Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
The light is slipping away. Rains are coming.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tiny homes-- the solution to Oregon's housing crisis?

There is a deeply held belief in Oregon that tiny homes are going to solve the affordable housing crisis. At a forum last week, the Pacific Green candidate for county commissioner proclaimed that “People are dying to live in tiny homes! They were lined up around the block at a trade show to see inside one.” I sighed. People love to look at tiny homes—and they are very cool--but do they know what it is like to live in one?

                When I was eight, my parents decided to sell the house they had built in Hampstead, New Hampshire and buy a camper so that we could travel around the United States. It was 1969. We spent a year visiting trade shows and RV lots, looking for our new home. I was in love—all of those tiny, well-designed spaces for living….We found the perfect camper; it was a couple of feet longer than the others so that it had a side door. The inside was a very modern harvest gold and tweedy brown. My parents promised that the space above the cab was mine, so I lined it with my books, packed my clothes in the overhead compartments, and settled in. Our new puppy found her space under the table. For a year, I ate dinner with my feet resting warmly on the dog.

                The trip was amazing. We drove across the northern U.S., camping in state parks and along the road. In Washington, we spent a week on the Olympic Peninsula while I roamed the empty foggy beaches with Honey. We camped one night by the side of 101, where my father said you could “spit a mile” straight down. It was cool and misty. My mother lit the gas lamp which provided both heat and light and cooked dinner. I walked down the road while I waited—the camper was a golden beacon in a dark world. We ran out of money in California, worked for a few weeks, stopped in Las Vegas (where I won over twenty dollars in the nickel slot machines), and drove quickly across Texas to Florida, where we had family.

                We spent the winter living in the camper. It was not a hardship. In Florida, you live outside. We set up a table, chairs, and pretend classroom on the space beside the camper. The showers were down the road a bit; the laundry room made a great hair drier.  One campground was set in the “Gardens of  Light” where colored lights lit up palm trees along boardwalks. There was even a swimming pond. My parents worked. I went to school. We were normal; several other families lived in the park with us. Florida schools were set up for transient students.  In the spring, we came home. By fall, we had a house. Even so, my mother and I spent summers in the camper in New Hampshire, settled in alongside my aunt’s house on the lake.  Twenty years later, I made the same trip, living in my VW vanagon for three months—and many smaller trips since then. I love living in small spaces.

                That being said, tiny houses are not the solution to an affordable housing crisis built upon the rising costs of land because of demand and an excellent, strong land use law. It would be far more efficient to build studio apartment complexes on the same land; apartments are less resource intensive and expensive than hand-built tiny homes and provide the same level of independence as well as protection from the rain.

 Tiny homes are, also, honestly, artisanal RVs. Would you be willing to have an RV park next door to your house? If so, I could support that. There are hundreds of dying RVs on the back roads of Oregon. I counted at least fifty one afternoon, driving from the Otis CafĂ© to the turn-off to Monmouth.  This was not a functional vehicle count, parked in driveways; these were the ones buried in blue tarps and blackberries. I’d be thrilled to haul them out, fix them up, settle them into a well-managed park, and rent them out for nominal rates to local house-less people. That seems like a win-win to me. However, it would not be a cool looking as a tiny home compound.

Finally, tiny homes are not practical in muddy, rainy climates, especially some of the smaller designs that do not have fully functional kitchens and bathrooms. They may work well in dry climates, where roommates can escape to the back yard for some space, but here, where we are often inside, they would be very difficult to endure. Walking to the bathroom is charming while camping in a yurt at Silver Falls or spending a night at Breittenbush Hot Springs; it grows old fast in a downpour when you track mud inside after every trip or when you do not feel well.  I challenge anyone who thinks that tiny homes are a serious solution to the housing crisis to try living in one for the month of January in Oregon, with their entire family and, perhaps, a wet dog thrown in for good measure.  


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Week in Hiaku

Tea. Toast. NPR.
Two cats sleep. Fall rain outside.
Wool socks. Home morning.

Rain. Wind. Leaves. Yardwork.
Armloads of tomato plants.
Beds prepped for fall mulch.

Bald Hill Walk in clouds.
It is lovely to be out.
Typhoon is over.

A day of meetings.
PLC. City Council.
People like to talk.

Grey sky, mug, table, wall.
Red pen draws lines through papers.
Gold leaves. October.

October Nineteenth.
Debate? Or Young Frankenstein?
The choice is so clear.

