Friday, February 22, 2013

Pigs, cats, goats, oh my!

Our first week back home from our epic six week road trip has revolved around animals.
Have you ever eaten bacon or pork chops from pigs raised on milk and whey? There is nothing like it! Last year, I gave away most of my whey from cheese making to my friends who raise pigs, and in return my family was the happy recipient of excellent bacon, pork chops and roasts. While we usually don't eat much piggy meat, we decided to raise our own pigs after tasting the amazing flavor of these “dairy enhanced” pigs. So this year, three oinkers will share our lives. They will live on lush green pasture, eat organic grain and dairy products from my goats, and get lots of love and attention. While shopping for our potential new porkers, I snapped pictures of these guys, who might end up being the parents of our litter.

The other new addition to our family is Oscar, a tabby boy cat who was given to us by a friend who has too many cats. Since I am allergic to cats, Oscar lives in the shop for now, so he can get used to the new surroundings and us. He is technically Kai's pet (he has been begging us for a cat for over a year), but we all visit the shop often to pet the kitty (washing my hands compulsively after every visit so I don't start sneezing). Once Oscar gets outside, I hope he will be spared by the numerous coyotes, birds of prey, bobcats, and dog packs. We warned Kai about the possibility of Oscar becoming lunch for one of the wild animals, but he still insisted on getting a cat.

Sorry for the bad picture quality.  Meet Oscar.
On to goats. I took my goat Gracie with the bad leg to the vet a week ago, and he diagnosed a bad sprain. I am grateful it's not hoof rot or a bacterial infection. The vet taught me how to give an injection into the jugular vein, which is quite nerve racking. The carotid artery is just behind the jugular vein, and you don't want to poke that one... On top of the anti-inflammation medicine, I also ice her leg three times a day, which involves her prancing away from my grasp as I try to attach the ice bag with an ace bandage.  After swearing at her, getting stepped on, and getting thrown into manure, I finally succeed in attaching the darn thing to her leg, and then I sit around for ten minutes watching her, so she doesn't eat the ice pack.  In the meantime, Coco, the other goat, uses me as a scratching post.

Another theme of the week was visiting with friends. We were fortunate to have a couple of days filled with sun, so we could all hang out by the creek, go for walks, prune our blueberries and grapes, and start onion seeds in the greenhouse. Right now, however, it is snowing and sleeting, and the poor robins who hopped in our back yard by the dozens to find worms have disappeared again. These birds are signs of spring, but I bet they are sulking somewhere right now, shivering and bitter about the change of weather. That's kind of how I feel right now. It ain't Arizona here, and the wood stove is cranking. Home schooling has resumed with full vigor, and so has my household work load.  But I am grateful for our homestead and our friends, and I know the snow will stop.  Eventually.

Eva with her best friend.

The girls decided to give the doll a bath in the river.

Time to start onions and leeks.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Home, sweet, sweet home

Five thousand five hundred miles and six and a half weeks later, we made it safely home.  We drove all day for three days, first through Arizona, then through California, and Oregon, and as soon as we crossed over to Washington, it started to rain.  Welcome home!
This photo was taken on the border of Arizona and California.

Here is a RV park at the AZ/CA border, where we spent the night.  There was a a huge tower for a zip line (which was closed for winter) and white sandy beaches.  Weird, huh?
Steve looks a little bit scary in this picture, doesn't he?  Like a Viking or something.  He was probably frustrated with Eva, who didn't want to walk back to the RV for dinner, but rather wanted to play in the beautiful white sand.

Here is me enjoying the last rays of sunshine, and modeling a new cowl I knit.  Wild camping hair!

Blasting through Oregon on Interstate 5 felt bittersweet.  We were heading North, which meant our wonderful road trip would be over soon.  We only stopped once, to stretch our legs at Shasta Lake.  Here is Mount Shasta, keeping us company on the road for a while.

On the way North, we visited our friends Erin and Terri and their two kids, since they only live an hour away from Portland.  They used to be a huge part of our lives, and our oldest kids grew up together.  Erin attended Kai's birth, so it goes to show how important they were to us.  It was wonderful to visit them on the scenic 80 acre farm where they live now!

All five kids enjoyed running around and getting their yayas out.

