Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stops and Starts

New Year's Eve, 2011

The close of a year is always a time of reflection, looking back at the accomplishments (and sometimes failures) of the year past.  Having written this journal for two years now, I have the added advantage of being able flip through the pages to refresh those memories, to see photos of faces and events that I've either forgotten or embellished.  I'd forgotten that there was a snowfall last January first, but I certainly remember the downed oaks.  For every tragedy, there's been a triumph.  I still count noses and beaks, and miss Lady Lucinda, Nineteen and Twenty-Two and Frederick the Great and the unnamed hens.  I relish the time spent with my dear family and friends old and new.  I appreciate all of my animals, domestic and wild.  Bessie Anne, Frank and Pearl...my constant companions.  The goats, sheep and chickens give me a reason to get up and out every day.  They are hard work, at times inconvenient, and sometimes a real pain in the patoot.  They are also my joy, my amusement, and provide a sense of fulfillment like no other.  Catching sight of deer in the orchard, standing with hummingbirds zooming around my head, walking near vultures sunning on fenceposts, listening to hawks screech high above, hearing the night song of the Beastie Boys...it still takes my breath away.

Every day is different.  Every day is the same.

It was a good year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ghost Story

Yesterday I revisited the past, accompanied by friendly ghosts and shadows.  I have avoided going downstairs unless absolutely necessary for six years.  Dust lay thick and there were cobwebs at the windows.  Blackberries have overgrown the door to the backyard from the walkout basement, making it impassable.  It was easy to forget there even was a downstairs in this house.

It's a big room, over six hundred square feet, and it was made for parties.  A full-size, fully stocked oak bar that would grace any commercial watering hole.  A long wall of shelving holds over three thousand books and a shorter span of floor-to-ceiling shelves for literally thousands of LP records.  Cabinets full of games and puzzles.  Easy chairs placed to watch the television over the bar.  Three couches all make into beds for tired revelers.  There are record, tape, and CD players.  Short-pile carpet was laid for dancing.  And there is a brick-faced gas fireplace.  It is a room designed for comfort and fun.

We used to throw parties that would last for days.  Any excuse for a gathering was a good one, and everyone would congregate downstairs.  Music and laughter filled the air.  Poker dice slammed on the bar.  Ladies in long gowns and gents in tuxes celebrated the new millennium and listened to Kenny G's Auld Lang Syne at midnight.  Nearly two hundred guests attended Deb and Craig's wedding and reception.  Good times, happy memories.  The last time the room was really used was for Steve's Going-Away Party six years ago. 

When I'd decided to put a Christmas tree downstairs again this year and Dolly and I went down to decorate, it broke the spell.  The man came yesterday to replace the thermocouple in the fireplace.  As long as I had to be down there, I started cleaning up.  Memories swirled around me with everything I touched, but they no longer held pain.  An old photo of my mother that should have been in an album was sitting on a shelf; why?  The picture of Steve behind the bar showed his welcoming grin, and his best friend's reflection still showed behind him.  If the guy had taken any longer, I think I might have put on the AC/DC album that was Steve's favorite. 

In the late afternoon with all the lights on and the fireplace glowing, the furniture polished and the cobwebs banished, the room is just a room again, welcoming and warm.  The ghosts have been laid to rest.  It's time.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's Hereditary

My propensity for procrastination has been passed on to the next generation.  In speaking with one of my children, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, I mentioned that I was almost ready to send out my belated Christmas cards.  "Child" said their almost-finished cards were sitting on a chair.  I said I'd put up two trees, but had gotten no further with decorations.  "Child" said they'd put up lights outside, but had boxes of decorations still in the living room.  We are both working on presents.  Poor child.  Our drummer may be a beat behind the band, but we keep time together.  I think "Child" would rather have inherited curly hair.

Last winter, it seemed as if the rain would never end.  This year it is so dry I'm going to have to turn the water back on outside and do a little irrigating.  I've closed off the new section of goat pen to let the greens grow back.  The girls have nibbled it all down to nubs.  By now, it should be ankle deep.  Farming, even on such a small, limited scale as here, is such a crapshoot.  The thought that we have control is an illusion, as Nature is ever ready to remind us.

While milking yesterday, I watched a hawk sitting in the bare branches of an oak for the longest time.  It was huge, every bit as big as a vulture.  Smaller birds, birds that could easily be prey for the hawk, sat in nearby branches.  They must read body language and somehow knew that the hawk was not on the hunt, that they were safe for the time being.  I think this "knowing" has to be an inherited memory, passed down while in the shell.  A little bird that procrastinated in such a case wouldn't last long.  There are worse things than not getting cards out on time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mean Santa

I'm sure Santa had good intentions when he dropped off that desiccated deer leg for Bessie Anne.  However well meant, that gift has essentially ruined her life.  My normally placid little dog is now a nervous wreck, worn to a frazzle as she moves the bones from one hiding spot to another.  She's tucked them under the junipers, only to pull them out a little while later to bury them behind the first shed.  Bess will be walking beside me when she's struck by a wave of panic and will run back to the shed to dig up her treasure and shove it under the tarp over the woodpile.  Moving paws and mutterings show that even her sleep is uneasy.  I would have said Bessie is as honest as the day is long, but she's taken to sneaking and lying.  Holding her head low and hiding her mouth, she comes into the house.  When I find a bone in her toy box later, I can't stop from asking one of those silly, rhetorical, "mother" questions.  "Did you bring this bone into the house, Bessie Anne?!"  And she'll look me straight in the eye and say, "No.  It wasn't me.  I don't know how that got there."  She'll look pointedly at Frank, trying to throw blame his way, and then graciously offer to take the offending bone outside for me.  Now I know darned well Frank did not haul that bone indoors.  Santa would be well advised to bring a sparkly collar for Bessie Anne next year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sleep Tight

On a cold winter's night, it is ever so comforting to get into a bed made up with flannel sheets.  There is none of that "dash of cold water" feeling one gets when sliding between cotton sheets.  It's so easy to snuggle into the flannel that gives back body heat and sleep comes quickly.  However, there is one problem.  It's best to arrange one's self comfortably before drifting off to the Land of Nod, because that's the way you'll sleep and that's the way you'll wake up.  Sleeping on flannel sheets is like sleeping on Velcro.  There'll be no tossing and turning.  There'll be no turning over, period.  This is especially true if one should happen to wear a flannel nightshirt.  Much like those asylum canvas straitjackets, once the flannel has you in its grip, you aren't going to move.  Put a dog at your back and a cat on your feet and you'll feel like you've been encased in cement, albeit toasty warm cement.

I was awakened this morning by a damp flick on the tip of my nose and a soft whining in my ear.  Struggling to turn my head to look at the clock in the dark, I saw it was three a.m.  "Oh, you've got to be kidding!"  Again, the flick on the nose and the apologetic whine as Bess said she just couldn't wait any longer.  If I let her out on her own, I'd just have to get up later to let her back in.  There was nothing for it but to get up, pull on a pair of sweatpants and a heavy robe and slippers, get the leash and my lighted cap and head outside into the cold...and I do mean cold.  Bess and I double-timed it around the drive.  She didn't like it any more than I did and took care of business with record speed.  Back in the house, I considered my options.  Stay up at this ridiculous hour or try to go back to sleep.  Bess had no such choice; she wanted back up on the bed now.  My spot was still warm, an invitation too welcome not to accept.  Consequently, it was daylight when I again opened my eyes and I missed getting the trash down to the big road.  I'd been held captive by those flannel sheets.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bessie Anne's Christmas

Our family is out of sync with the rest of the world and it will be another couple of weeks before we get together to celebrate Christmas.  Yesterday was a day to touch base with more traditional family and friends with emails, texts, and calls.  Chickens must be fed and goats must be milked regardless of a holiday, so one day begins exactly like the next here.  Arden came by in the early afternoon and brought a favorite movie for us to watch together.  The soundtrack alone for "A Room With A View" was worth the price of admission.

As my friend was leaving, I noted that Bessie Anne was busy worrying something in the leaves.  I waved goodbye to Arden and went to investigate.  Bess must be a firm believer in the Santa for Little Dogs, because she had found the skeletal remains of an entire deer leg and it was hers alone.  Oh joy, oh bliss.  My home-baked dog biscuits will pale in comparison to this treasure.

After putting the critters to bed last evening, Bess and I went down to get the mail.  I thought, "What the heck, it is Christmas," and instead of turning the truck around, we went on down the big road to a nearby mobile home park and drove slowly around looking at their light displays, just as in the old days.

When Bessie later asked to go out for our nightly walk, her first stop was to pick up a hidden two-foot jointed section of leg that she carried with her around the drive like a trophy.  Strange as it may be for someone who sometimes has a flock of chickens in the laundry room, I draw the line at deer bones in the house. The look on Bessie's face spoke volumes as I took the leg away from her so we could come back in. She partially forgave me when I showed her where I put her present for safekeeping (outside). Going out in the dark this morning, it was the first thing she wanted.

Santa was good to Bessie Anne.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tradition!

