Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Should'a Known

There I was, minding my own business, milking Ruthie and paying attention to the business end of the goat, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  I realized that we two on the stand were now we three.  There, between Ruth's front feet and darned near in my hip pocket, was a squirrel.  I should have known that sooner or later one of the little boogers would get bold enough to want to get to the source of the cereal, but it still came as a surprise.  Ruthie remained calm, which is a really good thing, because had she spooked it could have been a disaster with her head locked in the stanchion and her feet so close to the bucket.  It was all I could do to restrain myself from aiming one of those teats and giving the squirrel a squirt, but I could imagine the chaos and common sense prevailed.  As it was, we, all creatures great and small, spent the rest of Ruthie's turn in companionable silence.  I think it would take very little to have the little guys eating out of my hand, but I really think that providing room service is about as far as I want to go.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Show Offs

It's like being at a high school freshman dance (the way I remember them from the old days)...boys on one side of the room, girls on the other.  The turkey hens are gathering together to parade in front of the toms...not too close, just giving a preview, as it were, and gabbling amongst themselves as if there weren't a boy in sight.  It won't be too long now before the toms will start fighting, showing off for the girls and proving their prowess, and I have a ringside seat for the show. 

I returned some of Joel's vegetables yesterday in the form of a scaccia, like a big calzone filled with onions, sweet and bell peppers, and rosemary.  It was the least I could do.  The chickens are in seventh heaven when I cook with veggies...they get all the trimmings.  If my garbage disposal had to depend on me to feed it, it would starve to death...almost everything goes to the hens. 

The Beastie Boys (coyotes) made a kill about one this morning...close enough that it woke Bess and me.  The sounds paint a picture as clear as if we were watching the drama, ending with silence as they feed.  Forgive me, as all I could think was, "Eat your fill, boys, and leave my chickens alone!"  I was glad I'd put a quilt back on the bed, and Bess and I snuggled down and went back to sleep.  It's six o'clock now, and just barely light.  This year will be coming to a close sooner than we think.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

This Is Summer?

A spike-horn buck and a doe were taking advantage of the overcast and cool weather to scavenge for fallen peaches in the front orchard yesterday.  They usually don't show up until dusk, but maybe the dim light had them confused.  To add to general confusion, this is the "front" orchard and pasture, taken from the back of the house which faces away from the road.  That's Gray Rock up in the right corner paralleling the fence line.  All the fields are sere and brown now, so it's hard to blame the deer for wanting something juicy.

I started out yesterday in my usual tank top and bibbies, added a work shirt to go out to the chickens, and came back for a quilted jacket before going down to the barn because it was cold!  A strong wind blew and while I was milking, it started spitting rain...not enough to do any good, but now I've got a polka-dotted truck.  We can always tell the flatlanders from the locals by their pristine vehicles.  Back in the house, I shut windows and doors (any that the wind hadn't slammed shut already), and briefly considered lighting a fire.  It never got into the seventies all day.  My veggie man, Joel, made a delivery (just like uptown!) and of course weather was the topic of discussion.  The long wet spell and short summer are playing havoc with the grapes, and there's real concern that there won't be much, if any, harvest this year.  There are a number of vineyards here owned by nonresidents, folks living down in the Bay Area, who don't understand that all agriculture is a gamble in a game where Nature owns the house and holds all the cards.  No matter how carefully the crops are tended, some years are just bad years.  It's heartbreaking, though, to think of all the work, time, and money invested without possibility of return.

It's in the low fifties this morning, but it's for sure I'm not complaining!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mystery Box

Opening your eyes in the morning is like opening a mystery box...you just never know what you're going to find.  After the soaring temperatures of the last week, today the sky is overcast, and there is the rumble of thunder over the hills.  Pearl and Frank stayed outside last night to enjoy the full moon. As I looked out the kitchen window in dawn's first light while the coffee perked, I saw what I thought was Pearl coming around the curve in the driveway.  The stride wasn't quite right, though.  Since I hadn't had my coffee yet, I wasn't at my best, so it wasn't until the creature was much closer that I realized it was a grey fox.  Of course it made the circle of the drive and went off into the field while I was processing that fact and before I could run for the rifle. 

I realized yesterday that I am running a catering business.  I cater to whims as well as diets.  Esther has taken it into her head that she doesn't want her cereal (goat chow) in her bowl...she'd rather have it on the tray.  She's been flipping the bowl over lately, and most of the food ends up on the ground, which pleases the squirrels and mice no end.  It just seemed the wisest thing to start out putting the cereal on the tray...I am still trainable.  The hummers will bang on the windows if I let their feeders get low.  Just as I opened the door yesterday with a basket of wet laundry to hang, I noticed the Mafia Boys in a group under the clothesline.  So as not to disturb the toms, I quietly closed the door and waited an hour or so until they'd moved on.  When the cats want to go outside, I'll sometimes open three doors before they decide which door they'd like to go out.  Deer and birds have eaten every piece of fruit from every tree this year.  The thought that I'm in charge here is just an illusion.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Run Away!

I will admit to a degree of guilt as I drove off in the air-conditioned truck to go grocery shopping yesterday.  It might have been possible to stretch the supplies another day or two, but the thought of cool air while making the forty-five minute drive to the store was too enticing.  If Bess could have gone into the store, too, I would have taken her along.  As it was, I had to look into those accusing brown eyes and tell her I'd be back soon.  (Thank goodness she doesn't have a watch.)  I used to tell my Kids, "In just a minute!," until one replied, "But, Mama, your minutes take so much longer."  It actually was somewhat cooler in town; only one hundred in Diamond Springs as I drove though. 

