Saturday, April 30, 2011

It's In the Bag

There are kids in society today who have no idea that milk comes from anywhere but a carton from the grocery store.  They might be amazed to know that this is where it all starts.  Inga has definitely amped up production, and she came walking spraddle-legged down to the barn when it was her turn yesterday.  She has tiny teats, making the job very difficult when her bag is taut and there's nothing to grip.  For the record, it took eight hundred thirty-one squeezes to milk her out.
The girls look like Marilyn Monroe when they get up on the stand, and Grandma Moses when they leave.  It's enough to give a girl a complex!  However, since raw milk weighs approximately 8.6 pounds per gallon, I rather imagine all they feel is relief.  By the time I've finished with the four milkers (they're not all as generous nor as difficult as Inga), my hands are starting to go numb so I feel a sense of relief when the job is done, too.
This is what was in the bag...warm, frothy milk.  I use a two-gallon bucket, and this was Inga's contribution yesterday.  The spatters are not because I'm messy, but because those tiny teats are nondirectional until the pressure is off.  My leg is on her right side and gets equally sprayed.  So much for wearing clean bibbies to the barn.

There is a happy ending to yesterday's entry.  Pearl, after getting some nourishment, seems to have rallied.  She stayed upstairs all day, but was having residual effects from whatever caused her to be sick, very quiet, content to stay in, and sleeping most of the day.  Bessie and Frank had to nose her all over and reassure themselves that she was okay, and then let her be to get some rest.  I had been so worried, as it is common for a dying cat to go to a dark place alone to die, and the thought of losing Pearl...well.  Just as happily, Lucky came tumbling down the ramp when I opened the hen house in the morning, joining the flock for breakfast al fresco.  Chickens are not known for long-term memory, but she stayed in the pen yesterday. 

I made the run in to town in the afternoon (had to buy new shoes) and, ta da!, I saw a dogwood in bloom.  Now we'll see if the legend holds true about one more snow in our future.

Oh...that tulip that was so pretty?  It's gone now.  Guess it wasn't too froo-froo after all.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Good and Not So Much

Bessie Anne and I declared yesterday a day of rest.  I don't think I could have pulled a weed if my life depended on it.  Not planning to go outside, I threw both pair of bibbies in the wash, put on a comfy pair of sweats, and we vegged out all day.  Going out to fill the hummers' feeders (again), I looked over the deck railing and was amazed to see this blooming tulip where I had never planted a tulip.  Now, how the heck did that bulb get there?  And how did it survive the underground dwellers that ate every other tulip bulb I've planted in the dirt?  Another of life's mysteries. 

Again checking the feeders in the afternoon, this single spike-horn buck was down by the woods, scratching an itch on dead branches.  His antlers are in thick velvet and growing.  Evidently tulips are too froo-froo for his manly tastes, as he walked right past it. 

Perfectly fine and active the day before, Pearl was very sick yesterday.  When she didn't come up from downstairs in the morning, I went to check on her.  It wasn't a stomach upset, but she barely moved all day, not coming up once.  I took water to her, but otherwise tried not to disturb her.  She seemed to need the dim light and quiet, cool room.  As with Nineteen, I am amazed by the empathy shown by animals.  Frank seemed to know how worried I was and spent most of the day and evening in my lap or very close by.  I was reluctant to go downstairs this morning, afraid of what I might find, but Pearl was awake and actually sitting up.  I brought her upstairs to coax her to eat a little.  She's weak, but did manage to have a bit of breakfast.  That's a good sign.  She found her favorite chair and is napping again now.

Lucky may have been more traumatized than I thought.  None of the girls had gone free ranging yesterday, but at dusk I counted only two of the Rhodies.  I found her in the darkest corner of the hen house, very quiet and not interested in the nighttime treats.  I'm hoping that a day of rest will help her recover, too.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Still Lucky

Bessie Anne and I were taking a break after barn chores, and it was nice enough out to leave the front door open.  We heard one terrified squawk and were both out the door like a shot.  Heading toward the chicken pen, we were in time to see a coyote racing for the woods and Bessie followed in hot pursuit.  Not only worried about the chickens, then I was scared the coyote would turn and do a number on Bess, but the coyote had a head start and Bessie has a bum leg.  Down in the woods, my girl had to settle for telling the coyote loudly what she would have done had she caught it (and I was just as glad).  Lucky, the hen I made the fox spit out last year, was the only chicken free ranging and the intended victim.  Her luck still holds, it seems.  Poor thing, her tail feathers still haven't grown out from her encounter with the fox, but that's a small price to pay.  After her escape, she went under the barn, unharmed, but refused to be coaxed out.

My plan was to pull the bracken out by the driveway first since that is where the dog and cats hang out, and then work my way around to tall stuff behind the chicken pen.  So much for that plan.  I needed to get the slope cleared now.  A much bigger area, I figured to use the weedeater and get it cleared in a half hour.  After a winter of unuse, I couldn't start the weedeater.  So much for that plan.  Two hours later, I had pulled bracken from a four-by-thirty-foot swath.  I found where the coyote had made its attack and it was as I suspected.  The tall weeds were a perfect cover for the predator.  Lucky came out from hiding as I was finishing up, and she was one subdued little hen, sitting quietly close by me while I worked.  Normally a chicken will be right there, looking at the freshly turned dirt for bugs and worms as I weed, but Lucky hadn't quite recovered from her trauma.  She meekly followed when I was done and went right into the pen when I opened the gate.

Since chickens are the topic of the day, at sundown the chicks were still out and posed for a photo.  The topknots on the greys and black look more like a Mohawk haircut than the fluff ball on the whites.  The red-brown stripe on the backs of the greys has completely disappeared.  Like the adults, these chicks seem determined to dig to China, and their pits are evident everywhere.

