Monday, February 28, 2011

Warming Trend

After days and days of waking up to temperatures in the mid to low twenties, thirty-five this morning seems almost balmy.  Just another example of "take what you can when you can and be glad that you got it."  I'm sure I'll find some excuse to work outside today. 

Apropos of absolutely nothing, using the term "balmy" in a weather context made me think of my Aunt Hilda, who used "balmy" as her word for being a little bit crazy.  My mother's family came from Peoria, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.  Aunt Hilda's speech always carried the flavor of Chicago, and even when she wrote, she wrote, "Youse guys."  Aunt Hilda and Uncle Kenneth did not have any children, and I think they rented me when they needed a kid fix (or perhaps my mother needed a break).  Unlike Mother, Hilda doted on animals and always had a fat Spaniel and one or two Siamese cats, and put out pans and pans of milk and stale bread daily for a multitude of stray cats from the training race track across the road.  She also raised canaries, cockatiels, and cockatoos in a large aviary, in addition to chickens, geese, and turkeys.  Writing this, I wonder if I was born to the wrong sister!  (There actually was a mix up in the hospital when I was born, and if the other girl baby had not had black hair...who knows what the outcome might have been.)

Tree Guy and Son worked on the oak yesterday while I was a lady of leisure and watched NASCAR.  They figure they have another day's work to take down the rest of the endangering limbs.  I just hate the changes in my landscape.  The oak hid from view so much of my neighbor's equipment and accumulation of broken this-es and thats one keeps behind the buildings.  Ah, is what it is.  One thing for sure, I won't have to worry about firewood for a long, long time.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Salt and Pepper

Ta da!  Opening the door to the Taj now is like opening, as Forrest Gump said, "...a box of chocklits" (or in this case, chick-lits).  It had occurred to me in the night that I should probably put up some sort of barrier to create a playpen for the chicks in the Taj.  Steve being the hoarder he was, there are always bits and bobs around, and I found a thin board just the right size to put across the doorway.  It's a good thing I did, when I did, because as I took it back to the pen, the little black chick was cheeping to beat the band.  The poor little thing had tumbled down the ramp and was sitting outside in the cold.  And I do mean cold.  I tucked her/him back under Yuki so fast I didn't even get the pleasure of feeling the down.  I am so hoping that all the chicks are girls.  Like male goats, I can't keep boys.

Sitting on the deck, taking a break from hauling more brush to the burn pile, I saw the turkey tribe working its way across the yard.  They made furrows in the ground, scratching through the leaves for whatever it is they look for.  There was a total of seventeen, and their rustling sounded like the swish of a lady's taffeta skirts. 

The oak to the right has been hollow for as long as I've lived here.  Chunks at the base have fallen over the years, and I've expected this tree to drop at any time.  It still stands, putting out leaves every spring.  Go figure.

This is Carmine, one of the Mafia Boys.  He's recognizable by the twisted wing feather.  Carmine is usually the one who joins the hens for breakfast.  The Boys are usually in a group by themselves, but the tribe has gathered forces.  Perhaps we're heading into mating season.

Bessie and the cats had joined me for a break, and Frank was intent on watching the tribe move through.  I could hear his thoughts, "Winner, winner...turkey dinner!"  In your dreams, Frank.

Our area seems to have dodged the bullet as far as the snow dump that was predicted, but there is still a lot of the white stuff on the hills above Omo Ranch and Fair Play, and in the other direction toward Grizzly Flat.  Can't say I'm sorry that I live in the "banana belt" where it does snow, but it doesn't stay on the ground long.

I wonder how many chicklits will be in the box today.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cute Chick In Town

The wind and rain yesterday morning were some of the worst I've seen.  Walking to the chicken pens,  my feet were almost swept out from under me.  Regardless, Musashi and Satomi rushed down the ramp when I opened their door, and...there was a new chick!  It hadn't raised its head from the shell yet, but started peeping and turned to look at me.  This little Yuki II or Musashi the Second isn't as big as a golf ball.  Keiko and Yuki looked at it as if in disbelief.  Youngsters themselves, they've not seen chicks before.
As soon as I'd taken these photos, Keiko's mothering instincts kicked in and she got up off the egg she was sitting on and covered the chick, fluffing her feathers to warm the little one.  Not wanting to penalize her for her kindness, I tucked her egg under Yuki to keep it safe.  It was everything I could do not to pick up the baby.  I did so want to feel that downy softness, but it was more important that the hens bond with the chicks.  I also didn't want to confuse the chick by improper imprinting.  I kept thinking of that old children's book, "Are You My Mama?"
At dusk, all three mamas were sitting huddled together over their nests and I didn't want to disturb them to see if more chicks had hatched.  It's twenty-two degrees this morning, so I may have to wait awhile longer if none of the girls volunteers to let me look today. 

This little spot of joy was oh-so-welcome after the day before.  I held my breath all day, hoping the wind wouldn't bring down that section of oak over the water tanks.  We had rain, hail, wind, snow, and a verified tornado touched down in the Highway 50 corridor leading up to our hills.  It's so far, so good regarding the split oak.  Since it's clear as a bell this morning, maybe Tree Guy can come and take it down safely.  There has to be a perverted logic to the insurance business.  Because I did nothing wrong, this is not a covered incident.  Now, because I'm aware of the problem, if the tree does fall on the tanks, that will be reimbursed.  I have a bit of a problem wrapping my head around that.  Ah, well.  Mine is not to wonder why, mine is to continue to pay premiums and send Tree Guy's kids to college.