Sheila has come to some sort of agreement with Poppy.  Sheila has always been the last to go into the barn at night, trying to decide where she'd be abused the least, but after the last few evenings of finally choosing the sheep, last night she pushed her way in right behind Poppy and went directly to that stall.  Poppy really is easy going, and I think it's a match.  I like happy endings.

I wish the eggs came stamped with the chicken of origin.  Because the different breeds in the big pen lay eggs of different colors, it's not hard to tell who's laid what, but the Silkies....  All I know is that I'm finding a little egg nearly every day...is it just one pullet, or are all three dropping a contribution, one at a time?  Ah, the mysteries of life.

It's much cooler this morning...I won't have to run away today.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Holed Up

I quit checking when the temperature rose over 104 on the deck in the shade yesterday.  Bessie Anne and I went into hiding in the bedroom where the little window A/C was working overtime.  My Kids gave it to me a few years back and I feel like sending them thank-you notes every time we get a day like yesterday.  The boys called to make sure I hadn't melted into a puddle on the floor, and they laughed when I told them I'd turned on the sprinkler for the turkeys.  Ten or so of the poor birds were standing in the shade, wings spread and beaks wide open, trying to catch a breath of air.  As if they knew I was coming to their aid, they didn't move as I went out to turn the water on, and then pushed and shoved to get closer to the sprinkler.  I again poured water on the ground in the chickens' pens to give them a spot to cool off, and soaked Bessie Anne at the same time.  The goats drank nearly half of a seventy-gallon water trough.  Knowing that daytime television is mostly banal tripe, I DVR old movies, National Geographic specials, and a series that I particularly enjoy on the receiver in the bedroom just for days when we have to hole up to escape the heat.  It could be worse.  It was at least ten degrees cooler at the same time this morning, so I think relief is in sight.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Road Trip

Too hot to do much of anything yesterday except try to keep everything watered.  I went out several times to throw water on the ground in all the chicken pens, hoping to give the little girls some relief.  It's eighty degrees outside at five-thirty this morning, and eighty-four in the house. 

Since it's going to be another scorcher and I'm not going to get anything accomplished today, might as well continue on the road trip down memory lane that began yesterday.  I commented to Judy and Joel recently that I'd been watching a 1947 movie and it was so strange to realize that every adult in the film was smoking.  Hardly anyone except bad guys and shady women smokes in movies now.  Stranger still was that, in the evenings, people at home were sitting and talking or reading, listening to radio or records (78s).  There was no television in 1947!  Probably because of the heat, I've been thinking about the soda fountain at the one and only drugstore in the little town where I grew up.  We didn't have sidewalks out where we lived, so my dad would drive me into town so I could roller skate.  The skates were clamp-ons that required a key to tighten, the key on a string around my neck.  They clamped onto my clunky, but serviceable, Buster Brown (and his dog, Tigh) oxford shoes that I hated with a passion.  I always had skinned knees because the skates would inevitably loosen.  After waiting patiently for me to get tired, Dad would take me to the soda fountain for a lime rickey or a pineapple soda made with strawberry ice cream.  Red, the soda jerk, was also the cook, and we'd sometimes go there for dinner...open-face roast beef sandwiches on white bread with mashed potatoes and brown gravy, or a chili size.  That was "fast food" in those days.  Red usually had a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth while he cooked and no one thought a thing about it.  One of my earliest memories is of being held in my dad's arms as we waited in the early morning for the drugstore to open, in a queue that went all the way around the corner.  Cigarettes were going to be available!  This was during World War II and so many things...gasoline, meat, shoes, cigarettes, sugar...were rationed, if you could get them at all.  Recycling isn't a new concept...families saved bacon grease and turned it in for the war effort (what do you suppose it was used for?), and collected newspapers and squashed tin cans.  I grew up in an era when you fixed it, wore it out, made do, or did without. 

The sun's nearly up and I need to get to the barn before it becomes a sauna. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Heat Wave

Such a crazy summer.  One-hundred degree days are back, predicted to last a few days before dropping to the seventies...that's a thirty-degree difference in a week.  The lassitude that come with heat leaves plenty of time for the mind to go free wheeling, and mine frequently goes "off road."  Last week I saw a tiny, half-inch, baby praying mantis, and when Clay was here, there was a full-grown male on the post by the goat pen.  I understand the migration of birds and elk, etc., but I know so little about entomology.  When certain insects are not here...where are they?  Since most of the mantises right now are babies, were the eggs laid a year ago and are just now hatching?  When we moved up here, just about this time of year, there were mantises all over the place, and I mean in the hundreds...and then they "went away."  Did they all die, or move on?  Although I see them every year, there have never been so many again.  There will be no dragon flies at all, and then one day the air will be filled with tiny helicopters.  As suddenly as they appear, one day they're gone.  Pine beetles deserve a story of their own, and I'll wait until the first real rain of the season to tell it.  Bees, flies, and mosquitoes increase in numbers at certain times of the year, but a home guard is always in residence.  One wonders.

