Tuesday, November 30, 2010


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


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


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


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!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Candle flames of red and gold...the pistache trees are in their full fall blazing glory along the road into town.  Rounding a corner and seeing one of these spectacular trees almost takes your breath away.  After wearing the dull, drab browns of summer, Nature seems to be putting on her finery in preparation for the holidays...russets, gold and topaz, green velvet on the ground.  The frost and snow diamonds won't be brought out until closer to Christmas. 

It's almost a joke...the menu never changes for Thanksgiving dinner in our house (although we move the date around at will).  My Kids are traditionalists, down to the last detail.  The bread for stuffing has to be torn by hand into pieces "just this big."  (I make a lot of stuffing...six or eight loaves' worth.)  One year time was short and Steve suggested cutting the bread into cubes...a lot faster.  I told him the Kids wouldn't like that, and his reply was, "They'll never notice."  As the bowl was passed around the table, one said, "You didn't tear this bread, did you?  You cut this bread!"  I just looked at Steve.  That was the same year I served a frozen pumpkin pie instead of making it from scratch.  That also got a less than favorable response.  There are always three kinds of cranberry sauce, potatoes and a couple of gallons of gravy.  A fruit and nut laden Jello salad that my mother always served and called Christmas salad...always served at Thanksgiving and never at Christmas (?).  New Orleans Bourbon yams, and the omnipresent green bean casserole.  I see no sense in cooking a little turkey, and it took some effort for the counterman to find a twenty-three-and-a-half pound turkey for me yesterday.  This is one meal from which I want lots of leftovers!  Hearkening back to the days of little money and even less experience, the bread rolls are the brown-and-serve variety.  One year I made fresh rolls, and got asked, "But where are our Thanksgiving rolls?"  I was discussing this with one of my sons recently and he said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  As Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof says, "Tradition!"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hope They're Wrong

We've had a stretch of really gorgeous weather...bright, sunny days and crisp, cold nights.  It was a perfect day to install the Taj yesterday and work outdoors.  Craig is waiting until there are more hands this coming weekend to take the little house off its wheels and place it on permanent pier blocks.  "The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang astray," said Robert Burns, and in this case it could be due to the weather.  The prognosticators are predicting rain.  That certainly will not put a crimp in our Thanksgiving festivities, but a whole group using the Silkies' pen as a slip and slide in the rain could result in some smashed fingers and a lot of unexpected showers and laundry. 

There is a certain amount of pressure as the holidays approach and I always find myself running behind schedule, but there is a lovely sense of anticipation:  planning menus, decorations (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't), arranging for those who might stay over (the house can sleep fifteen friendly people).  I even get past my loathing of dusting to get the house ready.  Today is go-to-town-and-shop day for the traditional fare.  I love the smell of those special holiday dishes, and the sound of laughter whenever my family gathers.  A little rain isn't going to dampen that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Taj Arrives!

Deb and Craig made an unexpected run up yesterday, bringing...The Taj!  Nearing dark, unloading was left until this morning, so I had the opportunity to enjoy their company last evening.  Everyone was up well before dawn, awaiting the great unveiling.  Craig and Deb had anticipated the logistical problems of getting this really big building from the truck in the drive to the pen behind the feed barn and, other than the thing was heavier than an elephant, the move went without a hitch, thanks to the temporary undercarriage with wheels.  They performed a total remodel of the Silkie pen, doubling the size and covering over the new area with reinforcements and chicken wire to protect against marauding hawks.  A cadre of small, nosy inspectors accompanied their every move, following every foot step.  Each shovelful of dirt was checked, rechecked, and sometimes scratched back where it came from if it didn't meet the free-ranging hens' approval.  For their own safety, the Silkies were kept in their new accommodations while the pen was expanded, and that gave them a chance to check out the privacy cubby for egg laying and "bounce on the bed," as it were...hopping up to their night roost.  From that vantage point they can look out of the shuttered windows, each with a magnet to keep it closed in inclement weather.  The door drops down to create a ramp for easy access.  The solar-powered fan provides fresh air.  Walls, floor and ceiling are double-walled and insulated.  It has a shingled roof, and the walls are painted in complimentary shades of brown and grey.  One would never know this was Craig's first attempt at design and construction; it is nothing short of perfection.  Deb is a terrific collaborator and helpmate.  I saw the photos of this team in action during the building process...the definitive word for this couple is "team."  The shots below show The Grand Opening this morning when Deb and Craig let the little girls out into their new yard for the first time.  I went out to check on them this afternoon.  They asked not to be interrupted as they scratched and pecked in their playground, and just to show how comfortable they are in the new digs, there was an egg in the cubby! 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