Racing after the coyote left Bessie too tired to even go with me to put the goats to bed, and I've got a lot of aching muscles, myself.  There's quite a lot of cloud cover this morning and it will be a good day to do nothing.  We'll see how that plan goes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two In a Row

Simple pleasures for simple minds.  I just love sunrise.  There is a building sense of anticipation as the sky turns color and the timpani in my mind play a drum roll.  On some days I hear Frank Sinatra singing, "...and the dawn comes up like thunder....."  Last night's moon seems to have hardly moved, still hanging in the eastern sky, teasing the sun to "catch me if you can."  Jackrabbits are early risers, breaking up their conclaves out by the driveway when the sky turns pink, and when it's light enough to see the feeders, the hummers are already gathering like locals at the coffee shop. 

There were a few anxious moments yesterday morning while I was milking Cindy, first in line.  I can watch the rest of the herd up by the corner of the pen from the milking stand, and suddenly they all stopped eating, heads up and pointed one way, and gave the stamp-and-snort for danger.  Stepping out to see what had them panicked, I encountered a very large dog that looked alarmingly like a wolf on, thankfully, the other side of the fence in Joel and Judy's vineyard.  That dog was intently staring at the goats and I couldn't tell if it was wondering what they were or how they'd taste.  Bessie Anne came woo-wooing down the hill to proclaim her territory, and I grabbed the cell phone to alert Judy of the intruder.  Bess, at half the size, must have made a believer of the big dog because he ran off through the vineyard and there was peace in the pen again.

Still too wet to mow, the afternoon was spent in the sunshine planting peas(!), prepping another barrel, and pulling bracken.  Fulfilling the early morning promise, it was a good day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Da Sun, Boss! Da Sun!

My last thought before sleep last night was a reminder to beat Trash Guy to the corner.  My first thought on opening my eyes this morning was, "Oh, dammit!," because the sun was shining and I knew I'd blown my timing.  A quick look at the, it's way what's wrong with this picture?  It was sunrise!  Mornings have been foggy, overcast, rainy, stormy and it's been awhile since I've actually seen sunrise.  Oooh, it's going to be a good day!

This little mousie is a regular at the breakfast buffet in the barn.  She (or maybe "he") takes a flake of rolled corn to her favorite dining alcove between two studs on the wall in front of the milking stand and cleans her plate before going back for seconds.  She, like the goats, seems to like a predictable routine.

After a cold, rainy start to the day yesterday, the sun did make periodic appearances in the afternoon and I headed out to the garden again.  Planning to plant peas, I weeded the big tub up against the fence (a natural trellis), but then discovered I'd stuck the cilantro packet in my pocket instead and so had to clean out an area for that.  Cilantro is a great multipurpose plant.  The leaves add so much flavor to a dish, and then when the seeds dry, they magically become coriander.  In the groove, and with the sun's continued cooperation, I prepped another barrel before heading back to the house and the warmth of the wood stove.  Bessie Anne accompanied me while I rooted around in the dirt, and it occurred to me that she must think I'm a little balmy.  There I am, pulling out all this green, growing stuff only so I can grow more green stuff.  I see her point.  I read the seed packets carefully and the majority say, "Do not plant until after the last frost."  Frost does not come labeled "The End," so it's pretty much a case of by guess and by golly.  One can only hope.  Gardeners are eternal optimists.  I think I'll plant the peas today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Better Than Chocolate

Heavy fog in the morning, followed by heavy rain down at the barn...oh goody.  And then my personal sunshine arrived!  Deb and Craig and Craig's parents, Terry and Arvin, drove up (with KFC!).  Talk about "make my day!"  I'd been resigned to not seeing the Kids until May, so my delight was beyond words.  It's been a long time since Terry and Arvin have been up and it was a special treat to see them.  They are two of the most kind and gentle people (and their son is just like them), and it is always a pleasure to spend time in their company.  Whenever there was a break in the clouds, we'd all dash outside.  On the deck, dozens of hummingbirds buzzed and slurped and performed their aerial ballet for the guests.  Turkeys and doves came to feed under the oak and display their feathered finery.  The Silkies were the main attraction.  The chicks did their jump-and-flutter with stumpy little wings.  Musashi demonstrated what a good provider and protector he is.  The hens fluffed up with self-importance.  They were a big hit.  My Easter surprise was better than any chocolate rabbit or colored egg.  The house seemed very quiet after the last call of "Love you!" as they drove down the drive died away.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Tidings

My very own Easter a photo that was taken on the last sunny morning (whenever that was...certainly not this morning).  These tulips were planted years ago, and continue to delight me every spring.  They are all that is left of the many, many bulbs I've planted over the years.  With a never-say-die attitude, I kept trying, and ended up just feeding the gophers, voles, and ground squirrels.  Those pesky critters have at least left me the daffodils (for which I am grateful), but everything else is gone.  Anything I really want has to go in a pot on the deck.

The current rain-sun-rain may not do much for my disposition, but it surely does cause the weeds to grow.  If we get a couple of consecutive dry days, I really need to mow again to try to keep ahead of them, especially the star thistle.  There is also another patch of bracken out behind the chicken pen that needs to be taken out.  I think it is a hiding spot for predators, as two red hens have gone missing in as many days.  I'm trying to block the holes under the fence that the little girls have made, in an attempt to keep them from free ranging, but they continue to fly over the top to freedom.  Blondie, the only buff Orpington left, has more sense than all the others combined.  She never leaves the pen.  Perhaps it's not too late to find some laying chicken chicks.  My flock has really taken a hit the past year.

Only because I happen to be thinking about chickens:  I saw an egg carton the other day that proclaimed those eggs were organic, from vegetarian chickens.  I understand the "organic" part.  Unless those chickens were never let out of the crate, and bugs are not considered meat, how can a chicken be certified as vegetarian?  And who cares?  Chickens are omnivorous, and they go after lizards, mice, and frogs with gusto.  Left to themselves, they would not choose to be vegetarians.