Friday, February 25, 2011


From the house, it was impossible to tell that anything had happened, so I was absolutely gutted when Tree Guy and I walked down through the pasture so see what was what.  TG is six feet tall, to put some perspective to the size of this magnificent live oak.  (Not so "live" now.)  TG estimates that the tree is at least five-hundred years old and was approximately sixty feet tall.  Just the thought of losing this old beauty was enough to bring me to tears.  Miraculously, the fallen trunk missed my neighbors' reserve water tanks, but if the branch(es) to the left of TG's head goes in the wind that is howling this morning, there go the tanks and that will be true devastation.
 Tree Guy's sons were able to cut and clear a good portion of the branches that were against the tanks yesterday before dark.  The remaining three parts to the trunk are split down into the ground so it's just a matter of time.  Two will fall into the pasture and will do no damage.  It's that third section that gives me the heeby-jeebies.  Right now it's just wind and rain (as if that weren't enough), but if we get the predicted heavy snow.... 
Regardless of the drama, life as we know it goes on.  As I headed to the barn for the morning milking, this stranger landed in the pasture.  I don't know my ornithology, so I'm just going to say grey heron until I find out differently.  It walked regally around the pasture, looking for I don't know what.  It was a nice diversion from chaos.

One of  my milk customers came to pick up her week's supply yesterday, accompanied by her three-year-old daughter, whom I adore.  Sarah told me she is in the practice at bedtime of asking her daughter what had made it a good day, and last week the answer had been, "Going to [Bo's]."  I can't express how good that made me feel.  It's a gift when children and animals trust you.

So far, so good with the power and the satellites.  Fingers crossed!  (And I didn't get a glass of wine.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh, Good Grief

Like commandos preparing for a raid, the clouds have darkened their faces, turned out the light (no sun today), and are massing for the attack.  I hope this approaching storm doesn't feel the need to live up to the hype that's preceding it, but I've been getting ready, just in case.  What I didn't need in the midst of hurrying around attending to last-minute details was the message from my neighbor to the south, telling me that the huge oak in my pasture had split and fallen across two-hundred feet of his fence.  He had already left his wine tasting room for the evening, so we haven't talked, but he "invited" me down to view the damage today.  I can hardly wait.  He did promise me a glass of wine.  Tree Guy returned my urgent call late last night, and he'll be here by eight to get done what he can before the storm hits.  That oak is the most beautiful on the property, and I hate, aside from everything else, that it will be mutilated, if not destroyed. 

Two of the Silkie eggs either rolled or were pushed out of the Taj last night.  Checking, I found the chicks inside were fully formed.  While it's sad to lose these little guys, it's good to know that Musashi has what it takes.  I really worry now that the other chicks will hatch during the snow storm.  A rotten welcome.

Well, if I'm going into battle, I'd best gear up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


There's only so much sustained drama I can handle, and Lucy has taken on the aspects of a Phoenix rising.  She's down.  She's up!  She's down.  At bedtime last evening, she was out grazing, and with a little guidance, tottered into her stall for the night.  The curtain will fall on Act III when it's over.

The forecasters have moved the storm back to tomorrow, but say when it comes it's going to be a doozy, with snow possible all the way down to Sacramento and a foot or more in my area.  I know now that I will lose the internet (and television) until the snow melts off the satellite dishes, and I'm not particularly looking forward to losing my contact with the outside world.  I'm just hoping we retain power (and water!).  It was so nice yesterday afternoon that I worked outside for hours, supervised closely by Pearl and accompanied by Bessie Anne, who chose to nap nearby.  Frank opted to stay indoors by the fire.  It's twenty-six degrees this morning and the fields are white with frost.  Today will be spent in preparations for what's coming.

I had to laugh at myself last night.  I wanted a snack, but the cupboard was bare of those packets of microwave popcorn.  Oh well, or, as my friend Linda says, sigh.  After years of using the microwave stuff, I'd absolutely forgotten how we used to make popcorn!  I actually had jars of honest-to-god popcorn left over from long, long ago.  I had inherited the pot that my mother had used to make popcorn and I'd used it until the handles fell off.  Jiffy Pop, with those aluminum foil expandable covers, was the newest rage back in the day, then came air poppers, and finally microwave packets.  How quickly we forget.  I took a step back in time, pulled out a pan and hoping the old corn would do it's thing, made popcorn on the stove.  How satisfying!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Around the Corner

Spring is just around the corner, tentatively knocking, a bit afraid she might be a little early for the party.  Clusters of daffodils are popping up and showing their colors all over my hill.  Not to be outdone, the forsythia just outside my window is matching yellow for yellow.  The blossoms on the almond tree are pretty raggedy after the last storm, but most are hanging on.  The plum and peach trees in the old orchard are starting to get dressed in their pink and white finery, and the oaks are covered with tiny leaf buds.  I want to yell, "Did you not look at the thermometer (still in the twenties in the morning)?!  Do you not see the frost on the ground?!"  The forecast is for another storm with low snow levels tonight and tomorrow, and another wave of weather close behind.  Ah, well, Spring will do what she will do.  Myself, I'm bringing more firewood to the porch.