Since I have no way of telling, Yuki is getting all the credit.  There have been three little pale-brown eggs in four days!  It would take a dozen or more of these cute little eggs to make a decent breakfast for two...they're only a little larger than a quail egg.  I'm really enjoying our evening cuddles before I tuck her into her room with Satomi and Keiko.  I suppose, like all kids, she'll outgrow the need for nightie-night hugs, but it's nice while it lasts.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Do-Nothing Day

Sunday was one of those relaxed days, just tending to piddly little chores.  The computer had a change of heart and self-healed whatever glitch had occurred, allowing me to pay bills (oh goody).  The house was clean from the day before, and there were leftovers for dinner.  The girls all went willingly into whatever rooms they'd chosen for the night.  Yuki squatted in anticipation, unsatisfied as it may be.  It allows me to pick her up every evening and stroke that soft fluff she wears instead of the standard chicken feathers.  She is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of the hen pen, dressed as she is in her boa, with bright turquoise ear lobes (or whatever those flaps below the ear holes on a chicken are called).  Her beak is also blue, and she has large black eyes.  The other hens have either red or golden eyes, so these black eyes are somewhat startling, albeit quite beautiful.  I really enjoy these moments of bonding.  Satomi and Keiko tuck themselves in and just wait for their bedtime snack, so I don't get to touch them as often.  The surrounding wineries all had live bands this weekend, and it is nice to go out at dusk and hear that "the hills are alive with the sound of music."  The days tend to blend one into the other, but I can say this was a good weekend.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saturday at Farview

Kathryn must have had a moment of prescience because I did, indeed, have a visit from one of my Kids yesterday.  Clay came up to watch the NASCAR race at Bristol.  It was a disappointing race in that none of the family's drivers won, but my day was made by Clay's company.  When I got his message, it solved the question of whether to go out to mow down the star thistle or stay in and do housework.  It was unusually cool, and the thunderstorms in the mountains even sent a sprinkle of rain over Fair Play.  It's predicted to go to triple digit tomorrow and all this week.  Go figure.

Clay walked out with me to put the kids to bed and we found another Silkie egg.  Either Satomi or Keiko were inspired, or Yuki is on a roll...an egg roll (yuck yuck).  Bedtime at the goat barn continues to create bedlam.  Lucy decided to go with the Big Three; she hasn't slept in there for over a year, and Sheila has evidently bonded with Poppy. 

I encountered a significant problem with my internet carrier this morning, and it may be that I've lost my email address list and current emails.  Knowing that this will undoubtedly entail long periods of being put on hold to repair, I'm putting it off until after barn chores.  The weather is cool today, and I'm hoping I can stay cool with tech service, too.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Little Girl Grows Up

One of the little girls is growing up.  Since they sleep in a dormitory, I have no way of knowing which girl it is, but I found a little beginner egg yesterday morning and was as proud as if I'd laid it myself and heaped praise on their fluffy heads.  My guess is it is Yuki's, as she seems precocious (and is still assuming the position at night).  She's also the largest of the three.  I always get such a kick out of the first eggs...they are so tiny, and one never knows what color they'll be.  This one is pale tan.  The photo shows it next to an egg from one of the Rhode Island Reds, to compare for color and size.  Since the Silkies are a banty-style chicken, I don't know if the eggs will get larger as time goes by.  Once I had a gang here for the weekend when one of the hens started her laying career, and I had shown her little first effort to the Kids.  Later, when I was fixing breakfast, I asked Dave how many eggs he'd like.  "Twenty-seven, please." 

When one doesn't get a garden planted, the next best thing is a neighbor who did and who shares.  Joel and Judy stopped by the other day with a bag of oh-so-welcome fresh veggies.  I used some last night to add to...wait for it...pasta!

The girls in the goat barn are having trouble deciding on roommates for the next semester.  I let them make these decisions for themselves, but I can't keep up with who goes where at night.  Lucy, after years of sleeping in the milking room, wanted to go in with the Big Three, and Sheila slept alone in the little room.  Last night Lucy wanted back in "her" room, and Sheila went back in with Poppy, who seems to have made the adjustment and has quit complaining.  I hope they get this sorted soon, as I do much better with a set routine, too. 

Friday, August 20, 2010


Pasta, pasta everywhere!  I tried two recipes, one with three eggs and no oil, the other with five eggs and a little oil.  One I cut tagliatelle and the other fettuccine.  The recipe with oil was easier to work with (or maybe I was just getting the process down a little better).  I felt like Lucille Ball in the candy factory...up to my elbows in flour, rolling dough like a madwoman, strands of pasta piling up all around.  I cooked a small portion of each batch separately and, not wanting to disguise any difference in taste, dressed the pasta with just butter, oil, and garlic.  Dang, that's good stuff!  I couldn't discern any appreciable difference in the flavor of the two noodles, but there is little similarity between store-bought and homemade.  The homemade has substance, more "tooth," and even a small plate is much more satisfying.  The problem now, of course, is that I have a mountain of noodles drying, piles waiting in the fridge...and I want to keep making more!  Christmas is coming...hmmm. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Equal Time

Just as politicians demand equal time on television, the grey tree squirrels are complaining that they are not getting their fair share of publicity and that the ground squirrels are hogging the limelight.  This was not an intentional oversight.  The tree squirrels with the big fluffy tails are simply not here in numbers to rival the ground squirrels.  The majority of the greys are up at Dennis's place...he's overrun with them in the pines that surround his house.  Perhaps we on the hill go a little nutty with our creatures...he has named a lot of his visitors, feeds them unsalted, in-the-shell peanuts, and has to keep the door closed to stop them from coming in the house.  The few I have here come up from the woods to breakfast on the birdseed under the oak.  It's a wonder there's anything left for the birds.

