Lesson learned

Over the last few years we have had several major construction projects here at the Cozy Red House, all of which have been executed perfectly and beyond our expectations by Garth Rylands, a self-employed construction contractor.  We knew he was good when we first met him, and later by working with him, talking with him, watching how he does his work, how he maintains his worksite, his timeliness.  Now, after having a wee wood burning stove installed by someone else, we KNOW never to have anyone else but Garth do work in our house again!

Whereas Garth worked a 9-5 day, and let us know in advance if he’d have a different schedule one day, this stove man barely made it here before noon, and worked well into the evenings.  He never called us.

Garth kept his worksite tidy, covered it at night, brought his tools in at the end of the day.  The stove man left all kinds of scraps strewn about, half-full buckets of mortar outside to harden, empty plastic hardware bags, even tools out in the rain overnight.

Garth had all his supplies and tools ready to go on day one, the stove man asked Bob if he could use Bob’s air compressor and some caulk.  Really?!

The stove man just finished tonight, it’s cozy and perfect.  We’ll have the city come inspect it tomorrow and we’re a bit curious to see if this stove was installed correctly, with the proper amount of space away from the wall.  Bob has looked at the diagrams and isn’t quite sure how to read them, but he’s not convinced this is in correctly.  We shall see.

In any case, we now know for any and all future projects beyond Bob’s scope of ability and time, call Garth!


Our trusty tent, the brown 4-person tent Bob bought ages ago before we even knew each other, the first tent both Lucy and Molly ever camped in, has gone the way of the dodo bird.  Bob camped in that tent around the country, then he and Whistler and I used it to explore a good bit of Oregon, and eventually the girls joined in our adventures.


This was the tent Bob bought on a whim from Cabela’s in Michigan.  This tent came on the very first camping trip Bob and I took together in central Oregon.  It was a perfect family tent and we loved everything about it; the ease of set-up, the size, the full-cover rain fly.

But, sadly, even tents have a lifetime arc.  First the shock-cording inside the poles began to stretch, so we cut it out.  Another year or two later, the door zippers started to pop open in the middle.  Then we lost one of the pole segments.  All these were minor problems, but manageable.  We continued to camp happily in it, until last month.

In June we took the Third Annual Mama Rama camping trip with our two family friends.  We camped at magical and beautiful Cape Lookout.  For anyone who’s not familiar with the spectacular Oregon coast, it rains.  Most of the year.  Even in June.  Not just a few drizzles, or a bit of a mist, but storms with driving rain and strong winds.  Guess who was camping during one of those storms?!


Few tents would make it through that rain without getting wet somewhere, and ours was no exception.  Due to incorrect staking, the tent started dripping from the top, and we also had quite a few wet spots and puddles on the bottom by morning time.  The girls and I stayed dry, but the tent and much of the gear was soaked.

Back home, I started to set up the sodden tent crusted with sand and pine needles, when Bob said, “Why bother?  We’ve been talking about getting a new tent, now seems like the right time.”  Right-o, to Cabela’s!

And a new tent we bought, indeed!  A lovely six-person tent with a full-cover fly, a fantastic little vestibule for keeping shoes dry, pockets galore, and plenty of room inside for everything we need.  We tested it out at Cape Lookout the next month, and were nothing but pleased with how terrific the tent is.  A good solid rain passed through the first night (yes, in July), and the tent stayed dry as a bone.  It definitely takes more work to set up, but it’s a good hard-working tent and should serve us well for many years to come.



What a universal shift we have made since putting in the lawn.  No longer are we taking out rubble and removing plants.  It was never bad work, but there’s an inherent negative quality to the work of expelling unwanteds.  Now, finally, we have turned an enormous corner to positive energy work.  We’re actually planting food, establishing native plant gardens, tending plants and structures we care about.

Just about a month ago we put in the lawn and left some blank spaces for vegetable beds.  After a bit of construction:

(Yes, that’s Lucy using a power drill.)

Voila, two 4X4 boxes in plenty of sun for growing veggies!  Bob built a good long box for growing blueberries in, but it’s not in this picture yet.

