Bird Watching

I’ve never really had an interest in birds.  Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a lot of birds in our suburban backyard in Elk Grove; just the annoying blue jays in our redwood trees.  Now we have an abundance of birds in our yard.

I cleaned the kitchen window and repositioned the bird bath so I can take pictures of the birds.  With the exception of the turkeys, as soon as I go outside they all fly off.  We have had as many as five magpies in the birdbath at once.   These are good sized birds.  At first, they appear to be black and white, but up close you can see they have blue and green in their tail feathers.

Our lovely electrical panel in the background

Still eating cherries…

We have a few hummingbirds in the yard, so I got them a feeder.  I always think of them as cute little birds, but they can be mean.  As I was watching the first hummingbird use the feeder after I hung it, another hummingbird swooped in and kicked the first bird off.  The feeder has multiple feeding ports, but the bully bird wanted the whole feeder to itself.

The finches are still living in Tito the dinosaur’s mouth.  There are other small birds that fly through the yard, but these two have decided to stay.

When we first moved in, we had three to four large turkeys that would wander through the yard on a daily basis.  They have been enjoying the feed that the chickens leave behind when Shawn moves the chicken tractor.  A few weeks ago, we noticed they have babies.  We now have a “rafter” of turkeys.  (See, I just taught you something.  My blog is so educational.)

This is most, but not all, of the rafter

Other flying creatures that enjoy the birdbath are wasps, bees, and yellow jackets.  Neighbors in the area have reported that the insects are having mass drownings in their pools in the current almost drought-like conditions.

Other Happenings Around the Homestead

I have a new stove!  The knobs were falling off the old stove and we were using pliers to turn on the burners.  Of course, the hole in the countertop was a quarter inch too small, so Shawn had to get out the saw and make it a bit bigger.  I’m still cleaning up the superfine dust.

Shawn whipped up a batch of Italian sausage from the pig he butchered in his butchering class a few months ago.

Eight pounds of Italian sausage sealed and ready for the freezer

Now that the weather has finally turned warm/hot, the garden is thriving.  The wheat is almost ready to be harvested and the tomatoes and tomatillos have set fruit.  One of the grapevines has grapes.  Our mystery fruit trees are full of hard green orbs.

Tomatillos
Don’t be fooled, they are not as large as they may appear in this photo
Two varieties of beets

The pigs are growing at a rapid rate.  Last week, Shawn introduced them to the electric fence.  They learn pretty quickly after a shock or two on the snout.  The electric fence allows them to have a bigger area to dig and root in which seems to make them happy.

I think this is what a happy pig looks like

Our chickens have started laying eggs.  We have four eggs so far.  They are small, but Shawn says they will get bigger as they lay more.

We are still painting and laying flooring in the house.  We’re working on the basement this week.  As usual, nothing is straightforward once you start tearing things up in an old house.  The wood stove in the basement was installed over the carpet, so now we need to dismantle it and lay the new flooring underneath it.  What were they thinking?

One of the 27 doorways in the house primed and ready for painting

Since we live on the Couer d’Alene Indian reservation, we decided to check out their annual Julyamsh powwow at the fairgrounds.  Tribes from all over the country come to compete in drum and dance contests.  The dancers were all ages: from grandma to toddlers.  It was very colorful, and the frybread tacos were tasty.

And then they invited everyone to join the dancing, so this couple did

We also took a walk along the beach and through the park in downtown CDA.  The best places in town to catch Pokemon.

We are off to the movies this afternoon to avoid what is predicted to be the hottest day of the year.  You can do that when you’re retired.

Alpaca Farm Tour

While searching for things to keep a five-year-old entertained, I came across the Seven Stars Alpaca Ranch in Coeur d’Alene.  According to TripAdvisor, the alpaca farm tour is the number one thing to do in CDA.  The 90-minute tour is $10/adult and $5/child and very informative.  The owner, Sonia, started with a brief lecture about alpacas (there are 22 different colors of alpacas), and then her husband Andy took us on a tour of the 40-acre ranch.

