Monday, January 31, 2011

Birds Get High

Just about the time I think I've got a handle on animal behavior, something like this happens and I know I haven't got a grip.  Stepping out to get firewood, I was surprised to see these three Mafia Boys up on the feed barn roof.  Whatever possessed these normally pedestrian birds to go to such heights?  Perhaps they'd sought a better vantage point to look for Carmine...I haven't seen him for a couple of days.  Just as with the chickens, I'm always counting beaks and hate it when I come up one shy.

Musashi has been doing his part, jumping on and yelling Giddyup-Go!, but the Silkie girls have been laying their eggs and then going off to look for bigger, better bugs or some such and letting the eggs get cold.  Last night, there were three warm eggs in the nest and I left them where they were.  I've recorded the event on the calendar.  If the little powder puffs continue to do their job and sitting on the nest, in twenty-one days we could have "cotton balls."  I can't even imagine what baby Silkie chicks look like. 

Tessie's trip to visit the buck was postponed because of rain yesterday.  The price of stud service has gone up this year (what hasn't?).  One has to weigh the cost of the gigolo as compared to possible profit from selling the kids and milk.  If I could find a buyer for Nineteen, then that would cover the charges and open up a stall for delivery.   Worra, worra, worra (no, I'm not Irish, but my sister is).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

That Was Then

Just a gorgeous day.  Bright blue sky with nary a cloud, narcissus pushing the envelope on the season, a breeze to make the clothes dance on the line.  (I wonder if passing neighbors laugh at my purple Scooby-Doo pajamas.)  

Yeah, well...that was yesterday.  Awoke this morning to driving rain that has now slowed to a drizzle under low, grey skies.  I did listen to the weather reports and had the forethought to bring several wagons of firewood up to the porch.  It's been warm enough lately I haven't needed a fire for several nights and the stock was low.
Experience has taught me to plan ahead and light the fire before it's really needed, because if I wait until I feel cold, it's too late.  It takes awhile for the fire to get going, and longer to heat the room, and by then it's teeth-chatter time.  Whoops, it's pouring rain again.  Of course it is, because it's almost time to go down to the barn.  Oh, goody.  No, I'm really not complaining.  We still need the rain and, when I can look back on a day like yesterday, I know it won't be long until spring finally stays.  In the meantime, I'm going to throw another log on the fire.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just a Taste

Well-stocked on staples, it's been over a month since I've needed to go to the grocery store.  Canned and frozen will get you by, but I become ravenous for fresh vegetables, and I went through the produce department yesterday like a kid in a candy store.  Salinas, Castroville, Watsonville...the Salad Bowl of California...are just a few hours away from the Sacramento area.  The first thing that caught my eye was the artichokes.  This is absolutely the best time of year for that unlikely vegetable.  (Who first looked at those spiny leaves and that deadly choke and thought, "Gee, I think I'll try that"?)  A lot of people wait until summer when the globes are big and green, but we aficionados know that the young ones are most tender, and the unattractive brown tinge means they've been kissed by frost and will be the sweetest.  I used to cut off and throw away the stem until I realized that, peeled and thrown in the pot, it is as flavorful as the heart.  Oh, yum.  The young asparagus was on sale at less than half its winter price.  Put that in the basket.  Grab up some deep emerald-green broccoli.  I'd just seen a recipe for cauliflower gratin.  Must have some of that.  A modicum of reason much could I cook before the vegetables would go bad?  Unloading my treasures at home, then came the question of which to have first.  Of course I opted for the artichoke...that first taste of spring.  It's still too early for rhubarb.  My mother was raised in the era when stewed rhubarb was dished up every spring as a "blood thinner," to combat the idea that blood became sluggish in winter (probably from all that sitting around after the fall harvest).  All I know is, I got rhubarb every year.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver gives the best rationale for eating local, eating seasonal that I've ever read.  One, she's an excellent writer; informed, intelligent, and funny.  Two, it's a tripartite book with contributions by her husband, who gives a more scientific perspective, and their teenage daughter, who provides a kid's reaction to the family experiment for a year to eat nothing other than that they either grew or raised themselves or came from within a fifty-mile radius of their farm.  Kingsolver is a common-sense conservationist and she's made a believer of me and really changed my approach to life.  (Who knew about OP and F1 seed designations?)  I just thumbed through the book again and had forgotten about her recipes in most chapters.  I must read it again. 

Rain is predicted for tomorrow.  It makes me appreciate the taste of spring weather we've enjoyed this week.  I think I'll have asparagus tonight.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Trash Talk

"This message is for my trashy neighbor..." began the voice mail message some while ago.  I was taken aback, to say the least, until I recognized Dennis's chuckle.  He and I sometimes connect down at the big road on Tuesdays, dropping off our weekly contributions for the garbage man.  He had surgery recently and I've missed him.  I was reminded of the call when his daughter Debbie and I were retrieving our garbage cans this week, and she got out of the car saying, "Hi, Trashy Neighbor!"  I'm used to calls left for The Goat Lady, and now it appears I've got a new sobriquet.  Oh, could be worse.

Sarah came to buy milk yesterday, bringing her two adorable daughters, three years and three months old.  The three-year-old is quite precocious, with an extensive vocabulary, and she chatters away like a magpie.  She has entered that "Why?" phase that all little ones use to boggle their parents' minds.  She has an active imagination and, while Sarah and I inspected the little trailer, she "protected" us from the danger of cougars who might be lurking outside.  (No, she's not a city kid!)  I have been dying to get my hands on the baby, but she isn't used to strangers and would burst into tears if I'd come too close.  As with other small creatures, I could only get near if I moved slowly and didn't make eye contact.  We fooled her yesterday when her mama handed her over with her back toward me and she didn't realize who was holding her.  Oh, the bliss of holding a baby again.  There isn't anything sweeter in the world than the nape of a baby's neck.  Baby became accustomed to my touch and the rumble of my voice, and I was able to nuzzle to my heart's content, and I was finally free to look in those beautiful blue eyes.  Both girls are going to be heart-breakers when they get older.  I'm no fool...I have neither the patience nor the stamina to raise Kids anymore, but it's awfully nice to enjoy their company for a little while.

