Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Twenty degrees again this morning.  I just took a thawed hummingbird feeder out so the poor little guy who was trying to lick on the frozen one could get some sustenance.  There are a few hummers that didn't go elsewhere for the winter, less here this year than in the past.  The feeders never thawed yesterday...I think it got all the way up to thirty-two late in the afternoon.  (The weatherman who said thirty-seven didn't look at my thermometer.)  I'll have to take warm water out to the chickens today; their waterers stayed frozen, too.  I keep a special stick nearby to break the ice in the goat trough.  My view today is as white with frost as if it had snowed.

There is an unexpected drawback to writing this blog.  I don't have a lot of interaction with "real-life" people, and sometimes I forget to whom I spoke last and/or whether I told them such-and-such, and I dislike repeating myself.  (Repetition is a curse of age, anyhow.)  Since most of the people with whom I do converse also (thankfully) read the blog, I have nothing new to say!  "Oh, yes...I read about that."  Or, on the off chance that something of interest might have cropped up, I can't say it out loud because it is blog fodder.  I was writing a letter to a friend this morning, and I can't say any of the good stuff I was writing to her, as she would think I was giving her predigested information and it would hurt her feelings. 

A word about letters.  (And it is not just because I am reading "As Always, Julia."  Please note the correction of the title.)  I truly enjoy, utilize, and appreciate the expediency and monetary savings of email...hearing from a friend in any form is wonderful...and to think one can instantaneously stay in touch for free no matter where you are in the world is amazing.  But consider...in literature, where would we be without the collected correspondence of so many (including Julia Child)?  No one is going to save the emails of our celebrities, authors, romantics, the movers and shakers of the world.  Future generations are going to lose the experience of sharing and learning from the innermost fears, loves, hates, intrigues, losses, and triumphs of those who shape our lives...all because of the "delete key."  This doesn't even speak to "reading between the lines" in a letter.  Does the letter come on formal stationery or on a scrap of torn paper.  Choice of pen/pencil speaks volumes.  Emotion is reflected in handwriting...pressure, script, size, etc.  A letter is personal.  Perhaps this is not as far from the farm as might be imagined.  While it is electronic...this is my letter, such as it is.

Lest I begin to repeat myself, HAPPY NEW YEAR from Farview Farm!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Traditions

Awoke to twinkling stars and twenty degrees this morning.  Snow down to 1,500 feet is predicted for later today.  Looks like we missed a white Christmas, but the new year might slide in on skis. 

My mother darned near ruined my life.  When I was a young bride, she told me (with a straight face) that the way my house looked on New Year's was the way it would look all year...and I, fool that I was, believed her.  I washed windows, dusted, mopped floors, did laundry (including ironing, which I did in those days)...come New Year's Day, my house sparkled!  When the dust resettled, the clothes continued to wrinkle, etc., I figured I hadn't tried hard enough and so would work harder the next December 30th.  I did this for years.  My mother had two daughters, sixteen years apart (to the day!), so maybe that plan worked for her.  By the time I was twenty-three, I had four Kids, and those house-cleaning cards were stacked against me.  Either that, or she lied.

When the Kids were very small, their dad and I would hire a sitter and go party with our friends on New Year's Eve, but when our youngest was five and the oldest was nine, we moved twenty-four miles from town and too far to drive after celebrating, so I developed a new tradition.  We would stay home and have our own party with the children.  I made fancy hors d'oeurves, served their soda in the best glasses, and had a family participation cheese fondue for dinner.  (Everyone had a fondue pot in the sixties.)  Deb and I would put on our best dresses and the boys got all spiffed up.  We put on music and danced and played games. The rule was this:  no one had to go to bed before eight, but the kids could only stay up as late as they were old.  We did this every year, and it made turning twelve a real event for each Kid...they could stay up until the magic midnight hour...they had arrived!  And we went outside to bang on pots and pans to welcome the New Year and scare away bad spirits.  It became a hallowed evening, such that Deb even turned down lucrative sitting jobs on New Year's Eve when she was in high school, not wanting to break with tradition.

Just for the heck of it, I think I'll do a little dusting today.  It might work.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Singing In the Rain

Musashi was a "Craig's List" rooster, and he had to live in Deb and Craig's garage for a number of days before they came up here.  They mentioned that he kept a low profile and was very, very quiet that whole time, and that was a good thing because their neighborhood does not sanction chickens.  It was drizzling rain yesterday morning, but Musashi finally found his voice, standing in the open doorway of the Taj, and crowed and crowed and crowed.  He was still yodeling as I made my way to the goat barn.  He needs the practice as his voice isn't very strong, and he has to work on the words a bit more.  Instead of a full-throated "cockadoodle-doo," he gives out more of a thready "cockadooooo!"  He's still young, but I give him full marks for effort.

The feed store gives out calendars, and I picked up a new one when I dashed down to get goat chow before the brunt of the storm hit.  This year the photos are of vintage trucks (not the pin-up pictures one might expect).  There's something exciting about a completely blank calendar.  Transferring birthdays, anniversaries, etc., from the old to the new gives the opportunity to look back over the year, remembering good times.  I'm at that stage where, if I don't write it down, I'll forget, and so there is my social calendar, my financial records, and farm statistics.  I do keep a daily journal (aside from the blog), but all events of importance hang there on my wall in a nutshell.  It's fun to imagine what will fill the now-empty squares of 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Introducing...!!


Cock o' the Walk...Musashi!  He is such a beautiful boy.  He, like the girls, is as soft as a cloud.  His comb and wattles are a deep maroon, with large, brilliant, almost iridescent aqua blue ear flaps.  He wears his comb at a rakish angle, much closer to the beak than "standard" roosters.  Unlike the downy topknot that the girls wear like a chapeau, he has real feathers on his head, a ruff of long, silky feathers, and true feathers on his tail.  He does have formidable spurs tucked in among the feathers on his feet.  All the Silkies have black skin, regardless of the color of their feathers.  He seems to be a very gentle boy, but he came from a group of males only, and he may become more protective when he realizes that the harem is his...all his!  I think I will miss it when Yuki does her come-hither squat for someone else. 
Unless Yuki (or one of the others, if they catch onto the idea) hatches a clutch of eggs and raises some females, Musashi will be limited to just the three Silkies.  While he certainly could mate with the standard hens (a male is a male is a male, after all, and it's not breeding interspecies), I'm not sure he is aggressive enough to run their gauntlet and I'm not willing to find out.  He seemed so little in the crate by himself, but he is nearly twice the size of the girls.  Putting him in the Taj after dark worked like a charm and the girls completely accepted his presence yesterday morning.  (Go figure.)  Doesn't say much for their short-term memory, but if it works, it works!  At any rate, come nightfall last evening, he tucked himself in close to the girls with only a little urging from Bessie Anne, who, even outside the fence, feels it is her duty to herd chickens inside at dusk.  With apologies to Frank and Nineteen, Musashi is the only male with testosterone on the farm, and it's nice to have a man around the chicken house.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Farview Time Zone

I've always said that (thankfully) time moves a little slower here, so having a delayed Christmas was nothing new and certainly did not diminish our celebration.  The Kids started arriving just as I was finishing in the barn.  Taking the milk up to the house, I was told not to take off my boots...we were going back out again.  Okay.  There, in the back of Deb and Craig's car, was a covered crate.  I'll bet I'm the only kid on the block who got a new rooster for Christmas!  He is a gorgeous white Silkie and his name is Musashi, after a famous samurai warrior.  Deb researched the name with Terry, Craig's mom.  Craig calls him Bob.  We were anxious to let him out of the cage after his long ride, and I forgot the first rule about introducing a new member into the flock.  Setting him free in the Silkie pen, the girls ignored his magnificent presence at first, and then Yuki, the self-appointed chief chicken, took him on.  There was the pecking and flying up to strike.  I grabbed up Musashi, crated him again, and tucked him with food and water into the feed barn until after dark.  I can't wait to get pictures of him this morning. 

While Deb, Craig and I were playing chicken whisperer, Dave, Larry, Susan, and Taylor were loading my porch with firewood (what a kind thing to do), and then we were all free to play poker!  We took a break to eat big bowls of chili verde, our traditional Christmas dinner, and then open gifts before going back to the cards.  My family is not materialistic in any sense of the word.  All gifts are from the heart.  There is one gift that I have received for thirty years and it touches me in ways I cannot describe.  From the time I left home to marry at eighteen, my father gave me a box of See's candy every year.  The Christmas after he died, my daughter handed me a box of See's and said, "This is from me and Grandpa."  Deb does this every year, and every year my father lives again. 

