  How could I part with such a collection?  Painstakingly selected by Granny throughout her years of teaching.  Bought and paid for with her own money, because, "Children learning to read need lots and lots of books." Thank goodness for that collection because so far it has helped all my children learn to read and want to read.

I remember when we first looked at this house.  We weren't looking for a house at all, but I saw a friend post pictures of it on her Facebook account and a few days later, out of night time boredom, I thought I'd look at the pictures.

House, hm . . . cute . . .
How big?
Oh, 804 sq. feet.
We could never live in a house that size.
(There are five of us.)
Next picture
Oh, a large barn/garage?
Another outbuilding?
An old coal hopper,
Hm.  That would make a nice chicken coop.
For that price?

I called my realtor pal and scheduled to take a look the next day.

But I wasn't sold.  When I came to look, there were people everywhere working on the place.  Putting two sump pumps into the basement, cutting down old dead trees, the kitchen was ghastly, it was dirty, there was debris everywhere, the carpet was nasty, the kitchen was linoleum, old appliances, I couldn't see myself living here.  The pivotal moment was when my mom said, "I think you should move heaven and hell to get this place!"  If she hadn't said that, I would've walked away.  But she said it and I said, "Really?"  And she said, "Deals like this happen once in a lifetime."  And then I had to have it.  Andrew was at work.  It was a Wednesday.  I remember the look on my realtor friend's face when we made our offer.  I swear she thought we were crazy.  She was probably thinking, "This place is a dump!"  My husband met the realtor that day, without even seeing the place to sign the contract.

We spiffed it up a bit before moving in four years ago.  We blew insulation into the lath and plaster walls and ceiling, re-wired, re-plumbed, took years off hubby's life by scraping up the linoleum (four layers,) refinished the white oak and wood floors, and brought our nice stove with us.  We moved the washer/dryer to the basement, instead of in the backdoor mudroom and opened up the small doorway between the living room and kitchen.  When I say "we," I mean El Hefe.  El Hefe is of course, Bill Dunn, carpenter, all around handyman extraordinaire and also my dad.  He just put a wood stove in here last month.  Thanks Dad!

Four years later, we're still all warm and cozy in our tiny house.  And now, "Tiny Houses," are all the rage.  Everyone always copies us.  I know.  I love my tiny house.  I LOVE it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Proving Up Life

We listened to an audiobook about homesteading in the 20's.  I was struck by how much homesteading and working for three years to prove up on a claim is similar to what we go through every year here in our area.  Some years you nail it.  Some years, your mantra becomes, it will be better next year.

This year, we nailed it (so far) but last year, with 75% of our trees dying, we just had to cling to the hope of next year.  Farmers crops freeze out some years and sometimes they freeze out in consecutive years and you just have to have hope that it will be better next year and make certain, absolutely certain that you cherish every good time, every sweet moment so that you're not bogged down in the mire of working for next year.

We still have two years before we (hopefully) have a small crop, so in a way, we're still working for next years.  All the more reason to enjoy the sunshine, the children, the family life and smile at everything good.  Someone said that human beings have a tendency to not say much when things are going good, we're so good at complaining when things are bad that we might sometimes forget to sit back and say, "If this isn't nice, what is?"

Life is nice.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Smells so green,
And sky's so blue.
Sping has sprung,
And now me too!

The initial frantic work pace of the first few weeks prior to spring, has ebbed to a nice steady pace.  Either that or I'm in shape now, after digging 600 feet of ditch, for the onslaught of continual work in preparation for replanting 956 trees.  Re-entry is always a little rough and going from chillaxing with four children to shoveling ditches wasn't any picnic.  I found myself reminiscent of last year, when we were so excited to plant an orchard . . . this year thinking . . . why did we want to do this again???  And might I add, not to harp on the ditch digging, but it was dug to within 3/4 of an inch fall every 20 feet.  Which is practically flat, no joke.  Hence there was lots and lots of digging, surveying, digging, surveying, repeat.  When your Foreman is 'Digger' Bill and your farm hand is Rusty, the job will be perfect, you can bet.  My dad can really dig, for a geezer.

The initial trench was dug about three feet deep with this mini-excavator, piloted (for pretend) in this photo by Julian, who is not mildly obsessed with mini-excavators and any other type of "cool" truck or machine.  After returning the borrowed excavator, we figured out the specifications for the ditch and began our shoveling ventures.   Rewind a second . . . the purpose of the ditch is the supply line for the micro emitter system we're installing to replace furrow irrigation, which will save us lots of time and effort in the field.  Furrow irrigation here isn't necessarily wasteful, as in other more arid desert climates (all the waste water flows right back to the river) but it does add salts to the waste water which causes problems further downriver.
Here, my dad and I were digging at our main hydrant to decide where to tap into it.  My dad is the business.  He can build/do/plan/make/execute anything, which is oh so handy.
 Here is 450 feet of ditch, prior to leveling the fall to perfection.

 Here are the trusty helpers, who very much enjoyed playing in the ditch.

After fitting the main lines and supply lines, more shoveling to shade the pipe, cover it with dirt so that a freak rock doesn't crack it when backfilling with the tractor.  Our soil is literally rock-free.

