Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Young and the Eggless

Okay, that last post ended a little heavy. Now, I want to update you on what you really want to know about: Ann’s belly. As of Halloween, she’s 30 weeks pregnant, about 3/4 of the way there. So far everything’s been going perfectly and people no longer need to bite their tongue before asking when she’s due. And they do… do that… that is. Though there have only been a few completely unsolicited belly touchings by strangers, it seems that the main thing every the clerk at any store wants to “checkout” is Ann’s stomach. “Paper or plastic?” has been completely replaced by “Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Do you have any names picked out?” Well, cashiers of the world, I’m here to tell ya that it’s a girl and while we do have a name picked out – without even having a backup option – we’re keeping it on the down low until she arrives. 


My brother Mike, a family practice physician who’s delivered hundreds (thousands?) of babies, demonstrates the current in utero position of ours while his wife looks on, praying that he does not offer this service to all his patients.  


Skipolini’s in Martinez offers a ‘za (sorry, been playing a lot of Words with Friends –any challengers, username “coydog”) that they claim will induce labor. From the ingredients – many, many types of meats and peppers – I think it might have even worked on me. We’ll wait a couple more months before resorting to this…


In the meantime, the garden we planted a little late in the season is still going strong, particularly the zucchini plant; Forget to check one day and you’ve got a new cricket bat. Peppers. onions and some potatoes are finally ripe as well. Plus sunflowers…




Below we’re either trying to dry them or develop a thriving population of rodents living off the seeds that fall to the barn floor. Possibly both.


… And pumpkins…





With the baby on the way, I’ve definitely been feeling some pressure to get as much done both inside and outside the house as possible before time becomes short. Soon after moving to Petaluma, we found a really cool place that sells recycled materials and reclaimed wood, Heritage Salvage, and had them make a farm table for us from some fir they recovered from a turn of the century building in San Francisco. It turned out pretty amazing…


The table turned out so amazing in fact that Ann decided to set up shop on it and pretty much use it as an office. I figured the only way to lure her off of it would be to build her a desk for the nook around the corner out of the same wood and just put her stuff over there in the middle of the night. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

Sometimes these projects are just excuses to buy new tools. I’d already justified acquiring a planer about 15 years ago and had found it really useful for a ton of projects including this cutting board Ann and I made in the San Francisco house (disregard the questionable power sander technique).


And now the planer was perfect for knocking the high grain off these 2”x10” rough sawn boards, some 20’ in length! The barn is a pretty incredible workshop space.


Before in the foreground, after in the back.


The process left a mountain of wood shavings, so with a bucket full of them in one hand and the iPhone searching the Backyard Chickens forum for any reason not to in the other, I walked over added it as another layer on the floor of the chicken coop.


But the tool I was justifying for this project was a biscuit joiner, a cross between a router and a circular saw that would cut perfect half moon shapes along the edges of the narrow boards that would make up the desk. Wooden discs called “biscuits” would be slathered in glue and wedged into these slots to align and secure each board to the next.  Oh yeah, I simply *had* to have some really long single-handed clamps too. The rubber mallet is in case any moles pop up out of the wider cracks.


After a few days of sanding, filling gouges with epoxy (I wanted the writing surface in the center of the desk to be smooth but left the rest “rustic”), sanding again and trimming, it was ready for a couple coats of Osmo, an eco wood finish from Germany, that Heritage Salvage had used on the table.

The next morning, Ann just followed the glow of her computer screen over to the new location and sat down. Unfortunately, I caught her setting out placemats and lighting our silver candlesticks and on it later that evening so…  still ironing out the kinks.


The knots and nail holes are the best part.


My next project was closing up the gaping hole left when we had the hot tub removed. You know how when you move into a new house, there are a few things you feel like you need to do RIGHT AWAY? For us, removing the hot tub was one. We just knew we weren’t going to use it, that it was a waste of energy and that it might be a potential hazard for a kid down the road (I’m talking about drowning, not teen pregnancy, you perverts – but yes, that too). So we found someone on Craigslist to cart it away. I interpreted the ad to say that they would be recycling it in some way but in fact, they just got out a Saws-All, chopped it up and threw it in a trailer. Oh, I coulda done that.