Sonia giving her talk in the lecture hall (converted garage)

Malcolm got to see a variety of farm animals.  We started with miniature donkeys.  They are about the same size as Malcolm and he was a bit skeptical about petting them.

Oliver & Olivia, miniature donkeys

While everyone was oohing and ahhing over the cute mini donkeys, Andy called to the horses and they came galloping over the hill.  They have standard and miniature horses.

Next, it was off to see the headliners: the alpacas.  We were cautioned not to hug them or get in a stare down because they will spit.

Watering the lawn
Heading out to pasture for a day of grazing

We also got to see chickens, goats, sheep and a couple of llamas.

One old sheep pretending to be an alpaca

Andy and Sonia lived in Alaska for 30 years before relocating to CDA.  Out in the pasture, they built a small replica Alaskan cache.  They don’t store food in it, but their grandchildren enjoy using it as a playhouse.

After all that livestock petting, we had a trip through the handwashing station and were then invited to visit the gift shop.

It was a fun and informative tour and exposed Malcolm to some other animals not found on Papa & Grandma’s farm.

Gratuitous cute grandson photo

More Cherries, Cherries, Cherries!

I like cherries.  In the past, I would buy a pound or so at a time when they are in season and enjoy eating them fresh.  But now I have so many cherries I don’t know what to do with them.  From our two trees, we have picked 12 lbs of sweet Bing cherries, 13.5 lbs of sweet Alberta cherries, and 21 lbs of sour cherries.  And there are probably still another 15 lbs of sour cherries on the tree.

Sour cherries and sweet Alberta cherries
Cherry pitters. We may need to invest in the counter mount, hand crank pitter for next year’s harvest.

I’ve canned cherries, made two kinds of jam, made a cherry cobbler, made muffins, made cocktails from cherry syrup, dehydrated tons of cherries, and made a cherry-balsamic reduction to drizzle on a fresh cherry pizza.  We have snacked on cherries by the handful and cut them up and eaten them over ice cream.  I’m running out of ways to use and consume cherries.

Malcolm was a big helper. He pitted cherries and helped make dough for the cobbler.
Sour cherry cobbler
Sour cherry cobbler a la mode
Enjoying cherry cobbler after a full day of cherry production

I made one batch of sweet cherry jam with the Albertas and one batch with the sour cherries.  I’m not a big fan of high sugar jam, but I found Pomona’s Pectin for low sugar jam and it worked well.  I used honey with the Albertas and it is a nice compliment.

The mini-cherry muffins were a hit with my little helper.  The tart cherries nicely balanced with the sweet muffin.

After all that cherry picking and pitting, a cocktail was in order.  Shawn and I experimented with ingredients, even going so far as adding some Kombucha for fizz.  Our favorite is one part cherry syrup to 3 parts Maker’s Mark over ice with a handful of fresh cherries.  The best part is eating the bourbon soaked cherries at the bottom of the glass.

This concoction was too sweet, so we switched to Maker’s Mark

While our son, Connor, was visiting we experimented with cherries on pizza.  We’ve had a heat wave, so we gilled the pizza crust outside on the barbecue.  We cooked fresh cherries in balsamic vinegar and then pureed and reduced the sauce.  We topped the pizzas with goat cheese, fresh cherries, bacon, and herb salad mix drizzled with the cherry-balsamic reduction.  Super tasty on a hot night!

The rest of the cherries were thrown into the dehydrator.  They will be good for cooking and baking throughout the year, or just to eat by the handful as Shawn prefers.

Cherries, Cherries, Cherries!

We are lucky to have two producing cherry trees on our new property.  We have been tasting the cherries daily to determine when they are ripe for picking.  One of the trees actually has two different types of cherries: Bing and Alberta (according to our electrician Al).  We picked 15 1/2 pounds of cherries in one day.  They are mostly the darker Bings.

