I Have An ‘Itch’

I HAVE AN ‘ITCH’ THAT I CAN’T SCRATCH for another year.  So many opportunities have popped up since I self-imposed a moratorium on my international travels, it’s truly pathetic: a small-group trip to Scotland, Clan Gathering in Scotland, friends beckoning in England…the list goes on.  The Travel Siren has been blasting in my head since October and it is so hard to shut it out–and so tempting to break the moratorium.  So far, I’ve been successful!

I will have to be satisfied my travel-fix with in-state travel until sometime in 2014 (oh, it seem so far away!), and perhaps a trip to Oregon this summer to explore the Bend area (and a wonderful excuse to visit one of my brothers & family there).  There are plenty of opportunities to see things locally–and I do.   The area I live in is a hotbed for ‘tourist trappings’:  the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Steinbeck Center, Big Sur & coastline in general, redwoods, mountains, ocean, beaches (both sandy & rocky)…I love all of it and am a frequent visitor to them all.  The beauty, in my eye, will never diminish in the slightest and I will always be filled with awe at the diversity we have here, but that’s not the point.  I love to see and experience different things.  These are delightful, but I’ve seen them, over and over again.

I’ve decided to make a trip to Napa Valley sometime soon…a dual-purpose trip: see/photography the sights and visit a poultry breeder–going to add to my even-dozen, delightful egg-laying Girls (I’m excited at this prospect!), so I want to see her offerings.  Plus, a trip to visit my dear brother in Palm Desert.  Not only will I get to spend time with him & his family, but I will get to root around in the desert (while it’s still relatively cool), which I don’t do often.  The stark beauty is breathtaking.  Plus, a family wedding in Las Vegas in November.  Hopefully the heat will be tolerable by then.  I’ve only driven through Vegas, so this will definitely be a new experience.  Maybe I’ll even shell out the money to catch one of the Cirque du Soleil performances.  I love the artistry of their performances!   I’ll have all my camera gear with me so I can go out into the desert to shoot.  But, I can imagine that the blingy night-life of in-town will be interesting, too.  I’m excited for this adventure–both for the wedding and the photography.

So, now begins the job of scheduling the dates, finding sitters for my gaggle of critters and figuring out where I’ll stay while I’m gone.  It’s not like I can find a hostel, which I do for my travels in Europe or the UK & Ireland.  I may be able to do the Napa Valley trip in one day, but would like to extend it to at least two so I’m not rushing.  Staying with family is great (once I’m there, but I will need to find something for along the way) for two of the other three…but Vegas is going to be interesting.

If I end up at a hotel/motel, I will probably stay at one of the chains — something like Best Western or Motel 6 (especially for Vegas) — I don’t need anything fancy.  But then again, I might also investigate the option of using my CouchSurfing.com membership (not for Vegas–no offense, Vegas readers–at least, not till I get to know & am comfortable with someone from there).  CouchSurfing is a wonderful way to see the country cheaply (free, short-term sleeping accommodations), as long as you follow the sites safety guidelines.  I have not used it in the states, but have hosted numerous CSers over the years from both ‘domestic’ and international locations and have gained some wonderful friends from it!  I have only used CouchSurfing internationally once — stayed overnight in Brugges, Belgium with a CSer and her son (I had hosted them in the past as they toured California).  In traveling during Europe’s football season, ‘couches’ were hard to come by, plus I was trying to schedule too far out from my arrival date–I’ve learned my lesson… I’ll have to see what is available in the areas I plan on visiting.  It’s nice that the option is there!

So, if you’ll excuse me now, I’m off to plan my travels.

May your travels be many, the roads be varied and may you discover new friends at every turn!


With Love, From the Girls

THIS BLOG ENTRY IS FOR MY FRIENDS — AND FOR ANYONE interested in eggs or chickens.  My friends call me the Egg Lady, the Chicken Lady, and my daughter (after I delivered some eggs to her refrigerator once while she was at work) calls me the Egg Fairy.  These are fun monikers and I thank everyone for them.

I raised chickens originally because my husband wouldn’t let me raise goats.  That was the compromise.  I started with five little girls…plus a few roos (they disappeared into the hills, never to return…ahem…).  I built the coop (quite a “castle”, but built by an extremely inexperienced carpenter), fenced in an attached run and waited for them to start laying. I ended up purchasing more over the next few years until I was at twelve.  Then, my health declined and I ended up giving them away.  I pined for those little sweeties.  Then, one of my ‘Chicken Lady’ counterparts kept posting photos of her little sweeties & I was hooked again.  So, now, I’m back to farmin’ with my delightful array of Girls.  (You can see pictures and a short bio of each Girl at this link in one of my other blogs.)