(Just call me Tevye!)  If there ever was a time for tradition, the holidays are it.  Even the most minute family traditions can give a sense of solidarity and take the eldest member back to childhood in a twinkle.  I realized the baton had been passed when I spoke yesterday to my son Pete in southern California.  He and his son, Jake (now seventeen), had been making cookies for gifts, using a recipe Pete had known from my holiday baking when he was a boy.  I had gotten that recipe from my mother and put it in a cookbook I'd made for my Kids.  Pete had been telling Jake how he and his brothers and sister would hang around in the kitchen, hoping to be the one chosen to lick the bowl, the spoon, the beater, or get the last dab of cookie dough.  That in itself seems to have become a tradition, as Jake couldn't keep his fingers out of the bowl, either.  Pete remembered that in our house (and not just at Christmas), very rarely were there store-bought cookies; I did a lot of baking in those days.  Pete talked about the wire cooling racks and waiting for that first batch to come out of the oven, to be eaten while the cookies were still warm (if not hot!).  It's nice to know that some things don't change.  Tradition!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Man At Work


 Poor Frank.  He can't quite get the tree decorated to his liking.  He is constantly tweaking this, moving that, removing the other thing.  It's the same with the cloth at the base.  He seems to feel it needs adjustment on a daily basis.  A cat's work is never done.

Since "my" Christmas is still two weeks away, I finally got a start on the baking yesterday (those inedible pigs don't count).  Don't laugh.  I started with a batch of dog biscuits cut with a bone-shaped cutter for Bessie Anne and my son's dog, Smoke.  As they can't read, I feel this secret is safe.  When cutting out cookies, there's always that little blob left over and I baked that too.  Well away from the kitchen so she wouldn't suspect, I gave that trial blob to Bess.  What if these "bones" went the way of the pigs?  She crunched it up and licked up the crumbs.  (I think she's going to like her present!)
Frank and Pearl always send a present to Deb and Craig's cat, Clyde, and get gifts in return.  (Oh, come on!  We don't have any little Kids around except the furry kind.)  I did their shopping for them, and they seem to approve of the treats I picked out for Clyde.  I didn't open the shopping bag so Frank and Pearl didn't see that they're getting the same thing.  Shhh.

I've mentioned a prior dog, Dogie, and cat, Victor.  On a Christmas years past, Dogie received a bag of special treats and Victor was given a little Santa toy stuffed with catnip.  Unlike Bessie Anne, who immediately guts every stuffed toy she's ever had, Dogie took care of her toys and never destroyed a one.  It wasn't until after all the gifts were opened and we were cleaning up that we found the shreds and pieces of Victor's Santa under a table.  Was it jealousy?  Dogie evidently didn't feel that she needed to be so circumspect with Victor's toy.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Five and Dime

In the small town where I grew up there was just the one main street, wide enough for diagonal parking.  There was a drugstore on one corner, and it had a soda fountain just like the one in "It's A Wonderful Life."  Mother liked a lemon phosphate, but I discovered the joy of a pineapple soda with strawberry ice cream.  There was a dress shop (where I got my first job when I was old enough to get a work permit), a record store with booths where they let you listen to 78 rpm records, one of the first Karmelkorn shops (oh, the smell wafting out would make you drool just walking by), and my absolute favorite store...Kress's Five and Dime.  The store had hardwood floors and it was deep, darker toward the back away from the windows.  To my little girl eyes, it was filled with treasures.  That's where my father would take me to do my Christmas shopping.  In itself, that was a gift because Daddy was not a patient man, but he waited just out of sight while I went up and down every aisle looking for the perfect presents, my hoarded quarters tied in the corner of a hanky.  I had to see everything, but every year I returned to the same counters, every year my parents got the same gifts.  I wonder if my dad ever tired of wearing Old Spice aftershave; I love the smell to this day.  I thought that the sparkling pressed glass bowls, plates, and glasses were the most elegant things ever.  Waterford crystal couldn't hold a candle to those displays in the Five and Dime, and Mother exclaimed over each piece every year as if it were fine crystal (and as if it were a surprise).  Pressed glass still catches my eye at flea markets.

It was nice...where I grew up.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wading In Jell-O

If my days were being filmed, they'd come out in slo-o-w motion.  I keep moving but getting nowhere.  I sprang from bed this morning, wide awake and knowing I was late!  How late could I be at four a.m.?  Days late, that's the answer.  Anyone expecting a card from me this year might start checking their mailbox around June next year. 

I sampled the first Christmas cookie yesterday.  I didn't bake it.  My friend Tom drove up while I was still down in the barn with the goats (a little later than usual; what a surprise).  The girls plucked at his jacket, rubbed against his hip, and repeatedly untied his boot laces while he stood outside the half-door as I finished milking the last doe.  Carrie and daughter Corrina have made cookies to share every year.  The decorations this year are quite elegant and artistic.  I well remember when Corrina was very small and the reindeer and stars had smears of frosting with tiny fingerprints.  She's growing up.  Tom bakes the world's best stollen, learned at his grandmother's knee in Germany.  It took all my resolve to limit myself to just one slice.

Propane Guy and Helper Dude showed up.  Going downstairs was like dropping into Antarctica.  I rarely to never go down there anymore, and the cobwebs at the window gave it all the charm of Miss Haversham's rooms.  I had hoped that it was just the pilot light in the gas fireplace and Propane Guy could make it all right again.  No.  The thermocouple had gone wonky and Propane Guy doesn't do thermocouple.  Thermocouple Guy won't have time to even call me until next week sometime to tell me when he might be able to come out.  One step forward and two steps back.

The day was already shot, so I spent the rest of the afternoon paying bills.  Big whup.  Stepping outside at dusk, the temperature had plummeted.  It's been pretty darned cold this last week, but this morning it's a frigid twenty-three degrees.  And did I get more firewood hauled up to the porch yesterday?  That would be silly question number two and doesn't deserve an answer.

Today I will be going to the Winter Solstice party, so I know in advance I won't get much done.  Thank goodness I'll have all those extra minutes of daylight tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Snippets

The Wells-Fargo Wagon (aka UPS) snuck up here yesterday.  Neither Bess nor I heard the truck, but I found a package on the front step in the afternoon.  A couple of packages have arrived in the mail this past week.  Does anyone ever get over that childish thrill of a surprise?  I hope not.  I've set them aside to let the anticipation build.

Bessie Anne does like to go with me down to the big road on trash day.  I feel pretty bad for her on these cold days when I lift her up to ride shotgun and she has to sit her little bum on that icy seat.  We sat together in the predawn dark at the corner and waited for Trash Guy.  I had a little "something" for him.  Years ago, I could have taped it to the lid, secure in the knowledge that it would be considered sacrosanct.  Now, not so much, and it was better to put it in his hand.  Engine running and heater blasting, the truck was warmer than the house at that hour, and I read Christmas cards out loud to Bess while we waited.  Trash Guy works hard at a solitary job...it's little enough to say thank you once a year.

There was a tiny tragedy in the barn later.  I always lay empty buckets on their side because mice are prone to falling in.  When the bucket for used diaper wipes is empty, I put a piece of broom handle in so the small creatures have a way out.  Evidently the little guy I found dead yesterday was too tiny to climb the stick, or maybe it was just too cold alone.  I know that one less mouse in the world doesn't amount to a hill of beans, unless it is to that mouse's family.  And to me.

In the afternoon, I worked at (and completed) a secret project.  Now if I could just get going on the multitude of other things that need to be done.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Memory Trees

Decorating a tree that I didn't have to assemble is much like my plan to "rent-a-kid;" all of the fun without all of the work.  Both of my trees are memory books that are opened once a year.  Almost all of the most beautiful, unusual, funny, significant and sentimental ornaments have been given to me by family and loved ones, and good times and dear faces come flooding back as I take each one out of the box.  For instance, way back in the '60s, my father gave me a cashmere sweater that was decorated with opalescent sequins (it was very much in style then).  Years later, when Daddy was gone and the sweater had disintegrated, my daughter took the sequins and used them to make an ornament for me.  Could anything be more special?

Frank fancies himself a better decorator than I and has been busily rearranging ornaments on the living room tree.  Resting from his labors and well satisfied with himself, he lies under the tree with the twinkling lights reflected in his eyes.  He's like an ornament himself.

Our delayed celebration has put me completely out of sync with the rest of the world.  I've got to get a move on if I'm going to have anything ready to give to those who stick to the calendar!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Plan B

All morning, Dolly was worse than a little kid. 

"Okay, while you're tending to the goats, I'll go downstairs and start on the Christmas tree."  "No, Dolly.  Let's wait and do it together."  "Oh, all right."

I get back up from the barn. "Okay, can we go downstairs now?"  "No, Dolly.  This is sit in the sunshine and take a breather time."  (It was not raining.)

"When can we go downstairs?"  "Right after I get the turkey soup (finally, the last of the turkey!) started and the makings for Russian black bread into the machine.  Then when we're done, dinner will be ready."  "Oh.  Well, fine."  Dolly is a grownup and was able to withhold a pout.