With any luck, I will get a kid or two of my own in five or six months.  I've decided to send Tessie off to sex camp this Sunday.  Ruthie is finally drying up, and I need to rejuvenate the milk supply.  Tessie did pretty well in with the other girls in the barn.  It was Nineteen who about lost it.  He's never spent a night alone, and he cried the entire time I was milking until I finally let him out in the pen and he could reconnect with his stall mate.  Tessie will be off having fun, and Nineteen is going to be miserable. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

There was a logjam at the barn door last night.  It happens sometimes for no apparent reason.  The other night when I was late getting into the pen, I understood that the kids were reluctant to go to their rooms because they couldn't see into the gloom.  Ruth and Esther ended up together and that wasn't a good match.  The next morning Ruth had bald patches where Esther had snatched out mouthfuls of her coat.  Poppy, usually the first in the gate, held back last night until she was last, giving Sheila first dibs at their shared nighttime snack.  Nineteen ran in alone, and, for whatever reason, his roommate Tessie went into the big room with Cindy, Esther, and Inga.  He's never spent the night alone, and she obviously had concerns about her choice.  A goat's gonna do what a goat's gotta do, and I am left to wonder why.  I've just about decided to send Tessie off to visit the buck, so perhaps this is a good experience for Nineteen to spend some time alone.  Or not.

I sent a dog to jail yesterday.  An old, grey-muzzled female black Lab showed up in the afternoon and was disinclined to leave.  She caused no damage and was friendly, but seemed lost.  I gave her water and she was thirsty.  Finally, in her best interest, I put her in Stumpy's old dog run, fed her some doggie biscuits, and called Animal Control.  Dave, the Animal Control Guy, said it was a good thing I'd called because the coyote packs were growing, and a lost dog would either starve, get hit by a car, or eaten by the Beastie Boys.  The Lab had a collar and tag, but the tag was for Luis Obispo county.  The one place an owner will know to look for a lost dog is Animal Control, and I hope this old girl is reclaimed soon.  There's a strange adjunct to this story.  Bessie Anne had alerted me in no uncertain terms that there was a stranger on the property, but once I'd caged the Lab (going out alone, leaving Bess in the house), my girl had absolutely no interest in her after a single sniff through the cage.  I was pulling brush over to the burn pile while waiting for Dave, and Bess stayed by my side, even though Lab was voicing her displeasure at confinement.  I wish, as I have so many times before, that I knew what the animals are thinking.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oh, the Shame

I put the burr under my own saddle.  It irritated me until I planted the crab apple tree on my way down to the barn yesterday morning.  Putting one's deficiencies down in print is a terrific goad to get-'er-done! 

Finishing with the goats, I sat in the sun and finished Shantaram.  It took the author thirteen years to write the book, and I think we were both glad when he was done.  There were moments of absolute glory, and then times when I felt I was drowning in a sea of similes.  Fifteen or more "as" or "like" on a page will do that.

Another gorgeous day, so back to the garden...trip after trip taking the mountains of pulled weeds out to the burn pile, and then pulling more.  There was a sense of smug satisfaction as I passed The Tree time and again, and then looking back at the cleared ground.  Today I'm looking for the liniment bottle.

Entering the barn at dusk last night, I heard loud banging on the roof.  There are several clear plastic panels as skylights amongst the corrugated metal sheets, and a hawk had come into the barn, probably after a small bird or perhaps finding the mother lode of mice, and was beating itself against the clear panels, trying to escape.  Why is it that wild things can't remember how they got into such a pickle in the first place?  I didn't want the poor thing to get injured, nor did I want to be scalped as it swooped overhead, talons extended.  It landed on a feed bucket and we both took a moment to consider our options.  I pulled out my ever-ready camera, although the resulting photo is a little blurry as I knew Bird wasn't going to sit there posing for long and I didn't take a lot of time to focus.  We weren't much more than four feet apart.  Moving very slowly with arms extended, I herded him from stall to stall toward the open door, until he had that Eureka moment and flew out to freedom.  Tucking the girls in and coming back to the house, I checked my bird guide book and, as near as I can figure, this was a Cooper's hawk, much smaller than the magnificent red-tail hawks that frequent our skies.  It was a pretty dramatic ending to a most satisfactory day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Couldn't Take It

It was just too nice a day yesterday to stay inside...actually warmer outdoors than in the house.  What to do?  Too early for this, too big a project to start that.  Hmmm.  Standing on the porch contemplating my options, I looked at the crab apple tree I'd bought maybe three years ago and left sitting in its pot right where I'd set it down.  I'd kept missing the window of opportunity to plant it and, as everyone knows, if you leave a thing in place long enough, you start to think it belongs there.  Poor tree.  Well, this was the perfect afternoon to get it into the ground, so I snatched it up and Bess, Pearl and I went out to the garden on the west point.  I've planted over twenty trees in what I'd hoped would be the orchard over on the north slope, but none ever did well in that area and I gave up on that idea.  The point gets full sun all day and the apricot we put in some years back is growing well, and the birds enjoy the fruit.  I'd also put in some apple trees, but the gophers got two and the third one got cut down by a barrel lid that was blown off in a strong wind.  I'd planted that one in a wire cage to protect the roots from the underground dwellers and planned to put the crab apple in that.  Yeah, well.  The weeds had overgrown the entire garden (again), I couldn't find the cage in the ground, and there was nothing for it but to start pulling out the chest-high dead stuff, mainly star thistle.  I'd wanted to work outside, and this was a prime example of "be careful what you wish for."  I do nothing without a coterie of inspectors.  When she wasn't looking for gopher holes, Pearl checked my progress, as did Bessie Anne, who moved from lying in the sun to the shade of the planting barrels.  She's particularly fond of lying where I'd turned up fresh dirt.  Yesterday the Mafia Boys came along to watch from outside the fence.  Even smaller eyes were on me...tiny frogs I'd disturbed sat and watched.  I worked under the most pleasant conditions for several hours and cleared a six-foot swath along the north fence.  I found the cage, but by that time I was permanently bent over and the temperature was dropping.  I hope I get the tree in the ground before another three years go by.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Waiting Game

This time of year is a holding pattern, waiting for the season to change.  Winter has been simply taking a break, throwing us some lovely, sunny days.  Yesterday, cold and overcast, was a reminder that he isn't through with us yet.  It's way too early to rake off the tons of fallen leaves, much too soon to turn the earth in the garden, seed packets tell you to wait until all danger of frost is past before planting and that's a while away.  All (or most) of the winter repairs and indoor tasks have been accomplished.  Football has just the last hurrah.  NASCAR is another month away.  And so we wait. 

Isn't it funny how we arbitrarily assign gender to the inanimate?  Winter is male, spring is female, summer and fall seem to be androgynous.  Ships are she, cars can be hims or hers according to their owners, trucks are invariably he.  If you really want to know the specific gender of a thing, listen for which "B" word comes out when that thing breaks. 