Our child laborer Malcolm
This bowl is about 5 pounds of cherries

Knowing we would have a bountiful cherry harvest, we ordered cherry pitters and an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator (made in Sacramento, California).  We were skeptical about the 6-cherry pitter, but it works great.  Shawn and Malcolm pitted the cherries while I sliced them and put them on the dehydrator trays.

Cherries are the pits!
Bing cherries ready for 15 hours in the dehydrator

The Bing cherries are very sweet, so a few pounds went into the mouths of the workforce instead of the dehydrator.  The Alberta cherries are more reddish orange and not quite as sweet.  After dehydration, the Albertas have a slight rose aroma and flavor.  We still need to pick the rest of the Albertas because they weren’t all ripe.

Dehydrated Bings
Dehydrated Albertas
Ready for consumption and use in recipes

I also canned some of the cherries in a light syrup.  I added brandy to some and Amaretto to the rest.

These will be tasty over ice cream

This week, we will pick the cherries on the second tree.  They are a bit sour.  Al says the second tree is a Pie tree because you make pies with that type of cherry but you need to add sugar.

The Magpies are not thrilled that we have taken their tasty treats

Funny story about the dehydrator.  We had picked all the cherries knowing the dehydrator would arrive that day.  I had the cherries all sorted and washed and ready to go.  I met the UPS man in the driveway and had the dehydrator unpacked within 5 minutes of delivery.  That’s when I noticed a plastic corner was broken off on the front.  It wasn’t something that would affect the performance of the dehydrator so I contemplated gluing it back together, but that just didn’t sit right with me.  Something that expensive should not be broken.  So I called Amazon to get it replaced.  After the call agent took all my information and promised a new dehydrator would be delivered in 2 days, I asked her how to return the broken one.  She told me to just dispose of it.  What???  That corner is getting glued back on, and I will be running two dehydrators at a time once the tomatoes and zucchini come in!

Camping at Big Hank on the CDA River

Our five-year-old grandson, Malcolm, is visiting from California for a couple weeks.  Entertaining an active five-year-old is a challenge, so we thought a camping trip would be fun.  It was also a good excuse to try out our new fly fishing rods.  We headed to the Big Hank Campground on the Coeur d’Alene River where I went fishing with my brother a few weeks ago.

Catching a few Pokemon in Coeur d’Alene before heading off the grid

One of the many perks of being retired is camping mid-week.  Big Hank has 30 campsites and only about half were occupied.  Our site backed up to the Coeur d’Alene River and was very private.

There’s no wasting water when you have to pump it yourself!

The first day, we explored the river and ended the day with marshmallow roasting by the campfire.

Malcolm got a bit wetter than planned
Malcolm on his new tripod seat

The second day, we woke up to rain, but that didn’t stop us from going out fishing.  Malcolm had been practicing his casting, and Shawn and I were itching to try out our new gear.

Checking out Grandma’s flies
Since Papa was wearing waders, he carried Malcolm out into the middle of the river to fish off a rock

We found a deep spot in the river where the trout were jumping, but we didn’t have any luck that afternoon.  While we chose to camp in an established campground, there is a lot of free camping space available.  We checked out a spot across the road in a meadow.  It involved crossing a creek.  Our camp host shared that it can get a bit wild out in the meadow, but he keeps the riffraff out of his campground.

The “road” to the free camping

The last morning we went back to the spot where the fish had been jumping.  There was already another fly fisherman there, but he invited us to join him.  He had caught the “big one” the night before.  I tried for a while, but still no luck.

Sporting my new ladies’ waders

After the other guy left, Shawn gave it a try.  It didn’t take long before he hooked a cutthroat trout.  It was about 8″.  Malcolm was not thrilled that he didn’t catch a fish, but when you’re grandparents don’t put a hook and bait on your line your chances for success are greatly diminished.

Strictly catch and release on the CDA

A very successful camping/fishing trip.