I miss these beautiful ladies!
That same day, we stopped for dinner and spent the night at Brian and Margaret's with their little baby.  Brian is Steve's best friend, and Brian and Margaret got married on our property.  I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of them!  What a beautiful day filled with old friends... Bittersweet visits, because we realize how much we love these people, and how hard it is to live so far away from all of them...

The closer we got to our home, the more I felt like a horse smelling her oats in the barn.  I just wanted to get home!  The first thing I did when the RV finally stopped in front of our house was to run to the barn.  My goat Gracie has been walking on her knees for two weeks, so I knew something was wrong.  I hope it was just the fact that her hooves were improperly trimmed and put stress on her legs.  After calling the vet, I hope that my suspicions are confirmed, and that she will start walking normally again after getting used to having perfectly trimmed hooves.
The second thing I did was enter the house.  I hardly recognized it!  It felt so BIG!  And it was so CLEAN!  Our house sitter Terri cleaned the whole house (including the refrigerator, which was not clean when we left....).  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Terri!
Our friend Andrea stopped by on her bicycle before I even walked into the house, and then was joined by our friend Sharon, and later by neighbors Rich and Anne.  We feel loved and welcomed and are happy to be home.  The kids are blissfully playing with their toys they had forgotten about, and Eva must have gone up and down the stairs fifty times already.

Steve and I are catching up on laundry, mail and bills.  Soon, we will bring out the home schooling books.  Then they are more goat hooves to trim, seeds to start, the RV to clean... But not yet.  We will try to take it easy-ish for a day to acclimate.  Plus, the SUN is SHINING, so I bet there is a walk in our immediate future.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Heading North, saying goodbye, and some apprehension about coming home

We spent the past couple of days with our sweet friends Brandie and Bradley and just said our goodbyes today. I can't help but cry every time we part, because they are just such good people. Why couldn't they just realize that they should live closer to us? Who cares about the fact that they have career opportunities where they live now, instead of living in the boonies with us? But who ever asks me?

We spent our time with them rock climbing in the bouldering gym where Brandie works, playing cribbage while sharing high quality beers, sucking helium out of balloons which left us convulsing on the floor with laughter, eating good food, sledding, sight seeing in Flagstaff, watching a snow boarding competition downtown, and visiting a great knitting store. Fun, fun, fun!
Flagstaff welcomed us with snow and icicles. It's quite a shock to the system, I tell ya. The day before we visited them, we lounged at the Salt River in our BATHING SUITS. It's quite a shock to the system. Not only because of the temperature difference, but also because Flagstaff is at 7,000 feet elevation, so breathing is a little different here.

Poor icicle bicycle...

Bradley explaining proper rock climbing etiquette.
Brandie and Eva sharing a laugh.

Before all this fun, we were at the Grand Canyon, remember? The day after the boys and I hiked in the canyon, Steve and Bradley were supposed to hike all the way down and come up the same day. Bradley couldn't go, so it was Steve by himself. For mere mortals, this hike would take all day. For my Über-husband Steve, the whole 12 mile trip took four and a half hours. And that includes a half hour break to soak his feet in the Colorado River. It is so unfair that my man is so much faster, fitter, and stronger than I am. And it's not because he has a regular exercise routine or anything. It is pure talent and Viking genes, is what it is.
Although I am slightly bitter about this, I mostly think it's awesome and quite handy to share my life with a man who is so strong and rock solid and healthy. He came back with wonderful pictures from his hike in the Grand Canyon. They have a different feel than my pictures the day before because he went on a day that threatened snow.