Unbelievably, Lucy remains on her feet, eating well, and all her systems seem to be working.  I guess it's all things in their own time, but this is a hard time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Not A Good Day

Lucy had spent the below-freezing night in the shed, unable to make it to her stall, and I knew how I'd find her yesterday morning.  Just shows how much I know, because she was standing in the warming rays of the sun when I went down to the barn.  She ate a good breakfast of grain and slowly toddled up the hill to the water trough and alfalfa.  While milking the last goat, I saw her drop, and thought, "Well, at least she went with a full tummy."  And I was wrong again.  She hadn't died.  I had the barn and milk to tend, but then went out to wait with her.  Lucy and I have had a special bond.  I've been with her when each of her kids was born, sometimes dozing in the straw with her while the pains were still far apart.  She would always put her head in my lap and listen while I would tell her that, after four Kids of my own, I truly understood what she was feeling, don't be afraid, and it would be over soon.  It seemed only right that I be with her yesterday, and I spent hours by her side, telling her much the same thing.  If I had to go back to the house, she would whicker softly and her ears would follow me.  She seemed unable to move anything else.  I could only beg her to just let go...close her eyes and go to sleep, and it would all be over.  Some of the other girls would come and paw or tug at her legs, wanting her to get up.  I know I attribute human emotions to the animals, but Nineteen stayed by my side the whole time I was in the pen, not pestering, but resting his head on my shoulder or in my lap, gently mouthing my jacket collar, or just standing with his shoulder against mine while I stroked Lucy's neck.  If that isn't sympathy, then I don't understand sympathy.  I had decided that if Lucy were still in this condition at sundown, I would do what had to be done for my dear old girl to release her.  I just couldn't do it while the other goats were out and watching.  I checked with a friend so that I had the right caliber and knew the correct placement, and I prayed for strength to do it, and do it right.  I've always felt that if one were to have animals, one needs to accept full responsibility to do whatever is necessary...but I didn't want to do this.  The sun and the temperature started to drop.  I tucked the chickens inside their houses and went to put the goats to bed...and Lucy was gone!  I know I did a classic double take.  How could she be gone?  Where could she have gone?  She hadn't stood or moved all day, but somehow in that short interval she had gotten up and walked back to the shed.  Always the lady, the queen, she had spared me.  This story isn't going to have a happy ending, but it didn't end yesterday. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dem Bones

I wasn't the only one suffering from cabin fever, and was so happy to go as Joel and Judy's guest last night to Bones for dinner.  Bones is up in Pleasant Valley, on a narrow road that goes up to Sly Park and the back way to Tahoe.  Given the skull-and-crossbones signage and "Bikers Welcome" billboard, it's pretty obvious what the original intent of the owner was for this little hole-in-the-wall bar and grill.  There are so few eateries in our area, the locals have discovered the terrific hamburgers and onion rings, and now, if there is such a thing, Bones is an "upscale" biker bar.  They have a wine list!  The parking lot was packed last night with Range Rovers, SUVs, pickup trucks, and motorcycles.  The ladies in the foursome at the next table had salon hairdos, earrings, coordinated jogging suits.  (Myself, I dressed for warmth.)  Bones does not provide napkins; a roll of paper towels stands on the table.  It's just impossible to be neat and tidy while eating a Bones juicy hamburger.  We got to talking about all the delicious, unhealthy things we ate as kids.  How did we ever survive?  While we may not eat those things now, each of us could vividly remember the wonderful taste of the calorie-laden, cholesterol-causing dishes we were fed by our parents.  I suppose I should apologize to my own Kids for having served them some of those delicious dietary no-nos.

Leaving Bones, we noted that we could see stars for the first time in days (nights), and that it was going to be a cold one without the cloud cover.  Driving home, we were headed directly toward the rising moon, which had gotten full while we weren't watching.  It was a moon that would have inspired Spielberg to send E.T. home again, huge and bright.

It's twenty-six degrees this morning, and the skies are clear.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Do It Now!

A fresh layer of snow fell during the night, and I'm amazed that all five blue eyes are on the modem this morning.  One would think that winter would be a time of leisure; downtime from the chores.  Perhaps there are not as many items on the To-Do List, but those things bring a certain sense of urgency.  Get firewood to the porch before it gets wet and keep the pile stocked.  Get the laundry done and the dishes washed up and showers taken while there is water (via electricity).  Get on the computer before the dish packs up with snow.  Enough snow fell yesterday to fill the water trough for the goats, and I took care of the chickens' needs earlier.  There were several power blips, those irritating electrical hiccups that last just long enough to require all the clocks to be reset.  The two battery-powered clocks keep me on track, or as on-track as I care to be.  Now I'm worried about the Silkie eggs.  They're due to hatch in just a few more days, and this isn't optimum weather for little chicks.  I've learned from past experience with the big hens that it doesn't do to move eggs and hen(s), even with the best intentions.  It distressed the moms and they abandoned the entire clutch. 

This is the winter wonderland outside my windows this morning.  The vulture sitting at the top of the oak seems to be waiting for the sun.  More are gathering now and spreading their wings, but I think they'd do better to hunker down, fluff their feathers and try to stay warm.  The bottom photo is looking down into the woods, the section of property we left untouched.  I don't go down there much anymore (it's the hike back up that gets me), but there is a hidden meadow at the bottom where there are blackberry bushes that protect the small wild things.  In winter, you can follow the rabbit, deer, and fox tracks, and find their dens and nests.  The pine tree that now towers just off the deck did not even reach the railing when we moved here.  It's a visual reminder of the passing of time. 

