Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Clear Lake on a Cloudy Day

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, we decided to take a break from building the chicken coop and get out on a hike. I had been seeing everyone's amazing pictures for #Optoutside on Black Friday, and was feeling a little jealous while I was stuck inside working. I had always wanted to explore the trail around Clear Lake, the headwaters of the McKenzie River. Aside from admiring photography other people have taken of the lake, I had never actually been there. Since it's the source of our water, it seemed like a visit was long overdue. Typically the lake is a pretty happening place in the summer with the campground and cabins, and typically it's covered in snow during the winter. With neither crowds, nor snow to contend with, it felt like we were getting a rare opportunity to experience Clear Lake.

The trail started out from the cabins at the resort and went through the woods between the lake and the highway. Periodically the lake peeked through the trees. As the name promised, the water was crystal clear enough to see the bottom of the lake, even on a cloudy day. 

I imagine this area is usually under snow during most of the winter, so seeing the bright red dogwood branches, tan colored dead grasses, and bright orange bracken ferns against the backdrop of green trees was unexpected, and quite the kaleidoscope. 

This was hands-down one of the most beautiful lake shores I've seen.

As the trail came around the lake's inlet, I was really loving those bright red dogwoods.

We came to a very cool log bridge across the dry riverbed, and this became the McKenzie River trail going around the far side of the lake.

The trail followed right along the lake shore on the other side, and it became more and more "clear" how the lake got it's name. We only went a couple of miles because it was later in the afternoon and we didn't want it to get dark on us, so we turned around, leaving more trail to be seen.

Now I'll be looking forward to coming back in the summertime to finish hiking the trail, and maybe get out there in a canoe. I feel lucky every day to live with these places right in my back yard, and even luckier to get out there and see them at all different times of year. We got our first snow of the season today, so hopefully there will be some exciting snowshoe adventures coming up soon. Always an adventure. That's my life on the McKenzie River.

Monday, December 5, 2016

New Chocolate in Mountain Hearth Handcrafts Etsy Shop

Good chocolate is important, so with the holidays approaching, I made a push to re-stock the Mountain Hearth Handcrafts Etsy Shop with bean-to-bar artisan chocolate.  These handcrafted chocolates are made from scratch, bean to bar, with fresh roasted cocoa beans. These bean I use primarily are a tiny, wildcrafted variety from Bolivia where they are harvested by canoe during the rainy season. I have also been using a Nicaraguan bean that is Certified Organic and Ethically Traded. The fabulous labels were made by my partner, Corey, and I think they are as exciting as the chocolate itself! All of my usual chocolates are now back in stock, like the wild chocolate chickens and nettle chocolates, plus a few exciting new things.

We now have The Ozette Bar. Named for Lake Ozette on the Olympic Peninsula where I grew up, this bar is 75% organic dark Nicaraguan chocolate with crushed up coffee beans I homeroasted myself. The coffee is a very bold, flavorful Indian variety from Burman Coffee Traders called Monsooned Malabar, that is fermented in open walled warehouses through the monsoon season. Good stuff.

The Elwha Bar is named for the Elwha River and I added wildcrafted Douglas-fir tips to this 75% dark Nicaraguan chocolate bar for a nice, citrus flavor.

The McKenzie River Bar, named for my home watershed here in Oregon, is 75% dark wildcrafted Bolivian chocolate with wildcrafted spruce tips sprinkled on top. The spruce has a very pungent, citrus flavor and goes well with this particular bean. 

The Oregon Coast Bar is solid milk Nicaraguan chocolate, and the milk powder I used from Humboldt Creamery is just plain decadent. I sprinkled alderwood smoked Pacific sea salt on top to give the flavor of a day at the beach. This is one of my very favorites.

These Farm Fresh Chocolate Eggs are solid milk Nicaraguan chocolate molded into a variety of pretty designs, with that delicious Humboldt milk powder. The chicken lover in your life needs these.

And of course, there are more dark chocolate chickens, lavender chickens and nettle leaves made from the wild Bolivian cacao. They make great stocking stuffers and there is still time for holiday shipping, so stop on by and check it out!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Chicken Coop Raising

You've probably heard of a barn raising, right? Friends come over, help build your barn, and maybe have a hoe-down afterwords? Well, this weekend we had ourselves a chicken coop raising. Since a chicken coop is considerably smaller than a barn, we only needed one friend to come over and help raise the walls. We did not have a hoe-down, but I think a rowdy chicken coop party will be in order when it's finished. I'm sure you've heard mention of these super-deluxe chicken coop plans in every post I've written for a while now, and Corey finally set the project in motion this fall with a floor and framed walls. I would like to say I had a hand in this, but I've been so busy working, driving two teenagers around, and trying to keep up with Mountain Hearth Handcrafts, that just putting leaves on the garden was my biggest homesteading accomplishment of the fall. I was really proud of myself. Seriously.

