Wacky Wanderers

exploring on the road as a family

Update on Decreasing Waste; backdated from June 2020

As you may have read earlier in our blog posts (LINK) in preparation to coming home and prior to the pandemic we were going to challenge ourselves to decrease our trash waist in an effort to help our planet and get into some better habits with where we bought our food from.  However, pandemic’s change a lot of things including what foods are available and in what packaging they come in.  

At the beginning of March when the pandemic started to become real and we were filling up our pantry with our staples we were sticking to our decreased waist plan and were buying in bulk stores filling our own bags with things like, lentils, oats and much more.  This was working pretty good.

However, as the threat of COVID-19 become more extreme in the US we were coming to the realization that getting to a grocery store in the near future might not be possible, at least on a regular basis.  We found that there were some items that were sold out of stores or simply couldn’t be found in a bulk option.  An example of this was chickpeas, tomato sauce and salsa.  Dried chickpeas were sold out of everywhere and tomato products were not being sold in bulk.  We initially skipped over these items due to our decrease waist goal for ourselves.

I figured for a lot of these ‘hard to find in bulk’ items I would just make them myself.  Well, that’s cost effective if I am the one browsing the grocery stores snagging cheap bags of “imperfect produce” or grabbing a mesh bag of this or that veggie when it’s on sale.  But since we have been ordering our groceries online for store pick-up, browsing for sales is non-existent.  We’re lucky if the things we want are even still in stock.  We have a saying in our house, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  So, we order our groceries and are thankful for what we get and that we have the option to get anything at all without setting foot in a store.  

For now, we are doing our best to be good to this wonderful planet we live in with the things we choose to purchase but we are making some exceptions with containers to keep up sane, our family eating healthy.  I do primarily make our pasta, tortillas, chips, crackers and our bread but once in a while it has been nice to take the pressure off me and buy a box of pasta, for example.  

After this pandemic is part of our past, whenever that might be, we may try to pick up where we left off with decreasing our waist to the extreme, but for now, what we’re doing suits us just fine.  

Projects coming to Life

Before writing this post I hadn’t realized how many projects we have already done here at Crow Farm. When you get into the swing of things it all just flies by I guess. Here’s what we have done so far:

Canning Shack:

What we now call the canning shack used to be the milk house. It’s unclear if it was used to actually milk the cows in, to store the milk or something entirely different. But, now we use it as a place for our chest freezer and canning supplies and hopefully in the future as our “root cellar” as well. We wanted to be sure to watch the temperature, humidity levels and potential bugs before we put our winter supply of food in there.

The canning shack was in fairly rough shape with mildew covering most surfaces and lots of previous termite damage. There was over 3 inches of termite poo in the bottom of the cement hole that is in the shack due to them eating away at the boards above. Luckily I could rip most of this wood out and repair what damage they did on the interior wall. First came the scraping of the (lead?) paint. Next came the scrubbing of every surface with borax water (this was SO hard to do and gave me frozen fingers!). Then I had to repair the walls with wood filler and fill ALL the seams in the tongue and groove interior panels with caulk. From here I gave every surface but the floor 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of top paint. I am really happy with how it turned out but boy was it a challenging project! Next summer I hope to do the floors.

Internet:

Justin was in charge of internet when we moved in and as you can imagine, he was motivated to get it up and running. The first step was to temporarily clamp wifi access points to all the main buildings which means they were all wirelessly talking to one another. This worked okay but was pretty unreliable, especially up at the schoolhouse where we rely on internet to aid in lessons. After all, the computer is our encyclopedia now.

To make the internet more reliable Justin ran wires through the crawl space under the house and up to a roof-mounted access point. We dug a trench across the driveway to burry some ethernet wires as well. Now, when I say crawl space I mean army crawl space. Poor Justin said he had to weave himself through ducting with his head sideways, cheek in the dirt, and drag his body through some spaces! This sound terrifying to me and I was glad he was brave enough to do it. Of course he was careful and wore a full body suit with goggles, gloves and a respirator. The plan is to slowly dig trenches and bury ethernet wires to the various buildings on the property to increase speed. So far two trenches have been dug. The first was a family event and the other was a lunch break job for Justin.

