Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Local Terminology

I suppose it's natural for each region to have it's own dialect, and I've been collecting terms--just a couple so far--from the Northwest. The first one I noticed was using the term "going nonny" for going to bed. I'd heard it before, but I've heard it more in the last year than I'd heard it the rest of my life up until last year. It's cute and endearing.

The other one I've noticed just recently as we've been preparing to get chickens is the use of the term "the girls" for laying hens. I'd never heard this before! I've had to realize that people aren't talking about their daughters.....or female anatomy, as I'd heard it used before now. :-) They're talking about their female chickens. Seems everyone uses this term--at first I'd thought perhaps it was a PDX chicken list thing--yes, there is a Portland chicken email list. I might as well give it some publicitity here! http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PDXBackyardChix/
Anyway, they were constantly talking about "the girls" there, and I thought maybe it was a list thing. But I called a feed store to see if they sell mature hens, and the woman I talked to said I'd have to wait until her husband came back and he would round up "the girls" for me.

Not that I don't have any language quirks myself. Just yesterday I found myself, when startled by a bus that decided suddenly, while I was driving around it, that it was going to get back into traffic, muttering "Dude!" Yep, born in Oregon, currently an Oregonian, but no one will ever be able to take away my Californian upbringing.

On the chicken front, a woman from the chicken list posted that she was "re-homing" her "girls" and was there anyone there who wanted them? Yes! So, tomorrow I think, I'll be picking up two Auracanas. Not laying currently, she said, but should start again in the spring. I'll be anxiously awaiting the first blue/green egg!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The chickens are coming!

Yep, it's time for another project here at our house! I've been saying for more than a year that as soon as we own our own home, I want chickens again! Here we are building a home for them. It's in a corner of the garage, where there was already a little cat door--that'll be our chicken door. The garage will provide extra warmth and protection from predators for our hens.

All of the lumber you see here is re-used. We bought it all from the ReBuilding Center for $22. Add about $30 worth of hardware and a couple of easy days of work together, and you've got one great chicken house! Now, we just need chickens....I'll keep you posted!

Monday, January 22, 2007


I don't think I've ever posted about soapmaking, though it's in my profile. I began making soap in the summer of 2001, and have enjoyed making all of our own soap and some for gifts ever since. It's a neat creative outlet, as you can play around with the scents and additions. I haven't ever done anything specifically with color, except for using baking cocoa in my chocolate soap (as seen above), but I've had lots of fun nevertheless.

My very favorite soap is my chocolate soap. It's made with a significant amount of cocoa butter, which makes a very hard bar and lathers very nicely.
Last Tuesday I'd already planned on making soap as I hadn't made any for about a year, and we were about to run out. And then it snowed, making it the perfect day to stay in and make soap (and other things, like things to eat). I decided to try making two different kinds of soap, both using the same base of the cocoa butter soap. To one half I added chocolate essential oil, and took out a bit and added cocoa, then swirled this into the white soap base to make chocolate marble soap. I made this part just as I have for several years, except that for molds, I used cupcake papers in a muffin tin, and one round cake pan, instead of the rectangle I usually make (then I cut it into bars). Chocolate soap looks and smells good enough to eat!
The other half I made into lavender soap, with lavender essential oil and blended lavender buds. Even though it came from the same base, it was looking and feeling a bit soft. The soap sits in the molds for 24 hours or so, then it is cut and put on a wire rack to cure. It has to cure for 3 weeks, and I turn it once during that time for even exposure. I just checked on the soap, and now, after having several days to sit, it's looking much firmer and can be picked up without leaving wet residue on my hands. I'd never had this happen before, so I'm not sure what happened.
Beginning to make soap requires lye safety, which can cause fear of something awful happening. A soapmaker must never forget that lye is a poison and can burn very badly, and can even cause death in the wrong circumstances. One must *always* take care when handling lye, and let everyone in the house know that the lye is there and to take precautions. That said, other than the lye handling, soap is very easy to make and is very rewarding. I've never had a batch fail, which is more than I can say for breadmaking.
The book I have used exclusively for making soap is The Soapmakers Companion. I chose it because of it's emphasis on natural ingredients and for it's complete lack of animal tallow and the like. It does have recipes that contain milk, egg, and/or honey, so it's not completely vegan, but there's plenty here for the vegan to enjoy making as well. The book lays out, step by step, the procedure for making soap and lets you know of the precautions that must be taken when one uses lye. It also goes into the chemistry of soapmaking, so you can make your own formulations, but I have stuck with the recipes in it and have not been interested to learn the numbers and elements. (I never took chemistry in high school or college--maybe that's why.)
Any other soapmakers out there? What kinds do you like to make?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Lovely Snow Day

Here's Hibi throwing a snowball at you! :-) Click to enlarge the picture.

