Monday, September 8, 2014

A Sunday Excursion in which We Pay It Forward...


 
I woke early on Sunday morning. Not ready to leave the comfort of my cocoon, I reached over for my Kindle, positioned my reading glasses to least painful position, and started in. After a while, I could tell that Randy was stirring, but I was still a little startled when he asked, “What do you think of this idea?”

Obviously, already a gorgeous day, he wondered if I would be willing to do a day trip up the North Cascades Highway, and over to the area of Washington’s Big Burn. We’ve been curious to see how some of the areas familiar to us looked after the devastation of this summer’s wildfires and subsequent mudslides.

Of course, I was in! Because: 1)No cooking all day, 2)Beautiful country to see, 3)Curiosity satisfied, 4)More reading in the car, 5) The Farmer was actually thinking about doing something other than work!

In a half-hour, we set off.

No freeways were involved in the pursuit of this day trip. On Highway 9, we stopped at the Blue Mountain Grill for our breakfast. Then on to Sedro Woolley, and there my reading stopped as the scenery is not so familiar to me, and lovely.

We enjoyed the sights all the way up to the Diablo Vista, where it is required that we stop and take a picture…to add to my collection of pictures at Diablo Vista over the years. It’s tradition!

Two young couples were standing at the fence just in front of where we parked, and as we exited the car Randy greeted them like old friends. “How are you folks today?” They giggled at his familiarity, and then came forward to ask if perhaps we might be able to help them. They were coming from the east and a few miles before the overlook, had realized that their fuel light was on. Did we have any gas that they could buy to make it to the next gas station? And did we know how far away it was?

They were slightly panicked, and sheepish, and, well, desperate. And very, very appreciative of any advice we might have.

Of course, we had no extra gas can along, and neither did anyone else around the parking lot. They were driving a Toyota, and having experience with Toyotas and fuel lights, we figured that they probably had enough gas to get back to Newhalem, 14 miles down the road. But they didn’t know how long the fuel light had been on before they noticed it.

Randy suggested that we follow them down the hill so if they ran out of gas, we could take one of them on to go get some. The road between Diablo Vista and Newhalem is not exactly a great place to have to walk to a gas station.

They were a bit incredulous that we would do this for them, but we assured them that we were willing, and happy to be of help.

What we didn’t tell them was that we knew how they felt, as we had our own experience with running out of gas in the wilderness…

Years ago, in Eastern Washington, we were on our way to camp at Sun Lakes. We were pulling a rented camping trailer, with a borrowed Blazer, and were driving through farm country. Out in the middle of fields as far as we could see, Randy says to me, “How soon to the next town?”

Say what?! This made my head swivel, and I replied, “There isn’t one…Why?”

“No reason…just curious…” Yeah, right…

He stuck to his story for a while, then admitted that we should have filled up at the last town, but he was sure we would make it…not far to go.

True, it was not far to go…However, the road we were traveling was built over what is the equivalent of monstrous molehills, so we were constantly going up…and down…Until suddenly, we only went halfway up…and then stopped…Three little kids in the car, and not a town to be seen, or even a wide spot in the road.

Fortunately, we were not traveling alone…but this was in the days before cell phones, so it took a while before my sister and brother-in-law noticed we weren’t following them anymore. A bunch of back-tracking, and then a 20 mile run to get gas, and we were back on the way to the campsite…though Randy had now committed a memory-making faux pas that will haunt him for the rest of his days. I make sure of that.

…All this to say, that we had sympathy for those worried young couples.

When we got to Newhalem, we found out there is no gas station there, and it was 14 more miles to the closest one. So, we headed down the road again. We had learned from the kids that the readout said 3 miles to empty, and knowing Toyotas as we do, we were pretty certain they would make it…But not sure enough to leave them.