Next step, put in some good soil for growing.  It would be nice to say we’ve been building a killer compost heap in the back for the last few years and had it ready to go for all the little vegetables, but we don’t.  We give all the kitchen scraps to the chickens and they compost it, then we distribute the poop around as needed.  That’s good too, and we’ll get back to a compost pile soon.  Maybe worm composting… so many fun things to try!

Anyway, next comes the soil:

And some gravel to fill in the parking space for Ralphie (the car), since that’s been getting muddy.  You can see the blueberry box up on its side, since we decided to have the load dumped right there.  In hindsight, we should have had the soil dumped further down the driveway so we could easily install the box without trenching through the pile, but it’s not a big deal.

Now, finally, those boxes are home to plants.  Not just plants, but food!

All those happy little squares growing good things to eat, hooray!  The blue tarp is covering the last of the dirt and the half-filled blueberry box.  A heavy shower interrupted our work a few days ago and we haven’t had a chance to finish filling in the box, so it’s staying dry until then.  Lucy and Molly have  spent many gleeful hours playing in their “hot tub,” both when it was an empty box and currently in its modified slip-n-slide state.

In case you’re curious, the squares in the vegetable boxes are for the square foot method, where each square grows a different crop.  So in just these two little boxes, we have 32 different growing areas!  It’s a great concept and we like the look and practicality of it.  You can get the book all about it from your library, called Square Foot Gardening.

A funny little note on that picture above of the carrot marker.  I knew we had dozens of popsicle sticks in the craft box, but when I went to get them to make garden markers, they had disappeared!  Dang it!  After scanning the yard and house for a minute, I decided to cut up an empty milk jug into strips, which is even a bit thicker plastic than the markers that come with the plants from the nursery.  They seem perfect for the job, nice and sturdy, reusable, and no extra cost beyond the milk.

If you’re growing a bit tired of every detail of our yard, I’m sorry about that.  But I just can’t help but exclaim about this huge part of our home and life.  Someday these first few years will be a distant memory and we will have to work to recall the ugly, dilapidated corrugated plastic potting shed in the side yard (one of the first things to go), or how many different piles of rubble and refuse have dotted the yard, or what a tremendous sea change we experienced with putting in the sod.  But it’s all so fresh and new and exciting right now, I just want to show every little part of it.  Our vision for how this homestead should be isn’t something only Bob and I can see, it’s clear to anyone who walks around now.

And speaking of homestead, the chickens have had their moment, too.  The two little chickies have been living as neighbors to the main coop, but never actually in it.  That’s because the araucana, our yellow chicken who lays blue eggs, has turned out to be very mean toward them and pecks them fiercely if they’re in together.  So until Bob readies his knowledge and tools for her butchering, they’ve been separated.  This morning he put the chickies in the coop and put the araucana alone, so she can’t mess with them.  So far everyone is quiet and content.

Finally, big news in Lucy’s world: she lost her first tooth!  Or as she now says it, “My firf toof!”  Earlier this month at her dentist checkup, the hygienist noticed it was a bit wiggly, and Lucy has been wiggling it ever since.  Finally, two nights ago as we were brushing teeth, she pulled it out!  She’s usually a bit squeamish, but this tooth and her new hole were just so thrilling to her.  She couldn’t stop giggling!

Molly, curiously enough, also claims to have a loose tooth.  We’ll see how many years it takes for it to come out.



Our favorite music show on the radio, Greasy Kid Stuff, played this darling song this morning by Renee and Jeremy.  It’s a cover of “Yellow” by Coldplay and infinitely sweeter.  Have a tissue handy while you watch the video.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Make sure you’re sitting down, the changes I’m about to show you around our house in the last few weeks are dramatic and far-reaching.  Transformative and elating.  Beautiful and functional.  I could go on, but you’ll see for yourself.