On Farview Farm, the Easter bunny must be a jackrabbit.  There are certainly enough of those around.  I'll go on an egg hunt later...if the sun comes out.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

On the Beach

This is Poppy doing her one and only trick, an impression of a beached whale.  She even has a high-water mark.  Good old Poppy, she gets credit for effort.  Short on sparkling personality she may be, but I have such a soft spot in my heart for my dup-de-dup sheep. 

"On the Beach" is a terrific book by Nevil Shute, and later was a movie that did the book justice with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire (in a serious role).  Published in 1957, it has lost none of its impact over time, and the movie is well worth watching.  (I just had to throw that in.)

Lest it be thought that I only make fun of Poppy, here she is looking regal.  Given the weather of late, I'm not in a big rush, but I've got to hunt down a shearer for her for this year.  I'm hoping the guy who did it last year will be available.  It's a toss-up; shear her too soon and she suffers from the cold.  Leave her too long, and she suffers from the heat.  Like the window for planting, you've got to catch it just right.

I was taking the photos of Poppy while standing just inside the milking room.  Inga wanted to know what the heck I was doing, and Sheila was right outside the dutch door out of camera range.  Goats are insatiably curious; that's what makes it so hard to get anything done in their presence.  Even mucking out the barn is more difficult because they have to inspect every shovel full of doodah, in my way at every step.  The extension to their pen will be great, because the old fence will still be in place with a gate between, and I'll be able to put them in the new yard and actually be able to work without their close supervision and interference.

I spent another hour or so in the afternoon pulling the dadratted bracken.  Frank was not pleased, as I was taking away his ambush hiding sites.  He and Pearl were playing hide-and-seek and he was winning.  The clouds were organizing for another night of rain, so I went on out to the garden to prep another barrel and plant turnip seeds.  The thought of turnips makes me smile.  Once, years back when the garden was flourishing, Steve asked me what we were having for dinner.  I told him such-and-such, and turnips.  "Tonight?!"  "Well, yes, tonight.  Why?"  "You can't just spring turnips on a guy!  You have to give a few days' notice so he can think about it."  I'd never realized that turnips had such an emotional impact.  Anyhow, the seeds got watered in again last night.

Friday, April 22, 2011

In Reverse

Yesterday was the direct opposite of the day before.  It was raining and windy when I went down to the barn and the girls and I were all cranky.  Now my barn shoes have sprung a leak and I squelch around with a soggy sock after tromping through the wet grass.  (If it would quit raining every other day I could put off shopping for shoes, something I hate worse than dusting.)

In the afternoon, lo and behold, the sun came out!  Patrick came with the alfalfa and stayed to chat, or, in Patrick's case, chatter.  He is such a good kid, going above and beyond.  He not only puts the bags of grain in the feed room, he empties the chicken feed into the barrels for me.  That boy does love to talk.

Bessie Anne, the cats, and I decided it was just too nice to spend the rest of the day inside, so we all went out to weed (my justification for not doing housework).  There is a particular plant that, for lack of knowing its real name, I call bracken.  It is a lovely shade of green, lacy, with tiny white flowers, and it grows quite tall.  After the first year or so of thinking how pretty it was, I learned to pull it out by its roots as soon as possible.  When dry, this danged plant throws off bijillions of seeds like tiny daggers.  They get in socks, the seams of pants, the lining of shoes, in between the dog's toes, and, since Bessie is my nighttime companion, all over the bed.  For some reason, it is particularly virulent this year.  We spent an hour or so pulling this weed and barely made a dent.  My supervisors and I then wandered out to the garden.  In only four days, the lettuce has sprouted!  My ambition renewed, I weeded and prepped two more barrels for planting.  It's not visions of sugarplums that dance in my head.  I'm envisioning tomatoes, beets, green beans, and fresh peas.  And squash!  I grow squash for the blossoms as much as the vegetable.  Dipped in a light beer batter with a smidgen of cayenne and sauteed in butter and mouth is already watering.

If the sun comes out today and anyone comes looking for me...I'll be in the garden.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


There was a glitch in the program.  I'd ordered alfalfa and grain for the kids and delivery was due yesterday.  Patrick called in the late afternoon; there had been a lack of communication at Mt. Aukum and it was too late to load and deliver.  Arrrgh.  I'd scraped the bottom of the barrel in the morning, so had to run down and pick up at least one bag of "cereal" for the girls.  Those seventy-five pound bags that the boys sling so effortlessly over their shoulders are getting harder for me to unload and haul around. 

It had been a beautiful sunny day, but the first raindrops hit the windshield on my way back from the feed store.  By eight o'clock, it was an honest-to-God deluge.  Frank and Pearl were stranded outside somewhere.  When the downpour lessened to a drizzle, I turned on the porch light (the cats' visual notice it's time to come in) and called for them...and they came running.  Since they were reasonably dry, they must have taken refuge in the feed barn.  I have been relieved of the responsibility of complaining about the rain.  Pearl has taken over and she did, long and loud.  She just came in from her morning constitutional and she's still grumbling (and it's still raining).  I'm wishing I'd gotten more seeds planted in the garden and let Nature do the watering.

Patrick will have a better excuse if he can't make the delivery today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spa Days

Yesterday finished the last of the two-toe pedicures for the goats, and I think we're all glad.  It's a four-day process; one foot, each goat, each day.  It's too hard on my back and their patience to do all four feet at once, and if I try to do four feet on one goat until we're done, I forget who's had their nails done and who hasn't.  They get their trim while up on the milking stand and having their cereal.  The milkers would be finished eating long before I could get around to the bucket chore and would be really antsy to get outside.  The two-toe system works for me...most of the time.  Most of the girls let me pick up the one hoof easily and it's no problem.  Ruth, on the other hand (or hoof, as the case may be), fought me all the way.  This is not a democracy and she doesn't get to be the boss of me, so for two days it was hang on to the back hoof while she kicked me black and blue, and try not to injure her or myself with the oh-so-sharp shears.  Dripping sweat and cussing a blue streak, I still had to milk her out.  Some days are like that.

