Monday, December 31, 2012

Holy Cow!

(And why is it that only cows get blessed in this way?  I guess Holy Chicken! just doesn't have the same ring, but one wonders.)

Regardless, it's hard to believe another year has already come and gone.  For me, it's been one of those win some-lose some years.  My stack of chips (and a few trees) may be down a bit, but in the long run I'm still ahead of the game.  I don't make resolutions for the new year.  I wake up every morning resolved to get more done, to get ahead of deadlines, not to procrastinate, to dust.  I spend so much time on the guilt train on a daily basis that I really don't need to make resolutions for a year ahead.  The only promise to myself that I do keep is to try.

Another thing hard to believe is that I'm heading into the fourth year of writing this journal and how many pop in for a look-see at what's going on at the farm.  I started keeping a list of the countries that show up on the stats page of the blogsite; it's simply astounding and I'd like to share (in order of appearance).

United States, Colombia, Canada, China, Japan, Denmark, Latvia, Russia, Poland, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Spain, Chile, France, Vietnam, Germany, Taiwan, Brazil, Italy, Pakistan, Ecuador, Iraq, Iran, Philippines, Netherlands, South Korea, Mexico, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Armenia, Slovenia, Israel, Slovakia, Singapore, Belgium, Georgia (the country, not the state), Venezuela, Belarus, Malaysia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Mongolia, Honduras, Hong Kong, Serbia, Tunisia, Moldova, Turkey, Nigeria, Sudan, Macedonia, Lebanon, Gabon, Switzerland, Australia, Kazakhstan.

In three years, there has been a total of 40,593 visitors.  That blows my hair back!  I realize there are some who read because they know me and it's a way to keep in touch, but what about readers in Belarus or Kazakhstan?  Are they farmers who want to compare notes?  Are the readers in Iraq or Iran members of the Armed Forces who want to touch base with home?  And how do readers in these far-away places find Farview Farm in the first place?  How I wish the blogsite made it easier to leave a comment without jumping through hoops.  In that regard it's not particularly user friendly.  I'd love to "meet" some more of the readers, like those who have signed on as Followers. Maybe it's better this way.  It lets my imagination go free wheeling without rein.  There are friends I forced to watch one of my favorite movies, "The Story of the Weeping Camel," that ends with a family on the Mongolian plains sitting in a yurt with a satellite dish and a generator.  Perhaps it's a housewife in a high-rise in Paris who reads TVFFF to take a break from city life.  Maybe that's how this works.  As I've said many times, I don't go anywhere and I don't do anything, but isn't it grand to think this little farm goes all over the world?

Happy New Year, world!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

'Twas the Day...

'Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...except me.  Bessie Anne is snoring on the bed behind me.  Larry and Taylor are still asleep, having decided to stay over last night, which was a special treat for me.  Frank and Pearl are outside, braving the thirty-two-degree morning.  I've kicked up the wood stove and have coffee in hand; such a peaceful way to start the day.

I know everyone thinks their Christmas was the best; I know mine was.  Weather conditions were perfect; crisp, cold and sunny; no rain, snow, or fog.  Deb and Craig arrived while I was finishing up with the girls (milking in record time, I might add) and took over the kitchen to make appetizers of crisp puff pastry topped with caramelized onions and a choice of Gruyere or gorgonzola cheese to be ready when the boys got here.  Ohmigosh, they were good.  Deb and I took advantage of a little time alone to exchange our personal gifts.  For twenty-two years, Deb has given me the gift that my father always gave me at Christmas, and always with the same phrase, "This is from Grandpa and me (and now Craig, too)."  It's not the gift as much as the sentiment that touches my heart.  I reciprocate by giving Deb the same gift that Steve always spent a lot of time picking out just for her, as well as a traditional gift just from me.  (We're a family big on tradition.)

True to form, it wasn't long after Dave, Pinto (Zack), Larry and Taylor, and Clay arrived that the poker game began.  If I can't sit in, there is no place I'd rather be than in the kitchen where I can hear the laughing and teasing while I cook.  When the White Chili and a big pan of cheesy cornbread were done and plates were filled, there was the silence around the table that tells a cook "she done good."

A five-dollar limit on gifts brought out the creative side in the Kids.  Deb and Craig made beautiful Origami ornaments with beads and the hoped for homemade  peppermint bark candy that we all love.  Clay, and I'm laughing as I write this, gave everyone packages of gift-wrapped toilet paper!  (He's the practical Kid.)  Larry presented us with scratchers and I'm happy to say mine paid off.  Pinto added to my collection with three little stuffed pigs.  We all agreed that Dave won the prize for originality in each of our gifts.  As a for-instance, I received a kitchen whisk with a pig handle and a "charming" pig shower cap, complete with ears.  Taylor promptly appropriated the shower cap and wore it for the rest of the day.  We've started taking advantage of our get-togethers to celebrate whatever birthdays are near and this time it was for Larry and Pinto.  I still owe Pinto a cake, but Larry was kind enough to share his.

Some, who shall remain nameless, had lost their two-dollar buy-in at the poker table, so Deb and I went down to the games cupboard and found Scattergories.  It was a happy choice; even more laughing and hooting as we played the game until it was time for those who had to leave.  Larry, Clay and I watched some TV and talked until Clay, too, went home.  One-on-one time with any of my Kids is special, and last night was no exception.  The only thing better is when we're all together, missing Pete and Jake.  They so would have enjoyed themselves.

It was a good day...the best!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ho Ho Ho!

It's Christmas morning!  (Don't look at the calendar; I rarely do.)  As is my wont, I'm not ready but it really doesn't matter.  The important things are done and the rest is just fluff.

Temperatures are in the mid thirties, almost a heat wave compared to the last few mornings.  I picked up quite a few eggs from the bigger girls last night.  I'm guessing it was too cold for them to play outside and since they were in the coop, they decided they might as well do something productive.  My little kids always lay their eggs in the afternoon anyhow.  The Silkies snuggle together so tightly at bedtime that they look like a black and white ball of feathers.  One of the white roosters was still up and was trying to force his way into the pack, dislodging one of the hens.  She gave him a good what-for and shoved herself back into place.

I've got wood stacked on the porch and presents under the tree (lights only, still).  It's as done as it's going to get.  It's a day that I wish I had a hired hand to take care of barn chores, but the Kids are used to me waving hello from the stalls when they drive up.  Some mamas greet guests at the door; not me.  Almost sunrise; time to get a move on.  It's Christmas!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Set In My Ways

Ah, the comfort of returning to a routine!  Wake up, turn on the computer, go make coffee, return with a steaming cup and settle in.  Perhaps that's why I understand the goats and their need to do the same thing in the same way every day.  I've had my days of excitement and change, literally a "been there, done that" lifetime.  Like the girls, I enjoy the sense of security that comes with routine now.

I'm navigating my way through a new keyboard (the letters are larger, but some keys are not in the same place as before) and operating system.  One advantage to purchasing the new equipment from a local business is that this particular store also provides ongoing tech support.  Free!  For the life (hopefully a long life!) of the machine.  And Justin is a local fellow with whom I can communicate easily.  Life is good again.

Twenty-seven degrees this morning, but I got the fire going early (on the way to make coffee).  As we all know, heat does not turn corners so the computer room, aka the bedroom, is still frosty, but the living room is toasty.  The trick to dealing with wet wood is to put a few logs in front of the stove so they're dry and burnable when needed.  As I put wood in the stove, I bring in more to keep up the supply.  One has to plan ahead or suffer a cold house.

This is my second try at Christmas Eve.  I should be used to it by now.  The tree, as with so many things in life, will either get done or it won't.  I'm not going to sweat the small stuff.  It's a given that as soon as the cards are dealt and the chips stacked, no one will notice the tree anyhow.  I'm not the only one set in my ways.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ta DA!

Back from the brink of disaster!  (Oh, who'm I kidding?  I fell right off that cliff.)  The thing is, the old computer died deader than a doornail.  A quick trip to the bank and all is right in my world with a brand-spanking new computer.  It is amazing to me how bereft I felt without this contact with the outside world for the few days I was struggling.  I really appreciate the phone calls I received from dear ones who look for the blog every day and were worried when I didn't show up.  Thanks also to Kit, who puts a comment on the last entry to let everyone know I'm alive and kicking (windgeing is more like it) if I can't make an entry.

In the meantime, the goats have coped with more rain.  There is, truly, a use for squirrel and mouse burrows.  The holes act as a drain for standing rain water!  Probably doesn't do much for the little critters, but the big barn inhabitants really appreciate not having to wade through ankle-deep puddles.  The sun came out today, but the temperature dropped wa-a-a-y down.  Had to bring out the water whacker again for the water troughs.  Bloody cold, says I.

One would think that given a delay in our Christmas get-together, I'd be more prepared.  A couple of trips to town and computer headaches haven't put me farther ahead, however. The tree still isn't decorated.  I did get all the presents wrapped, only to discover the next day that the tape had let go on every package, leaving wings of paper sticking out like the vultures on the fence posts.  Santa had left gifts of treats for Frank, Pearl, and Bessie and the kids were going to wait until Saturday to open them.  Unfortunately, as Pearl was standing in front of the treat drawer letting me know she'd really, really like some goodies, Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare.  The only solution was to let Frank open a present early (or late, as the case may be) so we could get Pearl to shut up.