I'll take advantage of this lull to sit reading on the deck in the sun (when it's out), make plans for the garden (again!), decide whether to breed one of the girls, think about cleaning the hen house...and wait.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I plead nolo contedere to the charge that I tend to be overly effusive when it comes to my family, but when you've had a day with perfect weather, great food, and the best of all company with Deb and Craig, what can I do but gush?  Craig fixed the door to the hen house that I've been having to tie closed because the door was coming off the hinges and the hasp wouldn't fit any more.  The Kids have always asked what needed doing when they came up, and now we have a system.  I have a note board on the refrigerator and write down things that I can't fix, build, whatever, by myself, and when the Kids arrive, they look at the board and try to take on one of those tasks, dependent upon time and tools.  Sometimes it's simple stuff that just needs an extra pair of hands (like the door), and sometimes they get together and arrange a Chore Day at Mom's to tackle something big. 

Tree Guy and son also came over yesterday to split the cut rounds we'd brought up from the goat pen last week.  I couldn't help them this time because I had company, but I have a log splitter and left them to it.  I did tell them that Dave had said there was something or other than shouldn't be tightened down, but since my only participation with that particular piece of equipment was occasionally being allowed to run the ram and/or stack the split wood, I wasn't sure what the something or other was.  These are guys, and I figured guys would know about these things without further explanation.  Deb, Craig and I chattered away in the house, and in the back of my mind I heard the splitter going, not going, then going again, but had no concerns.  It wasn't until late afternoon when we went out to fix the door that I discovered two sweaty, tired men splitting wood by hand with axe, maul and wedge on wet wood.  "Wet" means logs that haven't been aged; much harder than "dry" wood.  While I thought the guys were perhaps taking breaks, the splitter had been running and dying and they were doing the job by hand.  That is capital W Work!  Had I but known, I would have called Dave right then.  Later in the evening I did get the answer; it's the gas cap that needs to be backed off so the machine doesn't vapor lock.  Such an easy fix.

It was almost dark when the Kids left, and Ruthie and Esther balked at going into the dim barn.  Fine.  Just fine.  Trekking back up to the house, I grabbed the ball cap with the tiny, but bright, LED lights in the bill that Deb and Craig had just given me for such an occasion, toddled back down to the barn and lighted the way for the scaredy-cat goats.

All's well that ends well.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Red Letter Day

It's going to be a great day.  Deb and Craig are coming up and, as if that weren't treat enough, they're bringing KFC!  I would have known it was going to be a special day anyhow, because I won all three solitaire games this morning on the first shuffle...what did I say about omens?  (I play a lot of solitaire while waiting for my oh-so-slow computer to move on to the next task.) 

Good news:  tomorrow my friend Judy will celebrate nine years cancer free.  There couldn't be a better reason to celebrate.

Bad news:  my friend Arden took a tumble (a lot of that going around lately) and chipped a bone in her shoulder.  No celebration there, but she's on some pretty good pain meds.

The goats have been having their pedicures, one hoof each day.  Ruth, who has been such a stinker, is a hoof behind the program because she refused to come in that day.  Were it not for her, that chore would be done today.  I've got to decide if I'm going to send one of the girls off to sex camp for breeding.  Sarah and Guy are taking their does over to visit the buck and offered to take one of my kids, too, since I have no way to transport.  In the past, the meet-and-mate has occurred in September or October so the babies are weaned by March or April.  Five months of gestation, two months of twice-a-day milking and bottle feeding; that puts me in the barn well into August when it's bloody hot down there.  No spare stalls for delivery.  I've got another week to make up my mind.  There are some definite logistics to work out here.

Musashi has settled in with his little harem.  I'd been wondering if he'd ever get the crowing down right, and then I remembered that he's speaking Japanese and I'm the one who's wrong.  Yuki runs to the gate at my approach at bedtime and does her silly little squat, stumpy wings akimbo, waiting to be picked up.  There is something so endearing about this feather-light, incredibly soft, warm, tiny creature snuggling in my hands for her nighty-nights.  I know one shouldn't have favorites, but....

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Solution

The "puzzlement" of the hanging nests has been solved.  I showed the nests to my Thursday milk customer and she said, "Oh, yes...those are bushtits."  (Hey, I didn't name them!)  I looked up bushtits in my bird guide book and sure enough, that's exactly what they are.  Evidently "keeping up with the Joneses" extends to the avian world.  These two nests are fairly close together, but one family called in an interior decorator because theirs has bright blue strands of unravelled baling twine interwoven amongst the grasses...the Martha Stewart of birddom.  Anyone who has watched the old BBC/PBS productions of "Keeping Up Appearances" would recognize the hand of the pretentious Hyacinth Bucket (which she pronounced Bouquet!).  At any rate, it's nice to know my new neighbors.

"Comfort food" means something different for everyone.  Plagued with throat problems as a kid, I was well acquainted with Jell-O, Junket, and custard.  Custard was nearly the only edible item on the menu when I made my almost-annual trip to the hospital to deliver the next baby.  Custard is pretty high up there on my list of comfort food, but I don't think I've ever had better than the custard I make from fresh eggs with their golden yolks and the cream from fresh goat milk.  With the best intentions yesterday of making it last this time, I had just a small bowl when it was warm from the oven.  And then a small bowl later for an afternoon snack.  Another few spoonfuls while I was waiting for the pot of bean soup to reheat.  A small bowl for dessert.  By was all gone.  If I were ever asked what is good comfort food, I have the solution.  But I have no answer as to how to make it last.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nesting Instincts

There are two nests in the front yard oak.  I've never seen this type of nest before and have no idea what kind of bird built them.  They seem to be woven, hanging baskets about the size of a grapefruit, out at the tips of two nearby branches.  I can't get a good angle on them for the camera, and I'm not about to risk climbing on the roof for the sake of art.  Some years back, I knew robins were nesting in this oak because, unfortunately, I found over a dozen of those beautiful blue robin eggs smashed on the driveway.  Discovering the first one, I thought perhaps the wind had shaken it from the nest, but when I found more as days went by, it might have been the work of cowbirds.  Cowbirds are lazy, irresponsible, opportunistic, parasitic interlopers.  Rather than working hard and building a home of their own and then parenting their fledglings, these ne'er-do-wells will find the nest of some industrious couple, push one of their eggs out (to be found in the driveway below), drop in an egg of their own, and fly off with never another thought.  Their chicks are usually larger than the host birds' and demand more food than their nest-mates.  One wonders what the adoptive father thinks the adoptive mother might have been up to, to produce this Baby Huey in their midst.  One also wonders what the chick thinks, a Gulliver abandoned among the Lilliputians.  As the King of Siam said to Anna, "It's a Puzzlement." 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

East Meets West

The full moon was rising in the east last evening as I was coming up from the goat barn.  Turning to the west, there were the last rays of the setting sun.  Too beautiful to require words.

When you're seven and you fall on your face, you utter a word of which your mother would not approve, get up, brush off the dirt, and go on playing.  When you're seventy and land face down, you let go with a string of expletives that would make a sailor proud, then lie there doing a systems check. 