After all that hard work, I took the last couple days off to just be a mom and enjoy the kids.  The apricots are blooming and to me, there really isn't anything more beautiful than a blooming orchard of apricot blossoms.  Apricots are the first fruit trees to bloom in our area and although I've grown up see in them bloom every year, they still take my breath away.

 In added efforts to save the apricot harvest from possible freezing temperatures, this grower has added smudge pots this year, which are like little propane heaters for just about every tree.  This orchard has frozen the past two years, so we're really hoping for a harvest this year.
 The bees are happy, finally having something to eat after their winter hibernation.
Spring can get crazy, but don't forget to take in all the beauty of spring.  Its everywhere.

The Bowl is Back

Life is just a bowl of cherries.  I can't resist this time of year!

Our pal has a bing and rainier cherry orchard and she thought her crop froze almost completely this year, but as it turns out, she had a pretty decent crop.  There is nothing like cherries.  Fresh picked, organic cherries are heaven.

So much has happened in the past year that its difficult to know where to begin.

  • Dug a 400' trench and put in a micro sprinkler system in the orchard.  The ditch was dug with an excavator, but after the excavator left, we learned that the ditch, which would house the supply line for the new watering system had to be within 4" of fall each 20' . . . which is pretty darn near level, so there was a lot of shovel work involved.  Nothing like starting the spring with digging ditches.  

  • Dug up and replanted 960 trees.
  • There was some shoveling involved there as well.
  • Spring was nuts.  I found myself thinking, "Why was I wishing for spring?"
  • Winter was dreamy, we skied and skied and skied.  Andrew, the anti-ski husband even took up skiing . . . to our chagrin and surprise.

I'm happy to report that our new trees look amazing.  Last year at this time, half the orchard was looking really bad.  This year, the trees are flourishing and growing.  We have abandoned organic for this season, in order to make our lives easier, spraying the weeds in the rows to get ahead of them (over competition for root space will suppress growth) and spraying the aphids as well, but after July, we'll start the 3 year haul to become organic again.  Its been challenging this year to find expert agricultural help . . .

  • New farm dog, "Summit," joined our family from a friend's farm who's neighbor wanted to kill him.  He's a great pyrenese/border collie dog and he's the best dog I've ever had.  He sticks to the kids like a nanny and chases away foxes, coyotes and deer.  

  • Ladybug larva on a plum tree.  Next year we'll have to battle aphids with ladybugs and lacewings.

Summer is flying by but I'm on this blog thing again so read it!  Follow it!  If I get buckets of followers, maybe I can get sponsors and fortunes!  Or at least you might be entertained for a few minutes and I'll have a little mini diary to look back on.  Either way, win/win. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Home Life

While I prefer Douglas Flourian's poems, after a poetry workshop today with the kids, I thought I'd try my hand at one.  Its rough and could use some editing but no one reads this but me anyway!

Home Life

We work on our manners,
our golden manners.
We make our beds,
hang Valentines banners.

Our work, as we homeschool,
lacks clammer
and glamor.
Not too rife with strife
but thick with cleaning
like a hamster.

Like a hamster in a wheel
we make our beds
brush our teeth
rip tangles from heads.

Our house is untidy
because we LIVE here.
All the day, in and out
shoes on, shoes off
losing socks
watching clocks
breaking every crayon in the box.

But as I watch these precious ones grow
and smile at all the things they know
and say
and do
watching, and listening,
they shine like diamonds, dazzling,

I wouldn't miss this for anything.

Not for a million and not for two
because the days are long but the years,
they flew.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Thaw

In anticipation of the spring work-fest, we're on vacation.

What this really means, when my husband is on vacation, is that I'M on vacation.  I get an extra hand, when I'm deboning a chicken and a four-year-old wants me to help him read a book, a seven year old is practicing her violin and a nine year old is looking for something.  I get to go to the gym AFTER sunrise.  I get to go skiing with my nine, seven and the two four-year olds with another grown-up.  I get to eat dinner with another adult and drink more beer than ever.


Because vacation isn't all about working on garden prep, pantry fixing, laundry doing, cleaning like a hamster in a wheel, cleaning like a hamster in a wheel and cleaning like a hamster in a wheel.  Was that redundant?  Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.

We're just waiting for the ground to dry out and then its on . . . . dig up the dead trees, put in electricity for the irrigation pump, trench for sprinkler line, prep soil and plant new trees.  Because our trees had such poor growth last year, we decided not to prune.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I've neglected my blog, but then that's not the only thing!

Putting into words, our first year as orchardist was a difficult task.  I tried several times, but must have never posted.  The final death toll was 60%, which is staggering.  However, in light of the fact that we have healthy children, my husband has his day job and as a friend pointed out, our trees dying is really a first world problem, we didn't spend too much time dwelling on our failure.

We're making plans to pull out and replant the dead trees and put in a micro emitter system this spring.  If this doesn't work, we'll grow something else.  Marijuana, perhaps.  After all, it IS a weed and like most organic growers, we are proven experts at growing weeds.