HomeGrown Eggs come in various colors and sizes

With Love, From the Girls

There is a blogger that I follow fairly regularly that raises chickens and other critter. I live vicariously through her blogs about her chickens — and ducks & horses, which I’ve often dreamt of owning, but have decided to stay focused on one: my “loverly” hens.  Their personalities, antics and chatter are fun, relaxing and entertaining, often making me laugh out loud and always calming me.  During nice weather, I spend an inordinate amount of time out there…in cold or drizzly weather, I long to be out there.

While much of what I will write here can be found somewhere in the Fresh Eggs Daily (FED) blog, I have gleaned information from all over (books, hatchery catalogs, Google), so it’s hard to give credit where credit is truly due.  But, I’d say 90% comes from FED.

Most of my Girls–presently I have twelve–announce the arrival of their gifts to me daily.  But, because I have a few “silent” layers, I check the nests at least three

My Girls, devouring a Garlic/Veggie Scramble.

My Girls, devouring a Garlic/Veggie Scramble.

times a day, so when I say the eggs are fresh, I mean it.  They go straight to the

refrigerator after dusting off any dirt or nesting material.  I do not wash my eggs (also, I won’t give my friends dirty eggs–I either wash and use immediately or ‘give back’ to the Girls in the form of a Garlic/Oatmeal Scramble).  Store-bought eggs are “sanitized”: washed…and treated.  Mine are “treated” naturally–the natural bloom laid down on an egg during the entire process of laying it.

I date my eggs, so I know how old they are.  And, if I know who laid the egg, I put an initial on it.  A=Abigail, B=Blondie…  Those two are easy.  Abigail is my rebel Americauna and she lays her blue egg in the yard, Blondie (my other Americauna) lays in the nesting boxes, along with all the other hens.  Things may get confusing this fall, as I

Fresh Eggs Are Better For You

Fresh Eggs Are Better For You

am purchasing some Araucana hens in April and they also lay blue eggs.  All of my eggs are either shades of blue, or shades of brown.   One is more pink than brown —

I’ve decided to call it “blush”–but I’m not picky.  Egg shells may vary in color (brown, blue, green, pink…), but the interior is always the same–yolks are not colored like the shell.  And, I love them all!  And they all taste the same:  delicious!

Speaking of dating eggs…do you know how to read the dating information on the side of a store-bought egg carton?  One

egg carton date

Do you know how to read your egg carton?

set of numbers/letters is the expiration date.  The other numbers represents the date those eggs were packed into the carton (using 001-365 for the calendar dates).  So, these eggs were packed on December 1st (the 335th day of the year) and could sit on the shelf until the middle of January…and still be considered good.

Shudder.  I think the “oldest” my eggs have been when received by friends is one week from the day they were laid.  If I was able to grade my eggs, they would be a true USDA grade AA.  The beautiful yellow/orange yolks (depending on what I’ve been feeding them) stand up nice and tall, the thick whites stay firmly near the egg.  I laugh when I see a carton of store-bought eggs labeled AA.  By the time they reach the consumer, they are no longer AA.  The pale yolk and liquified whites tell another story.  I hate it when I have to buy store-bought eggs.  I’d rather pay extra and buy from the Farmers Market!

Testing the viability of an egg is easy.  If you are not sure if an egg is still good (and are ready to use it), place it in a glass of water.  If it stays on the bottom, it is fine!  If it lifts off the bottom, air has made it’s way inside and the chances of spoilage are increased (best to break it in a separate container & do the “sniff test”–don’t spoil all the other eggs).  If it completely floats — TOSS itNever wash your eggs (warm water only, if you feel the need) until you are ready to use them, since there is a natural bloom laid onto the shell during the production of the egg that protects it from bacteria.  Washing the porous egg strips the protective layer, making it vulnerable to bacteria.

Have you ever tried to peel a fresh hard-boiled egg?  When I first tried, cursing could probably be heard three states away.  The egg sticks so firmly to the shell when you do the routine of boiling them.  FED showed me a way to simplify my life and lower my blood pressure.  STEAM THEM!  So easy!  Here ya go:

>Heat water to boiling in the bottom of a double boiler, vegetable steamer or bamboo steamer (plain ol’ pot will do with veggie steamer placed inside, too).
>Rinse your eggs in warm water and place them in the top of the steamer.
>Steam for 20 minutes and then plunge the eggs into a bowl of ice water until cool enough to peel.
>Roll each egg on the counter to break the shell and then crack the wide end of the egg and peel.  Perfectly peeled eggs – every time >And you won’t get that grayish green rim along the yolk that results from cooking the eggs for too long and cooling them too slowly.