I had a lovely dinner with Joel, Judy, and Shari on Christmas Day, and have been invited back again for New Year's Eve.  I can tell myself it's just another day on the calendar, but it's awfully nice to share the "real" dates with good friends.

Given that I've been sleeping in (5:30 a.m.) with no blogligations, if I wake up in time tomorrow...stay tuned!

Monday, December 24, 2012

What's A Cubit?

The storm upped the ante yesterday with even more rain and stronger winds.  Down in the barn, the girls quivered on the stand; we all waited for one of the rippling metal panels to blow off the roof.  Later I prowled through the house, looking out windows to see that all trees were still standing and where broken limbs might have fallen.  So far, so good with the trees, and branches have not dropped where they might do damage.  Miraculously, we did not lose power.  It was a day to put on a pot of bean stew and make holiday phone calls to family and friends and keep putting logs on the fire.

Not until nightfall did I discover a real problem.  All seemed well until I opened the inner door to the back stalls where Ruthie, Sheila and Poppy sleep.  The hallway was awash, the lake (we'd gone right past puddle) over the tops of my shoes.  My first thought was that the roof had given way, but found that it was a buildup of runoff from outside.  In the interest of expediency and without considering consequences, we had built the barn at the bottom of the hill, and the barn itself follows the slope downward.  What were we thinking?!  The water seemed to be collected just in the hallway and the stalls remained dry, so after encouraging the girls to wade through the mess I got them to bed.  All I could hope was that the dam didn't break during the night and flood their rooms.  I don't know what a cubit is and wouldn't know how to build an ark.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Change of Plans

The storm raged, the wet wood wouldn't catch in the stove and the house was freezing, I'd sent out the word that our Christmas would be postponed.  I was set up perfectly for a day of wallowing in self-pity.

Down in the barn, I changed the routine in that Sheila and Inga had been spooked by my neighbor's yowling cat the day before and had not been milked.  Instead of letting them all out at once and waiting for the girls to come back one at a time, they stayed confined until I'd finished each one until only Inga and Tessie were left in the big room.  Those two got into a fight, bashing each other into the walls hard enough to shake the barn.  Since Tessie, with her unicorn horn, brings a knife to a fistfight, they had to be separated while Ruth was on the stand.

Slogging through mud and rain and soaked to the skin by the time I got back to the house, all I could think of was Eloise, the little girl who lived at The Plaza Hotel.  I wanted a doorman.  I wanted room service.  I wanted a thermostat!  Oh, poor pitiful me.

Finally the fire was blazing and barn coat and bibbies were hung on chairs to drip dry in front of the stove and I settled in to concentrate on bemoaning my fate.  Interrupted by the doorbell, there was my friend Tom who had driven all the way out from town to bring a plate of stollen (he makes the best stollen ever) and his cheerful smile.  His visit certainly ratcheted up my spirits.  A warm hug will do that every time.

I did try to recover my down-spiraling mood, but it wasn't the same.  As I have found at other times in my life, it is too darned depressing to stay depressed.  It came to me that, much as I would have liked to believe, this wasn't all about me.  My Kids were also deprived of their family Christmas and were as disappointed as I.  Speaking with all of them throughout the day, I found that Clay and Susan were sick and wouldn't have been able to come.  When the purpose is to be all together, that alone would have put a damper on the festivities.  We hadn't cancelled Christmas, only postponed it.  From there on, it was easy to count the many, many blessings of my life.

Gearing up in dry, warm bibbies and coat to put the kids to bed, I found my watch cap was still soaked.  (Note to self:  put all wet clothing in front of the stove when it's raining.)

After a short hiatus, the storm has struck again this morning, wind howling and rain beating.  Change of plans today; no pity party.  It all comes down to "take what you get and be glad that you got it."  I am really a very happy woman with all the riches of family and friends.  (But no thermostat.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Charlie Brown Christmas

"It was a dark and stormy night."  That was the beginning of every story Snoopy wrote sitting up on the rooftop of his doghouse.  The Kids pitch a fit if they think I'm going back up on the roof, so here I sit, but my story begins the same. 

It was a dark and stormy night.  Really dark.  I had a sinking feeling driving back from town yesterday when I saw a couple of PG&E trucks not far from home.  Sure enough, no power.  The wind had torn the screen door off from the first shed.  I'm talking a significant storm here.  PG&E has a wicked sense of humor.  "We expect to have power restored by five p.m."  Well, heck.  It was four-thirty; that's not so bad.  At five-thirty, they said, "We expect to have power restored by eleven thirty-six p.m."  (PG&E likes precision.)  Not able to do anything in the dark house, Bess (and Frank) and I went to bed early.  I didn't want to fall asleep in the chair with the oil lamps burning.  Waking numerous times during the night, the realization came that we would have to postpone Christmas.  This storm is really bad and it would make me a crazy person to think of the Kids on the road.  Flashlight in hand, at six a.m. I was calling for a PG&E update when the lights came back on!  Hurriedly making a cup of coffee and flushing the toilet, I hoped to find a weather report.  Weekend local news evidently is not so concerned with weather.  I've already talked with Deb and we've agreed that it would be better to spend a happy holiday together at another time than try driving through this mess and me worried sick.  We'll share the task of contacting the boys before they head up the hill.

I won't say I'm not disappointed.  I am.  On the plus side (what Steve would have called "the bright side"), all I had on the Christmas tree were the lights.  Pretty dismal when there's no electricity.  Talk about a Charlie Brown tree.  Christmas is when we're all together (and missing Pete).  By then I'll have lost this bah-humbug attitude.  Shining a little light on the subject does wonders.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Joy To My World

Ah, the joy, the freedom of cruising the Internet with gay abandon once again.  Switching screens at will, typing and seeing letters appear immediately; gosh, it has me almost giddy.

At six yesterday morning, I called to cancel the onsite tech appointment.  Probably fifteen minutes on hold as the recorded voice repeatedly thanked me for my patience (which fortunately had been replenished).  It took three people and a supervisor to cancel the appointment and another to reverse the charges.  Funny, yes, but not surprising when a call came in the afternoon from the technician who wanted to confirm his appointment here.  Aaargh.

Frank is a fairly big boy, especially when he bulks up in winter, but he is still normal cat size.  However, there is some magic that occurs at night.  On the bed, in the dark, he becomes this huge, immovable monolith.  Attempting to turn over, I find myself trapped between snoring Bessie Anne and sleeping Frank.  I thought cats were supposed to be on high alert, waking at the twitch of a whisker.  Not Frank.  Swaddled in the sheets, I can't move.  Thrashing as best I can has no effect.  Talking out loud doesn't faze him.  He just settles in deeper.  Fully awake now, I squeeze out like toothpaste at the top, over the pillow.  Frank sleeps on.  Bessie continues to snore.

This is my Christmas Eve; the Kids will be here tomorrow.  They will, indeed, bring joy to my world.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I've had it with computers, computer techs, and that whole business.  It's time to say, "Enough is enough, and I've had enough!"  Thank goodness the evil Grace, for all her talking, never got around to asking/telling me to do or change anything because the fifty-nine (yes, 59!) updates that downloaded yesterday morning seem to have healed the problem.  My financials are gone forever but in the grand scheme of things, I can live with that.  Out here in the boonies, the telephone and the Internet keep me in touch with the outside world.  The loss of either leaves me feeling very isolated.  Were the Internet animate, I would give it a hug and say, "Welcome back!"  (I'm going to cancel tomorrow's appointment.)

Under Pearl's close supervision, I did get one Christmas tree put together last evening.  She inspected every branch that came out of the box, chewing on a few before passing judgment, stepping back to get a better view of the construction.  I guess I did an okay job because as soon as I moved the completed tree to the corner, Pearl turned her attention to her primary goal, the box.  The box still sits in the living room as I couldn't bring myself to dislodge the small cat who had made herself so comfortable.  Frank apparently is waiting until I get the tree decorated; he is fond of batting ornaments and chewing on the pearl swags.  There will be a slight delay with that as I did not check the strands of lights before laboriously putting them on the tree.  Silly me.  Of course the three connected cords needed to be distributed and redistributed before I plugged them in.  Of course it is the middle strand that is nonfunctioning.  Of course I walked away and abandoned that project for the night.  It wouldn't do to pitch the thing out into the dark, which was my first inclination.  My patience has been worn down to a nub.

Even the ground was frozen yesterday.  The chickens had mini-ice rinks in their pens where the rain puddles were.  I left them to play while I crunched on icy grass in the path down to the barn.  Bundled up like Nanook of the North (inside joke here with my daughter Deb), I still had to apologize to the goats as I put icy fingers on their warm udders.  Cindy is down to giving only about a cup a day and I had decided not to milk her at all and let her dry up completely.  She got up on the stand, ate her breakfast, and I put her out the door.  "Mom!  You forgot something!"  Routine is so ingrained in these animals, she tried to force her way back in every time I opened the door.  Finally I let her in and squeezed out that pitiful cupful.  She went away happy.  Hey, if that's all it takes.

