Olive and Pit

Olive and Pit

Olive and Pit

Living in the sticks is challenging.  We have no cell reception. If the power goes out it can stay off for days and days while PG&E search the hills for the fault.  Our cars need new tires… a lot.

BUT we also have found ourselves in an amazing community.  We know every one of our neighbors and if we need some support (or they do) then there is always someone who has the knowledge or time that can help.  One of our neighbors used his tractor to plow our field the first year we were here; in turn when they were away and a tree fell on their drive M. went up and cut it up and moved it off the drive so when they got home late they would come home to a clear road.  We Llama-sit occasionally for another neighbor and in turn they chicken-sit for us. Equally one of our neighbors give E. a lift to her volunteer program in Boonville and we have yet to find something that can repay that generosity.

The Chicks: Stupid, Dash, Newsa, and Nutmeg

The Chicks: Stupid, Dash, Newsa, and Nutmeg

So last week when we got the call from  one neighbor about another who had been bereaved in January and just desperately needed to be rid of a Bantam hen and her chick to ease her worries: of course we said yes.  We really aren’t Bantam people (useless pet chicken anyone?) but the need was there and we had the space and time to help.

Olive and Pit

Olive and Pit

So it is that Olive and little Pit joined our farm.  She is a masterful escape artist and a little firecracker with other chickens but she is sweet and placid with us.  We are having to keep her in a separate enclosure as one of the white Delaware took an instant dislike to Olive and while she has that little chick Olive has no intention of making peace.  The younger chickens are still in the broody-hen hutch so Olive and Pit are in a rabbit cage adapted slightly for her needs.

The Chicks: Pigwidgen, Baby, Stupid, Dash, Newsa, and Nutmeg

The Chicks: Pigwidgen, Baby, Stupid, Dash, and Nutmeg

I know she adds to our daily chore list but really that’s what living in the country is about: we look after each-other and in the end our lives are all the richer for it.

xx Jo

A Worrier Justified

Bidwell Mansion, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

 M. and I had a fantastic time away while our children learned the value of having an unpaid slave about the house who does 90% of the house work without being asked… yeah it feels great to have your 16 year old admit she is so glad your back because being Mom is not as easy as it looks!

I would like to say that my worrying was totally justified!  I am not kidding that I got 2 out of 5… almost:  First of all a man DID break down and knock at our door while we were away… fortunately he wasn’t a psychopath… he just wanted to call AAA… unfortunately K. E. and J. didn’t do the things we had prearranged in case a random stranger showed up at the door.  SIGH.

And second: one of our chickens was taken.  We don’t know when but we suspect it was at night as one of the Delaware hens was particularly stupid (for a chicken): she would sit on the roosting bar all day and then get stuck outside the hutch when the automatic door closed at night.  The girls forgot to check and didn’t do a count in the evening… anyhow we found a mess of feather’s outside the hutch door and a path to where the varmint dug under the enclosure leaving some of it’s fur behind on the barbed wire.  So one stupid hen down and one coyote/fox/raccoon/bobcat well fed.

On the bright side we came home to find the baby rabbits had opened their eyes  and are so adorable!

New Zealand Rabbit kit, 14 days old @ Sweet Little Wood

They are starting to get out of their nest which makes Champagne a very grumpy Mamma Rabbit!

New Zealand Rabbit kits, 14 days old @ Sweet Little Wood

Sleepy Bunnies. So sweet!

M. and I went to Chico.  Its a beautiful town (in the middle) and a bog standard San Joaquin town on the outskirts.  M. and I were pretty happy to enjoy the time we had and explore some of the green (and sometimes not green) spaces.

Bidwell Park, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

Lower Bidwell Park. Bidwell is the largest municipal park in CA.

Bidwell Park, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

The only proof I have that I was even there!

 

Bidwell Park, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

A potentially grungy Highway 99 underpass painted to look like a forest was unexpectedly charming.

Bidwell Park, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

Little Owl. x

Sadly Bidwell Mansion was not open when I was there but I enjoyed looking around the grounds none the less.