Finding nothing broken, you offer a word of thanks, then get up slowly to assess the damages.  A well-skinned knee and forearm and a few wrenched muscles may send you to the recliner with a hot pad for the rest of the day, but are pretty darned minimal in the grand scheme of things.  Ruth, last in line, had been recalcitrant about coming in to eat and be milked and I'd grabbed her around the neck to head her toward the milking room.  She was still in boy-crazy mode and jerked me off my feet and I went flying.  After getting up, I made one more half-hearted attempt at persuasion that didn't work.  So much for you, Ruth, my fine girl.  You can go without breakfast and see how you like going a day without being milked.  Finishing up the barn chores, I limped back up the hill with the buckets, feeling both very lucky and very sorry for myself.  After a good night's rest, I've only residual stiffness and can work that out...where else? the barn!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Women's World

I might as well be running a nunnery, for the lack of testosterone here on the farm.  The goats are running through their estrus cycles and it makes them a little crazy.  It's bad enough one at a time, but it compounds exponentially when they cycle together.  They get on each other's nerves (and backs), appetites drop, fights break out.  Nineteen runs around like a mad thing, doing what he can...which is nothing.  I keep hearing the Rolling Stones..."I Can't Get No Satisfaction."  I've mentioned the term "sex stupid" before.  Let's just say this is not Ruth's best look.  I could barely get their attention to come in for breakfast and milking yesterday.  The only good thing about this situation is that the girls are in heat for only twenty-four hours each month, then peace will reign again.

Tree Guy and son arrived shortly after I came up from the barn and we started right to work.  My job, thankfully, was just to drive the little tractor and trailer back and forth.  Tree Guy and son loaded quite literally a ton of cut rounds from the goat pen into the trailer, walked up the hill, unloaded the wood up by the splitter, and trekked back down to the pen.  It really was a three-person job:  one to open the gate, one to herd those wild and crazy goats away, and one (me!) to drive through.  Fully loaded with wood, the little tractor wouldn't go very fast.  The guys were sweating buckets, and I was cruising, enjoying the gorgeous day.  Sometimes it pays to live in a woman's world.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hope Springs

Two days of sunshine and warmth have brought out the best in all of us here.  All three of the Silkies and four of the bigger hens laid eggs yesterday.  The goats, with more opportunity to graze, stepped up milk production.  I crossed off some major items on the To-Do list.  Bessie Anne moved from beside my chair to the front porch to doze in the afternoon sun.  It felt like we were all coming out of hibernation.  Cruising the deck in the early morning, I cleaned out a lot of the winter dead stuff from the potted plants.  It's a bit worrisome because many plants are putting out new green and it's way too soon.  This is just a brief respite...winter isn't finished with us yet, but it sure feels good while we've got it.  Beginning at dusk and carrying on well into the night, the frog chorus tuned up and burst into song.  The little tree peepers sing tenor, all the way down to the basso profundo of the bullfrogs.  Every pond, puddle, and damp spot in the road must have a choir of frogs, all singing at the top of their lungs.  The sunshine has got me thinking "garden" again.  All my good intentions went for naught last year, strengthening my determination to get the beds ready and planted this spring (after the ground thaws).  The seed catalogs have started to arrive, and I'm drooling at the thought of those wonderful fresh vegetables.  Tree Guy is due sometime today.  The sky looks clear and it should be another great day to work outside. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Button, Button

I couldn't post this before Christmas because it was made as a gift and I didn't want to spoil the surprise.  The cool thing about the type of ornaments I bead is that they are slipcovers.  If the glass breaks, all is not lost, and changing the color of the ball can change the character of the ornament.  This one is all about hearts, and it was made for Deb and Craig.

I started beading about twenty-five years ago when I saw an article about a beaded brooch made from a button.  Back in the "olden days," before we became a disposable society, women would cut the buttons from worn-out clothing and keep them in a button box for future use.  They recycled from necessity long before it became the popular thing to do.  My mother was a renowned seamstress and she made most of my clothes all the way through high school.  I, like a lot of kids, loved to play with my mother's button box, sifting the textures through my fingers like jewels, sorting colors and types, remembering a particular dress or jacket.  I inherited Mother's button box, a coffee can painted red.  When I saw that article, I thought of a unique tortoise shell button that came from a loden green coat my sister had worn and outworn years and years before, and wanted to give that memory back to her.  I found the button in the button box, and so it began.  I learned techniques and started beading other buttons, memory buttons.  One of the most touching was a brooch I made for a coworker whose teen-age son had been killed.  She brought me a button from his favorite shirt, and now she wears it over her heart.  From buttons, I moved on to necklaces, earrings, bracelets, bottles, ornaments, clothing...there isn't much that can't be made or transformed with beads. 

For a long period of time last year I lost interest in doing any craft, and then I "turned a corner."  It feels good to have busy hands again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Light My Fire

I have been lauded and derided because I read directions, but, as they say, "When all else fails...."  Despite a clean chimney, empty ash box, fresh (seasoned) wood, the stove was still being cranky.  I'd fiddled with all the vents and could get a good blaze started, only to have it die down to a smolder in nothing flat.  Stove was beginning to take on a personality with attitude; one that needed adjustment.  Getting out the manual and reading it cover to cover, I discovered that I hadn't gone deep enough into the bowels to find the catalytic combuster (say that three times fast).  The day was sunny (newsworthy in that we hit sixty degrees for the first time in a month), and the pitiful fire of the night before was completely out, so I could safely remove the entire top of Stove to find and clean the combuster, which was, indeed, clogged.  Who knew?  Even though the day was warm, the temperature plummets at sundown, and last night I was really glad I'd read the directions.  Sometimes I wish there were a manual for life. 

Tree Guy and sons are coming on Monday to split wood cut from the barn oak.  My supply had been dwindling fast and I was getting a little worried about making it through the rest of the winter.  We are edging toward spring, though, having gained a half-hour of daylight before sundown.  These few sunny days lull one into thinking we're past the worst, but I know better.  Stove and I need to come to an understanding; lose the attitude.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Goats In the Mist

With apologies to Dian Fossey and Sigourney Weaver, this is the Farview version of "Gorillas In the Mist."  It was taken the day the fog rolled in, to the point where Bessie Anne had to abandon her post in the field by the barn and move up so she could keep an eye on her charges.  (She is that little brown lump on the right.)  I just love this photo.  The fog...not so much.