We’ll begin our tour on the inside.  First, we have a new couch!  Yes, yes, so what?!  Well, after having worn out two futons and two used couches as our primary seating for the living room, we decided it’s time to upgrade to a real, honest-to-goodness new piece of furniture.  One that will last more than two years.  One that has never been peed on (more on that in a moment), or came from a Craigslist posting, or something Bob or I had before we met.  This is a couch with a lifetime warranty, made here in Oregon, purchased at the family-0wned furniture store within walking distance of our house.

You may be thinking, whoa, that’s a honkin’ big couch.  And it is.  The living room in our house is truly the living room, that’s where ALL the action occurs and we need room for everyone to sit comfortably.  Bob and I can both take a nap on it at the same time.  The girls have a long stretch of jumping space, as demonstrated in the photos.  The far corner by the library shelf and sliding glass window has a chaise lounge for someone to stretch out and still make room for other folks to sit.  It’s just what we needed.

As mentioned above, this couch has not been peed on.  Our days of cleaning up errant pee are essentially over, as Molly now no longer wears a diaper to bed!  Diaper free, 100%!  I can’t tell you the last time she didn’t make it to the toilet in time during the day, and has been waking up with a dry diaper for weeks now.   Last night was her first night sleeping in underwear, hooray!

Our last radical transformation on the inside of the house we have really had no agency in at all.  But it’s been a good scientific observation lesson for us all.  Bob’s dad is a microbiologist who studied cercropia moths for many years.  He sent us two cocoons in the mail a few weeks ago and we have been patiently waiting for them to emerge.  They’ve been sitting in the bottom of  their “habitat,” a plastic tote bin with a salvaged window screen on top.

Lucy has been learning about their life cycle, their habitat needs, and other intricacies of the moths from her ecstatic grandfather and a book Bob remembers from his childhood, “Terry and the Caterpillars.”

Yesterday morning the first moth emerged.

Lucy and Molly were fascinated with this creature, its size and delicacy, the way it moved its wings, the beautiful patterns on its wings and body, the feathered antennae.  Molly was eager to hold it, Lucy preferred watching it.  We’re still waiting on the second moth.  Thank you, Pop Pop, for such an engaging science project!

That wraps up the inside tour, let’s move outside to see even bigger changes around the house!  Really, it’s one main change that serves as the vanguard that will now usher in further improvements and changes.  All this winter we have had a serious mudpit around the house, and especially at the front where everyone walks up to the door.  All our winter shoes were muddy, the bikes were muddy, you couldn’t even go out to get the newspaper without stomping through a squelchy mud patch.

This picture from about three weeks ago actually shows a major improvement already, a hefty layer of good topsoil.  You can see, though, how muddy and mucky the ground is.  And of course, as is par for the course at this house, a large pile of tires and concrete rubble pulled out of the yard and waiting for removal.

Just for reference, I’ll just show one (of many) pictures I took of just some of the rubble Bob has taken out:

Remember, that is just some of it!  Back to our tour.

This is the kitchen side of the yard, muddy and muddy.

With some planning, a few phone calls, the help of friends and three Papa Murphy’s pizzas, the yard transformed into this:

That side yard?  Check this out:

Green and happy!  All over the yard we now have luscious walkable grass.  With this serving as our landscape structure, we now have the shape for planting beds, for vegetable boxes (already in place and waiting for soil), for the bike barn, and path to the front door.

We have lived in this house nearly six years and finally, finally, we are planting things we want in the yard, not removing things we don’t want.  I’m not kidding, it has been five years of digging up and removing rubble, moving or taking out plants squarely in the middle of a path, pruning back everything, and making the wonderful but unkempt jungle of the yard into something pointing more toward just wonderful.  We aren’t pointing in the direction of wonderful anymore, we’re there!  We’re nowhere near done, but we finally have a yard that is enjoyable and functional all around the house.

As proof of how far we’ve come,  here is the last and final tire (we think) that Bob will ever have to unearth from this yard.


And, to give credit where credit is most certainly due, a great huzzah to our Sod Bustin’ work party, the inimitable and truly marvelous Mama Rama families!  Especially the Dads.

And the kids had the time of their lives at our mud camp that day:

Connor needed a bath before he could go home.

Recipe for endless fun: mud and kids and a dirt pile.