I'm not going to list the many other funny, beautiful, delicious gifts I received, but I should mention that the "Wells-Fargo Wagon" had brought a DVD set of the PBS series of the much-loved "Anne of Green Gables" from a new friend, and the mailman had brought a book of Julia Child's letters, "Always, Julia," from an oh-so-dear old friend, as well as a package with a tee-shirt autographed by Clint Bowyer (my NASCAR driver) from my YaYa cousin. 

A word about books:  Deb showed me the Kindle she had just received, and I was amazed at the technology.  I think it is a wonderful invention, and perfect for someone who lives the busy lifestyle as she does.  I am old school.  It's not just the content of a book for me.  I love the physical feel of the paper, the way typeset can influence the story, the weight of the book in my hand.  I like the act of turning the pages.  Browsing a list is not the same as running your fingers along the books on the shelf, recognizing old friends, searching for a beloved title or author.  My rooms are filled with bookshelves and stacks of books nearly ready to fall over.  I'm not ready to join The New Age.  I live in a different time zone.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

There was a time when I would go to Christmas midnight mass at a tiny little church down in the farmlands on the Sacramento river.  It was an unpretentious parish, the men dressed in clean bibbies with their hair slicked back and the women mainly in house dresses or slacks.  The bare trees in front of the church had been decorated with a few twinky lights and there was a small Nativity scene...none of the grand displays of the churches in town.  Driving down the river road under a full moon with frost heavy on the fields, you couldn't help but sing, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."  The choir was clearly untrained, and there was always a soprano who sang with gusto...just a little off key.  The reading was from St. Luke, always the gentlest of the apostles, to my mind.  To put the finishing touch on this bucolic scene, there was a little dog who would come down the aisle all the way to the communion rail, wait for the bells to ring out after service, and throw his head back and howl along.  It was the perfect Norman Rockwell portrait of Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Welcoming Committee

The Mafia boys, Tony, Carmine, Christopher, and Big Pussy (all named after characters in The Sopranos) were out in force to welcome the sun yesterday.  Well, not in full force.  I fear The Don went out for Thanksgiving dinner, and now sleeps with the fishes.  I haven't seen him for at least a month.  The boys came running as soon as I threw down their grain, but Carmine has learned that he can double back and join the hens when I open their door and get double goodies.  The chickens seem to tolerate their new breakfast companion (or perhaps he has told them "or else").
The turkeys weren't the only ones welcoming the warmth of the sun...the vultures were drying their wings after days of gloom.  They are also losing their fear of me, allowing me to come within eight feet or so as I come rattle-banging down the slope with a cart of alfalfa for the goats before they take off with their big wings going whump, whump.  It's simply amazing to be close enough to actually hear them fly by. 

It was appropriate that the sun came out to celebrate Arden's birthday.  Having put in an appearance, however, it ducked back behind thick cloud cover while we were scarfing hamburgers and onion rings at Bones and catching up on news.  It was great to spend time with my friend.

No one comes here after dark, so it was alarming when I saw headlights coming up the drive last night.  Even more heart-thumping was that they stopped halfway and didn't come on up.  Hmmm...someone lost?  Someone reconnoitering?  What's up with that?  Bess was sounding the alarm, and I was waiting and watching.  Finally, lights blazing, the UPS truck roared up the final half of the drive and The Man in Brown came bouncing up.  Bessie convinced him to put the package down on the stoop; we wished each other happy holidays and off he went.  A la "The Music Man," I always think of the UPS truck as The Wells-Fargo Wagon Is A'comin', and it's very exciting..."and it's bringing something just for me!"  There is no indication of the sender on the box, but I'm going to wait until Sunday to open it and find out...but I really, really want to!

It's Christmas Eve for the rest of the world, even for Marko, who is home from Wake Island for the holidays.  My nephew, Phil, is back in Africa, after making it home for Thanksgiving.  He's a long way from home and family now.  Here on Farview Farm, we're still in a holding pattern, and hope that Santa understands. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Limits

I am a procrastinator.  It's not something I'm particularly proud of, but it's a fact.  Any excuse to put off something/anything is a good one.  "I can't vacuum now because the cat is asleep."  "There's no sense raking leaves today because wind is predicted for tomorrow (or next week, or next year)."  You name it and I can find an excuse not to do it right now.  This is, I'm semi-embarrassed to say, a lifelong habit.  My mother said I suffered from dishwater trots as a child, because I disappeared to the restroom when she announced it was time to do dishes.  One of my earliest memories is the sound of my impatient father jingling the coins and keys in his pockets as his daughter (me) dragged her feet.  Term papers in high school were written on a portable typewriter as I sat on the bathroom floor the night before they were due.  It seems I have always railed against deadlines...and this year, it is Christmas.  It's even worse because the Kids decided to move our celebration back a day, giving me more time to delay.  Now I'm up against it and my back is to the wall.  I've got two batches of cookies started (but not finished).  I haven't wrapped a thing.  Deciding not to send cards was a good thought, as they wouldn't have gotten sent until after the holidays anyhow.  Well, guess what...I won't get much done today, either, as my friend Arden and I are meeting for lunch to celebrate her birthday.  Now that's a good excuse!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Personal

One tends to develop a relationship with weather up here, so it is hard not to take it personally when it doesn't rain all day (when I have chores in the house) until the moment I step outside to drive to the feed store.  It started pouring before I even hit the big road and continued all the way to Mt. Aukum.  Not wanting to put bags of goat chow and chicken scratch into the bed of the truck to get soaked and spoiled on the way home, I settled for a bag of corn and a bag of wild bird seed that would fit into the cab of the truck.  At least the chickens and turkeys will be happy.  I had hauled enough chow down to the girls to keep them fed for a week, so I'll try to outguess the rain and make a run for it another day.  (It's raining again this morning.)

Pearl has a hate relationship (no love-hate about it!) with the rain, dodging drops as she races to the house, and complaining bitterly when she comes in.  Frank seems fascinated by the weather and will sit under the porch or the covered part of the deck and watch for the longest time, day or night. 

I can only think that things in Portland, Oregon, must be deadly dull.  I called another service provider, still trying to get affordable high-speed Internet service.  The representative I drew interspersed his brief answers to my questions with information, in detail, on how liberal Portland is, describing the many clubs where the customers dance completely nude, but that wasn't his scene.  Moving right along, he told me all the specifications of Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose airplane, which is displayed in a town close to Portland, and how the geodesic dome was built to house it.  I didn't know that, standing under it, the nose of the Goose is ten stories high overhead.  He also talked about traffic in Los Angeles.  He followed his wife from there to Portland fifteen years ago, but they divorced anyway.  His two daughters (in their thirties) live in Portland, so he probably won't be moving soon.  Gosh, the things one learns, and I am so happy to share.  I felt bad about interrupting to say it was getting dark and I had to put the goats to bed, but after an hour of his chatter, I had to do it.  I don't think I got enough information to make a decision (and I don't think he really cared), but he did give me his direct-line number so we can chat again when I've thought about making a change.  Hmmm.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Catching a Break

The current storm seems to have spent itself on Sunday, and yesterday was just gloomy, overcast, and drizzling.  At any other time, it would have been considered awful weather, but given recent circumstances, catching this break made it a great day!  The full moon was shining brightly this morning.  I wish the clouds had parted last night so I could have seen the winter solstice eclipse, which hasn't happened since the 1600s (missed that one, too).  My Kids, like all small kids, were sure that I was two days older than dirt.  One child, who shall remain nameless, asked me if Juliette Lowe (founder of the Girl Scouts) had been my troop leader, and another nameless Kid wanted to know how old I'd been when they fought the Civil War.  Time does change perspective.  My dad, in his seventies, was talking about "some young guy," and when I asked just how old the "young guy" was, Daddy said, "Oh, probably fifty-seven or so." 

