Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gold In Them Th'ar Hills

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Head vs. Heart

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Seeing Red

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November Redux

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hyped Up

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

Roughing It

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

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

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

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

It was a good day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Ironmonger Cometh

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mission Accomplished

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Send In the Clowns

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

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

It was a good day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quick Change Artist

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Would You Do...

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

It Wasn't A Dream

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quiet Time

Like a little kid who needs a time out, there are those days I just need quiet (not because I've been naughty).  Most days I turn on the television for the "white noise," the illusion of company.  Yesterday the TV didn't go on until well after dark, and the day before, not at all.  Like a turtle, I retreated into books, finishing three in two days.  Batteries recharged, today I can again say, "Bring it on!"

Smoke from burn piles on the surrounding hills drifts through the trees and perfumes the air.  I'm hoping Tree Guy comes soon to light up the huge piles of brush that have accumulated here.  It would be nice to get them "gone" this season, before the birds build nests and delay burning again, as they did last year.

Sunset last night was spectacular, but the photo I took didn't do it justice.  It was as if there were a whirlpool in the sky, red and purple clouds swirling in a vortex, back lit by gold.  Coming back up from the barn, there are nights I am stopped in my tracks by the beauty above in the west.  From my hilltop viewpoint, I have the best seat in the house for one of the "greatest shows on earth."

The moon rose late last evening, well past the time of our nightly walk.  The lights on my hat barely pierced the dark to allow us to pick our way around the loop.  Only their glowing eyes kept Bess and me from tripping over Frank and Pearl as they coursed back and forth in front of us in that figure eight that cats do so well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prep Time

After waving goodbye to my friend early in the morning after our thoroughly enjoyable visit, I headed down to the barn for the chores of the day.  Turning the herd out after milking, I had to laugh.  More than one girl is cycling and Nineteen didn't know which way to turn, so many were anxious for his attentions, ineffective as they might be.  Must give the boy "E" for effort; he does his best with what he's got.

It wasn't until I was going to bed after a quiet day spent entirely with a book in my hand that I realized I'd best take a better look at the calendar.  Just because my family plays fast and loose with holiday dates doesn't mean that the grocery stores will continue to stock seasonal traditional fare after Thanksgiving.  I checked this morning and, good grief, Thanksgiving is next week!  If I don't want to get caught with no cranberries, I'd better plan a shopping excursion soon.  I truly enjoy cooking for the holidays, perhaps because then my table is surrounded by those I love most.  There have been times in the lean years that cooking was the only gift I could give and I wanted it to be the best I could make.  My kind-hearted Kids have always known that I have an open-door policy, especially at Thanksgiving, and have brought along some interesting guests.  There have been rock-and-roll musicians working away from home, once a fellow met on a bus traveling back east who accepted the invitation and was sent back on his way with a full stomach and a California grapefruit, or a family that had just moved into the neighborhood.  I can always throw another potato into the pot and put another chair at the table.  The invitation stands, "In-laws and Outlaws welcome!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Flames

"Oh, look!"  Fall foliage along the way to Placerville had Kit gasping around nearly every corner.  The hills had put on their prettiest dress for company and were showing off.  Walnut trees were highlighted in gold, Japanese maples were bedecked in deep red, but the real stars were the pistache, flames of brilliant red and yellow in colors so pure they almost hurt the eyes, and there were many of them tucked along our route.  Like the proud mother of a well-behaved child, I was so happy to see that "my" hills pleased my guest.

Some angel with a tractor blade came along yesterday morning and did a darned good job of smoothing the worst of the ruts on Gray Rock.  I think I was more thrilled by that than by the beautiful scenery.

Ostensibly watching television later, the pause button was hit many, many times as we continued to chatter, taking advantage of our brief time together.  The wood stove had been shut down while we were in town and once the house gets cold, it takes a long time to warm up again, so Kit snuggled down under the softest imaginable throw she'd brought as a gift.  It was only fitting that she got to try it first.  Frank joined her in the recliner and he gave his seal of approval to the cloud-like cover, kneading it like a kitten.

