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Oregon Trails

Map Skills for Hitting the Trail

In a time of GPS, Siri and smart phones, skills like knowing where you’re at and reading a map seem to be falling by the wayside. I mean, if Garmina can tell you to “turn right ahead,” who needs to look at a map – right? Maybe that works in the city – I don’t know, I don’t go there much. Here in the country, Siri and Garmina can get you into trouble. In the last several years, I’ve hear numerous stories about how the GPS told someone to turn on “this road right here.” Technically, yes, that road right there will get you to where you want to go, but not in December when there is four feet of snow. When the road turned from pavement to gravel about ten miles back, wasn’t there just the slightest hint of something in your belly telling you that this wasn’t right?

I remember when I was eight or nine, my dad would take me motorcycle riding on forest roads. At intersections we would stop to rest, and he would ask me how to get back to the pickup. He explained that if something happened to him, he wanted me to be able to find my way home. Not only did I need to have a sense of direction, but I also needed to pay attention when we went up one road, back-tracked and went up another.

Map skills are something that I have purposed to teach my Little Man from an early age. I think we started at three and it’s really paying off. This weekend we were driving in Central Oregon where the terrain is deceptively flat and most people have a hard time keeping track of their location. We had turned off the main paved road onto dirt, traveled south, hit the highway going east, and essentially looped back around to the original paved road. As soon as we turned north onto the road, Little Man asked, “How far up this road is the turn off to our camp?” I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.   

We were camped in a big red cinder pit, which is the third largest butte in the area. Three men rode up the trail near our camp, played in the pit for a while and then headed back down the trail. You can see for miles from the cinder pit, there are two major landmarks to get your bearings off of: Pine Mountain 20 miles to the south and West Butte 10 miles to the east. These landmarks are so huge they make up the entire horizon in each direction. And yet, we could see these men stop and confer amongst themselves, and then one of them bravely came over to ask for directions back to their camp.  

Dry Canyon at Horse Ridge

Getting lost in the woods or the desert or wherever can be life threatening. People have died because they followed directions from the GPS without questioning. Electronics can be unreliable. Batteries can go dead. Trees, lava flows and other geographic landforms can interfere with their effectiveness. Maps don’t rely on satellites or batteries, they just rely on your ability to read them. Here are some tips for teaching youngsters or yourself how to know where you are and where you are going. 

  • Make a copy of a map to where you’re going and trace the route for your children to follow. Ask them to help you find the next exit or road.  
  • Identify cardinal directions. For us, we started with west is toward the coast. East is toward Eastern Oregon. North is toward Portland. South is toward Medford. We traveled to these places enough that Little Man knows which way we go to get there.  
  • When pushing your kids in the stroller, riding bikes or coming home from the grocery store, take different routes. At intersections, let your children choose which way to go to get home. Let them fail and let them try to figure it out.  
  • Pick out major landmarks that can be seen from a distance: a mountain range, rock formation, a large industrial complex. As you travel, pay attention to your orientation to this landmark.  
  • Don’t automatically put a DVD in when you go for your road trip. Ask kids to point out major landmarks. Do a scavenger hunt. For example: we will cross a large river, pass two major cities and drive up a mountain to get to our campsite.  
  • Tell your kids they have to ask questions to figure out where you’re going. But you can only answer yes or no. This works best for places you’ve been before. For example: Is it farther than Grandma’s house? Is it closer than the library? Do we cross a river to get there?  
  • Give your kids the map and let them plan the adventure. Let them pick what roads to go on and the final destination. 

Happy Trails to you as you practice your map skills on your summer adventures.

Improving Electric Fence Setup

Oregon TrailsWe have gypsy sheep (no it’s not a special breed). It’s what my brother started calling them because they don’t have a real home. My husband and I don’t own any farm ground but we know people that do. So we take our sheep where there are weeds, grass and blackberries to eat.



In our experience people with blackberries do not have fences that will contain the sheep, so we bring our own. We use three strands of electric poly wire and step-in plastic posts. For the most part this is successful.

The benefit of temporary electric fence is that it is temporary. The challenge of temporary electric fence is that it is temporary.