That peek of sunshine yesterday morning was the last seen all day.  By the time I finished the last milker, it was pouring rain and the drizzle just hung on.  Well, what did I expect?  It's winter.  Grey days are enervating and I have no incentive to do much of anything.  Let the sun come out and, after a stint on the deck bench with a book, I'm ready to bustle around and get caught up on chores.  I don't want to jinx anything, but it's pretty bright out this morning. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Boom-ta-da-boom!  First to come off were the gloves, then the hat, slowly followed by the jacket...what would come off next?  Dang!  The sun had come out and it was nearly fifty degrees down in the barn, and I was still dressed as if it were twenty.  These radical temperature changes do tend to catch one off guard.  Overdressed up here doesn't mean you've shown up in sequins to a picnic. 

Rushing through the chores, I grabbed my book and Bessie and I went to sit on the deck, soon joined by Frank and Pearl.  It's my favorite place to sit in the whole world.  It seems so quiet, and yet there's always a musical score playing in the background.  Birds are chattering in the trees or calling from the skies, leaves are rustling, a truck hits the jake brake on Mt. Aukum road about six miles away.  Reinvigorated, I tore myself back to reality and got some inside tasks done.  I'm still savoring Shantaram.

I've always been a magpie, picking up bright, shiny bits from parking lots and driveways, thrusting these treasures into pocket or purse.  Might be a part from a broken earring, a nail that could puncture a tire, once a Leatherman tool (that really was a treasure!), a penny or a dime.  Among the tons of leaves in the yard, I've been trying to find a new one to turn over.  I'm trying to let go of things, making an honest assessment of whether I really need to keep the feathers from Frederick the Great's tail, is a Christmas card received from someone I barely knew fifteen years ago really important, will I ever find a project that will require that bobble from a bracelet.  I want to stop emptying my pockets of items a six-year-old boy might hoard.  A week or so ago, coming back from the barn, I picked up a little black something or other, wondered where it came from, couldn't identify it and, in my new spirit of letting go, threw it into the trash barrel on my way to the house.  Wouldn't you just know that I have discovered a missing knob on the truck radio?  It's the tuning knob.  I only listen to one station, so I don't need the knob.  I have no idea when or why it came off...I only know I threw it away.  I think I'll go back to turning over leaves, looking for a better one.

We're in the dark phase of the moon.  You know it's really dark when the tiny little light on the freezer in the laundry room shines as brightly as a night light.  Owls are working the graveyard shift.  If they are such silent hunters, how come they constantly announce their presence by the whoo-whoo?  Do they think mice, etc., are deaf?  I hear them as I'm going to bed and when I get up...they're scouting the area close to the house.  These are big owls, barn owls?, but I've never seen them.  The only owls I've ever seen were the little ground owls when I was learning to fly a small Cessna plane.  Landing at dusk, there would be an owl perched on each runway light, spectators.  "Here she she comes."  Whoosh! and the heads would turn..."There she goes!"  I always hoped they weren't making bets about my landings.

The sun's up and I see blue sky.  I'll leave the gloves and hat in the house today.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Year On the Farm

I started writing this journal on January 13, 2010...a whole year ago.  Time is so elastic; like many events in life, sometimes it seems as though it was yesterday, sometimes a lifetime ago.  I went back and reread my "mission statement" on Day One.  I think/hope I've met my purpose, to give a glimpse of farm life as I know it.  It's been a year of birth, death, triumph, tragedy, frustration, exultation, boredom, tears, and overwhelming love and joy.  In other words, just a year like any other or any one's, but here in a rural setting. 

I thought I would be writing only for my family and a few friends.  The blog site started keeping statistics on the first of June.  It is stunning to find that there have been, to date, 8,714 "hits;" over a thousand a month!  Even more amazing to me is where these readers are, and I think it is worth listing the thirty-seven countries (in the order they logged on):  United States, Colombia, Canada, China, Japan, Denmark, Latvia, Russia, Poland, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Spain, Chile, France, Vietnam, Germany, Taiwan, Brazil, Italy, Pakistan, Ecuador, Iraq, Iran, Philippines, Netherlands, South Korea, Mexico, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Armenia, Slovenia, and Israel.  Some are just drive-bys, some come back again and again.  It makes me very pleased and proud to think so many are seeing the view on my hill through my eyes.

Silkie Update:  Yuki missed her cues.  Before Musashi arrived, she was persistent about sitting on the nest.  Now that there is a possibility that she could actually hatch some chicks, she leaves the eggs to darn near freeze in the frigid weather.  They've got to start coordinating efforts if we're going to have babies.  I've been laughing to myself regarding Musashi's name.  In my mind, it sometimes gets transposed to's not good to call a Japanese chicken "sushi."  Even mentally, I have to quickly correct myself and apologize to the boy, and reassure him that a dinner plate is not in his future.

They say if you do a thing five times, it's a habit.  I'm in the habit now of starting nearly every day with an entry.  Some days have been harder than others, but it's truly been a pleasure to share life on the farm.  While remaining constant, it is also ever changing.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  I'll write again's a habit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dodged the Bullet

I try not to ask for much, but I remember always to give thanks.  Phone call to Go-To Guy:  "Use a hair dryer on the stand-up pipe."  (Nothing happened.)  "Turn the left lever down."  (Couldn't move the lever.)  "Turn the breakers off and on."  (No change.)  "I'll be there late this afternoon."  Go-To drove up just at sundown, made a quick assessment, and said, "It's a problem down at the well," and my heart sank.  The well pump is a very expensive and probably lengthy repair/replacement.  I mentally reviewed my checkbook and tried to think of how to get water for the animals (Joel has offered to let me get water from his reserve tank), and fought rising panic.  While Go-To went down to the well in the front pasture, I put the critters to bed.  It was more productive than standing around wringing my hands.  I came back and checked the pressure pump...and nearly screamed...the pressure was UP!  I yelled to Go-To, who was still down in the well housing, and then he yelled, too.  (All this yelling made Bessie go berserk.)  Returning to the house, Go-To told me it was just (just, he said!) a five-dollar fuse.  Glory, glory, hallelujah!

I don't use last names; this is a pretty public forum.  However, Go-To has started his own business and I asked his permission to give credit where credit is due.  To anyone in the Placerville environs, I most heartily recommend Hammonds Water Pump Service, Jim Hammonds, owner/operator.  Jim has gone above and beyond for me time and time again.  His name is Jim, but I truly think of him as my Go-To Guy.  In what are sometimes desperate situations, he comes when called, always calm and cheerful, and he makes it all better.

It was a balmy thirty-four degrees this morning when taking the trash down to the big road.  Yesterday I had to break through over an inch of ice on the water trough.  I'm not ready to bring out the bikini just yet, but those few degrees have made a world of difference.

All's right in my world.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I don't take "rejection" well, and so gave another go at uploading at least one of yesterday's photos.  I think the problem may have been a failed attempt at converting to something that wouldn't take so long to import. 

It is still twenty degrees (at nearly eight a.m.).  There is still no water from the taps.  One of the old hens succumbed to the cold a couple of days ago, and I'm hesitant to go out to find what today might bring.