Another good day.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Guest House

They came bearing gifts.  My friend Kit from Southern California arrived yesterday morning.  A hug from Kit and you know you've been hugged.  (I hate those fakey-phony "Hollywood" hugs.)  She opened her goody bag and pulled out an assortment of cookies and, my favorite, bags of licorice.  I'm a sucker for licorice.  In the kitchen, chattering away together like magpies, I put together a Banoffee pie--a decadent concoction of gingersnap crust, a soft homemade toffee, and a layer of bananas smothered in a mountain of fresh whipped cream--while we waited for Tinka, Kit's aunt, who lives in Fiddletown.  Tinka has the most beautiful garden ever, and she unloaded a variety of starter plants and seeds.  My garden will never look like hers, but it's certainly a goal to shoot for.  I'm infamous for leaving my guests to fend for themselves for lunch, that not being a meal I eat, but I tried to make amends by serving the pie.  Anything with that many calories has to be good, and I could tell from the blissful expressions that my apology was accepted.

Another gorgeous fall day drew us outside and we visited the chicken pens.  The little kids had been getting along so well, it was distressing to find that the Silkie roosters had been fighting and inflicting real damage--white feathers streaked with blood.  I've got to find homes for all of those boys but Musashi, and soon.  Wandering over to the goat yard, the girls came to the fence to have their heads rubbed and make new friends.  When Tinka had to leave, back in the house Bessie Anne coaxed Kit into playing her favorite game of Scare Me in which a grown adult is to stamp feet and growl while Bessie runs around corners, in circles, and in general acts the fool.  Kit learned quickly.

Kit accompanied me later when I put the kids to bed, and we were treated to a stunning sundown sky that, like a masterpiece in a museum, demanded a moment of silence and appreciation.  After a dinner of beer-braised country-style pork ribs and creamy polenta, we were joined by the cats for our nightly stroll.  The full moon played hide-and-seek behind wispy clouds so we ladies were glad of our lighted hats to guide our steps.

It was a good day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Apology Accepted

As if to make up for her temper tantrum of the day before, Nature put on a bright, shiny face yesterday and put all the sound and fury behind her.  It was warm enough I didn't need to light the fire; it was simply a gorgeous fall day.

When daylight came, a walk-around assured me the wind had done no damage here.  All trees were intact and upright.  Before dawn, however, there was a bit of a problem.  Bessie Anne usually sleeps in, but she asked to go out about five and I let her.  Big mistake.  Whatever it was that put her on the hunt in the dark was not a skunk, for which I am so grateful.  She would have caught up with a skunk right away.  She has treed raccoons in the past; it wasn't a raccoon.  This "it" had her coursing over the property like a bloodhound, barking like something demented.  Bess becomes so single minded during a chase, she is deaf to everything.  Because she is not normally a barking dog, Joel called just after sunup, worried that something serious might have happened here to set her off.  While I was thanking him for his concern and explaining that my dog had lost her mind, she finally came dragging up the front path.  I do mean dragging.  Bess was completely knackered, made it into the house and collapsed.  She's had so many problems with her back legs and could barely walk.  I put her on the bed and she stayed there all day, going out on a potty run at nightfall and coming right back in.  I'd like to say she's learned her lesson, but then I've always been an optimist.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Big Wind

"Big Wind From Winnetka," a song from the 1940's Big Band era, was perfect for yesterday.  I don't know whence this wind came, but it certainly was big.  Still gun shy from last season, my first concern was for the trees.  So far, so good on that score.  I needed to cover the last windows in the goat barn in the morning.  Curious as they are always, I finally had to coax the herd into the new pen and shut the gate to get the job done.  It was hard enough to hold the cover panels against the wind without this goat pulling at the corner and that one who wouldn't get its head away from the openings so I could put the panels in place.  Those hatches finally battened down, I waited for a lull and then brought wagon after wagon load of firewood up to the porch to stock the rack.  Not as much rain as expected fell and it wasn't a particularly cold wind, but it's best to be prepared.  Violent gusts hit again as evening came.  The chickens put themselves to bed early and the goats vied to be first into the barn.  I spoke to a friend in Fiddletown; they'd been without power for several hours, undoubtedly due to a downed tree.  Here, I put the matches by the oil lamps in readiness for such an eventuality, but we dodged that bullet for the time.