A couple of months back, I started thinking about making homemade, fresh pasta.  Perhaps I just needed a challenge.  In the dark recesses of one of the storage sheds I have a pasta maker similar to a bread machine, but I wanted to make the pasta from scratch.  However, rolling the dough by hand seemed like way too much work.  The answer was a pasta rolling machine.  Like a seed in cracked cement, the idea grew and grew until it was an obsession...I needed to make pasta!  It took four phone calls to find a pasta machine, and I should have known I'd find it at the Placerville Hardware Store.  This is the oldest, still-operating hardware store in California, and has a wonderful hodge-podge of items.  It's where I finally found a real butter churn years ago...there's evidently not a big demand for them these days.  Not only did they have exactly what I was looking for, they sold it to me for seventy-five percent off!  I'd been trying to calculate how much pasta I'd have to make to justify the cost...a lot!..but worth it to stop obsessing.  Clutching my treasure to my bosom and racing home, I couldn't wait to get started...but I had to.  A friend called with news about the meat goats he wants to start breeding.  By the time he finished telling me all about them, it was pretty late.  I hurriedly made the dough and got it rolled out, but it was too late to cook.  It will keep in the refrigerator until tonight.  The machine works great; I think the recipe (and my technique) needs refining.  Ahh, that itch finally got scratched.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's A Hoax

Having time to think about things while milking, and having given it careful consideration, I have decided that a great hoax has been perpetrated by geologists, archaeologists, and a bunch of other -ologists.  They would have us believe that the Grand Canyon was created by the flow of the Colorado River.  Anyone with one eye could see that the water was following the tunnels dug by ground squirrels.  Carlsbad Cavern is a burrow dug by a large colony of ground squirrels and was taken over much later by bats.  Long ago, Egyptian ground squirrels dug burrows, and these convenient underground rooms were used by pharaohs as burial tombs, and the leftover dirt created the pyramids.  The traveling rocks in the desert were simply moved out of the way by ground squirrels.  Dinosaurs disappeared, not from the earth, but into the earth, falling into craters dug by ground squirrels.  The canals on Mars were dug by a species of now-extinct Martian ground squirrels, who had a better sense of direction than the locals.  I don't know why these industrious little creatures have not been given credit for their efforts throughout history, and I think it's time to set the record straight. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can't Help You

Just as the goats think I'm in charge of the weather, the hens are looking to me for help in another area.  Since Frederick the Great's demise, they've been without...well, just "without."  Now as I approach, the hens will assume the position, squatting with wings spread low.  Yuki must be reaching puberty, as she waits outside her house for me each evening.  She never met Frederick, but she instinctively knows "the position," and is hopeful.  I do everything I can to attend to my animals' needs, but there are limits!  I know I can rent a buck, but I'm wondering now if there are some gigolo roosters out there for hire.  The tom turkeys may be hanging around in lust, but I fear it would be like an English sheepdog and a Corgi I once had...a mismatched affair.  The goats, like the deer, are starting their cycles, and are cranky with each other.  The only two males on the farm, Frank and Nineteen, have both been neutered and stand around wondering what all the fuss is about.  When farmers say they're stuck in a rut, they're not talking about furrows.

Monday, August 16, 2010

No Cigar

Getting a picture of the tom turkeys is turning out to be an exercise in futility.  The Big Five were waiting for me again yesterday; two by the water pan and three scratching impatiently under the oak for breakfast.  They were all waiting for their little sweethearts to come out and play.  I can't seem to retrieve the cell phone photos from the email to this entry.  Close, but no cigar.

It will soon be hunting season.  I don't have to look at the calendar to know this.  Every evening I hear some hunter sighting in his/her rifle.  I also know because I am seeing more bucks in the yard.  They seem to know this is where they can call "King's X."  A spike and a forked horn were munching together on the last of the peaches the other night.  This camaraderie will last until they go into rut.  A few years back, it seemed the deer were taking revenge on the dogs in the neighborhood.  I personally know of five dogs that were gored during rutting season; two died of their injuries.  Goats and deer are of the same genus, with similar mating habits.  The does will start their estrus cycles when the nights turn cool, and both sexes of both species go a little nutty.  I find it so interesting that mating is timed in the fall so that the majority of the young are born in early spring, after the snows and during a time when food is plentiful for the nursing mothers.  Since I still have four milkers, I'm not planning to breed any of the girls this year, but if I were, now is when I'd start looking for a Rent-A-Buck.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to Normal

"Normal" is such a relative term, but it appears we're back to business as usual.  It's as if we'd slipped into a corner of the Bermuda Triangle for a day.  The squirrels were back in full force yesterday.  I'm not sure they weren't smiling...perhaps they'd taken an excursion bus for a trip up to Tahoe.  Who knows?  Having them all disappear like they did was very unsettling.