By the Way

By the way is exactly where I did not want to get left...so when I was told after getting the oil changed in the truck that the battery had tested bad ("Bad battery!  Bad, bad, bad!"), I went immediately to get a replacement.  I've been stuck in out of the way places before...even home is an out of the way place...with a dead battery.  It's not fun, and I was glad of the opportunity to be proactive for a change.  I had thought a two o'clock appointment would get me home well before dark, but everything takes longer than one expects or plans, so I was racing sundown on the way back.  The hens, even the Silkies, had already gone into their coops for the night when I parked and dashed to tuck them in.  They didn't get their nightie-night treat, and I felt like a bad mommy, sending the kids to bed without supper.  I anticipated problems getting the goats to go into a darkened barn.  Nineteen was too busy trying futilely to ride the girls bareback to notice the time, and the girls were whimpering, anxious to get inside (and get away), so it all went much better than I'd thought. 

By the way, I was also told the front brakes were bad...naughty, naughty truck.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Doubletake Times Two

I had to take a second look at that flock of large dark birds gathered at the end of the driveway loop yesterday.  That's where the toms congregate before their stroll up the hill for breakfast, but something wasn't quite right.  It's just not often one sees a group of pedestrian vultures...soaring on the thermals, perched on fenceposts, dining on roadkill...not walking along the drive in the early morning sun.  Were they on an undercover mission, disguised as turkeys?  To what purpose?  I do not want to look past the monitor and see one of those guys staring in the window!

Dawn temperatures are in the low thirties and Joel's tomato plants are showing signs of frostbite.  I was invited over yesterday afternoon to gather some "ruined" tomatoes for the little girls before the garden goes under for the winter.  We got to laughing when I did a doubletake and discovered some tomatillos hiding amongst the tomato vines.  Plant one tomatillo and you will have them for life!  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but should one decide enough is enough, it takes eons to eradicate the plants.  They are dedicated to propagation and throw up volunteers year after year after year.  I think this is the third or fourth season since Joel pulled up the last one he actually planted.  Having gone through this myself, I think it's pretty funny.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Change of Address

It appears I have moved to the State of Confusion, (according to Cousin Mark, I'm not alone).  Reality check:  it is Thursday, November 11, 2010, in this time zone (and today is Veterans Day!).  I'm still a little iffy on the time.  Even my circadian rhythm has been thrown off kilter.  Nightfall is at approximately five o'clock, so now my body thinks bedtime should come about seven-thirty.  Bessie Anne, faithful companion that she is, has joined me here in Confusion.  She normally takes care of all doggie business prior to coming in at dark.  Coming in so early now left her needing to go walkies at ten p.m.  I learned my lesson about not letting her out alone at night after her clandestine meetings with any number of skunks, so there's nothing for it but to throw on shoes and coat (and my wonderful lighted hard-hat that Craig made) and take Bess out on the leash.  It was cold enough that she didn't dawdle, and cold enough that we were both wide awake upon returning to the house.  That threw off wake-up time this morning...it was an unbelievable six a.m., and the sun was shining.  Now today is going to be off kilter, too.  Oh, good grief.  My mother had sayings for almost any/every occasion, and today I can hear her saying, "Well, it's confusin', but not amusin'." 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


It was gently brought to my attention that I am a day early in proclaiming Veterans Day.  This is a surprise, because I'm usually a day late and a dollar short.  However, (as I explained to my friend) I skipped Monday this week and so I am right on [my] schedule!  Screwing up the dates has no bearing on the sentiments, which I honestly feel every day of the year.  George Washington probably doesn't know when his own birthday is anymore...it gets moved around more than Daylight Savings Time...and we're celebrating Thanksgiving on the twentieth.  Who knows which end is up?  For those of us who live by sunup/sundown and without an end to the week...well, our "reality" pretty much ends at the bottom of the driveway.  I'm thinking of buying stock in a belated-birthday card company, because that's mainly what I send...if I send at all. 