Oh it was fun to see their happy faces when they pulled into the gas station in Marblemount! They were effusive in their thanks, and still a bit incredulous that we would take the time to do follow them. And they thought we were pretty smart, knowing they would make it there. They shook our hands and thanked us repeatedly.

It’s okay, kids…just paying it forward, as they said they will now do also.

We resumed our adventure through the Methow Valley where there are burned trees, and orange-brown bare land for miles and miles. There are houses standing just a short way down the road from where a pile of blackened rubble where a house once stood. It looks so random. There is evidence of burning right up to the edges of a lot of homes, ranches and orchards, singed fruit trees around the edges. Burned trees next to half-burned tress…The volume of land affected makes me think it must have looked like Hades as the fires moved through.

 
All the yellow trees on the hills have been burned. 


 
Washed out roadway...

 
Burned landscape, mud flow in front.
 
Our loop down 153 and back up 97 brought us through Pateros & Brewster, and the mighty Columbia that was an obvious boundary for the fires. We caught 20 at Okanogan to head back west. Near Loup Loup Pass we came through an area that had also suffered the flash flooding and mudslide. The road was being repaired from the wash-outs, and the houses beside the road had visible mud lines up their walls. Trouble upon trouble for those people…so sad! The rainy season is coming. One can only hope that the rains will not be so harsh as to cause another catastrophe there.
 
As we traveled west, and reached the Diablo Vista/Marblemount stretch, I told Randy that 4 times over those miles was enough for one day for me. We had to laugh…Our day had not quite gone as planned, and we were headed home much later than expected, but it was a great adventure day in our beautiful northwest. 
 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Enjoying the morning...


It was a lovely morning for a walk. In fact, I wore a jacket, which I have not done for a while, and my ears felt a little nipped by the cool as we started.
Daisie was a little uncomfortable as well. I can always tell when she is, because, every minute or so, her nose bumps my right hand asking for a treat – always the right hand because she knows the treats are in my right pocket. Anyway, if it’s wet or cold, or too hot, she seeks a lot of comfort in treats as we progress.
She’s getting kind of particular in her old age. I was a little surprised at her reluctance to get out of the house this morning.
I thought it was lovely! Cool, a little foggy, but the sun streaming.
The Farmer was already out in the field rototilling. The neighbors were also out in the field, and too far away for me to determine what field operation was underway. Two neighbors are taking out large fields, so to our east there is a lot of open ground – which should be interesting when the northeaster blows.
It was a time for pleasant reverie and contemplation…Although the heavy dew revealed that I have a leak in my boot; and there was a tiny stone in one. There was just enough room so that at each step it could roll around and be in position to pierce another spot on my foot. Two stops to stand one-legged, and shake out the boot, yielded no relief. Farm girl problems…
Not enough annoyance to try again, and not enough to keep me from thinking about the loveliness around me, the blessing of this beautiful summer, and to think thoughts of dread about the box of peaches that is crying out to be canned as soon as I get the equipment assembled.
Oh, it’s not that bad. I need to spend a little thought to remind myself how it used to be when I canned. Three little kids underfoot, needs to be attended to, refereeing to be done, training to accomplish while half-filled jars of peaches browned on the counter…3 hours of work accomplished in 6 hours of time. And now the task is optional; then it was mandatory…money must be saved! It’s so much easier now; and I’ll be glad I worked today when I eat those peaches in January.
When Daisie and I returned to the house, I got her a “toothbrush” (doggy dental chew) as is our routine. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten to feed her, or even take her out for potty this morning before I headed out to walk. No wonder she was reluctant to go! I was doing it all wrong! Daisie is very religious about our routines, and notes with her behavior (quizzical looks, quiet whining) when I have deviated from the proper order. She tried to hang back when I headed out the door, but I was oblivious. She tried to let me know that she was hungry by asking for treats every minute – but I didn’t get it.
Humans can be so obtuse! Sorry, Daisie.
Daisie may have flexibility problems, but I have discipline problems. Having a dog that can keep me on the right track is a gift that will increase in value as time passes.
Well, as long as I pay attention to her.
All in all, it was a lovely start to a Friday…and now, on to the peaches.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Dog Days and Nights...