It looks like I'll need the sled again to get the alfalfa down to the goats today.

Friday, February 18, 2011

House of Blue Lights

Ah, the frustrations of new technology.  I sit with the world at my fingertips, and I can't/couldn't get there from here.  The first two pictures were taken yesterday at 3:30 p.m. after thirty minutes from the first snowflakes, and the series of photos (two each) was taken in one-hour increments after that, approximately four inches of snow in two hours.  That was enough to wipe out the television and the new, whiz-bang, high-speed computer satellites.  But I had power!!  How frustrating is that!!  It's taken four hours this morning for all five blue lights on the computer modem to fire up and stay on...evidently it took that long for the snow to melt off the dish and allow me access.  Truly a case of be careful what you wish for, because I had plenty of time to play solitaire.
 The bottom picture is of the Silkies' pen, which has just chicken wire over the top.  The snow collected and, if there were sunshine, they'd have a shade roof.  (The littlest kids were tucked up inside their house, the Taj.)

It is still snowing off and on, and I don't have time to edit this entry for a neat presentation.  I'm keeping one eye on the bank of blue lights, keeping my fingers crossed for five.
It's beautiful.  It's cold.  It's a "Blue Light Special!" 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oh, Hail!

Like it or not, I had to go to town yesterday.  The sun was shining here when I made a run for it, but three miles away I hit the first snow flakes.  It snowed heavily all the way across Bucks Bar (a winding, twisting, two-lane road with some twelve-degree grades) and the wipers were packing it down on the windshield by the time I got to Diamond Springs.  From there, it was clear to Cameron Park and back, but I was again pelted with snow on Bucks Bar on the way home.  I wasn't looking forward to unloading a month's worth of groceries in rain or snow, but the white stuff seemed to be limited to Bucks Bar Road and it wasn't even drizzling here.  I was putting the supplies away when the hail started.  I truly hoped the chickens were inside, because this stuff hit like shotgunned rock salt and would have brought the little girls to their knees (do chickens have knees?).  Bess went out to survey the damage, and this is what the deck looked like after just three minutes of hail.  The temperature has remained constant at thirty-six degrees, and all this white stuff is still where it fell.  Now that it's light enough, I see the hills across the way are covered in snow, and the wind is howling.  The cats have opted for their indoor box, and Bessie Anne remains snuggled up in bed.  Guess it's going to be just me and the goats (and Poppy) outside today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

And The Subject Is...

I'm not going to dwell on the storm that hit overnight.  I brought up extra firewood, got the waterers for the chickens filled, and a bag of feed down to the barn for the girls.  Enough said.

I'm not going to extol the virtues of high-speed internet again.  I may suffer from a case of "solitaire" withdrawal because everything happens so quickly now, but I'll manage somehow.

The subject today is turkey vultures.  I did a bit of research (now that I have the capability) on the birds that frequent the farm.  I've just enjoyed being around them, but found that they're really neat creatures.  I've known that a group of quail is a covey, a group of crows is a murder (?!), a group of geese is a gaggle (who names these things?), but had no idea that a group of vultures is a venue, or that when they're circling in the sky, that's called a kettle.  "Buzzard" is a misnomer; buzzard is a class of European hawk.  Vultures are silent, not because they're antisocial, but because they have no voice box and can only hiss and grunt.  Why was that part left out during creation?  When the "venue" raise their wings to the Sun God, it is to warm and dry their wings, but also to bake off bacteria.  These birds are extremely hygienic.  Not only do they clean up disease-carrying carrion from the environment, their stomach acid is so strong that their poop has been sterilized so that it is bacteria free, too.  In fact, they are known to poop on their own feet to keep them free from germs (and also to cool off in the summer).  Their major form of defense is to vomit.  The smell of the bolus of rotted meat is enough to stop a predator in its tracks, and it also reduces the weight of the bird for a faster take off.  Vultures can smell a fresh kill over a mile away, and can see about that far, but they have no night vision.  They can soar on the thermals for six miles without flapping their five- to six-foot wing spans, and they do play in the air.  I think they're pretty darned cool.

And that's the subject for the day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Coming of Age

When my nephew (the same nephew who was just here) was in high school, he had some project or other and asked my mother to write down the innovations she'd seen in her lifetime.  Mother was born in 1904.  There wasn't an extra room in their house for a bathroom, so the big kitchen was partitioned off when that facility moved indoors.  The family had to take turns with the earphone when they got a crystal radio; no such thing as speakers.  Automobiles were just coming into vogue.  The rotary telephone hadn't been invented.  Her first airplane ride was with a barnstormer who'd landed in a biplane outside of town.  She saw the advent of television and space travel.  She saw the advantages, but never trusted microwaves. 

