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.

Bugs, frogs and other critters

A praying mantis looks as me quizzically while I photograph it from all angles. Seriously, I probably took a hundred pictures while he patiently waited for me to finish.

The longer we’re here, the more I find myself noticing the little things. When we first moved to the desert, I continually marveled at the sweeping vistas, the pink-hued sunsets and the snow-capped ridges. Now my eyes drift down to the ground seeking out bugs or parsing the trees with binoculars in search of birds. I had some really good bug sightings this summer and managed to capture a few of them with the camera.

The dragonflies were abundant and amazing, and I finally figured out that they molt out of their nymph stage leaving behind a bug husk. They emerge as a translucent-winged creature before finally gaining their beautiful brilliant color.

Transforming from a nymph to a dragonfly.
The husk they leave behind is called an exuvia.
The dragonfly in all its glory. It seems they come in all colors. I’ve seen blue, green and orange ones here in the high desert.

On one occasion, while trying to pick some salt grass out of the walkway, I almost grabbed a praying mantis that totally blended into the green mass of grass. I saw quite a few around the house this summer. I could sit and watch them all day. They can actually move pretty quickly at times. I even read a piece in the New York Times claiming that they not only eat other bugs but can attack humming birds, punching through their skulls to eat their brains. They are a formidable bug, perhaps to be both feared and admired.

And don’t get me started on the frogs. It was a good year for frogs here. They were all over our yard. I couldn’t take three steps without having multiple tiny frogs leaping to get out of the way. It was almost comical at times. Usually they would congregate on some potted tomato and pepper plants we had sitting in the backyard. They especially liked the bell peppers and would pile up on one another perhaps because the real estate was a bit limited.

How many frogs do you count?
I call this one “Frog on leaf.” Gravity-defying.

Butterflies and moths were in abundance as well. A Swallowtail butterfly and a Blinded Sphinx moth were especially pretty (at least, I think that’s what they are thanks to a quick internet search).

Swallowtail butterfly
Blinded Sphinx moth

In the past we’ve seen coyotes come into the yard this time of year to feast on olives courtesy of the Russian olive trees. This year however, the raccoons have taken over. We’ve counted no less than seven and frequently see a family of four traipsing around gathering olives on the ground or climbing the trees to get better access.

These three. It’s like they’ve never seen a woman with a camera before.
These two elusive creatures can often be found throwing rocks in the creek during the daylight hours and can be identified by their distinctive giggles.

Gardening in the desert

A bloom from our sunflower patch.
A bloom from our sunflower patch.

So fall is almost here. The summer flew by. We now have a kindergartner in the house, and I feel like where did the last five years go? I didn’t expect to be quite so emotional about the whole thing, but it’s a big deal starting school. All my hopes and fears for my oldest boy came to the surface and hit me square in the heart. He handled the first day far better than I did. But enough about my first week of school freak out.

Onto the garden. We just had our first frost of the season, so most of our garden is kaput for the year. We have a lot of tomatoes to process in the next few days, and so far we’ve made freezer salsa and roasted cherry tomatoes. In the past, we’ve canned tomato sauce. We’ve also made loads of pickles this season as DJ experimented with some different recipes.

Over the last few years we’ve expanded our garden area from 9 raised beds to 16 plus an additional area where we had more tomatoes, onions and kohlrabi. (Yes, kohlrabi. If anyone has any ideas on what to do with this, please enlighten me in the comments. I tried some kohlrabi fries that were, um … interesting.) There’s also an orchard, where we have a few fruit trees, which unfortunately didn’t have any fruit this year because of a late spring frost. We’ve fenced off the area for protection from deer, rabbits and mice, but that doesn’t stop the birds from partaking in ripe red tomatoes or the occasional strawberry.

In addition to the aforementioned tomatoes, onions, kohlrabi and strawberries we also grew corn, cucumbers, hot peppers, bell peppers, peas, beans, cabbage, broccolini, horseradish, garlic and potatoes. We used a drip water system on timers that water for about 25 minutes per day.

In a place that is notoriously unforgiving to vegetable crop growers, we’ve had some success, but we still feel like we have miles to go. We are constantly trying to add nutrients to the soil and to lighten it up for better drainage.

While we still feel like novices out here in the desert, we are especially proud of our garlic crop this year and plan to do even more next year. It’s incredibly flavorful and so much better than what we buy at the grocery store.

It is gratifying to grow and eat your own food, but it can also be time consuming and frustrating. To put time and energy into growing something from seed that doesn’t pan out for one reason or another can be a bit defeating. In addition, we’re not always the best at eating veggies before they spoil, so we need to get better about canning and preserving what we don’t eat right away.

On the plus side, we successfully grew sunflowers this year as you can see in the photo up top. After trying to grow them the past two years from seed and having the mice eat them before they even spouted, we finally got smart by starting them inside and transplanting them into a raised bed fenced off with hardware cloth. They were tall and lovely, and I smiled every time I looked at them. I’d say that’s a win.