So, while I was making massive amounts of bean-to-bar chocolate to re-stock my Etsy shop, our friend Nate came over and helped Corey raise the walls. It was a two person job, no doubt about it, and the extra set of hands made it go much faster than anticipated.

This is Corey's first framed building project, and he was excited to see things lining up. We've come a long way since our first nesting box building project right after we bought the homestead. I can't say my building skills have advanced at all, but his have, so we're going to be alright.

There are more plans on the horizon for a tiny house guest cottage/home office, so Corey is looking at this project as good practice. Since our living room is currently serving as both, I'm pretty excited about this plan.

It's good to have friends who will come over and hold up walls. After all, that's what friends are for;  moral support, structural support, and so forth.

Within the framing, plans are laid out for some exciting features, like vintage windows, nesting boxes accessible from the outside of the coop, a brooding pen for hens with chicks, feed storage, and two chicken doors so they can free range outside our yard, or scratch around in the chicken moat surrounding the garden.  Like I said, this is going to be a super-deluxe coop!

Some girls have their heart set on a dream house, and I've got mine set on a dream chicken coop. So you don't think it's all frivolity, I should probably mention the practical reasons we need a new coop. The coop that was here when we got the place is really far from the house, it's right by the woods and cougars eat our chickens, the chickens make secret nests, the layout of the old coop is not conducive to cleaning at all, and the garden really needs some slug and bug patrol around the outside. All that, and I have chicken coop goals. Thanks to Corey's hard work, and a little help from our friends, my chicken coop goals are becoming a reality. There's still a lot of work left to go, but it sure feels good to see a floor and four walls standing. I am going to get so many fancy chickens this spring. It's going to be ridiculous.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Shelter From the Storm

Rainy evenings are the perfect time to curl up in front of the woodstove with a glass of wine and a cat. This is how we hunkered down for the epic storm that did not come two weeks ago, and this is often the reward at the end of a wet weekend day working around the homestead. In between October downpours, we planted garlic and mulched it in, and weeded and mulched half of the garden with leaves. Corey has all of our woodsheds filled and is getting some extra wood stacked and seasoning outside. There were also some regular homeowner responsibilities thrown in there too, like cleaning gutters and the chimney, and straightening up the garage. The new chicken coop plans are mostly drafted and we will break ground on that project as soon as things slow down a little. It's a good feeling getting these things buttoned down for the winter storms to come, and enjoy the shelter of our cozy farmhouse at the end of the day.

And while we're on the subject of shelter from the storm, how about Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize in Literature? I didn't really come to appreciate his music and lyrics until I was a young adult, and let's be honest, this may be because his voice took me a while to warm up to, but his words have meant a lot to me over the years. I think it's important that our concept of literature includes poetry that is recorded as music as well as written in books, so I am happy to see him being recognized for his contributions. If you ever need a really good soundtrack for curling up in front of a woodstove for the evening with a glass of wine and a cat, I could not recommend "Blood on the Tracks" highly enough.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Calm Before the Storm

We've got some wild fall weather moving in to the Pacific Northwest, so I thought I would take a moment to appreciate the still, misty mornings and fall color before the leaves fly away.

The big elm tree in our yard is usually the first herald of autumn around here, and the most short-lived. I enjoyed its cheery yellow color while we were out weeding the raised beds and planting the garlic.

The quail coop has been looking fine and fancy in a canopy of red leaves. We're down to two Bobwhite Quail left of the twelve I got four years ago, so I am hoping to get some Japanese quail in the spring and have speckled eggs for a change.

Some of the flowers are still going strong in the garden and I'm appreciating them now because I know that soon there will be plenty of leaves on the ground to mulch the garden for the winter.

Now we just watch the sky and wait. They're making reference to the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, so I think we're in for a wild weekend!

Friday, September 30, 2016

If the Shoe Fits

My latest garden shenanigans have involved planting succulents in old shoes. High heels are one of those things where I really like and appreciate the way they look, but I am just not into wearing them. Ever. So, this way I get to enjoy them without wobbling around and worrying about falling on my face. Yeah for creative DIY solutions!

There are enough various succulents growing around my garden that it's easy to  just pinch a few cuttings off and let them fill in a new spot, or in this case, an old shoe. 

For a while, no shoe around here was safe. Not even my daughter's old, leaky rain boots. I got a chuckle when she came outside one day and said "Hey! You planted things in my boots!"

I also discovered that old wooden ladders leaned up against a building are a great place to display high heeled shoe planters.

It's always fun to try something new gardening, and gardening should really be all about fun. Growing vegetables and feeding yourself is an important endeavor, but so is feeding your soul. This is where the flowers, fairy gardens and shoe planters fit into the scheme of things. This is what it means to be a gardener, and the shoe definitely fits.