Driveway Bell:

We quickly realized that in the country you either need a guard animal that will alert you when someone pulls into the driveway or some type of a sensor to tell you. There were many times that neighbors came to welcome us or we got a package that needed signing and we didn’t have a clue they had driven down our driveway and were standing next to our door. It’s just a bigger place. This thought didn’t cross my mind since in the city of course you will see someone approaching your house. They are right next to you! My 7 year old and I weren’t keen on the idea of getting a dog so instead Justin installed a door sensor that rings up in the school house and the main house. This required digging yet another trench and burying the sensor next to the end of the driveway. Thankfully he buried it in conduit since it is pretty squishy ground there in the fall. We are also thankful that we bought the right tools for the job. Using a tall narrow shovel in combination with a pick axe has proved to be a good investment. Every time the door bell rings I think of my wonderful childhood home where we had the same sounding chimes. I love it!

Girl’s Room Window Frame:

When we moved in there was a lot of chipping paint on the girls’ windows. As you can imagine this involved scraping off all the old paint, sanding down the surface, priming and giving it a top coat of paint. All the details about the molding that I loved so much quickly became not so nice while I was scraping the paint off. The girls had to sleep elsewhere for one night to let it air out but it was a fairly quick job since Justin could watch the girls while I worked.

Refinishing Deck:

The main house has a beautiful wooden deck off the back of the house but it looked like it needed a fresh coat of oil before the winter rains came. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that easy. Justin took on the big job of power washing the deck, sanding and then finishing the deck with an oil stain. He’s so good. He bought a belt sander and finished it lickity split. He did run into some issues with ripping the belts when he would nick the side of a screw head. After he figured out the issue of the ripped belts our sweet friend helped him by screwing down all the heads so they would be less likely to rip the sander belts. I think in the end he ended up ripping through about $50 worth of belts! Ha, boy. You live, you learn. It turned out lovely though.

Cleaning Chimneys:

There are a lot of chimneys here, some fairly straight forward and others not so much. We thought to help us gain some knowledge and save us a little money we should give a shot at cleaning the straight forward ones. And by “we” I mean Justin. 🙂 The girls and I gave him pointers and cheered him on. These were important pointers mind you. For instance, I noticed Justin was using a rickety old wooden ladder he had found in the barn and advised him to get a metal one. Just after he assured me the ladder was sturdy as anything his foot broke through one of the rungs and down to the next rung he went. Luckily he was close to the bottom. We all had a good chuckle about that! After that our comments weren’t taken as lightly. Justin did a great job and now can put “chimney sweep” on his farmer resume.

We hired someone to clean our two chimneys in the main house. This is still a very sore subject, especially for Justin so I won’t go into too much detail but lets just say we picked the wrong guy. We basically paid him to break one of our chimneys making the fireplace no longer safe or usable unless we decide to dish out A LOT of cash and tear apart the living room to fix what he broke. It was both infuriating and very sad.

Sensor Alarms for Outbuildings:

Since this is our first winter here and there are various out buildings we wanted to be sure that the temperature and moisture levels in each building was appropriate and that no leaks were occurring without us knowing right away. So, Justin did a ton a research, then researched again…and again. He’s very thorough and takes pride in finding the right product for our needs that is good quality. He landed on LoRaWAN as the technology. Apparently it is designed for commercial remote monitoring or fleet monitoring, similar to a cellphone network but for low power sensors (these are Justin’s words). The batteries on the sensors are said to last 10 years which makes it more likely to be useful when we need them.

Another reason why we wanted sensors in all the buildings is because if we go away (once COVID is behind us all) we’d like to know if there is a leak or temperatures are out of wack so we can ask a neighbor to please check on it. So far, so good! We installed our first route of sensors and have another round on order.

Temperature / Humidity sensors installed so far

Teacher’s Desk:

I had been looking at some kind of a desk or table for me to have up at the school house so I would have a space to lay things out and prep lessons/projects for the girls. I found that the desk style that I was drawn to and would fit my storage needs was an old style teacher’s desk. The kind that has a fold down typewriter table in the middle. There weren’t many for sale but the ones that were were pricey and not in the best condition.

Finally I found one on Craigslist for $50! I popped the girls in the Sprinter and we traveled down a very curvy road with a handful of rest breaks because the girls were both getting car sick. It was a whammy of a road! If I hadn’t been driving I would have needed to take breaks too! We finally arrived and the desk smelled like polyurethane. The woman selling it told me she had just put a fresh coat of finish on it that morning. What timing. It was definitely in rougher shape than the picture showed but, then again, it was $50 so I figured we could spiff it up. We rode home very slowly with all the windows rolled down due to the smell (which did not help the car sickness by the way).