It was shortly after noon when we headed out to the shed to get the boxed tree and tub of ornaments.  We decided to hold off on the rest of the decorations that used to go up in years past, not knowing how long it would take to assemble the tree.  That was a good decision.  Turning up the Christmas music and lugging our baggage down the stairs, the first order of business was to light the gas fireplace.  It was cold enough down there to give a person chilblains.  It wouldn't light.  It's been several years since anyone has spent any time downstairs, especially in winter.  Both of us down on the floor with a flashlight, trying to light the pilot without success.  Hunting upstairs and down, I could find the manuals for everything we'd ever purchased in the last twenty years...except the instructions for the fireplace.  Fiddling with this switch and pushing that button didn't work and rather than risk blowing us up in a propane explosion, it was time to think of Plan B.  I hated to disappoint Dolly, but Plan B started with abandoning the downstairs Plan A.  "We'll find a place for another tree upstairs."  Dolly was happy.

We hauled the boxes back up the stairs and Doll set to work assembling all those blankety-blank branches.  (Note that the sun is shining.)  Independent little cuss, she said, "No!  I can do it myself."  And I was happy.  I puttered around in the kitchen and left her to it.  We'd thought perhaps we'd put the tree in the breakfast room.  Nope.  No room.  Aha!  The dining room had just enough space.  I think we're up to Plan C, with a lot of alphabet to go.

Well after dark, I came back from putting the kids to bed and Dolly had the tree in place.  The lights on the tree could not have been brighter than Dolly's smile.

Rich soup and warm bread shared with a friend sitting next to a beautiful tree was a Plan and a Pleasure.

It was a good day.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Old Friend

Nattering away like a pair of magpies, Dolly and I spent the day in the kitchen.  Poor thing, she didn't have a choice.  A couple of days ago I'd made the dough for what I thought would be gingerbread pig cookies (okay, they were supposed to be gingerbread men).  It took forever to get the dough rolled, cut out, and baked.  The recipe made dozens and dozens of piggies.  They smell wonderful, redolent of cinnamon and cloves, and they're really cute...but they are inedible.  I did wonder as I'd read the recipe why it said to poke holes for ribbons.  All afternoon was spent making a drove of scented pig ornaments to hang on the tree.  Oh, well...we were going to be talking all day anyhow and the kitchen is as good a place as any.

The next kitchen project was to make butternut squash ravioli.  Uh huh.  I should have stuck with the tried and true recipe for pasta, but did I?  No.  The squash was caramelized in the oven, the onions were sauteed in the pan.  The pasta dough had been resting in the refrigerator, but when it came time to roll it out, it did not hold together.  Quick!  What's Plan B?  The risotto turned out perfectly and saved my culinary reputation.

Talking is dry work.  Doll had brought the makings for a frothy, rich blender Irish Creme.  It certainly took the sting out of my two failures. 

There is such comfort to be had in the company of an old friend.  Shared experience gives our conversation a richness; just a few words bring a flood of memories, laughter or tears.  We speak in a kind of shorthand that would have a listener shaking their head.  Dolly's visit is an early Christmas present for me.

Now what am I going to do with all those pigs?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Game, Set, and Match

The way to a goat's heart is through her stomach, that's for sure.  The herd has evidently assigned Sheila the last place in line and she has accepted that, but it took just the one time thinking she wasn't going to get breakfast at all to bring her right to the door again yesterday.  The "chase me" game is well and truly over, and I won!

Inga is playing a game of her own.  Tessie has been able to spook Inga off the stand by giving a warning "danger" snort.  (Inga spooks easily at just about everything.)  Lately Inga has tired of waiting for her breakfast and tries a snort of her own to hurry the girl on the stand, but she doesn't speak with the same authority and it's not working for her.  It's obvious from her expression that she doesn't understand why.

There are, of course, the constant residents year round:  sparrows, wrens, red-tail hawks, and the maintenance crew of vultures.  The ones that catch attention are the migrants, the here-today, gone-tomorrow birds.  The bird of the moment is the Steller's Jay (I used think it was "stellar").  This raucous, flashy bird showed up in large numbers yesterday, loudly announcing its arrival and staking out its territory.  Hopping along on the deck rail, peering in the windows with beady eyes, and showing off its black crest, it lords it over its lowlier cousins, the scrub jays.  Even its blue is bluer, more iridescent in sunlight, than the scrubs.  The ever-present barn sparrows are willing to wait until I'm through milking for their grain (not really put out for them; it's the goats' nighttime treat), but the Steller's come to the wire-covered window openings and screech at me to hurry up!  Like Inga, it doesn't work for them, either.

She who controls the feed bucket wins!

Friday, December 16, 2011

LOL

In 'texteze,' the vernacular of the day (which is ringing the death knoll for the English language as we know it), I was LOL yesterday.  That's "laughing out loud," for anyone who doesn't text, Tweet, woof or whinny.  The usual suspects showed up for their turn on the milking stand and then, letting Ruth out, I almost banged Sheila in the nose with the door.  She barged in past Ruth, not about to miss her breakfast or be ignored again.  Success!  That game is over.

I got a second laugh when Joel called to say hi and mentioned that it was okay for Dolly to come up now; his outdoor chores were done.  I was taken aback for a minute, and then remembered we had awakened to rain yesterday.  Just putting Dolly's name out there had brought precipitation!  Nice to know she hasn't lost her magic powers.  (She's going to want to smack me upside the head, but the rain yesterday, like Dolly, was short.)

No laughing matter, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and finally got a call from Animal Services.  It seems my neighbor has been shuckin' and jivin', dodging being served with the citation for letting her dogs run loose.  It doesn't do to anger the powers that be by making his job harder, and it has simply solidified his determination to hand her that piece of paper.  From the tone of his voice, it's no more Mr. Nice Guy.

We're in the home stretch for the holidays and I'm running far back in the pack.  Good intentions aren't enough to accomplish all that needs to be done.  Thus was it ever so.  Ah, well...we all need our traditions and I guess that's mine.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Smarter Than A Goat

There she stood at the far corner of the pen, back toward me, daintily picking up one alfalfa stem at a time and chewing it slowly just to make her point.  There I stood in the doorway of the milking room, calling, "Sheila!  Come on, pretty girl."  And then, "Sheee-lah!  Get your butt down here right this minute!"  She ignored me.  Fine.  Just fine.  Two can play this game.  The other girls had taken their turn on the stand, eaten their cereal, and been milked.  I was disinclined to hike the hill after Sheila even one more time.  Grabbing the rake, shovel, and poop bucket, I went around to clean the smaller stalls.  I muck out the big room while Esther, the nonmilker, has her breakfast.  By the time I emptied the second bucket over the fence, Sheila was waiting at the milking room door.  "Hey, what about me?  Don't I get my cereal?  Let me in, please."  Ha!  Ya just have to outsmart 'em (and out wait 'em).  I think she just liked the extra attention.

Years ago, before we finished the downstairs room in the walk-out basement, it was a big, empty space with a cement floor, walls without sheet rock, open ceiling with bare studs and hanging wires.  I had ordered a weaving loom; not a small lap model, a loom big enough to weave thirty-six-inch material, and it was delivered in multiple boxes with a book of instructions thick enough to choke a horse.  It was summertime and my friend Dolly was spending what had become her annual week with me.  Unappealing as it might have been, the basement was the coolest room in the house.  Dolly, my partner in many adventures (and misadventures), was drafted.  "Come on!  It'll be fun!"  (And, if not fun, it would at least be cooler.)  It took us days to assemble the loom, including putting in six hundred heddles; the up-and-down thingies that carry the thread.  I'm sure Dolly thought she'd never see the sun again, being held prisoner in a basement in a town nobody had ever heard of.

The reason this comes to mind is because Dolly is coming up for the weekend.  I just got a note from her and, silly girl and glutton for punishment that she is, she volunteered (and, believe me, I will remind her of that!) to help me assemble the Christmas tree for downstairs!  If anyone thinks I'm not going to take her up on that offer, they're not as smart as a goat.  It'll be fun!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Go Figure

This is one of those days when the screen is looking back at me with a stare as blank as my mind, devoid of inspiration.  Thank goodness I always have the animals to fall back on.

The temperature has been steadily dropping this past week, well below freezing at night.  Down in the barn, the level of diaper wipes in the bucket has also been dropping as the mice and ground squirrels pull their winter blankets down into their holes and burrows.  A family of mice has moved into a high rise apartment in the wooden box nailed to the wall by the milking stand.  It's where I keep emergency supplies:  salves, liniment, betadine wash, etc.  On top is where I put the milk buckets when they're not under the goat and the box of fresh wipes.  I could hear little scurrying sounds inside the box and quietly unlatched the drop-down lid.  Bottles had been pushed aside to make room for a ball of gathered fluff the size of a large grapefruit.  There was movement in the nest as the residents burrowed deeper, hoping not to be seen.  Silently applauding their ingenuity, I closed the lid again and let the mice be.

The goats pretty much set their own routine for the task at hand:  who comes in first to be milked, who goes into which stall at night.  When it works, it works well and chores are done quickly.  If there's a glitch of any kind, the whole system goes cattywhompus.  Sheila has always come bounding down to the barn when it was her turn, skipping along in that Valley Girl way of hers.  For whatever reason, in the past week or so she has decided not to come in at all for milking.  I stand in the doorway and call her name, coaxing and then cussing, as she turns her back to me up at the corner of the pen and pointedly and decidedly ignores me.  Frustrated, I finally grab a rope and go after her.  If it's a good day, she'll wait for me as I hike up the hill.  If not, she'll walk slowly just a few steps ahead and we trail around the pen until she tires of the game and I tire, period.  Then I put the rope around her neck and she heads to the barn almost at a trot as if to say, "Hurry up!  What are you waiting for?"  Go figure.