Well, I hope this blog–so different from the norm–has helped you understand the “incredible, edible egg” a bit better.  And, hopefully, given you a tiny window into my love of the hens that produce these gems.

May your day be blessed to overflowing with delights of the day.




Word Weaver

WRITER, STORYTELLER, WORDSMITH…those are only a few words one could use to describe someone that is obsessed with putting words to paper — or in this day and age, to electronic paper…

But I have another word:  word weaving, which I like immensely because (at least for me) it describes me perfectly when I do storytelling with children.  It’s an interactive form of storytelling, where, most of the time,  I have a very basic storyline in mind.  I glean names, descriptive words, sounds and animal characters from my young audience, then the magic of a new story begins.  I take those words and ideas, creating threads and weave them through the warp of an invisible loom, producing a visibly textured story, with the children providing sound effects, such as screaming in fear, growling, running, laughing — whatever the story requires.  They love it — especially if we are in a library, where they’ve been taught to “use your inside (whispering) voices, please”.  Loud talking, let alone screaming, is “verboten!” (except, I let the librarian know ahead of time & receive permission for boisterous participation).  Always, I  feed off of their enthusiasm, wanting to draw the story out, but am usually limited to about twenty or thirty minutes from start to finish because of time constraints in the school schedule.

We are all sad that it’s over, but their imaginations have been given a magical jump start.  Now, they see that they can create their very own stories.  Of course, it certainly helps to have thousands of stories crammed into your brain from years and years of reading and experiencing life.  But they can use what reading and life experiences they’ve crammed into their short lives and create something amazing, too.

That’s my lesson for these brilliantly pliable, open young minds.  As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, the places you’ll go!  …And the magical things you can do…”   I’m just there to open the doors for them to go through.


The Waiting Game: A Way of Life

EVERYONE HAS PLAYED IT, ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, over and over again.  You know what I mean.  You sit there, on the phone, waiting for the representative to come on the line before you die of boredom because of the elevator music.  Or in line at a grocery or retail store as the clerk calls for a price check or the customer fumbles with writing a check or searching for their debit card.  Waiting for your child to finish up what he’s doing so you can move on to the next thing. Waiting at a doctor’s office, to be called into the room long past your appointment time.  Or waiting for results of a test or procedure, waiting to find out how it will effect your life.

How you handle all of these types of waiting is quite revealing.  I used to be fairly impatient, always in a hurry to get from point A to point B (as a very young adult–too busy to notice anything in life).  For a type B person, that’s unusual, I think.  But life has a way of getting in the way of itself.  All the time.  So, even a type B personality can get frustrated.

As I’ve aged (I’d prefer to think of it as mellowing), I have slowed down and learned to appreciate things.  Waiting in lines, on the phone and various other waiting games were still causing aggravation — that is, until I learned to multi-task while waiting.  In the beginning of this revelation, I always made sure I had a book to read.  If at home, I’d putter in the kitchen, completing some chore that was within reach of my long corded phone as I played the “on-hold” waiting game.  Then, with the advent of cell phones and computers, I was able to surf the web, check appointments or wander through the grocery store with my grocery list (and hope I didn’t hit a dead spot while waiting on the phone).  Simply wonderful.

I found that I interacted more with people in the lines where I was waiting, joking about the time it was taking to break the ice, then diverting onto a completely different subject.  It was liberating.

But, I found, with the more serious Waiting Game issues, just finding something else to do was not enough.  After a grueling year of “why am I feeling this way?” with no answers after doctors appointments, tests and trials of medications, my husband and I finally got our answer to his question.  And when he found out it was untreatable cancer, his response was to give up.  Actually, he had given up long before the diagnosis.  His waiting was finally over and his solution was to close out the world and just die.  Leaving my daughter and me to cope alone.  That waiting reinforced in me that one cannot idly stand by and just wait.

For me, God is the one thing I can depend on completely, no matter what the circumstances may be.  He is my constant in an ever-changing world.  My Rock and Foundation.  Usually, I turned to Him in times of need.  Jim’s heart attack, his life-threatening aneurysm, and then his cancer.  Two times, my husband survived to live another day.  The last time, I simply needed to know He was there for us as we went through these last days together.  And He was.  Without Him, I would never have made it in one piece.  And He continues to walk with me daily — whether I remember He’s there or not!

