Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Keeping the old cars kicking

My cars are old. Decrepit even, by today's standards. I'm still driving around in my 2002 Honda CRV that has just a hair under 70,000 miles on it. But, from my standpoint, it's as good as new. Sure, it doesn't have the fancy bluetooth, automatic cellphone pairing, big screen satellite XM radio and other whozywhatsits on it.

But, it does have a functioning air conditioner, radio and CD player!, cruise control and automatic windows and door locks. I've kept the exterior and interior pretty newish looking, so you wouldn't be able to tell that it's 17 years old. It has all wheel drive (AWD), which is worth something or other. This will be more useful the more time I spend crossing Snoqualmie Pass and hanging out in snowier territories than Seattle, which rarely sees snow.

Luigi!
My other car is a 2013 Fiat Pop. It's yellow with black racing stripes and we call him Luigi. Because, that's his name. He has a paltry 15,000 miles on him. I really don't need two vehicles these days, but I figure that some day, one of my kids will want to learn how to drive. And the trade-in value for him is remarkably abysmal. Like, less than a new, full-suspension mountain bike. It's freaking crazy, really. So, it makes no sense to sell him. Plus, he's super easy to drive and park in Seattle - I can squeeze into spots that no other car can, except maybe a Smart Car.

Both my vehicles are 5-speed manual transmission, which is hard to come by these days and were actually difficult to get when I bought them (both were special ordered to get the manual transmission). This fact also makes them seems like relics from the ice age. They are, however, great conversation starters when I drive anyone around who is less than 35. Or European. Or both. Oh! And, more importantly. Both of my cars are paid off.

I took the CRV in to get emissions tested on it the other day. It passed, fortunately. I did find out that the state of Washington will no longer be requiring vehicle emission testing starting in 2020. The reasons for it are actually good:

1. The air is cleaner
2. Fuels are cleaner
3. Newer engines run cleaner

What underlies this good news is possibly some bad news. A 17-year-old car probably doesn't have a newer engine that runs cleaner (although I suppose it does compared to a classic car from the 60s), but then again most people don't keep their cars around for 17 years. Cars these days can run for 200,000 miles or more but the average American replaces their vehicle every 11.6 years.

I was actually surprised to hear this average because my experience with friends and family has been more like them replacing their cars on the 6 - 7 year average. The average has gone up, I think, because the cost of a new car has gone up faster than inflation over the years. I cannot even fathom spending more than $21,000 on a new car. And, even that seems ridiculously high.

How old are your cars (if you have any)? Do you buy new or used when you do replace a vehicle?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Growing hops in high mountain country

Centennial and Nugget
hops
My partner, Daniel, was looking for plants that grow quickly to cover the side of his house in the mountains and he settled on growing hops. Okay, so 2200 feet isn't exactly Mt. Everest but, compared to my house in Seattle (at 200 feet), the growing conditions are very different. Add to the fact that his place is on the east side of the Cascade mountain range, and you have a radically different climate than maritime Puget Sound.

Varietals
I picked out two different types of hops and purchased two plants of each, hoping they'd do well in this area:

1. Nugget Hops - Humulus lupulus 'Nugget', an American bred variety for use in brewing beer. It is a bittering type of hop that is used in all styles of beer.

2. Centennial Hops - Humulus lupulus 'Centennial', an American variety that was also bred for use in brewing beer. It is an aroma variety that is very popular in American craft ales, stouts and porters.

The super grower!
Both types grow 15 - 25 feet per season and are hardy to 30 degrees F. They also die back to the ground each winter (I suspect this is the case for all hops).

One of the Centennial hops plants is totally kicking the other 3 plants' asses and is almost twice as tall as the Nugget hops. It's fascinating to watch them grow - we will literally place a marker where the plant has reached and come back up to the mountains a few days later and it's grown a half a foot or more.

We have the hops set up on a drip timer since half the week they are left to their own devices.