Twenty-six again this morning.  I need to get the wood stove going.  Enough of the high-tech stuff, I'm ready to get back to basics. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Postcard From The Edge

Once upon a time, my mother had gotten herself lost while driving in a strange area on a rainy, foggy night.  She called me crying from a pay phone (this was in the days before cell phones).  "Now I know what purgatory is.  I keep driving back and forth past the same places and getting nowhere."  I understand that feeling very well.  I had better luck getting my mother on the right road than the techs have had getting my computer back to normal.  In fact, while they've been "fixing," they managed to lose all of my financial records.  All of the techs, of which there have been many, were friendly and I believe they tried their best.  Until Grace.  Grace is an idiot.  Regardless of her computer skills, she should never be allowed contact with customers.  I am a pretty patient person.  Realizing we had communication difficulties, I asked to be transferred to another tech.  She refused.  I had been pushed to the brink; Grace sent me over the edge.  Even getting transferred to a supervisor was pure agony and resulted in my yelling into the phone (that's not like me).  The supervisor decided that an on-site technician would be required and said tech will be here Friday.  Another day lost and another day to lose at a time when I need every minute to get ready for the Kids on Saturday.

Twenty-six degrees this morning.  Sunny and bright yesterday, I still had to use my "water whacker" to break the ice in the water troughs, and I don't think we got far into the forties by afternoon.  Grace did me one favor; she got me hot under the collar.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Whiny Days and Winy Nights

It seems I have dropped into the Seventh Circle of the Inferno.  Computer problems are ongoing.  Bits and pieces come and go, giving and then dashing hope.  I was almost glad of the rain yesterday because I was so late getting down to the girls and I knew they wouldn't want to go outside anyway.  The rain was steady as I walked to the barn and a deluge as I slogged back up to the house.  Baking has come to a screeching halt as I do battle with the dark forces of the Internet.  Slow as treacle, the computer downloads the latest band-aid and I run to the kitchen.  I got so far as to put partial ingredients in a bowl, and there it stopped as a new glitch was discovered.  The computer elves work in the Philippines.  There is a fifteen-hour time difference.  Yesterday I worked with Jack, then JJ, then Jay ("J" being the letter for the day, I guess).  I fell asleep last night, waiting for the call-back that never came.  Sigh.

Miss Scarlett may have thought that tomorrow would be different.  I, on the other hand, keep getting reruns.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lost In Space

The past two days have been an exercise in futility, and it's not over yet.  Nine hours with various techs from several sources, three hours more this morning, and there are still glitches with the computer and systems.  As an example, to get into one program, I needed to log in.  It (the computer, which is evil) said I wasn't registered.  I tried to register.  It said I was already registered.  I rode that merry-go-round until I was ready to run screaming in the hills.  A technician in Texas changed the password, but dropped the call before she could tell me the new one.  Aaargh!  Of course that meant calling back and going through the automated directory again.  It took the second and then a third tech a couple of tries before success, but at least I am now able to access email.  The blogsite is not behaving normally, but I have great hopes for making this entry.  In the meantime, a storm has hit just to add to the misery.  Ho ho ho.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Checking In

Computer problems are enough to drive one up the wall.  Last night four technicians in four separate phone calls told me they were going to connect me with a more advanced tech, and each time the call was dropped.  I'm a fairly patient person, but by call five I will admit I was pretty tight-jawed.  It would seem that not all problems were solved last night, so this entry is short.  Between battling the computer and wrestling with the wood stove, what I might have to say would probably be bleeped anyhow.

As Miss Scarlett would say, "Tomorrow is another day."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Difficult Day

I was taught as a child not to look as we passed an accident on the road, not because it was something I should not see but because it would be intruding on someone else's pain.  In a catastrophic event such as 9/11 or the massacre in Connecticut yesterday, it seems almost imperative to sit and watch and cry in a vain attempt to share the burden of sorrow in the only way I can.  I met Tree Guy and Son Two with tears when they came to clean the chimney around noon.  They had not seen the news, and it swept two grown men off their feet.

The house was so cold we could see our breath, so the guys did what they had come to do, and also fixed a downstairs door that had recently obstinately refused to close.  Tree Guy had ordered the Pakistani mulberry trees (tall, with large fruit, he tells me), but they will not be delivered until June.  June!

Waving goodbye with one hand, I gathered firewood with the other and rushed in to light the wood stove.  It seemed to take forever and by afternoon I was desperate for human contact and warmth.  I called my single neighbor Debbie and after the last barn chores we went to The Pub for a hot meal.  Bangers and mash was comfort food and I was in good company.  The stove had done its job by the time I got home.  It was a good ending to a difficult day.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Murphy's Law

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Actually, it isn't so much that anything is going wrong, it's the timing of the thing that's off.  It never warmed up yesterday.  I can state this with certainty because Bessie's pool (yes, I should have emptied it long before this) was frozen in the morning and it was still frozen in the afternoon.  I had a devil of a time getting the wood stove going and had to give up the attempt until after barn chores.  I've been blaming the wood and the rain.  The stove had not been giving those warning smoke burps and I honestly had been keeping an eye on the spark catcher (for lack of the technical term) at the top of the chimney.  When I had problems last year and called in the professional, he told me I should not bank the fire at night; it was the low, slow burn that was causing the bad creosote buildup.  I paid for the advice, so I took it.  Not having any warmth in the house makes for an interesting game of morning hopscotch as I jump from the carpeted bedroom over to the rug in front of the bathroom sink, then to the bathmat in front of the shower, then back to the sink where I've left my slippers.

But I digress.  Thirty-two degrees yesterday, thirty today.  I know there are places more frigid than mine, but I still call that cold.  I did get the fire going yesterday afternoon, but as I was coming back up from the kids' bedtime last evening I could not see smoke from the chimney and could not see through the wire screen of the spark thingy.  Creosote.  Arrgh.  I put in a call to Tree Guy.  He is going to send one of the Sons to sweep the chimney today.  That is a good thing; it's just the timing of the thing.  I can't even try to light a fire this morning so Son One or Two can do the job without getting burned.  Back in the day on Laugh In, Rowan and Martin would award the Fickle Finger of Fate.  In my case, I got the Frigid Finger.  The chimney only needs cleaning when the temperature drops.  At least it's not raining!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sunshine On A Rainy Day

Doggone it, I have to admit I am enjoying this WWOOFer experience.  It's pretty neat to know you will have something in common with strangers.  Aaron and Tessa are from Vancouver, BC, Canada.  He is a stonemason and Tessa raises organic vegetables on an inner-city plot, selling her produce by subscription much as Kellan and William had done.  They both dream of living a country lifestyle and are using WWOOF to educate themselves before taking the big leap.  Young, intelligent, enthusiastic, they were good company.

This being my fourth go-round, I have my patter down cold.  We prepared the milk to set curd before stepping out into the drizzling rain to start chores.  Aaron sent us all into gales of laughter as he was milking Sheila (who had come in on her own and didn't play ring-around-the-rosy).  "I can't seem to get any more milk out."  "Well, do you think she might be empty?"  And, of course, she was.

Tessa, on seeing Poppy and my spinning wheel, had expressed interest in learning how to make yarn.  After step two in making feta and having had lunch, I went to The Black Hole and retrieved my bag of washed wool, carders, and drop spindles.  Aaron discovered it isn't as easy as it might look.  Tessa got the hang of it right away.  She had an incentive.  They had visited the nearby alpaca ranch and, with high hopes, had purchased alpaca wool, not realizing she would get a spinning lesson so soon.

The sun put in a brief appearance in the late afternoon, just in time to create a spectacular sunset.  My guests walked out to enjoy the view just before Tim came to pick them up.  I sent them home with bags of cheese and, hopefully, good memories of their day at Farview.  I know they certainly brightened my day.

Thirty-two degrees this morning and the frost is so thick it looks like snow.  No rain clouds on the horizon, but I need to get the wood stove fired up.  It's cold!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Should Have A Horse

It's only appropriate that I should have a horse to ride through Fair Play shouting, "The WWOOFers are coming!  The WWOOFers are coming!"  People might take notice then.  Hollering out the window of a pickup simply doesn't have the same effect; people just think you've gone bonkers.  Regardless, a young couple from Canada will be my guests for a day of goat milking and cheese making, and they will be here shortly.  The rain beat them by about six hours.  Oh goody.  We all know how fractious goats get on rainy days.

Tree Guy dropped off Sons One and Two yesterday morning and bailed out like he was in a sinking canoe.  Sons, with pickax and shovel, dug a two-hundred foot ditch, laid a PVC drip line and sprinkler heads, buried the whole thing, and put in T-posts in readiness for fencing to protect the mulberry trees when they arrive.  The weather was perfect for such a job, and the guys said the ground was like butter.  They certainly earned the beer I doled out at the end of the day.  They intend to come back for whatever reason this morning, but with the rain, I'll give 'em a pass if they don't show.

Since I don't have a horse, I'll just go around the house announcing, "The WWOOFers are coming!," to Bess and the cats.  They already think I'm bonkers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Odd Thought

Stray thoughts were drifting around the barn the way they do, and I suddenly wondered why adults don't get cooties.  You never hear a grownup say, "Eeuw!  Don't sit so close!  Don't touch me 'cause you've got cooties!"  All children know about cooties.  Cooties are capricious and contagious.  Boys get 'em more than girls; best friends never get 'em.  When I was a kid we made cootie catchers out of origami-style folded paper; work it just right and you could prove the other kid had cooties (or not).  There was a board game that I am sure was developed just so kids could identify a cootie, although without the cootie catchers, I never knew anyone who had actually seen one.  Kids are believers in the unseen (boogeymen and tooth fairies, for example) so it never occurred to us to doubt the reality of their existence.  The thing is, when is it, at what age do we stop getting cooties?  Does the taste of a grownup not appeal to cooties?  Is it a developed immunity as it is with, say, mumps?  Get 'em once and be safe forever?  Perhaps it is simply that imagination shrinks as the body grows.  I wonder.