Even now, God is the one I turn to for patience as I wait for results of tests.  Two appointments.  Nothing major.  And I have friends, right now, playing that same waiting game — one for surgery, several others for healing of loved ones.

When I put it (whatever it may be at the time) in His hands, it allows me to continue on with everyday life, from day to day, with greater ease.  Test results are all normal so far, so I am praising Him abundantly as I move on through to the next round…

And, just when I am seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, I get a sinus infection, which makes my brain & vision fuzzy — I hate being sick (I don’t really know of anyone that looks forward to it).   Oh, it could be so much worse, especially after seven hours of emergency room germs bombarding me at the height of the flu season, so I praise Him for that too.  Praise — and healing, please.  And a great big thank you!

So, until I’m better, I’m off to my snugly bed, with chicken soup, my home-brew of essential oils wrapped around my neck and a wonderfully darkened room, to play the waiting game — once again.



Winter Gardening and Chores — NOT

AS I LOOK OUT TO THE BEAUTIFUL, BRIGHT day outside, I know there is deception in that beauty.  Living along the Central Coast of California, we are normally spoiled with relatively mild winters, where it dips into the 40s at night (oh, maybe an occasional 35).  Our summers are equally mild, with highs in the 70s and on an odd day or two, mid-80s.  Sunset Magazine states that we have a climate similar to the Mediterranean region of Europe.  A prized climate, to be sure.  Something that makes the thought of moving to another region of the US unthinkable — even sacrilegious for the locals.  I’ve thought about moving, but it’s only been a fleeting thought.  It’s far too beautiful here and the weather cannot be beat!

But, over the last few years, the weather has been downright unpredictable, with bizarre ups and down in temperature and rainfall.  This year, I think we’ve already had more rain than we usually have for an entire season.  Now, we have unusual, cold weather.  The cold has become not unlike an unwelcome visitor that has stayed well beyond what is deemed ideal.  A day or two of freezing is fine.  But the ground is actually frozen now.  Not good for all those Mediterranean-climate plants, certainly.  Nor for me, apparently.

Every time I go out to work in the garden, or to do a chore, I find myself making a hasty retreat to the relative warmth of the house.  It’s truly sad for someone that loves (or, should I make that past tense?) brisk days, finding warmth in the “exercise” of working in the yard.

Photo: My little blue birdbath, with its resident gnome and rock, has managed to completely defrost daily -- until today...

My little blue birdbath, with its resident gnome and rock, has managed to completely defrost daily — until today…

Living on the north slope of a hill has its good points and its bad points.  It blocks the worst of the bad weather systems that come in (brownie points there).  Getting very little, if any, direct sunlight is definitely a very, very bad point.  Nothing warms up.  Or dries out.  Our heavy rains from the last two months have made the soil so damp that it is freezing rapidly, then holding the cold and not thawing.  So with each night, hovering between 27-29 degrees, the soil freezes more and more.  Our days hover around 38-45.  And the air is filled with humidity.   Very cold, moist air, stirred up by a gentle breeze making it feel much, much colder than it already is.

I guess I’m sounding like an old lady complaining about the weather.  Lamenting that I cannot get out and play in the dirt — or even socialize with my hilariously adorable hens or my dog — without freezing some important assets.  Very sad, indeed.  I love being outdoors.  I look longingly through the windows at the beauty beckoning me to come out and play.  I tippy-toe out, ‘play’ for all of five minutes and then, when I can’t stand it any longer, find myself back inside, behind closed windows once again, listening to the heater cycle on and off and on again.

The weatherman has forecast at least four or five more days of this stuff.  There’s so much to be done outside.  Well, perhaps, I’ll dress in layer upon layer, looking like the Michelin Man, so I can be warm.  Hopefully I’ll still be able to move about enough to get the chores done.  Anything to get back outside.  I just hope no one will be watching with a camera.

And, maybe I’ll start thinking about moving again…to somewhere warmer.

Say Aaahhhh…

I HAVEN’T BEEN TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM for quite some time.  Apparently things have changed drastically since then.  Or, perhaps it was simply because of the overwhelming number of flu cases that have begun to poured into the ER this year.

The visit certainly provided me with heaps of fodder for blogging (she says with a smile), though, I think most of it might sound more like complaining than anything.  Well…maybe.