The grass in the goat pen is green and lush right now, and the girls have upped their production big time.  Ruth, Inga, and Cindy are still producing after over three years without freshening.  I keep expecting them to dry up on their own, and the supply had dwindled to a gallon a day, including Sheila's contribution.  Yesterday I brought in close to two gallons.  With the great feed, the milk is rich and extra good.  None of that two-percent blue milk at Farview!  When Tessie drops her kid and joins the ranks, I'll be running out of refrigerator space...and I've got two refrigerators as it is.

There was a regular parade of men here yesterday.  At times, one hadn't left before the next one appeared.  Joel came first, bringing a care package of leftovers from that great dinner the night before.  Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!  (The brisket was every bit as good last night as it was the first time.  Insert smiley face here.)  I traded him some aioli; he's a garlic lover, too.  After the barn chores, the guy who installed the satellite computer system showed up to tuck away some cables he'd left hanging.  He was still here when Joel came back with a forgotten package of leftovers.  Walking out to say goodbye to Joel, I found that Fence Guy was hanging the gate to the new goat pen.  In the music hall in my mind, I could hear Nelson Eddy in his RCMP uniform singing "Give me some men who are stout-hearted men...."  Some days are like that.  It was a good day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Going Public

"Dinner At Eight," was an old movie from the 1930s.  No one up here would begin a dinner party at eight; the guests would be asleep at the table before dessert was served.  We tend, for one reason or another, to be early risers.  Therefore, Joel and Judy's invitation to their Seder dinner was for six o'clock.  A six o'clock starting time presents me with some logistical problems not faced by the others.  None of the kids wants to go to bed before sundown, and the only saving grace last evening was that it was raining (thanks for the leftovers, Dolly!).  There's no sense getting showered and dressed before going down to the barn; that's tempting fate in the extreme and inviting a slip in the chicken pen or being sideswiped by a soggy sheep.  Five o'clock was the earliest I could plan on any cooperation from the two- and four-leggeds.  Of course one of the chicks had to make a game of bedtime.  Of course Tessie forgot her place in line and had to be caught and tucked in with her stall mate.  Of course it took twenty-five minutes to do a job that normally is done in fifteen.  That didn't leave me much prep time for going public.  Long gone are the days of the relaxing bubble bath, getting the hairdo just right, applying makeup with an artist's hand, trying on three or four outfits.  Now it's a case of jumping in and out of the shower before the water has gotten really hot, pulling the hair into a clip so it's not in my eyes, trying not to look quite like a clown with the eye shadow, and hoping that blue shirt goes okay with those bluejeans...waving goodbye to Bessie and the cats and running to the truck.  Even though Joel and Judy live "next door," their driveway is a mile or more from mine down on the big road.  Then there is the gate that has to be opened and closed to keep deer from getting to their vineyard.  I think I was five minutes late, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

I've been a happy guest at this celebratory dinner in the past, but last night Judy and Joel outdid themselves.  Everyone commented that the traditional dishes were better this year than ever before, and plates were filled and cleaned.  I might mention that those plates are the most beautiful old china, and Judy color coordinates everything so that, even before the first bite, you just know it's going to be good.  All at the table participate in the traditional readings, and that brings even old friends closer.  This was a particularly convivial group, and there was much laughing all evening.  For me, it was more than worth the effort to go public, slap-dash as I am.  I had such a good time!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mellow Yellow

Mellow Yellow, Donovan's song from 1966 (regardless of "true" meanings) comes to mind whenever I feed banana skins to the chickens.  Pulled into long, narrow strips, banana skins are their favorite treat, and they were happy girls yesterday.  If one has chickens, there's not much left for a compost heap.  Joel has even made a special trip up the hill to bring the little girls carrot tops.

Mellow was a good word for yesterday.  Before and after NASCAR, that is.  "Our" drivers were neck and neck at Talladega, Dolly's driver beating mine to the finish line by two one-thousands of a second!  How's that for a photo finish?  Yelling encouragement (like they could hear us), Dolly and I upset the dog and cats, and we both collapsed, exhausted, when the race was over.  Talladega never disappoints. 

It was too nice a day to stay inside and we needed to regain our composure, so we took a turn around the deck and sat and watched the dozens of hummingbirds at the filling stations.  I'm back up to three feeders, filled once a day.  The tiny dive-bombers swoop so close, I'm sure I'm going to get drilled in the ear one of these times by a near-sighted hummer.  Reluctant to return to the house, we went out to inspect the chickens again.  I could put a bench out by the pens and watch chickens for hours.  They are such busy creatures, sociable by nature.  Even the free rangers chatter and gossip as they scratch in the leaves.  One of my goals for the day was to get the lettuce seeds planted, so we wandered out to the point, accompanied by the inspection crew, Bessie and the cats.  The garden hose, unused for the last few years, was a bit of a problem.  Laughing, we took turns trying to get the danged thing attached to the faucet.  How many people does it take to screw on a hose?!  Even the oriole came to see what the fuss was about, sitting on the fence by my shoulder so Dolly could admire his bright finery up close and personal.  Getting the lettuce seeds watered in, we moved on and prepped another barrel for planting.  Chores don't seem difficult when chatting and laughing with a friend. 

My biggest grin of the day came as I stepped out to tuck the critters in was raining!  Not a lot and not for long.  Just enough to prove that Dolly hasn't lost her touch.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Birds of a Feather

Trying to get a good photo of the chicks is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.  Those little boogers move like mercury!  There are three white, one black, and the two who came out speckled like quail are morphing into grey with dark heads.  I haven't yet been able to tell male from female because I can't get them to hold still long enough to check their combs. 
If I wait until the right moment, not too early before sundown, all the Silkies will put themselves to bed and save me the effort of herding the little pinballs up the ramp into the Taj.  Some people are clock watchers...I keep an eye on the sun.