Now? We're are homeward bound, heading North. I am ever so slightly apprehensive. I don't want to leave the road and the sun yet. I don't want to be done with this adventure that has turned out way, way more amazing than I ever imagined. I am nervous about returning to my old life, which is so much more hectic and structured and, yes, stressful than our life on the road. Back home, we will jump with both feet into full time home schooling, garden preparation, goat births and hoof rot problems, bills, paperwork, and in Steve's case, hectic work. It's a life that I love most of the time, and I hope with all my heart that I will love it as much as I did when we left on our grand adventure.
Here is what I know:
Our dear friends and neighbors are trying to lure us back. “We've had a few days of sunshine here”, they write, “and we can't wait to have you home again.” These people and our friends in the larger community are a big reason we live where we do. We can't wait to see them either, share meals, sing and play music, go for walks, do yoga together, share stories of the past six weeks.
Here is what else I know:
My old, stinky dog Pluto will be very happy to have us back, a house full of noisy kids and me, his one and true love (At least I hope so. I hear that the neighbors and house sitters have been spoiling him rotten, so I am afraid that he will only open one eye when he sees me, wagging his tail once or twice, and then go back to sleep.)
I also know that it will be time to start my onion seeds in the greenhouse, and that March is not far away, and that the first crocuses and daffodils will soon poke through the earth. I know that my heart will skip a beat with joy when I look out at the yard, into the garden, to the mountains in the distance, and know that I am home.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Grand Canyon!!!

The grand finale to our road trip: a hike half way down the Grand Canyon with Kai and Lukas. Today was the last sunny day in the weather forecast, so the boys and I went for it! Three miles down, three miles up, with the boys charging ahead, and me eating their dust. I did try to keep them close by on the Kaibab trail, because the beginning was icy, and a lot of it was steep. I cannot possibly describe the beauty of this famous canyon, and my dinky little camera cannot capture the grandeur of it, but here are some pictures anyway.

Here is a part of the trail we hiked.
The boys charging ahead.

Mules hauling things up the trail (Look familiar, Steve?).  

There's always enough energy left for a hug.

Steve and Bradley will hike here tomorrow.  Except they will go all the way down and come up again the same day (12 miles roundtrip), which is so very, very macho, if you ask me.  If anyone can pull it off, it's these two!  At least it won't be dangerously hot like it is in the summer.  In fact, the weather forecast calls for snow...  It will be an interesting descent into the underworld for them!

Talking of descending into the underworld:  A couple of days ago, we were at Kartchner caverns, 30 miles away from the Mexican border. Steve kept trying to explain to the boys that we are 30 miles away from Canada where we live in the Pacific Northwest, and that now, we are 30 miles away from another country as well, but somehow, the kids don't seem to quite get it.
I asked Steve how to describe Kartchner caverns. Here is what he said: “It is an awesome spectacle of nature's grandeur.” Yes, he's right. He said it's an inside joke, but I'm not in on it, and I don't need to be, because the fact is: The caverns ARE a spectacle of nature's grandeur. We slapped down $70 to participate in a tour of the caverns. Usually, we are very thrifty and spend that much money for four or five days of campground fees, but it was worth it. There are very strict rules when visiting the caverns - you can't touch anything at all, because otherwise, bacteria would grow and mess with the cave's delicate environment. Someone spit out a cough drop once, and in three days it had grown to the size of a baseball. 
You can tell this cave is alive. There are stalagmites and stalactites, columns, and mineral deposit formations that look like popcorn and slabs of bacon. I kid you not!  And since it's a wet cave, the awesome formations keep forming.
The main feature of the cave is a 60 foot column that is hundreds of thousands of years old. Even Eva was awed by it, staring up at it in stunned silence. I think she realized that we were in the presence of something sacred.
It broke my heart that I couldn't take pictures. I wish I could show you the beauty of these caves, but you just have to take my word for it.
Here is a picture of a huge sloth, whose bones were excavated from the cave.

After the tour, we went for a 2.5 mile hike around the perimeter of the cave, which was so unreal because the hills that hide the caves underneath are the plainest, most boring looking brushy hills you can imagine. It's crazy to imagine what beauty is hidden underneath. On the hike, Steve and I served as Eva's mules, as usual. We got quite sunburnt while following tracks of Javelina (a kind of native pig), chasing lizards, and marveling at towering yucca and agave seed talks.

Sunrise at the campground.  The boys slept in a tent for several nights because it was so warm.
The day before Kartchner caverns, we visited an ancient native American site in the Catalina mountains – the remnants of a walled village. We meandered along an interpretive trail with a lot of great information about the site and the people who lived there. This is homeschooling at its best!

Learning from one of the interpretive signs.

Old growth Saguaro cactus.
Eva playing in one of the ancient "houses".
And here are some pictures from the past week just because.

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