Sound Goals: A mile in Puget Sound

As my bare feet touch the water I’m comforted that my 7mm wetsuit and cap may be enough to keep me warm during my first open water swim in Puget Sound. The water temperature today: 56 degrees, but I don’t retract from the cold. I look down at Sophia and Kristi’s feet as we enter the water. They have neoprene boots. I chose not to purchase them because I worried it would be more equipment to adjust.

Thankfully Saratoga Passage today was glass. Just seeing the calm conditions alleviated some of my anxiety from earlier.

Lined up with the others for the Whidbey Adventure Swim we all adjusted to the cold. Brief chats revealed swimmers came from all over the country and Canada for this U.S. Master Swim event. I’m completely out of my league here, but my goal this year was to swim a mile comfortably in the Sound by the end of the summer. Today I would try to swim 1.2.

The horn sounds. The salt water burned my face momentarily as I dove toward the buoys marking the turnaround point. I’m not a fast swimmer. The course would take me about an hour to complete.

An hour in this cold water. Why am I doing this? I love to swim but the pool is warmer, easier. I don’t need a wetsuit in the pool.

My wetsuit. It’s so buoyant and it feels so unnatural as I work to dig through the water. I feel like lead and it doesn’t feel like I’m necessarily moving forward. Am I kicking? I kick harder.

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. I have to find a rhythm.

Looking up to breathe and mark my point, the buoy I’m striving for seems so far and the majority of the swimmers are already way ahead of me. I’m now alone in the water. My heart is racing because I remind myself I’m in the ocean and no longer surrounded by my peers. My mind wanders to what lies beneath the Sound.

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. Don’t think about what is below.

Looking up again I see a paddle boarder and a kayaker. I see a thumbs up as I look up again to breathe. I’m on course, I’m doing this. People are watching me. I have to settle in and get my mind on track. I’m not here to be the first one out of the water. I’m here to finish.

Each time my face enters the water, I try to notice the ocean floor. A huge Dungenous Crab scuttles across the floor. Is it crabbing season yet? The seagrass is flowing toward me. I’m going against the current which explains why I feel like lead.

Finally I’m turning at the halfway point. I met the time requirement which was to finish half the course in 30 minutes or they would’ve turned me around sooner. I’m going to finish this.

My face is no longer cold and I’m now working with the buoyancy of my wetsuit, being more buoyant makes it easier to focus on my stroke, but my feet. My feet are freezing. I begin to covet the boots that Sophia and Kristi are wearing. All I can think about are those boots now. Black, snug neoprene would feel so good right now. I’m still in swimmer survival mode, breathing every two strokes. I need a new rhythm, perhaps I can gain a little ground. I decide to add four strokes in between each breath as much as possible. I count them off.

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe….this becomes my new rhythm.

But my feet are so cold.

Damn. I have to get those black boots. I try to wiggle my toes while kicking at the same time. My toes move. A good sign. If I have hypothermia, will I know?

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe…

Now as I look forward to breathe the final buoy is in sight. Far but in sight. On my four stroke count I have more time to explore the sea floor again, but we are a little deeper. The water is darker, but I can make out bits of sand, shells in between the clumps of seagrass. And now the seagrass is bending toward my path. I’m riding the small current.

I pass over another crab, it’s on its back, motionless. I wonder what happened to it.

One, two, three, four breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe. One, two, three, four breathe.

I can hear voices as I near the final turn. Almost there. I wonder how long I’ve been in the water.

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke breathe.

The sea floor is getting closer to me. I’m basically at shore, I look up…just a few more feet..but I’ve overshot the finish.

Damn it. The steps are far to my right.

Finally my hands hit sand. I try to stand, but my sea legs reject the land. My husband and Sophia are on shore cheering for me and I smile as I wobble to the steps to the timer which signifies my finish.

58:55

My 1.2 mile swim completed under an hour. Goal accomplished.

And now, I wonder when I can do this again.

Sound Goals: Prepping to swim Saratoga Passage

Prior to moving here I had some goals for myself: live healthier, hike, eat local, acquire outdoor hobbies to help that quest to live healthy….you get the idea.

After moving here, I signed up for an open water event in Lake Washington. I joined the Master Swim group here, trained and completed the course. It was amazing, but it fostered a new goal: swim one mile in the Sound comfortably by this summer.