Hearing an unknown bird call, I looked up to find the oriole has returned.  That flash of brilliant color is simply breath taking.  Luckily, he stuck around and was still in the oak when Dolly arrived.  I do like to show off.

The weather cooperated fully and my long-time friend and I were able to sit out on the deck in the warm afternoon breezes and play catch up.  It was a good day.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Roll In the Hay

There is something ludicrous about a goat with a full udder rolling on the ground scratching her back, legs in the air, distended teats waving around.  The girls are just beginning to shed their winter coats and even though I brush them daily, this must be a particularly itchy process.  (One of the disadvantages of living alone is trying to scratch that unreachable spot on one's back, so I know just how they feel.)  Goats, unlike their cousins the deer, are not particularly graceful animals on their best days, and rolling around in the dry alfalfa does not show them to good advantage.  Goats have short legs in relation to body length and unless they're in a full-out panicky gallop, they tend to run like hobby-horses, which is an amusing sight in itself.

I've found that one way to keep myself from feeling "penniless" (which I certainly felt after going to the grocery store!) is to spend a few shekels on something frivolous.  While I should have been doing something else to get ready for Dolly's visit, I planted a hanging basket with six dollars' worth of bright petunias and alyssum.  The already banged-up budget won't miss those pennies, and I'll get a lot more than six dollars in pleasure watching those flowers grow.

Now I really must dust before Dolly arrives.

Friday, April 15, 2011


To market, to market to buy a fat hog.  Home again, home again...without the danged ham.  This Mrs. Piggy went to market, and had to ask the cashier if smelling salts would be available at checkout.  A small ham of unknown brand and lesser quality was thirty-five to forty dollars.  It's a good thing my family had already decided, in the interest of conserving gasoline ($4.18 at the cheapest station yesterday), to combine Easter, Mother's Day, and my birthday into one celebration.  This is normally my "bonanza" time of year when I see a lot of my Kids.  Economics being what they are, it only makes sense to roll the visits into one.  One of those ridiculous hams would not have been enough to feed my gang.  No wonder the store had put out a bin of frozen turkeys, too.  A pound of butter, for crying out loud, was pennies under five dollars.  My mother had served the same menu at Easter that her mother had put on the table, and it's the only Easter menu my Kids have ever had.  It hurts my heart to break a tradition that is, let's face it, over one-hundred years old.  The cashier just looked at me blankly when I asked about smelling salts, but I'm really surprised that customers weren't falling over left and right.  I know I got a little weak in the knees when she hit the total key.

Bumper stickers seem to have gone out of vogue, but I saw one yesterday that made me smile.  "Hug a logger.  You'll never go back to trees."  It went right along with the song on the radio, "Save a horse.  Ride a cowboy!"  (A little country humor there.)

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog, was a gorgeous drive.  Even more fruit trees were in bloom, but not the dogwood that predicts the last snow.  That thirty-minute ride through the countryside was enough to bring peace to my soul.  We sold our travel trailer shortly after moving to Fair Play.  There was no other place we wanted to go.  When I come back, I'm Home.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In The Now

Does the herd know that Lucy is gone?  Do they miss her?  For several days after my old girl died the herd was edgy, breaking off into skirmishes, and breakfast and nighttime routines were completely disrupted.  Yesterday we were back to normal.  Esther, one of Lucy's triplets, appears to be taking on the mantle of queen, albeit reluctantly.  When fighting breaks out, she waits a bit before leaving her snack and then ambling over to act as referee or stop it altogether if the combatants are getting out of hand.  She's going to be a benevolent monarch. 

Animals obviously have long-term memory.  Nineteen was so happy to have Tessie home from sex camp after a month away.  There are still phrases I can't say in front of Bessie Anne because she, after all this time, will still look to the door for Steve to come in.  I think, however, that animals have the ability to accept what fate delivers.  They live in the now.  When the kids are removed from the does, the mother will call and hunt for a few days, and then go on about her life.  I learn from the animals as much or more as I teach them.  Living in the now, accepting that "it is what it is," is a lesson worth learning.

April is such a schizoid month, and yesterday was a prime example.  The sun came up, shiny and bright.  As soon as I got down to the barn, the skies opened up and poured rain for a couple of hours.  Later on, it was sunny and hailing at the same time.  Go figure.  It's April.

Picture this.  Mrs. Tittlemouse stands in the doorway as Mr. Tittlemouse staggers up the path.  "You're late! And you've been drinking again, Mister!"  "I assshure you, Madam, I have (hic) not.  I just stopped off at the puddle for a tiny nip with the boys (burp)."  Truth will out.  I've always felt sorry for sea otters because, during mating, the male grabs onto the female's nose, leaving it red and sore.  There's no way that girl could go home and tell her father she'd just been to the movies with her girlfriends.  I know...too much thinking time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Little Boozers

If lost at sea in a life raft or trapped in some way by other dire circumstances, I'd always heard one should never resort to drinking urine.  This evidently doesn't apply to barn mice.  This rather indelicate subject comes up because of my small morning companions.  Just outside the milking room, especially at this time of year, there is lush grass heavily laden with dew, so water is plentifully available.  Yet the mice will sit at the edge of a pee puddle, lapping with gusto, so intent that they won't scurry away as I come closer.  Without any scientific data, I conjecture that the grain the goats eat is fermented in its process through the four chambers of the stomach.  Could it be that these little creatures are getting a breakfast buzz on from goat vodka?  Am I guilty of contributing to the delinquency of mice?  Do I have too much time on my hands?