That will wrap up our virtual tour of the Screamin’ Greenie’s amazing transformation this spring.  We do have a dilemma, however, so I will leave you with a question.  The house is no longer screamin’ green, so that name doesn’t quite fit anymore.  We need a new name for the house and are asking for suggestions.   We often call it the Cozy Red House, but I’m not sure I want a color-based name, since we may not always keep it this color.  We’ve thought about just calling it our address numbers, but that doesn’t have the right ring.  Any suggestions for re-naming the house would be most appreciated!


Spring in Oregon takes a long time coming.  It’s a lot like winter for many days, rainy and cold with some wind or snow or hail thrown in just for the heck of it.  Maybe it’s not quite as cold as January was, but shorts and sandals are not in your vocabulary during March.  Every once in a while a sunny day will come along and it’s easy to think, “Ah, spring is here.  This is great, I can handle this. ”  But then winter comes galloping back that afternoon or the next day and stays for a week and a half again.  Spring peeps its warm head again for a fleeting day or two, just to remind us that there is a possibility of warmer weather, but don’t get used to it yet.

Today was one of those days.  We had a heavy duty rainstorm over the weekend that reminded Bob and I of some of the whoppers that blew through the coast when we lived there.  And then today, sunny skies as far as the eye could see with just a hint of a breeze to flutter the pink blossoms on the trees.  Perfection.

This unassuming little spot is essentially the employee smoking area for City Hall.  I’ve never seen anyone use it, smoking or non.  Hopefully no one smokes at all.  Lucy has had her eye on the picnic table beneath these two trees since the rains started last November, waiting waiting with great patience (one of her impressive personal strengths) for the weather to cooperate.  All winter as we slogged our way to the library through the dreary depths of slashing rain, we  passed this oasis in the eye of a four-year-old beholder.  Lucy’d cheerily remark, “I can’t wait for our picnic here!”

The last week or two has been hard to wait; we’ve checked the progress on the buds every time we pass, but finally today the sun and the blossoms coordinated for a perfect picnic lunch.  The girls have already spent many happy hours here on dry-ish days playing in the bushes, collecting leaves and flowers, playing games that only small kids understand.  I bring my knitting and get a bit done as they giggle and search for ladybugs.  Today again, we spent probably close to two hours here, just puttering in this little patio.

I recently mentioned our special picnic spot to the teller at the credit union, and she was amazed that Lucy and Molly could spend so much time in such a small spot.  I’m amazed that the girls agree to finally come home at all!  The secret to such hours of happy play?  Just let them be.  I don’t come up with the games, or make suggestions of any kind except to remember not to scream because people are working inside the building.  Just let the kids be and they do their thing.

Also on a spring note, we have two new chicks.  At least one and maybe two of our hens are slowing down on their egg production.  The plan has always been to enjoy the chickens’ eggs and then enjoy the meat when they’re done laying, so Bob is planning to do some butchering in the near future.  We have never named the chickens, so they’re not pets.  And the new chickies are so darn cute.  The girls have been able to really watch and notice things daily about the chicks as we raise them indoors.  It’s a fun observation opportunity.

The bigger one is an Australorp, the smaller one is a silver-laced Wyandotte.  We got the Australorp a day ahead of the other, so she was alone for one day and night.  I figured she was small enough I didn’t need to put any sort of lid or top on the her box that first night.  Oops.  In the morning, she was gone.  For a variety of reasons, we have a variety of holes in a number of walls of the house, and Bob and I assumed the worst.  But as we started talking about what to do, I heard the tiniest little peep.  And then again.  She had hopped herself onto the water jar, out of the box, and had sheltered herself between some jars of applesauce stored in a corner.  Silly chickie!  After a little warming up in my hands and then under the light, she was just fine.  And once her roommate came that evening, her peeps changed from loud and rather anxious to soft and contented.  She was just lonely.

They’re growing quickly, I don’t think we can keep using this Rubbermaid tote box much longer.  I love how they join in the rhythm of the house, quieting down for the night and then peeping again in the morning when folks begin to rouse.  Molly is adept at catching them, Lucy watches but won’t touch.  It’s great to see all the wee things of the house together.