Ballots came today.
So weird. I voted for myself.
Charlyn Ellis. Ward five.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016 Harvest

2016 Harvest

Blueberries: 3 quarts dried

Peaches: 12 pints canned
                4 quarts dried

Plums: 6 quarts dried
                8 half pints of jam

Apples:  Sauce 12 pints
                6 half pints Butter
                5 quarts dried
                14 quarts of cider

Grape juice: 33 quarts

Figs: 6 quarts dried

Cucumber pickles: 8 pints
Dilly Beans: 4 pints

Tomatoes: 6o half pints roasted
                2 quarts dried
                9 pints of salsa

Pears: 5 quarts dried

Potatoes:  95 pounds, total

Honey: 11 quarts

Gooseberry jam:  5 half pints

Butternut squash: nine solid squashes

We’ve also brought in for winter 25 pounds of oatmeal, 50 pounds of hard wheat berries, five pounds of barley—and we will order onions, squash, and more beans as they come available.

Bold  indicates from our own back yard. Everything else is raised from within ten miles.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Equinox Rains

                The rains came down last night, silencing crickets and drunks around midnight. I could hear the drops pounding on the greenhouse roof and then running off into the flower beds below, all night long. The gardens drank deeply. This morning, we woke up to grey skies, damp grass, soft rain. The house was chilly. While Mark showered, I chopped potatoes to roast in the oven and started a fire in the fireplace. After closing the windows and the doors to both bedrooms (we have an oddly old New England house for the West Coast), I pulled the chairs close. Mark made tea and set up the folding table. Each cat claimed a chair.  I found an ancient hand-knit heavy sweater from the era when my sleeves were way too wide but left my feet bare to soak in the heat from the fire.  We ate toast and canned peaches and potatoes by the fire, listening to NPR.

 Outside, the butternut squashes I harvested on Thursday and resting on a garden bench. I will bring them in today, out of the rain. I need to pick tomatoes, too.  The figs are taking up the moisture and turning into fig bombs; hopefully we picked enough low down and the cedar waxwings ate enough high up to minimize the mess. The chickens are sulking on their perch—they went from sun and a run to rain and a confined space last week and they are not happy about it. The grass is greening up.  Fall is here.

Oat Bread: The Fall Equinox Quick Bread
1.5 c oats
1.25 c buttermilk
6 T oil
.5 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1.25 c fresh ground whole wheat flour
1t BP and BS
.5 t salt
1 c currants or dried blueberries
Soak the oats and buttermilk. Add wet ingredients and mix well. Mix dry together, then add to wet. Bake in 400 degree oven until done. If you have a pan that tends to stick, line it with bking parchment first.

Monday, September 26, 2016


                There is a small Zucchini problem in our back garden this fall. The bush plants started pumping out fruits in mid-June and slowed down in August, just in time for the Italian climbing variety to shift into high gear. We have been well supplied with zucchini this year. One is four feet long and hanging off of the back trellis; it has not grown in a few days, so I think it is as big as it is going to get.  This means that we are creative in our zucchini cooking; it appears everywhere. Tonight—cream of zucchini soup and some zucchini muffins. Tomorrow—fritters. Wednesday—calzones. And then we will have to shift to cucumbers and tomatoes again.

Zucchini Muffins:
3 c flour—half whole wheat
½ t BS
1t salt
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
½ t cloves
½ c milk
½ c oil
½ c sugar
2 c shredded zucchini
1.5 c ground walnuts
Large handful of dried blueberries
Mix dry together. Mix wet together. Mix dry and wet. Scoop into muffin tins and bake in 350 oven.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fall Equinox

                This is the week of the turning of the season, of Fall Equinox, the shift from light to dark begins now.  In recognition of this shift, we spent Friday Evening watching the harvest moon rise over the prairie at Finley Wildlife refuge
                We arrived at the boardwalk about an hour before the moonrise. The tall grasses were golden in the evening light. Birds were rushing about, finishing up the day’s business. Crickets were talking about the coming dark. To the west, the sun went down slowly over Mary’s Peak, sending pink light back over the open fields. The sky was huge above. We settled down with our dinner to wait for the moon. “I think it will come up over there,” Mark pointed east, where some thin clouds were obscuring the foothills of the Cascades. We watched. Suddenly, Mark gasped. “It’s there,” he pointed further south. Right then, the moon was a molten glow on the horizon. As we watched, it raced up into the sky, banded by clouds. A half moon…a full round moon, huge and orange in the dusky light, then a half moon again, looking like a photo of Jupiter with its bands of color across its face.  A few geese honked overhead. The wind died. The world was quiet as the moon rose, slowly shrinking and fading as it rose. When it was high in the sky, we gathered our dishes and left, coming home to the same moon playing on the tomato and bean leaves that are growing over our living room windows.