Of all people, I ran into Tree Guy in town yesterday.  He said he and Number Two Son will be here this morning to at least get a start on the water line for the trees he's going to put in.  Wahoo!  I've been wondering where he's been.

I was in the cleaning supplies aisle looking for a new mop because of my last fiasco with the kitchen floor.  Next to me was a woman at least half a head shorter and hair greyer than mine.  She started laughing and said, "Here I am looking at this stuff like I'm actually going to clean something!"  I told her she was a woman after my own heart.  It seems she'd spilled red wine on an area rug given by her daughter-in-law and she was thinking about trying to scrub it out.  Then again, she thought she might just replace the carpet.  Another woman walked by and asked if we knew where the dusting spray might be.  In unison, as if we'd practiced, my companion and I said, "You dust?!"  That woman just muttered something and went on with her search, obviously not a kindred spirit.  The old(er) lady and I stood and chattered for a bit and she told me one of the funniest farm jokes I've heard in a while, but I can't put it in print.

Some things, like cooties, are better left to the imagination.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lazy Day

Milking went a little faster than usual.  Cindy is in the process of drying up, not producing much and so she's off the stand much quicker.  This is pretty good timing because Lulu, the little bummer Barbados sheep, has been weaned.  With one remaining customer, there's not the demand for milk that there was.  Sheila was actually waiting at the door for her turn so we didn't have to do-si-do around the barn.  Since my personal motto is "Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow," having extra time in the morning meant more time to sit in the sunshine with a book.  It was a good book (another Christopher Moore) and difficult to put down even back in the house.  So I didn't.  About the only productive activity I did all day was bring a couple of wagons of firewood up to the porch.

Any day with a good book is a good day.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Love Is Blind

Don't kiss ___________ by the garden gate.
Love is blind, but the neighbors ain't.

While cleaning out closets some while back, I ran across my autograph book from grade school.  Back in the day, autograph books were the rage.  This was before yearbooks or annuals.  My book is full of classmates' childish scrawls and scraps of poetry like the little bon mot above.  This one came to mind particularly as I watched a tom turkey fluff his feathers and strut his stuff as he paraded back and forth in front of a group of females, doing his best to impress them with his virility and mighty masculine self.  I don't know if he was nearsighted, practicing, or just plain desperate.  The females (and I'm taking a guess here because gender was difficult to determine) which were sitting on fence posts and pointedly ignoring the turkey were vultures!  If he was serious, it is true that love is blind.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Yum Yum!

There are as many definitions of "comfort food" as there are individuals.  Without giving it any forethought, standing at the stove last night with the aroma wafting up I realized I was making my version of true comfort food.  Looking though cupboards, fridge and freezer for inspiration, I pulled out a can of corned beef.  Carrots?  Check.  Potatoes, onions?  Check, check.  Corned beef hash!  Chop the veggies, mix in the meat and a couple of eggs (four when using Silkies), and you're halfway there.  Heat a large skillet with olive oil and butter.  Calories are not a comfort food consideration.  Pat the mixture down evenly and leave it alone.  The secret to good hash is to let the bottom get good and brown before turning over and repeating.  The crispy parts are the best, and this procedure cannot be rushed.  Add more butter as needed.  Continue to turn and brown until potatoes and carrots are soft and the whole thing has crispy bits throughout.  One cannot equate ready-made hash in a can to the homemade variety.  I'll bet I could convert a vegetarian with homemade hash.  I can't finish a hamburger in one sitting, but I can go back for seconds of hash.  Eat 'em up, chomp chomp!

Friday, December 7, 2012


After a couple days of rain, it was great to see blue sky yesterday morning.  Starting chores for the day included throwing down birdseed and letting the chickens out of their coop.  As I turned to latch the gate, I noticed a new member of the flock.  A young turkey hen was saying, "Buck, buck, buck," hoping to remain incognito and have a little chicken scratch for breakfast.  Notoriously skittish, I'm always amazed at how tame wild turkeys become when food is involved.

My joy at seeing sunshine was short lived.  Before I finished milking, fog crept in and blotted out the blue sky.  Anticipating a warm day, I had not lit a fire in the wood stove before leaving the house.  Big mistake.  Had I put a log in the hot coals from the night's fire first thing, I would have come back to the comfort of a warm room.  The problem is this:  the wood I am using now is the heavy, dense oak from the old tree down in the goat pen.  I do not have any kindling.  It takes forever and many false starts to get the logs to catch fire when the stove is cold.  My particular stove has two doors and three vents.  Wood is loaded from the side; the glass door is to watch the fire.  Once I start the process, I cannot leave the room.  It's a complicated procedure of opening two vents, maybe three, lighting the fire-starter blocks, waiting to see if it catches, then if all goes well, shutting all but the small lowest vent.  This is because when/if it gets going good, the blaze will go up the chimney flue and the heat will start the draw to keep the fire going.  If I'm not there to watch, the draw can become so great that it pulls the fire up and could start a chimney fire, something to fear.

I fought with that fire most of the day, watching it catch, then go out, catch, go out.  In the meantime the fog got thicker outside and a damp chill crept in.  I added a jacket to my attire.  By bedtime, the house was finally warm.  I had to shut down the stove for the night.  Arrgh.

The sun is just coming up and the sky looks blue.  I've got to go light a fire.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Just Around the Corner

Yikes!  I do pretty well keeping track of which day of the week it is, but I don't have a lot of reason to look at the calendar for dates, which is why most birthday greetings I send are the belated variety and I am frequently blindsided by upcoming events.  Like Thanksgiving.  And Christmas.  Fully aware that these holidays come in batches, I had a pretty good idea after the turkey leftovers were gone that Christmas would be coming up but it wasn't until yesterday that I realized it would be here so soon.  It's coming with the speed of a train and I am, once again, not ready.  The price of postage has prohibited sending cards, which is a shame because that was something I truly enjoyed.  It does, however, free up some time for other preparations.  Yesterday was another rainy day (just regular rain and not a storm) and a good day to stay inside and bake cookies.  It made me miss my Kids.  Not just my Kids as they are now, but my Kids when they were little.  With four Kids, there was one to lick the beater, one to lick the spoon, and two shared the bowl.  I never bothered with cookie recipes that made fewer than five or six dozen; they weren't worth my time.  Like baby birds, the Kids would wait around the oven for the first pan to come out and those cookies were snatched up in the blink of an eye.  Baking cookies is a lot more fun with children in the kitchen.

Decorating the tree is more fun with Kids, too.  Back in the day, we still put tinsel on the branches.  Deb would carefully place each strand just so.  The boys would stand back and lob a handful in the general direction of the tree or each other and laugh like loons.  Martha Stewart would not have been pleased.  We made red and green construction paper chains, glued with homemade flour and water paste, which didn't taste as good as the white library glue that came in a jar and every child I ever knew sampled at least once.  I made a clay dough from flour, salt, and water and the Kids made ornaments, some of which I still have.

Traveling down Memory Lane is nice, but it's not taking me in the right direction.  I need to step on the gas and get going.  Christmas is right around the corner!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Leather and Feather

We set a new record yesterday, Sheila and I.  Nine full laps around the perimeter of the pen and three or four short ones around the barn.  The day that I can't out-stubborn a goat is the day I'll turn in my badge.  These are not speed races; we walk at a comfortable pace, she staying just out of reach.  Teasing, Sheila will pause to scratch her ear or grab a mouthful of grass.  Just as I close in, rope in hand, she moves off again.  "Psych!"  (Sheila has a mean streak.)  Following that swollen udder up and down the slopes, I explained to her that many useful items are made of goat skin and, trust me, I was ready to tan her hide.  Having worked up a good appetite for breakfast, she finally stopped at the barn door and I was able to finish my morning chores.

It was a semi-sunny day and Bess stayed out when I came back to the house.  Stepping out to put the strained milk in the deck fridge, I saw the darnedest sight.  A tribe of fifteen or so turkeys was under the oak scarfing up birdseed, and Bessie walked straight through their midst, headed toward the woods.  Eight of the big birds (they're bigger than Bess) broke off and trailed after my dog.  For a minute I was afraid they were going to attack, but no, they were just going for a walk with her.  They followed as she tracked back and forth and finally came back up the hill.  Bessie Anne has become The Turkey Whisperer.

Flushed with the success of getting Sheila into the barn in the morning, I had decided to move her and Poppy into the other stall at night even if Poppy objected.  It was raining lightly as I tucked in the chickens and headed down to the big girls, and I thought it would make the job easier.  Poppy and her roommate were first in and I got them headed in the right direction.  Suddenly out of nowhere, Cindy was in the stall too.  The gate hadn't latched fully and I was under siege.  Cindy scared Poppy.  Poppy ran out.  Sheila fought Cindy.  Tessie came in.  I chased Poppy.  Poppy fought me.  Goats were everywhere before I could finally sort them, pushing four outside and Ruth into her stall alone.  What had begun so easily had turned into a rout and in the narrow hallways I had to wrestle a large, wet, lanolin-slick, very unwilling sheep into her room.  As long as there was food in the dish, Sheila had stayed where she belonged (for a change).  The four who had waited outside went willingly into their room and I slammed the door and slogged back up the hill.