All that camping wears a guy out

The Pig Farmer’s Wife

Well, it’s official.  I’m the wife of a pig farmer.  This morning we drove to Cheney, Washington to pick up our two piglets.  We borrowed a crate from our neighbor Katie, and then Shawn and Malcolm filled it with straw for the piglets’ comfort.

Malcolm fluffing the straw (we did not cage the boy)

At Adam’s farm (The Backyard Butchery), we selected two females from the drove.  First, the guys lured them to the fence with apples, and then they picked them up by the hind legs and put them in the crate.  There was much squealing.

Back home, the process was reversed with more squealing.

The two sisters, Breakfast and Dinner, share a 16×16 enclosure behind the house with a plastic water tote for their shelter.  After they calmed down from all the activity in their day, they started eating the grass and rooting around in the dirt.

Breakfast
Dinner

Shawn and Malcolm finished off the pen with a gate.

I don’t think the cuteness will last too long as their mom was rather ugly; however, we should have some tasty bacon in November.

Midsummer

Thursday, June 21, was the longest day of the year.  The sun rose at 4:51 AM and set at 8:51 PM giving us 16 hours of light in Worley, Idaho.  As you can see from the chart below, we actually get more light than that because the Civil Twilight is the first and last light.  If I look out the window at 4:00 in the morning, I can clearly see everything in the yard.

Unfortunately, on the summer solstice, we had a storm so it was a bit darker than I was hoping for the longest day of the year.  This was the wildest storm I have experienced here in Worley.  I stood on the deck and watched and heard the storm approach.  I could hear the rain in the trees as it got nearer and the thunder was thunderous, to say the least.  Lightning filled the sky a few times per minute.

The edge of the storm approaches
The downpour (see Instagram for the video)

Shawn had driven to Sacramento to pick up our grandson, Malcolm, so this was my first experience staying by myself in our new house.  The power went off and on three times as I ran around looking for flashlights and wondering how long my phone battery would last.  Without wi-fi, my Grey’s Anatomy binge watch was ruined.

Since Shawn was gone, I also got chicken duty.  The layers are living outside under the walnut tree, but they need to be put to bed at night in case there are any predators out there looking to dine on them.    They are very in tune with the sun and go into the coop on their own at sunset.  I looked out the window and noticed they had gone in early.  I assumed this was due to the storm, so I went out to latch the door on the coop.  As soon as I approached the gate, they all ran out and the little buggers wouldn’t go back in until it was officially sunset.

Roosting in the walnut tree
Large and in charge
In bed for the night

We got a second batch of Frankenchicks a couple weeks ago.  I was asked why we need so many chickens.  We figured we need about 50 chickens for the year.  One chicken gives us 2-3 meals in a week and then we make about 4 quarts of chicken stock from the carcass.

Return of the Frankenchicks

Before Shawn left for Sacramento, we went to a few new places in town.  First, we went to the container store in Athol for food grade buckets, barrels and a tote for the new pig enclosure.  Next, we explored the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  We acquired a stainless steel sink and solid wood door for $30.  Shawn is going to repurpose these as a chicken butchering station.  We also tried out the burgers at Paul Bunyan Famous Burgers.

To amuse myself in Shawn’s absence, I visited a couple of the local quilt shops.  The ladies at Bear Paw Quilting in Coeur d’Alene are very friendly and they have a nice selection of fabrics, patterns, and notions.  In Spokane Valley, Washington, I visited The Quilting Bee.  Aside from Hancock’s in Paducah and Fabric Depot in Portland, I think this is the biggest quilt shop I’ve ever seen.  Between these two shops, I think all my quilting needs will be easily met.  I also picked up their 2018 Row-by-Row kits.

It is huge!

Between storm watch, quilt shops and binge watching Grey’s Anatomy, I pulled out my DSLR camera and took pictures around the yard.  The macro lens improved my flower photos, and the zoom lens allowed me to catch a few birds stealing our cherries.