I'm sitting back here in the hills with the world literally at my fingertips.  My sister got the first television in the family; a nine-inch, round screen, and there was no remote.  I think there were three channels, and any important event was reported by the same guy who MCd the wrestling show; there wasn't a regular news program.  I brought back fifteen rolls of film from my trip to Europe; what I wouldn't have given for a digital camera then.  The photos my nephew shared were on an I-Pad; hundreds of pictures at the flick of a finger.  I have a land-line telephone because of our power outages, but now it's so limiting to be tethered by a cord, so I mainly answer the wireless phones in the house.  I was late coming to a cell phone, but now can text with the best of 'em.  I have no need for the I-Phones or I-Pods or whatever else is going these days, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the technology.  From the huge console with the tiny screen, my television is more narrow than the base it sits on and the satellite sends me hundreds of channels twenty-four hours a day.  (Does anybody remember that all the stations went off the air after midnight and all we got was the Indian test pattern?)  Just the thought that I can sit here and type and be read all over the world is mind boggling.  I wonder what my mother would have thought.

I'm laughing.  Because I moved the computer to a different room, I had to go out in the dark this morning to move the bench on the deck so Bessie Anne, Frank, and Pearl could let me know when they're ready to come back in.  Just a bit ago, Pearl poked her head above the sill and mouthed, "Let me in!," and Frank just jumped up, wanting to get out of the rain.  I'm so easily trained.  Technology advances...human nature, not s' much.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Ohmigosh, I think this high-speed thing is going to be right up there with sliced bread and indoor plumbing...really easy to get used to and quickly becoming indispensable.  I think I can get over not playing interminable games of solitaire while waiting for a website to come up.  Oh, gee, does this mean I'll have more free time in which to dust?  I had been slowly approaching spring cleaning the back bedrooms, but went into overdrive because of moving the computer and both rooms are done, done, done!  The incoming weather system held off long enough for Installer Guy to do what he needed to do without either getting drenched or blown off the roof.  Big wind most of the day and spitting rain off and on, but not at the critical moments for him.  It's all good. 

The girls are going through their cycles and driving each other nuts and Nineteen straight up the wall.  They pick fights and butt heads, and he jumps everything that breathes (for all the good that does).  It'll be another week before we'll know if the Silkie eggs will hatch, but Yuki and Keiko are getting antsy and growl whenever I come near.  Haven't heard anything from Tessie, but one can only hope she's smiling now.  Somebody should, since the others are all so cranky.  And Lucy goes on.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Keep Truckin'

Lucy hangs on and just keeps truckin', albeit in second gear now.  I'm putting her food lower so she doesn't have to climb up on the stand.  Every day is just that...another day.  As I was telling someone, for me, death is easy to accept.  It's just a natural part of life.  The sense of loss afterward is difficult.  Dying is the hard part, for everyone concerned.  I'm not going to give daily reports; no news is good news.

You know you've got a good thing going when someone you haven't seen in a long time appears and you pick up a conversation as if it were yesterday.  My nephew has taken jobs all over the world:  two years in Moscow, some time in Poland, lived in Hawaii for a year or more, just came back from Gambon, Africa, many, many of the United States, and is moving to Pennsylvania right now.  He brought photos from far-off places and wonderful sights.  His wife has traveled with him to some, and kept the home fires burning during others.  In their thirty-seven years together, they've produced seven children, nineteen grandchildren and four more on the way.  (That's a lot of home fire.)  For someone as rootbound as I choose to be, it was better than National Geographic to follow their adventures.  Suffice it to say, it was a great visit.  I hope it's not another ten years before I see them again.

Spending time with Larry and Taylor is always such a pleasure.  I took advantage of his time to replace a brass faucet that was splitting (yes, the metal was splitting apart) out by the goat pen this morning.  Our hard freezes lately had overstressed the fitting and I knew it wouldn't be long until it blew like Vesuvius and I'd be in real trouble.  Like everything, the job took longer than anticipated, but he persevered and got the job done.  There are just some tasks that take two people and this was one of them.  Working up here presents its own difficulties; the wrong or forgotten tool means walking all the way back to the barn or down to the shop, turning valves on and off at the console would be so time consuming at the faucet.  The Kids are so generous with their assistance.

I just bit the bullet and signed up for high-speed Internet service.  I've decided to move the computer into my room so I'll always have access.  Sounds easy, but that means moving furniture from one room to another, etc.  I thought I'd have a few days to make these changes, but "they're" moving faster than I am and "The Guy" is arriving right after I come back from the barn tomorrow.  Good grief!  I'm a Taurus, and we don't cope well with change.  What'm I gonna do?!  Stay tuned for the latest!  (If I can figure out how to keep the blog going.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hold On

I am willing Lucy to hold on for just a little while longer.  My old girl was down last evening and I thought it might be the end.  Hurriedly putting the other goats in their stalls, I went to check on her.  She had struggled to her feet and was slowly making her way to her room.  Good old girl.  I could only spend time petting and sweet talking her; there's nothing else I could do.  There is no good time for the death of a favored animal, but this is an absolutely awful time.  With company coming today.... 

Even with advance preparations, I'm never as ready as I should be...let's face it...for much of anything.  There's still a lot to do before my son and his daughter and my nephew and his wife get here.  I would do anything not to go to the barn today.  Hold on, Lucy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

If You Clean It

A nephew I haven't seen in ten years and his wife (it's been forever since I've seen her) are coming to visit for the day tomorrow, and Larry and his family are also arriving for the weekend.  If you clean it, they will come!  Even the wind got into the spirit and blew the leaves off the deck for me the other night.  The almond tree is in full blossom now, decorating the yard with a bouquet of pale pink flowers.  That's a good thing, because the rest of the place is still in the winter doldrums and not a splash of color anywhere else. 