It's still dark as I write.  All seems calm now.  I'm anxious for daylight so I can assess the situation today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Barn Musings

"All cats are grey in the dark," so says a proverb.  Still thinking about moon shadows, it occurred to me that the silver-washed night without color must be the closest I'll ever come to seeing the world as Bessie Anne sees it, since I'm told that dogs only see light and dark in shades of grey.  I once was given directions to a friend's cabin in a distant rural region.  Delayed, I arrived in the area well after sundown.  The last and most critical landmark on the narrow paved road was the red house on the right, where I would find a dirt road, little more than a path, on the left.  I drove many miles back and forth for several hours; there are no red houses in the dark.

With the exception of the animals, I lead an unstructured life now.  If I choose to spend (another) day reading, I can (and did).  There is something in my nature that requires a deadline as an impetus to action because I tend to procrastinate until the last minute when an event looms on the horizon.  It may just be that rule of physics that says a thing at rest tends to stay at rest and a thing in motion tends to stay in motion, but I get a lot more done if I wait until the deadline approaches.  It could be an inborn competitiveness even when I'm betting against myself, wagering that I can beat the clock.  And it's possible I'm just plain lazy.  At any rate, I still have a lot to do before my friend's arrival on Sunday.  But I'm thinking about it!

A wind storm blew in last night, howling around the house.  Not only has it shaken many of the dead leaves from the trees, it has blown most of those leaves onto someone else's property.  I knew that would happen if I just waited long enough!  There are black, black clouds massing over the mountains to the east this morning.  When they marshall forces and come this way, their rain will wash the truck.  Ah, the joys of procrastination.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Moon Shadows

At Bessie's urging, my companions and I went for our walk under the full moon last night.  A narrow wisp of cloud was flung like a gauzy veil across its face, but it was still bright enough to read by.  Shadows across the drive were as crisp as those thrown down by the early morning sun.  Sleeping birds disturbed by our passing rustled in the low-hanging live oak.  Dogs on a distant hill talked back and forth and once a trucker hit the jake brake over on Mt. Aukum road.  There were no other sounds.  Bessie found more smells to sniff than usual, or perhaps she just feigned a reason to stop and enjoy the night.  The cats walked quietly with us instead of playing tag and ambush.  Pines on the ridge across the road stood in silhouette like sentinels on guard.  We walked slowly last night, in no hurry to leave such beauty.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Pearl is even more confused with the time change than I.  She frequently will sit on the sill by my head and give the wake-up call.  She woke me this morning and I had one foot on the floor before I saw that it was three-thirty!  I fear I was a bit surly when I explained to her that we would not be getting up then, but she was waiting for me an hour later and we began our day.  PST, DST...all NUTS to me.

There seems to be a symbiosis between red ants and star thistle.  I hadn't seen too many of the red devils over the summer, but suddenly there they were recently.  Star thistles throw up many little yellow, puffy flowers that are much loved by bees before adding the hard, dry thorns that give the plant its name.  When the flower goes to seed, the yellow fluff turns white and that's when the ants show up.  Long trains of ants, each carrying a white seed, travel from plant to nest.  I'm not sure what benefits the ant, but they obviously plant the seeds for next year's crop of thistle.

There are no walnut trees on my property.  The nearest grove I can see is well over a mile away.  I am finding perfect halves of empty walnut shells all over the pathways.  They obviously are being imported by the crows.  It's enough that I feel the need to provide the chickens with tiny hard hats to protect them from the falling acorns; now they're being bombarded by walnuts!

What with spiders, snakes, and mice, I've learned never to reach into anything without looking first.  I'd fed Twenty-Two and left the lid off the empty grain barrel in the goat barn, knowing I needed to fill it after milking.  Luckily, I looked before dumping in the seventy-five-pound bag of feed later, because there at the bottom was a squirrel.  Tipping the barrel, I let it run for cover.  Reminder to self:  always put the lid back on.