Bidwell Mansion, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

Bidwell Mansion, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

Bidwell Mansion, Chico, California- Sweet Little Wood

Afterwards we drove out to Oroville and visited the lake and dam.  The situation in Lake Oroville is pretty horrifying: so little water! So take note LA county… your water supply is low… stop watering those darn lawns!

Lake Oroville, California

Look at the huge swathe of dry bank… at the end of winter with a 6% snow pack in the Sierras!!

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En-route home we stopped of at an awesome little flea-market where I picked up a collection of  Spode Fairy Dell china:  $20.  I am so thrilled!

Spode, Copeland, Fairy Dell chin

Spode, Copeland, Fairy Dell chin

I was happy to be home and in my own bed but I do miss being away  just a little:  the hotel room had the most enormous bath in the main bedroom suite without any children knocking to use the restroom, and I didn’t have to think about feeding anyone for awhile.  Oh well, back to being the unpaid house slave.

xx Joanna

Even The Chickens Know It

Everything is looking particularly luscious in northern CA.

Spring blossom @ Sweet Little Wood

Plum blossom by the chicken hutch.

It won’t last but for now we are enjoying laying in fresh green grass (without stickers stuck all over our bodies), admiring the flowers dotting the hillsides (before the heat scorches them away) and enjoying the warmth of the sun sinking into our bones (without being boiled in our own juices).  It may not officially be spring, but spring has definitely hit us.  A friend who has lived in the area her whole life has been insisting that this isn’t spring because there are still some frosts to come but what she doesn’t realize is that in England (even on the south coast) we sometimes had frosts in June which would by no means negate the fact that we felt summer had already started! It’s spring in California regardless of the date of the Vernal Equinox.

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Even the chickens know it: they started laying eggs this weekend.  Tiny little eggs which they announce by kicking up an almighty ruckus out in the field every single time one of them lays.

First Eggs

A hen's first egg vs full grown  hen's eggs

A hen’s first egg vs full grown hen’s eggs.

We also have the next flush of little hens who are starting to look a little less fluffy as their feathers grow in.  I always think they look a little like punks at this stage with feathers at awkward angles and a bit of a martial glint entering their eye!

2 week old chick @ Sweet Little Wood

I’ve gotten a lot of the early planting done: potatoes are in the ground, as well as peas, onions and garlic.  Soon the herbs will be sprouting up and the process of blanching, chopping and freezing them in cubes will begin so we can enjoy fresh basil, mint and cilantro all year round.

Salad Table @ Sweet Little Wood

Little Gem Romaine lettuce.

M. built a salad table this winter which is so great.  It’s such a simple thing (a box with wire base- raised up to waist level) but makes keeping lettuce and spinach pest free and looked after very easy.  We have a wooden frame over the top for deer netting lest all my work becomes a snack for the local wild life. The best thing about growing lettuce this way is that right now the salad table is in a position to soak in plenty of sun but as the temperatures rise and the lettuce needs a more sheltered position we can move it to the cooler side of the house, extending  the lettuce growing season (hopefully) by about a month.

Salad Table @ Sweet Little Wood

A raised Salad table. Early plantings of lettuce and spinach.

So for all you poor folks still under snow: spring is coming! Fear not!

2 week old chick @ Sweet Little Wood

xx

Joanna

Wild Mushroom Hunting at Emerald Earth

Most of these photos are not of edible mushrooms- my hands were too full of mushrooms when we were picking the edible kinds to be bothered with my camera-  and PLEASE do not rely on my photos for identification of mushrooms in the field.   There are a few edible ones in here: like the Black Chanterelles  and the one that looks like a white beard.  We collected another five edibles that I didn’t get distinctive enough photos of because we were hiking on the north facing side of a mountain in dying winter light.  Quite a few of those I did photograph are very inedible.

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Fly Agaric (or Amanita Moscaria): Not edible!

As a family we have always loved finding wild food.  K. was 8 when she became obsessed with a book by Ray Mears which had a large section on finding wild edibles.  She started by making refreshing spearmint pine-needle tea, progressed to battered dandelion greens and eventually lead to snacking on bulrush roots.

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Setting out at Emerald Earth for a mushroom hike.

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Coral Mushrooms- but not the edible kind.