When we got home we looked at the desk in more detail and found the reason for why the woman had so hastily put a coat of finish on. The top of the desk was covered in wood laminate!! I didn’t even know laminate was a thing back when typewriters were being used. Ah! So, over the next week Justin and I scraped all the stinky laminate off the top and Justin sanded and refinished it for me. All in all it was still a good purchase but we certainly didn’t count on taking on another project. 🙂 It turned out great and I LOVE it!

Burn Barrel:

Owning a country home also means lots of weeding, pruning and trimming which equals a lot of yard debris. We also spent a chunk of time taming back the wild blackberry bushes so we weren’t getting snagged while walking down our paths. And what do you do with it all? We don’t have a handy yard debris bin like we did in the city so, we burn it! “Of course we burn it” I thought but the thought process stopped there. It was actually a really smokey job and a tricky balance to keep the fire hot enough (so it didn’t smoke) and feed the fire wet branches enough so my bramble brush pile disappeared. The girls snipped the branches into small pieces as I fed the fire. We were a good trio and got the job done.

Pruning and Training Trees:

Have you heard, we have lots of fruit trees which means lots of pruning! I was excited to learn how to properly prune fruit trees as I had never done it on such a large scale before. It was fun, time consuming and a little scary at first. If you follow all the rules for pruning fruit trees, it feels like you are just chopping the whole canopy down! Our neighbor says the rule of thumb is that when you are done pruning you should be able to throw a cat up into the tree and have them fall right back down without getting caught. Ha! Done.

I have also been retraining the fruit trees to angle their branches back down toward the ground instead of reaching toward the sky. This was as simple as tying weights to the branches I wanted to train. It looks like I’m tying them all down for fear they will run away! This has been true for all of our projects but the right tool for the job really makes a difference. Having a pole pruner made it so I only needed the orchard ladder (another tool that is so helpful to have) for the very top of each clump of branches.

Don’t you worry folks. Many more projects to come! In fact, we are in the thick of some as I type. 🙂

Fall on the Farm

Crow Farm feels like ours now which is a good comfortable feeling. Each season thus far here on the farm is new to us. It brings surprises, projects and new joys.

To start the fall season off, our neighbor’s little girl, who is our oldest’s age, brought over a baby bunny to let us snuggle with. The farm was feeling a little empty with no animals and who wouldn’t be won over by a baby bunny? So, a few days later we went and picked up a bunny hutch and a sweet little white Lionhead bunny. Our 7 year old named her Roseal. She was cute as a little button and a week later we decided to get another from the litter. Meanwhile our old Portland neighbors fell in love with the idea of bunnies as well and had me pick up two for their family while I was at it! The second bunny we got looked identical to the first but turned out to be a boy who our 5 year old named Maple. So, between our Portland neighbors, our new neighbors and us, we took all but one in the litter of bunnies. We are absolutely in love! They are super snuggly and put up with being towed around in wagons, hats, baskets, the girls arms…you name it. A handful of times per week the girls snuggle with their bunnies while they listen to the keyboard, sing and dance. These little fluff balls are spoiled for sure!

We made the best out of Halloween this year at home and distance visited 2 of our neighbors. Honestly, I don’t like the whole candy thing anyway so we still got to do our favorite parts; talk with friends and dress up. The girls also made a great piñata for them to bust open and I got to fill it with lots of fun healthy treats which they were overjoyed to receive. I tell you, miso and oyster crackers are like gold to these girls! 🙂

The colder weather also brought up the subject of chopped wood for the woodstoves at Crow Farm. Easier said than found is what we discovered. Not a lot of people sell wood for a living so getting people to follow through on wood orders and offer good quality wood was challenging to say the least. We had one batch of wood delivered that was unloaded by Justin and the guys who brought it. When the girls and I came out to see the pile our oldest said, “Mama, look at that bug!! There are lots of them!” AHhhh! Termites!!! I started panicking and had the girls keep a perimeter around the pile while I sorted the pieces into piles of “totally infested, probably infested and looks okay.” Having an infestation of termites in our new home is not what I had in mind as a good time. While I sorted and the girls kept a perimeter, armed with sticks to squish the termites, Justin took the totally infested ones and started burning them in our outdoor fire pit. After one particular load was brought to the fireplace I heard screaming from Justin and our oldest. Apparently as soon as the log hit the fire dozens of termites started evacuating!! Luckily, Justin had a blowtorch handy and blasted the stinkers! What a nightmare! We ended up being about to safely save about 3/4ths of the cord. Next year we hope to start our wood hunt in the summer so we have a bit more time to shop around.