Company will be arriving this weekend.  I hope I can get adjusted to the time change by then, as it seems impolite to invite someone to drive five-hundred miles just to watch me sleep in the chair.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Light and Dark

I can hear my dad's voice saying, "You'd complain if you were hung with a new rope!"  I'm still having trouble adjusting to Daylight Savings Time, waking up at four-thirty (DST) and wishing to go to bed at eight-thirty at night.  Yesterday was beautiful and sunny during the what seemed like very brief daylight hours, and the bench on the deck drew me like a magnet.  In the latest bag of books I'd been gifted, I found an old Dean Koontz book, copyright 1980, and my little entourage and I went out to soak up some rays.  I'd not read a Koontz book for many years.  He really is a master of suspense thrillers, but what struck me about Whispers is the parallel between the very real economic situation and social upheaval at the time in the story and currently.  It seems that wheel keeps turning.

Kathy V. suggested Little Red Hen as a name for Pick-Me-Up Peggy's friend. That comes from a children's story we evidently both remember, in which an industrious chicken asks her barnyard companions to participate in the raising of grain and through the process of turning it into a loaf of bread.  They all declined until the Little Red Hen asked, "Who will help me eat this bread," and then all hands (paws) went up.  She told them that since they had not been willing to help with the work, they would not get the reward, and she ate it all up by herself.  There's a parallel with modern society here, too, I think.  All that being said, I'm leaning more toward Jealous Jane for my own little red hen.  Last night, Peggy again claimed her spot in my arms.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Change In the Weather

Thirty-two degrees this morning, and I haven't yet turned off the water to outlying pipes.  It seems fall came and went and winter has arrived.  I've got to remember to take a hammer with me to the barn this morning to nail back on the covers to the window openings for the girls (and boys).  I'd kept a hammer and some other tools in the "medicine cabinet" in the milking room; it had a soft handle covering that the mice destroyed.  The cold weather has made other additions to the daily routines:  turn on the little space heater by the computer desk before leaving the bedroom in the morning so I can work in comfort later; shut the vents on the wood stove before going to bed so there will still be hot coals to start the fire the next day; bring firewood up to the porch when it's not raining.

Cindy pays the price for demanding the first place in line for milking.  I make my apologies every morning as I put frigid fingers on her udder; about fifty squirts in before they warm up again.  She probably thinks all the girls get the same treatment, and I haven't told her any different.

All those pumpkins yielded twenty cups of puree.  The big double batch of cookies I baked yesterday only used two; the rest were bagged up in portions and put in the freezer (as were the cookies).

As the sun was setting and I was getting ready to go out, I glanced at the time (the new time).  Good grief, it was barely five o'clock!  Trips to town are going to be on a dead run to make it home in time to get the kids inside before dark.  In the Silkie pen, one of the young white roosters stood inside the Taj and took a head count by bonking each one on the noggin as they came up the ramp.  I heard a quiet voice behind me as I was shutting the small door to the big chicken coop and turned, thinking it was Peggy.  No, it was the red hen waiting to be picked up.  I wish I could know what chickens are thinking.

Going out for our nightly excursion (rainy nights excepted), the mountain was unusually night birds calling, no distant trucks on the big road over by Mt. Aukum.  There was an ice ring around the nearly full moon.  It was cold enough that Bessie opted for the shortcut on the driveway, didn't dawdle as we made the circle, and headed right back to the warmth of the stove.  It wasn't long before the cats, who had accompanied us but decided to stay out longer, came banging on the screen door to be let in.

It's not just the time that has changed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Herding Cats

The Madwoman of Chaillot has nothing on me.  It won't be long before I am a complete nutter.  Back in the day, thermometers were filled with mercury.  I never actually broke one on purpose, but when one would break it was such fun to play with that oh-so-strange liquid metal that would break into beads and then reform as a mass.  Trying to organize my family for the holidays is much like that.  I don't mind playing fast and loose with dates on the calendar; it's enough that I keep track of the days of the week.  All of my Kids run on a tight schedule, and the goal is to get together for celebrations as close to the universal holiday as possible.  This year it is like herding cats; total chaos.  If this one if free on a certain weekend, another is working.  If this one plans to be out of town, that's the only day the other can come.  After multitudinous phone calls and a calendar that has been crosshatched like a gun butt, I do believe we have reached consensus.  Thanksgiving will be celebrated on December 3rd  this year and Christmas on January 7th, 2012.  We've been out of sync with the rest of the world (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) before, but never this far out.  It will be interesting to see when we celebrate the Fourth of July.