Reuse, reduce, recycle
In order to support the four plants, Daniel built a trellis system out of leftover hog wire and wood from one of his construction sites. And, some of the drip lines are also leftovers from a landscaping job or two. The upgrades he's making to this house is being done predominantly with found or leftover building materials. I'll be showing you more of what he's doing over the next few months!

What about the beer?!
Well, ultimately, I'd like to dabble making my own beer. I'm not sure if that's going to happen this year or not, but I have the summer to start fiddling around with small batches before these hops are even ready for harvest. I have so many projects planned for the summer that the brewing might go on the back burner.

But, in the meantime, we'll be drinking a lot of beer as research while we're perfecting our hop growing techniques. Which basically seems to be - plant in ground and watch grow. At the very least I'll be drying this year's hops for future use.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Urban fruit orchard - what I'm growing

Honeycrisp apples
I've lived in my current house for about 13 years now and, over the years, I have planted numerous fruiting trees and bushes. While I love planting annual vegetables, I still can't get over the "free" fruit that comes back year after year with relatively little effort besides trimming back some branches. Well, some things, like grapes and my almond tree are a little more of a pain than not. But, for the most part, it's pretty easy maintenance.

For those of you in the Pacific Northwest, most of the fruiting plants I've purchased are from Raintree Nursery in Western Washington or Swanson's Nursery in Seattle. Both have a great selection!

Anyway, I wanted to give you a snapshot of all the fruit that I've got growing in my little urban fruit orchard:

THE TREES

3 x 1 Cherry. This tree has Rainier, Montmorency and another sour cherry grafted onto one rootstock. The birds generally pick the sour cherries clean off the high canopy, but I'm able to get the Rainier and more than enough sour cherries than we can eat off the more reachable section down below.

Rainier Cherry. I'm not 100% this one is a Rainier, but it looks and tastes like Rainiers. I planted it after lamenting how many sour cherries the above tree produced, but not enough sweet cherries! I keep it super short, maybe 7 feet tall.

Hollywood plum
Hollywood Plum Lovell. I love this plum tree, it produces some of the sweetest plums I have ever eaten. I also keep this one pretty compact at 8 feet tall.

Mini Dwarf Honeycrisp. This poor thing has been struggling to grow, but it produces a good 10 - 15 full-sized apples on it every year. It's our Charlie Brown tree of apples.

2 Columnar Apples - Golden Sentinel and Scarlet Sentinel. One of the columnar trees has stayed columnar, the other one is a huge sprawling crazy thing. I've let it go au natural because it produces way more apples this way. Both are really good eating apples.

Fuzzy little almonds!
Dwarf Almond - Nikita's Pride. This is a relatively new addition that I planted in 2017 and it's got quite a few fuzzy almonds on it this year. Last year it flowered but I didn't get any almonds. I'm hoping to see some production to write about later. It's a cold hardy dwarf tree that grows like wild, so I need to keep it under control more than I like or it will grow into our power lines.

Arbequina Olive. Oh boy, this poor thing. It's been in a pot for years to keep it from taking over the yard. Every year it produces a ton of tiny little olives, but nothing edible. If I plant it in the ground it will get up to 30 feet tall, so I keep it contained. It's more ornamental than anything.

Mini Dwarf Persimmon - Nikita's Gift. I love persimmons! This tree, like the almond tree, was planted in 2017. I finally have some baby fruit on it this year! I'm sooo excited to see what, if anything, I get off the tree this year.

Nikita's Gift persimmon

THE BUSHES

2 Triple Crown Thornless Blackberries. These grow like crazy and produce more blackberries than I can eat, freeze and can. The blackberries are huge (about thumb size) and are pretty seedy if you pick them too early. I whack them down every year and they still come back, guns-a-blazing, every time.

2 Raspberry Shortcake Raspberries. I love these little guys. They are short, thornless, tend to stay contained and are prolific producers. We eat a ton of these every year and I still end up freezing a lot.