The temperature is still dropping to freezing at night.  Frank came in fairly early in the evening to lay by the fire, and I called and called for Pearl with no result.  She had not appeared by my bedtime and I almost turned out the lights to call it a day.  Knowing how cold it was going to get, I decided, on the off chance, to put on my hat with the lights and walk out to the feed barn.  Sure enough, she had slipped in unseen when I got the chickens' nighttime snack, and there she was, eyes glowing green in the light and yowling, "I'm here!  I'm in here!"  As soon as I opened the door, she muttered, "It's about time!," and raced me to the front door.  She's not a cat to hold a grudge, and said a proper thank you once inside, replete with ankle rubs and loud purring.

Unfortunately, it's Frank and Pearl who are keeping my nephew from a longer visit.  He has severe cat allergies.  If this wonderful weather we've been having holds, we can stay outside on the deck to catch up on news.  He's just come back from a lengthy job in Africa.  (And I will have just come back from the barn.)  It will be nice to have the cousins here together.  I'm so glad I dusted.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gammy's Bed

In 1945, Betty MacDonald wrote her autobiography, The Egg and I, chronicling her life from childhood through to an egg ranch in the remote Olympia mountains of Washington where their neighbors were Ma and Pa Kettle.  (Think Claudette Colbert, Fred MacMurray, Marjorie Main, and Percy Kilbride.)  Reading this book as a kid, I saw only that it was funny.  Remembering the book when we moved here and thinking that there were parallels in our lives, I finally located an old, well-used copy.  As an adult, though the story remains witty and descriptive, I realize that Ms. MacDonald really wasn't happy to follow her husband into the wilds, and now I know they later divorced.  Be that as it may, there is still one aspect in which we have similarities:  Gammy's bed.

Betty's family residence included her grandmother, Gammy, who was a terrible cook and housekeeper and drove Betty's oh-so-proper mother to distraction.  Gammy was, however, the childrens' best friend, and her bed was a safe, if lumpy, haven.  An excerpt:  "...with her nightgowns, bed jackets and several extra sets of 'chimaloons' folded under the pillow, her Bible tucked under the sheet at the top right-hand side, any book she happened to be reading tucked under the sheet on the other side, little bags of candy, an apple or two, current magazines, numerous sachets and her bottle of camphor just tucked under the blankets or scattered under the pillows within easy reach."

Still in the throes of sprucing up the house, I realize my chair is the equivalent of Gammy's bed.  There are two small tables on either side of the chair, laden with the dog brush I grab to comb Bessie or the cats when they're on my lap; books I'm either reading, have read, or am going to read; hand lotion (when I remember to use it); thread, needles, and the beeswax to condition the thread for any beading project that might come to mind; any mail that isn't a bill and doesn't require immediate attention (if I wait long enough, it will be out of date and can be pitched); the half-finished sock I'm knitting when not working on something else; breath mints; various mail order catalogs that I can't throw out because I might need something (I never order anything, but one never knows when the urge might strike); the telephone; bright pink polish for toenails (my fingernails are in such deplorable condition I'd never want to call attention with polish); the remote controllers; a book of Sudoku puzzles that I pick up when I don't have a project in the works; a coffee cup stuffed with pens, pencils, crochet hooks and knitting needles; and the ever-present ashtray.  Other items may come and go, but these things form my own little island.  It's not easy to get up to get something once I get settled as Frank is usually on my lap, with Bessie Anne on the footrest with her head on my legs.  Pearl fits herself into whatever space is left over.  I may reorganize and dust under and possibly thin out, but I need all these things close by.  Gammy would understand.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Spring Cleaning

There must be something about seeing the never-stepped-on, brand-new grass, or the yard swept clean of leaves by the wind, or the pines washed by the rain.  Perhaps it's the example set by Nature sprucing up her world, but it's contagious.  Down through the ages, women have cleaned house in the spring, and it probably started with women throwing out the accumulated bones and cold ashes from the cave after being cooped in all winter.  Whatever it is, I'm in its grip, albeit grateful that it's an acute case and not a chronic condition.  Windows, curtains, comforters all in the process of being washed.  Nooks neglected in the dim light of winter are being dusted.  The collected pieces of pressed glass sparkle on the sills.  For a long time after Steve died I went through the motions, but hated the house when it gleamed and everything was in its was like getting ready for a party that no one would attend.  Time does heal, and now I find just a tremendous satisfaction in the routine of spring cleaning for itself.  Those things that used to be ours have gradually become mine alone.  There is pleasure in walking through rooms and seeing them shine.  Knowing me, I'll probably become complacent again about the layers of dust that summer brings daily, and lackadaisical about mopping, but right now I'll go on with spring cleaning.