Those saturated turkeys on the drive?...they've roosted on the roof of the feed barn, fluffing and strutting in the pale sunshine that is just breaking through.  They don't know what day it is, either...but they know it's time for breakfast!


The hard rain of last night and early this morning has tapered to a drizzle.  It's just light enough to see a troop of the most woebegone, bedraggled turkeys straggling up the driveway, scratching in the oak leaves for worms the rain has brought to the surface.  I had to make a special run to the feed store yesterday when I realized I'd run out of bird seed.  It's enough that the toms are peering in the windows...I don't want them pounding on the doors or marching with placards if they miss a meal.  I wonder if I could get designated as a small-time wildlife preserve with a supporting grant. 

It's Veterans Day.  If the rain lets up, I will fly the flag today.  A serviceman or woman doesn't need to make the supreme sacrifice to deserve the nation's gratitude.  It doesn't matter if they serve(d) because of the draft or volunteered; whether their time was spent in Hoboken or Hamburg; if they joined for the benefits (small though they be) or for patriotism.  Who of us would sign away three or four years of our lives for the many?  That alone deserves our thanks. 

Must run...the hummers' feeders are nearly empty. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wild(life) and Crazy Day

(With apologies to Steve Martin, that 'wild and crazy guy.')

I'm beginning to think my name is written on a bathroom wall somewhere in Turkeyville.  These are only two of the five or six boys that showed up yesterday morning on the deck and railing.  Not only are they staring in the windows, they're beginning to vie for attention.  Just a short while later, the entire flock of twenty-plus gathered and went cruising past the front door on the way to the buffet.  Earlier, just at sunrise, a big, two-point buck had wandered past in the morning mist and stopped to browse the low-hanging leaves from the oaks.  It was a wildlife kind of day.

Being watched by the turkeys brought back memories from when we were new to Farview Farm.  None of the surrounding vineyards were here at that time.  Our then neighbor ran fifty or so head of Black Angus cross-breed cattle.  He had a Pa Kettle (old movies) attitude toward fencing; might fix 'em...might not.  One morning I stepped out of the shower, glanced out, and there were thirty cows staring in the bedroom window.  That's a little unnerving.  Throwing on some clothes, I went out to herd the cattle back into their field through the broken fence.  Talk about putting the toothpaste back into the tube!  I'd get them all headed in the right direction, running back and forth like a winded border collie, and five or six would go home.  However, before I could get the next bunch in, three or four of the first group would squirt back out.  I don't know if it was the running or the laughing that had me falling on the ground.  This neighbor once offered me a newly orphaned calf to raise for beef.  Steve thought that was a good idea, so I went to see this baby.  These neighbors had lived for thirty-odd years in a double-wide mobile home.  I hiked down the hill, knocked on the door, and was invited into the very small kitchen...where they were keeping the calf!  (Shades of Ma and Pa Kettle...again!)  We had not put up any barns at that time.  It was explained to me that this little one had to be kept indoors.  Steve thought that was not a good idea.  We never did raise beef cattle.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Semiannual Snit

"They" did it again.  "They" changed the time.  I wish "they" would just leave it alone.  The nameless, faceless "they" don't seem to realize that there are going to be only so many hours of daylight, regardless of how the clock is manipulated.  "Gain an hour/lose an hour" is gibberish...being an hour early or an hour late for an appointment (if one happened to have such a thing) is not.  Messing with milking time is not funny.  There are those who might think that regularly waking up at four-thirty is a bit strange, but even when you're a morning person, finding that you've awakened at three-thirty, thanks to the new time, is just nuts!  Putting the animals to bed at five o'clock screws up my own dinner time, and it makes for a long, long evening after dark.  Where is the saving of electricity in that? 

There...that's off my chest and I feel better.

It was definitely a soggy Sunday...the rain fell all day long and we ended up with over an inch and a half by nightfall (which, as I said, was early!).  The day before I'd been dripping sweat and wanting a cold beer.  Twenty-four hours later, I was dripping rain water and wanting a hot buttered rum.  It was a good day for a fire in the wood stove, a pot of stew and a loaf of homemade Anadama bread.  The bread recipe has been around since Colonial days, but I'd never tried it before.  The addition of a little cornmeal gives a nice crunch to the crust and a lovely texture and flavor to the bread.  The makers of those aerosol air fresheners are missing the mark...if they really wanted to make a house smell homey and inviting, they should bottle the smell of baking bread.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yoohoo! Oh, yooohoo!