The cats are coming in earlier on these frigid evenings to lounge in front of the wood stove that has been going day and night.  About eight, Bessie comes to stand in front of my chair and gives her single high-pitched yip that signals her wish to go for a walk.  "Are you kidding me?  Don't you know how cold it is out there?"  "Yip!"  I struggle out of the recliner, put on my shoes, shove my arms into a heavy jacket, and clamp the lighted hat on my head, wishing it had ear flaps.  Bess stands at the door waiting for her leash, and then out we go.  (The cats wish us well and stretch in front of the fire.)  Once outside, we head around the driveway at a fast clip.  Bess searches for exactly the right spots, takes a couple of fast piddles, and reads what for her must be the equivalent of headlines in the sniff newspaper that is her world before she heads back to the house with the same attitude as Sheila.  "Hurry up!  Don't you know it's cold out here?"

Gotta love 'em.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Demand

There seems to be a run on, of all things, goat poop.  What's worse, I actually ran out of product and had to turn someone away yesterday.  Who'da thunk it?  It is a renewable resource, given a bit of patience.  My new milk customer took the last of the accumulated mound, a full pickup load (small truck), on Tuesday.  He's evidently been cruising the area, and told me about the alpaca farm over the hill.  That guy had such a demand that he has started charging twenty dollars for a bag of poop.  It gives a whole new meaning to "garden gold."

Alfalfa bales are tied with three strands of plastic twine; sort of pretty, actually, as they come in blue, white, yellow, and (not often) red.  After I break open a bale for the girls, I bundle the three strands together, throw in a knot, and toss them in a pile.  When the pile gets too big, I gather it up, put it all in recycle bags, set them out for the trash guy...and start all over again.  The twine, too, is a renewable resource, but one for which I pay through the nose.  My new customer, Earle, got that gleam of acquisition in his eye as we walked past the current pile of strands.  "Wotcha gonna do with all of that?"  I explained, and he asked if he could have it, if I was just going to throw it away.  His plan is to braid the strands into one long, unbreakable rope, and went on to tell me about tensile strength, et cetera.  More power to him, says I.  It's a guy thing, this "one man's trash is another man's treasure," one I understand well having been married to the King of Scroungers.  Earle must think he's hit the bonanza here.  Ah, well.  Whatever floats your boat.  Hmm, speaking of boats....

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's About Time

Time, as we know it, is a man-made construct.  Minutes, hours, months, years, all neatly arranged to give the illusion of control.  A given society must accept the proposed concept.  We in America work from the Gregorian calendar, but it is not universal.  There is a Chinese calendar, an Indian, Hebrew, Islamic, and so on.  Greenwich Mean Time was devised to allow sailing men to navigate by finding their longitudinal location in the ocean (and thereby prevent falling off the edge of the world).  As a personal aside, I've always loved the old mapmakers' phrase for unexplored territory, "Beyond this place there be dragons."  It applies to so many aspects of life.  To go on...I've made no secret of my irritation with the way Congress has played fast and loose with Standard and Daylight time, and my wish that California had, along with Arizona and a few other states, refused to play that game.  I won't address that diatribe again (for now).  Regardless of the calendar or clock wherever one is in the world, there are two days in the year that are irrefutable; the summer and winter solstices...the longest and shortest days.  The winter solstice is on December 22 (on our calendar) this year.  It can't come too soon for me.  There are not enough hours of daylight to get everything done now, and the long nights stretch out forever.  On December 23, the sun will rise a few minutes earlier and set just a tad later.  Farming friends of mine think it's important enough to throw a party.  I think I'll join them.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Say It With Flowers

I think the first time a bouquet of flowers was ever delivered to my door was in 1980.  They were peach-colored roses, sent by my daughter Deb for my birthday.  She couldn't have known when ordering, but it concurrently was the day my father died.  I've never forgotten how much those flowers meant to me.  Steve marked our anniversaries with red roses; one for each year, and one for the next.  The first time a florist's truck trundled up our drive just before Mother's Day after we'd moved here, I told the driver that there must have been a mistake; it's easy to get lost on these back roads.  Checking the address again, he said, no, the flowers were for me!  Deb and Craig had sent the most beautiful bouquet in a lovely vase.  The top of an armoire in the dining room is crowded with commemorative vases from subsequent flowers from this loving couple.  Dave has joined in on special occasions with miniature rose bushes that now grace my deck.  This unusual bouquet was brought by Deb and Craig for "our" Thanksgiving.  I took the photo yesterday, thinking that not one flower has wilted, and it was and still is too beautiful not to share.

It is so very strange, putting truth to the adage that "Not one door closes, but another opens."  Due to rising gas prices, milk customers (now dear friends) reluctantly informed me recently that after close to nine years of making the weekly trek out here from Placerville, they were going to have to stop buying.  Their daughter was a babe in arms when I got their first call, "Is this the goat lady?"  That young lady just rode her horse in the Santa Parade in town.  I certainly understand and sympathize with the economic crunch, but I will miss seeing this lovely couple every week.  I hope they keep their promise to keep in touch. 

Within a week of getting that final notice, I got another of those phone calls.  "I was given your number by (so-and-so), and I wonder if you have goat milk for sale."  Why, yes, it just so happens I do...and eggs, if needed.  Just like farm wives of old, I depend on my "butter and egg" money for my spending allowance.  This couple, somewhat older than my previous customers and without children, came for their first taste yesterday.  He will continue to work in the Bay Area while they establish themselves here.  That's a helluva commute!  They were, of course, introduced to the girls, big and little.  I was amazed that the husband was familiar with the name Musashi, the samurai warrior for whom the first Silkie rooster was named, and was able to quote battle plans and philosophy written by the first Musashi.  I'm going to have to pump Husband for more information when he comes back today for goat poop.  How he approached his request for this garden gold was amusing.  He was delighted to find I had this renewable resource.  He wants to put in a stand of timber bamboo and will need a lot of fertilizer.  That's a win-win situation for us both.

It was a good day.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

True To His Word

Tree Guy, aka Fence Guy, needs a new sobriquet.  I can't call him Go-To Two; sounds like baby talk.  Good Guy would apply to every one of the knights in shining armor who have ridden up on their white horses (or tractors or pickups) to my rescue:  Joel, Tree Guy, Dennis, Go-To Guy, Tom...they know who they are.  For now, I guess I'll call TG my Fix-It Fella. 

As good as his word, Fix-It arrived shortly after sunup yesterday on a freezing cold morning.  He listened to the truck engine a minute, agreed with my diagnosis of an alternator problem, pulled the faulty part, and was gone; all in half an hour.  Later in the afternoon he returned, installed the new part in no time, and charged me a pittance for work that would have had dollar signs flying through the air had the job been done at a garage.  "Fire her up," he said.  "Let's see if she starts."  (Why are ships and cars female?)  Well, "she" started right away, ran like a champ, and the battery gauge showed all was well in my world again.  Being without a vehicle this far from town is a bit scary; one never knows when an emergency might arise.

When one of my grandsons was in his teens, he failed to fulfill a promise.  I was going to say we had a discussion on the subject, but that would indicate there was an exchange of ideas.  I talked, he listened (I hoped), looking everywhere but in my eyes as teens are wont to do.  I told him there was a time when a man's word was his honor, that a handshake sealed a contract, and that men fought and died for honor...it was that important.  When a man said he'd do a thing, it was as good as done; you could "take it to the bank."  I asked him to "man up," to live by higher ideals.  Looking at the headlines these days, it seems that honor is no longer in vogue.  I am so glad that I live in this small, backwater village, surrounded by friends whose word is gold.  Their friendship is worth more than gold to me.

The moon is full again and not a cloud in the night sky.  Since it is the season, as Bess, Frank and Pearl, and I ventured out last night, I started singing "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear."  Yes, these hills were alive with the sound of music.  (I can't help it...had to throw that in.)  It wasn't midnight, but it was as light as day.  The trees that had been in leaf, throwing huge pools of shadow, are now bare.  On the ground, it was as if we were stepping from branch to branch on the shadows.  Cold?  Even Bess's breath came in little twin puffs as we came back up the hill; we'd ventured farther down the drive so I could catch a glimpse of the twinkling tree in the house.  It was a fitting finish to a good day.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Can't Cry Wolf

These not-so-welcome guests showed up at my front door early yesterday morning.  Yep, my neighbor's dogs were on the loose once again, the fifth sighting in just over a week.  I had called Animal Services on Monday (I've got 'em on speed dial) when the larger dog was spooking the goats and was again advised of my right to shoot it/them.  I prefer a camera to bullets because this situation is not the dogs' fault.  It is certainly not in the dogs' best interest to let them run loose up here.  A drive of any distance reveals road kill of all varieties:  deer, skunk...and dogs.  Predatory wildlife also takes a toll.  And there are those owners of livestock who are not so reluctant to use a gun.  It is simply irresponsible, if not downright negligent, to allow dogs to roam at will.  Talking with Animal Services yesterday, it seemed my only recourse was to drive down to Placerville, file (another) complaint, and sign a Citizen's Arrest.  It is not a good feeling to take such action against a neighbor, and my signature was pretty shaky.  However, I cannot continue to call Animal Services and expect them to help if I am not willing to take the next step and press charges.  The line in the sand has been crossed.