My friends in Fiddletown throw a Star Party every year in August.  It's the time of the Perseids.  I wasn't able to attend last night, but I did go out to stand on the deck and look at the night sky.  I just realized that this movie I call "My Life" has a sound track...I hear music almost all the time...in fact, I wake up most mornings with a song playing in my mind.  Last night it was "Vincent's Song."  It was almost Forties trite..."Starry, starry night..." as I looked up at a sky filled with diamonds.  (Whoops!  Just slid into "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.")  There are no city lights here to dilute the star shine and there was just a sliver of moon, so the Milky Way splashed across the canopy and Liz Taylor's jewels couldn't compete with the sparkles I saw.  As I watched, two meteors streaked, so I got to make two wishes (and I'm not telling).  I'm sure it has something to do with the earth's rotation, but August is the month when falling meteors are most visible.  Definitely worth going outside and getting a crick in your neck.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Freaky Friday

I had the fourth goat up on the stand yesterday before it dawned on me that, although the mice were present in great numbers and active, I had not yet seen a squirrel in the barn.  Switching milkers, I looked out into the pen where dozens of squirrels usually play tag and hide-and-seek when they're not filling up at the breakfast buffet...not one squirrel anywhere.  On any given day, there will be one or more sentries sitting up on a post, giving that irritating, repetitive chirp.  Yesterday...silence.  It was eerie.  I opened my cell phone to check the time, thinking that I might be running late and missed the breakfast crowd.  The phone was absolutely dead, with a black screen.  One of the first things I do every morning is check to make sure the phone is fully charged...with the prospect of power outages, I can't afford to let the battery get low...and I had checked the phone yesterday and had full bars when I left the house.  I was starting to hear the theme from Twilight Zone.  I didn't see or hear one squirrel all day long, and not one hen went free-ranging (that's strange enough in itself).  I had filled the hummers' feeders in the morning.  They've been going through five or six bottles a day lately.  By evening, only one bottle was half gone; the others were still full.  Where were the hummers.  The goats were all anxious to get into the barn last night.  I don't put much stock in superstitions, but later in the day I realized it was Friday the Thirteenth.  Hmmm.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Night Things

Yuki, Satomi, and Keiko, the little Silkies, must have spent a night in terror.  Thank goodness they sleep in a secure dog crate.  When I went in to let them out yesterday morning, their little "house" had been pushed halfway off the pallet that keeps it off the ground.  Thwarted, whatever the creature was that had come in the dark, in a fit of pique it tore off and demolished the bungee cord I use to hold the door open during the day.  It's not always convenient to be home at dusk to tuck all my critters in bed, but the night things are out there, waiting.

I actually ventured off the hill yesterday.  That makes what...two or three times this year?!  My son Dave, who is still recuperating, invited me down for a barbecue lunch.  It's understood that I can't leave here until after morning chores and must be home before dark, so my Kids aren't offended that I don't visit them often.  The steak Dave fixed left no room on the plate for a side dish and was perfectly seasoned.  All my Kids are terrific cooks; one even cooked professionally.  Can't say I enjoyed going into The City (when did they stop teaching drivers to come up to speed when entering the freeway?), but it was great to spend an afternoon with my son.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Wiggle In Her Walk...

I was struck yesterday with the thought that so much of the girls' personalities are shown in the way they walk as they come to the barn.  Lucy (pardon me, The Lady Lucinda of Iron Oak) has a sedate stride that befits her status as queen, deposed though she be.  Ruth has a purposeful, no-nonsense walk and shoulders her way past me to the stand.  Esther strolls:  "I'll get there when I get there," and then she noses around in her grain until she's good and ready to eat.  (Maybe she's looking for the raisins.)  Cindy comes down as she does everything, at full tilt, skidding as she rounds the corner, and virtually inhales her breakfast.  Inga is my cautious, timid girl, and she is what my daddy would call a slue-foot...running at a slight angle instead of head-on.  She stops at the doorway to inspect the room before entering, just to make sure.  Sheila is my "Valley Girl," bouncing down the hill with little hops and twists.  I can hear her saying, "Like, ya know...wow!"  I only see Nineteen and Tessie from the backside as we leave the pen, as they get room service for breakfast.  Goats have the most annoying habit...they insist on walking in front of me, which is fine, but then they stop right in the way, which drives me nuts.  My path up from the barn, sweaty and laden with milk buckets, is a circuitous route around stalled goats.

I wish there were some way to elevate Sheila from her place as the omega of the herd.  She tries so hard to make friends, but the others are still so mean to her and won't let her into the clique.  I did take her out of the big room at night and put her in with Lucy, but that isn't a good combo, either.  I even put her in with Poppy once, but it wasn't worth listening to Poppy's bellows of protest.  There's more room in Ruth's stall, but I know what a bad attitude she has.  Poor Sheila tells me every night in a piteous little voice that she needs her own room, and if I had one I'd give it to her.  She has to go in with Lucy, whether either of them likes it or not. 

As I watched Sheila come down to the barn, "Chantilly Lace" started playing in my head..."A wiggle in her walk, and a giggle in her talk...."  (You'd have to be old enough to remember The Big Bopper.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Attack of the Killer Chicken

I'm sure some Hollywood writer could make one of those genre movies...frogs that take over the world, giant rabbits terrorizing a town, worms that rise up to swallow people whole.  Evidently chickens do not feel as I do about sharing their space with mice.  One of the girls nailed a mouse yesterday and the others, cackling maniacally, began their macabre game of keep-away, racing around the pen with body in beak until there was nothing left of the little creature.  Some mouse family is wondering why Arthur didn't come home last night.  It's simply not behavior one expects from a chicken.

