The good stuff: Chickens, chores and chemistry

The good stuff is a roundup of what I’ve been doing, reading, listening to, watching, etc., simmered down to five tidbits for quick consumption.


Building: Chicken coop. So we got chicks in April, and surprise, they grew quickly. We had them in a small chicken tractor, but we needed to build a more permanent home for them with a bigger run pronto. DJ put this together in less than a month, and we placed our girls in there last week. They are so much happier now that they have room to peck and scratch and dust themselves. I’ll write up a post with more details on exactly what we did. More to come


Creating: Chore chart. With full blown summer here, I was feeling the need to structure our day a little more, hence the chore chart. The boys have four tasks to complete each day. They get rewards for each task and once all of them are complete, they get to have some screen time.


Watching: World of Dance. I’ve been watching all the dance shows this summer. So You Think You Can Dance and World of Dance being the two primary series. World of Dance features judges Jennifer Lopez, Derek Hough and Ne-Yo ranking world class acts in a series of rounds until they winnow the it down to a million dollar winner. I love that J-Lo doesn’t take any crap from the guys. She is the clearly the one who runs the show. We are still in the qualifying round at this point, but there have been some impressive acts. The Bradas from New Zealand have been my favorite so far. They are creative, athletic and so good. Check them out here.


Reading: “The Prince” by Katharine Ashe. So this a historical romance. There’s smooching. This story also features a really good characterization of someone on the autism spectrum, which of The Prince by Katharine Ashecourse they didn’t have that terminology for at the time. The heroine is brilliant and driven to become a doctor, and not just a doctor, but a surgeon. Of course, in the 1800s women weren’t allowed to go to school for that. She decides to disguise herself as a man, but she needs someone to help her out, providing her with a place to live and an “in” to the network of doctors and professors who can help her achieve her dream. Enter “the Prince,” an exile who has found a place in Scotland to hide while his country is in turmoil, though he keeps all of this hidden from his friends and acquaintances. He is an artist and draws portraits to support himself. It’s a slow burn romance and the chemistry between these two is off the charts. Competent heroines are my catnip, and I adore the hero who loves her for everything that she is, quirks, flaws and all. “The Prince” hits all the right notes.


Designing: If you like the photos I’ve posted on this site, I’ve put some of them on cards, totes, cell phone covers, etc. Some items are listed on the right side of the page or you can see all of them at my shop here. But here’s a snapshot of my two favorite creations with three cheers for summer camp outs:

In the tent!
Ah, summer …


The good stuff

The good stuff is a weekly roundup of what I’ve been doing, reading, listening to, watching, etc., simmered down to five tidbits for quick consumption.


Creating: At li’l E’s school this week they hosted an artist who works with silver. She spent a couple of hours teaching the kids how to stamp silver and copper jewelry. They hammered out designs on zipper pulls and jewelry as part of the lesson. Nevada Watt is the artist’s name, and she did a super job of working with the students. I also got to make something! Check out Nevada’s work. She’s a true pro.

My jewelry attempt!


Noticing: Spring officially arrived this week. So did the swans. This was taken with my new zoom lens.

This game of swans paused in our field before moving to greener pastures.


Listening: I love this song, Found/Tonight, that the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda and fantastic Ben Platt released this week. It appeals to my love for musical theater because it’s a “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” mashup, but the message is particularly poignant. It was created for the kids who are marching for our lives. Even as a jaded Generation Xer, I can’t help but be inspired by the passion and fight in these Florida high schoolers. They are taking on politicians, the NRA and the haters. They might not win the battle, but I’m hoping they’ll turn the tide of public opinion and ultimately win the war.


Reading: The Kinsey Millhone alphabet mystery series by the late Sue Grafton. My Dad started me on these, and I’m loving the heroine’s quirky style. She likes to jog, enjoys a drink, relishes her independence and I appreciate the competence with which she does her job and solves the mystery. She doesn’t always play by the rules, and that’s part of the fun as well. Also, there is a refreshing lack of technology as the series takes place in the 1980s before smartphones and Twitter took over the world.