Last summer I attempted to swim with an open water group here, but freaked out a little when I noticed the ocean floor visibility went a little cloudy. I maybe made it a quarter of a mile. But there was a part of that swim that was amazing. Seeing how clear the water is and the fish…

Today I’m participating in the Whidbey Adventure Swim for the 1.2 mile course in Saratoga Passage. I can swim a mile, but swimming in the Sound comes with a lot of other things to think of than swimming in the pool. I’m terribly nervous. Nervous about not seeing bigger sea life that may come toward me surprisingly, about the 55 degree temperature, being comfortable in my 7mm wetsuit…did I mention the cold? Then there’s the time requirement. I have to finish 1/2 the course in 30 minutes. In the pool, I have that covered, but in the ocean, depending on conditions. Not sure really.

So, here I go. Headed down to Langley’s Seawall Park. Wish me luck!

Tall ships along the water 

This week I caught a glimpse of the tall ships in their small parade of sails on their way to Tacoma for the Festival of Sails.

The parade of sail in North Puget Sound and the festival are intended to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Captain George Vancouver’s exploration of Puget Sound.

Farm and garden DIY: The never ending chicken coop build

“Hey, what do we have going on this weekend?”

It’s a common question Josh asks each week. The common answer is: “Finishing the chicken coop.” 

Except these days I may insert an expletive in there somewhere.

The Chicken Palace, as we tend to call it these days, has been in progress since the end of March and I’m ready for this to be completed. It has pretty much consumed every weekend and I’m ready to get in some serious hiking.
We’ve been here for a year now and the last six months have been all about our chickens, their coop and our garden. 

The garden is fenced, planted and we are seeing great progress with our seedlings. I think we may be literally giving carrots and peas away in a couple of weeks. The chicken area though continues to be a constant work in progress. 

The run was already in place but needed some securing. The coop however is another matter. 

Josh made plans for a custom built coop. It will be a 12×12 box for our current flock of 16. Why so big? Wel we want to add chicks in the future, right? The plan is to have a slanted roof a cottage style door and window. The nesting boxes are fancy…the will eggs roll to the front. Once complete it will hold at least 40 chickens. 

Not that we necessarily want 40 chickens, but we dream big here. 

We finally have three walls framed and this structure is actually beginning to look like something may be completed one day. Today we are framing he roof and the front for the door and window. The hope is that we can complete this before the end of the month so our chickens will have a larger home and so we can start enjoying life outside our farm here and around the Sound.

Mother hen in training

I’ve started this post in my head several times beginning the day I ordered our chicks from Meyer Hatchery. I wanted to share how I anticipated the arrival of 10 Buff Orpingtons and 5 Welsummers, but the anxiety of it all and the realization that I wasn’t prepared.

Well wait. I was, but my brain gets the best of me and I’m sure like any new mom, we want the best for our new little ones. I’m a first time chicken mom and I was a wreck. When would the post office call me upon their arrival? Will the box be chirping or quiet? (Please don’t let me get a quiet box) Do they have enough water? Can everyone get to the food? Why isn’t that one moving? Are they warm enough? Too warm?

img_6238All chicken knowledge I consumed the weeks prior in preparation of their arrival just disappeared. Just keep the chicks alive….easy enough, right?

I was happy to hear them chirping from the box. And like any good mother, I had the car seat warming for them and I gently strapped them in for the drive home. In pure documentary fashion, I texted a quick pick of them all buckled in and sent it to my husband who was traveling that week.

“It’s official. You are now a crazy chicken lady.”

He had no idea.

Once I got the ladies home, it was time to place them in our homemade brooder. Here img_6231that knowledge which I thought escaped was coming back. The brooder had been prepared the night before and the thermometer read that the temperature was holding around 98 degrees. All the chicken prep reading I did said the temperature should be around 95-100 degrees the first week. If the chicks huddled underneath the light it was too cold, and if they strayed from the light it was too warm. What you want is to have the chicks form almost a perfect circle on the edge of the heat lamp.

I quickly picked each one up and placed them in the brooder after checking for “pasty butt” and attending to those affected. Before letting the chicks explore their new home, I dipped their beaks into the water I had prepared with electrolytes. Apparently, chicks need to be shown where the water is located and they take it from there. Fourteen chicks were now successfully drinking in the brooder and, for the moment, free from pasty butt, but one sweet girl wasn’t doing well.