This puts a whole new spin on "peeping Tom."  This turkey seems to feel we have a relationship.  Not finding me at the computer in the afternoon, he carefully walked the railing all the way around the deck, looking in all the windows on the way.  Finding me in the living room reading, he seemed content to just stand and watch, even waiting while I went to find the camera.  Two can play this game, and having him so close was an opportunity to really inspect this bird.  What I'd thought were unruly feathers from the toms' chests is really a group of hanging hair-like strands.  I can't even imagine the purpose, but all the toms have this; the hens do not.  Also, they have a blob of red tissue sprouting between the eyes that hangs down over the beak.  I have no idea what it's called, but I found that the bird can raise and lower this to a degree when startled.  I will be the first to admit that the head of a turkey is perhaps not a thing of beauty, although they do have large, dark, pretty eyes.  The feathers of these wild birds, though, are glorious in the sunshine...glowing bronze, turquoise, purple, green...absolutely as gorgeous as a peacock.  I can understand why Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey declared the National Bird...but then it would probably have to be taken off the menu at Thanksgiving, so it's just as well the eagle was chosen instead.  Getting close to nature is one thing, being stalked is quite another.  I do know this is not normal turkey behavior.  Having a chicken stroll into the house...well, I could deal with that.  If I find a turkey....

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Fall is a conjurer, pulling tricks out of her sleeve, making things appear and disappear before your very eyes.  Those fruit trees in the front orchard, newly decorated with the glorious red and gold leaves, were completely denuded by a strong wind that came up yesterday morning.  If I'd blinked, I'd never have seen them.  Trying to keep up with the changes is like watching the pea in a shell game, almost impossible to follow.  Sweating buckets in the eighty-degree weather, I hauled more firewood to the porch because rain is predicted for this weekend.  The prestidigitator is touted to drop the temperature twenty degrees.  Now you see it, now you don't. 

How do you know when a goat is in heat?  Well, she tells you!  She tells you and every living creature within hearing distance.  Reading everything on the subject I could get my hands on when I got the first two girls, I learned, "...she will wag her tail."  This is such an understatement.  Like puppies, goats wag their tails when approached, while eating, flicking flies, etc.  When in heat, those tails go like helicopter blades and one expects to see the back end rise up in the air from the downdraft.  Normally a quiet breed (unlike Nubians and La Manchas), an Alpine doe will holler at the top of her lungs to announce her condition.  She's about as subtle as a hooker down on the stroll.  The girls are all coming into season at the same time, and the noisy goat pen is a hotbed (hmmm) of frustration right now.  There is furious head butting among the girls, and they circle and gang up on the one closest to estrus.  Nineteen is running around doing what he can without proper equipment.  Without the company of an intact male, does will take on the buck's role, making the same nuh-uh-uh sounds, tongue hanging out, and mounting.  It's sometimes a struggle to get everyone separated and into their stalls at night. 

Putting the hens to bed is also a challenge, as the flock also seems to be struck by the lonelies.  Progress is impeded by chickens in the path, doing their come-hither squat.  Ignored as I pass by, they will run ahead of me and assume the position again.  Gee whiz, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  I know I've addressed this subject before, but I'm surrounded by the situation with no solution.  Spring may be the season of birth and rebirth, but I'm here to say that none of that would happen were it not for Fall.  I wish I had her magic wand.

Friday, November 5, 2010

May I Present...

After waiting in the wings for what seems like longer this year, Fall has finally stepped out from behind the curtain to show her glorious colors...and the show is just beginning.  The trees on the hill to the south haven't yet gotten their cue to change costumes.  First on stage are the vineyards, parading their red and gold finery.  Most grapes, like the barberas, are well disciplined, following the script and stretching vines along their support wires as requested.  The zinfandels prefer improvisation, throwing their canes into the air higgledy-piggledy every which way.  Taking center stage in my own yard are the old fruit trees in the front orchard, the plums and peaches wearing red, and the big tree that might be a cherry that has never had a mate to pollinate dressed in bright yellow.  I fear the chickens think this is a follies review and have begun to strip off their feather boas, going into moult just as the night temperatures are dropping.  The goats are going into rehearsal wearing fur coats.  This spectacular production is presented only once a year, and I have front row season tickets!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's The Plan?