My afternoon was dedicated to baking cookies...chocolate frosted peanut butter bars (taste like Reese's cups) and lemon biscotti.  I wanted some small way to thank Joel for again mowing down the star thistle.  Mitzvah is Yiddish for a good deed, and I hope Somebody is keeping track, because my neighbor is racking them up.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Breakfast Brigands

I sat down to milk before I put down the buffet...big mistake.  A small mob of mice gathered, fixing me with accusing eyes.  Then the squirrels arrived, and were not content to sit quietly.  "Lady!  Hey, Lady...how about a little service here!"  Not wanting a riot to break out, I moved the bucket away from hooves and rushed to accommodate so I could finish milking in peace.  I was remembering when I was taking classes at Sacramento City College.  Campus parking was at a premium (as it seems to be at every college I've attended), but if one timed it just right, an open spot could be found across the street at South Land Park.  Park squirrels hid in ambush and would rush out to confront the unsuspecting students.  I have actually had them stand on my shoe, telling me in no uncertain terms that I'd better pay up or there would be consequences.  I took to carrying bags of graham crackers in my pockets so I could avoid a mini-mugging and get to class on time.  Once a sucker, always a sucker.

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Almost Perfect Sunday

It was everything a Sunday should be.  The chores were done early, the delta breezes defused the heat, and I had time to get cleaned up and do a little desultory weeding in the herb garden before Deb and Craig arrived.  It had been such a pleasant surprise when she'd called the night before and said they'd like to come up.  I never expect to see much of the Kids during summer...for the most part, it's like inviting them into an oven.  Ill winds may blow no good, but the delta breezes blow Kids my way!  And they brought pizza!  Any fast food is thirty or forty minutes away...not so fast...so it is a real treat, not a staple in my diet.  We're all NASCAR fans, but this was a road race, not oval track.  Road races are not our favorites and so did not require total attention, so we could natter on and catch up on each other's news.  They have an exhausting, busy daily schedule, and this was a totally relaxing day.  Later, we went to check on the Silkies, Poppy's new look, and Craig fixed a dripping faucet for me with Deb's help.  As always, good-bye time came too soon.  The Kids have adopted a habit of Steve's...it didn't matter if I were standing, watching and waving, or milking down in the barn...he never drove off without calling out, "Love you!," and in return I would call out, "Love you!," from wherever I might be.  Hearing those two heart-swelling words echo out puts the period on the sentence for me.  This is one time I don't care if the neighbors listen.

The only imperfect event on an otherwise perfect day was that our arch rival, our nemesis, won the race.  Rats!!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Farview Follies

Twas a day fraught with faux pas.  Arden knows this is going to be a tell-all episode, so I'm not changing the names to protect the innocent.  Arden is unerringly prompt for appointments...I am, unfortunately, not.  We were due to set off on our outing at eleven and I was racing to finish in the barn and get sluiced off before she arrived.  Eleven came...and went.  Eleven-thirty...twelve.  Becoming concerned, I called, and she answered!  The wine tasting had simply slipped her mind.  No problem; we weren't on a tight time schedule.  She got here at two and we set off for Slug Gulch, but I had to stop to mail a couple of letters.  I don't pick up my mail every day, but I was surprised at the large amount of mail in the box.  As I gathered it up, I noticed a magazine to which I do not subscribe.  Ah, the mail lady has misdirected mail!  I checked the address, and then the mailbox.  It wasn't the mail lady who was misdirected.  I hurriedly stuffed my neighbor's mail back in her mailbox, sure I was guilty of a federal offense, pulled my mail out of my box, and walked back to the truck...with the two letters I'd meant to mail still in my hand.  At Oakstone, Arden was sure she knew one of the pourers, went up to him and used the oldest line in the book.  "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"  This older gentleman lit up like a Christmas tree, sure that Arden was hitting on him.  He was so disappointed to find that she was not.  Back at home, after dinner we got to discussing movies and actors, and she asked if I had a particular Meryl Streep movie.  I wasn't sure, but checked my VHS tapes and DVDs.  I looked through so many, I forgot what I was actually looking for...and Arden couldn't remember, either.  After all the goofs of the day, this was one too many and we got to laughing so hard.  With just a little work, we could take our show on the road...but we'd probably get lost.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I'll Take Vanilla

After the drama of the previous few days, yesterday could be considered bland...and that's okay.  It's pretty bad when I can't find something to complain about (ooh, that sounded like a complaint!).  The weather has been uncommonly mild this season...hot, yes, but it's summer.  We haven't had long stretches of sustained one-hundred-degree days.  One year I think there were seventeen days without a break, and I thought I would melt.  And then there was the year there were over eighty fires burning up and down in the valley and in the hills and the smoke was thick and hung like a pall for weeks.  We've been spared this year. 

The wineries up on Slug Gulch are having a mini-festival today (the Slug Fest), and Arden and I are going to sample their wares.  "Slug" up here refers to a nugget of gold, and not the slimy garden raiders.  There are many reminders that this was once productive gold country. 

As early as it is, or perhaps because it is so early before the sun comes up and heats the earth, I can hear the work crew in Joel's vineyard, chatting as they go up and down the rows of grape vines.  The long, wet spring set the vines back, and Joel has been concerned that they would have to drop fruit...cut some of the growing grapes out so that those left would have a better chance of production.  It seems wasteful, but is necessary in years like this in order to maintain quality.  As with all agriculture, Mother Nature dictates. 

I've got to wash off the front porch before Arden arrives.  Frank has been staying out at night and hunting...successfully...and the porch looks like a mini-abattoir; not a welcoming sight. 

Some days are Rocky Road...today, I'll take vanilla (with a little port on the side).