Privacy was a big issue when I was a child.  I was allowed to open mail that was (rarely) addressed to me, to occupant or resident.  At Christmas, I could open cards only if they included "and family."  This the first year as an adult that I have not sent out Christmas cards, but I can tell from my mailbox that I am not the only one skipping that tradition this year.  The holiday wishes are there, and I am sending them to one and all..."and family."  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah...whatever the holiday and to whomever you spend it with...my very best to everyone from Farview Farm. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Says It All

This dejected, sodden flock of turkeys gave up hope that I was ever going to serve early breakfast and was heading down into the woods for whatever protection they could find yesterday morning.  It pretty much describes the day.  While at the computer earlier, I'd thought I heard water dripping.  It couldn't be from the ceiling...I'd had to have a new roof put on five years ago when the ceiling in the breakfast room collapsed.  Hmmm, must be my imagination.  (I'm really good at playing ostrich.)  No, that's definitely dripping water, but where could it be coming from?  Then I saw the splashes...the wind was blowing so hard that rain was being driven in over and under the windows and the track for the sliders had filled to overflowing.  (A towel was an easy fix.)  Being somewhat less than enthusiastic about going out, I'll admit I dawdled around before donning outer gear and jamming on a hat.  The worst part about wearing glasses in the rain is that one is instantly blinded, and Joel and I wondered the other day why it is that rain falls inside the glasses where it can't be wiped away.  After days of heavy, heavy rain, the goat barn was awash and there was nothing for it but to trundle down a bale of straw to give the girls some relief and a place to get dry and hopefully warm.  Manhandling the hand cart with that heavy bale in gale-force wind while hanging onto two milk buckets was...well, not my idea of fun.  Understandably, the girls were as reluctant to go out as I, but we each had our incentives.  Esther tried to pull her trick for second helpings, and I had to push each girl out the door after feeding.  The inclement weather continued all day, but it did let up just a little before the normal bedtime hour and I thought I'd take advantage and dash out to put the kids to bed.  Ha!  Halfway to the hen house, it started hailing!  I mean those little pellets were mean!  Combined with the wind that kicked in again, it was like being shot with rock salt.  The goats mobbed the gate like soccer fans and our routine was shot to hell.  Poppy barrelled past like a linebacker, stomping on my foot in the process.  Trying to sort out who went where was like those little hand-held games I had as a kid when you tried to get a bunch of BBs into depressions at the same time.  (Wa-a-a-y before I-Pads or pea pods or whatever they're called.)  Coming back to the house, I saw that the wind had driven the rain in under the porch all the way to the front door and the stacked firewood was soaked.  The evening was spent trying to keep the wood stove fired up. 

It's nearly seven a.m.  It's still dark.  It's still raining.  The wind is still blowing.  I think that says it all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Potty Parties

Animals have no concept of privacy.  I don't know why I'd expect anything different from dogs, whose idea of greeting is a nose up your bum, but somehow I thought cats, being more aloof, would be more polite.  It's rained for three days now.  Bess has been reluctant to go outside, but waited until three o'clock this morning and then couldn't wait any longer.  Fortunately, it was a brief trip and she was back in so we could go back to sleep.  Frank and Pearl are reduced to using the litter box in the bathroom.  Frank will cross his legs, waiting until I have to use the room, and then dash in so we can go together.  Oh goody.  A closed door means I must be having a better time than they, and the cats will claw and Bessie will whine until I let them in.  Living alone, leaving the door open means less distraction.  Bess knows that as soon as I drop my drawers, she has a captive audience with nothing to do but give her back a good scratch.  She will awake from a sound sleep to follow me in.  I once had a Welsh Corgi who would leap on my lap in the bathroom, throw back her head, and sing.  She seemed to like the acoustics.  I learned while watching the rescue workers during the aftermath of Nine-Eleven never to close the lid on the toilet.  If something disastrous should happen, the inside animals would at least have a supply of water.  Bessie Anne does not drink from the porcelain fountain.  Frank does.  It's a bit unnerving to almost sit on a cat if I'm not paying attention.  A prior cat, Victor, had an utter fascination with toilets.  Watching the swirling water during a flush was better than television.  We had side-by-side bathrooms, and the highlight of Victor's life was when he'd get a double-header, running back and forth to watch both toilets flush.  I had to warn guests to make sure the door was locked behind them.  There were French handles and Victor learned how to open the doors, not wanting to be left out.  For women, he would rest his paws on their thighs, trying to see; he would stand behind men, in danger of being sprayed.  Alone and bored, Victor would just go play in the potty, splashing around and soaking his big, furry paws.  If he jumped on your lap in the living room with wet feet, you knew what he'd been doing.  We always flushed the toilets.  Even Louie, the pig, would get into the act.  We had a big, step-in shower, and he would come in and snuffle around, squeaking his nose across the glass doors until I let him into the shower with me.  Now that's an experience.  When the Kids were little, I used to dream of having time to myself in the bathroom.  So much for that.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More Bright Sides

It occurred to me what a labor-saving device I had as I was kicking the barn muck off my boots on the edge of the front porch.  It certainly saves me from having to haul manure up to the front flower bed.  The rain, which is pouring down for the second day, saves me from having to stand and fill the water troughs.  I work a lot on the incentive plan, and the storm that hit full-force last night inspires me to get the laundry done and all the dishes washed up just in case.  It also put a burr under my saddle to get the baking finished while the power stays on. 

For years, we've all complained about the commercialism of Christmas, with the ads on TV screaming about Santa Claus starting sometimes before Halloween.  There just haven't been that many this year, and going shopping yesterday was somewhat disappointing.  The stores weren't playing Christmas songs and the displays were sort of ratty.  I may have to make a run down to Amador City, just past Dry Town on the way to Sutter Creek.  In seasons past, this tiny group of eight or so shops with wooden sidewalks and porch overhangs were decorated to the nines, and each little store played carols and served up free cookies and coffee or cider to the customers, very Dickensian.  It doesn't take a lot of money to dredge up the Christmas spirit.

When the kids were little, they cut strips of red and green construction paper and made chains to garland the tree, and we did the popcorn strands, also.  Which brings to mind Louie, my pot-bellied pig who lived in the house in West Sacramento.  (He was box trained.)  Louie is worth a chapter to himself.  Louie was a character, a pig with personality, and he lived in the house, sleeping beside the bed at night, wrapped in a bright orange blanket.  Steve was tolerant of my strange taste in pets...I have no idea how he explained me to his friends.  At any rate, Deb was staying with us for a time, and that Christmas we decided that we would string popcorn and cranberries to decorate the tree.  Big mistake.  It had taken us hours to make the garlands, but it took Louie only minutes to knock over the tree and devour our efforts before breakfast the next morning.  That very day Steve built a house and a pen and Louie was moved into his outside quarters.  I don't think Louie ever quite understood why he'd been deposed.  When I make sugar or gingerbread cookies, I always use a pig-shaped cutter...always thinking of Louie.  He was certainly a bright spot in my life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Distracted

Ashes from the wood stove are emptied into a small, lidded metal trash can kept on the front porch; not exactly a decorator statement, but handy and safe.  Pine is the most plentiful firewood available here, but it has the drawback of creating the most creosote in the chimney, and I try to avoid it when possible.  It burns hot and leaves only ash.  Cedar burns hottest and fastest and doesn't leave much of anything.  Great for starting a fire, but definitely no good when it comes to banking coals for the night.  Oak is by far the best.  It might be a little harder to get going, but the logs take longer to burn so one doesn't have to keep stoking the fire and it leaves a nice bed of coal to keep the house warm and to start again in the morning by simply opening the vents and throwing in another log.  My wood supply this year is only oak.  On Tuesday, I was taking the ash can out to empty on the burn pile, which itself was empty at the time.  The sun was shining and it was lovely to be outside.  Turning to go back to the house, I looked at the pile of brush in the front yard.  Hmmm.  Burn pile empty.  Brush pile full.  Tree Guy's son coming back to burn sometime.  Leaving the ash can in the driveway, I started pulling brush.  Leaving housework I'd started to fend for itself, I spent a couple of hours unraveling the branches that had knitted themselves into a tangled mess and pulling over a mountain of brush, building up a huge burn pile.  Sometimes I think this brush is self-generating, because no matter how much I pull out and burn, I can't get the darned thing gone.  There might be some collusion with the birds who use the piles for sanctuary.  Quail scatter like buckshot from the brush when I approach, and flocks of sparrows try to reclaim their territory as soon as I turn away.  I would like to get my front yard back, regardless.