The pedestrian vultures have gathered for a conclave in the front drive this morning and the dozen or so attendees are spreading their wings in their ritual to greet the sun.  Latecomers float down quietly and join in.  All four of the Mafia Boys dined here last night.  I don't know where Carmine has been, but for now all's right in my (clean) world.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rabbit - One, Hawk - Zero

With patience born of hunger, this big red-tail hawk sat near the top of the oak and scanned the south pasture for any sign of breakfast on the move.  I watched him through the open dutch door while five girls took their turn on the stand.  It was one of my requests when Steve built the milking room that I be able to see outside while tending to what could be a tedious chore without something to look at, in addition to needing the light provided.  By the time Sheila, last in line, was ready to come in, the hawk soared off.  Curious, I stepped outside to see where he'd gone...not far, just to a pole where he had a vantage point to view Joel's vineyard, and I got some more photos.  Coming back in to milk Sheila, I caught movement in the field.  A big jackrabbit was hot-footing it "out of Dodge."  It must have been sitting motionless the entire time while under the scrutiny of the hawk and finally saw its chance to escape.  One never knows whether to cheer the rabbit or console the hungry hawk.  Who says I lack drama in my life?

Checking my guide book, I see that the red-tails have a wing span up to four-and-a-half feet.  I knew they were big, but that's big!  Almost as big as the turkey vultures, whose span can reach five feet or so.  A pair of the smaller Cooper's hawks, like the one I found in the barn, were scree-ing over the chicken pens.  They're no threat to the bigger "little" girls, but I'm glad Craig and Deb covered the Silkies' pen with wire.  The big hawks seem to know they'd need more runway room for take-off than is available in that yard were they to go for the bigger hens.  I'm glad, however, that those girls aren't free-ranging right now.

Going out at dusk, I heard the frog chorus tuning up for their evening songs of seduction.  Evidently frogs are like mosquitoes; give 'em a puddle and they'll lay eggs.  For a couple of years before I took down the above-ground pool in the back yard, there was the perfect nursery for thousands and thousands of tadpoles.  The tadpoles had plenty of mosquito larvae on which to feed, so that wasn't a problem.  I couldn't drain the pool and kill all those tiny froglets, and later I couldn't mow the back yard and chop up the emerging frogs.  Finally catching the window in time when I would not be the cause of mass destruction, the pool was removed and the frogs have moved on.  Ah, yes...drama.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Looking Forward

The Steelers went down in flames, and I'm going to have to raid the piggy bank to pay off my nickle bet with Dolly.  As Clay said, though, "T'hell with's time to go racing!"  (NASCAR starts soon.) 

I'm getting a reader's tan.  Bessie Anne has quickly learned the routine:  come back from the barn, strain the milk and set it to chill, grab a book and a beer and go sit on the deck for a bit.  As soon as the buckets are washed, she heads for the door to wait for me.  As soon as it's warm enough and before it gets too hot, I take a break outside after milking.  It's one of the best parts of the day.  At first, it's just my face and hands, but as it gets warmer, the sleeves get pushed up and my forearms brown...later, when shirts and turtlenecks get traded for tank tops and the long bibbies get switched for the short ones, more parts will get toasted until I look like something put together by Dr. Frankenstein.  Bessie shifts from sun to shade as she keeps me company, sometimes joined by Frank and Pearl, but they usually get bored and go off to do whatever it is cats do during the day (when they're not sleeping). 

Crows are back in full force.  Until moving here, I had only heard crows caw.  It took me awhile to know that they also do the darnedest's kind of a ratchet sound, "K-k-k-k-k," followed by, "Gwock."  Birds that have been elsewhere for months are returning.  The avian population changes constantly.  Hundreds of little blackbirds now fill the oaks and the air with their constant chatter.  In the past, I've occasionally seen grey herons in the south pasture.  Steller's jays delight the eye with their brilliant flash of blue.  Woodpeckers are using their jackhammers on dead limbs.  There's so much activity going on around me, it's sometimes difficult to concentrate on the page in front of me.  Canadian honkers are starting to make their way north.  The groups are small now, but when they come over by the hundreds in wave after that's something to see.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Can't Please Me

Yesterday was a record-breaking day, seventy-six degrees in Sacramento, sixty-eight up here.  After my yammering on about cold and rain lately (truck doors frozen again on Tuesday), one would think I couldn't complain about a beautiful but unseasonably warm day; one would be wrong.  For one thing, it brought out the mosquitoes.  For another, it's way too soon.  Walking out in the afternoon, I saw that the almond tree had started to blossom.  Like a young girl who thinks that every boy who asks her out is The One, this poor tree thinks every warm day is a firm commitment and flings itself into the arms of spring.  As has happened in the past, I fear wind and rain in the months ahead will destroy its finery and dash its hopes, but I have to admire its indomitable spirit.

Superbowl Sunday:  Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers.  I'm not really sure that Bessie, Frank, and Pearl are that much into football, but every time I jump up, they do, too, and we do our own version of The Wave.  (If the Steelers that would please me no end!)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Frank's Fifteen Minutes

Frank doesn't get a lot of print space.  He tends to keep a low profile, thinking perhaps that just having a pretty face is enough.  I did wake up this morning with Frank on my mind, primarily because he was also on my legs.  Bessie Anne was snoring away in her customary spot with her head on the other pillow so I couldn't roll out of bed in that direction.  It defies science and logic that a thirteen-pound cat can become an immovable object, but Frank manages to do that when he's settled, warm and comfortable.  Performing a series of maneuvers that would have made a contortionist jealous, I finally managed to extricate myself and struggle out of bed.  This must have amused the solidly placed Frank no end.  While cats hate to be laughed at, they do have a bizarre sense of humor, made apparent this morning when, after I finally got my feet on the floor, Frank jumped off the bed to follow me to the kitchen and I swear he was smirking.  There are those who think the world is categorically divided into two factions, dog people and cat people, but I am one who cannot think of living without both.  Of course, I can't think of living without chickens, sheep, and goats, either. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tessie Goes To Camp