FYI: If you like some of the photos I’ve posted on this site, I’ve put some of them on products like notecards, cell phone covers, totes, etc. You can view them at my shop here. But here’s a snapshot of my two favorite creations:

Brothers on the county road playing with a discarded piece of baling twine.

Thoughts while weed eating

Note: Post courtesy of DJ.

You have time to think when you are weed eating. One thought that dawned on me this morning as I was attacking a stand of mustard weed with the ol’ string trimmer was: “couldn’t a cow (or pig or goat) be doing this?” As in, reducing mosquito habitat, converting energy to fertilizer or at least mulch, etc. etc.? Probably, I concluded, as long as there weren’t too many cow (or goat) pies everywhere I want to step. Which led me to the thought of balance, which has been an ongoing theme out here at the farmstead. Or perhaps theme should be replaced with lesson, and an ongoing one at that. This concept also happens to describe a book I just finished reading called “The Big Burn,” by Northwest author Timothy Egan. He subtitled his book “Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America.” I think anyone who enjoys early 1900s American History and specifically that of the then-still wild American west will enjoy this book as will folks who just enjoy a dramatically told true story.

The Big Burn copyThe story begins as Teddy Roosevelt and trusted friend and advisor (and later to become the father of the modern U.S. Forest Service) Gifford Pinchot are wrestling with a grand idea… that of conservation. Seems the two Easterners, of means and education, feel a deep kindred calling to the vast wilderness of the West, to the wonders of its unspoiled nature and to the words and places of noted naturalist John Muir. Well, seemingly the only other folks at that time (circa early 1900s) who had an appreciation for these lands (besides, obviously, the woefully underrepresented and exploited Native Americans) were timber barons and copper kings, and the legal, bureaucratic and media apparatus necessary to sustain them. Roosevelt argued that the current and future citizenry of the country deserved to have an opportunity to appreciate and benefit from these incredible places and resources. T.R. began reserving huge tracts of forest for the newly formed Forest Service to manage, led by Pinchot and his Rangers.  Such a large undertaking couldn’t help but be met with some resistance from those who would profit from the continued exploitation of the resources.

One of the Service’s strongest early stances was that of “zero tolerance” for wildfire, which time and science have since shown to work against the overall health of the forest (or prairie or desert) ecosystem. A more natural fire regime including periodic, but less intense fires, has been shown to positively influence plant and animal diversity and health,  not to mention being far cheaper and safer than attacking every fire with every available resource. But In the early days of the USFS, their mission regarding forest fires was simply to put every fire out.

That became an impossibility in the summer of 1910, when a vast tract of mixed and white pine forest stretching from the Palouse of Eastern Washington, across the Northern panhandle of Idaho, into Northwest Montana and on into south-central Canada exploded in flames. A historically dry winter and spring led to tinder dry conditions in the forest that ultimately resulted in an unprecedented fire storm that claimed countless thousands of acres of forest but also several settlements and nearly 100 lives. Tales of bravery (like that of “Big” Ed Pulaski, who led a group to safety in a mine shaft, or the Buffalo soldiers of Company G 25th Infantry, who heroically maintained order and helped save many lives in and around Wallace and Avery, Idaho) were balanced with those accusing the forest managers of incomprehensible incompetence and hubris. Many lives had been risked and indeed lost in the fight against one of the most powerful of natural foes. Some had signed on to work for the FS, but there were many untrained miners and even prisoners forced into service by necessity. Of course, after the fact there was much hand-wringing on how or even whether or not the Service should continue.

Anyway back to balance… so I now remember why it can be pretty hard to write a good book report. There is a lot to think about in this book, so it’s hard to be brief and yet touch on some of the things that spoke to me. This book reminds me of the cliché that anyone who claims to have all the answers just hasn’t been asked the right questions yet. That’s where I come down on managing public land… It takes bravery to make difficult decisions instead of theorizing about or studying or placing blame after the fact, and it takes determination to live with the results of those decisions. Ideally, the people who make those decisions will have access to and interest in as much information on the topic as is available. Then they’ll try to balance the science with public interest. But here’s a spoiler alert: there may be more than one public interest — there may be many of them, and they may seem to be forever shifting and (hopefully) evolving.