We’ve been at the temporary fence thing for almost exactly a year now. In that time, we have found some short cuts and simplifications for the process. For example, when we first started out, we did wood panel gates between each of the pastures. While in theory this is a good idea, we’ve learned that it’s easier just to lay the fence down; the sheep will walk/jump over and we can drive over it, too. This eliminates the need for connector wires buried in the ground at each gate and reduces potential connection issues with the electricity.

Our No. 1 challenge, though, was that of actually putting the fence up. Most of our pastures are in the neighborhood of three to five acres. We mounted three geared reals vertically on a piece of angle iron with each reel holding around 1,640 feet of line. Initially we would stab the angle iron into the ground at one corner of pasture, tie the ends of all three lines to the back of the ATV and pull the three lines at once. Since we use metal t-posts with insulators at the corners, we would slip segments of scrap PVC pipe or electrical conduit over the t-posts so that poly wire wasn’t frayed as it pulled around the corners. The problem with this whole system is that the wire gets rolled/twisted together during the pulling processes and sometimes it takes a while to untwist. The key is to be able to tie the ends of the wire at the first corner and pack the reels with you.

The other component of the fencing – the step in posts – were also challenging to deal with. We kept the cardboard boxes that the posts came in for storage. Although they come 50 to a box from the factory, we’ve always been hard pressed to get that many back into them. We were using the box bungee-corded to the rack of the ATV to haul them out to the fence line and install. The problem becomes that if you’re riding across a slope one way it’s great. If the slope changes direction all of your posts slide out of the box into a crazy version of pick-up-sticks on the ground, in the brush, in the mud, etc.

We talked about making a quiver for the posts. The problem always being if it hung down too far off the back of the ATV, we risked dragging in on the ground and getting hung up through ditches or low spots. Also it didn’t remedy the problem of trying to pull one stake out and getting five. And we couldn’t figure out how to hold enough stakes without the quiver weighing as much as the ATV itself.

Being from a lumber community and a forestry family, one day I told my husband, “What I really want is a set of bunks for the step-in posts.” For those of you not familiar with logging, bunks are the uprights on the log truck that the logs sit in. The logs aren’t tied down to the truck, but wrappers (chain, cable or rope) hold the logs in a bundle inside the bunk.

ATV bunks

With that in mind, my husband went to the shop and within a day had a whole new set-up for me. He built a set of bunks that he attached to the back rack of the ATV with self-tapping screws. They are easily removed and perform their function marvelously. He also fashioned a holster for the back of the rack, which a single reel or our triple reel set-up will slide into quite easily. Now we can build fence more efficiently as one person drives the ATV and the other installs posts as the line is played out. It eliminates the multiple trips around the field as well as the tangle issues.

Reel holster

Preparations for Lambing

Sarah S HeadshotThe rains have come. The temperatures have dropped and it is time to get ready for new little wooly creatures. We tagged (or cruched) all of the ewes a week ago, getting there back ends and bellies cleaned up and ready for delivery.  I administered C&D as well as a preventative dose of Noromycin. The pens are clean and ready. The doctoring cabinet is stocked with iodine, baby aspirin, scissors, retainers, puller, and boot socks. I have emergency colostrum in the freezer and a small bag of milk replacer, nipples and bottles on hand.  

The first two ewes in the flock should lamb this week, and then the rest of the herd will follow the next week. We’ll see how good the numbers are. Last year we were one week behind schedule. We’ll be keeping an eye on the ewes’ feet, as they seem to get more sore as they gain weight and get closer to lambing. We had two limpers this weekend, but there were no visible signs of rot or scald.  

The same could not be said of my yearling ewes whose feet I trimmed on Friday. Several of them were over grown and had signs of foot rot. Our wet weather makes foot rot a prevalent problem in our herd. It didn’t help that we had a ram with a severe foot issue. He’s been culled. I trimmed the young ewes feet back into shape, opened up pockets of rot to the air and dosed them with iodine.  We’ll see if these ewes are going to have chronic foot problems. If so, they will be culled before they are bred next summer. 

We chose not to breed our yearlings this year. We make that decision yearly. Mostly the decision is based on the size of the lambs at breeding time. These ewes were small, so they’ll get an extra year of growth before having their own lambs. We could have bred them for spring lambs, but I don’t like to drag my lambing season out that long. I want to be able to lamb for a month and be done. 