Woodpecker
Magpie

Chuck Norris
Sophie in her bird watching window

Shawn returned with Malcolm on Saturday, and now we have almost three weeks to view Idaho through the eyes of a five-year-old.

First cherry harvest
The birds left us a few cherries
Driving the tractor with Papa

World’s biggest dandelion

Fly-fishing the CDA River

My dad and my brother, Craig, came to visit us this last week.  They made the two-day drive from Fresno, California to Worley, Idaho.  We had fun showing them our beautiful new state, but the highlight was fly-fishing the Coeur d’Alene River.

Craig, Dad, Me and Peeve on the deck

Many, many years ago, I read A River Runs Through It and I have been enamored of fly-fishing since.  Mostly, I like the idea of standing in a beautiful river in waterproof clothing.  What could be better than that?  Little did I know that I live an hour away from a highly acclaimed fly-fishing destination, the Coeur d’Alene River.

Craig has been fly-fishing since he was a kid, so he had all the gear and my nephew loaned me his rod and reel.  I got some inexpensive and highly effective waders and felt-soled boots.  Let me tell you, fly-fishing is one sexy sport if big, baggy, and drab-colored is your thing.

On Tuesday morning, we headed to the CDA River.  We stopped at the fly shop near Cataldo on the way to get the lowdown on river conditions and which flies to use.  The two gentleman in the shop were very friendly and informative.  When I mentioned I lived in Worley, one of them asked me if I knew Tom.  Granted, Worley only has a population of 247, but I have yet to meet Tom.

We were given instructions to turn on Old River Road at the metal bridge, go past Hippie Rock (named for the kids that sunbathe naked and jump off the rock), then go down aways past the No Trespassing signs to find good fishing.  Since there is no cell signal on the river, we relied on these old-fashioned points-of-interest to guide us.

We fished a couple spots on the CDA on Tuesday, but we didn’t catch anything.  In the afternoon, two women upriver from us caught three or four cutthroat trout while we watched.  I took a lot of pictures, but my phone died shortly after and the photos were lost.  Craig took a few pictures of me.

I look just like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It

So after my first day of fly-fishing, I was pretty satisfied.  I got to walk around in a beautiful river all day without getting cold and wet.  The water is clear without sediment and the surrounding scenery is gorgeous.  My shoulder was a little sore from casting, but all-in-all a great day.

We had a few unseasonably cold and windy days, so we didn’t go out fishing again until Friday.  We went to the local fly shop in Coeur d’Alene the night before to find out what we were doing wrong.  Joe, the owner of Castaway Outfitters, gave us some tips, suggested some smaller flies, and sent us higher up on the river.

We found a nice section of the river with some deeper pools and spent the morning fishing up the river.  We spotted a few trout.  After lunch, we went back out and Craig caught one.  I had a few strikes and even had one on the line momentarily, but no luck for me.

Peeve is intent on making sure Craig doesn’t drown

I was surprised at how fast the time passed while fishing.  We didn’t cover a lot of ground (only about 2,000 steps according to my fitness tracker), but walking upriver in the current puts all your muscles to the test while trying to keep balanced (I’m happy to say I did not fall once in two days).  Once the fish started striking, the concentration on landing the fly in right spot was intense.  Before I knew it, 6 hours had passed.

The scenery was beautiful, and I found a few new flowers too.  There are large grassy meadows along the banks of the river and these tall white flowers are everywhere.  According to my plant identification app, they are California false hellebore.  They are about 4 feet tall.

Some type of thistle. I’d like to see it in full bloom because it was huge.

So, let me know if you’re in the area and want to go fishing…

You Can Make English Muffins?

Why yes, you can make English muffins.  I thought they came in a stack of six from Thompson’s, but then I saw a recipe for homemade sourdough English muffins and had to give it a try.  I used Shawn’s wholewheat sourdough starter.  I was a little concerned at first because it is super stinky, but the muffins came out with a nice subtle sourdough tang.