Stevens Cranberry. This doesn't produce anything (yet), but one of these days it might. I'll keep you posted!

Quinault strawberry
Quinault Strawberries. I replanted my weird strawberry patch that's in an old sandbox 2 years ago with these everbearing strawberries. They don't produce a ton, but are enough to keep me happy.

Bluecrop Blueberry. This crappy bugger has taken about 10 years to produce anything of note. I love blueberries so I'm letting him keep his spot. I took out the other blueberry years ago out of sheer frustration from it producing only a few blueberries a year.


THE VINES 

Canadice grapes
Grapes - Canadice, Glenora and Catawba. I've had to reorient the first two of these varietals of vines since I replaced the fence they were growing on a few years ago. Last year they were just getting re-established and then struggled with powdery mildew on them, which seems to negatively impact their fruit production.

They were producing like freaking crazy before I moved them to the other fence, so maybe they'll recover and we'll have more grapes than we know what to do with them (like in previous years).

The Catawba vine I've had for over a decade and it has never produced anything useful. Just sad, sad grapes. I keep it around because it looks nice, but I regret it every year because it grows so darn fast.

Note: all of these pictures were taken end of May 2019.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Help! We've got apple maggots!

Looks like an apple!
My new partner, Daniel, owns a property in the Cle Elum area of Kittitas County in Washington (I mentioned the area in my previous post about checking out rural properties). You'll be hearing a lot about the projects we have going on over there, but as spring is upon this mountainous area, we needed to get on top of the fact that the apple tree on his property was severely infested with apple maggots last year.

I looked into a number of different options but went on the recommendations from our local nursery and that was to start with apple maggot traps and lures. Once we have signs of apple maggots, we will spray the trees with what they recommended, Bonide Fruit Tree Spray. However, the fruit tree spray we got isn't exactly the most organic thing I'd want to use, breathe in and, ultimately, eat.

So, we are running into two problems right now:

Quarantine areas of WA
1. Identification: How do you identify apple maggots on the traps versus all the various other little flying bug things that are getting stuck to it? I'm assuming pictures of adult maggots on the web are what I'm matching the trap corpses to?

and

2. Organic Options: When they do show up, what's a good (or several) organic alternative so I don't have to be concerned with what I'm ingesting both fresh and preserved?

What do you use to treat apple maggots (and coddling moths while we're at it)? I've never had apple maggots before, so I need your help!!


Warning: this post has affiliate links and all that.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Mastering Grief - Death and the Dogwood

I was seriously considering starting a totally new blog titled "Young Widow Farmer" or some such thing rather than continuing in the vein of the Crunchy Chicken, but I didn't want my marital status defining me any more than my late husband wanted his fight with cancer to define him. He was, first and foremost, a husband, father, brother, friend, co-worker and an all-around exceedingly brilliant, hilarious, kind, humble and generous person. He just also happened to have a terminal illness.

My dogwood in bloom, 2019.
So, this dogwood. It's annual blooming is completely meaningless to anyone else besides me. Sure, it's pretty and everyone who sees it comments on its beauty, but it means so much more to only me. We bought this house with this dogwood tree when it was in full bloom back in May 2006.

I don't know at what point I started doing this, but every year since my late husband's diagnosis in 2007 I'd look at it blooming in late April and early May and think, "is this going to be the last year that this tree blooms and my husband is alive"? Some years we would be out of town when it was blooming and I'd miss most of the pink flowers and get anxious. That somehow that would portend his demise. It's weird how your mind, and your superstitions, work. And, each year he would somehow survive the torture and the treatments.

After a while, I'd kind of laugh at myself because 11 years of cancer survival is a long time. Worrying about the dogwood blooming and the link to my husband's survival seemed more ridiculous. And, honestly, last year I was feeling cocky enough to not go through the machinations of thinking the, "is this the last year this blooms and my husband is alive" routine.