But there the gaping hole in the deck sat for the next 7 months until the specter of an upcoming party in December bubbled it back up to the top of the priority list. I booked Pedro - who’s worked on this property for the previous owners for something like 15 years and knows every plant, water pipe and seasonal change – for an extra work day, and together we tore out the rotted boards; added 6x6 pressure-treated posts on concrete footings, new beams, and new joists; and zippered in some 2”x6” redwood decking. Pedro tells me a wash with baking soda will weather the new wood to the worn gray, and we’ll wash and recoat the whole thing to match. I still get the sensation I’m falling when I walk out to that part of the deck where the hole was.


Another project that absolutely *had* to be done as soon as we moved in was to replace the entrance gate. The galvanized metal pasture gate hung at a wonky angle and the mish mash of mesh fencing wired to it would drag like fingernails on a chalkboard on the pavement as it creaked open.


Don’t worry, I got right on the project, setting a reclaimed vineyard pole perfectly plumb into concrete for a new post and buying a clean, new, green gate with welded mesh. But it wasn’t really until I hung it on the post that I understood the problem; The driveway sloped both across and down so a gate mounted level and high enough to close at the post would hang queasily in space at the opposite side and when opened inward – to the uphill side – would quickly hit the pavement. So there the new gate hung out in space for the past 7 months with ample clearance beneath it for Gorilla to casually saunter out into the traffic of the main road.

When Ann’s brother, a recent PhD graduate from MIT – but not in rocket science or anything, just laser targeting systems for telescopes – came to visit, I decided to see just how smart he was. I presented him with a hypothetical series of pulleys connecting a fixed length of rope at precise distances and angles such that a hinged lower gate would be lifted at the required rate to clear the driveway as the main gate swung open. Not so smart now, are ya, Doc? His response? “Just put a wheel on the lower gate.” Bastard.

Somehow, anytime I have the trailer in the back two acres of the property, it ends up full. And somehow every time I bring a load to the dump, I end up returning with something else, in this case, my next house project. But for this one, I decided to give myself a little more flexible schedule. This spiral slide I found for $30 in the recycling area of the dump was a no brainer and now figure I have about 4-7 years before our child will be old enough to use it and I have to install it on the tree house. When I mentioned my plan to the father of a friend who was visiting the farmlet, he said, “But what if it’s a girl?” Oooooooh…  just you wait, buddy.



I found a few frogs under the piles of wood I brought to the dump. This guy, a bright green with a female nearby that was brown, seems to be a Sierran Tree Frog and despite my screams, turns out not to be poisonous. Sorry, it still seems like we were in Costa Rica only yesterday. I’m sure our kid will have a great time turning over logs looking for these little guys. I mean, unless it’s a girl ;~)


And the rest of the “wildlife” is also doing well, morphing into a happy family. They actually all seem to enjoy hanging out together for an afternoon break in the shade.


While the sheep are effectively fulfilling their yard crew responsibilities, the chickens did not get the memo regarding our egg production expectations. Come on ladies, you’ve had your fun, roaming to all corners of the yard clearing leaves from all the fences and around all the trees in search of delicious bugs, but now it’s time to get down to business. Chickens will usually start laying eggs at between 4 and 6 months of age, but are also affected by the length of the day, decreasing production in the Fall and Winter. Unfortunately, our older girls reached their maturity just as the days grew shorter, and I suspect that may delay their laying until Spring. I’m sure the kid who sold us the chickens thought it was hilarious that these city slickers were buying 12 week old chickens in August. Ha! Can you imagine! Do the math, pavement pounders!


The “empty nest.”

Of course, there’s another possibility: that they’re laying eggs everyday, we just don’t know where. One disadvantage of free range chickens is that they may home in on a nesting spot that’s outside of the coop. It’s possible that a fox or a hawk or even Petunia has figured this out and is diligently collecting *our* eggs from a hidden location. Though I have yet to find the spot, every time I sneak out to the fallen Cypress tree along the back of the sun garden fence where they perch themselves like Christmas tree ornaments, I feel like I hear them quickly shushing each other – one time I swear I heard someone say “He’s coming! – and find them just standing around guiltily on branches or casually kicking at the dirt.


And finally, of course, Petunia’s doing well but can sometimes feel neglected with all the new animals around. As a treat, I broke open a bale of hay to spread around the sheep shed, but she liked rooting around in it right where I left it.


Still, I couldn’t resist modifying an old dog house I found in the side yard specifically for her. And guess what?


(pig butt)