But isn't this a glorious photo?

Oh, Drat!

If it's not one thing, it's another.  The wood stove had been cranky for days, balking at getting a good fire going, not getting a good draw up the flue...sure signs the chimney needed a good sweep.  The temperature never got up to thirty-two yesterday and finally reaching the desperation point, I called Go-To Guy.  There are some things I do for myself, but after getting stuck on the roof the last time I tried to tend the chimney, I decided I'd rather look stupid than be stupid.  Bless his heart, he and Wife were here within an hour.  He swept down nearly a half-bucket of wonder the fire was suffocating.  I called him later to tell that we, indeed, had lift-off, and there was a cheery warmth in the house once more.

All well and good.  And then I discovered I had no water.  Like flicking a light switch again and again in disbelief when no light goes on, I turned faucets several times in several rooms.  No water.  This is serious.  The water lines are frozen.  The temperature dropped to twenty last night, and it's still at twenty this morning.  There isn't anything anyone, even multi-talented Go-To, can do until the ground thaws, and I can only hope that a ground heave doesn't break a line.  I have light, I have heat, and I have hope.  And I'm not going to ask, "What's next?"

Oh, drat!  I just found out what's next.  I took some terrific photos yesterday, including an exquisite spider web coated with hoar frost and one of the goats shrouded in the mists, and for some reason I'm getting "server rejected" messages while trying to import them.  Well, if that's the worst thing that happens today....

Sunday, January 9, 2011


The slow-moving fog that has blanketed the valley has crept its way up to the hills.  I can't see down the front pasture to the road, and can barely discern the outline of the feed barn.  The fog has brought along its baggage; damp, bone-chilling cold.  Twenty-six degrees, and the wood stove is struggling to hold it at bay.  The cats are curled up in its small circle of warmth, and Bessie Anne stayed snuggled in the blankets (she moved over to my side of the bed when I got up earlier).  Suffice it to say that using the bathroom this morning was a real eye-opener!  Were it not for the little space heater blasting nearby, this would be a very short entry.

Goats and sheep, like cows and deer, are ruminants...cud chewers.  In common, all ruminants have two-toed feet, missing or rudimentary upper front teeth, and four-chambered stomachs.  Cattle of all types, including buffalo, and sheep are essentially grazers (grasses and ground-level greenery) and goats and giraffes (also ruminants) are browsers, preferring foliage and branches.  This is a very efficient form of dietary discretion, allowing large herds of browsers and grazers to coexist in the same area as they do not compete for food.  They are basically opportunistic eaters, taking in as much food as they can and as fast as possible.  This is partially because they are never sure when they might find another meal in the wild, and also because they are prey animals and could be attacked before they finish.  Cellulose is indigestible in its original form, and so is deposited in the largest chamber of their stomachs, the rumen, where it is softened.  When at leisure, the animal will then burp it up, regurgitate a mass, and chew it again until it can be swallowed into the second chamber, moving through the third and fourth...and on to the end.  It is chewing the cud that gives the impression of thoughtful, placid expression to these creatures.

Humans also ruminate, but our cud is thoughts and ideas which we will bring up again and again, mulling over until resolution or satisfaction.  (Carried to extreme, that's obsession.)  In a few days, it will be a full year since I started this cyber-journal.  I've been figuratively thumbing through the pages, exalting over triumphs, cringing at failures, taking joy from my family and friends and animals as if it had just happened.  They say that if we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it, but there are certainly those things that are worth repeating, and ruminating is sometimes the answer.  Burp.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Water and Words

Thoughts creep in at the strangest times.  While brushing my teeth last night, I realized I had done something I learned to do here that I wouldn't have thought twice about in the past, living anywhere else.  I wet the toothbrush and then turned off the tap while brushing.  Water, that resource that seemed infinite down in the valley, is precious and limited.  My water comes from a well down by the road in the front pasture.  We once went away for a few days one summer and my neighbor came to tend my garden and animals.  She left a just a trickle running from a hose, and that simple act of forgetfulness ran the well dry so that nothing came from the faucets when we got home.  The thought of no water is really terrifying.  It's the worst thing to lose when the power goes out.  I can always tell a flatlander if they insist on helping with dish washing because they will let the water run while rinsing a pan full, instead of turning it off in between plates, etc.  I really regret those days in "another life" when I would use the hose to clean leaves from the driveway instead of a broom or let the sprinklers go until there was runoff down the gutters.  I was thoughtless and wasteful.  It's not just fear of running the well dry; it's the realization that I am, as we all are, a conservator of our world. 

Arden loaned me a book when she was here the other night, telling me that it was a real page-turner and I would just devour it.  It had been loaned to her and she had received a special dispensation to loan it on to me.  The days are sunny now, and I am giving myself permission to go out to sit on the deck after the barn chores and read.  A long time ago, when I first read Shogun by James Clavell, it was the only book I'd ever read that I put down for awhile just before the finish, because I didn't want to leave those characters or have that story end.  Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is just such a book, and instead of devouring it (as I so often do), I am savoring it like a mouthful of chocolate mousse (or a piece of See's candy), reading and rereading passages, and setting it aside to pick up again as a reward for duties elsewhere.  The author has a lyric turn of phrase, nothing like the self-conscious, pompous descriptions of Hemingway or Dickens.  Roberts's words flow in a molten stream that simply draws you in.  Shogun was set in Japan.  Shantaram takes place in India.  Having just seen several documentaries of India, Roberts makes the sights, sounds, and smells of that country live.  He writes the accents and dialogues of the Indians without making them cartoons.  You hear the unique cadence of English as a second language, and that's not easy to write.  In addition to being entertained by the story, I feel I'm learning at the same time.  I don't know where this story is going to lead me, and I'm going to get there slowly, but I am a willing follower.  In a way, I suppose I'm conserving this, too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Here Comes the Sun!

Buzzards fascinate me.  They are the most graceful of the local birds, floating in lazy circles on the thermals over the hills.  They're not quite as adept as pedestrians, galumphing along on the ground, even comical.  The valley has been socked in with fog for days now, but we, here on a "different planet," have enjoyed the sun, although night temperatures have been in the twenties.  It seems that these birds have a welcoming ritual, raising wings in a silent paean to the warmth.  Logic tells me that they are just thawing out after a frigid night, but it is so beautiful to see that my imagination imbues the scene with more than it is.
Equally amazing to me is that they let me come so close now.  There is no more than eight feet between me and this handsome fellow on the post.  While watchful, he waited while I threw flakes of alfalfa down for the girls, and only when I later went through the gate did he swoop off.  These are turkey buzzards, but their heads are actually more attractive than the gnarly, bumpy red heads of the turkeys.  The huge nostrils allow them to scent carrion more than five miles, I understand.  They appear black at a distance, but this close up shows the exquisite pattern of black, tan and bronze. 