Nearly every morning started the same way when the weather was clement.  Coffee mugs in hand, Steve and I would take a turn around the deck as soon as the sun was up, doing a check on the property, a little dead-heading on the potted plants.  Leaning on the railing, sooner or later I'd hear the question that started the day, "So, what's the plan?"  That's a lot of responsibility to lay on a person, having to have an agenda, especially when I tend to be one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants people.  Not wanting the system to break down entirely, I'd try to come up with something.  Old habits are hard to break.  Regardless of what chores are waiting, I still take a stroll on the deck and around the yard in the early morning sun.  Bessie Anne does a perimeter check, and Frank and Pearl do their own inspection, but we more or less parade around together.  Inevitably, I will hear that phantom voice, "What's the plan?"  If there are any have-to jobs, I will write them on the kitchen board just to have the satisfaction of crossing them off later (and as a goad when I'm dragging my feet).  Then there are days like yesterday, when there were several things that needed tending, and I chose to pick up a book and ignore everything.  I am enthralled with Stieg Larsson's writing:  tight, fast-paced, characters with character.  The good guys are "human" and the bad guys are capital-E Evil.  It is a pity that his only three books were published posthumously; there won't be any more.  I think today I will finish The Girl Who Played With Fire.  Sounds like a plan to me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Neighborhood Watch

 I was reminded of a kids' TV program from eons ago...Romper Room...in which Miss Nancy had characters like Good Do-Bee and Watch-Bird ("This is a Watch-Bird watching you!"), when I glanced out the window past the computer and saw this tom turkey watching me yesterday afternoon.  His brethren were doing normal turkey things behind him in the driveway, but this Big Bird (yes, that's from the Muppets) settled down and watched me for a long time.  I guess turn-about is fair play in Fair Play...I sure spend enough time watching them.
I was at the polls when the doors opened yesterday and would have been the first to vote if I hadn't held the door for two ladies even older than myself.  The "officials" had to put down their coffee and donuts, so there was time to chat before the ballots were handed out.  I just love voting "country style."  I am trying to keep this apolitical, and will just say this was a very interesting election, not only in California but in the nation. 

I do try to stay abreast of what is happening out in the big world, but I much prefer life here in my little world, where we keep watch for each other (with a bird's eye view).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

This is going to be a busy morning.  I'll drop off the trash barrel on the way to my polling place down the road apiece to vote before coming back to milk.  I will be glad to see the end of all the mud-slinging and character assassination that has gone on during this campaign.  I did get a kick out of the recorded phone message last night..."I don't care who you vote for, just don't vote for (blank).  Vote for anybody else."  It wasn't until the very end that the calling candidate's name was mentioned.  I am also amused by the shotgun approach taken by the candidate who is running for both the state assembly and senate; he really wants a job! 

I saw preview photos last night of the Silkie Taj, taken while it was a work in progress.  It's just unbelievable:  double walls and floor with insulation, metal corners and trim with magnets to hold the door and window covers open and/or closed, a privacy cubby for egg laying, a solar cooling fan for summer, a gangplank so little legs can easily make it up to the coop...every need has been addressed.  I mentioned to Deb that she and Craig could make a fortune selling these fantastic coops.  She said she didn't ever want to build another.

Things to do, places to go.  Gotta run!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Going Green

 A week ago...even a few days ago... the goat pen was barren and brown.  A few days of rain followed by a few days of sunshine and, voila!, we're going green!  The top photo is taken at the corner of the pen where the alfalfa is thrown every morning, and the girls keep it trampled bare.  It does show their well-worn trails.  J&J Vineyard (Joel and Judy) is to the right.  It also shows the sad, dead oak over the barn.  Tree Guy has not made contact again, so it is what it is.  The second photo is from the barn, looking up the hill to the girls having breakfast.  It gives a better idea of the hike up the slope...it never seems so steep on the way down.  It amazes me every year...seeds lying
dormant in the bare earth, just waiting for a little moisture and warmth to spring to life...and how quickly the transformation takes place.  It's almost like watching "The Wizard of Oz" change from the black-and-white of Kansas to the technicolor of Oz. 

And while I'm on the subject of technicolor...it might be noted that my profile picture has changed from my Red Hat finery to the gorgeous colors of spectacular sunset.  It's just as well my wrinkled mug was (inadvertently, I'm sure) deleted, as this is much more representative of the farm.