To add to an already blown day, I had no more than left Placerville on narrow, hilly, twisting Cedar Ravine when the engine started making a noise.  Not a good noise.  A quick check of the dash showed the battery was not charging.  Oh, boogers!  The alternator was either gone or going.  I began asking the truck gods to please let me make it to a big road.  There are few to no places to pull over on Cedar Ravine, no cell phone reception, and I would have been in deep doodah if the engine had quit.  Bucks Bar Road is even more twisting and narrow and hilly, and I pleaded even louder to make it to Mt. Aukum Road where the auto club could find me.  Son of a gun, I did!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Pushing my luck, I begged, "If it isn't asking too much, could I please make it home?"  Hoping the truck gods weren't just playing with me, I finally headed up the dirt road to the house.  Home free!  I like happy endings.  I called Tree Guy with my tale of woe.  Bless his heart, he's going to get me an alternator in town today and will put it in this afternoon.  There are good people in this world, and I'm so fortunate.

I really can't say that it was a good day, but, dang, the tree looks good!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Drum Roll, Please!

 Ta da!  The deed is done at last, and now I can quit feeling like Mr. Scrooge, grumbling as I work, and get on with more Christmas prep.  Anyone who has been to my house will not be surprised that my tree topper is a pig angel, nor that the little Santa in the background is also a piggy.  Many of the ornaments, from the ridiculous to the sublime, carry on the swine theme.  The upstairs tree is my "fun" tree, crammed mostly with ornaments that have been given to me over the years, and each one brings back memories of good times and good friends.  There are some that I've made, beaded or crocheted, and the Victorian roses with trailing ribbons decorated the bower when Steve and I were married.  I try to show a little more decorum with the downstairs tree.  I'm not ready to tackle that one just yet.
It's time to switch to flannel sheets.  I wake each morning somewhat cramped from sleeping in one position in my cocoon of warmth.  To put a foot or hand outside the warm zone is like dipping it in ice water.  Bessie Anne woke me the other night as she burrowed her cold nose into my armpit.  We've had glorious sunshine of late, but the daytime temps have stayed in the 50s and very low 60s, and the wood stove works twenty-four hours to hold the chill at bay.

The goat girls have been acting strangely since the boys left.  Sheila, who normally has bounded down to the barn for her turn on the stand, has been ignoring my calls to the point that for the last few days I've had to walk out with a rope to bring her in.  Yesterday Ruth, who'd already been milked, walked alongside as I went to get Sheila.  Once I had Sheila tethered, it was as if Ruth said, "Okay, Mom.  You hold her and I'll bash her a good one."  And she did!  And she kept butting her as I tried to hurry poor Sheila along.  I was swatting at Ruth, but she was not to be dissuaded.  What was going on?  As soon as I got Sheila inside, the rest of the herd started in on Ruth, taking turns hitting her from all sides.  Pretty soon Ruth was running the length and breadth of the pen and bawling.  Thankfully, they seemed to have settled their differences by bedtime.  Who knows what goats think.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Skip A Beat

I had every intention of posting a picture today of the finished Christmas tree.  That would require a finished tree.  It's a very good thing the Kids aren't coming up to celebrate our Christmas until January, and maybe I should try to talk them into waiting until July.  I don't know why this is turning into the project from hell.  Right now, I can't decide whether this is a learning experience that will speed up the construction of the tree for downstairs or perhaps I should just seal off the downstairs and forget that whole thing.  Whatever made me think that downsizing the tree would ease the stress of the holidays in the first place?  It must be the same "whatever" that made me feel I must cram every ornament and decoration that was on the big tree onto this smaller tree.  All I know is that every "do" is needing a "re-do."  To be continued....

Some time back, Kathy V. commented that the farming gene sometimes skips a generation.  My dad was a sharecropper's son, and his sole involvement with the land after leaving Texas was to cut the grass, full stop.  My mother always had a large, beautiful rose garden, and she enjoyed helping me later with my vegetable gardens, but she certainly was not an "animal person" and really didn't care for even dogs or cats. 

Reflecting in the barn yesterday, I started remembering stories my mother had told about her childhood; spending summers at the farms of uncles and aunts in Chenoa, Illinois, and Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  She told of the women cooking all morning for the threshing crews; how the tables would groan with food for those hard-working men, and how the men would lie on the grass with a handkerchief over their face for a short nap before heading back to the fields.  The midday meal was called "dinner," and the evening meal was "supper."  (When did that change to lunch and dinner?)  She told of riding the big draft horses on Sunday when the horses weren't at work pulling the harvesting equipment, and sitting on a burlap sack because no saddle would fit.  Mother always laughed when she said the horse, as she was riding down a country lane, would turn up every long drive along the way, paying no attention to its rider, and she got to know the few neighbors very well.  When I was five, Mother and I took a train from California to visit her cousin Clayton on his farm in Illinois.  I was in heaven.  Clayton had chickens and pigs and, to my child's eyes, the most enormous red cows I'd ever seen.  I spent every waking moment following Clayton as he tended his farm, and will never forget standing in his vegetable garden as he'd take out his pocket knife and peel a crisp turnip fresh from the ground, or my first taste of a sun-warmed tomato.  Another cousin, Elmer, had just been discharged from the marines after VE Day in World War II, and joined the reunion.  (I have to admit to locking the men at one time or another in the two-hole outhouse.  To a five-year-old, that was pretty funny.)

Perhaps it's true that I inherited that gene.  I know for sure that I'm where I'm supposed to be.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's A Start

Could have titled this "How I Spent My Afternoon."  My prior trees were two feet taller, probably five feet across at the base, and heavy enough to require two men to carry.  They came in two pieces in a box as big as a refrigerator.  The two pieces fit together, the branches unfolded and, voila, there stood the tree!  Having pumped myself up with holiday enthusiasm yesterday, I figured I'd ride the crest of that wave and put up the living room tree.  The box for my five-dollar tree was a small rectangle, six inches by three feet.  I could carry the two of them under one arm.  This was going to be a cakewalk.

Opening the box, I first noticed that the trunk was in multiple bare segments that were nestled in bundles of color-coded branches.  Oh, say it isn't so!  Yes, it was so.  Each main branch was tightly furled and must be inserted, one at a time, into the proper colored slot in the trunk and the side branches opened out "in a natural-appearing" manner.  Did I mention this is a six-foot tall tree?  Can we all say you get what you pay for?  Gathering my patience and opening a beer, I settled in to insert and spread, insert and spread...ad infinitum.  With the best of intentions, I'm sure, Pearl hopped in and out of the box, mixing up the color-coded branches so that I had to search through them all instead of picking up one bundle at a time.  I forgot to say that the color coding was in the form of little plastic stickers that were not all that sticky.  Now, is this one without a sticker the same size as that one with the yellow sticker, or could it be one of the reds?  After all, I want a tree that looks "natural."  I finished construction and my second beer about the same time.

Steve's contribution to Christmas decorating was to bring in the tree, set it up (easy-peasy, as I said), and put on the lights.  I did not put on the lights.  I put on the ornaments.  This year I, alone, had to put on the lights.  Oh, come on, how hard could it be?  As I recall, he whipped through that in no time.  Obviously, my memory is failing.  There was still plenty of daylight when I started placing the first box of one hundred-fifty lights.  A word about the lights:  these are new, fancy-dancy lights with a what?, some sort of mini-computer with sixteen functions for different light displays--waves, flickers, dim and then glow, and all combinations thereof.  All I wanted was twinky lights, and I had to keep punching the button to find that old-fashioned display.  The lights would twink and I'd think I had it, but then they'd go wild like a strobe light.  Nooo!  Punch the button again.  Sweating bullets and slurping another beer, I got the first strand installed.  It didn't go quite halfway up the tree, but, what the heck, the branches were shorter the higher up so the second strand should reach all the way to the top, right?   That would be wrong.  Before starting, I had to get the light display on the second strand to sync up with the first.  Punch the button again and again.  I came up short about a foot from the top and had to redistribute the last strand.  It's still a little off, but close enough for hand grenades.  I'll do better when I work up the courage and strength to put up the tree downstairs.  It was full dark by the time I was done and I had to put on my lighted cap (more lights!) to put the kids to bed.  The decorations may or may not go on today.  But ain't it purty?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jumping Hurdles

This is the time of year when I feel like a steeplechase rider or, more likely, the horse.  No sooner is one holiday over than I have to set my sights on and gather forces for the next.  Yesterday was a decompression day, with a long nap and some serious grazing, picking my way through leftovers.  Even were I not so fortunate as to have my family to cook for, I would still fix a turkey and all the trimmings just for the pleasure of those leftovers.  The first "second" day is always a hot plate of turkey, potatoes, dressing and gravy, and the side dishes, but from then on it's hot turkey and dressing sandwiches on sourdough bread with cranberries on the side, or, if I'm feeling decadent, turkey and bacon sandwiches.  I'll work my way through until there's only the carcass left, and that will go into making a soup.  Oh, gosh, I do love Thanksgiving!