Oy, what a day!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lookin' Spiffy

It wasn't just the windows that got rain washed.  The goat girls are showered and shiny, too.  What leaves are left on the trees are bright green or gold, and the grass (or what passes for grass in my yard) sparkles with droplets like diamonds.  Poor old Poppy, on the other hand, is carrying probably thirty pounds of waterlogged wool.  Even after a day of sunshine, she still feels like a soaked sponge.  Sheila is walking a little spraddle-legged as she yet again refused to come in yesterday.  After a few laps around the barn in wet weeds to my ankles, I quit and left her looking at me with that expression that said, "But the game's not over!"  Yes, it was.

Give me a little sunshine after days of rain and I am drawn to the deck bench like a lemming to the cliff.  After spending a little time outside with Christopher Moore, I got an attack of conscience and went in to run appliances requiring electricity.  Fortunately, dusting does not require electricity and I was able to put that low on the list.  With fair assurance that the power would stay on, I got a pretty good start on holiday baking.  A batch of pumpkin cookies was cooling on the counter when Earle came to pick up milk.  I could see his fingers twitching, so said, "Have one."  I am still laughing as I think of Earle talking as if to distract me as he ate one..after another.

The rain has brought a change in the cats' and my routine.  The storm doors in the bedroom and laundry room swell until, if opened, they won't close again, so winter brings an end to the convenience of just standing and letting the kids in when I'm at the computer.  They jump up on the bench to let me know their need, and now I must go to the living room and let them in that door.  When I put up the Christmas tree, that door too will be blocked and we will have to go all the way to the dining room.  We're none of us pleased, but that's just the way it is.

I heard that we in northern California got over twenty-five percent of our annual rainfall in just five days.  I believe it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Safe, Sound, and Soggy

Yesterday morning was just plain scary.  Somehow, in spite of gale-force wind and torrential rain, we made it through intact here.  My neighbor lost one of the huge oaks in her pasture, but no horses were hurt.  A friend of Joel's was right, it did sound like the windows were being power-washed.  In a walk-around later, I saw that, indeed, the glass has been scoured clean!  I delayed going to the barn until, thankfully, the wind dropped.  The rain continued to pour down.  Even though I put my barn coat in front of the fire later, it was so soaked that it was not dry by evening chores; that's wet.

Finally, the storm passed and the sun came out.  Bess, the cats and I went for a tour to check for damage (and didn't find any).  Walking out after days of rain is like the day that a fever breaks, it just feels so good.  The credit for this photo goes to Joel, who called just as I was about to get ready to put the kids to bed and asked if I'd seen the fog bank coming down Perry Creek.  (There really is a year-round creek paralleling Perry Creek Road.)  The cut is so deep that only the very top of the fog can be seen from here; pretty awesome.  Speaking of creeks, this property has a "seasonal creek" that crosses the meadow at the bottom of the woods.  We had no idea what that meant when we moved here, but found that it is only a creek when it rains (duh).  Standing on the deck in the afternoon, the sound of rushing water told me that it is the season.

Light enough to see now, the sky looks pretty clear.  More rain is due tomorrow, but I'll be happy for the break today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Do A Little Dance

It is no surprise that I enjoy the company of barn mice.  However, occasionally they do surprise me.  Frequently they pop out of the grain bucket and run for cover as I remove the lid in the morning.  I'm used to that and am prepared.  Yesterday, however, when the overfed mouse leaped out and ran, it ran directly under my bibbies and up my leg.  I will admit to a yelp and some fast footwork.  Talk about a morning jump-start!  (The mouse probably felt the same way.)

Giving credit where credit is due, the weather people have been spot on in their predictions for these storms.  Yesterday was more of a steady rain, lacking the driving wind.  It seemed peaceful after the preceding gales.  They said today would be the worst and, unfortunately, it seems they were right again.  Here on the crest of the hill, it sounds like a freight train is passing just outside the windows in the dark.  It's going to be a howler down in the barn later on and I'm not looking forward to facing frantic goats.  My continuing thought is, "Save the trees.  Please protect the trees."  The wind creates a sense of urgency, as I expect the power to go out at any moment, and am grateful when it does not.  Storms are a lot easier to handle alone when the lights are on and the TV makes "people" sounds.

The cats are unhappy again, but they'll have to cope with the indoor facilities. It could be raining dogs out there in the dark.  Frank and Pearl refuse to accept "NO."  They repeatedly request, then demand to be let out.  When denied, they prowl around muttering derogatory epithets better left unheard.

It's going to be an interesting day.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Nasty Day In the Neighborhood

Wind tearing leaves from the trees and breaking small branches, sneaking cold fingers in any gap in window or door.  Rain pouring down like somebody left the spigot open full wide, beating on the metal barn roof like thunder.  I could barely hear my cell phone when Joel called to tell me the power had gone out.  Oh goody.

Soaked to the knees and squelching in wet shoes, cold water dripping down my neck, I slogged my way back to a dark house.  Coat, hat, socks, shirt and bibbies laid out in front of the wood stove, I changed into dry sweats and tried to decide what to do with the rest of the day.  While there was still light outside (albeit dim), the choice was easy.  I picked up a book; what a surprise!  My son Pete introduced me to Christopher Moore, whose writing is witty, irreverent, intelligent, with a perverse sense of humor.  (Actually, that sounds a lot like Pete.)  Moore's books are impossible for me to read without laughing out loud or wishing someone were near so I could share a particularly funny passage.  The power came back after maybe three hours, but by that time I was immersed in the story.  Turning on a lamp just made reading easier.

This morning is just a rerun of yesterday, hopefully without a power outage.  I really must get something productive accomplished today.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bit Of A Break

"It's raining, it's pouring; the old man is snoring...."  How he continues to sleep in this howling wind, I don't know.  It wasn't the wind that woke me this morning, however.  Frank and Pearl circled the bed in the dark, both complaining loudly and telling me they wanted out.  I mumbled something about the weather and refused to get up at four a.m.  They, on the other hand, refused to give up and so we were out in the kitchen at five.  I let the little whiners out the kitchen door onto the deck.  They took three steps outside, turned around, came back in and decided to use their indoor facilities, a luxury Bess won't have when she finally gets out of bed.  She, like an old man, is snoring behind me even now.  Now the cats are complaining again; they hate to admit I'm right.

Yesterday would have been the perfect time to make a quick trip to town to replenish a few supplies.  Rain spit periodically and there were brief gusts of wind.  The goats were quiet and well behaved.  The chickens were able to leave their houses, joined by the turkeys who had been under deep cover the day before.  Unfortunately, by the time Propane Gal came to remove an old, unsafe tank and relight pilot lights there wasn't enough daylight left to make it to town and back before dark.

That window of opportunity slammed shut.  Nature was taking a bit of a break to gather her forces and come back today stronger than before.  Wind is beating rain against the glass like shotgun pellets and screaming with success.  This is going to be one of those days when I'll wish I were raising hamsters and not goats.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just the Beginning

I had not left the computer yesterday morning before the wind picked up and the first raindrops hit.  In what seemed like minutes we were in the middle of a full-fledged storm.  Bess wisely opted to stay in the house at feeding time.  Leaning into the wind as I walked, it seemed better to leave the chickens in their coop rather than let them out to get plastered up against the fence by the gale.  They are dear little things, but don't always show good sense when it comes to weather.  I could hear the goats before I was halfway to the barn; the storm had them panicked and they were yelling to beat the band.  Leaving Cindy, first in line, alone on the stand for a minute as I ran around to let the others out, she screamed and screamed until I was back at her side.  The metal panels of the roof billowed like sails and I feared they'd be torn loose.  Rain beating down and wind howling, the noise was so intense I could not hear the sound of milk hitting the bucket.  It seemed so loud at times I felt I could not hear my own thoughts.  Hating rain as they do, the goats preferred being wet to coming in under shelter and all that noise.

Back in the house with the comfort of a good fire in the stove, fingers crossed for trees and power, I watched leaves whip past the windows like missiles.  Joel and I talked in the afternoon.  I was sure it was a typo on the weather report when it showed a predicted twelve inches of rain in our area from this series of storms, but Joel said that was what he'd found on the national weather website.  (Perhaps I got rid of that old boat too soon.)

In the late afternoon the wind dropped and the rain stopped.  There were even a few minutes of sunshine before I had to go out to the coops and barn.  Trees and animals had come through unscathed.  We're to get a break today and I will restock the firewood in preparation for the next wave due tonight (although it's pretty windy with some rain this morning).  If those guys know their business, yesterday was the lightest in a series of three storms through until Monday.  Good grief, it was just the beginning.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hurry Up!