Meanwhile M. and I began to become familiar with the mushrooms found around where we lived in England.  Our first wild mushroom was a Giant Puff Ball the size of M.’s head.  We were camping in a Featherdown Farm Tent at the time so the mushroom was cooked over a fire in copious amounts of oil with onions and organic free range eggs picked three minutes earlier from under the farmer’s hens.  It took us three days to finish that whole mushroom! We graduated onto other mushrooms but our crowning success was an untapped field of Parasol Mushrooms which provided us with several years of free delicious food before we moved to California.

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Edible: Black Chanterelles. Little black trumpets near invisible against the terrain.

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Some lessons in identifying features.

Since we landed here we have looked for mushrooms but seen nothing. Or at least nothing that we could definitively recognize as edible (besides one lonely bunch of Chicken of the Woods).  So months before M.’s birthday I started thinking about possibly going on a guided workshop for his gift to find out about California’s edible mushrooms and last July at the annual Boonville 4th of July Festival I met Tom Shaver.  Tom lives and works on a local sanctuary called Emerald Earth.  Its a lovely communal style place where the residents are the owners/managers and a regular source of information for the whole community about sustainable living.

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Tom showing us common features of poisonous mushrooms.

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Polypores Polypores everywhere but not a fungi to eat.

 Tom runs a mushroom foraging course every December.  This year it conveniently landed the day after M.’s birthday but was not possible because M’s parents were over for the week: they are very fit for their age but the landscape (steep muddy hillside) and nature of the hiking (several hours on steep muddy hillsides) would have been totally unsuitable.  Tom was so gracious he asked if we could fit in at the last minute some time when the weather, mushrooms and his schedule would allow it.  We were able to go as a family and slip and stumble our way around the hills behind the totally unruffled Tom and glean an amazing number of mushrooms.  So many mushrooms that we have only just (two weeks later) finished off the last of them.  Best gift ever and a really amazing thing to get to do as a family!

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

The Comb Tooth (Hericium Coralloides) which looks weird but was absolutely delicious!

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

This is an awful photo but it gives you an idea of the size of the thing!

Genuinely: if you are ever up for a great day and some amazing food find a local guided mushrooming tour and learn something new!  Our girls who are pretty much “I will eat it if I don’t see it” mushroom haters were happily tasting (and helping to prepare) strangely beardy looking mushrooms fried in garlic batter (taste and texture of chicken nuggets), and an amazing seafood smelling  fungus that when sliced into wedges and battered could easily have passed for fried prawns!  We have eaten eggs and mountains of Black Chantrells which were M’s personal favorite as well as an delicious Oyster mushroom omelette.  Not to mention almost two entire meals prepared from the highly prized and delicately aromatic (supposedly aphrodisiac) Matsutake!

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

One of our baskets of gleanings and a little sneak preview at one of my knitted WIP…

Mushroom hunting at Emerald Earth @ Sweet Little Wood

Later when we were experimenting with our gleanings.

 Tom at Emerald Earth usually runs one session a year in December and spaces are always filled and no I haven’t been paid or remunerated for this post in any way shape or form… but if a few mushrooms showed up on my door step at some point… well… lets just say they wouldn’t go to waste!

xx Joanna

Giants in Autumn

Hibernation started early in the Sweet Little Wood!  We saw our chance for a long weekend and grasped it with two hands.  It was so glorious we are still floating in the bliss of a relaxing family and fun filled time.

We got out into nature which is pretty spectacular this time of year, so because not a scrap of crafting was done I will leave you with this view of our adventures: Hendy Woods in autumn: our local redwood grove.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

The Redwoods in Autumn are just coming to life.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

And evidence of summer’s abundance remains

Hendy Woods in Autumn

The heat of summer has gone and moist cool air encourages the little green flourishes to arise.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

But the evidence of past lives remain.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

And the wood cycle flourishes

Hendy Woods in Autumn

There are bridges to magical kingdoms.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

And places where the fey stalk the living.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

But take care when crossing bridges

Hendy Woods in Autumn

for the trolls are looking for lunch.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

Wonder at how the tiniest cones produce the biggest trees.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

And imagine the baby bird that found its way out of an egg the size of a small acorn.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

Its a place to sit and wonder,

Hendy Woods in Autumn

at the magnificence of creation.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

Where trees can look like lions…

Hendy Woods in Autumn

… ahem… and other things.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

Its worth remembering that bees live in old tree stumps…  for when you put your foot in a bee’s nest.