Now it's time to pick up the reins and head toward Christmas.  I got no further in decorating the house than putting a wreath on the front door before the Kids came up.  Now it's time, before the dust settles (again!), to start hauling in the trees and tubs of decorations.  There were times in recent years that I took a minimalist approach, but I feel like going all out this year.  My holiday spirit got a boost when Bessie and I took our after-dark walk and found that most of the five or six houses I can see from my hill, including the little house across the road, have put up Christmas lights.  Who'da thunk it, way out here in the boonies?  From the time I was a little, little girl, the family would go driving at night through the neighborhoods just to look at Christmas lights.  Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is such an institution now, but I remember learning the words and singing along with Gene Autry when that song first came out in 1949.  I have a big, lighted Frosty the Snowman that used to go in the front yard, but it scared Bess so bad on her first year here that he's never come out of storage again.

The wicked winds have blown through and the temperature has dropped.  I had to break ice in the water trough in the goat pen yesterday.  It's below freezing this morning.  The most strenuous thing I did yesterday was haul wagons of wood up to the porch, and the first thing I did today was kick open the vent and add logs to the firebox.

Thanksgiving is over.  Christmas is coming!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Giving Thanks

My dad would have said I was moving faster than a hog on ice (or a one-armed paper hanger) yesterday morning, putting the finishing touches on the house and getting a grip on our Thanksgiving meal.  By six a.m., the turkey, a twenty-four pounder, was in the oven, stuffed with the dressing I'd made the night before.  My crew really likes stuffing, especially the crispy bits cooked outside of the bird, so my "recipe" starts with six big loaves of bread, torn into pieces by hand.  (And that's story told many times over.)  I put the pumpkin pie together using some of those home-grown pumpkins instead of canned.  The pecan pie had to wait until I finished the milking; that was for Craig's birthday.  (Hint for the day:  don't put a birthday candle in a still-warm pie.)  I'd already made the pumpkin-cranberry-orange cake for Susan's birthday.  Susan was ill and missed her part of the celebration, and she was missed as well.  Dave's guest, Russell, was also unable to come.  Big on tradition, the menu never changes:  turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with a couple of gallons of gravy, the obligatory green bean casserole, New Orleans bourbon yams, three kinds of cranberry sauce, and the "Christmas" salad--fruit-laden red Jello--that is never served at Christmas but always at Thanksgiving.  Clay got a big dose of ribbing because he forgot to bring the rolls.  Susan has become our official salad maker; that's what happens when one does something really well, and she didn't let us down.  She sent up her contribution with Larry.  Deb and the boys take on their customary holiday roles.  Craig is in charge of basting the turkey and keeps an eye on the timer, Deb peels a mountain of potatoes and sets the table beautifully, Dave carves the bird, Clay and Larry follow directions for whatever else needs doing.  Once the Kids show up, my job is pretty much over.  Looking at these well-loved faces around my table, I was too choked up to make a toast, so that fell to them, as well.  I certainly know what I'm thankful for.

Many hands made light and speedy work of bagging up leftovers for take-home packages and getting the dishes done.  Like waving a wand, in no time there was no evidence that we'd just had a holiday meal.  The incentive, of course, is the sooner that's done, the sooner we can break out the cards and chips and get down to some not-so-serious poker!  If there is one indelible memory imprinted in my mind and heart, it is the sound of my children's laughter; it's been that way since they came into my life.  As I've said, it's not the date on the calendar, a holiday is who you're with.

It was a good day.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Singing In the Chorus

Bessie Anne was enjoying that hour or so after the critters are tucked in when she lays on the front porch, watches the last of the sun's rays sink below the horizon, and contemplates whatever it is dogs think about.  The beastie boys were out early last evening; just after full dark the coyote pack ran yipping and howling over the hills.  In the house, Bess will raise her head as they pass by or go to the door and growl, perhaps give a bark or two.  Last night, outside and alone, their calls must have touched something primeval because the next thing I heard was Bessie yodeling along with their chorus.  She's not an experienced singer and I doubt she'll be asked to perform a solo act, but, like the soprano in the choir loft, she sang out with gusto and just a little off key.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hide and Seek

It's a good thing I'd taken the "before" photo of this tree the other day.  The wicked winds of the last few days are stripping all the oaks of their leaves.




And this is where they land. 








Bessie Anne is almost exactly the color of the leaves and becomes nearly invisible at this time of year.  Poppy and Tessie are munching the last of their breakfast before joining the others in the shelter at the side of the barn.



There's my girl!

Another animal was playing hide and seek yesterday.  I spied a tail going around the corner of the deck by the living room and went to check on this uninvited visitor.  A grey squirrel had come all the way around and was checking out everything from the refrigerator to the flower pots.  The silly thing stayed on the deck, looking at the views from all angles, for over an hour.  Was it just bored?

A little later on in the afternoon, it was me playing hide and seek.  The power went out for hours, well into dark.  Not able to do much else, Bessie Anne and I went to bed early.  I found out how early when the phone rang.  One of the Kids called and was surprised that I was sound asleep at eight-thirty.  Could'a fooled me.  Might have been midnight for all I knew.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Word About Roosters

I was involved in a minor collision yesterday; no damage, no injuries.  I was run into head on by the Barred Rock rooster (Mad King Charles) who was so intent on chasing down one of the hens that he didn't even see me and had no time to hit his brakes.  He fell back, shook his head, and immediately started looking for another playmate.  Tzar Nicholas, the Araucana, also has his way with the ladies, but he is a little more circumspect.  Charles pulled all of Nicholas's tail feathers out, and I think it's given Nicholas an inferiority complex.  The Silkie boys outnumber the girls in their pen, and one poor object of their affection has lost the feathers on her back from all their attentions.  It's not hard to tell which hens are the favorites (or perhaps they're just slow runners); the back of their head is bald from where the rooster will grab her to pin her (briefly) to the ground.  She squawks bloody murder, but a few seconds' tussle and it's all over.  He struts away like the royalty he's named for, and she settles her ruffled feathers like a matron shaking out her skirts and goes on about her business.  The race is on as soon as I open the doors in the morning, and each of the boys takes a little pleasure before going in at night.  I sometimes hear Ethel Merman singing "Call Me Madam" when I'm around the chicken pens.

It's a good thing I took that photo of the tree when I did.  A fierce wind came up yesterday and, although it's still too dark to see, I'm sure that tree is as bald as a hen's head.  Walking out to the truck, I was bombarded with leaves sailing through the air.  So many were falling so fast, the skittering sound could be heard in the house with the doors shut.  Letting the house critters out this morning, I could see the porch is ankle deep in leaves.  The wind blew all day yesterday and howled around the house all night.  There was a delay on my trip to town due to a work crew cutting down overhanging branches, and there were times I had to detour around fallen limbs.  Pine needles lay in drifts like snow on the road and, like snow, they can be just as slippery.  There was a brief hiccup in the power just as I was starting to cook dinner and I thought I might be eating my meal by candlelight, but so far, so good with the electricity.

Unless you're a hen, you just never know what the day will bring.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gold In Them Th'ar Hills

It was what we call a 'bluebird day,' sky so blue and bright it hurts your eyes and not a cloud in sight.  This oak in all its golden fall glory was so beautiful I had to go back to the house for the camera.

A young couple of my acquaintance arrived while I was milking.  They had come for another kind of gold--garden gold--otherwise known as goat poop.  I haul a couple of buckets of the stuff out of the barn every day and the mole hill was becoming a mountain.  They "paid" for their treasure with homegrown sweet carrots and baby bok choy.  Lacking a few ingredients, I made pretend pad thai last night for dinner.  Close enough to the real thing for government work and horseshoes, and I thought I'd gotten the better part of the deal.

The turkey for our Thanksgiving had been put in the big freezer out in the second shed.  I will admit to feelings of guilt as I brought it past the local flock that was feeding under the oak.  I muttered apologies as I hurried back to the house to let the big bird thaw.