We’ve taken care of the grand-dogs a few times this summer. Olive and Angus were over for 2 full weekends, and Macy, a five day stretch while her people were being back-up musicians in Saskatchewan.

Macy, hanging out while I browse the internets...
 Compared to the Littles, Macy is a breeze. She just likes to be with you -- even to the point that early in the morning she would sneak up the stairs and stand outside the bedroom door, moaning low to remind us that she had been alone for a long, long time.

Of course, Daisie was aghast that Macy would have the audacity to travel up the stairs. The noive!

But that’s about as bad as it gets with Macy. Well, except for the drooling that occurs when she is excessively excited. And her beautiful long black hair…which isn’t quite as beautiful when it isn’t on her…But attitude wise, she’s a good old sock and loves her people!

Extortion, Littles style. This is what happens when demands are not met.
 
The Littles, however, are a whole bunch of demand. Olive’s love must be earned, and Angus’ love must be endured. His expressiveness is unceasing when it comes to jumping his hellos and kissing your face. Don’t turn away and try to be shy! He’ll make sure that you don’t doubt his enthusiasm for your attention. He is only briefly confused when you finally yell at him to stop. He’s sure you don’t mean it.

Olive, on the other hand, needs to be coaxed, cajoled, and sometimes threatened to hold still long enough for you to touch her, much less to pet her. Only her Girl (Caitlin) and The Boss (Randy) are allowed special dispensations for affection. The rest of us are at her mercy.

And mercy is not her gift.

Another interesting facet of sitting the Littles is that they are accustomed to sleeping on Caitlin’s bed…and their expectations are high when it comes to staying with Gram and The Boss. We decided early on that they would be granted the special privilege of going upstairs. Daisie has never been allowed all the way up the stairs, and now has a phobia about doing so. We actually can’t get her to do it. By contrast, we could never get the Littles to stop doing it…so we just gave up and called it a privilege. Sorry, Daisie.

We situated the crates at the foot of the bed but, of course, the Littles ignored them and leapt onto the bed and after a few wrestles of joy, they cozied up while I watched TV.

But when The Boss came to bed, I put them in the crates. They did well until 3 am, when I heard Olive scratching, and crying just a little. I decided to ignore this, as I know that Olive can make it the whole night without a potty break. I played dead…even after Angus began to join in.

However, The Boss responded to their call…which came as a shock to me! This never happened when we had children…and that’s all I’m going to say about that because NOW?? FOR DOGS??

Ok…moving on…The dogs dutifully went potty outside, and then raced pell-mell for our bedroom, making flying leaps onto the bed, and had a round of joy wrestling.

It was as if they were saying, “We did it! We did it!”

And to my continued shock, The Boss got into bed – and left them there. Whereupon, they snuggled right down; Angus in the crook of my knees, head resting on my legs; Olive sprawled out between The Boss and I. They knew a good thing when they saw it…And we all went back to sleep.

For a while…

An hour or two later, I felt a polite poke on my arm…and then another, more insistent. It was Olive. What could she want? She’d already been out; she was already on my bed…And then I remembered that she’s a burrower…Before I got poked again, I lifted the blankets, and she dove in, wriggling down to my feet. In minutes, she was asleep again.

I have to say I now understand why the Kings and Queens of yesteryear always had a little companion dog. They certainly help keep you warm – and when you consider the damp, cold, drafty stone edifices in which they resided, it makes a lot of sense. It was the equivalent of an electric blanket…

If you could find an electric blanket that also farts.

I would have thought I was accustomed to this…uh…happening? Eventuality? Atmospheric condition? Whatever…But in this case, I was severely outgunned by the number, and in a couple of cases, the power of emitters in the bed.