The sky was sunny and bright in early morning; the cloud cover moved in while I was milking.  It was warm outside so Bess and I went out regardless to sit with a book (a very good book, "Peace Like A River;" lovely prose) for awhile.  The threat of the coming storms is a great impetus and the urge to get ready overcame my inclination to sit and read.  Reaching a compromise, I brought more wood up to the porch, then sat and read.  I went out and dug up a big pile of the seeded weeds that the turkeys had stripped bare.  This straggly weed has a massive root ball, impossible to pull from the ground.  It would make a wonderful ground cover for hills as, once dug, dirt clings in a clump the size of a soccer ball and must be beaten off against the pitchfork.  Then I sat and read.  Not enough sun to hang the clothes, but just in case of a loss of power in the predicted heavy winds, I did laundry.  One can always read while the machines do the work and still feel productive.  TG must have had prep work of his own, as neither he nor Son came to start on the drip line.

My friend Camille called.  She had the evening free and wondered if we could watch a movie.  By the time we'd both put our critters in for the night, I had thrown together a meal.  It's been some time since Camille has visited and Bessie Anne is always happy to see Honey.  Honey has wonderful manners, but she cracks me up.  She knows where I keep the box of dog cookies and casually wanders through the room, humming to herself.  "La lala, oh look, a box of cookies.  Perhaps I'll have just one.  La lala." Keeping the dog biscuit hidden in her mouth and turning her head away from Camille, Honey goes in the other room to chomp her treat.  Bessie comes to me and rats her out.  I give Bess a cookie to buy her silence.  Honey comes back to the kitchen and lies next to Bessie's food dish.  "La lala, hmmm, a bowl of snacks, isn't that lovely?  La lala."  Daintily and silently, she noses out a few kibbles and tries hard not to crunch as she eats.  In the living room, Camille and I are watching the movie.  Honey slowly moves about the room, checks Bessie's toy box, goes from corner to corner, and pauses in front of the big couch.  "La lala.  Well, doesn't that look like a nice soft place to lie?  La lala, and no one's using it.  Hmmm."  With great nonchalance, she puts up one paw, then the other, and while it is difficult to slither uphill, she manages to heave herself onto the couch without arousing Camille.  Once on the couch, she lies still as stone.  She's a hoot!

Gracious hostess that I am, and truly interested in the financial documentary that Camille had brought, I made the mistake of putting the foot of the recliner up about halfway through the film.  I woke up just as Camille and Honey were leaving, at least in time to say goodbye.  What can I say?

The sky has a strange, somewhat ominous look this morning.  It's very black toward the west, where the storm is gathering.  I'm glad I'm ready, or as ready as I can be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pot o' Gold

Sunrise, sunset, my changing environment, my world.  I never tire of looking at it all.  Having lost a few oaks in the past years, they are even more precious to me.  The golden beauty on the right is in the middle of the front pasture and I can't imagine why it is still standing.  The entire core of the tree is gone, just an outer shell remains, but it fights to stay alive, leafing out in spring and going through the cycle year after year.  A huge branch (TG thinks about a cord of wood's worth) broke and fell from the oak on the left at the edge of my mini-forest.  TG assures me it is only because they are so old.  Somehow I think trees should last forever, even though I know that is not how life works.

Tree Guy and No. 2 Son showed up just as I stepped out the door yesterday morning.  Before we could converse, I had to throw down seed for the impatiently waiting turkey tribe.  TG and Son think I'm batty, as they've been hunting turkeys for dinner the past week (without much success, I might add).  I told him to quit drooling and get back to our plan.

Since the big oak over the barn died, the milking room is a veritable sauna in the summer without shade.  The plan is this:  TG is going to trench an irrigation line down the two-hundred feet of fence line between the two goat pens and plant a series of fruited mulberry trees, placed so that the barn will be shaded from the rising sun.  That will give me time to get in, get the chores done, and get out before the metal roof really heats up.  Until each tree gets big enough, they will have to have substantial fencing to keep the girls from decimating the saplings.  I chose fruited mulberries for a number of reasons:  they grow fast, have large leaves, the blossoms will draw bees (and be so pretty!), and the fruit will feed the birds, the goats, and maybe there'll be some left for me.  The trees are deciduous, so the girls will get additional snacks when the leaves drop in the fall.  The guys should start digging today.

As the saying goes, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.  That's the plan.

Monday, November 26, 2012


These preadolescent twins were helping themselves to birdseed as I stepped out of the kitchen yesterday.  They're a little young to be out alone and I hope nothing has happened to their mama.  The comical ears are so big on this pair of mulies it looks like they could flap and fly away.  The twins move almost as one, staying close together.  There is sanctuary down in my woods, and I hope they don't stray far.

Enjoying the new routine of taking a book out to the deck after chores, I glanced up and thought, "Good grief, it's the fingers on the hand of God!"  I've never seen cloud formations like these, totally separate wave upon wave.  The sky to the left was completely blue and cloud free and once past the "palm" on the right, there were no clouds, either.  I can't imagine what wind patterns were blowing up there that would cause such a sight.

Deck time is even more precious after seeing the weather predictions for a week or so of rain coming in a couple of days.  It was difficult, but I made the book last three days.  Pages, for me, are like potato chips, I can't stop with just one or two.

Twin heads peeked around the corner between the two sheds as Bess and I went out at dusk.  Bessie knows the futility of going after deer, so she stood by my side as four sets of eyes stared at each other for a long moment.  Then, in unison as if choreographed, the little ones bounded off back to the woods.  If they bed down deep under the blackberry vines down in the meadow as deer have done before, the youngsters should be safe if the beastie boys go on the hunt.

I threw Poppy a curve ball last night and discombobulated her totally.  I thought it would be a good idea to move her and Sheila into the stall that has been empty after Nineteen and Twenty-Two left.  I put the snack bowl down, left the old stall door shut, and ushered them in.  Sheila went right in, but Poppy said, "That's not my room.  I want to go to my room!"  "But, honey, there's your food in there."  "I don't care.  It's not my room and I'm not going in."  Pushing past me, she stood with her head against the other door and wouldn't budge.  Trying to reason with a sheep who's made up her mind is futile and I finally opened the door, took the bowl from under Sheila's nose, and put them to bed in what I realize now is Poppy's room.  Pleasant dreams, Poppy.

Bibbies traded for comfy sweatpants, fire going in the wood stove, a good program on TV.  "Really?  You have to go outside now?"  Bessie Anne assured me it was urgent, so I put on a jacket and my lighted hard hat and out we went, accompanied by the cats who love outings in the dark.  Except it wasn't truly dark.  The moon is nearly full and my lights weren't necessary, it was so bright.  Once out the door, I could appreciate the nighttime beauty.  Frank and Pearl played tag, racing past us on the drive, their pounding paws the only sounds to hear.  My neighbor across the road has put up Christmas lights, adding to the pleasure.  If it hadn't been for Bess, I would have missed it all.  We made the circuit and trooped back into the house and warmth.

It was a good day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fall Palette

Making my rounds on the morning walkabout, I found these turkeys, waiting like Black Friday shoppers, for breakfast to be served.  The animals have a better sense of time than I. 

Looking beyond them, fall colors leapt out.  It took only those few nights of deep frost to turn the leaves.  The days have been uncommonly warm for this time of year, up in the mid sixties.  Perfect for sitting in the sun with a book after barn chores, and I'm not one to pass up an opportunity like that.  I'm working on my winter tan.
This is the view from my bench on the deck, looking to the southeast down past Fleur de Lys Winery.  It's my favorite place in the world to sit quietly alone or with a friend.  It has the same effect on others.  Even in the midst of a large gathering, I could count on finding our friend Dan sitting by himself on the bench, absorbing the peace.  Another friend, Mary, would come up.  Knowing what she needed, after our greetings, I would give her a cup of tea or cocoa and leave her be to sit in the quiet and shed her stresses out on the deck.  After an hour or so, she'd give me a hug and go back to the "real world."  Talk wasn't necessary.

One of the white Silkie roosters, not Musashi, died suddenly last night.  He'd shown no signs of illness.  Not too long ago, Blondie also died but of old age.  Taylor and her mom had raised Blondie from a chick until she was too big (and vocal) to keep in their residential home.  Blondie arrived, via Larry, with a note that said, "My name is Blondie.  I am a very good girl and lay lots of eggs."  She was and she did.  She was the last of my Buff Orpingtons.  Some of the flock are just chickens and some have special characteristics or personalities.  It is to be expected that chickens will have a short life span, but they are missed when they leave.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

R&R Day

Bluebird sky, shirtsleeve warm; it was a perfect day in which to rest and recuperate.  Sheila came in without a moment's hesitation (of course she did, the twerp!).  I moved a bench on the deck out of the shade and sat and read for awhile, the winter sun soothing aching muscles and joints, listening only to bird sounds and an occasional Skilsaw as someone with a day off and more ambition than I took on a project.  Back in the house, it seemed the perfect day to watch all six episodes of "Pride and Prejudice" back to back, with a short break for a nap.  (I'll watch anything with Colin Firth.)