Popping a couple of Advil to quiet my screaming muscles yesterday, I planned to go to town in early afternoon.  Rain was predicted and I wanted to make the run while it was still sunny.  I had purse in hand and was saying goodbye to Bess when there was a knock on the door, and there was Sam, Tree Guy's son, and his girlfriend from Australia, Amanda.  So much for The Plan.  I will have to admit that any excuse not to go to town is a good one, and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, standing in the sunshine, watching someone else work, smelling the wonderful outdoorsy aroma of wood smoke, and talking with Amanda from Adelaide.  I have an affinity for Aussies, dating back to reading Battle Cry by Leon Uris in my early teens.  I was in Hawaii one time in July, when it is winter in Australia and a lot of Aussies were there on vacation.  If there were a group getting on the elevator, it was a party by the third floor.  How can you not love that?  It was a kick to listen to Amanda's Australian accent and turn of phrase.  It didn't hurt that she is a ranked poker player in Australian tournaments.  Sam finished the burn pile and cleaning up all the brush from the goat pen just as the sun was dropping.  I can go to town today.

The predicted rain arrived during the night.  I've been distracted a couple of times while writing this morning by Pearl and Frank wanting to be let back in and fluffed after their damp outing.  Oh well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Bright Side

"Well, look at the bright side."  Strange words from the mouth of the worst (or best; I don't know how these things are graded) pessimist ever.  I once asked Steve why he always thought of every bad thing that could happen to each and every plan or project, and accused him of dragging around his very own cloud of gloom and doom.  "Because then the only surprises are good ones."  I suppose that makes a perverted kind of sense.  He did usually end his itemization of potential disasters with, "Look at the bright side," as a concession to what he considered my idiotic optimism.

The first time my sister Pat came to visit, she exclaimed, "My goodness, you must spend a lot of time raking leaves."  I'm sure my expression said, "I think you've grown two heads," but I muttered, "Not really."  The winds of the last week have nearly denuded the oak trees and there is a thick layer of leaves everywhere you look.  It's really quite beautiful in its own way.  But I'd have to rake ten acres of these leaves, and then what would I do with that mountain of fallen glory?  The fact is, this is the blanket that Nature pulls over the earth to protect the bulbs and seeds so they can sleep warmly through the winter, waiting for the wake-up call of spring.  I don't have to go to the time and effort to spread mulch to get that same effect.  And that's the bright side!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Believe

Santa Claus never came to our house the same way twice when I was a kid.  The only sure thing was that he would visit on Christmas Eve.  One year I woke up from a nap in the afternoon to discover he'd come a little early.  Another year I was worried we'd miss him because we went out for dinner.  Not finding anyone home, he left all the gifts on our front porch for us to find when we got back.  Once, I had finished my job of drying the dishes after dinner and when I went to put the damp towel out in the service porch to dry, I found all of my presents out there.  It was Mother's practice to let me open one gift from family early.  My sister married when I was four or five and began her own family traditions, but they came to visit a day or two before Christmas one year.  Pat and my mother decided we should open perhaps just one gift to each other while we were all together.  My father just sort of went along with the program, whatever that might be.  One gift led to another, and pretty soon the living room was filled with wrapping paper and laughter.  To my astonishment, Santa had apparently discovered our early celebration and left toys and goodies in our garage right then and there!  I went to school the next day and felt pretty darned special because I was the only kid Santa had visited early, and I had the bike to prove it.

There came a time when Mother explained that there were a lot of new children in the world and Santa had to have a cut-off date for bringing toys for older kids.  The deal was this...he would continue to visit every year, but his gifts would be the spirit of kindness and giving and it would be my job to share these...the Spirit of Christmas.

I believe in Santa Claus.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Shots in the Dark

Something was out there last night, but it's not there now.  I was awakened at three-something this morning by a dog barking frantically over on Irish Acres.  About the time I realized what had waked me, two shots rang out.  In my drowsy state, I feared for a moment that they'd killed the dog, until Dog gave a couple of triumphant barks and I knew Man had hit his target.  I've been hearing talk of black bear sightings and I wonder if that's what it was.  I've seen no tracks nor scat.  Rumor has it that bears are being relocated here from Yosemite.  We are just over the hill from National Forest land, so I suppose that's possible. 

Bessie Anne is sleeping on the bed behind me, having puppy dreams.  I've seen her paws move as she runs in her dreams, heard her whining at some dream fright, but she must be back in puppyhood this morning as she is sucking away like crazy.  Strange little dog.

Tom came yesterday to pick up milk and eggs.  He's considering building a coop to keep chickens in his back yard.  Like many townships in this wretched economy, regulations have been raised to allow this in Placerville.  Of course I took him out to see the Silkie Taj; a prime example of ingenuity, built by Craig without blueprints.  As we stood talking, the temperature plummeted and fog started creeping down the hills.  In ten minutes, the gorgeous, sunny day had disappeared and we were shrouded in gloom.  This morning there is a full-fledged storm raging and I was disinclined to take the trash down to the big road in the driving rain.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mother Love

Yuki is such a little girl, less than half the size of, say, one of the buff Orpingtons, but she has the determination and heart of a mother lion.  She has decided that she is going to hatch a clutch of eggs, come hell, high water, or me.  Every day now I find her on the nest.  She gives a warning growl, and if I don't back off, she swells up like a blow fish, as she is starting to do in photo two.  She will sit on the nest all day, darting out for a bite of grain or a mouthful of water before settling back again...even if there is no egg. 
Since her attempts at intimidation didn't work, she turned her back on me, hoping that if she ignored me I'd just go away.  

My hope is that she will just give up this fight for babies that will never come.  It breaks my heart because she is so instinctively protective of her eggs.  That instinct has been bred out of most commercially raised chickens.  Most of the hens I've raised never go broody and could care less about that round thing that dropped out their bum. 
Come spring, I may go on the hunt for a Silkie rooster.  I would love to see what a Silkie chick looks like, and Yuki needs an outlet for her mother love.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Short Trip

One of the nuns in high school used to intone, "Patience is a virtue.  Virtue is a grace.  Grace is a little girl who didn't wash her face."  This bit of drivel kept repeating in my mind last night as I was driving to a friend's holiday party after dark.  Yes!  I went out at night; I think it's the second time this year.  I sometimes feel like a vampire in reverse, running for cover as the sun goes down.  The chickens and I just have little reason to go out again once we've shut the door.  The cats are the only ones willing to risk moonburn.  At any rate, I got duded up for the festivities, I had the plate of warm brie en croute on the seat beside me, and off I went to drive the all of ten miles to my friends' place back in the hills of Mt. Aukum...slowly.  I had barely turned onto the big road when the first deer ran in front of me.  All guests leaving Farview Farm are cautioned to "Watch for deer," but ten deer in ten miles?!  I've seen what damage hitting one of these suicidal creatures can to do a vehicle even at slow speed, and just last week such an accident made the TV news when an antler came through the windshield and pierced the driver's hand, pinning him to the wheel.  Bucks, does, and fawns were lying in wait for me last night, some darting across the road, some dithering down the middle, and a few watching from the berm.  It simply did not pay to race down the roads and so I crept along at twenty miles an hour, thinking that patience is, indeed, a virtue. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Long Trip

I so rarely leave home, and then seldom going more than thirty miles away.  However, I have spent the last two days in cyberspace trying to get an issue with Norton Internet Security resolved.  My traveling companions were Sanjay, Durga, Thrinesh, Don (Don?), and Swarup.  The fact that I only have dial-up service contributed to the problem that my new friends were unable to solve.  One download took ten hours, and even then was unsuccessful.  It was suggested that I run over to a neighbor's house with a high-speed connection and perform the download there or, when I explained there were no houses nearby to run to, I should go to a cyber cafe.  Even working at a distance, I could see the expression on their faces when I said that town was twenty miles away and didn't even have a Starbuck's, let alone a cyber cafe!  On the first day, Sanjay had been very sympathetic because I had made the mistake of making his acquaintance before going to the barn and, after working with him for three hours, I said I had to go milk the goats before they popped.  He said he was sorry...I said he wasn't as sorry as they were.  It seems that although I initially received Norton via CD, they are unwilling/unable to send me the files I need to update the system on a CD.  I cannot believe that I am the only computer user left in the world with dial-up.  I tried...I really tried to get satellite service through AT&T.  Unreal as it seems for a company that covers the world, AT&T does not provide that service in this area.  I was told, "Maybe in two days, two weeks, two years...who knows?"  It's a long trip to cyberspace, and it appears you can't get there from here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cat and Mouse

It was raining last night when I let Pearl in.  I should have been listening more closely when she asked to be "fluffed," because her, "Mmrrowff," did sound a little muffled.  It wasn't until she was running off after being dried that I realized she'd been talking with her mouth full.  We played hide-and-seek, me yelling, "Give me that mouse!"  I could swear I heard her say, "You want one?  Get your own," but her mouth was stuffed with mouse and I could have been wrong.  Given her size and my size, that cat had more places to hide than I could find.  Now I don't know whether she brought in a live mouse to play with and it got away, or if it were a dead mouse and she tucked it away for a snack later.  Neither option appeals to me.  I suppose I'd better institute new protocols and, like airport security, perform a pat-down before letting the cats into the house.  I also need to pay attention when they speak.