The next question I’ve been contemplating is bummers – as in whether or not I will subject myself to that sort of chaos. To some extent that decision may be taken out of my hands (i.e. if one of my own sheep can’t care for her baby.) What I’m debating is whether I will actively search out bummers for a little flock here at the house. As Hubby says, “You can’t just have one and if you have two you might as well have ten.”  My own caveat to that is that six is about the most I want to have at any one time. 

I have welded wire panels for a pen and plywood for a little shelter should we end up with some orphan lambs. We always keep supplies on hand for such an event. So I might just as well resign myself to it, embrace it and start building a pen.  

A step back in time

 I am fortunate enough to live in a family that has kept a lot of old family memorabilia. There are times when it’s over whelming and you wonder what to do with it all. And to be honest some of it is just junk. But my dad made an interesting discovery a couple of weeks ago. It is a journal that his grandmother, known as Mom Hill to the family, kept during 1924 and parts of 1925 and 1926. In 1924 she was married to her first husband Victor and had four little boys Ralph, Donald, Louis (my grandpa) and Eugene. 

Hubby and I just got done watching Ken Burns’ Dust Bowl on Oregon Public Broadcasting. I knew that my grandpa came from Kansas to Oregon (via Idaho) in a wagon at the age of three in 1921. I had always assumed that they came as part of the great migration as a result of the Dust Bowl – the dates don’t quite follow that train of thought. So we’re not really sure why the family came, but one thing Mom Hill mentions is that her sister sold the place in Kansas, and there was no hope of going back (obviously she had harbored that very hope for three years). Seeing what the poor souls on the plains endured I think they were fortunate to sell when they did. 

As I read through her year starting in August I marvel at the stamina of this woman to spend the day picking and canning fruit and vegetables, feed her family and then help her husband plow and sack potatoes, cut firewood or slash and burn brush piles in the evening. 

By the end of the fall I am plum tuckered out by the canning, preserving and freezing of bounty for the winter. But this woman puts me to shame. The last page of the journal lists her canning for the year. I’ve copied it below. May we all be so industrious. 

Fruit and Vegetables canned in 1924 

27 qts prunes                                                                       40 qts butter 

32 qts peaches                                                                    08 peach             

42 qts pears                                                                          12 pear 

6 ½ qts strawberries                                                         11 blackberries 

32 qts blackberries                                                            05 plum 

04 qts pickles                                                                       07 apple 

08 qts corn 

49 qts tomatoes 

70 qts vegetable in all                                                                     17 ½ qts jell 

5 qts piccili                                                                             6 qts apple 

6 qts pumpkin                                                                     4 ½ qts plum 

6 qts apples                                                                          1 qt strawberrie preserves 

                                                                                                  6 qts blackberries 

                                                                                                  3 qts apple jelly 

Fruit [and] vegetables canned in 1925 

19 qts peaches                                                                    14 qts beef 

50 qts blackberries                                                            3 qts pears 

35 qts pears                                                                          3 qts strawberries 

12 qts plums 

24 qts beans 

16 qts corn 

4 qts beets 

40 qts tomatoes 

    qts quinces 

Mom Hills journal 



Planning for Canning

Some of my fondest growing up memories of late summer and early fall are of preserving food. Whether it was making jam, drying fruit or canning, I remember standing next to my mom, her on one side of the sink and I on the other, washing, peeling, pitting and slicing.  I started out as the berry smasher. Then I worked up to slicer. Then I did all of the fruit preparation while she boiled jars, prepared syrups and handled hot jars. 

Canning is hard work. In the heat of the summer it can turn into downright drudgery. My problem is that my eyes get too big for my canner. And my freezer. And my jars. And my shelves. Last year I bought six boxes of peaches. Really. There are three of us. We cannot eat six boxes of peaches in one winter. Not even if we eat them every day. I know. We still have twenty quarts left.