My dogwood started becoming pink this last week. And, shit, it hit me again. The old mental routine. Except, this year, I already knew the answer to the question. You never really master grief - it just changes color, flavor and texture. I know this from my own father's death back it 2011, just as my book was published. Grief is a strange thing and is different every time. But, this time around, I'd actually been grieving my late husband's death since his diagnosis.

I stopped blogging shortly after my Dad died, so it seems somewhat fitting that I'd restart blogging after my husband died. And, as I head into a weekend in my "new life", with a new partner, and the possibilities of a new future and all its adventures, I can't but help also be tethered by the familiarity and routine of the old to ground me and remind me that life is tenuous. The dogwood is just one of the many things that strikes me into remembering. And, because of that, each day I take nothing for granted.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Teen Trauma - The horrors of no wifi

Always with phone in hand.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization released their recommendations for screen time for children under the age of 5. For the first year of life they recommend zero time, rarely any in the second year and no more than an hour a day for ages 2 to 4. Frankly, this seems entirely reasonable, although I might be in the minority here.

My two children didn't watch any television until they were at least 5 and computer time came much later. My 16-year-old son still doesn't have a cell phone (and doesn't want one). It may sound strange coming from two parents who worked in tech, but we weren't TV watching adults, so limiting screen time in the early years came extremely easily.

Fast forward to today and it's a much different story and I know here I'm not in the minority. While my 15 and 16-year-olds don't sit down and watch network television, they watch a lot of shows using Netflix and other entertainment on YouTube. My 15-year-old daughter got her own cell phone in 8th grade after much haranguing and, for her peer group, that's late. Oftentimes, she'll be on her laptop and cell phone at the same time. But, I think that's par for the course for most adults as well.

We've become a modern nation of connectivity with expectations that we have high speed, instantaneous access through our devices to the Internet. This drives most people all day long, every day. Teens and adults. You see them in elevators, in line at the store, waiting for the bus, all staring into their phones. Myself included - I have no pretense to suggest I'm any different.

The main difference is my ability to unplug and put away my devices. A common theme among my teenagers and other teens I know is that, if there isn't access to wifi or cell service, they aren't participating. Sadly, this has been a huge constraint for my family any time we take a trip somewhere. If there isn't high speed wireless Internet available, they aren't going. Which sounds really ridiculous when you put it in writing.

Of course, sometimes you don't have much of a choice - mountainous areas of Washington state just don't have decent coverage to support streaming video. It's not like there's no Internet or cell service, it's just that it's not good enough. Because, predominately, what teens are doing online isn't downloading text to read, articles, news, etc. It's video. And video demands bandwidth. And without that bandwidth, boredom ensues. And then the complaining that's there's nothing to do begins.

One skill that kids seemed to have lost with the advent of constant connectivity is the ability to context switch off the electronic teat, with its incumbent squirts of adrenaline. But, it does happen, with enough time away from their devices. It's just getting through that chunk of time until they realize that they have to come up with something else to do that can be very trying and is, understandably, why parents oftentimes give in.

What about your kids? Are they able to unplug without protest? Do you have issues with your teens refusing to go on vacation because the wifi isn't good enough?


Recommended Reading:
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Highjacking our Kids
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains
Digital Detox: The Ultimate Guide to Beating Technology Addiction

Warning! There are affiliate links in this post!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Log Cabin in the Little Woods - Checking out rural properties

Log Cabin - Cle Elum, WA
Back when I was blogging regularly, one thing I always dreamed about was moving to a more rural area on several acres so that I could garden and raise critters to my heart's content. Several things prevented me from living out that dream, primarily location to work, daily accessibility to the cancer treatment center and willingness of the whole family.

Since I have been working 100% remotely from home for almost the last year (and not working the last 2 months), that first barrier isn't really an issue anymore. I don't need to be within driving distance of downtown Seattle. Both of my high schoolers are homeschooled, so that isn't so much an issue now either and both of them are interested in being on more land.

