Friday, September 18, 2020

What a scrubbing!

And it was "rinse and repeat" today; hurray!

Last night we got the most spectacular thunderstorm I've seen here in 31 years; it went on for hours, accompanied by heavy rain. What a godsend! After initially barking to let the 'intruder' know she was ready for it, Poppy wasn't bothered by the noise and flashing lights so that's good. Jackson wasn't crazy about thunder, but I don't think he heard it more than three brief times in his life; that's how rare such a storm is here.

The rain last night and today has restored clean air and color to our surroundings; it is a feast for the eyes and lungs and I am relishing it. I had opportunities to enjoy it, too, because I had to drive Poppy to the vet this morning and pick her up after her spay and microchipping this afternoon. She's resting quietly now on a big, soft bed covered with a light fleece blanket after some restlessness and whining. Two days ago she got stung by at least two yellowjackets, so she's had a rough week! I did chores tonight without her, so of course I saw a mouse in the tack room for the first time in weeks....

A brief and short-lived semblance of her usual self

More pleasant visitors (than a mouse) were a family of bluebirds hunting bugs in our yard yesterday afternoon, and this newt in our garage tonight (I moved him to a better location):

Yesterday just before the first few raindrops warned of weather to come, I worked with Stella, then noticed the boys hoovering up 'crispy chips.' Now the leaves are soggy and  the arena is dust-free. If we get any more warm weather, I predict that our garden is going to go into last-minute overdrive. There's nothing like rain to bring out the best in plants – including weeds, of course, but I'm just so thankful for the soaking that I don't care!

That's it from a refreshed . . . 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

Last night when Rick and I went out to do chores, I saw a star – ONE star. You would have thought I'd found a diamond, I got so excited! It was the first star we've seen since a week ago Sunday night; the first time the smoke had thinned enough to "let its little light shine."

Once again there was no visible "sunrise" this morning, but I did notice a wee bit of definition to the gray – visible clouds!

And then, glory be, the sun broke through for a bit! I plopped my plying project on the deck railing and took a picture. Good thing, too, as the atmosphere closed in again and we spent the rest of the day shrouded in haze. But tonight I saw TWO stars and my weather app says our air quality index is down to 338 (still in the "hazardous" zone, but better than in 500-600). No rain in the forecast now until Friday, but there finally seems to be a light at the end of this smoke-filled tunnel.

In the meantime, I've been making the most of being stuck indoors. I've canned 33 quarts of prune sauce and dried enough to pack two gallon bags FULL and I'm done with the prunes for the year. This morning while picking I was surrounded by the buzzing of yellowjackets feasting on fallen fruit (plus one 'helpful' cat), so I'm going to leave the rest to them.

Prune sauce undergoes an interesting (to me, at least) transformation. The raw puree has bits of purple skin that dissolve into burgundy puddles, which then diffuse their color through the sauce as it cools.

Poppy is still a pent-up pup. I let her run around outside for a little while today, but most of the time she had to entertain herself inside.

Another little bright spot? Yesterday I got five eggs from our nine middle-aged hens!

P.S. This post is my first using the 'new' Blogger.

That's it for now from . . .

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Wildfire weight

I've heard many mentions of "pandemic pounds" put on by people staying home and baking/cooking more. Since the pandemic didn't really change our home life much, that hasn't been a problem here. However, if our very hazardous air pollution hangs around much longer, "wildfire weight" may become a thing! (Our air quality index is 562 right now. ๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜ท) I'm only going outside to do chores and let Poppy relieve herself (on leash, so she doesn't run around too much) so neither one of us is getting the exercise we need. She is one pent-up pup, and I am spending too much time sitting and not enough time moving. And cooking is something I can do inside....

No 'pandemic pounds' on this lithe form!

So far, all the food has been pretty healthy. I get a weekly email from 'A Veggie Venture,' and last week's recipe sounded interesting. Our new neighbors had given me some of their abundance of tomatoes (jealous!) so I had enough.

This is SO GOOD! Rick and I devoured the whole thing within a day and I'm pondering begging the neighbors for more tomatoes so I can make it again. I have plenty of basil, but it needs a thorough washing to get all the ash off. ๐Ÿ˜

I've had the dehydrator running pretty much non-stop on prunes; just started another load this morning. Now I'm going to try a batch of 'prune sauce.' We like peanut butter and applesauce over toast and I've made pear sauce, too, when we've been given pears. Why not prune sauce? Jars and rings are in the dishwasher as I type. I did get two pint jars of eggplant on their way to pleasant fermented pickliness. Now I need to figure out what to do with all the slender sweet peppers and jalapeรฑos in the garden.