We woke this morning a bit after 7 to snow that had just started, but already had accumulated quite a bit. It's been cold in Portland, rising not too far over freezing each day before it goes back under. So when the snow started falling it stuck like crazy because the ground was frozen. Which meant we got quite a bit of accumulation today!
The kids, of course, really enjoyed playing in it. And I suppose it could be blamed on the fact that I did most of my growing up in central California where we got no snow, but I truly enjoyed it, too. I like the small amount of snow we get in Portland. It happens just infrequently enough that you really can relax and enjoy a day at home without feeling like you're slacking. Which is sure a good thing, because even the busy road our back yard faces didn't get a whole lot of plowing.
One thing that was really nice about the day is that so many people were out and about in our neighborhood, on foot. So we met two neighbors we hadn't met before (they both have a child each! I didn't know so many children lived in our neighborhood, and these are both close in age to our kids) and called hello to more just passing by on the street. What a great community event snow is! It's happening to everyone around us the same as it's happening to us.

Monday, January 15, 2007

How will you be spending MLK day?

We've had an awfully busy weekend, but I'll be celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s life here. I was kind of bummed that they've changed the location--last year we went, and it was at Jefferson High School, which we could walk to. Today I have to take my car to the shop, so we'll be getting to the celebration in Rosa Park's style. :-)

I'll tell you one highlight from my weekend. On Saturday I drove for Girl Scouts Beyond Bars. It was my first time going into the medium security side of the prison. Write Around Portland was finishing up their series of workshops with the girls and moms and this was the day that they'd all read to the group what they'd written. But we first started with a talk from Rene Mitchell, who is a columnist with the Oregonian. What a powerful voice! One quote she started with (I think she was quoting someone else, but I'm not sure who): "There is no one you couldn't love, after you hear their stories." She spoke of victims of abuse, as she is a survivor of domestic abuse herself, and trying to understand each other, why we do the things we do. I think hers is a story we all need to hear: rich, poor, white, black, young, old. It's part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.

Listening to the stories of the incarcerated moms and their daughters was very moving and inspiring, as well. Write Around Portland publishes anthologies of these stories, and the newest one is called Echoes. You can find it at many bookstores in Portland. For a list of bookstores that sell it, look here.

Oh, okay, I'll tell about one more thing we did this weekend. Our high school group at church is planning a trip to Project Mexico this March, during Spring break. Last night they got together for a preparation meeting, to start understanding what kinds of situations they'll be walking into. Margaret Yova from Project Mexico sent some activities we could do with the kids, and here's one of her ideas we did. When the kids came in, they were presented with a spinner which was divided into colors, like this: one half was yellow, a little more than one quarter was red, and a little less than one quarter was blue. Each of them put on a name tag that was the color they'd spun. Then when it came time for snacks, they could eat from the table that was specifically for their color. The yellow table had just a few little snacks, not nearly enough for the eight kids who had yellow tags. The red table had about enough without it being too much for the number of kids who were there. But the blue table was sumptuously laden with almost all the snacks, and the four kids (plus me!) couldn't even dream of finishing everything. This, of course, was a picture, a very vivid picture, of how the distribution of food and wealth is laid out in this world.

We also had my very wonderful Spanish teacher from Portland Community College come and teach a bit of Spanish to the kids, and talk about the culture a bit. She's from Colombia, but she just got back from a tour of Mexico. It was perfect!

But my, oh my, we were beat after a long day, and afterward went home and almost immediately to bed. Paul said there were enough events just this weekend to fill the whole week. He slept in this morning. :-)

Friday, January 12, 2007

My Cool Birthday Present

Before Christmas, we walked into a funky little art shop that's near our house to look around, see what they were selling, and meet some new neighbors. One artist's work really was striking to me, and the proprietor said, oh, that's Jennifer's work--she lives right down there in that funky storefront. Oh! She's our neighbor too! So, for my birthday, my family went down there to meet Jennifer and their intent was to buy something from her for my present. But Jennifer said, why not wait, and let her choose what she wants herself, and I'll paint it for her?

So today I went down and met Jennifer, who is a great person and has a cool little studio there. She talked me through, asking questions about what I like. She said that even though I didn't quite know what I wanted, her questions really would help her to narrow it down and she'd be able to figure out what would be right. And, if I don't like it, she said, she'd just sell it and paint me another!

So I chose a tree with a full moon and a mountain, painted in red as a primary color with orange and yellow. She uses recycled wood and she'll layer pieces together for a cool effect. I think it's going to be pretty neat! All I need to do now is clear a space for it to go on the wall.