One thing we’ve added this year is a cover crop. Once we pulled the garlic and potatoes from the ground we planted a mixture of seeds, which includes rye and legumes. Eventually, we will till that back into the soil to restore nutrients to make the soil more productive for next spring. We’re hoping to do that with the rest of the garden once we get the tomato and corn plants pulled up.

So that’s our work-in-progress garden. Scroll through the photos below and tell me about your gardening success stories in the comments.

Big, beautiful heads of garlic.


We were happy with our corn crop this year. Hopefully, we’ll have more next year.


Kohlrabi. Just in case you wondered what it looks like.


Canned dill pickles. We have jars and jars. This is just a small sampling.


Broccolini. It’s delicious.


A habanero ripens on the vine. DJ likes ’em hot.


An onion gone to seed.


A pile of tomatoes that will soon become salsa.


Cherry tomatoes so sweet they taste like candy.


Cabbage is so photogenic.


And these two. This isn’t garden-related, but oh the fun you can have with a mud puddle in the yard.


Walking in a winter hinterland

The last few weeks have been testing my love of snow and winter. At the age of 37 I think I understand why birds and retired people head south when winter descends. Our normally barren, vast landscape has turned from brown to white with temperatures plunging as low as -15. The change of seasons allows for a whole new wardrobe of scarves, hats and layers, but I’m sick to death of my snow boots and would welcome a day in which I could leave my warm, quilted jacket at home.

As the snow slowly melts, it compresses into ice, leaving me “skating” from the house to the dog kennel and from the deck to the car. I can’t count the number of times I’ve caught myself from taking a nasty tumble or fishtailing on the county road despite having 4-wheel drive and going no faster than 25 miles per hour. DJ and I have a standing bet on when the last of the snow will melt. I took March 3 and he took Feb. 21. I’m desperately rooting for him to win that one (but I fear we both may be grossly optimistic). It feels like we’ve had a winter’s worth of snow and according to the calendar, it’s no where near over yet. With that said, the weather has created some breathtaking scenery. So let’s focus on the positive, shall we? Like how much better hot chocolate tastes when you come inside after hours of snow play. Or the fun of building a snowman with a 4-year-old. Or the thrill of holding onto an inner tube being pulled by a ATV. Also, check out these shots courtesy of the lovely weather:

2017 winter 01
We’ve noticed the jack rabbits come out in abundance when the temperatures dip below zero. I counted as many as 11 nibbling on any sort of vegetation sticking out of the snow in the field near our house.


2017 winter 03
Freezing fog covers everything in a layer of ice crystals including this chain on our swing.


2017 winter 02
Just off our deck a ring-necked pheasant searches for something to eat.


2017 winter 05
Li’l E and a snowman sans face, arms or hat.


2017 winter 04
The sunset at my in-laws’ place.


2017 winter 08
Frozen fog builds up on the chain link fence.


2017 winter 06
Thumper’s paw leaves a heat imprint on the deck.


2017 winter 11
Li’l E and Li’l S on the toboggan.


2017 winter 09
Mom gets in on the sledding fun.

Last gasp of summer

Fall truly is just around the corner. This morning I felt that autumnal chill, which is both welcome and unwelcome. I love the change of seasons, but I’m not quite ready to let go of tank tops and summer’s warm embrace. I love crisp, frosty mornings, but I dislike having to don multiple layers to go outside. I love the beginning of the school year with its new supplies and new year optimism, but I miss the long lazy days of summer when a meandering walk was all we had on our to-do list. These are the gasps of summer.

Throwing rocks in the creek: one of our favorite pastimes.
We had a really good pepper crop this year. These jalapenos are especially tasty.
DJ loves the hot peppers, so these habaneros are right in his wheelhouse.
We have pumpkins this year! Plural, as in exactly two.
We’ve had a good tomato crop this year. These purple Russian romas are especially tasty.
Cherry tomatoes are as sweet as candy.
This tomato tart is an especially good way to utilize a surplus of cherry tomatoes.
We’ve seen a few snakes this year, thankfully only one rattler. I much prefer the non-venomous kind, like this guy.
The boys are attempting to build a fort in the garden. We’ve got at little space cleared out. E wants to put a bed in there.
Summer we love you.
Until next year.



L’il E had a preschool lesson on caterpillars and butterflies this last year. When this little gal attached herself to the side of the house, I decided it had the potential to  be a lesson come to life.

2016 Caterpiller hanging

I documented it on my phone, and E and I checked her every day throughout the process. She created a chrysalis.

2016 Caterpiller chrysalis

It took about two weeks or so. And finally, this emerged.

Caterpiller butterfly 02

Yes, that appears to be blood below on the side of the house. That kinds of surprised me. Though I suppose most transformations can get a bit messy. When I think about all the transformations in my own life (student to young adult to professional to wife and mom), none of them came without some major emotional upheaval, if not tears and blood. So, you go girl.