So far I've resisted the urge to bake something sweet and yummy because of the high likelihood of my eating it all. But there is a tube of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls in the frig and it's only 69° in the house (the only benefit of all this smoke is the reduced temperatures). I should just make granola.

Stuck inside at . . .

Thursday, September 10, 2020

This is no "Golden Hour"

A local flower & gift shop sends out weekly emails, and this poem was included in yesterday's (to be sung to the following tune, which I'm including because I need a cheerful dose of 'alternate reality' right now):

There's a bright golden haze in McMinnville
There's a bright golden haze in McMinnville
The smoke fills the skies
We get ash in our eyes
And it looks like the start of our planet's demise....

Our surreal experience started Monday as we drove east to take Brian to college. A strong windstorm was forecast for that afternoon, but it came in earlier than predicted. Visibility diminished steadily; by noon (the third photo below), it looked like dusk and drivers were using their headlights.

It was very windy in Walla Walla, WA, too. We got Brian unloaded and moved in, walked across campus to get a complimentary ice cream cone, and then left for home when our three hours of scheduled time were up. (Walla Walla University has strict pandemic protocols in place.)

Men's dorm, above and below

Brian's room at move-in, above; getting arranged and filled, below

Several times within a few miles of the school, wind-whipped dust obliterated visibility and sand-blasted the truck. Fortunately conditions improved slightly before we reached the main highway. But before we could retrace our route to I-84 westbound, a fresh wildfire closed the road we had traveled just hours earlier. We had to take a detour.

Our newest neighbor texted, asking if they could do anything for the animals. She said, “It is crazy windy here with very low visibility.” An hour and a half later, she texted, “The power just went out.” Sure enough, we came home to leaves and branches everywhere, low visibility, the strong smell of smoke, and no power. We did chores by headlamp and iPhone light, then fell into bed.

Power was restored sometime in the wee morning hours, and the next day dawned much clearer. But I noticed that it looked ominously dark through the trees to our south. I suspected it was smoke, since there were no clouds in the forecast.

Sure enough, while I did morning chores the smoke moved in like an evil force in an old horror movie:

It was both fascinating and rather horrifying to watch. I figured it was smoke blowing north from California, not having watched or listened to any news since arriving home, but when I posted the above photos to Instagram, my neighbor informed me that it was smoke from a new fire just east of Salem (SE of us). By the time I left for work, this is what it looked like from our lane:

By the time I got home from work, it looked like this – true color, no filter!

Since then, what was a thick blanket of smoke above us has settled down around us. Monday's fires have grown, and others have started. The atmosphere is oppressive, made worse by the knowledge that the smoke is a result of incredible destruction of flora, fauna, and infrastructure. Yesterday I had an appointment in Salem*; this is what downtown looked like mid-afternoon:

And this is what it looked like in McMinnville and from my deck this afternoon:

Ash is drifting around, and has even gotten into our locking mailbox:

Our animals all seem to be doing okay, even my asthmatic horse (helped, no doubt, by being on twice-daily steroids). The three boy sheep are hanging out in the woods more than in the Ram-ada Inn lot and aren't eating much hay. I think they are filling up on all those crispy chips (i.e. desiccated maple leaves that blew down)!

(Photos taken Tuesday morning while the air at ground level wasn't so murky.)

But Rick has clients in the path of the fires all around us, and has had to treat at least two of his patients (not for burns) after they were evacuated. He has had to drive by or detour around wildfires to get to those calls, and others.

*As is fitting for 2020, a tooth that has been bugging me off and on throughout the pandemic is now recognizably abscessed. I get to have (another) root canal next week; hooray! ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ๐Ÿ˜–๐Ÿ˜ฉ

Oh, and as is also fitting for 2020, last Sunday morning I went out and found a main branch of our Brooks prune tree on the ground:
I picked a whole bunch and invited the neighbor over to pick, too, knowing I wouldn't be able to give them any attention until we returned from our trip. The second dehydratorful is drying now, but the prunes are starting to spoil while they wait. If I didn't already have a bunch canned I would process some that way. I guess, considering I can't keep up with them all, that we can live without that branch.

We are so fortunate compared to thousands up and down the west coast, but we also realize we are one spark away from being in the same boat. Our horse trailer is hitched and ready to load, and I have a short list of essentials to grab should we have to evacuate. Showers may arrive early next week; please, Lord, send a soaker – and sooner!

That's it for now from . . .