If you want to see her work, it's here:
Jennifer Kapnek

Friday, January 5, 2007

Art Studio

We've been doing lots of projects on Paul's days off, which usually occur on Friday. Today was no different. We have been planning to make part of the garage into an art studio (mostly for the kids). But first it had to be cleaned out. The previous owner left a bunch of junk in the garage, and it all had to be gone through. A lot of it was paint, which he could justify leaving because we'd "need" 16 zillion cans of paint for the house. One big find that left us all a little more wary and rose thorn gloves on my hands while cleaning the box out was hypodermic needles. Hmm. Three guesses as to what they were used for, and why they were hidden in the garage? Anyway, now we need to know what to do with them. They've been used and they're sharp, and I certainly wouldn't want a garbage pick-up person to accidentally get jabbed, or even a passing child or someone else to be looking through the garbage left out. Susan? Anyone? What do we do with these? Can we take them to a doctor's office and put them in their hazardous waste?

Anyway, we also found a big old slab of wood, that looks to have been used at one time for a table (brackets for legs are in place) and another time for a door (hinge marks in the end). I looked at it and said, here's our art table! Paul latched onto that idea and went back to the ReBuilding Center (we'd already been once to get recycled wood for art) and bought enough lumber and nails to build this beauty for $20. The piece of wood leaning on the table will be a lip that will hold pencils and brushes on the table. Paul said a plus to the tilted design is that you can't store stuff on it! Oh, there are going to be shelves underneath, too.

Now we just have to solve the heating problem. I bought a space heater, a Vornado, from Craigslist yesterday, but it just didn't put out enough heat. Paul found a very powerful heater on Craigslist today, a kerosene one that you can use in your house if the power goes out, which would be a definite plus. The guy said it heats his whole house!

One more random find: a funny little cannister with 70s style mushroom decorations. Perhaps it would even be worth something. I thought at first of taking it to Rerun and sell it, but I probably won't bother and will keep it out there to keep art stuff in.

We're having fun setting up our new house.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Two new knitting blogs

Two new blogs to report! I don't knit, but I know lots of you do.

Lisa, my friend from San Francisco (whose son is Zac's best friend in the whole wide world) has a knitting blog. You can find it here: Farm Girl Creates.

And Stefani, another homeschool mom who I met through the home-ed list, who also in in the bay area, has Reading While Knitting.


Monday, January 1, 2007

New Year's Cookies

New Year's Cookies, or Portzelkje, are a New Year's tradition in the Mennonite church. So yummy! One batch makes a whole bunch of fritters (they're really fritters, not cookies) so it helps to have lots of people on hand to help eat them. Melisa, Will, Simon, Jonah and Tovah were willing to take on this task.

Yes, Melisa takes on her duty of sugaring the fritters quite seriously. It involves a complex sugaring dance. Though I don't think that was the Mennonite's original intent. (I'm cracking myself up here. Must have had too much sugar.)

All the photo credits go to Hibi--I have been wanting to get more pictures onto my blog so I told her to please find the camera and take pictures. She did a good job.

Happy New Year!

Well, it's 2007! Amazing. Another year gone by. We were thinking of all that happened this year--the good, the bad. All in all, it was a good but very, very busy year.

We had some plans for last night, but none of them panned out. But we had a good New Year's Eve all the same. We'd planned to go to Mississippi Pizza and hear a concert. But when Paul called half an hour before it was to start, he was told there were no tables available in the music room. And then the kids started saying they didn't feel like going out, anyway. Zac had been saying he was feeling sick ever since he woke up in the morning, but pushed himself through church and didn't feel like doing anymore pushing. (Thank goodness they both seem fine this morning! Alive and bickering, as usual. Ah, parenthood.)

And then, we'd heard that Pix Patisserie was having a *free* chocolate buffet from 12am to 2am. Seemed decadent, and a little late for us. But we thought we'd try....but by midnight we were all just waiting for that magical 2007 moment to arrive so we could go to bed.

What we did end up doing: getting pizza from Hot Lips Pizza and watching the movie Millions. (We watched Millions in the theater when it came out two years ago, and really enjoyed it then. We enjoyed it once more last night. One of my favorite things about the movie is the bobbling halos on the saints--and the depictions of the saints in general.) Then we cut our Vasilopita, and drank Martinelli's and a fizzy muscat wine at midnight. We talked about the old year, and what we want to do in the new year. We had a good evening, even though it's not exactly what I'd envisioned.

Today I am making Portzelke! We are having some friends over to help eat them, which is highly needed because of the sheer volume in which these fried delicacies come out. Plus, you don't feel as guilty eating them if other people are eating them with you.