After attempts to feed her water from a syringe, she seemed to perk up, but later in the day when I checked on the girls, she showed no sign of life. It was hard, but I know this is part of it. I tried to guess all the things that could’ve happened: the travel, the temperature, or perhaps she was smothered under her siblings. All terrible, but the truth is, death is part of this. I know this, but it doesn’t make it easy.

A few days later, the girls were getting the hang of their life in the brooder, but on day three, we lost two more of our Buff Orpingtons. I was baffled as two losses in one day could mean something was terribly wrong. Everyone was eating and drinking and I was tending gently to rid them of pasty butt twice a day. I began Googling “buff orpingtons keep dying” to see if there were other stories, but found no evidence of anything wrong. Several posters from the chicken threads I found simply stated “sometimes chickens just die.”

That night before my husband returned home, I spent hours hovering over the brooder, looking for signs of ill chicks. All of them seemed strong, except for one. She was the smallest of the bunch and I decided I would make it my mission to help her survive if I saw a change in behavior. Maybe sometimes chickens just die, but this mother hen was going to do everything in her power to keep the rest of these ladies alive.

That night I watched over the little chicks until they all one by one slowly fell asleep, not directly under the heat lamp, but in a perfect circle on the edge of the lamp. Just the way they should be.

Perhaps this mother hen knows how do take care of her baby chicks after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quest to make cheese

Yesterday was a fairly typical Saturday here on Whidbey Island: breakfast at Muk Cafe, browse the Bayview farmers market, and a stop at the farm supply store for whatever. Except this:

“Let’s make mozzarella!”

Our friend Marnie was visiting from Austin, and we talked most the morning about enjoying the fresh produce and meat available locally, as well as the availability to purchase raw milk.

A while back, Marnie had successfully made her own cheese with raw milk from the farm where she participates in a work share program. I was excited to learn how we could do this on our own and we needed three key ingredients: 1/2 gallon of raw milk, rennet and citric acid. The citric acid we finally found, but after searching far and wide on the island, no luck on the rennet so we had to lower our expectations from mozzarella to ricotta.

 

It took some time to carefully heat, monitor the temperature and stir the raw milk mixture before we saw cheese curds, but it finally happened. And after straining the whey from the mixture, we ended up with more ricotta than we expected.

Delicious, fresh, creamy ricotta.

After mixing the ricotta into a pasta sauce, we discussed other cheeses that were fairly easy to make such as mozzarella and chevre. Savoring the ricotta cheese over dinner, I realized that it may be hard to purchase ricotta cheese at the grocery store. I’m sure one day practicality will make me do it, but this is definitely something I’m going to try again.

Before going to bed, I searched where to find rennet. Why Amazon, of course!

My rennet will be here in a week and if all goes as planned, not long after, so will our homemade mozzarella.

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Apples: the new Labrador treat

Our apple harvest should be happening soon, that is if Daisy Bean doesn’t eat them all….

We’ve been trying to monitor the Lady Labs’ apple retrieval activity, but that’s easier said than done. Every time I turn around one of them has an apple….usually Daisy. It was cute at first, but things are getting out of hand. Two days ago my husband and I figured out Daisy had consumed three apples in an afternoon. While I’ve been trying to discourage their apple picking tendencies, it doesn’t seem to have any effect. 

This morning, as I let the girls out, I walked around the tree finding no apples on the ground. When I let them back inside for breakfast, I noted two apples near the porch. As they ate breakfast, I grabbed the notably mouthed apples and placed them into compost. My hope is that reinforcing apple nabbing as inappropriate behavior will eventually curtail such activity, but in a way, who can blame them? In Dallas there were only squirrels and birds to chase. Here they have deer, bunnies, birds to chase, and now, apples to retrieve in October.

In August, our new veterinarian noted the Lady Labs had gained half their weight in a year. This called for a reduction in calories for these maidens of mischief. Daisy, who is always hungry, is obviously protesting by nabbing the low hanging fruit on, what seems to be, a regular basis. We aren’t ruling out Little Bee as an accomplice, as she has been seen with a less than ripe apple in her jaws, but our repeat offender is definitely Daisy.

Before our fence was complete, the resident deer loved sneaking into our yard, reaching for our fruit by standing on their hind legs. 

While I haven’t witnessed this, according to my husband, Daisy took notes and has deployed the same tactic. She has great odds as the deer are now fenced out, thus less competition. So we do our best to make the rounds and pick up fallen apples. Out of sight out of mind right?