                We returned to Finley this morning to walk the marshes. Clouds had settled over the landscape so low that it was not really raining—we were walking in the clouds. The world was flat and open. We walked the long and winding boardwalk through the ash swale which is totally flooded in the winter time, observing the long, complex strands of usnea hanging from the trees like Spanish moss. The boardwalk ends in a bird blind looking over the marshes. Pelicans and ducks were hanging out on the snags in the middle; great blue herons stalked through the shallow water on one end; some mysterious fish swirled and leaped in front of us. We studied the landscape, and then turned onto the path along the marsh which leads to the cattail ponds. Swallows darted overhead. Elk track led across a recently plowed field. Quail trotted ahead of us, looking for their runs into the blackberry thickets. The air was moist and spicy. When we walked under a huge beach tree, it hummed. Why? We looked more closely; wasps covered the hanging catkins. Rain fell on our faces as we looked up into the sky, then the sun broke through and dried us off again.  The changing season was evident in the slant of the light.

                This week, we will begin to clear out the garden beds. I have already brought in the pumpkins, corn, and beans from  the Three Sisters bed. It will hold the chicken coop by Friday morning, when we give the annual house tour to the high school sustainability class. Some plants will have a final burst of growth from the rain but, for most annuals, the dying light is a clear signal to shut down production. What growth will happen has happened. I will arrange the hoops over the two beds I hope to over-winter, so that, when a cold spell comes, I am ready, but I will not cover them and cut off any light now. Soon, we will gather in leaves from the street and pile them on the beds and in the compost hoops, tucking everything in for the winter. But now, we wander outside, soaking in the last of the sunshine, seeking a balance in our lives.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Local Eating

                There is, in Corvallis, a deeply head belief that, when the apocalypse comes, in the form of a 9.9 earthquake (we were all profoundly impacted by the New Yorker article last summer), we will be saved by eating from our neighborhood gardens. Although I am a deep believer in local food, eating from my own backyard, and supporting local farmers, I am a realist. I know that we would be VERY hungry if we tried to survive on our backyard.  Even now, in the peak of ripeness, when there are vegetables all around us, we would be hungry. I would hate to try and survive on our garden and basement storage in late March, when there is mustard and kale and little else.
                I have tracked our consumption, by volume and by calories, several times in the past  few years. We are 99% local in our vegetable consumption, year round.  We raise most of our own produce during the summer months and purchase the rest from very local farmers, directly and from the market. We also store potatoes, squashes, and onions for the winter and put up canned and dried fruit from neighborhood trees.  This is a clear positive for all of us. Our food is fresher and more alive; our local farmers benefit from the support; it requires less (if any) fuel to transport. Local produce is a clear winner.
                We eat about 90% of our dairy from within one hundred miles of home, which is also quite easy. Our milk comes from a local dairy and I make our yogurt from it. Most cheese and eggs are local as well—eggs travel about fifty feet from hen to pan. At one point, I knew where our butter came from, but the dairy is no longer selling anywhere in town.  We like having local dairy products and have adjusted some of our tastes to focus on the local cheese. Aside from eggs, the calories from dairy are not produced in the backyard or the neighborhood.
                Beans and grains form the backbone of our diet. About half of our calories come from local sources.  I but wheat berries, oatmeal, and barley from local farmers. The wheat, after being ground in the kitchen aid mill, is added to white flour from Eastern Washington to make our daily bread. We eat a great deal of bread! Oatmeal is standard breakfast fare. Our beans also come from local farmers; we can purchase garbanzos, pintos, Indian woman, and black beans from farmers and the co-op Almost all of our beans come from within ten miles of home.   We do not produce significant amount of beans and grains. It requires far more land than we have in our back yard.
 However, we also eat pasta, rice, and other grains for dinner, and none of those are locally produced—yet.  When I add in the oils, spices, and vinegars that liven up our foods, it is clear that we do not begin to produce what we would need to survive. We purchase and produce about half of our calories locally. And we are committed to the process, willing to pay more for our food to help expand the local markets. I don’t think a community garden is going to go very far towards feeding the neighborhood.

Early September Menu
Friday: oatmeal with grapes
                Potato and chard curry, rice leftovers)
                Whole wheat pasta with eggplant, tomato, zucchini, onion
Saturday: oatmeal waffles
                Pasta leftovers
                Black bean soup, coleslaw
Sunday: toast and tea
                Out for lunch
                Baked potatoes, melon and cucumber salad
Monday: yogurt and granola
                Out for lunch (very unusual to have to lunches out in a week)
                Tomato pie and apple pie
Tuesday: oatmeal and grapes
                Tomato pie leftovers
                Zucchini soup, whole wheat bread, salad
Wednesday: cereal
                Zucchini soup

                Bulgur salad with nuts, dried cherries, tomatoes on a bed of lettuce

Sources for our local foods:
Sunbow Farm-- beans and veg, best around
GreenWillow Grains-- wheat and oatmeal
Denison Farms--CSA and bulk onions