Friday, August 6, 2010


I was on line at my usual daybreak hour, but really didn't want to write anything today until I'd gone out to see the chickens this morning.  I knew last night that I had counted only eleven beaks at bedtime, and I was hoping against hope that Rosy, the Rose Comb Hamburg, had just hidden under the barn at dusk and would greet me for breakfast.  No...she's gone missing.  Chatty Cathy, one of the Rhodies, has taken over for Tattle-Tale Tessie, and she follows me around and tells me all the misdeeds of the others and the doings of the day.  Unlike Tessie, who used to whisper in very confidential tones, Cathy is the town crier, with a loud, raucous voice reminiscent of Marjorie Main (Ma Kettle).  Cathy also announces the arrival of every egg throughout the day.  Bessie Anne and I hear her yelling, go to see if there's a problem, and find that all is well...it's just Cathy sounding off.  There was a ruckus yesterday, but I guess Cathy had cried wolf/coyote/fox once too often and we didn't pay a lot of attention.  (I was reconciling my checkbook and like to focus when facing depression.)  We had to be downwind, because Bessie stood at the open door but didn't find any wild scents in the air...and we lost Rosy.

In retrospect, it was a grey fox and not a coyote who made the last, unsuccessful raid in the backyard.  I knew it was smaller and had a pointier face, but was more concerned with saving the chicken than asking for ID.  I guess we'll just have to listen a little more closely to Cathy, false alarms or not.

A pertinent question might be why I don't clip the wings of the free rangers to prevent them from getting out of their pen.  The answer is that I've had bad luck clipping the wings of chickens who've already learned to fly.  Donna was a prime example.  Knowing that she could fly the day before, she took off in standard fashion, but couldn't get equal lift from both wings and crashed and burned, ending up paralyzed and spending the rest of her days in the laundry room, a wingaplegic.  Stumpy, my one-legged chicken, is about all of of the special-needs hens I can deal with right now. 

I stand reprimanded and chastened, having been MIA myself today.  Judy called, checking to see if I were okay because I hadn't yet made an entry, and I see from Kathryn's comment that she also checked in this morning.  The omission was not done on purpose (well, there was a reason), but the responses are very reassuring on two fronts.  As a single woman in an isolated environment, it's very nice to know that my neighbor and friend keeps an eye out for me.  As a writer, it's very nice to know that my words are being read.  If, in the future, I have nothing to say on any given day...I'll say so!  I don't want to cry wolf, even by omission.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Saturday Morning Cartoons

I don't need television for amusement.  Spending time in the barn is better than watching cartoons.  Between the squirrels, mice, and goats, almost every day starts with a chuckle.  When squirrels meet, they look like little furry Frenchmen giving kisses on both cheeks.  Evidently squirrels, like cats, have scent glands at the jaw line.  While we'd like to think that our cats are showing affection when they rub their faces on our legs, etc., in actuality they are marking territory by leaving an identifying scent...although I'm sure they wouldn't do this if they didn't care.  The squirrels also rub their faces on doorways and entrance holes...a kind of WWII "Kilroy was here" sign.  One of the young squirrels yesterday had had an accident and its tail was broken at the halfway mark.  It didn't get slammed in a door, but I can envision the tail sticking out of a bolt hole and a goat thinking it was a snake and giving it a stomp.  At any rate, the broken half droops along the ground and is a source of irritation for the squirrel.  Squirrel doesn't appear to be in any pain, but these are rather fastidious creatures, and Squirrel stops periodically, reaches around and grabs the dragging appendage and cleans it vigorously.  When the youngsters get ready to settle down to watch me milk, they stretch and yawn before laying flat out on the ground and their eyelids get heavy.  The squirrels and mice have worked out some sort of detente so each gets a share of breakfast.  Nope, I don't need cartoons.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stuck In Traffic

One of the guys up the hill had to get out of his truck and direct traffic yesterday (trash day) down at the big road.  Four cars at one time constitutes a traffic jam on Gray Rock.  Great restraint and courtesy were shown, as no one sat beeping the horn or yelling obscenities out the window.  It really was pretty funny, as the entrance to Gray Rock is the only place where it's wide enough for two cars to pass; it's just so rare that there are two cars at a time, it obviously resulted in confusion.  I had to wait all of a minute to get through the stop-and-go traffic.

I estimate that we've lost an hour of daylight already; a half-hour on each end.  Frank (the cat) and I woke up a little before five this morning and it was still dark.  He thought it would be nice to just cuddle and since it was dark and Bessie Anne was still snoring (she denies it when she's awake, but it's true), Frank and I snuggled down for another ten minutes or so.  I could barely make out Pearl's outline as she sat on the windowsill.  I have to go down to the barn by eight at night or it's too dark for the girls to want to go in their rooms.  Acorns are starting to drop from the oaks.  I think it's way too early for that sign of fall; I don't usually put on a hard hat until September.

The flock has been decimated this year by dogs and coyotes, and I've been gathering four to six eggs a day from the hens instead of the one or two dozen of the past.  For whatever reason, there was an egg-splosion yesterday and there were ten!  The Araucana who laid green eggs (to go with ham) is getting pretty old and ratty looking, and she is one of the two who did not contribute.  I did not chastise her as she has earned her rest.  While I do miss seeing all my busy little ladies, it's kind of nice not to have buckets and buckets of eggs going to waste in both refrigerators.  Chickens are not like goats, in that they produce potential young on a nearly daily basis without necessity of breeding...more chickens equal more eggs, period.