Almost the only sun seen all day yesterday was at dusk.  It made the trees on the hill to the east glow, even though the light was getting dim.  The lone tree on the distant hill to the left is over toward Omo Ranch, a smaller community than Fair Play, although the homes are clustered closer together.
These beautiful cloud formations are to the north, toward Lake Tahoe.  Those few patches of blue did not keep their promise.  It rained nearly all night and was still raining this morning, although it's just misting now.  I'd better get out and get the chores done while the sun plays cat and mouse in the clouds.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Carpe Diem

I take it all back.  I had been feeling pretty guilty about sitting in the sun and "wasting" a day reading...and then another storm blew in.  Missing the opportunity to be outside with the dog, cats, birds, book, and beauty...that would have been a waste. 

Yuki, the little white Silkie, wants to go broody.  It may just be that she doesn't want to go out in the rain, but she has taken to sitting on her egg in the laying box, growling (yes, chickens do growl) when I reach under her for the day's contribution.  It would be an exercise in futility to allow her to keep her egg in that, without a rooster, there has been no fertilization.  Besides, since Yuki has claimed the box as her space, Keiko and Satomi are dropping their eggs outside on the ground, in the mud, and they're not too happy about that. 

It's pouring rain again this morning.  Should the sun come out later, I shall grab a book and my small, furry friends and we shall soak in the rays without a qualm or even a twinge of guilt.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Big Mistake

I think it is said of alcoholics that one drink is too many, and that there are never enough.  The same can be said of bookaholics.  With all of the extra holiday preparations facing me yesterday, I made an error in judgment and picked up a book.  The morning was sunny and the bench on the deck was calling to me like the Lorelei.  I'll just sit for twenty minutes, maybe a half-hour.  I'll read just the first chapter, maybe two.  When the sun had moved over and the bench was in shade, I moved into the house, still reading.  The morning was already shot, so why not stoke the fire and read just a few more pages?  Then I'll get busy and do double-time on the to-do list.  I turned the last page in time to put the kids to bed at dusk.  There is an old black-and-white movie starring Ray Milland called "The Lost Weekend."  With the best of intentions to attend to obligations, he ended up at the bottom of a bottle.  I understand.

I...will...NOT...pick...up...a...book...today.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Going Nuts

It may be familial, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's universal.  My mother told a story on herself that, when I was a baby, she lost my shoes.  It wasn't until after she'd had to replace them that she found the original pair...in the oven.  I cannot find the pecans.  I had a large package of pecans from Costco and I used one cup at Thanksgiving.  I had taken them from the freezer and that's where I thought I put them back.  The walnuts are there.  The pecans are not.  Living as far from stores as I do, of necessity, I have a number of freezers.  I spent a good portion of the evening hunting in all of them for pecans.  I also looked in cupboards and drawers.  And, yes, I looked in the oven.  No pecans.  I have gone over every recipe I've made since Thanksgiving, thinking that perhaps I had used the last nut.  Not so.  Craig has developed an allergy to walnuts, so cookies for the holidays need those pecans.  I want those pecans.  They will undoubtedly turn up in some bizarre place immediately after I buy more.  Until then, I'm going nuts!

And while I'm on the subject, some years back Cousin Mark gave me a present of a crate of walnuts and a crate of pecans, both in the shell.  I put them on the deck just outside the kitchen door.  One day I noticed a small pile of walnut shells beside the crate, and I asked Steve to please clean up his mess if he were going to eat walnuts.  He said he hadn't eaten any.  Well, perhaps they'd rolled out of the crate and gotten stepped on.  I swept the shells off and didn't give them another thought.  The next day there was a small pile of walnut shells beside the crate.  Hmmm.  This went on for days, the piles of shells getting bigger and bigger each time.  The mystery was driving me nuts.  One night, the dog we had then started barking at the kitchen door and I went to see what had upset her.  Turning on the porch light, there were two raccoons, helping themselves to the walnuts and totally ignoring me and the dog.  They were washing each nut in the cat's water dish and enjoying their late-night snack.  Either pecans were not to their liking, or they couldn't crack the smooth shells.  They never touched the pecans, but ate every walnut in the crate.  At least I knew where they went.

It was still storming when I walked down to the barn yesterday, bent over into the wind.  One would wonder if I'd imagined that when I took this photo from the milking room door a half-hour later.  Bessie Anne had taken her customary position outside the pen, watching and guarding, and enjoying the warmth of the sun.  She is my constant companion...unless it's raining, and then she explains that it's more important that she guard the house from the shelter of the front porch and that I should be okay on my own in the barn.  That's okay.  She's not nuts!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nick of Time

I knew it!  That dab of rain the other night while Dolly was here was just a taste of what was to come (I said appetizers were her speciality).  That cloud cover that came in yesterday turned into a full-fledged storm last night, and she ducked out just in time.  Usually the rain and wind come from one direction or another.  Last night the rain was like something alive, pounding on this side of the house, then that, as if looking for a way in.  I was very glad to see the little red numbers on the clock this morning.  NOTE:  this is my second attempt to write this entry.  I had no sooner typed the previous sentence when the power went out and I lost it all.  Luckily, the electricity just blinked out and came right back.  So far, so good. 

My stock of alfalfa was getting low, and I ordered another ten bales yesterday.  The kid was racing to make the delivery just before the rain hit.  The cost of alfalfa and feed has really gone up, but there's no way to put the girls on a diet and they don't understand economics, so it's a case of bite-the-bullet and buy what they need.  I don't know who said what to whom first, but Cindy and Ruth got into it the other day and it got ugly.  They butted heads until their foreheads were running blood and their legs were shaking.  I learned a long time ago not to get in the middle of one of their disputes.  They become so single minded and intent that nothing will distract them, and I could easily get hurt too.  The clash when they come together shakes the ground.  It's fortunate that the fights don't normally last very long and they don't seem to hold a grudge once it's over.

I'd best get done what I can while I still have light to see.  I sent Dolly home with a couple of dozen eggs.  I wish she'd taken her rain, too.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Withdrawal

Oh, 'tis a wicked day...my friend has gone home and NASCAR has gone dark (the season is over until February).  The chores go on as usual, but there's certainly something missing.  Withdrawal pangs are setting in. 

Dolly and I were next-door neighbors for a long time before she and her family moved away...all of one door down.  Our husbands were best friends, and we all did so many, many things together for years, even after Steve and I came up to Fair Play.  The guys died a couple of years apart, and Doll and I don't see each other as much as we'd like anymore.  When we do, as on this weekend, it's great to catch up on the families' doings, reminisce about all the good times we've shared, and discover what new plans are being made.  Good friends are like a pair of well-worn jeans...always comfortable and comforting, nice to know they're there.  Dolly probably gobbled all the way home, as I made a vegetable-laden turkey soup on Friday and turkey-jack cheese taquitos last night.  (I'm free of leftovers!)  I wasn't so sure about a new recipe for cranberry-onion salsa, but it was terrific, if I do say so myself.  Dolly's speciality has always been appetizers, and we munched through the day on the ones she brought up.  We really lucked out on the weather...warm enough to sit out on the deck and talk on Friday, overcast and then rain (I told her it wouldn't be a visit from her without rain) yesterday and last night, and then a bluebird sky and sunshine this morning.  The cloud cover is returning now...withdrawal.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Room Temperature

I ran into one of the drawbacks of country living yesterday when I wanted to do a little baking after returning from town.  It takes forty-five minutes to get to the grocery store, and I had a number of errands to run as well, so this was a five-hour trip.  It had rained all the way home, and I got back just in time to put the kids to bed and unload a two-week supply of groceries before dark.  The wood stove does a good job of heating the living room, but it's a funny thing about heat...it can't turn corners.  It never quite makes it down the hall to the bedrooms, and can't make that U-turn into the kitchen.  At night, and when leaving the house for any length of time, the vents on the stove are closed and the fire banked, and the ambient temperature drops.  The drawback was this:  the house had cooled in my absence and I could not get the butter softened to cream in the sugar.  I couldn't even get it soft enough to get the beater into the machine!  "Room temperature" is such a relative term.  In the summertime, when the kitchen (which faces west, getting the worst of the afternoon sun) is in the nineties, I could pour the butter into the bowl on any given day.  In winter, there just isn't enough difference between the refrigerator and the room at large.  Thawing anything from the freezer is a two- or three-day affair.  Until I got the new ovens with the proofing cycle, making bread in the winter was almost impossible.  Even putting the bread bowl in front of the wood stove wasn't enough to get the dough to rise.  I baked a lot of door stops.  I gave up the project last night and will give it another shot this morning before my friend arrives.  I hope she brings warm clothes.  Flatlanders have trouble with the room temperature up here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sky On Fire