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is like running a marathon race, and I'll be the first to say I'm out of practice.  Professional chefs are athletes as well as inspired cooks, constantly on their feet and always moving.  I really needed my day of R&R after a full shift at the stove.  Eyelids drooping, I opted for an early bedtime, once again giving thanks.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"That" Question

I learned long ago never to ask, "What else could go wrong?"  It began the night before when I blinked a little too long (I fell asleep in the chair) and scorched the stuffing that had taken hours to prep.  Forging ahead in the morning, I got the turkey and one pie in the ovens.  The Kids were due to arrive at ten and, for once, I was actually on time.  The last task before going to the barn was to damp mop the kitchen.  I have one of those stick mops with the attached bottle of cleanser activated by a trigger, quick and easy.  I filled the bottle and started, only to find that the trigger had broken and the cleanser was pouring out in a steady stream.  I could have been the broom man on a curling team as I raced to scrub the floor ahead of the flood.  With four feet to go, the danged mop went dry.  Of course it did.  It was that kind of day.  Going back to the start line, on hands and knees with a roll of paper towels, I sopped up standing water.  What began as a fifteen minute job turned into forty-five minutes and, surprise, I was under the gun again.  I was still milking Inga when Deb and Craig drove up.  No problem.  Last in line, Sheila is a fast milker and I'd be out of the barn in no time.  She was right there by the barn door, waiting for Inga to come out.  "Good girl, Sheila; come right in and get your breakfast."  She looked at me with that blank expression that goats do so well, turned around and headed for the far end of the pen.  Deb and Craig had strolled out to see the girls and were witness to my humiliation.  Grabbing the rope, I followed Sheila up the hill to the water trough, back and forth along the fence line, and around the barn a time or two as the Kids waited.  Knees already creaking from crawling around the kitchen, I was ready to abandon the game when Sheila stopped at the barn door as if wondering what had taken me so long.  I will admit I called that goat every name but Sheila.

Dave and Pinto drove up shortly after I'd (finally) finished in the barn, and Clay came soon after.  The worker bees kicked into action.  Deb and Craig peeled and cut ten pounds of potatoes.  Pinto brought wagon loads of firewood to the porch.  Dave and Clay worked down in the shop, uninstalling a huge vise for which Dave had found a buyer.  Cherry pie out of the oven, I had the pecan pie ready to go in.  Craig is the official turkey baster.  Larry and Susan arrived just in time to sit in as Dave broke out the cards and counted chips.  Let the games begin!  Leaving the poker table to make the pumpkin pie and put together some other dishes in the kitchen, I loved hearing the constant laughter and teasing in the other room.  There was a call and several texts from Pete, the missing and missed son, before we cleared the decks for dinner.

There is no more rewarding sound for a cook than the silence that falls after the bowls and platters have been passed, plates are filled and diners begin to eat.  Ahhh, it's all worthwhile in just that moment.

The Kids cleaned up the kitchen, I put the critters to bed, we celebrated Craig's and Susan's birthdays, and played more poker.  Leftovers were parcelled out before the goodbye hugs and "Love you's."  The day that had begun so poorly had turned into a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful for any day spent with my loved ones.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Turkeys

An entire tribe of turkeys was in the old goat pen yesterday morning, having flown over the eight-foot fence from Joel's vineyard.  They grazed on the new grass just like the goats in the drizzling rain.  Switching out girls on the stand, I saw that eight or so of the big birds had gone over into the new pen, leaving two behind.  Those two ran up and down the line, crying their piteous call and poking their heads through the four-inch square wire fence that is all of four feet high.  The dum-dums kept this up until I'd milked the last goat, finished my barn chores, and opened the gate between the two pens so the girls (and the turkeys) could go in.  Before heading to the house, my last task always is to top off the water trough.  Standing there is a pleasure as I check the weather, the surrounding hills, whatever wildlife might be around, and the girls.  And then I saw them.  I'm sure it was the same two silly turkeys, the ones who couldn't get over the little fence.  There they were, sitting on branches in the big oak at the foot of the pasture, probably sixty feet off the ground.  It's a good thing the wild turkey was not adopted as our national bird, as Benjamin Franklin supposedly suggested.  They're just not smart.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Your Mark...

It's going to be a little difficult to get everything done today with crossed fingers and held breath.  Another storm blew in last night and I am keeping the good thought for electricity.  As I told my son Pete last night, I tried to build up some positive karma yesterday when I stopped on the way back from the feed store to thank a couple of PG&E workers who were working at the side of the road.  Those guys are our first line of defense and I was glad for the opportunity.

There was an off-chance that Deb and Craig might come up tonight, but their work put the kibosh on that.  Since part of the Thanksgiving tradition is tearing the bread (all those loaves of bread!) for the stuffing, it's very nice to have their help, as they have done in years past.  Their company is always so welcome.

A good number of items on the list have been crossed off, and I have hopes for the rest today.  As I've been known to say, a thing will either get done...or it won't.  There is a point beyond which one just can't worry about it anymore.  I'm still in the race.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Clear the Decks

I should have lists of my lists.  We're on the countdown to Thanksgiving and there's still a lot to do.  Without lists, I vacillate between procrastination and distraction.  I can't tell if I'm my own worst enemy or if I just work harder as a deadline looms.  Today the concentration will be on the house.  Tomorrow is prep day for the dinner.  I was gobsmacked the other day when I was telling a friend that I have been fixing the same menu for fifty years.  Holy cow!  Fifty years!  I guess that's long enough to be considered a tradition (and makes me an antique).  I know I dare not change anything or the wrath of the clan would come down upon my head.  Because we use the occasion to also celebrate Craig's and now Susan's birthdays, I have some leeway with dessert.  Pumpkin pie, of course, but also a pecan pie for Craig and this year a cherry pie for Susan (we're none of us cake eaters).  When we converted the stove top to propane gas, a necessity with the numerous power outages, we also put in double ovens.  I can't imagine cooking a holiday dinner without them.  Turkey in one, pies, rolls, bourbon yams, the ever-popular green bean casserole taking turns in the other.  The ovens, however, are electric.  That would put me in deep doodah if the power were to go out on Thursday.  That nightmare doesn't bear thinking about.

The trash has been hauled down to the big road.  The sky is getting light.  Time to look at a list and get my game on.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Twilight Zone

Grey, rainy, and the sun never broke through what seemed like perpetual twilight yesterday.  Morning chores done, it was a good day to settle in for the last NASCAR race of the season, the race for the championship.  Blip!  The screen went dark.  Nooo!  I felt that I really had stepped into the Twilight Zone as I realized that once again we'd lost power, not even halfway through the race.  I have the PG&E outage hotline on speed dial on the landline phone that I maintain just for such emergencies.  Over the years, I feel I've developed a close relationship with the recorded voice that tells me to "Press 1 for complete outage," "Press 2 if there is no dog that would prevent access."  Having made the same call at midnight, I felt like saying, "Hi, it's me again."  I filled the oil lamps just in case we were in for the long haul and brought more firewood into the house while it was light enough to see if black widows were nesting in the rack.  The day was so dim that I needed a flashlight to read even at three o'clock.  At three-thirty, I decided I'd better make dinner while I could still see to chop onions, having defrosted meat for tacos earlier.  Dining by candlelight might be romantic, frying tortillas by lamplight is not.  Clay later texted me the results of the race; no ray of sunshine there as neither of our drivers won.  Nearly dark at four-forty-five, Bess and I stepped out to put the critters to bed.  Fully dark when we walked back to the quiet, oh-so-quiet house.  The ticking of the (battery-powered) clock in the kitchen and the hiss of a fresh log on the fire were the only sounds heard.  Then, a few minutes after six, there was a click and hum as the refrigerator kicked on.  Could it be?  I turned on a lamp and was gratified to see light!  We had made it through another journey to the Zone.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Location, Location, Location

Not sure that I should peek, and not sure what I'd find, I couldn't resist opening the medicine box to see how the baby mice (called pinkies or pups) had fared.  What I did not expect was nothing.  Nothing there.  No nest, no mice.  Had I imagined the whole thing?  Then, as I was closing the box, I spied the wipes tucked back behind the bottles of liniment and antiseptic wash.  Obviously, I had put the hastily created nest in the wrong place and the residents have relocated it and, hopefully, the babies.  I didn't want to disturb any further, so shut the door and wished them all well.

Lots of wind and lots of rain yesterday.  It was a good day for soup.  I made cream of broccoli and, as I found out in the evening, Deb had made a pot of split pea.  My mother had made soup on rainy days and it's nice to see that tradition carried forward.

The power went out in the middle of the night.  I am always so grateful to the PG&E workers who do their job in the worst weather conditions to get us back up and running with electricity.  I really do sympathize with those on the east coast who were or have been without power for so long.

It's still dark and wet outside.  Pearl just came back in after her morning constitutional, complaining loudly and demanding, as usual on rainy days, to be fluffed.  Frank is more of a do-it-yourself guy and rolls on the carpet to dry himself.  I am being called.  I must go.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Box of Chocklits

Life is one surprise after another.  Finding mice in the feed bucket is old hat now, but for a minute yesterday I couldn't tell what I was seeing.  Bubble-gum pink is not the norm for goat chow.  Three or four adult mice had leapt out when I took off the lid, and it seems one of them was a new mama.  I don't know if she'd planned to raise her little ones with a convenient food source or if she'd gotten caught unprepared when her labor started.  Either way, she shouldn't have been climbing up so high to the hanging bucket in her delicate condition.
The poor wee mites are hairless and blind, hardly bigger than the kernels of corn.  What to do?  Historically, there have been nests in the "medicine box" on the wall.  I grabbed a handful of dry wipes and, handling the babies as little as possible, tucked them in with the wipes in a corner.  I don't hold out much hope for these little guys, but I had to try.  In my perfect world, the mama will come looking and find her tiny brood, or perhaps there is a compassionate mother mouse already living in the box (my actions were being observed by several sets of eyes) who will adopt them.