After a little research, we determined that this is a Mourning Cloak Butterfly. It’s really quite pretty. Below are a couple of photos I found to show a better view of what the Mourning Cloak butterfly looks like in the wild.

mourningcloak Jerry A. Payne USDA Agricultural Research Service
Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service,
mourningcloak 2 Whitney Cranshaw Colorado State University
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,








Today I turn 37, and I hope I’m continually evolving and transforming. I want my boys to grow up to be strong and confident. But more importantly I want them to think about how they can impact the world. They need to know that words of encouragement mean something and can leave a lasting impression on others, that kindness is not weakness. In this world that seems to reward brash headlines and snarky tweets, I want the opposite. I want thoughtfulness. I want them to look at an argument from every angle and to appreciate everyone’s hard fought life experiences. Some transformations are more obvious than others, but the internal ones are just as crucial as those stunning external changes. It is so easy to judge and cut others down. I hope in this 37th year to be a positive force that builds you up. Yes, you. I’m talking to you. You are smart and talented and gorgeous. So go out and share your gifts with the world. We need you, and you can do this. Be honest. Be deliberate. Be funny. And be kind. That is my birthday wish.

Summer’s here y’all

The temperatures are venturing into the 90s. The tomatoes are loving the hot weather and warmer soil. Plants that get watered regularly are greening up and leafing out while those that don’t wither and brown. And the mosquitoes. They multiply exponentially every day. So we wear our bug spray, and we search for those amazing bits of summer that can happen in our corner of southeastern Oregon. We watch the mama grebe usher her young onto the creek and teach them how to seek out a meal. We catch the iridescent flash of a humming bird as it dashes to the feeder to chase off some competition. We see massive black beetles waddle across the ground. We marvel at the nighthawks that sit parallel to the tree branch or fence post instead of perpendicular like every other bird in existence. We yell “boom, little buddy!” when the terns take a dive in the creek. We study the frogs that have found a cool place to sit under the swing set. We pick and eat ripe red strawberries off the vine. And on those days when the storm clouds gather, we wait in anticipation for the lightning to strike and the thunder to clap. Summer is here.

A view of the road on our daily walk.
We planted a bunch of strawberries and didn’t expect much of a yield this first year, but we did get a few!
We have apples beginning to take shape on the apple trees in the orchard.
Hot peppers in the hot sun.
Frog in tree
This little guy likes to sit among our potted trees.
These roses are a burst of color in the orchard.
And we have spinach.
The resident egrets have returned for the season.
We planted these columbines last year, and they never bloomed, but they overwintered and are beautiful this year.
A cabbage head begins to form.
I love the dragonflies. Don’t they look like something out of “Jurassic Park”?
Iris sunset
The irises were plentiful this spring. They were waning a bit at this point, but still work well with a pretty sunset in the background.
These two are certainly ready for summer. Boys in hats. Gotta keep the sun off the face, ears and neck. And don’t forget the sunscreen!


The coolest thing we saw today

The deer moved in this fall and think they’ve found a sweet deal in their new digs. This is everywhere.

Deer scat

It’s in the road, all over the meadows, scattered across our front lawn, in the fenced backyard. You can’t walk 10 feet without running into deer poop. Which also means these are all over:

Deer Tracks

We’ve seen a group of does with a 3-point buck. But the other morning we were having breakfast when DJ’s jaw dropped and he pointed at the window (sorry for the reflection).

Deer window

“Deer,” he said quietly so as not to scare it away. That’s how close it was – literally a few feet away from the window and us inside the house.

“Big deer,” Li’l E said.

It was easily the coolest thing we saw that day, all while sipping our morning coffee.

Deer Buck
Can I join you guys for breakfast?

Fall details

There are so many things I love about autumn. In one last burst of glory the trees shed their colorful leaves much like revelers slipping off their costumes after a ball. The greenery of summer turns into the khaki of fall. Color leaches from the landscape as everything steels itself against the coming winter. It’s time to start adding an extra layer or two as we get ready in the morning. And scarves and hats make their way back into rotation. Hot tea and cocoa replaces iced tea and lemonade. Comfort foods like chili and a hearty chicken noodle soup appeal to the senses. As the holidays approach, we anticipate fun times with family and friends. It really is a good time of year.

Here are some shots from around our place of the changing season.

2015 Fall wood
We’ve been stockpiling wood and just had our first fire this last week.
2015 Fall leaf
A colorful leaf caught in some field fence.
2015 Fall creek
Green fades to brown along the creek.
2015 Fall thorns
Thorns on a rose bush.
2015 Fall leaves
Leaves collect next to the front step.
2015 Fall rocks
Leaves and rocks and feet.
2015 Fall rose bush
Remnants on a wild rosebush.
2015 Fall pumpkins
Halloween pumpkins hang on a little longer.
2015 Fall Lil S
Li’l S checks out an old iron wheel in the orchard.
2015 Fall mulch
Li’l E plays in the mulch covering the potatoes.