I love my new camera, so compact and easy to use, but it takes over half an hour to upload one photo, and it sure sets my day back to insert a photo...way back to put in more than one.  The download from the camera is almost instantaneous, so I can only think it is a drawback of my computer, but dang, it's frustrating! 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

By Her Smudges Shall Ye Know Her

The calluses on my hands are a pretty good indicator, but the pattern of dirt marks on my attire is a dead give-away that I'm not a city dweller.  It does me no good whatsoever to put on clean clothes to go to the barn...I'm a dirt bag by the time I get back to the house.  The left side of the bib of my bibbies is always dirty because each of the girls has to thrust her head under my arm and rub her head against my chest wall before getting down from the milking stand.  The right pants leg always has a smudge or two because one or more will step on it with a dirty hoof while I'm milking.  Of course, there are the spots from the errant stream of milk, and I won't even speak to the marks on my backside.  In winter, the right arm of my jacket is always dirty from bringing in a load of firewood.  And then there is the hair issue.  I start the day looking (I hope) fairly presentable, but pulling on a stocking cap to keep from freezing one's ears or clamping on a baseball cap to keep the rain off my glasses tends to leave one with a case of bad hair when returning to the house.  I look in the mirror when I'm getting dressed in the morning, and then avoid them the rest of the day.  Sometimes when brushing my teeth at night, I'll think, "Oh God, did I look like that when so-and-so came over?!"  (And, of course, I did.)  I was asked not too long ago why I had just one long fingernail, and I had to answer, "Because it's the only one left that hasn't broken."  Manicures are not in my repertoire.  "Clean" is about the best I can do.

Ooh, I just stepped out on the deck and encountered two beautiful does down by the edge of my woods.  We stood and looked at each other for the longest moment.  They were either stunned by my appearance, or they just didn't care.  I hope they noticed my fingernails are clean.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Dragging Tale

Silkie Update:  Musashi has settled in with his fluffy harem, and has worked his way up to "Cockadoo-dle."  I suppose we'll have to wait for the final "doooo."  When Craig and Deb delivered him, they had been told that it would take three days before I could expect fertilized eggs.  I don't know whether it is the wet, cold snap we've had, or perhaps the stress of having a new roommate move in, but the littlest girls have not laid a single egg since Musashi arrived!  Maybe they're waiting for the "dooo," too.

Omen Update:  Nothing really bad happened yesterday after all those warnings...I was on guard all day.  The sun came out and stayed out, and I succumbed to its siren call and took a book out to the deck to soak up some rays.  I almost didn't go in to answer the phone, but thought it might be Arden regarding our dinner plans.  I'm glad I did, because it was an eighty-one-year-old, out-of-state cousin whom I have seen only once as an adult.  I was in her wedding as a flower girl or some such, and we lost touch for a long time.  We reconnected some years back with Christmas cards and, of course, this year I didn't send any.  (I did write, but she hadn't gotten the letter yet.)  She was calling to find out if I were dead (perfectly reasonable at our age).  Just think if I hadn't answered the phone!

Dinner Update:  The phone call did set my timing back somewhat and I was late getting the bread to set.  The soup fortunately didn't take long to throw together.  Arden is punctual...I mean really punctual...and I was just going down to the goat barn when she and Audrey, her darling little dog, arrived.  She got to watch what I think of as "show time."  Going into the pen, the goats and Poppy mass around me and we all troop together to the barn.  They cluster around as I put down their nighttime treats and then open the gate for Poppy and Sheila.  They dash back to their room, and I open the stall door for Nineteen and Tessie.  There was a hitch last night because Audrey startled the girls, and Ruth wanted to come in out of line.  Finally got them sorted and into the right stalls, shut that gate, ran around and let Lucy into her room, and at last Cindy, Esther, and Inga were herded into the big room they share.  It's like watching an old, jerky, silent comedy film with the Keystone Cops.  Don't say I don't provide amusement for my guests.  Arden and I had a drink while waiting for the pumpernickel bread to come out of the oven and I put the finishing touches to the chunky corn chowder, and talked of books and politics and the economy, etc.  Bessie Anne and Audrey played nicely together, and Bess very kindly allowed Audrey to play with her very best toys.

It was a good day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


All the signs are telling me this is going to be "one of those days."  The stars were shining brightly this morning, and no cloud cover means a drop in temperature...yup, down to twenty-eight.  After the rains, this caused the doors on the truck to freeze shut, so the trash man has come and gone...without my trash.  It may be the cold or computer imps, but I have had to reboot twice today.  I'm not superstitious in the conventional sense of the word.  I will walk under ladders with impunity, and the only thing I worry about when a black cat crosses my path is that I don't drive over it.  Since my mother has been dead, lo, these many years, I can step on a crack without fear of damage to her back.  (Do parents still scare kids with that old bromide?  And how did it start, anyhow?)  I do know that if I hit three green lights in a row while driving (down in the city where there are streets with stop lights), it's going to be a good day.  One of the most eerie portents in my life came very shortly after we moved here.  Steve was not a man who could stand to be without television.  Antenna TV was out of the question, giving maybe two or three channels, although there is still an antenna high up on the topmost tip of a pine tree for a family across the's an antiquated source of amusement.  There is no such thing as cable TV available.  All power and telephone lines are above ground.  He immediately connected with a satellite television company and had them out here within days of moving in.  This was in October 1997.  It doesn't rain in October, but it rained the day the couple came to install the lines in the house and the dish on the roof.  The sun came out just as they were finishing and, as I looked out the living room window, there was a brilliant pool of VIBGYOR (my mother's acronym for violet, indigo blue, green, yellow, orange, and red for the rainbow) right in our front pasture.  It was, in fact, the end of the rainbow in our yard!  That was the omen to end all omens that we belonged here.  We all just stood looking in awe.  The gold at the end of the rainbow isn't buried is the land itself. 