It dawned on me the other night that, when I was working full-time and in the thick of being the primary caregiver for the whole family as well as the primary stable bread winner, the one thing I wished I could do instead of working in software development was write full-time and try to live the lifestyle that I talked about so often.

Being shell-shocked after my husband died, I wasn't really clearly seeing my options and, after I got laid off from work, my knee-jerk reaction was to jump back into a tech job. But I don't have the same constraints anymore. I don't have to spend 10 hours a week sitting in traffic going to a tech job I don't really have to have anymore. I can do something else. And maybe that something else is the thing I dreamed about for so long.

Last night, on my way to Roslyn with my new man friend, Daniel, (more on that later 😄), I went out and looked at a rural property that just came on the market. Two areas of the state that I had my eye on years ago for where I'd like to live is the Skagit Valley (north of Seattle) and Cle Elum (90 minutes east of Seattle).

This property is in the Cle Elum area. It's a little over 7 acres, has a number of outbuildings on it in addition to the home itself and has a canning shed, for crying out loud. When we drove down the gravel drive, the owner came out to greet us. He was probably wondering what the hell we were doing on his property at 7 pm (there's no way you'd accidentally go down the drive), but most likely figuring he had a live one looking at the property.

The owner offered to give us a grand tour of the house and the rest of the property and really took us in, explaining the history of the land, his wife's family's ownership, who lives where on the original 35 acre property as well as their own history and interest in retiring to Yakima.

It wasn't a property I was interested in pursuing (the house is very small and dark, the acreage is a weirdly unusable strip of land and it is too far from town), but the overt friendliness of the owners was really refreshing. I couldn't help but think their real estate agent would be horrified to learn they are divulging all the property's secrets, but maybe that's just the city girl in me.

At this point, it's just exploratory looking - I have no concrete plans to move out of Seattle immediately. My goal is to have a better idea of what I want to do over the next 6 months to a year and figure out how to get there. But, knowing me, who knows. It might happen sooner than I think!


Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day - Blogging Update


Getting Crunchy, 2019.
I can't believe I started this blog a little over 12 years ago. A lot has occurred since then. Most notably, in the last year my husband passed away from cancer. I know a lot of my readers followed the early days of his diagnosis and treatment and provided me with so much emotional support. I can't even relay to you how important and meaningful that was for me to be able to mentally survive such an excruciatingly difficult ordeal for my family.

After 11 years of fighting multiple myeloma, my husband passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family. I didn't post about it here because, honestly, I found it harder to tell you all than it was to just do a brief post on Facebook months after the fact and then take a long break from social media and figure out what I was going to do next with my life, without making too many big decisions.

In the intervening time since his passing, I was also laid off from work. I've spent the last two months taking a long-needed break, spending time with my kids and trying to regroup and recover from so many years of medical trauma and stress.

It's been such a roller coaster over the last year. I had switched jobs from a very stable government position to a volatile startup. During my first week of work, my husband's health dramatically took a turn for the worse and he never recovered. In the last year I've gone from having two sources of full-time income to none but I am, fortunately, in the position to take my time to discern what the next chapter of my life will look like.

On one hand, my identity is very much associated with my skills in software development. But, my heart truly lies in the realm of sustainability, green living and engaging with the rest of the world on these topics. So, it seems more than fitting to restart up my blog on Earth Day.

My goal over the next 5 months is to get back into blogging and see where that leads me. One of the reasons I stopped blogging before was because I didn't feel like I had anything new to say or contribute. Because of the changes in my life that, too, has changed and I have a lot I'd like to share with you all and can't wait to tell you all the things I am doing and have planned.

Harkening back to my first blog post, not much has changed and I hope to continue the engagement and, hopefully, the entertainment!

"This blog will cover my various wanderings through trying to add sustainable habits to my life. Things that make me feel less like I'm treading all over mother nature and perhaps lessening my footprint, carbon emissions and all that fun stuff.

In the meantime, I'll try to keep things marginally entertaining."

- The Crunchy Chicken, March 2007

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