I'm not really fixated on sunsets, but last evening's was just too awesome (in the best sense of the word) not to try to capture.  There must have been a strong high wind because the clouds came marching over the hills until they filled the sky in almost the time that it took to focus and shoot.  I love the way the oaks in silhouette give perspective to the photos.   The fire blazed until it almost hurt my heart to look...and then in an instant it was gone.  The cloud cover was just a dark purple in a dark blue sky.  The show was over.
Tree Guy and son arrived late in the afternoon.  TG finished felling the limbs he considered safe, and son finished hauling the rest of the twiggy stuff up and over the fence.  There are still a few of the very tallest parts of the trunk...impossible to cut without a cherry picker or a strong, fast winch without endangering the barn.  I can live with them.  TG thinks it will take one more day's work to haul the cut rounds up out of the pen and to burn the remainder of the brush.  It can't happen this week; one, because weather is coming in, and two, my friend from the valley is coming up a day early to spend the weekend. 
Of course it's going to rain...it always rains when Dolly comes, be it winter or the middle of July.  It's become a standing joke between us.  I've got to make a run to town today to stock up on supplies.  Yesterday I made a small inroad on decorating the house for the holidays.  It depends on the weather whether or not I can haul in the Christmas trees from the shed.  We used to put one in the living room and one downstairs.  I so rarely go down there anymore, I may just skip that one.  If we're inundated with rain as we were last year, I throw some twinky lights in the fake ficus and call it good.  It all remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Definitive Bibby Primer

As has been mentioned, bibbies are my uniform of the day.  Having worn bib overalls daily for many years now, I feel qualified to give some instruction to the uninitiated.  The benefits to bibbies are clear:  many pockets, long wearing, lack of tight waistband.  However, there are a few pitfalls that should be avoided, and it is in this area I feel I can be of assistance.  Every one of those many pockets must be checked before putting the bibbies into the wash.  Note:  immediately after discovery, remove the battery and smart chip from a cell phone that has been left in a forgotten pocket in the washer, leave the cell phone open and let it dry thoroughly before reinserting battery and chip.  With any luck, the phone will still work.  I have performed this experiment twice.  Unless one is decorating for Christmas, do not leave a Kleenex in a pocket, lest the entire wash come out flecked with [clean] snowflakes.  Screws, nails and staples do not require washing.

It is the custom to leave one of the two straps fastened when there is a need to drop one's drawers.  The first thing a novitiate must learn is to grab that hanging strap before it drops into the toilet.  Or else.  When getting dressed in yesterday's bibbies, be sure the still-fastened strap is on the outside of the corresponding pant leg.  If it has snuck between the legs, the bibbies cannot be pulled up, and there is a rather alarming sensation in the process. 

In winter, when it might be necessary to wear long johns or sweat pants under the bibbies, it is imperative that the inner garment be pulled up first.  If not, it will bunch at the ankles or knees and the wearer will effectively be hobbled.  Also, it must be remembered to put on sweaters, sweatshirts, etc., before pulling up the straps.  This eliminates the necessity of completely undressing in cold weather when one receives a call of nature. 

I hope these few instructions prove helpful.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sundown

Sunsets up here are frequently spectacular and because the animals are put in at that time of day, I have the opportunity to pause and really appreciate the scene.  I'm not stuck in an office or in traffic somewhere.  I'm not rushing to fix dinner.  The last thing I do before coming back to the house is fill the water trough for the goats, so I have nothing to do but stand and soak in the beauty.  For some years now, Dave and I have either called or texted, calling attention to a particularly lovely sunset show, sometimes nothing more than (a la "Fantasy Island"), "Da sky, boss!  Da sky!"  He called last evening, pointing my attention to the pastels, fading from the pinks below to the still-blue streaks, going on up into the dark blue of night.  I might call him when the sky is on fire, underlighting the clouds with brilliant golds and reds.  Deb commutes to her job by bus, and she frequently takes a minute to call while waiting at the bus stand in the evening.  Touching base this way, for me, is like that last goodnight kiss at bedtime when the Kids were small.  Sometimes I wish that childhood, and sundown, could last a little longer.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Do-Nothing Day

I was down in the barn when Deb and Craig left yesterday, and they stopped the truck in the driveway, honked, and hollered, "Love you!," and I called back, "Love you!"  That's the way every visit ends, and it couldn't be more fitting.  The house always seems so quiet after all the chatter and laughing.  After straining and jarring the milk and washing the buckets, Bessie Anne and I snuggled up in the recliner and spent most of the day dozing off and on and watching old movies.  The cats were disinclined to go out into the cold, and they found a patch of sunshine in the back room and slept on the bed.  In the afternoon, Tree Guy's sons came and did a bit more trimming, and also cut back a branch from the oak in the front yard that was dragging on the power line; that's been worrying me for awhile.  During the storm on Saturday, another widow maker had fallen, too close to the pickup for comfort, and I moved the truck out to the point for safety. 

The quest now is to find a date to celebrate Christmas.  Sometimes getting this group organized is like herding cats.  We'd briefly thought the eighteenth would work, until someone double checked their calendar and found a prior commitment.  Clay's days off are irregular and split, so we try to hit one of them, and it can't be on the twenty-fifth because that's a big, go-visit-everyone day for Craig's family.  Moving it too far up would catch everyone unprepared, and it doesn't seem reasonable to wait until January.  It's a dilemma.  The only thing for certain is that the menu will include chili verde.  After the rich foods of Thanksgiving, we all crave something spicy.  Well, it's a start.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunshine is Where You Find It

The wind blew, the rain fell, and later in the day there was sleet/snow/hail, and it was still a great day.  All the kids decided to come up regardless of weather. Dave, Craig, Clay, and Brandon braved the storm and used the yard cart and wagon to pull up load after load of firewood from the goat pen to the front porch.  It's about all I can manage to haul my butt and the milk buckets up that hill even in good weather, and these guys made trip after trip, finally coming in, soaking wet and frozen, for the hot drinks that Deb and I had ready.  How do you thank someone for that?  In my case, I made more fresh pasta and put on a big spaghetti feed.  As soon as the fingers and toes were thawed, out came the cards for poker!  As Linda noted, it was a Thanksgiving do-over, and Brandon was lucky enough to pay off his markers this time.  A houseful of my family twice in a week...I was over the moon!

Deb and I got up early this morning and I had some precious one-on-one time with my daughter over coffee.  Craig is only allowed to sleep in as long as Bessie decides.  She is the official waker-upper and when she's missed him long enough, either scratches on the bedroom door or, if it's left open a crack, jumps on the bed and on him until he joins the party.  There was still plenty of white stuff left on the ground this morning, not melting off until nearly noon, and we took care of some small chores until it was time for them to leave and me to go milk.  The skies are blue and the sun is shining today, but the smiles on my kids' faces were all I needed yesterday.  The firewood will warm the house...my kids warm my heart.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Tis the Season

One sure sign that the holiday season is fast approaching is a visit from Steve's twin brother and his family, and they arrived yesterday with bells, whistles, and goodies for lunch.  The brothers were fraternal twins, not looking alike, but sharing a gentle, good nature and a gift of gab, and they give good hugs.  Like their father, Stan and Steve could make a friend of a fence post in five minutes.  Lynne is an athlete, running in marathons, bicycling, kayaking...I get tired just thinking of it all.  Both Stan and Lynne have a passion for whatever it is they do.  Making beer has become more than a hobby, and the entire family benefited when Lynne took up quilting.  It seems impossible that Lauren, that quiet little baby and shy young girl, is in college now.  Another one of those "time flies" reminders.  I had already made the dough for pasta, and they had their first experience in rolling out fresh spaghetti.  Their dogs, Petey, an old golden lab, and Lucy, a long-haired mini
daschund, came too.  Bessie Anne is used to big dogs, but didn't know quite what to make of Lucy, about half her size.  Bess was a gracious hostess, allowing Petey and Lucy to raid her toy box, but running to my side if I tried to pet either of the guests to remind me that she was my girl. 