Severely…We need to find those Littles a different kind of food!!

Anyway, as the sun began to come up I looked across the bed to see The Boss’ head on the pillow, and in between us was Olive, still snoozing comfortably with the blankets up to her shoulders and her head by the pillow – just like us people. My legs were terribly stiff from not daring to move and wake up Angus, who was so comfortably ensconced with his head on my knees.

As soon as the room was light, it was wake up time, and any thought of waking slowly was gone as soon as the Littles roused. They prefer to start the day with calisthenics that are accomplished by wrestling each other as if the bed were a ring…And believe me, they use all the corners, and cross it often. It is quite invigorating in a very irritating sort of way…

The worst of it is that they – and this does remind me of the days of young children – awoke completely refreshed, and ready to take on the world. I, on the other hand, felt as if I had been used as a piece of furniture…Which, in fact, I had been.

The next night, The Boss dispensed with the crates, and the Littles spent the night cozying up to their favorite piece of furniture – me. The Boss slept well, as did they, and that is truly like the old days – and nights.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Penny-wise...pound-foolish...


In our corner of the Pacific Northwest, it’s been a season that can truly be called summer! Oftentimes, our summer is a week long, and is over before we recognized it. Not this year! We’ve enjoyed summer weather day after day…and that means the ground is very dry, and my flowers and garden are in need of serious watering.

I’ve been very faithful about doing that…and then one day, this showed up in a box on our porch!

 

The Farmer had watched me drag around my plastic hose cart as much as he could stand, and purchased, put together, and enhanced with special features this new wonder. (During harvest, no less! That is love…)

I already had a hose cart that I had purchased myself. However, I have this…thing…about buying equipment for outdoor endeavors.

I don’t like to pay much for that stuff. My conviction was that I would spend no more than $40 on a hose cart, and if that meant the wheels didn’t turn very well, and the cart would drag along sometimes when I pulled out the hose, so be it. I’d rather pay $40 for a hose cart and drag it around, than pay $140 for one and not be able to buy an extra top and a few thrift store treasures.

The Farmer doesn’t get this…thing…that I have.

And watching me wrestle the hose cart (which to me is still better than wrestling 100ft of hose), was getting to him.

So now I have a hose cart with all the bells and whistles!

The wheels are perpendicular to the direction the reel turns: no more dragging cart.

The tires are big and bouncy and roll so easily on the grass.

The reel locks in position, and can be left unlocked as well.

The Farmer attached a little storage bin for my sprinklers and nozzles.

The Farmer permanently plumbed in a valve so that I can regulate the flow to the sprinkler with just a twist, or 1/8 of one. This is a quantum leap in quality over my previous cart, whose plastic fitting regularly shot out the side of the cart as the water flow began with its fits and starts. I always had to hold it in until the spitting was over, and hope that nothing happened while I was away from the cart.

And The Farmer didn’t plan this one, but it also serves as an exercise machine. Due to my lack of acumen on which direction is left-loosy or righty-tighty on said valve, and the length of the hose on said cart, I do quite a bit of walking back and forth before I get the water flow right.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

Watering is SO easy now…and I have to admit that those extra dollars have everything to do with it. Sure – you can buy a hose cart for $40, but now I see that, even though it’s quite a few dollars more, convenience isn’t a bad purchase either. Right now, it’s making me happy every day.

Sometimes this Dutch girl just needs to suck it up, and pay for the intangibles.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

About wrapped up...




We’ve had some exciting times here as the season winds down. On Tuesday, July 22nd, we had the crew’s favorite night of the year when we worked until 10:30pm…Working under the lights -- for some reason I can’t determine, they always find it magical. I could hear their chatter and enthusiasm all the way back at the house.

And I’m good with that. Yay! Go crew! I can’t tell you how happy I am that you set the record for the longest day ever worked at Randy Honcoop Farms…and therefore, we could, without worry, let the next 2 days be lost to rain. On Friday, they returned to work, and we found minimal mold problems because of that long day of picking as many acres as we could.