My favorite wee things:

Finally, happy birthday Molly!  We had a family party early in the month right at her birthday, but a party for friends had to be postponed till this past weekend because of our outbreak of chickenpox!  All is well, everyone is now immunized and pox-free.

It seems that the blog has been taking a break for the winter.  Not that there hasn’t been anything to write about, we’ve been having all kinds of fun doing and making and going and being.  In any case, my writing is coming back to me, so here we go.

What have I been doing these last couple of months?  Well, knitting, in large amounts.  Whee!

Ponchos for the girls.  I’m also working on a neckwarmer for myself and on tap is a sweater for Bob.  It seems like a big undertaking, and it is, but I’m really excited about such a big project.

Knitters (and probably most anybody, really) tend to describe themselves as process or product knitters.  Process knitters make something for the process itself, the doing and the making, not necessarily to have an end result.  I have a friend who happily has knit half a mitten, just to try the technique, then tore it out because she figured out the technique and didn’t want a mitten to begin with.  Product knitters knit to create a finished item.  Of course these two polarities have an infinite number of knitters in between them, including myself.  I tend to choose new patterns or techniques each time I make something, with the end goal to complete the whole thing and use it.  I think I’d put myself close to the middle of those two poles, leaning more toward the product knitters.

As much as I enjoy learning and challenging myself with new patterns and methods, it’s more important to have a finished item that is the way I want it.  I have ripped out and re-knit a whole sweater (and other things) because I refuse to invest that much of my time in making something that doesn’t fit.  And when I say, “doesn’t fit,” I mean it didn’t fit the way a two-year-old doesn’t fit into her dad’s size 12 galoshes.  It was stomping enormous!  Happily, the massive tent-sweater is gone and in its place a sleek vest with no droops, sags, or baggy sleeves anywhere.

And, it turns out, in these last few years of knitting, I’m actually becoming a better knitter.  Most exciting for me, I am learning to find and correct my mistakes.  That is a huge accomplishment for me.  I’m not really good at troubleshooting and problem-solving.  Well, maybe I am, I don’t know, but it’s not what I enjoy doing.  Math in school was always such a murky and frustrating subject because I didn’t understand it enough to find my mistakes and make the problem turn out right.  It didn’t help that the concepts and theories were usually just beyond my grasp, and that any practical application of said concepts was never discussed in class. But that’s all behind me now and I rarely, if ever, have to even think about algebra, much less use it.

So here I am nearly twenty years after my last math class (wow, really?!), going through my work, poring over the instructions, counting stitches, until I find my mistake and figure out how to make it right.  This time, it’s not just some piece of homework, it’s a neckwarmer I really care about and want to fit right.  It’s not an abstract formula, but an actual piece of work I can hold in my hand and design to my exact criteria.  I can put it on my child to keep her warm.  I’ve  been thinking a lot about this epiphany the last few days and how empowering it is to be able to find and solve my own problems!  I don’t need to ask for help, I can do it myself.

You wouldn’t think right off that there could be so much to knitting.  But it’s really a whole world.  Even though I don’t have much to do with wool while it’s on the sheep and before it’s transformed into yarn, I love the whole organic process of turning fluffy wool into something cozy warm.  There’s the pattern selection, the yarn consideration, the color choice, the gauge swatch, the slow and methodical knitting itself, until finally a finished pair of slippers, or hat, or men’s sweater emerges off the needles and onto someone I love and care about.  Knitting is not a fast hobby;  I hope to have Bob’s sweater done for him by next fall.  But as important as it is to me to have a finished item, I like to savor the process: casting on, seeing the first few inches come along, watching how the yarn changes from string to fabric, learning new technical bits, and the final cast-off.  Process and product, knitting is the perfect pasttime for Oregon’s long dark winter months.

Okay, if this was a little too much gushing about knitting, I’ll quit.  Bob has to put up with quite a bit more of it, although he professes he doesn’t mind.  I have a few more posts coming soon with not much to say about knitting.  Happy spring, it’s coming soon!