The quail who calls so plaintively for her lost love, Rod-RI-go, has added another query...a staccato, "Where'd you GO?  Where'd you GO?"  (I wish these two would get back together.)  I can't find what I call the Margalo bird in my Guide, but this previously silent bird has started a guttural ratcheting sound to claim her/his territory in the barn.  I've seen more flickers, a larger cousin of the woodpeckers, this year than ever before.  The oriole has come back a few times; I hope he is accompanied by a mate so we can see more of these colorful birds in the future.  Hummingbirds are returning in greater numbers each day and are slurping up "juice" from the feeders.  The clean-up crew, the vultures, are once again basking in the morning sun, dozens of them with their wings raised.  Who said I live alone?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Age Limits

At age sixteen, a kid gets a driver's license and goes a little wild.  At age twenty-one, legal drinking...woohoo!  There must be an age when female facial hair comes of age and takes on a life of its own.  Boys peer in the mirror, hoping to find a mere shadow of a beard, that sign of masculine maturity, that coming of age.  As a woman of "a certain age," I also peer in the mirror (increasingly magnified) to catch sight of an errant hair.  Eyebrows, once short, neat and tidy, grow to alarming lengths and poke out like antennae if not watched carefully and tamed.  Chin hairs are downright evil.  No matter how carefully I scan the face before an event, plucking every emerging offender, there is always one hair lurking that I won't find until afterward.  That one hair is accompanied by its own individual spotlight so that everyone else could see it, I'm sure.  There is a friend, even older than I, whose solution (and eyesight) required periodic shaving.  One approached her for a kiss on greeting with the same hesitation one would kiss a porcupine, with much the same result.  Curly hair on a toddler is a mass of ringlets.  When curly hair reaches that ill-defined age limit, it breaks free of the symmetrical spirals of youth and takes on more kinks and curves than Lombard Street in San Francisco.  Got a wild hair?  I've got a head full!

It's time to take the trash down to the big road.  I'd better brush my hair.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Long Live the Queen

The Iron Oak Lady Lucinda, "Lucy," queen of my herd and my first goat, is dead.  Lucy was my introduction to the caprine world, coming to me as a yearling.  We learned together how to build a herd.  She seemed to take comfort from my presence as we waited through her deliveries, putting her head in my lap and dozing between contractions.  We had a bond.  During her reign as queen, she ran a tight ship, monitoring squabbles and dispensing punishment.  Lucy was fiercely protective of her subjects, and even grown men would hesitate if she became aggressive, although she never hurt anyone.  She abdicated her position when the time came with grace, retaining the respect of the herd, unlike their treatment of Ruth when she tried a coup and was banished for days.  Saturday was a good day for Lucy, after a series of not-so-good ones.  I will miss her, but for her sake I would not have prolonged the process and am relieved it is over for my dear old girl. 

After taking care of what needed to be done, the routine of feeding and milking got me through the next few hours.  Regardless of what else happens here, the animals and fowl must be cared for.  As it has in the past, falling into the familiar helps me find my way through the hard times.  Yesterday was a beautiful day, sunny and bright, and I spent hours on the tractor, mowing all yards but the back one, grateful for the repetitive chore. 

The queen is dead; long live the queen.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Oh, Deer!

The gentleman on the right (his burgeoning antlers are just visible) arrived with seven of his ladies at sundown last evening.  They declined a group photo.  Even though I cuss them for eating what flowers I might get to grow, I never get over the thrill of seeing deer on the property.  I'll take living, breathing yard art any day.

There is something very "Little House on the Prairie" about working in the garden.  The plot is out on the point, one of the few spots where there are no trees, and the land drops away to the west.  Any breeze at all sings through the deer fencing and the sense of isolation is increased.  Frank and Pearl played hide-and-seek among the barrels yesterday as I weeded and dug to get two ready for planting.  Bessie was content to nap in whatever shade I was providing.  That darned Frank...I had no more than finished one tub when he literally pushed past me to relieve himself in the newly turned dirt, as if he'd been crossing his legs while waiting.  Little peeper frogs, bright green with copper stripes, frantically stayed ahead of the hoe, finally moving to other barrels for safety.  When I was helping my mother garden as a kid in southern California, we would uncover earth babies, aka potato bugs.  Nowhere else I've lived have I come across these burrowing insects, until we moved here.  A couple turned up yesterday.  Mother loved to garden.  After she moved into apartments, I would call her and say, "Want to root around in the dirt today?," and she'd jump at the opportunity.  We'd go to the nursery, then dig and plant to our hearts' content.  That was our version of a Girls' Day Out.  Two barrels is about the extent of my efforts for a day now, but it's funny...I'm never as achy or tired when doing something I want to do as opposed to something I have to do.  That's a good thing, because there are plenty more barrels out there.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Little Kids

"I'm three!," announced the little boy as I opened the door to my new milk customers.  "Well, yes, you are, and hello, everybody."  Jennie is among those who feel that our food is being overprocessed and over-chemicalized (that's probably not a real word) and wants to give her growing family food from more nutritious sources. 

My customers may not realize that I get an added bonus whenever they come to pick up their milk.  I get the company of little kids for awhile.  Corrina's mom and dad have been buying milk from me since she was drinking from a bottle; she's now in first or second grade, and I've watched her blossom into a beautiful young girl.  I have a goose statuette by the front door with outfits for every month.  Sarah's three-year-old daughter, Calendula, has been given the task of changing Goose's dress and bonnet.  This week, her first words to me were, "It's April!," (she'd been waiting since the first of March) so we found the appropriate clothes and she dressed the goose for Easter.  Her little sister, Anara, is six months old now, sweet as a bonbon.  Seeing Jennie's family is like watching a rerun of my own kids:  a girl first, quickly followed by three boys (her third son is due in just two more weeks).  Her littlest one stayed in the car, but Michaela and Andrew came trooping in and were fascinated by all the "pigabilia" in my house; figurines, pictures, stuffed toys, etc.  I've long been known as The Goat Lady, and Andrew has given me a new sobriquet, "Mrs. Piggy."  (Could be worse.)  The parents keep me in touch with the outside world, and I've come to know them as friends.  Who knew that goats would become my connection with people.