It was with great reluctance that I entered the bowels of the hospital…it always seems such a waste of time:  the usual four hours it takes to process, assess, poke and prod, then diagnose, no matter how bad I am feeling.  And, unfortunately, whether there for an illness or visiting a sick friend/relative, I usually end up leaving with a sinus infection (I forgot that little gem last night)…my body does not like air conditioning (especially hospital’s forced air a/c) for more than about 15 minutes.

At about three hours into the visit, I finally made it past the waiting room and was relieved, happy I’d still make it home at a reasonable hour. That feeling of hope was dashed when the lady escorted me passed several people sitting in chairs in the hallway.  She mumbled something about getting me into an exam room as soon as one was available.  And left me to more waiting.

Funny thing, waiting.  I’m working on a blog entry about waiting, so I won’t go there right now.  That’s a whole other story.  But, I will say, I don’t wear a watch anymore and depend on my cell phone for entertainment and checking time.  And I could not see a clock anywhere to tell me what time it might be, so occasionally, I’d check my cell.  I only had 23% power left on my cell when I walked in.  By then, I was down to 10% and had shut the phone off so I’d have enough power to call for a pick up.  I had not driven because I was plagued with bouts of dizziness, and it would have been foolish to get behind the wheel.

My dizziness felt like it was long gone, so I wanted to bolt — but since I’d taken a taxi, I was stuck and felt obligated to see this through.  The room did not materialize until after the nurse did another assessment of each of us in the hallway, the doctor had come through and questioned and “examined” us in plain view of each other, and I was temporarily escorted (I must have looked drunk as I weaved up and down the hall–at least not from dizziness, but I was having a wee bit of balance issues by then) into a tiny room to do an EKG…then, back to my seat in the hall for even more waiting.

I think it’s safe to say that my hospital has outgrown it’s emergency room facilities–again.   Even with all of the recent expansion it’s been doing, they need a larger facility (and more staff wouldn’t be a bad idea–those poor doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff were working their collective tails off!).  Stacking patients in the hallway behind closed doors to make room for the next wave of patients is not my idea of efficiency…but I guess, one must do what one must do…

Finally, in a room.  And things moved a bit faster then.  But my first clue about how much time had actually passed was when the x-ray tech came to take me for some tests — he mentioned he had come on duty at 11:30.  I was was shocked and asked what the time was — his answer?  “About 12:30 or 1.”  I had come into the ER around 6:30-6:45 in the evening.  All I could do was sigh.  Thank God for patience.

When it was all said and done, and I was properly assessed, poked, prodded, x-rayed and diagnosed, I had been there over seven hours.  A record I do not ever want to repeat.

A very dear — and clearly dedicated — friend of mine pulled herself out of bed to come pick me up and take me home…I will be forever in her debt for her rising above and beyond the duty of friendship to rescue me from the hospital and deliver me safely to my home and the sanctuary of a warm (did I mention the hospital was freezing?), cozy bed.

I thank God again and again for patience, and especially for friends like Nan.  They are precious gems, hard to find, to be held close to the heart.  Thank you Nan!

Walking up a storm

I HAVE A SUBSCRIPTION to the Urban Gardens web blog, and today’s blog was most interesting, since I love to travel, and walking is the best way to find things to capture on the camera. The author is slightly biased (NY is the writers home town & it ranked #1), and sadly, only three from the West Coast made their ranking.

When I went to the Walk Score site mentioned in the article, I found that Monterey was scored 65, Carmel-by-the-Sea was 100 (so, why didn’t it make it??), Santa Cruz at 66 and Salinas at 53.

I must admit, the Score site is more for advertising apartment rentals, etc, and the scores provide good information for people looking to move into an area, but it also provides great information for walking tourists–and photographers like myself.

I find photo ops in the most unusual places…so don’t think that is has to be a picturesque vista to be eye catching or interesting for a photographer.  In addition to ocean views, sweeping mountain vistas and beautiful foliage, I also relish interesting gates, fences, walls, dilapidated structures (cars, buildings, etc) to mention only a few.  Even some graffiti (though, I am not encouraging this illegal means of expressing oneself) has caught my eye over the years.  My Facebook page has a number of photos (user name: creationsbydjamesonsmith), in addition to the ones you’ll find at my website and Flickr page.  I am constantly exploring new areas and new ways to photograph and though I am mostly a purist (what I take is what I present), I am now playing with my Photoshop features and Solar Printing to tweak my images to something very new and interesting.  Most of those are on my Facebook page.

But, back to this Walk Score.  After visiting the Score site, what do you think of their ranking of your town? What walking opportunities does your town offer?

Are there places in your area that are ripe for photo ops? Please feel free to post comments about your town.  I may just make a visit to some of the towns you post.