Those kids rock…all of them!

This past Monday, everyone was prepared to do it again…not because of imminent rain, but because we were going to have to bunch up picking to have enough fruit to run the plant. At 9am, we sent them out into the field, all hyped that this day might also end under the lights…

A half hour later, we were consulting with our processing partners (my sister Erin, and her husband Larry) about halting all processing efforts as production had dropped off dramatically. We didn’t have much to pick to complete our last order, and feared we wouldn’t be able to pick enough to fill another truck…At least not without weeping and regret and gnashing of teeth…which is caused by running the plant many days with small amounts of fruit.

So one short hour into the day, we called the machines back to the house and broke the news that there would be no picking under the lights; and, as we were switching to picking into barrels, half the crew would have to go home.

I don’t like doing that.

But they were all very game about it. All the boys stayed to set up the pickers for barrels and get the new set up going. The girls headed home, and I suppose that after a little bit of relaxation they weren’t feeling so bad about not picking under the lights.

Since then, we’ve been rotating crew members in and out as we need only 2 people per machine instead of four. Picking into barrels is easy…and can be boring…And messy. Dried leaves, and little dried up berries, and crunchy stems stick to the machine with the juice of the old, soft withering fruit that is left. At the end of the day, there are big piles of leaves and this kind of detritus where the crews clean up the machines before they are washed.

I always look at these piles and, seeing all the dry little berries, wonder how much more we would have put in the freezer were it a perfect world, and all these littles could become big, red & juicy.

But I think these thoughts out of curiosity this year, not regret, because it has been a great season, with lovely large fruit, wonderfully manageable weather, and a reliable, hard-working crew. We have been blessed.

Yes, we are tired…but a good kind of tired…the satisfied kind.

The Farmer is already moving on to the next farming tasks, and there will be more time to enjoy some summer activities before Fall moves in.

June 30 start, August 1 finish…a fine season, just fine!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Summary of what's been happening in the raspberry fields...


I’m working on my second cup of coffee, and indulging in my mid-morning snack of raisin toast. Daisie and I have finished the morning rounds of raking out the raspberry mush piles (so they don’t kill the grass), checking the outhouse for service, and our usual exercise and observation of the rows. The kids, i.e. our crew, have already been out in the field for 2 hours. Usually, we are just starting by this time of the morning. For years, our usual start time has been 10:00am. The Farmer deemed this to be an appropriate start time as the ambient temperature is optimum for the berries to release from the bushes. Earlier, it is cooler, and the berries are clingy, refusing to let go of the core, but falling later in the day after the picker has gone by.

The Farmer is nothing if not analytical about these processes.

This harvest season has been inordinately warm for an unusually long time, so we have moved our start time to 9:00am. It is warm enough for the fruit to drop, and it captures one more hour of the day that isn’t beastly hot for the crew.

Today, we started at 8:00am for a completely different reason. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Our goal today is to exceed our usual rotation of 3 day pick to get down to a 2 day pick. To explain, each row in our field is picked every three days, hence the term “3 day pick”. With the Meeker variety, we have found that giving them the two days between pickings to ripen allows us to harvest an appropriate amount of fruit while not losing any to falling on the ground. If you are a day late, you will lose fruit to the ground, and possibly, to mold or poor quality (softness) as the fruit becomes over-ripe. When you pick more often, you pick less fruit but higher quality. However, each trip over the row does some damage to the canes that are growing up for next year’s crop. You want to strike a balance. If you are growing for the IQF market (individually quick frozen), the 2 day pick gives you the best quality to achieve that. In that case, you may be causing more wear on next year’s crop, but the price for IQF is higher and helps mitigate that issue.

Anyway, today we are trying to pick ahead until we get to rows that have been picked only 1 day ago. This allows us to miss a day due to rain, and still be on a 3 day pick, a nice advantage for cleaning up rain-softened fruit.