I made the dough last night and rolled and cut the muffins today
I learned that English muffins are cooked on the stove, not in the oven
They look like real English muffins!
Some are a little wonky, but you know they’re homemade
Tastes great warm off the skillet with a bit of butter

I’m learning to use my new pressure canner.  I canned a batch of pinto beans to practice.  I need to be ready when the garden explodes with more goodness than we can consume daily.  I’m counting on an overabundance of tomatoes.

The daunting pressure canner

Speaking of the garden, we are starting to see fruit on our trees.  We’ve identified the two cherry trees, but we’re still not positive what some of our other trees are.  Happily, the grapevines are alive and they are showing signs of grapes.

The green row in the center is wheat
Cherries of unknown variety
We think these are Asian pears
Grapes! I hope the deer leave a few for me.
The ever-expanding potted herb garden. All but one of the pots was left by the previous owner.

Shawn plowed a new plot for black oil sunflowers and oats.  He was busy all day discing with the tractor and raking and pulling out rocks by hand.  The chickens supervised from their current home under the pine trees.

They’re getting bigger…time to start laying some eggs!

Shawn left most of the dirt outside, but a bit made it in on his face

A busy day on the homestead.  I was also excited to learn that when my big brother comes to visit in a few days that he will be bringing my dad with him.  Time to get cracking on a few indoor projects to make our guests comfortable!

Time for a Hike

Shawn was looking like he had a bit of farming fatigue, so I decided he needed to go on a hike.  I did a quick search for day hikes near Coeur d’Alene and came up with Settler’s Grove Interpretive Trail #162 in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.  I was intrigued by the promise of walking through a grove of ancient cedar trees, so I figured it was worth a two-hour drive for a 3-mile hike.  We drove to CDA and then headed east into the Panhandle National Forest.  Much of the drive was very scenic along the CDA River.  There were lots of little RV parks on the grassy shores of the river.  We also saw a couple of flyfisherman in the river.

The last six miles of the drive was on a dirt/gravel road, and it was slow going.  Houses were few and far between.

We saw a herd of elk grazing in someone’s pasture.

Elk are ugly up close and a bit raggedy

We did not see any other cars on the road, and the parking lot at the trailhead was empty.  This is a perk of being retired and hiking mid-week.  It was also overcast with a chance of rain, so that may have kept people away too.

We have the parking lot to ourselves. Maybe it really is our own private Idaho.
Trailhead

It was an easy hike on a well-marked trail; however, it was designated as handicapped accessible.  Maybe wheelchairs in Idaho are all-wheel drive because I don’t know how they were getting over a few of these obstacles.

I grew up with giant redwoods in California, so cedars are new to me.  OK, enough chit-chat and on to the magnificent ancient cedars.

A bit of perspective

There was a fire in 2015, so you can still see a lot of the fire damage to the trees.

Massive rootball on a fallen cedar

Some of the fallen trees on the trail have been cut and you can see the rich cedar color in the logs.

Of course, I found new flowers and plants to photograph.  No clue what they are but interesting enough to deserve a photo.

Fernheads unfurling
Mushrooms of unknown type

Most of the trail ran along Eagle Creek so there was always the sound of running water while we walked (good thing there is a bathroom at the trailhead).

At the end of the trail, we had the option to continue on another trail so we did that for a bit.  We also found a letterbox in a tree stump.  I assume this is similar to a geocache.  There were notes, pens, and paper in the box.

Just as we were coming back to the parking lot, the rain started coming down so we had our picnic lunch in the truck.  Back in CDA, we stopped for a beer at Tricksters Brewing.  Their Juice Box IPA is excellent.

Then it was off to Twin Lakes Farm & Ranch to pick up 1,000 pounds of feed for the chickens and soon to arrive piglets.  We also threw in 12 compressed straw bales.

Our truck with a reasonable load
What is this guy thinking?

It was a full and enjoyable day.  I’m looking forward to exploring more of our new state.