I shall not handle delicate objects today.  I will tread carefully on the frozen ground.  I will watch diligently that I do not burn the soup for Arden's dinner tonight.  I have been forewarned.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Heart Prints

Every dog I've ever had has left paw prints on my heart, going all the way back to the stray that showed up when I was a little girl and I wheedled my mother into keeping.  (Mother was not an animal person.)  When my Kids were small, a dog who lived across the street came over to play.  Then she would stay all day, and then started following the Kids to school, and finally would spend the night on our porch, going home only to eat.  The Kids adored her.  During this while, she found time to entertain gentlemen callers and was in "a delicate condition."  One day the owner came over and said, "Well, it's pretty obvious Muffin would rather live with you than with us.  If you want her, just give me pick of the litter, and she's yours," and the Kids had their first dog.  (Make that "dogs," because she had three puppies within a week.)  Muffin was a perfect James M. Barry Nana of a dog.  I never had to worry about the Kids roaming the hills of Chino because Muffin was their protector.  She couldn't bear to see a sibling squabble and would get in between the combatants.  Muffin was a funny looking, long-haired, short-legged terrier mix with a bulbous black nose that she would press hard against your leg when she was feeling needy.  If that didn't work, she would hold up one paw and limp until she got the attention she wanted.  Muffin was born to be a mother.  We kept one of her later puppies, Frannie, and when Frannie had a litter of her own (no one was as conscientious about spaying dogs back then), Muffin took over the care of the puppies, making Frannie get in the box when the babies were to be fed, then chasing her off while she cleaned and cuddled the little ones.  Frannie, relieved of all responsibilities, remained a blithe spirit throughout her life.

Gildas, called Gillie, was a Welsh Corgi with a great sense of humor.  At a tiny two months old, she came into our lives and immediately herded Muffin and Frannie into a corner and made them stay.  She developed a taste for beer and would suck spilled booze out of the couch cushions, and no one could pass gas and hope to blame it on someone else because Gillie would stand behind the offender, pointing like no bird dog could.  When a guest arrived, Gillie would come running, flip on her back and slide all the way to their feet, belly up and waiting for a rub.

Chauncey, a huge English sheepdog, made the fourth dog in my household after the kids had left home.  Muffin and Frannie thought he was a handsome dude, but he lost his heart to Gillie.  There was great disparity in size and their love was never consummated (thank goodness!), but it wasn't for lack of trying, and he never strayed to another.

Dogie, the throw-away dog who was left here when her owners moved, was in a class by herself and is worthy of a book of her own...a story for another day.  She never walked; she had a high-stepping prance, and when I think of her, it is always as "my little dancing girl."  Dogie was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs.  She is still here on the farm, wrapped in her favorite blanket, with milk bones and her favorite hedgehog toy, and she is always in my heart.

The photo is of Bessie Anne, my constant companion, and it is how I see her.  She is a watch dog.  Not a guard dog, necessarily...she just watches.  It was a drizzling rain day, but she sits outside the fence, rain or shine, while I'm tending to the goats, and she watches.  She will sit at the end of the deck or on the porch step...and watch.  I so often wonder what she sees and what she's thinking as she looks out over her domain.  Years ago, there were cartoon characters, a sheepdog and a wolf/coyote, and I think their names were Sam and Ralph, and they would punch a time clock as they started their day sitting on a hill.  I think of them when I see Bessie Anne, watching.  She is with me always, asleep behind me right now, gently snoring, patiently waiting until I move to the next room, the next chore, and she'll be ready.  I just can't imagine life without a four-legged friend.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No Place Like Home

The snow of yesterday morning didn't last long in the drizzle that came a little later and stayed all day.  Friends up toward Somerset threw their annual New Year's Day soiree, a party to which I always look forward.  I usually go late, after putting the kids to bed, but given the nasty weather, I decided to show up at the start and leave in time to get back before dark yesterday.  Going to my friends' house is like visiting a gallery:  he is a professional photographer and she is a painter and sculptress, and their rooms and walls are filled with their personal objets d'art.  There is always a convivial crowd and (living in the wild social whirl as I do) it's such fun to be with people I see just once or twice a year.  It was hard to leave just as Bud was serving up his famous chili, but duty called.

The last stretch of Gray Rock Road just before my driveway is, in winter, slick with mud, has potholes filled with water, ruts deep enough to bury small animals, and makes me glad I'm driving a big pickup truck.  Even going slowly, I was fishtailing my way and wondering if I'd need the four-wheel drive, and then I turned into my drive.  I've never lost the feeling that I had when I first saw this's home.  The lights I'd left on beckoned through the gloom, and my animals were waiting to welcome me.  Bessie Anne greeted me with wags and wiggles as if I'd been gone a week instead of an hour.  The cats made figure eights around my feet.  Quickly changing clothes, I went out again to put Poppy and the goats to bed and tuck in the chickens.  Feeling very much like Dorothy in Oz, I couldn't help repeating over and over, "There's no place like home.  There's no place like home."  And I'm home.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Mother's Daughter

We always said it was a good thing the navy never put a battleship on sale, because we would have had one in the backyard.  My mother simply couldn't pass up a bargain.  At one time, my sister and I had a lifetime supply of Bisquick because it had gone on sale and Mother picked up a few boxes every time she went to the store.  (She lived alone and didn't cook much.)  My first child had twenty-seven pairs of plastic pants (those things that were used to cover leaky cloth diapers in the days before Pampers) before she was born because Mother kept finding packages of four, then six, then eight, for the same price!  Mother's crowning achievement was when she discovered that the grocery store sold cans without labels for ten cents each.  She would bring down a bag full of unidentified cans, and we never knew what we'd be serving for dinner.  Opening those cans was an adventure.  What sounded like peas in a shaken can might turn out to be peaches, and chili was about the same weight as dog food (fortunately, we had a dog, just in case). 

I have two huge artificial Christmas trees out in the second shed, one for upstairs and one for downstairs.  I don't put them up anymore because they are too heavy to bring into the house by myself, and unless the Kids come up at just the right time before the holidays to help, I throw up the house decorations and call it good.  It just doesn't feel as Christmasy without a tree, though.  On my trip to town yesterday, I found one lone tree at WalMart, six feet tall and much narrower at the base, and I could lift it and it wouldn't take up as much room as my big trees.  I located an "associate" (they used to be called salesgirls) and asked if there were a box to go with that tree.  She said that was a display tree and there wouldn't be a box.  "Um, then do you think it might be on sale at a reduced price?"  She brought her magic scanner thingy and, lo!, she also found a few more trees in boxes up on a shelf.  Checking the price, she turned and said, "Five dollars."  Five dollars!!  Man, I'd hit the lottery!  I put the one she handed me into my cart, and have to admit that I snuck back later and got a second one for downstairs.  I mean...five dollars!  Now, these are not "pre-lit" trees, but I happen to have six or eight unopened boxes of twinky lights that I bought on sale some years back and haven't used, and for five dollars, I can string my own darned lights!  I guess I can technically say I have a forest now, what with four Christmas trees in the shed.  I am my mother's daughter.

From the surrounding hills, Two-thousand Eleven was ushered in with many, many gunshots from rifles and pistols of all calibers, so Bessie Anne, Frank, Pearl and I woke up in time to see the ball drop at midnight.  I think there were holes shot in the clouds, as the rain that has been predicted for days is falling now.  Ohmigosh, it's just light enough to isn't's SNOW!!