The run to the feed store the other day was mandatory; I had done the unforgivable and run out of goat chow and hadn't had enough left to set up the bowls for their evening snack.  The thing to do, see, is get the grain in time to take it down to the barn before the goats are let out in the morning.  There was nothing for it but to load the bag on the hand cart and trundle it down to the pen at dusk.  I did manage to get though the gate without any girls escaping, but it was a mob scene getting to the barn.  Even Poppy was shouldering her way to the front, and they had the pull string half-chewed before I was halfway there.  Pushing and shoving, three of the six forced their way into the barn, along with me still pushing the hand cart, before I could get that gate closed.  There is next to no room in the hallway and I needed to get the bag down to the littlest stall at the end.  At one point, Sheila was riding on top of the cart and there I was trying to maneuver the whole thing down the aisle while Cindy and Ruth were squeezing back and forth.  I used up a week's worth of cuss words while laughing.  What else are ya gonna do?  Poppy, also left outside, was bellowing at the top of her lungs, sure she would never eat again.  The girls in the barn were dashing in and out of stalls, looking for their treats, and I was able to slam doors and finally get the grain into the barrel so I could start dishing it out.  All the girls know where they go at night and at last sorted themselves into the correct rooms and peace reigned again.  Frustrating, yes, but this comedy of errors got me past the absence of the boys on that first night.  The barn seemed mighty empty yesterday.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Head vs. Heart

Some days are harder than others.  I sold Nineteen and Twenty-Two yesterday.  I've known since I started raising goats that I would not be keeping the nonproductive males, hence numbers instead of names.  After nearly four years, "Nineteen" is a name, usually followed by "pretty boy," or "sweet boy."  Economics being what they are, intellect dictates that I reduce the herd.  Emotion cries out that my boys are gone.  Some time back I had been given the name of a man who runs a rent-a-goat concern; herds of traveling goats that are sent to clean property of brush and weeds.  It would be infinitely better to find the boys a job than see them go to a barbecue, but I kept putting off making the call, always thinking, "Just a little while longer."  At the feed store yesterday, the rising price of grain nearly made me weak in the knees.  As I was leaving, I took a glance at the bulletin board and there was Goat Guy's name again.  It was like an omen telling me that it was time.  Before my resolve dissolved, I called as soon as I got home and Goat Guy said he had time right then and would come and look at my wethers if I would meet him at the little hardware store in Fair Play to guide him here. 

Purse in my hand, there was a knock at the door and there was Tree Guy to tell me he'd be here tomorrow to work on the cut wood.  I explained why I was leaving, and TG did a kind thing.  He knows I'm reluctant to have strangers come here.  It was a pretty transparent excuse, but he said he couldn't get a cell phone signal at his place, so he'd wait around until I got back and make some phone calls (reception is better up here on the top of the hill).  Goat Guy was prompt and followed me back.  TG made himself apparent, but stayed back as Goat Guy and I did a little hard horse trading, dickering over price.  We compromised at less than I'd hoped for and more than he wanted to pay and shook hands.

While we were talking by the goat pen, Nineteen and Twenty-Two came alone to the fence to have their faces rubbed; it nearly broke my heart.  How did they know?  I kept thinking of Nineteen's empathy when the Lady Lucinda was dying and his muzzle in my hand every night, and Twenty-Two being such a feisty little boy with his pointy horns.  Goat Guy and his wrangler put a rope on Twenty-Two and he pranced out of the pen as if he were off on a great adventure.  Then it was Nineteen's turn and he fought it all the way.  I felt like such a traitor...I was.

Watching the truck go down the drive, Tree Guy kept up a line of patter, telling me it was a good thing, that I'd be saving money, the boys would have a good life in a bigger herd...all the things I'd told myself and was having a hard time believing just then.  Some days are just harder.
 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Seeing Red

It is ironic that I had just written about how some things don't change.  It has been almost exactly a year since I've had any trouble with my neighbor's dog pack and I thought that problem had been solved.  I couldn't believe the immediate rush of anger when I saw three of them racing up my driveway headed hellbent for home.  The labradoodles (Labrador retriever-poodle mix) she breeds are unmistakable.  I'd heard a week or so ago that one of the 'doodles was loose in another neighbor's vineyard, but hoped it was an isolated incident and, being informed of the escapee, the owner would take preventive measures.  I dislike getting that mad, but I also dislike having to be hypervigilant regarding my animals, watching for signs of tension in the goats, listening for the terrified squawking of the chickens.  Throughout the day, Bessie and I went to the door and windows repeatedly.  I made one courtesy call to let Annie know her dogs were on the loose; any future sightings will be reported to Animal Control.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November Redux

Just for the heck of it this morning, I went back and took a look at last November's entries to this journal.  While every day is different on its own, not much has really changed here at Farview.  A year later, Tree Guy still has more work to do on the fallen trees.  Rain has again greened up the pastures and pens.  No turkeys have come peeking in my windows, but they continue to congregate in with the hens and under the oaks.  Those oaks and the vineyards have dressed themselves in bright colors, and leaves cover the ground as they did last year.  No snow is predicted for "our" Thanksgiving, but even on sunny days I've got to keep the wood stove going lest the house cool down past the comfort level.  In the absence of a thermostat it's easier to open a door for a bit if it gets too warm than restart the fire.  The Silkies have settled into the Taj and know their routines well.  I do miss picking them up to tuck them in at night.  There are new faces in the big chicken pen and some old ones are missing, but the daily pattern has not changed.  Nineteen still runs around like he could do something for the girls who are begging for male attention.  Bessie Anne, the cats and I go for our nightly walks, and they snooze behind me on the bed as I write in the early morning hours.  Dust is ever the bane of my life.  The same customers/friends come for milk and eggs and a chat every week.  I have the same sense of joyful anticipation when my family is due for a visit.

There are those who might ask, "But don't you get bored?"  The answer is a resounding, "No!"  There is a comfort in consistency.  I have enough work to feel useful.  Caring for the animals and fowl makes me feel needed.  When I feel the urge to travel, books transport me to different places and different times.  I am surrounded here by an ever-changing panorama of beauty.  I have family and friends who generously share their love.  When I have everything that I believe makes life worthwhile, how could I possibly ask for more, except more of the same.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hyped Up

"Black Friday" ads were everywhere, extolling sales and urging shoppers to get out there and spend, spend, spend!  It would have been a black day, indeed, if I had been forced to join the hordes in line at cash registers across the land.  Shopping is punishment enough on any given day, but when people have been organized to the point that some stores banned overnight tents for the early birds, it would border on torture.  There is nothing on God's green earth that I would need so badly that I would ever, ever get out there among 'em on Black Friday.  I don't even do well with gift cards.  Years ago, when gift certificates had expiration dates, I was given a card good for five years to a major department store.  It took me four years, three-hundred fifty-four days to work up the courage to go shopping and, even then, took my daughter along for moral courage.  We wandered up and down aisles, up and down stairs, and it took me all day to decide on a purchase.  The certificate was good for all of twenty-five dollars.

I am excited about next weekend when the Kids will come up.  I'm past the trauma of grocery shopping, and am starting to get the house spiffed up.  I'll be hauling holiday decorations out of the shed, including those two Christmas trees I bought last January (five dollars each!).  There have been times when I've been pretty blah about the holiday season but am feeling enthusiastic this year, looking forward to all the hoopla and traditions.  Three of the family birthdays fall close to our chosen dates for get-togethers, all the more reason to celebrate!  That's something to get hyped up about.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Roughing It

Ah...Thanksgiving in the great outdoors, just as our forefathers must have done.  Not!  The pilgrims would have given their eyeteeth to have joined a setting such as I did yesterday.  A table under the first canopy was laden with a variety of savory and sweet dips, chips, vegetables and fruit.  A few steps away, double tents with side walls covered long picnic tables with a big-screen TV at one end and space heaters glowed.  Frou-frou "Cosmopolitan" drinks were served as we played cards, and someone or other would get up to bring hot bacon-wrapped broiled shrimp stuffed with cheese and hot peppers or puff pastry cups with Gorgonzola and caramelized onions.  Japanese lanterns hung from the supports above.  A turkey roasted on a spit over a fire outside and the smells were tantalizing, even through the light rain that fell.  There was much talk of the side dishes that would accompany the bird and I can only imagine the bountiful dinner that would follow.

Oh yeah, my brother- and sister-in-law and their family and friends really rough it in style!  I don't see this side of the family often and it was great to spend time in their company again.  Much as with my own gang, there was a lot of good-natured teasing and banter and laughter.  I certainly was having a good time and it was hard to tear myself away in order to get home before dark.  For the most part, the roads to Pine Grove were only back roads, down to one lane in spots, and at the crest of the mountain I had to cross, there was still snow from the last storm.  Given the rain, it wasn't just the goats that made me leave in daylight.

I touched base with all of my Kids throughout the day.  Deb and Craig were camping on the other side of the valley, obviously "roughing it," too.  (What, no crystal flute for the Champagne?!)

Home again and the critters tucked in, Bessie Anne, Frank, Pearl and I snuggled together in the recliner, warmed by the wood stove, and considered our many blessings.

It was a good day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bounty

Rarely a day goes by that I don't give thanks for some aspect of my life, and usually there are many, many items on that list.  They range from the great, first and foremost being my family, to the small, perhaps sharing a moment of silent communion with a mouse.  I'm still a week away from celebrating Thanksgiving with my gang.  On this, the traditional day, my wish is that everyone's list is long and that their table is full of food and surrounded by love.

There are certain mice I know who have reason to be thankful.  I hang a full, lidded bucket of grain for the goats inside the milking room every day, ready for the next morning's feeding.  Not daunted, mice have chewed a small hole in the bucket.  Periodically I will open the lid to find a mouse inside, nearly stuporous from overeating, barely able to haul its chubby butt up and over to escape.  I've sometimes had to give the tiny gourmand a boost so it can waddle off to safety.

The pedestrian wild turkeys who frequent the feeding station under the oak are, I'm sure, thankful that I prefer to put an anonymous bird on my table.  Venison was undoubtedly on the menu at the first Thanksgiving, and "my" deer are just as glad to know they're safe here.  Tree Guy stopped by yesterday to discuss his next work day and as we stepped outside as he was leaving, a big flock of quail burst noisly out of the junipers by the front door.  These very shy birds have found sanctuary here, too.