It is also the season of changeable weather.  Yesterday was cold, but sunny.  A storm with wind and rain blew in overnight and it looks like it's going to be a blustery day.  All subject to change, Deb and Craig had planned to come up and spend the night, and Dave, Zach, Brandon and Clay were coming to split wood.  Who knows...the storm may be over by daybreak...or not.  Maybe they'll all come up anyhow and we can play poker!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks

Given that yesterday was the traditional Thanksgiving, these boys had plenty of reason to be grateful that they weren't on someone's table, stuffed instead of stuffing themselves. 

Long before the move up here, I subscribed to a magazine called "Country;" then later an ancillary magazine called "Country Woman."  Both had lovely photographs and articles having to do with rural living.  I was working in a high-stress job and found it restful to dream of what life could be like elsewhere.  In "Country Woman" there was a column I particularly enjoyed called "The View From My Kitchen Window."  I was thinking of this yesterday as I was standing at the sink, washing milk buckets and hummingbird feeders.  Down in the valley, the houses were so close together, and my neighbor and I could wave across the fifteen feet or so between our kitchens as we did dishes.  Here, my kitchen window looks out to the west, perfectly framing the huge oak in the front yard.  The men putting up the feed barn perhaps thought I was strange when I asked them to stand where they planned to put the first stakes while I ran back into the house to look out the window, coming out to tell them to move six inches back.  I didn't want anything to block my spectacular view.  Shortly after moving in, I planted bare root lilac "sticks" in front of the kitchen windows.  It took years before these leafless twigs took hold and grew, and longer still before they bloomed.  These plants are taller than I now and in the spring the heavy blossoms fill the kitchen with lilac perfume.  At this time of year, the leaves have turned yellow and are falling, but the bare branches are full of tiny sparrows and I can hear their chatter through the closed windows.  I love the view from my kitchen window.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Flurry of Feathers

A fine flurry of frigid feathers...how's that for a tongue twister?  It never did warm up much yesterday, not quite getting to forty degrees even though the sun came out, and the hummers were bellied up to the bar most of the day.  Even after drinking their fill, they would just sit and rest for the longest time.  I think the cold saps their strength.  Sometimes it takes me awhile to get with the program, but when it was only twenty-six degrees before seven p.m., it dawned on me that if I brought at least one feeder into the house right then, these little flying jewels wouldn't have wait out the thawing process in the morning.  Ta da!  It is barely light now, and I just hung a full, liquid feeder.  They were sucking juice before I'd even gotten to the hanging station.  When the juice is frozen, I envision these poor little guys with their tongues stuck to the ice like the kid in A Christmas Story glued to the school flag pole.  These are photos of only a small portion of the flock (who ever thinks of a flock of hummingbirds?) that comes to feed every day.

Tree Guy and sons came in the afternoon and spent a couple of hours pulling the twiggy branches up and over the fence line.  That was one big tree.  It was too wet and icy still to do any climbing and cutting of the remaining branches on the trunk, but they did buck the felled branches into firewood-size logs, ready for splitting.  Today being everyone else's Thanksgiving, they won't be back until tomorrow, weather permitting.

I dined last night like a queen on fresh crab sent up by Craig's dad, Arvin, who works in Saucelito and has friends who are crabbers.  Never frozen, that sweet meat dipped in butter was a meal from heaven, and calories be damned! 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Co-o-o-ld!

Twenty-four degrees this morning.  Right after kicking up the wood stove and making coffee, I brought the hummingbird feeder into the kitchen to thaw out so the littlest kids can get some breakfast at daylight.  Their juice was frozen solid.  I am so keeping my fingers crossed for the water lines.  One never knows if there's a break until after it warms up a little.  At least I know the lines to the house are okay so far, as the taps and toilet work.  The storm lasted all day yesterday and it wasn't until two-thirty that the hard-working wood stove was able to warm the living room.  Dead as it was, the barn oak provided some protection and without it, hail hitting the metal roof while I milked sounded like machine guns...a lot of them.  This is double-up weather.  Two pair of socks, sweat pants under the bibbies, a couple of sweaters under the fleece vest under the barn coat.  The goats have doubled their fur coats in the last month or so and they seem to be coping well.  I don't know how nature provides for the chickens, but they go about their business in all weather, outside in all but the worst downpours.  The Silkies went punk-rock again, but I wasn't about to stand out there and take their pictures at bedtime. 
These are the photos I took and tried to download day before yesterday.  Perseverance and patience pays off.  This one is just of the pretty fall (winter?) colors of Joel's vineyard and the trees on the hill across the way.
I have a potential buyer for Tessie, my little unicorn, and Nineteen.  Tessie finally stood still long enough to get her portrait, along with Poppy's rump and Lucy's face.  Tessie is a sweet little girl, and I'm very pleased that the buyer is willing to take the pair, as they've never been apart, sharing a stall since birth.








Nineteen had been standing perfectly still, but when I raised the camera for the shot, he also rose.  What he lacks in equipment, he makes up for in enthusiasm.  Ruth was the object of his affection that day.  I'm not sure whether the girls will be sad or relieved when Nineteen goes to a new home.  I will miss him.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foiled Again

Computer 1 - me 0.  I've got to figure out why it takes so long to download photos from the new camera.  Got a couple of good, unexpected snapshots yesterday, but after an hour of fighting the download process this morning to retrieve even one, I give up (temporarily).  I'm racing to get everything electrical done because a major storm hit during the night and power is always iffy in this situation.  The wind is howling and rain is beating a tattoo on the windows, and it's nasty enough that I've forgone taking the trash to the big road.  It's enough that I'm still facing going out to the barn.  Where are those serfs and minions when you need them?  I changed over to flannel sheets last night.  I like a chill bedroom for sleeping, but see no reason to punish myself by sliding between ice-cold sheets.  I wish Tree Guy had been able to finish the job on that oak over the barn.  It's light enough now to see the trees bending and quaking in the wind.  Instead of hovering, the hummingbirds are clinging to the footholds on the fueling stations.  Poor little things; like leaves, they could be blown into the next county in a heartbeat!  In winter (which seems to have arrived early this year), the last thing to do before bedtime is to throw a log or two on the fire before shutting the vent on the wood stove to keep a good bed of coals.  Then, in the morning, after shuffling sleepily down the hall on the way to the kitchen to start the coffee, I open the vent and throw on another log so it lights and starts warming the house for the day.  That pretty much sums up living up here:  plan ahead and be prepared, summer or winter. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Day After

Man, I was one whupped puppy yesterday.  It's a good thing nothing was on the agenda but NASCAR.  Jimmy Johnson won his fifth straight championship.  So what else is new...ho hum.  Bessie Anne obviously felt the same way.  It spit rain and snow off and on all day...good to stay indoors, keep the fire going, the hummers fed, and doze now and then. 

The new camera has many, many options and the manual is only accessible through the computer.  I am big on reading manuals and learning how to work all the features of anything new.  The photos themselves are really, really clear, but there were a few more roadblocks in transferring to the computer, and again in transferring to the blog, so they came out rather blurry, I fear.  Out here in the back of beyond, I can only get dial-up and it took over half an hour to post each picture.  That's more than a little discouraging.  Maybe today will be better.

Or not.  Well, I guess twenty minutes is better than thirty.  That is MY pile of chips in the foreground, by the way!  The poker game is a kind of round robin, players changing dependent upon what's going on in the kitchen.  Some families watch football, some fight, some just come for the food.  My family plays poker!  As I look at this picture, Dave somehow makes me think of the guitar player with ZZ Top.  That white behind Dave was the ongoing mist, rain, hail, and snow that alternated all day. 

I must ask for indulgence when I boast about my Kids.  I'd brag about knowing these people if they were not my Kids.  Gatherings of the clan take on all the aspects of a well-choreographed dance.  Everyone takes part without direction.  The boys who arrived first brought more firewood up to the house while I finished milking.  They all know to stay out of my way while I'm cooking (my kitchen, my rules).  Craig took care of some incidental outdoor tasks during lulls in the storm, like putting wire over a ripped screen in the big hen house window.  Susan makes a killer salad, and this year she brought stuffed baked potatoes.  Deb is, as she has always been, my right hand in everything.  I feel sorry for anyone who hasn't got at least one daughter like mine.  The boys took on carving the turkey (my job ends when the bird comes out of the oven).  The table was set before I knew it, and the whole crew cleaned up after dinner, did dishes, and parcelled out leftovers while I put the kids to bed.  And then the cards and chips came out again!  Still pictures can't show the chatter and the constant laughter, the good-natured ribbing back and forth, but perhaps they do show the love.