The storm that threatened yesterday held off until I got home after dark from shopping for Thanksgiving.  Hurriedly shutting coop doors on chickens already tucked in and racing down to put the girls into the barn, I started unloading bag after bag of groceries while the rain, with perfect timing, started pouring on my head.  What a surprise.  Not.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Crash Landing

That hawk I heard on the deck some days back definitely left his mark.  On my morning walkabout, I saw what I thought was a flaw in the big living room window.  Invisible when seen straight on, at just the right angle and the sun shining there was the perfect imprint of a large bird on the glass, wing feathers outstretched and well defined and the head and beak smooshed to the side.  No wonder he was sitting on the rail; he must have had the mother of all headaches.  It's a wonder he didn't break his neck.

It costs a bit more than tuppence a bag to feed the birds these days, especially when some of my feathered friends are as large as the turkey there on the feeder.  That feeder was never intended to support the weight of these hulks and has crashed to the ground before.  The majority of seed is thrown on the ground for their convenience, but there's one in every crowd who won't play by the rules, don'tcha know.

Nature was marshaling her forces just after daybreak yesterday, the clouds streaming up from the south.  Her troops organized during the night and have blanketed the sky today.  It looks like it might be just a minor skirmish, but there could be a full assault tomorrow.  The laundry is done, batteries are fully charged, and two more wagons of firewood have been brought to the porch.  Bring it on!

I was headed for disaster and were it not for my friend's reminder, I might have had a crash landing of my own.  I don't have a lot of reason to check the calendar (one day is pretty much like the next) and, in my mind, Thanksgiving was two or three weeks away.  Not!  Linda dropped me back into reality yesterday with the news that I've got days, not weeks, to go shopping and start the prep for Thanksgiving dinner and the company that will be here.  Good grief, I've got to get moving!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Breakfast Club

Like shoppers waiting for the store to open on Black Friday, turkeys mill around under the oak, waiting for breakfast to be served.  Members of the huge flock of blackbirds that has migrated to winter here are in the chicken pens scrounging leftover grain.  Coop doors are opened and hens and roosters tumble out, heading for the scratch, a mixture of corn and seeds that starts their day.  In the barn, the acrobatic mouse goes up and down the rope; trying to lose weight or building up an appetite?  A mouse or two (or more) usually hang out in the grain bucket at night, popping out in the morning when the obviously ineffective lid is removed.  Yesterday, one little guy was too full to make the leap and climbed into my proffered hand for a lift.  A handful of goat chow always gets thrown on the floor to feed the needy while the girls are getting their cereal in a bowl.  A vole has made a tunnel entrance right beside the free-food pile.  Like a seal, his sleek brown head with tiny ears pokes above the surface.  The mice pick out their favorite bits, holding and nibbling a crushed corn kernel like a sandwich.  The vole prefers private dining and fills his cheek pouches for a take-out meal at home.  The barn birds took a page from the scrub jays' play book and now help themselves from the open bucket on the overhead shelf while I'm milking, too impatient to wait until the girls' nighttime bowls are filled.  Milk buckets in hand, I make my way back to the house, and the meeting of the Breakfast Club is over for the day.

This is my week to see special faces.  Kellan and William are working in an olive grove over in Coloma and took the time to come and visit last night.  I have so missed these dear ones.  They are staying in Georgetown with a long-time friend who has a commercial goat cheese establishment, and brought me a sample of a delicious, strong-flavored, cured cheese that I gobbled down right then and there, as well as a soft cheese I saved for today.  In addition to hand picking olives at their "day job," Kellan and William help Charlie milk twenty-two goats (with a machine) twice daily.  They are not WWOOFers but are gaining broad experience as itinerant workers on a variety of farms and ranches, just in California now, but who knows where their travels will take them.  They brought photos and stories of the places they've been on their great adventure.  I can't think of better company for an evening and look forward to the next time they come to south county.  They give good hugs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What A Treat!

It's a red-letter day when my friend Kit comes to town, travelling up from the far end of southern California, and even better when I get to join her and her aunt Tinka, who lives in Fiddletown.  Spiffed up in clean jeans (about as dressy as we get up here), I met them for lunch down in Plymouth, also known as Pokerville.  The food was good and the company was the best.  I get to see these ladies only once or twice a year, and our time together always goes too fast.  Sadly, Tinka's husband Bill wasn't able to join us and he was missed.  Kit is going back home today and I wish her safe journey.  Thanks for a great day.

I'm anxious to see this morning if the one dumb turkey who couldn't figure out how to join her flock ever made it out of the goat pen.  Seven of them got themselves in there while I was milking yesterday, picking their way amongst the goats, then running the fence line as they do.  It was nearly dark when I put the girls to bed and that one silly birdbrain was still going back and forth, calling with plaintive cries for rescue.

I saw something the other day that I've never seen before.  I watch the birds every day as they fly, swoop, dive, circle, and glide, but I had never, ever seen one do a complete barrel roll.  I don't have to go to Reno to see a breath-taking air show.  That was a treat of a different sort.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Small Things

Bessie Anne was outside when the beastie boys began their song to greet the day yesterday.  She joined the chorus with enthusiasm and absolutely no talent.  I wouldn't say this to her face, but it really sounded like she was gargling, not yodeling.  On the plus side, it will probably keep her from being asked to join the pack and running away from home.

That voyeuristic mouse was on the rope again in the morning, dangling dangerously and trying to peek through the nail hole.  What makes this so funny to me is that wall is just a sheet of plywood between the milking room and the big sleeping room.  There is nothing on the other side that the mouse hasn't seen a hundred times and could easily see safely by walking around the corner, but it is obsessed with that nail hole.  Go figure.

Busy in the kitchen, I heard strange thumping from the living room in the afternoon.  Cats were asleep in the bedroom and Bess was with me.  Hmmm.  Going to check, there was a hawk sitting on the deck rail.  It must have been banging on the big window.  Other, smaller birds have taken on that "stranger" they've seen in the reflection, but never before has a hawk come so close.  It flew off when it saw me, but that wasn't the end of it.  Later, I stepped out the kitchen door and the hawk again startled me by flying out from under the deck right under my feet.  I can't think of a reason for it to be under there.

These small things, these little mysteries, make my days intriguing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Birds of a Feather

Down in the barn, sparrows lined up on beams and wires as they waited for breakfast, looking like puff balls with feathers fluffed out to increase their insulation.  An old, raggedy mouse climbed up on the ledge of the Dutch door to sit in the sunshine.  Troops of turkeys marched in formation, walking to keep warm.  Until afternoon, the hens huddled together in the coops, taking comfort from each other.  As darkness fell, a vee of geese flew in black silhouette against the red setting sun, wondering why they'd travelled south for this.

It never warmed up all day.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Da' Boys

The trucks rolled in and the men from the Freed Spirits Motorcycle Club piled out:  Bam-Bam (aka my son Dave), Sandman, Stick, Hambone, Bird, Pinto, Hang-Around Jason, and Ashleigh (Stick's young daughter).  Those guys give great hugs; no handshakes for them!  Clay drove up just a bit later and the crew was complete.  Comments were made about the farm being so far out in the hinterlands that they'd need a passport to get back into Sacramento, and then they got to work like a swarm of ants.  Bam-Bam was the head honcho for the team and had them running like a well-oiled machine.  Before lunch the biggest and most obvious trash had been loaded in the trucks and a burn pile fired up.  When not working, the guys were downstairs going through the Boys-and-Their-Toys Store, finding and buying treasures and bemoaning lack of room at home for tools they drooled over but couldn't take.  The day was cold but mostly sunny, so the hot lunch went over well.  In the afternoon, I went out to help sort stuff in the barn.  Stored papers that hadn't been shredded by mice went out to be burned, scrap metal (like a propeller - what the heck did we need with a propeller?!) was set aside for the ironmonger, and shelves were emptied.  Wahoo!  A lot of the guys had left earlier, but those remaining and I stood by the burn pile and talked while it hailed.  And hailed.  Bessie Anne, who was in her glory with all the men around and wanted to be with them, looked so pitiful with ice piling up on her head that we headed back to the house.  More talk and lots of laughing.  The house seemed so empty when they left.

Dave has always referred to the Freed Spirits club members as "brothers."  I can understand why.  As I thanked the guys for their help, each of them told me, "That's what we do for family, and you're family."  Clay (my fifth son) and Pinto (Dave's housemate) assured me they'd be back for Thanksgiving.  Another day to look forward to.  I wish Deb and Craig had been here, too; they were missed.

Bessie Anne's swimming pool is frozen solid this morning, and there is heavy, heavy frost on the ground.  Twenty-six degrees will do that.  My heart is warm.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hurry, Hurry!

No matter how much prep I do, I'm always under the gun when it comes to visitors.  This is one of those days when I wish the goats could squirt out the milk on their own; I need more time in the kitchen!  Snow did, in fact, come before ten yesterday morning, but only a few flurries and nothing stuck.  Whew.  I had started browning the pork for chili verde when my customers came for milk in the afternoon and the house sure smelled good.  It's going to be another cold, overcast day, and the chili should help warm the guys when they get here.  It slow cooked in the oven overnight.  I think (hope) two big, full stock pots should be enough, with rice and tortillas on the side.  I've got to get another cake baked before heading to the barn.  Good help needs to be well fed.