An hour into my workday this morning, I ended a call with a client and looked down at Daisy sleeping comfortably under my desk with her brow curled as if she’d had a tough morning.

And next to her was a green apple. I guess she’s saving it for later.

Getting ready for the worms

Yesterday we contemplated our farming dreams for next year, and today we started putting things in motion.

As we pick up our red worms in two weeks, today we installed our in-ground worm bin we bought from Bugabay. While Whidbey Island is known for being an agricultural gem, Greenbank’s soil, where we reside, is not the fertile easy digging variety like the land residing in Ebey’s Landing. Our soil is full of rock, or glacial till, as my husband informed me. 

The words “glacial till” sound way more graceful than what it actually is. Pardon my French, but glacial till is a stubborn bitch to dig and we had to dig 12 inches to get the appropriate depth. Between the two of us we were able to get it accomplished in a couple of hours, but it made me (and Josh) really grateful we only had to dig one hole.

After a run to grab some peat moss and manure from the farm supply store and filling in the sides of the bin, we were ready to place our first layer of food waste. It must’ve rung a dinner bell because one volunteer worm was already hanging outside the bin. He looked as though he may have had a fight with one of our shovels, so I tossed him inside in pity. I’m imagining worms aren’t territorial so hopefully he’ll get along fine with the others when they arrive in a couple of weeks.

It was a good afternoon worth of work, but as I looked around the reality of the work ahead is getting real. There is sod cutting the garden space, constructing the beds, prepping the chicken run and possibly adding to that run to host turkeys.

It all needs to be ready by January/February, but tonight we’ll continue our hobby farm debates as well as continue dreaming about what this place could be. 

It’s nice to start seeing that these dreams are on their way to becoming reality, one rocky shovel of soil at a time.

Farm dreaming on a fall day

Our friends left for the Coupeville ferry and we headed simg_4120outh of the island to the Bayview Farmer’s Market. Throughout the summer, I’ve been eyeing the BugaBay in-ground cedar worm bin and today I would bring one home!

I enjoy going to the farmers market not just to get additional veggies but to also talk to the farmers. Glendale Shepherd Farms was celebrating as their Tallulah won 1st Place  at the Washington Artisan Cheese Festival this week. You may recall I professed my love for Tallulah and sheep’s milk cheese after a tour of Glendale Shepherd Farms back in August. While I would’ve loved to have picked up some more Tallulah, I resisted and stuck with the worm bin and some veggies.

img_4123Teresa at BugaBay talked to us about the worm bin basics, provided us with a video and instructed us to get the worm bin in the ground and call her in two weeks to get our worms! We also chatted about the two sheep she and her husband are raising, my desire to own chickens, and discussed that dilemma around loving animals but also raising them for meat. Teresa gave us the number of her neighbor who raises chickens who she felt would be a good person to talk to about raising chickens.

After our farmer’s market stop, we headed to the co-op to refill our propane tanks and get some organic fertilizer. I was tempted as they had 1-week old baby chicks for sale! They were so cute and while we are nowhere near ready to have chickens, I wanted to bring them all home! It’s only October and I’m already looking forward to March/April when spring chicks will be available and we can begin raising chicks and planting our garden!

img_4122After seeing the turkeys at Prairie Bottom Farm, Josh has been talking about his desire to raise turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving next year. We dreamed a little today about how far we could take a hobby farm from veggies, to chickens and turkeys. Sheep? Could we pull off a couple of sheep too?

For now, we’ll just focus on getting our worm bin buried in the ground. After all, you can’t have any kind of farm if you don’t have good soil.

Hiking above the clouds

So here we are, October, which for Pac Northwesterners it means truly the first day of fall. And yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day for our final day of our PNW summer.

A couple of friends from Dallas were visiting, and with the sun shining I was hoping we’d get good views of the Olympic Mountains from the Bluff Trail at Ft. Ebey State Park. Upon arrival at the trail head, it was obvious no views were to be had as a crazy thick fog seemed to be covering most of the Sound.

img_4097As we climbed along the bluff and up to Ft. Ebey, the sun was beaming brightly and it appeared we were just above the clouds at one point. The last time I had seen something like this was when Josh and I drove into the Andes to the Chilean border.

Yes, it was a perfect final PNW summer day.