With this newly acquired 4 cords from various places we could now have cozy fires to keep us warm. We quickly fell into a routine of Justin, first thing in the morning, turning on the propane stove in his office and starting a schoolhouse fire for the girls and I up the hill. It took a couple of weeks to perfect with number of logs and airflow the fire was getting but now he’s got it down. We had a couple “abort mission” school days where it was too cold to focus on learning up there and also some “panties” school days where it was more like a sauna in there! Haha. We didn’t mind those days. It made for a lighthearted day of schooling. The girls now have two wooden school desks and I have an old teacher’s desk that we refinished. It has been SO helpful to have our own spaces where we can keep our things and the each of the girls can comfortably work independently while I work with the other. When we got our map up on the wall and the desks were in, it felt like a cohesive, comfortable schoolhouse.

Down at the main house we have been keeping the house to 60* from the oil furnace which has been plenty to keep the upstairs to a comfortable sleeping temperature. The upstairs doesn’t have any heat which I was worried about when we moved in but it hasn’t been a problem. I keep a space heater in the girls room for overnight and Justin and I bundle up in warm jammies and big blankets. The kitchen, however, since it is the room the girls and I are in most we heat by wood stove or electric heater. We found that on school days, if we start use the electric heat for a morning blast then start a wood fire just before dinner it keeps the kitchen toasty. There is a curtain that hangs in the archway of the kitchen separating it from most of the other rooms. We went ahead and moved our loveseat out of the fireplace living room and into the kitchen which has proved to be an excellent choice! I LOVE having couches in kitchens! It makes perfect sense!! We try to only use the wood stove on chilly days or special occasions but when we do, it makes me so happy!! There’s nothing like snuggling together as a family on the couch with a cup of tea in front of a fire.

Having fires in the Elf Hut on star filled nights has been a rarity, rainy weather equals cloudy skies, but so special when we can make it happen.

Besides getting and stacking wood (which is really quite fun) we have experiences some other country life living norms such as mowing the yard and doing dump runs. We are just beyond the town garbage pick up limits therefore all trash and recycling we need to bring to the dump ourselves. Poor Azul has is our dump run vehicle of choice. It becomes worth it, money wise, if we wait until we have 6 cans of trash before making a run which means we don’t have to go very often. As a kid we had to do this too but I hadn’t remembered the details of it. You literally just dump your garbage cans over a railing into a giant metal container that waits below. It’s actually kind of dangerous looking and made me wonder how many people have accidentally fallen in there or accidentally dropped personal belongings in. Recycling is free but they only accept items that are actually recycled apposed to city recycling where there is a lot of “hopeful” recycling that is saved to the side in hopes that it can be sold to other countries to recycle or our country will someday recycle it. I kind of like that they don’t take that extra stuff. It makes me think more about the packaging that I buy and how we can reuse certain containers here on the farm. I’ve found that vinegar jugs are helpful to fill with water to train our fruit trees and glass salsa jars are good for To Go liquids or to share things with neighbors.

Something that we noticed that at first didn’t occur to us as anything too extra special is that the grass here on Crow Farm is ALWAYS green!! That’s new and different from our Portland house who’s grass would be brown and scratchy by mid-summer. It is so lush here in part, I think, because of the natural spring that comes through our property from the mountain above. With this lush luxury comes the task of mowing. When we were looking to buy this property the idea of mowing our big yard was daunting to Justin. I assured him that I would be doing the yard work and we didn’t need to maintain quite as much as the previous owners had to maintain it’s beauty. However, we soon learned that mowing is Justin’s passion. That boy loved the opportunity to mow any chance he could get. I think he enjoyed the alone space and time to listen to his podcasts. We teased him about it a bit but it was very helpful.