Yesterday was cold, overcast, and then flurries of snow interspersed with a bit of sunshine now and then.  When I texted my son that it was snowing again, he wanted to know if I still lived in California.  (I told him to forward all mail to Nome, Alaska.)  Joel and I were trying to remember, and it seems that we've had snow as late as May once or twice.  Looking out at the thick frost this morning, it's hard to work up much pity for poor Mark, stuck in eighty-degree weather on the beach on Guam and facing his next assignment to Hawaii.  I'm here, considering teaching Bessie Anne to "mush!"  Get over yourself, Mark.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Just the Thought

In the bright sunshine of the day before, I received and confirmed a request for a "reservation" from Dolly.  I've mentioned in the past that Dolly is notorious for bringing weather, regardless of the time of year.  Now it appears that just the thought of a visit is enough to bring snow.  I could send her to drought-stricken counties and countries and we could save the world! 
As I stepped out on the deck this morning, this poor little hummer came to take a lick off his breakfast popsicle from the snow-covered feeder.

It's funny that Bullock's Department Store came up in the comments yesterday.  Not so long ago, Judy gave me some lemons and I made Angel Lemon Delight, a dessert I'd not made in years, and that brought back so many memories.  Every year, my mother and I went to Bullock's in Pasadena to shop for new school clothes (before I went to boarding school).  Tired and laden with shopping bags, we would go to the la-de-dah tea room upstairs and I looked forward to Angel Lemon Delight.  Mother cajoled the chef into giving her the recipe.  The first bite here was enough to put me into the time machine and I was transported back to Bullock's (but still wearing bibbies).

Haven't seen a dogwood in bloom yet, so we'll get snow again.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New In Town

Maybe the cats were batting something around in the breakfast room.  No, the cats were sleeping.  The intermittent thump continued.  Hmmm.  Passing through the dining room to check again, this astonishing splash of color flew against the window and then retreated to cling to the hummingbird feeders.  I've certainly never seen this bird before!
The fluttering and thumping went on for some time.  I tried to get a photo, but scared the bird off into the pine tree where he hid.  Checking the bird book, I found this is a Bullock's oriole.  Bull-headed is more like it.  In just a short while he was back, this time at the kitchen windows, and I grabbed the camera once more. 
Odds are he was attempting to do battle with that handsome rival in the glass, but as he banged and clung to the screen it seemed that he wanted in.  I informed him that breakfast was served al fresco under the oak and he had missed it.  This new face in town is certainly the most colorful of any of the local birds.  I hope he is the vanguard of more to come.

Awoke to rain, wind, and cold this morning...typical April.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Joyce and Me

I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.

Maybe because it's spring, snippets of poetry keep popping into my head.  Are kids still required to learn poetry in school these days?  I remember being surprised to find that Joyce Kilmer was a man (that was before I learned that Marion Morrison was The Duke).  Mary had a little lamb, Longfellow, Tennyson, Chaucer (Chaucer was pretty bawdy, especially when taught by Sr. Marie Antoinette!), working my way up to Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti.  e e cummings drove me nuts with his lack of capitalization and punctuation.  But I digress.

Trees play such a big role in my life here.  (I much prefer them standing upright than falling down.)  This lacy oak, just hit with early morning sun, is such a beauty.  That "lace" is not leaves; long fronds of pollen are the bane of allergy sufferers.  I don't understand the tree's need for pollen as these oaks propagate by acorns.  I'm not affected by allergies, but the sticky green stuff floats through the air and coats the truck and everything else.  The first round of pick-up-sticks will begin soon to clear the yards for mowing.  Mountains of leaves need to be raked.  Birds of all sizes and varieties fill the branches.  The shade provides blessed relief in the heat of summer, and logs give heat in winter.  Conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen keeps us and the earth alive.  And they are beautiful...more lovely than a poem.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Go To Town

Going to town is never my idea of a fun time, but I had to make a hit-and-run trip yesterday down to Diamond Springs.  I'd already decided I could do without groceries for another week or two, which would require going as far as Cameron Park.  I must say, however, that the drive was absolutely gorgeous and made it all worthwhile.  When the sun is shining at this time of year, colors just pop.  All along Bucks Bar Road, there are unexpected splashes of yellow from clumps of daffodils.  Once in awhile there are old, old apple trees in blossom, scattered where homesteaders might have lived during the gold rush days.  The hills are lush with green grass, and the red-and-white buildings on the Lazy B Ranch are a perfect backdrop for the creamy Charolais cattle who graze in the pastures.  Crossing over the south fork of the Cosumnes River on the narrow, one-way bridge gives a quick glimpse at the rushing, foaming torrent of runoff from the snow pack in the Sierras.  Being third car in line at one of the four stop lights in town and thinking that traffic was really bad made me laugh.  I came out of Southern California!  I haven't been back for fifteen or twenty years, but that was capital-T traffic!  How one's perspective does change.

Mission accomplished, I happily came back to Farview.  As Dorothy said, "There's no place like home."

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Different View

One is not enough, but how many is too many?  Five years ago, I sold four kids to a gentleman in Mt. Aukum who wanted brush eaters.  A year later he bought several more (he's got a big property).  As sometimes happens, buyers become friends.  It's always nice to talk goats.  Last year, he decided to raise Kiko meat goats and sent off to Texas for a starter herd.  A couple of months ago, the does started dropping their kids and I got a call with each delivery.  Yesterday I was invited to come and meet the herd and offspring. 

The first two goats on the path are Alpine (my breed) and the rest are Kiko, which is primarily a stocky, heavy white breed, but which, like the black doe and brown kid below, can throw color.  Like my girls, the entire herd followed wherever we went.