The statistics provided by the blog site tell me that nearly one hundred persons from all over the world read this journal daily.  For that, I am truly amazed and grateful.  To each and every one, I wish you Happy Thanksgiving from Farview Farm!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Ironmonger Cometh

At last!  Harold, the ironmonger, and Josh, his helper, pulled up yesterday afternoon.  I'd just about given up hope of seeing them this year.  I've been cleaning up around the property and collecting odds and ends of metal "anything" for Harold; rusted pitchforks with no handles, a couple of wheelbarrows that had gotten squished when the oak fell, and two of the remaining three rototillers.  At one time I had seven, only one of which ever ran (I held on to that one).  There was no sense asking Steve why we needed seven rototillers.  The answer would have been, "You just never know."

Harold is an old dude, walking with a cane now, and he's been in the business since before there was dirt.  He takes great pride in recycling other people's trash.  He told me that very little of what he collects goes to the dump, and he makes a very good living at what he does.  Josh provides the muscle now and does the heavy lifting.  Josh and I went through the treasure trove in Steve's section of the barn, finding the frame for a canopy for the boat that I haven't yet been able to talk Harold into taking away (he's still thinking about it).  When the Kids and I have gone target shooting up in the national forest, we always police the area afterward, and we found a big bag of spent brass cartridge casings that made Harold happy.  There were the fan blades for a windmill.  They blew off the mill years ago and were a "some day" project.  There was an extra set of tines for one of the rototillers; they went bye-bye along with the defunct tiller.

As much as Josh loaded, it hardly made a dent in the amount of "stuff" in the barn.  Some stuff I held on to because, "You just never know," and some stuff I kept because I didn't know what it was and it might be important.  I kept hearing George Carlin's famous bit on "stuff" as we rooted around.  Man, have I got stuff!  When Tree Guy and Son were working on the oak down in the pasture and putting up the new square-wire fencing, they took down a large section of five-strand barbed wire fence.  That huge snarl of barbed wire has been an eyesore out by the barn since then.  Harold explained he'd lose money on it, but he'd take it away for me.  Josh had the painful chore of loading that ball of spiky wire into an already full pickup.  One of those springy strands whipped around and caught him in the back of his trousers.  Hoping not to see more of Josh than planned, I gingerly freed him while Harold stood by and laughed.

After loading the barbed wire into the truck, there was no room for anything more and the guys headed for home.  I will continue to hunt and collect stuff for Harold.  It's always a pleasure to see him, and even a bigger pleasure to see stuff leave.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mission Accomplished

I bearded the dragon in its den and did the deed.  There's something Freudian about getting in the truck to leave and remembering something vital forgotten in the house...twice.  I do not like to go shopping, period.  This was an unavoidable, major excursion that could not be put off any longer, so I pulled on my "big-girl panties" (the ones with good elastic) and went to the grocery store.  In an attempt to minimize time and effort so I wouldn't have to cruise the aisles and backtrack, I'd organized the list by department; produce, meat, canned goods, etc., and in the order of approach.  I get thrown into a tizzy when a store rearranges the shelves.  I recognize it's a marketing strategy, but I like consistency.  It probably took longer to get checked out than it did to fill the basket.  It's a good thing I took note of the beautiful scenery on the way to town, the reds and yellows of turning leaves, the newly washed green of the hillsides, because I was shell shocked on the way home after writing the check.  Yeesh!

Making it back before sundown, there was just enough time to unload the truck before putting the kids to bed, and I was shutting the last door in the barn when my milk customer arrived.  We made our transaction while I was loading the cupboards and fridge.  Later, I'm sure I just blinked during a commercial, waking much later to go to bed.  Shopping tends to do that to me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Send In the Clowns

The sun did come out yesterday but still cold and windy, it was a good day to stay inside.  The race at Homestead was a real nail biter with an edge-of-the-seat ending, a great finish to the season.  It was a relaxing, kick-back day and I had pulled on a comfy pair of old sweatpants instead of my usual bibby uniform after barn chores, knowing I would neither have guests nor go any farther outside than the front porch for more wood.

All was fine until Bess wanted to go for her after-dark walk.  Every parade needs a clown and I drew the short straw last night.  Heading outside, we were joined by Frank and Pearl and started around the drive.  The sweatpants were old, bought when I was a couple of sizes larger, and had no drawstring.  Shortly after the parade began, the brittle elastic let go (deja vu...this isn't the first time this has happened to me).  Lighted ball cap on my head, leash in one hand, the other clutching my baggy, droopy drawers, all I needed were the red nose and floppy shoes and the oompah band.  I'm sure my laughter could be heard up on Irish Acres.

It was a good day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quick Change Artist

Spring plays peek-a-boo, hiding her sunny days behind gauzy wisps of clouds and leafy fans.  Fall plays a rough-and-tumble game of hide-and-seek.  The sun goes behind block walls of black clouds, whistling up the wind and pouring down rain.  We seem to be on a schedule of sunshine every other day.  I missed doing outside chores while the sun was out yesterday.  I'd let the fire go out the night before and the stove was being balky and needed tending all day to get the house warmed up.  (Maybe I'll add central heat to my wish list.)  Housebound as I was, dusting seemed appropriate punishment for dawdling.  A storm blew in last night and the rain today will give me a good excuse to stay in and watch the last NASCAR race of the season.  Since I've already "paid the price," I can sit on my duff guilt free.  If fall plays fair and sticks to the schedule, the sun will come out tomorrow and I'll catch up outside then.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Would You Do...

Years ago, sitting around a fire in the evening while camping with friends, we used to go around the circle asking, "What would you do if you won the lottery?"  My mother's definition of wealth stated that one would never have to ask the price of anything.  What must it be like not to have to worry about the rising cost of alfalfa?  Down in the barn yesterday, milking and letting my mind free-wheel, I started daydreaming about what I would do if I suddenly found myself with abounding riches.

The first thing I would do would be to sink a second well so that I would have enough water to irrigate.  Water lines would be placed and thick grass sod put in the front and back yards so there would be real grass and automatic sprinklers and I could go barefoot again.  I wouldn't be limited to the once or twice a year when I sneak off my shoes at Joel and Judy's just to feel grass tickle my toes again in their lawn.  I could expand my garden areas and maybe have the English garden I'd once hoped for.

I would build a "real" barn, a barn where all stalls open into a central hallway so they could be kept clean by driving the little tractor and trailer through and not have to haul heavy buckets of poop out by hand to dump in the compost pile.  This barn would have electricity and running water, and the milking room would have a cement floor.  There would be space to store grain and alfalfa so I wouldn't have to trundle the sacks and bales one at a time down the hill on a hand cart.  The windows would have sliding covers instead of hastily nailed boarding every year.  The stalls would be big and roomy.

I would tear down the board fencing that always needs painting and the wooden posts that rot and fall over, as well as the sections where there is only barbed wire now.  It would be replaced with white vinyl, lined with square wire where needed to keep the goats from squeezing through.  I would line the long driveway with colorful pistache trees for the wow factor.  I've thought about deer fencing, but rejected it.  As much of a nuisance as they can be, I still get a thrill at catching sight of these beautiful animals so close, and that fencing would stop the daily visits from the turkey flocks.  No, no deer fencing.

Jewelry, clothes, cars, travel...I don't need 'em.  I do wish for a lawn though.  I guess one of these days I'll have to buy a lottery ticket.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It Wasn't A Dream

I've been asked if I grew up on a farm, if I'd always wanted to live on a farm, how did I know how to milk goats, et cetera.  Any dreams I had as a Kid had to do with horses.  Raised in the very outskirts of (what was then) a small town in Southern California, my dad got my first horse when I was twelve.  A few years later, we moved closer to town and I got another horse.  That was my experience with livestock.  I can remember my mother saying she hoped I'd marry a rancher someday so I could get my fill of horses.

The idea of a farm arose when my four Kids were small in the mid 1960s.  Money was tight and their dad thought it might stretch farther if we could raise our own food, and he considered a move to acreage in Oregon.  I loved the idea of room for the Kids to roam and play and have animals.  There were no computers then to Google for information, so I sent off  a request to the Department of Agriculture and received two big manila envelopes crammed with pamphlets on more than I'd ever wanted to know about farming.  How to grow and then preserve vegetables, plant fruit trees, raise chickens, how to slaughter cattle and pigs (eeuw).  I still have all those booklets.  Hoping to make a lateral transfer to another police department, we took a trip to Oregon to towns where their dad had arranged for interviews.  While living costs were certainly lower in that state, so were salaries.  That pipe dream went up in smoke, but the seed had been planted.

Years later, married to Steve, the dream resurfaced for much the same reason and we also turned our faces toward Oregon.  We generally took our vacations camping up in Coos Bay and I loved the farmland around Corvallis and the Willamette valley.  I bought a wonderful big, thick book called The Encyclopedia of Country Living, which is chock full of great information on darned near every aspect of farm life, including recipes.  That's how I knew how to make goat cheese long before I had goats.  The timing was never right.  I've never lived in Oregon.

When we moved to these ten acres, neither of us had experience with anything other than a backyard garden, but I was as prepared as reading could make me, and there was nothing that Steve couldn't build or fix.  Sometimes dreams do come true.