Hendy Woods in Autumn

Savor it all and enjoy the ride.

xx Jo

All-Hallows-Eve in a Ghost Town

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

It is probably the most baffling thing to my high school best friend  that we don’t celebrate Halloween.  It is absolutely his favorite holiday.  And he has been happily peppering Facebook with freaky clown pictures for the last couple of weeks.

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

We don’t have very strong religious feelings about it other than knowing that it is an incorporated pagan festival but we decided that  we were celebrating it and not to God.  So along with the other pagan festivals that Christianity adopted (Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day etc) we got rid of it.  We don’t really miss it.  We don’t really avoid it. We just don’t do it.

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

That is not to say that we don’t enjoy a good scare (Six Flags has a really fun Fright Fest this time of year) we just don’t celebrate Halloween with it’s costumes and pumpkins and tricks or treats.  So it is a good thing we are going away this weekend to visit my niece because we live in a genuine ghost town:  on All-Hallows-Eve there will be no door bell ringers, no tricks or treats here… just the empty shells and ghostly remnants of lives past.  Besides our house the town is long gone and only the memory of where it was among a few tumbling remnants exists.

A huge rock that used to sit next to the Post Office:

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

  The old school house which some history buff has been trying to keep standing is rotting in its corrugated skin :

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

Driving further up the valley toward the salt and sea, leaving our ghost town behind,  you wonder how many more  towns have died on this twisting stretch of highway.   The fallen barns and ramshackle remains  appear tucked back into the folds of the hills partially obscured by trees.

 The tumbled remains of a home:

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

Lives passed and forgotten:

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

Photos of Ghostly Town Remenants @ Sweet Little Wood

 xx Joanna

Brought to You by the Letters I, O, and U

Today the Sweet Little Wood was a little sweeter and it all started last week when my car started making a  very quiet noise like riding on an rumble strip as we approached  the yellow farmhouse we call home.  I thought- “Better get that checked.”  The next day I had work to do at home and no need to drive except for dropping off and picking up the girlies from the bus stop. Not a problem! At the morning drop off the car went “rumbly rumbly quietly there and back.  Afternoon pick up the car went “rumbly rumbly quietly, PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT.”

Chocolate Chip Cookies @ The Sweet Little Wood

Fortunately the PFFFF… bit happened just as I arrived at the turn out where the bus stops because being broken down on this road is probably the most dangerous thing I can think of: think Lombard Street in San Francisco with blind corners and cars going 45 miles per hour and you will understand.  Terrifying.

The bus stops about 2 miles from our house and JUST where cell phone reception begins.  So I thought “AAA!”  Well… yes this story goes on… my AAA card was in my wallet at home and I am one of those females that has never changed a tire.  Don’t despise me!  I have never ever had a flat tire when M. was not with me!  So I’ve never even had the chance!  Our bus driver didn’t have the number either but he did have and empty bus and a generous disposition and he CHANGED MY TIRE in 93 degree heat!   AND he was patient enough to teach me how to do it!

Super Cookie @ Sweet Little Wood

Totally saved the day!

So today’s cookies are brought to you by the letters I, O, U and a particularly kind bus driver.

Chocolate Chip Cookies @ The Sweet Little Wood

I use the recipe from that Betty Crocker Cookbook pictured (a wedding present 17 years ago)  which is almost the same as the recipe  over here but without the vanilla.  I add 1/4 cup  extra flour (I like my cookies a little chunky looking not flat) and leave out the nuts.  I cook them at 350 F  rather than 375 for 10 minutes and take them out immediately- no waiting to see them look more done!  They will look a little too moist and not quite done when you take them out but they set to a perfect soft cookie texture after a few minutes cooling and stay soft forever:  I don’t like crunchy cookies.

I hope he likes chocolate because there are another three trays in the oven!!

xx

Jo