This year I had a plan. I took inventory of my freezer, my empty jars and my shelves of canned fruit. Then I made a list: quantities, type of fruit and what I was going to do with it. It looked like this:

2 flats blueberries – freeze 

2 flats strawberries – 1 batch jam, freeze rest 

2-3 flats raspberries – 2 batches jam, freeze rest 

1 box cherries – dry 

Can 24 quarts peaches 

Freeze 2 gallons peaches 

Can 24 quarts applesauce 

12 pints bread and butter pickles 

Grape juice 

So here’s the problem with planning for fruit, the sun, rain and plants don’t necessarily follow along with my plans.  It started with the plums. A family friend was on vacation when their plums were ripe. My uncle picked them, gave some to my mom and my mom gave some to me. Now some might not sound bad – unless it’s a box. Little man ate plums for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner. And I still had some leftover – so I made jam and froze it.  

My blueberry patch closed. So I had to find a new one. The first place I went was terrible, but lucky for me blueberries grow well here. I picked my two flats and froze them just like the plan instructed. The strawberries and raspberries also went just as planned. So did the cherries. 


Then came the cauliflower. I tasted some pickled and loved it. But why on earth would I buy pickled cauliflower when I could make it myself much cheaper? I went off to my favorite farm market and bought two heads of cauliflower and pickled 10 pints. I continued the pickling process and did my bread and butter pickles. Hubby came home and requested dills. I couldn’t tell him “no” now could I? 

I had a reprieve for awhile. Let me restate that. I had a reprieve from fruit. We spent the month of August working on a trail at Smith Rock State Park. When I returned home, I found the two bottom drawers of my fridge full of pears, plus a box of them on the lower shelf. Pears? I didn’t plan for pears! There were no pears on my list. Mom was “storing” them in my fridge to delay their ripening because her fridge was full and she had stacks of boxes of ripe ones.  Of course she wasn’t delaying the ripening for herself, she was delaying the ripening until I got home and could do something with them. So I dried them and canned them. And then Hubby requested pear butter. And Little Man requested pear sauce. And I couldn’t tell them “no” could I? 


I was ready for apples. My parents have an old orchard with varieties that we don’t know. There is one yellow apple tree and then there are the “Connine apples.” The yellow one ripens first and I got my 24 quarts of applesauce. Of course there were extras so I dried some and then some more. At some point during the apples I realized I had forgotten to put tomatoes on my list. I canned 16 quarts of chili sauce and dried a few. Then Mom showed up with a box of prunes. Of course those needed to be dried. And then I declared canning season over. I was worn out and done with any kind of fruit or vegetable. 

But the apples weren’t done with me. My brother picked apples until he ran out of boxes. He asked me to bring boxes over and when I arrived with six he looked at me with reproach and said “That’s all you have. That won’t even be a drop in the bucket.” I walked into Dad’s shop and there were stacks of boxes, buckets, bowls and enamelware pans. Anything that could hold apples had been recruited to do so. Everywhere I looked there were apples.  

We made cider for two days. I made more applesauce. I dried more apples. I made apple bread. I fed rotting ones to my chickens. I made apple cake. I froze apples. We ate apples. I made Apple Dumpling Mess. I fed rotting ones to my sheep. I ran out of jars. I ran out of cupboard space. I ran out of freezer space and still I had two boxes of apples on the floor of my dining room.  

We had lunch at Mom and Dad’s yesterday. Dad was still eating apples. I’m really, really hoping that canning season is over. But I will not be foolish enough to declare it so – we haven’t made grape juice yet. 

The Adventures of the 1950 Chevy pickup

Sarah S HeadshotI have to admit that on a daily basis I have disparaging remarks about today’s youth. For the most part those remarks are not unfounded. Our home is on the route to the local hangout, so we get litter and cigarette butts thrown in the lawn, driveway and flowerbeds. I have to listen to their vulgar language over my back fence. And I watch them destroy public property. Today, however, I had a completely different experience. 

My in-laws have a 1950 Chevy pickup that Hubby, Little Man and I were going to take for a ride. To be honest I wasn’t really into it this morning. I’ve pushed it more than once. I’ve towed in more than once and something always falls apart. It’s an adventure every time we take it out and I just couldn’t get myself in the mood for that kind of an adventure.  

We went to my in-laws to get the pickup and it wouldn’t start. Come to find out when they put a new light bulb in the dash, they knocked a wire loose that went to the key switch. An easy fix, once it was traced down. 