Unlike most who send their girls off to camp, I hope mine comes back pregnant.  Wearing a brand-new, bright red collar, Tessie loaded up into the back of Guy's truck next to their girl, Lottie, last evening.  Instead of a sack lunch, I sent along a bale of alfalfa.  Nineteen ran the fence line as his stall mate rode off, and I had to explain that she would be back, but that we probably wouldn't get postcards.  Optimally, I will find a buyer for Nineteen while Tessie is away, and that will open up a stall for mama and baby(ies).  His world has already been shaken by her leaving, and the transition to a new home would hopefully be easier for him now.  He is a sweet boy.  I wish I had space and finances to keep him.  Of course, I've felt that way about all of the nearly fifty goats born here.  In the meantime, we waved goodbye to Tessie, and we hope she'll have a really good time.

It was the strangest thing.  When Craig and Deb brought Musashi to Farview, Craig took the time to fill in all the escape hatches that the free-range hens were using to get out of their pen.  I know that those escapees were also flying over the fence to freedom.  For whatever reason, when the holes they'd dug underneath weren't available, they seemed to forget they could fly and they've been contained ever since...until last night.  At bedtime, there were all but one or two outside the pen.  At least they remembered the drill and came pattering after me to the hen house.  One doesn't think of chickens as tunnelers, but they had burrowed under the fence again.  I love to see the hens on the loose, but common sense tells me they are much safer in their own yard, so I found the latest hole and blocked it.  When I was a kid, I was told that if you could dig straight through the earth, you'd end up in China.  The hens have dug so many pits in their yard, it looks like downtown Beirut, and I often think the girls must be going out for Chinese food.  Between the goats and the chickens, the critters get out more than I do!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Give Them Credit

I'll hand it to the Silkies...once they put their minds to it, they take their job seriously.  There were six eggs in the nest last night and both Yuki and Keiko were sitting all fluffed up next to each other.  I'm hoping Satomi is the relief hen, letting the others take a break now and then to stretch their legs. 

Lucy was my first doe, queen of the burgeoning herd, and she holds a special place in my heart.  Back in the day, she was a terrific milker, but hasn't had a kid in years.  Having been deposed some long while back, I still think of her as the dowager queen.  She is twelve now, getting up there for a goat, and she is showing the effects of age.  Arthritis?  Her spine is twisting into an S shape and her head is permanently held down and to her left.  She eats well and holds her own with the others, but it's painful to watch her walk slowly, albeit still in a straight line, watching where she's going out of her right eye only.  In addition to brushing her, I give her back a massage while she eats her cereal for breakfast.  It's the least I can do for my once-proud, dominant girl.  She rooms alone, and every morning I hesitate before opening her stall.  I know that one of these days I won't hear her nicker of greeting.  There's a selfish part of me that hopes she dies in her sleep so I will be spared the decision to give her release if her condition continues to fail.  This is part of farm life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hippie Chicks

It appears the Silkies have worked out some kind of co-op coop commune and are taking turns sitting on the nest.  Last night it was Keiko's stint.  It is certainly a more equitable arrangement than the one-nanny-for-all method of the bigger hens.  If the littlest girls manage to maintain their concentration and not wander off, Musashi will definitely have something to crow about.

Still glowing from the spate of housework accomplished for my dinner guests, I declared yesterday a day of rest and started and finished a book, and threw in a nap for good measure.  'Twas grand.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There's Still Hope

One sometimes wonders about a chicken's instinct for motherhood.  All three of those potential Silkie eggs were stone cold yesterday morning.  The girls either lost interest or were off in another corner, gossiping.  Of course, when you really stop to think about it, it's probably a good thing that the urge to brood only happens once in awhile.  It would be terrible to imagine if a hen were to grieve every time her egg was taken away.  At bedtime last evening, Yuki was adamant about not leaving the nest, so it may be that she's sitting on an egg or two.  I didn't want to take a chance by disturbing her.  Once a hen settles in to hatch her egg, she'll only get off the nest to eat, get a drink, and turn the egg (how do they know to do that?).  The funny thing is, while she's away getting a snack, another hen will dash in and lay an egg next to the first one, getting the benefit of a built-in baby sitter and none of the responsibility.  When the big hens were keeping company with Frederick and got broody, I'd find upwards of a dozen eggs in one nest in just a couple of days.  Since a hen will lay one egg every day or so, it's not hard to imagine how many were taking advantage of the situation.  If Yuki is still on the nest today, I'll mark the eggs so I'll know which ones are ready to hatch and when.

Joel and Judy are willing to be guinea pigs for new recipes, and I tried out a new menu last night.  The "crock pot" polenta finally had to be taken out and finished on the stove, but the final result tasted fine.  We all agreed the recipe for braised country ribs was a keeper.  Everyone should be lucky enough to have grape growers as addition to their most enjoyable company, they brought a bottle of Tempranillo wine.  Of all the wines in our region, that's probably my favorite red, and it really held up to the robust flavors of the meal.