This trio is about a month from being sent to market.  I'm not sure his Lady hasn't made it harder for herself by naming all the babies.  I bawled when I sold my first two kids, and I knew they were going to a good home.  Reality hasn't hit her yet.
This little cutie is about a week old, soft as a puppy and so sweet-smelling, but already able to keep up with the herd as it browses the hills.  Right now, my friend has thirty-one goats, adults and kids, and by summer anticipates fifty kids on the ground.  By choosing meat goats, there is no need to milk, burn horns, or castrate.  A little hoof-trimming on the core herd and whatever medical needs arise is about all it takes, and makes life a lot simpler.  At this time of year and on as much acreage as they have, there's little need for supplemental feeding. 

I am rarely envious of anyone's possessions, but I'll admit I'm jealous of their huge, one-hundred-year-old barn.  It's been completely renovated with new flooring and immaculate stalls for goats and horses, a delivery room, self-filling individual water bowls (with heaters, for crying out loud!), an isolation pen, and a tack room.  I had to come home and apologize to my girls for their humble quarters, damp dirt floor, and outdoor trough with cold water.  Ah, well...if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride...and I'd have a goat Taj.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


There isn't a long grace period between seasons, and not much time to acclimatize to the change.  Down in the barn, I was thinking a tank top might have been a better choice than the work shirt.  Winter's flannel sheets have been put away.  Another couple of days like this and I'll be turning back on the water to the deck faucet to give the potted plants a needed drink.  The barren branches of the oaks have leafed out in that only-seen-in-spring green.  Woodpeckers, dressed in black and white tuxedos complimented by fiery red heads, are back in droves.  I think of them as construction birds, not because they actually build anything, but because of their jackhammer pounding and the high-pitched voompah-voompah call that sounds like a hand saw.  The hills that were a study in black and white a week ago are in spectacular technicolor now.  We may get more rain and possibly snow, but I think it's safe to say that spring has sprung.

It's equally difficult to become accustomed to the rapid price hikes of late.  At the feed store yesterday, alfalfa jumped to sixteen dollars a bale.  Two bags of goat chow, one bag of chicken scratch, and a bag of bird seed ran to seventy-five dollars.  Someone in line behind me suggested a barbecue might be in order.  Dave (who is the essence of a country "has everything you'd need" store owner, including slow, shuffling gait and ever-present John Deere ball cap) said that gasoline was going up a dime a gallon (over four dollars, cash price) as soon as he could change the sign.  Prices for gasoline are dictated by the oil companies, not the sellers, and he had no choice.  The government says we're pulling out of it but, up here, we're still depressed.

It's not necessarily a bad thing to have to differentiate between what you need and what you want...makes you grateful for what you have.  The sun is shining, the animals are's a good day.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

First Choice

By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the Shining-Big-Sea water,
stood the wigwam of Nokomis, daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

I knew the answer when asked as a kid, "What do you want to be when you grow up?," and I was sorely disappointed later when I found that becoming an Indian was not going to be an option.  I can't say how many times I read "Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I'd read everything I could get my hands on to be prepared.  Back in the day, shredded wheat came in big rolls like steel wool instead of little, sugar-coated mini-bites, and the cardboard dividers were a gold mine of Indian information.  I laboriously copied the pictographs so I'd be able to read and communicate when the metamorphosis came.  I wished there were more exotic animals so I could follow their tracks, instead of just the dogs and cats in my neighborhood.  Ah, well.  This was long before I learned of Custer's Last Stand, Wounded Knee, or the Trail of Tears.

I walk with my feet straight ahead and not splayed like a white man, and I can tread through the fallen leaves without a lot of noise.  One just never knows which early lessons might be valuable.  It came to me the other day that I must still move slowly and ordinarily speak softly at home.  Bessie Anne gets frantic and races ahead if I should go quickly from one place to another, and if I raise my voice at all ("Hello?!  Hello!!," to a bad phone connection), she barks madly.  She reads me for signs like I read tracks (there are many more animals here now than were in my childhood), and takes her cues accordingly.

If someone were to ask me now, I'd have to say that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.  Obviously, it hasn't happened yet.  I knew the answer when I was a kid.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April First

April definitely snuck up on me this year.  Rain day after day for the first three months was like being on a treadmill...working hard and going nowhere.  The past few days have been glorious, warm enough to leave doors open for fresh air and sunlight.  Like my little lizard friend, I've shed the two sweaters and double socks, jacket, and gloves.  Another couple of days like this and the barn will be dried out, and about time.  My barn boots have sprung leaks!  SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is a perfect acronym for the gloom of spirit that comes with a lengthy bout of grey days.  You just don't know how bad it was until you start to get well; getting kissed by the sun makes it all better.

April was my mother's month; her birthday and her favorite "holiday," April Fool's Day.  I was never as good as she at pulling pranks on my Kids.  She was inventive.  She's been gone many years now, but I still feel a little trepidatious on April first.

Deb and Craig did such a good job on the pen for the Silkies last year, but the original four were bigger than this year's chicks.  Since the barrier was taken down, I've been going out to check on the little ones several times a day (they're having such a good time out in the pen).  Fortunately, I found a couple of places in the fence where the chicks could have scooted through and blocked them before anything untoward occurred.  The red-tail hawks are ever vigilant, and the chicks would be easy pickin's.  Last evening, five chicks followed the hens right into the coop...and then there was the sixth.  I'm getting better, but my swoop-and-grab techniques riled Musashi and he tried some protective moves as the baby was plunked into the nest last night.

It might be my imagination, but Nineteen seemed particularly affectionate last night, waiting at the gate to nuzzle my fingers and then walking by my side on the way to the barn, my hand on his back and him rubbing on my side.  Did he know?

Fence Guy and Son put up more than half the fencing in the pasture before they came to a post that hadn't quite set in the damp ground at the lower end; a good stopping point for the day.  They fiddled with the splitter, and finally decided to take it home to work on.  The budget has taken so many hits lately, "Just put it on my tab."

With the coming of April, the year is a quarter over already.  Where has it gone?