Just to give that extra nudge to push me over the edge, the time changed this morning.  By the "new" time, I did not wake up at my normal five o'clock;  I woke up at four.  The newscasters kept saying last night that I would gain an hour's sleep.  Really?  No...awake is awake, regardless of what the clock says.  The animals and I operate by a circadian rhythm determined by the hours of light and dark.  Not one of them wears a watch.  By the time I finally adjust, it will change again.  Aaargh.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


The first visitor of the day wasn't a total surprise; I'd heard Fritz calling for Faye soon after I got down to the barn.  I knew Faye was here before I saw her because the herd that had been feeding on alfalfa up at the corner of the pen suddenly came thundering past the Dutch door to the far end.  Sure enough, the neighborhood rover was prancing along the fence line, quite pleased with the uproar she'd caused.  In the middle of milking Cindy, I couldn't leave, but this time Fritz was able to hear me yell, "Faye - is - HERE!," and he quickly showed up in his car to retrieve his naughty girl.  Calm restored, the herd went back to finish their breakfast.

I'd actually been forewarned of the next visitors' arrival by an early-morning email, but it was the nicest surprise that my brother- and sister-in-law were going to stop by in the afternoon.  Glenn and Jerri are very special to me, and I don't see them very often.  Still in the throes of pumpkin pulp, I didn't have time to bake anything for them, but a cup of cocoa took away the chill as we talked.  They live a rather nomadic life now in a huge fifth-wheel trailer, their home away from home, that "camping" doesn't begin to describe.  This latest outing was with friends to a campground down in Plymouth, and Glenn and Jerri took advantage of being so close to come here.  They'll also be "camping" with family over the Thanksgiving holiday in nearby Pine Grove, and I accepted an invitation to join them earlier on that day for midday snacks.  Since it will be getting dark so early, I'll need to get back to put the kids to bed before dinner.  It was a perfect fall day for a walk around to see the chickens, goats and sheep before they left.  Yesterday was an anniversary of sorts that could have had me down, but these most welcome surprise visitors were just what the doctor ordered.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Weather Eye

Chilly, but sunny and bright when I went down to the barn, the weather made a U-turn and went south.  A cloud cover moved in, the wind picked up, and the temperature plummeted.  It was a good day to turn on the oven and get those pumpkins baked and ready to puree.  I'm fortunate to have double ovens and it only took four hours to get all six seeded and soft.  The seeds will be toasted today and sprinkled with a little salt for snacks later on.  I'll bag up the pulp to freeze for soups, cookies, maybe some pumpkin tea bread.  The chickens will be the happy recipients of the shells and inner pithy parts.  Little to nothing gets wasted as long as one has chickens.

I'd been holding off, adding a sweater or a pair of sweat pants on the cool days and evenings, but by afternoon the house was cold enough to warrant a fire in the wood stove, the first of the season.  The last chimney sweeping had worked magic and the fire caught in no time and soon the house was cozy again.  As convenient as it used to be to just turn up the thermostat when I lived in the valley, there's nothing like a wood fire to take the chill and dampness out of the air.  One drawback to a sealed stove is that you have to go outside to get a whiff of that wonderful wood smoke.  Going out in the drizzle that had begun just as I was putting the kids to bed, I found that I wasn't the only one on the hill who'd lit a fire...the air was perfumed. 

Rain began to fall for real after dark, and it brought out the confused pine beetles again.  Joel said his cat is afraid of these bumbling beetles.  Frank and Pearl think they are toys made just for them, little whirring Hot Wheels to chase and bat around.  Bessie Anne lay with her back to the wood stove and ignored them all.