About 20 miles into the drive it started to rain, so Hubby turned on the windshield wipers. We’ve had problems with the windshield wipers on previous occasions, so I admonished him that it wasn’t raining that bad and to turn them off. I was thinking we ought to save the little amount that they were going to work for when we really needed them. He turned the switch, but the wipers wouldn’t turn off. They did this sort of jerky delay-thing baaa-aaack and forth, baaa-aaaack and forth.  Then they stopped in the middle of the window and then they went faster than I thought 1950 style wipers could go. And then… one of the wipers flew off completely.  Of course we were on a winding road with no wide spots, so we had keep going until we found a spot to turn around and come back. Sure enough there it was in the middle of the road – thankfully unscathed. 

I was hoping that was the end of the adventure. But that would have been too easy. 

About ten more miles down the road the pickup started this shuddery thing.  Both Hubby and I were thinking through the potential issues as we continued down the road. It wasn’t until he slowed down to turn that we recognized it as a tire issue. Sure enough, the front passenger tire was missing two lug nuts and the remaining ones were loose enough to tighten by hand. After a quick appraisal of the tool situation we determined that an air pressure gauge and a Phillips head screw driver were not going to help us out. Hubby tightened the remaining lug nuts as best he could and we headed the shortest route home.  

About a mile down the road we pulled in a driveway and borrowed a wrench to tighten the two lug nuts that remained and stole two off another tire to hopefully get us home. The problem being that we didn’t have a jack to lift the pickup up to fully tighten the nuts. Another mile down the road and I heard a rattle and we stopped to survey the situation again. We were again down to two lug nuts and one of the studs was completely missing. 

It was at this point that it became obvious that we were not going to make it the 10-15 miles back home with this tire. (Some of you are thinking we were a bit slow in this observation – I prefer to call it optimism.) At this point Hubby called his parents to see if they could bring a trailer. While he was on the phone a teenager in a 70-something Ford pickup stopped and asked if he could help. Hubby borrowed a wrench and tried to tighten the lug nuts only to find the studs weren’t staying in. The kid asked where we lived. When he found out it wasn’t very far away, he went home got a trailer, we loaded the pickup on it and the three of us piled in the cab with our rescuer.  

He turned the key on his pickup and it wouldn’t start.  I really wanted to laugh and cry at that moment, but I refrained because I was afraid that he would change his mind about the sanity of the random strangers he’d picked up alongside the road. It turned out to be a relatively quick fix, he grabbed his screw driver and crawled under the pickup (in the middle of the road) and used it to short something  (cause he yelled when it shocked him) and the pickup started. Then he delivered us safe and sound to our house. 

Later, Hubby, Little Man and I had to take our ’87 Blazer (which is notoriously unreliable) to retrieve our pickup from the in-laws’.  Generally we don’t drive the Blazer on the freeway (a precautionary measure).  As Hubby pulled onto the on-ramp of the freeway, Little Man reminded him of the no Blazer on the freeway rule. I told Hubby it didn’t matter, ‘cause if the Blazer broke down I was walking. Little Man didn’t hear, so Hubby repeated for his benefit, “Momma said she was walking home if we broke down on the freeway.” 

I said I was walking – I didn’t say anything about home… 

Egg Osmosis

This week we’re learning about osmosis. Little Man doesn’t fully understand the concept – however we found an AWESOME experiment to illustrate osmosis with items in our kitchen.  

Items you need: 

1 raw egg 

1 ½ cups vinegar 

1 ½ cups corn syrup 

Jar with lid 

String and ruler for measuring the egg 

We measured and made observations about the egg. It was a small white banty egg. We placed it gently in the jar and poured the vinegar over the top. By the next morning, the shell was dissolving. After 72 hours the shell was completely dissolved and after measuring the egg we found that it had gained an inch in diameter both the long way and the short way. The vinegar had reduced from 1 ½ cups to 1 1/3 cups. 

Then came the next step. I rinsed out the jar and put the egg back in, this time with corn syrup. By the next morning the egg had visibly shrunk beyond its original size. We’re waiting 72 hours to determine the difference in the amount of syrup and to measure the egg. 

This was a super fun, very tactile and visual experiment that is great for kids of all ages. In addition, there were no special equipment needs. Hope you have a fun time with your experiments!

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