Other recommended titles on the topic include “Young Men and Fire,” by Norman Maclean and “Fire on the Mountain,” by Norman’s son John N. Maclean.


Three girls I would be friends with

I read a lot of books, mostly novels, some YA, some fantasy, some romance, some space sci-fi, some non-fiction. A little bit of everything. The ones that speak to me are usually coming of age stories about girls whose inner strength is just begging to be recognized. And the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers has this in spades.

The trio of books takes place in 15th century Brittany, a country on the cusp of war with France. While Christianity has taken hold through much of the country, people still have loyalty to older gods such as Saint Mortain (god of death) and Saint Arduinna (goddess of love’s sharp bite). There is a convent on an island where the daughters of Mortain (mostly girls whose families have cast them out because their mothers were unfaithful) are educated and trained to kill in the name of their god. We meet Ismae, Sybella and Annith at the convent as they finish their training and are eager and ready for their deadly assignments. Their lives have not been easy, but at the convent they find friendship and purpose.

Grave MercyWe are thrown into Ismae’s harrowing story in “Grave Mercy.” Her mother attempted to poison her while in the womb, leaving her baby with a nasty scar. Ismae survives childbirth only to be shunned by her father who wants to be rid of her as soon as possible. He tries to marry her off at the age of 14, but through a twist of fate Ismae narrowly escapes her brutally abusive husband-to-be. She ends up at the convent where she finds she has a talent for administering poisons and is thrown into training to become an assassin.


Dark TriumphSybella’s backstory is even more horrifying as she shows up at the convent nearly insane from the trauma her family has wrought. Once she learns to trust again, she thrives in her training sessions at the convent as she heals from her tragic past. Though she can be a bit prickly in nature, she forms solid friendships with both Ismae and Annith and it is the tight bonds with these two who help her overcome the abuse of her upbringing. The second book in the series, “Dark Triumph,” picks up as the convent sends Sybella right back into the heart of her family nightmare. But perhaps this time she will be strong enough to face her terrifying father.

Mortal HeartThe third book, “Mortal Heart,” gives us Annith’s story. Unlike the other two, Annith came to the convent as a young child and has known no other life. This doesn’t mean she has had it easy, but she longs to take her training and leave the island that she’s always called home. She’s frustrated as she watches her two friends leave on assignments and must stay behind to help train the younger girls. When the Abbess reveals that Annith has been selected to be the new seeress and may never leave the convent, she’s forced to consider actions that defy the Abbess’ authority and perhaps even the god she has sworn to serve.

While using their deadly skills to fight for their duchess and country, these girls also discover inner strengths that give them the courage to face the demons from their pasts. Make no mistake, these girls are fierce. Their stories involve violence, court intrigue, romance and questions of religious faith. They use their wits and specialized skills to overcome obstacles while remaining loyal to each other and their duchess.

The author has based some of her story in truth. Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, did indeed inherit her kingdom at the young age of 12. She had vision for one so young and fought for the rights of her people. She was revered in history as a conscientious ruler. In this series, she is surrounded by older councilors (mainly men with agendas of their own) and while she depends on their opinions for information, she still chooses to form her own decisions. She recognizes the skills of our fair assassins and uses them to help rule during a pivotal time in her country’s history. There is no conniving or petty back-stabbing among these girls. They support one another with an honesty that is refreshing.

These are stories about girls coming to grips with their strengths and weaknesses and realizing that they have something worthwhile to offer the world. They overcome difficult, abusive childhoods to become young women who take their destinies into their own capable hands and refuse to be mere pawns in someone else’s game. These are girls I would gladly call friends, and I hope their stories inspire you as well.

What literary characters would you welcome into your life? Let me know in the comments.