The larder is stocked with new supplies.  The critters, feathered and furred, are all warm and dry.  There is more than enough firewood for winter.  It was a good day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"...and Ham"

Dr. Seuss must have been inspired by Araucana chickens when he wrote Green Eggs and Ham.  Slowest starters of the lot, my Araucana pullets have finally begun to lay and I picked up the first green egg last night.  The lighter buff egg on the right came from one of the Barred Plymouth Rock hens (maybe Pick-Me-Up Peggy) and the deeper rose-colored egg on the left is from a Rhode Island Red.

At risk of being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail by those who demand and receive a higher price for brown eggs in the store, there is veritably no difference in taste or nutrition between white and brown or other colored eggs.  They simply come from different breeds of chickens.  I'm not going to address the virtues of "organic" eggs, but will have to admit to a chuckle when I read a carton that advertised eggs from vegetarian chickens.  Let that chicken have snatched one bug from the air or worm from the ground and that claim is lost.  (Or maybe that only applies to vegan hens.)  Chickens are natural omnivores and, given the opportunity, will hunt down a wee mousie, lizard or frog and lick their chicken lips afterward.  They seem to consider those the ultimate chicken dinner.

Regardless, I just think it's fun to see a bucket or carton filled with pre-colored eggs.  I agree with Sam-I-Am...we like green eggs and ham!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'Twas A Grand Day

Two steps out the door and I turned around to get a jacket before going out to fill the hummers' feeders and take Bess and the cats on our ritual walkabout on the deck; there was no heat in the early morning sunlight.  Down in the barn, I finished the last toe on the girls' pedicures and we're all glad to be done with that for another month or two.  By the time the milk had been strained and set to cool, the day was so lovely that I shed the jacket, grabbed up the current book and headed for the bench at the end of the deck, accompanied as always by the house critters.  Bessie and the cats seem to enjoy these times as much as I, moving to lie in sun or shade as the mood strikes, looking over their domain through the stiles of the railing.  Patrick Taylor is a thoroughly enjoyable writer, much in the style of James Herriot.  Taylor can not only write believable dialogue, he writes dialogue so that you hear the lilt of Irish brogue on every page.  Reading about the "soft" (drizzling), green days in Northern Ireland, here on Farview the breeze was making the oaks sing their song and sent dry leaves swirling past.  Up the road, Dennis fired up his splitter, getting more firewood ready for winter.  The murder of crows, close to fifty, lined up on the power line to catch up on the news of the day.  Gigged by my conscience, I finally tore myself away and returned to the dreaded housework that had been waiting for me.

In the afternoon, Nature gave a preview of what is to come.  The wind, coming out of the north, picked up in earnest, bending the trees and sending whirlwinds of leaves past the windows and jangling the windchimes under the eaves.  Craig's work on the barn wall was done just in time.  I moved the little tractor back under the protection of the shed in anticipation of the predicted rain.  The temperature started dropping and all the critters were happy to get into their houses, but Peggy still needed a last-minute cuddle before that door was shut for the night.  Leftover stew (when it's best) for my dinner.  Ah, 'twas a grand day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Brown Foxes

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.  Every typing student learns this phrase, and it came to mind yesterday.  It's not that Bessie Anne is lazy, she's just not a morning person.  She might get up with me before the crack of dawn, stagger down the hall to the kitchen for a slurp of water and a quick nibble, but then it's right back to bed for her.  Having had so many problems with her legs, Bess can't jump up by herself and needs a boost.  The things we do for our furry friends.  It's a bit alarming on a cold night to awaken to breath on my neck, living alone as I do.  Bessie snuggles up close and shoves her nose under my hair to keep warm.  She's lying on the bed behind me now, gently snoring, as I type.  Funny little girl.

I've got my work cut out, thanks to the generosity of family and friends.  I've not yet used up the butternut squash from Christi, Guy brought the beautiful Turk's Turban, Deb and Craig grew the spaghetti squash and the yellow bell pepper, and Joel dropped by yesterday with the five bigger pumpkins to go with my one lone effort.  Recipes are flipping through my mind like a Rolodex.  The overriding thought is, "Yum!"