As well, we are on the waning side of the season and so are trying to manage the amount of fruit we produce for the processing plant. It costs the same amount of time and money to set up and clean up the plant whether you are processing 5 flats of berries, or 5000. As production falls, we are attempting to cut costs, and weariness for the crews!, by picking for two long days, and then waiting for a day or two before picking again. This consolidates the production, making it a nice amount to be run through the plant in an evening, and saves a lot of labor cost.

And no one is going to complain about having a day off – not at this stage of the season!

We started picking June 30, and just had our first day off on July 20. The sunny weather is great for picking (until the temp gets in the upper 80’s) but you never get a day off either. You can understand that missing a day means fruit falls on the ground, and doesn’t make it to the freezer. Once we start, we must keep going, unless there is rain, or we move so quickly through the field that we are caught up to a 2 day pick.

Despite the hot weather, (much too hot for the plants and people working out there!) there continues to be decent quality in our fruit. Often, hot weather dries up the small berries that are trying to ripen, and softens to mush the large ones already ripe. This has not been happening to the extent that we expected after so many hot days.

And our crew, bless them, is holding up. We are all so grateful for the cooling of the last few days. It’s pretty tough to go out there day after day of 90 degree heat. We are so thankful for the reliable, tough, and diligent crew that we have.

And having a Not Hot Tub, and daily OtterPops, doesn’t hurt either.

The season started out strong. The fruit came on quickly, and we suspect it might end just as quickly…So far, we are pleasantly surprised how production is holding up, and how many berries still seem to be out there. However, a week from now, it could all be over…maybe sooner, if we get a lot rain tomorrow.

Whatever happens in the next week, this season is going down as a good one!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Oh, yeah...It's time to pick berries...



Harvest began a week ago today. Our first week has been a good one, and varied. From 90 degrees on Tuesday, to being rained out yesterday…From one sorter to two sorters and cobbling together a crew as the kids finish up other responsibilities and activities…And throw in a holiday to boot, we’ve covered just about every possibility.

This week, we should settle into a routine, or at least as close as we can get to one in this season of harvest.

As usual, the first pick over the field was sparse but with a high percentage of soft, old fruit. I’m glad that was all cleaned off before it rained yesterday, although we will likely see a spike in mold for a day or two. I’m thankful for a breeze today, and sun. This should help to remove the conditions that make it so easy to grow mold.

In spite of, or maybe because of, the winter damage, the berries are large and beautiful. The bushes that were half killed by the winter are putting all their energy into fewer berries – but oh, they are lovely ones!

The weather gets some credit for that too. With the exception of the 90 degree day, and the rain, the weather has been very good for harvesting. Rufus says that the long-term forecast is for marine air mornings, and sunny afternoons. I know this isn’t the favorite forecast of vacationers, sun-tanners and beach-goers – but it is perfect for us. The sun and heat can come in August…how about that?

The Farmer predicts that our harvest will be compact, and likely not extend into August. Weather during bloom time was conducive to bringing on the bloom in a concentrated period, and for keeping the bees on task. Blooms didn’t linger long, opening slowly, so we should be picking the majority of our fruit in the next two weeks, and getting’ ‘er done!

Fine with me! I like knowing it made it safely to the freezer.

All spring, the talk about pricing was that it would be high…I’ve heard that the juice price is closer to $1 than it is to 50¢ and that would indeed be a high price. No confirmation of that yet…and usually we won’t know a settled price for our processed fruit until well into the season. Regardless, we anticipate good news on pricing.

This will be a big week…Lots of fruit out there to pick, good weather in the forecast. The crew is all trained and settled in…

Much to be thankful for!
 

About Me

Needing an outlet for various thoughts rattling in my head, I've created two blogs -- One about my real life (leslieisverbose.blogspot.com) and one where I can vent. (leslievents.blogspot.com)