Thanksgiving 2010.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Photo Ops



These photos were taken with the new camera, and I'm going to let them speak for themselves.  Those at the table are, clockwise from left to right, Deb and Craig, my grandson Brandon, granddaughter Taylor, Dave, Clay, Zach (Dave's housemate), Larry and his lady, Sue.  Only Pete and Jake are missing, and they were missed.  Deb and Craig spent the night and headed home just as it started spitting snow this morning.  The last picture is exactly how Bessie Anne and I spent most of today.  It's late, I'm tired, and oh, so happy.  I'll write more about our Thanksgiving in the morning.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Noooo!!

Woke up at dark o'clock, rolled over the check the time...noooo!  No little red numbers, ergo no time.  No power.  Nooo!  Not today of all days.  Anything later than three-thirty would be a good thing.  Found the cell phone (thankfully powered up yesterday) and checked its clock.  Two-fifteen!  Too early...way too early.  Found my way to the living room where the land line phone is and PG&E is on speed dial.  Called PG&E...power might be back on by five a.m.  Oh goody.  Was not about to stuff the turkey in the dark, and knew I'd never make it through the day on three hours' sleep, so Bessie Anne, Frank and I went back to bed (Pearl never got up in the first place).  They started snoring immediately, while I fought down thoughts of panic, trying to go back to sleep.  I had worried about snow.  Ha!  Snow can be overcome.  What about no electric oven for the turkey?  What about no toilets for the guests?  What about...?  The thoughts just kept coming, and none of them were good.  Should I call the Kids after daylight and cancel Thanksgiving?  Was there any way we could make it through this?  Yeesh.  When sleep finally came, my dreams were as troubled as when I was awake, but sleep I did.  Not necessarily a good thing, as when I awoke the second time it was six o'clock.  I could tell it was six o'clock because the electricity was back on.  That turkey should have gone in the oven by five!  Ah, well.  It's like being stuck in traffic...once you're late...you're late.  No sense worrying about it then because there's nothing you can do to change it.  It is what it is.  There is a light dusting of snow...just enough to be beautiful and not enough to cause problems.  The sky has a slight overcast with plenty of blue showing.  The turkey is in the oven.  All the side dishes were prepared yesterday.  I'm on schedule for the animals.  My Kids will be here today.  I've got so much for which to be thankful.  Yes!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Clear the Decks

Nothing on our Thanksgiving menu is difficult to cook...straightforward dishes, every one...but nothing can be prepared more than a day in advance, either.  Pie crust gets soggy, Jello gets watery, and turkey cannot be stuffed until just before it goes in the oven.  Clear the decks and Katie-bar-the-door...today will be spent in the kitchen! 

Tree Guy's second son came yesterday and made trip after trip up and down the goat pen, hauling twiggy stuff and heaving it over the fence.  Tree Guy got worried about the girls possibly stepping on hot coals and decided to do the burn pile up where I normally burn.  Bless his heart.  As if that didn't make No. Two's job hard enough, the wind came up something fierce and he couldn't get the pile to light or stay lit.  It caught and took off just after he'd told me he was going to call it a day.  So much for that plan.  I imagine he is pretty discouraged, however, because after four hours' work, there is barely a dent in the pile of brush down in the pen.  Hopefully he'll consider that as job security!

The weather report now predicts snow to fifteen hundred feet...I am so hoping it holds off until Sunday or, if that's too much to ask, at least until after the family leaves tomorrow.  The driveway is steep and I'm the only one in the family with four-wheel drive.  When not in the kitchen or the barn today, I've got to turn off water to the outlying faucets and put those freeze bonnets on the remainder.  Several loads of firewood were brought to the porch yesterday.  This storm is coming straight down from Alaska.  It will be the Silkies' first experience with snow.  Either those big, feathered feet will act like great snowshoes, or they'll collect ice balls like happened with an English sheepdog I once had.  Chickens surprisingly seem to do quite well in snow. 

Odds are I won't make an entry here tomorrow.  That bird will have to go into the oven pretty darned early if I'm to get the Kids fed and out of here before dark.  There is a Thanksgiving toast I've made for years; I can't say it out loud anymore without crying and so I won't, but I mean it with all my heart:  "For those who have gone before us; for those who will come after us; especially for those who are with us now...I am truly thankful."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Timberrrr!

Tree Guy and Son came about noon yesterday.  They decided they'd rather work with the goats out of the barn, just in case.  The goats preferred that, too, especially since there was newly fallen browse to munch and chain saws and oil cans to inspect and gloves to pull out of pockets and shirts to tug.  Later, there were mountains of cut rounds to climb and on which to play Queen of the Hill.  The gentlemen had estimated they could finish in a day.  Not.  In their defense, it really is a tough job, complicated by not being able to get their truck into the pen, not wanting to squoosh the barn, and having to work around all of the four-legged inspectors.  I, wise woman that I am, stayed outside the pen, allowing the men to exercise their vocabulary at will, and giving them one less thing to worry about.  These photos were taken early on during the job.  I was shooting blind due to the bright sun, so am pretty pleased that I caught the falling limb.  Limb is a misnomer, as it is as big around as a regular trunk.
Tree Guy had to make a run to get more gasoline (can we say, "Plan ahead"?).  On his return, the Mafia Boys were cruising the driveway, and Tree Guy was very excited.  "Oh, man!  And me without my shotgun!"  He went on to tell me how excellent the breast meat was (the legs being not worth eating), and how some other lady had actually asked him to shoot the turkeys on her land because they were eating her bird food.  Hint, hint.  Sorry, Charlie...that ain't happenin' here.  I did tell him that this particular flock were like pets now and that I'd really miss even one of the Boys.
I didn't get pictures at the end of the day, but there are huge piles of the twiggy stuff and mountains of cut rounds.  Two more of the "branches" to the left have been taken down, and a good portion of those remaining have been limbed.  TG and Son have formulated a plan to take down the rest that involves ropes and come-alongs and wedges and mauls.  Son No. Two is due to come today to pile up and burn all the twiggy stuff.  Since the girls will be out again, we'll have to be careful to avoid a barbecue.  I don't know when TG and No. One Son will be back; they didn't say. 

The forecast is for rain Friday night into Saturday, and then snow coming in on Sunday and Monday, possibly down to two-thousand feet.  That may put a hitch in the git-along.  But what do I know?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tree Guy

Tree Guy showed up unexpectedly yesterday.  It seems he'd gone elk hunting over in Montana and that's why I've seen neither hide nor hair of him.  We all have our priorities.  (If I'd had one more intervening monetary crisis, there wouldn't be enough left for him in the piggy bank.)  He and son are coming today to take down the barn oak.  It's going to be a day of logistical problems.  I've got to get the girls fed, milked, and watered...and then back into the barn when Tree Guy shows up so they aren't underfoot and under falling branches, or out the open gate.  TG assures me it isn't going to take all that long.  I've seen arborists work before; focused, sure, and fast.  That old, old oak has been a part of my landscape for so long, it's going to seem very strange when it's missing. 

The Silkies have denuded their expanded pen of every green blade of grass and every seed in the new area, and they're scratching for more.  They seem very content in the Taj, and all three laid eggs yesterday.  We are still working on the bedtime routine, as they appear to prefer to be picked up rather than go in by themselves.  I truly don't mind, as it gives me the opportunity to snuggle their soft, fluffy, warm little bodies before tucking them in for the night.  I like to think they enjoy the cuddling, too. 

As for the big little girls, my morning routine is this:  go in the pen, throw down their breakfast scratch, open their little ramp door and they come tumbling out, open the people door and go in and check their pellets and water, see if anyone needs to go to sick call, come out and go about the rest of the chores for the day.  Yesterday when I came back out of the hen house, there amongst the chickens were two tom turkeys helping themselves before I'd even left the pen.  I'd already thrown down the bird seed for them under their oak.  I guess I'd want a change, too, if I had oatmeal every morning.  These ruffians were not afraid of me, and tried intimidation warnings to get the hens to give way.  It was pretty funny to see a little chicken fluff up and charge a turkey three or four times her size and stand her ground.  You go, girl!