Another funny thing we have acquired now that we are in the country is a land line. We got it so that if Justin and I are out and about around the farm and the girls need to make an emergency call they always have a phone they know where is. The other reason is to have a phone if cell signal goes down. However, this has proven to be a silly reason since our landline goes down when our power goes out. The phone company cannot explain this therefore does not know how to fix it. We’re thinking of just getting a cheap cell phone using a prepaid plan that we can mount on the wall for the girls. This way they could take it with them if they go places fairly far from us. The perk is, the girls have never used a landline so it’s fun and they get to call Grammy whenever they want. 🙂

During the holiday season the girls and I have been inspired by what Crow Farm offers to create crafts. I was cutting down some tiger lily stems that had passed for this year and got thinking they were a great sturdy but bendable material. This got me thinking wreaths! I figured we have enough doors the girls and I could really get into wreath making but do it for free! The girls helped me gather the old lily stems into rings tied with twine and we decorated them with moss and galls from our trees, found feathers, berries, acorns and a few more little things. They were super fun to make and we were happy to add cheer to the farm.

In the beginning of fall we were able to have some chilly, but nice distanced visits with friends outdoors. It was nice to have some covered outdoor spaces that are open air to make visits safe. Though with the weather quickly getting colder and the rain setting in we had to put an end to those until spring comes again.

With the rain came lots of mushrooms! This place is seriously FULL of mushrooms for better or worse. The girls would say it was for the better. The girls have been absolutely thrilled to find and identify the treasures we find. Spore prints are always like opening a little surprise the day after you find a mushroom. So far we have found one that is edible, and we ate, and only 3 more that we were able to identify without question. There are SO many mushrooms out there and they are surprisingly hard to identify. There are lots of mushroom identification books out there for edibles and poisonous ones but for the ordinary mushrooms, it has been challenging to find good information out there but thanks to a loving husband and friend we have found 2 great ones!

As more rain comes, we learn more and more about this property. It is soggy for sure! So far one porch roof leak, one ground water seepage in the canning shack and one under the door leak. The puddles in our hayfields are nothing to scoff at! We didn’t even go into the deepest one but the one puddle/small pond that formed on the mowed path we made through the hayfield is deep enough that the girls have to be careful wading through or else the water will go up and over their tall waterproof boots. It was in that puddle that I learned one of my boots is no longer waterproof. The girls are thrilled about the puddle splashing they get to do! I am thankful that we are on a rolling hill so only the hayfields get the standing water. The frogs are loving these puddles too! The croaking of frogs is often so loud we can’t hear each other from any distance when outside. I was recording a video of me singing for my Mom and had to stop the video a couple times because the frogs were croaking so loud…and I was in a building with the door closed! I love it!

In a window between rainy days we went on a hike to Spencer Butte. It was a lovely little hike and we were glad we went first thing in the morning. On our way back down we definitely weren’t super comfortable with the amount of people so we booked it down. All in all it was good to get out and pretty!

I don’t think many Oregonians are super excited when the winter rains come but I tell you, the last couple weeks of nice weather I definitely was wishing for a good stay in the house rain day. I loved doing outdoor chores but I also was itching to get some of my sewing projects done as my Inbox was adding up and the girls and I were hoping to bake lots of goodies. My wish, of course, eventually came true and soon I’m sure I’ll be wishing for sunshine again. 😛

So much has happened this year in the entire world and in our little world and I have hope that 2021 will be a brighter year for all.

Exploring Veneta area

The first couple weeks we basically didn’t leave Crow Farm besides running furniture or food errands. There was just SO much to do to move in and get settled. It didn’t help that there was a pandemic going on. This was our first weekend as just our family so we took a day to explore some of the wineries around the area. After all, we can’t recommend places to our Airbnb guests if we have never actually been. We also crammed in a trip to a local “beach” to give the girls a quick dip in the water and grill up some dinner. That wasn’t quite how that plan turned out.

Continue reading…

Hoyt Arboretum Pandemic Bear Hike

As so many others are feeling during the pandemic, we were needing some outdoor time to uplift our spirits.  Before the stay at home order was in place for Oregon (March 21st), our family decided to go on a hike at our local arboretum where there are many trails many of which are wide.  

Getting the girls out of the house after being cooped up for a while is always a bit challenging.  Once they are out they have a blast!  So, we lured them out by all dressing like bears.  Ha, obviously.  

When we started off on our hike it was pretty chilly so the big furry costumes were perfectly comfortable.  However, the sun soon came out and we all were pealing off our furry heads and furry skin.  

It got us out of the house while staying safe and gave us and those who saw us a well needed good laugh.  Mission accomplished!