I'll go down this morning to pick up my empty trash barrel.  I wanted to avoid the evening rush hour last night.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The Nut-Eaters have taken over the asylum!  Swinging back around the doorway after cleaning the sleeping room in the barn, I surprised two squirrels in the milking room.  These two twerpy-doodles had the moxie (ask your mother...she'll remember what it means), the temerity, the unmitigated gall to stand up on their hind legs and chitter at me for interrupting their breakfast!  Now, I try to be a gracious hostess and I don't mind giving a handout to those in need, but I don't think it's necessary to take lip from two scroungers on the dole!  It's one thing when you're a Lilliputian not to show fear in the presence of Gulliver, but it's another thing entirely to take him (or her) on face to face.  It's too much, I say!

A couple of the toms were hanging out in the chicken pen as I came back up to the house, the others were accompanying their special friends as they pecked and scratched free range.  As I think of it, this is not a bad set up.  It's as if the Mafia Boys have assumed a protector's role, taking their goomahs under their wing(s), as it were. 

I'd write more, but the hummingbirds are banging on the window to let me know their feeders are low.  If my life were a Salvador Dali painting, it wouldn't be eyes or melting clocks...it would be gaping mouths everywhere.  Good grief. 

Food For All

It's getting ridiculous.  I really have to watch where I put my feet in the barn these days lest I step on a mouse or kick a squirrel.  Cheeky and friends are waiting for me when I walk in the door.  Mice come running from all four corners.  Elf, a young squirrel whose ears are bent at the tips, almost sits on my foot while I milk.  It used to be that these little furry things would at least duck for cover when I'd stand up and move about.  Not anymore.  I caught them in the food dish by surprise the other day...yesterday I was scooping poop in the big room, banging around with shovel and bucket, and some of the youngsters came in, gave me a glance, and jumped right into the bowl.  I have to keep rearranging things, covering buckets, etc., so that there is still enough feed left for the goats! 

There was a big hullabaloo under the oak.  It appears that an interloper wanted to join the toms' gang, but didn't meet the requirements.  He didn't heed the initial warning, so all five went on the attack.  In addition to raking with claws, one tom took the beak of the other and wouldn't let go until the loser cried Uncle.  Not satisfied to oust the newcomer from the circle, the gang ran him all the way down to the woods, strutting back to their self-proclaimed turf.  It looks like they are the only ones to join the chickens and the little wild birds for meals.

The brush has all gone brown and dry with the summer heat, and has evidently lost its appeal for the deer.  That makes the alfalfa in the feed barn look even better.  The bales are kept in a covered but open area with hog panel "gates."  In the past, if I've forgotten to put the chain around the middle post to keep the gates closed, the deer have pushed them in to get to the alfalfa.  Once I even found the gate completely off the hinges and halfway across the front yard.  I could just imagine a deer with a wire gate on its head, and the reaction it would have gotten from its herd-mates.  There is a bale now that is barely out of reach through the panels, and I can see every morning where the deer have done their darnedest to get to it.  It seems the word is out amongst the wild things.  I guess I do run a soup kitchen.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Time Travel

I was transported back in time to the 1960s.  I wouldn't have been surprised to see Mother Earth News magazines about.  The talk was all of sustainable, organic farming; which chainsaws were best for which jobs; unusual bees that had shown up at the hives; recipes using hand-ground grain.  The hamburgers were hand-raised, organic beef donated by a neighbor, with homemade whole wheat buns, and all the side dishes were vegetables raised in home gardens.  The tomatoes and corn were picked at the party by the guests from the hosts' own garden just before the meal.  I unfortunately had to leave just as the churn was brought out to make fresh goat milk and strawberry ice cream.  It has been so long since I've heard conversation from people who are actually passionate about their jobs, and who not only talk the talk...this is their very life.  Baby piglets ran loose among the guests, and chickens pecked at the outskirts, while a small flock of geese paraded by in stately fashion.  The family goats had taken refuge from the heat of the day under a nearby tree.  My own goats are my entree into this group of warm, welcoming, gentle people.  I had met them all at a party for the winter solstice last year.  The gathering this weekend was to celebrate the impending birth of my friends' second child.  Men did not go off to talk "man talk" while the women told labor stories.  These people attend the farrowing of their pigs, calving, lambing, kidding, hatching, and every new life is cause for celebration.  The women have mostly given birth at home with the assistance of a midwife, as my friend plans to do.  With only myself and a couple of other exceptions, none of this crowd was alive at the time of the 1960s communes, and I'm not sure they realize they are history repeating itself.  It's certainly not a bad time to revisit.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It's All About Poppy

 "Baa, baa, Poppy...have you any wool?"  "Yes, sir, yes, sir...a big cart full!"  This is a two-year growth.  The outer side is sunburned and matted, and I won't use this fleece for spinning.  It's doubly unfortunate, because Tim obviously shears for spinners, with no "second cuts," those hesitation cuts that leave nubbles in the wool, shortening the usable strands. 
 A shadow of her former self. 

Poppy is a Suffolk ewe...black face and legs, cream wool.  Suffolk wool makes good, utilitarian yarn for socks and outer sweaters.  It's not particularly soft, like Rambouillet or Merino, but definitely serviceable.
 I learned my lesson.  These photos were taken before starting to milk.  That's Sheila with her back to the camera, Inga is facing Poppy, Cindy's black behind is at the rear, and Esther and Ruth were too busy eating to pose for a picture.  Lucy is having breakfast in the milking room, and Nineteen and Tessie are still in their stall, munching on orchard grass.

Like an English lady protecting her delicate complexion, Poppy spends most of her day in the shade now.  Given that she's lost thirty pounds or so, she isn't waddling around; probably feels like she's dancing on air!