Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where There's Smoke...

Today has not had an auspicious beginning.  Awoke to a terrific wind and rain storm; worst wind yet this season.  I needed to print some official documents.  With perfect timing, my printer ran out of black ink.  I may go down as my contact's most colorful client, as I'm sending the forms in in green.  I explained that I could not 'just run them over to Fed-Ex,' as the nearest Fed-Ex was twenty miles away.  He'll be lucky if I get them down to the big road mailbox in this storm.  Deal with it, flatlander!

While contemplating my options for the day here at the computer, the nearest smoke alarm went off with that piercing screech that would wake the dead.  I'd banked the wood stove in the living room last night and, not going to be in that part of the house, had not fired it up this morning.  The wind was pushing smoke down the flue into the house and that set off the alarm.  In the midst of wind and blowing rain, I ran around opening doors and windows to clear the room, throwing wood onto the fire and opening all the vents.  Until the blaze was hot enough to get a good draw in the chimney, the wind would cause a downdraft with enough smoke to make my eyes water.  Bessie Anne followed me everywhere and the panicked cats were hiding under the bed.  (Note to self:  put the battery back in the smoke alarm.)

This little hummer on the edge of the hanging planter has decided to wait it out; the wind is that strong.  I cannot seem to get the fire hot enough to keep the blaze going.  We've done the routine three times so far, smoke pouring into the room each time, doors open to the elements.  (Note to self:  go find the trash cans and lids someday.)

Forget Fed-Ex and the mailbox.  I've got other things to attend to.  It's going to be an interesting day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sexy Season

Can we talk?  Everywhere I look, some creature or other is involved in the mating ritual.  The first robins arrived yesterday, and it was like the procreation starting gun going off .  I know that's what is making the girls so cranky in the goat pen and why the Silkie boys are getting territorial.  Over twenty turkeys gathered under the oak outside the kitchen, the males fluffed out with tails spread, each trying to outdo the other with their feathered finery to entice the females into their harem.  Leap year or not, it's ladies' choice in the turkey world.

Do schools still have Sadie Hawkins' Day dances, I wonder?  When I was a Kid, those were the girl-asks-boy dances, a la "Li'l Abner," a cartoon in the funny papers.  Daisy Mae in her short shorts was the prototype for actresses like Ellie Mae in "The Beverly Hillbillies" and Daisy Dukes in "The Dukes of Hazzard."  She was desperately in love with Li'l Abner, but he always managed to avoid her invitations.  Strange as it may seem now, there actually was a time when "nice" girls didn't call boys, and certainly didn't invite them on a date.  Unless it was Leap Year!

After waiting all day for the NASCAR race (said to run at nine, but didn't until four), it was a doozy!  Grateful for the capability of replaying scenes, I had to spend time in the kitchen, listening and running back to the living room for a quick look.  I'd felt so guilty about having nothing but cookies for dinner the night before, I made a creamy chicken and vegetable soup last night.  It was perfect for a day that had had flurries of snow outside.  I restocked the woodpile on the porch and the house was toasty.

It was a good day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Asked For It

Be careful what you wish for!  All during this long, dry winter, I've been saying how badly we need rain.  I should have been a little more specific.  We did not need rain in Florida on the day of the Daytona 500 race.  NASCAR fans waited in the stands and in front of televisions across America from nine to five before the race was officially called and rescheduled for today.  A lot of DVRs are going to get a workout today as people go back to their jobs.  A race is a race, but somehow it's not the same (for me) when it's recorded.  I got so depressed, I had to make comfort food for dinner.  Oatmeal-raisin cookies may not include the four food groups, but they certainly lifted my spirits.

Awoke to dripping skies here this morning, and that's a good thing.  Hopefully, the rain will cool the girls' tempers.  Yesterday was a case of "change partners and dance."  This time it was Sheila and Inga going at it while I was milking the others.  They were doing bank shots off the barn walls and it sounded like cannons.  Talk about PMS! 

Of course, I should have brought more wood up to the porch, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky yesterday.  In addition to being a flirt, Nature enjoys playing tricks.  I just wish she was a fan of NASCAR, too.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Running Away

I ran away a number of times when I was a little Kid.  I wrote thoughtful "goodbye forever" notes and left them on Mother's pillow under the bedspread, my thinking being that no one would notice I was gone until bedtime (I was an only child!).  I always remembered to retrieve the note before we sat down to dinner.  I don't think my mother ever knew.

I ran away again as an adult.  (Things had gotten really bad with my second husband.)  I called my mother, who lived across town, and asked if she wanted to run away, too.  She was in her late seventies then.  She asked when, I said now, she said okay, and she was packed by the time I got to her place.  "Where are we going?"  "Well, we came from southern California so we know what's down there.  We can't go very far west before we run into the ocean.  It's winter and too cold to go north.  How about east to the Gold Country?"  (Little did I know I'd be living here someday.)  We spent a week traveling through the hills, stopping at every monument, every roadside stand, every little town, and every old cemetery we passed.  I have a thing about old cemeteries; there is so much history to be learned.  I did tell Mother about this fascination so she wouldn't think I was giving her a preview of coming attractions.  One of my favorite photos shows Mother sitting on a tombstone, eating a banana as I cruised the rows reading epitaphs.  We ended up down the coast in Santa Cruz, came up through Monterey, and finally reality set in and, after a week, we came back to Sacramento.  If one is going to run away, I highly recommend taking one's mother along.  It was one of the best times of our lives.

I ran away again yesterday.  After making sure all animals were fed and safe, I took off and left the farm behind.  Deb and Craig had called in the morning and invited me to their house for the afternoon.  They live in Woodland, down the hills and across the valley.  For one who rarely ventures far from home, this was a major trip.  Deb had spent the day making a vat of sauce with beef, sausages, onions and garlic, and herbs from their garden.  It was hard to keep from drooling when I got my first whiff of that perfume.  I got to see the raised garden beds they put in last year, with cold frames and drip systems, and their wonderful little trailer.  It is perfect for the two of them, and already has their own special touches.  Later, they served up sandwiches with torta bread and that wonderful Italian sauce...I was happy!  It was terrific to spend time with this dear couple, and it ended too soon.

Just as when I was a little Kid, I had to be home before dark.

It was a good day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Now, Now

What is it?  Is it just because it's spring?  Is it living in close proximity?  Is it a personality clash?  Whatever the cause, sap and tempers are on the rise these days.  Recently Ruth and Cindy had a go-round; last night it was two of the black Silkie roosters.  These two featherweights (did I really say that?) were going at it in the Taj.  In such close quarters and because these boys are so small, I was able to grab one and break up the fight.  Fortunately, chickens seem to have a short attention span so I could put the nighttime snack and the rooster into the room with the others and all was well.  I really don't like all this fighting, but nobody asked me.

It is way too early.  The oaks and lilacs are burgeoning with leaf buds and the forsythia is putting out blossoms.  We should still be in winter's grip.  This does not bode well for summer.  Last year there was so much rain I wondered if I should build an ark.  Now I'm afraid it will be so dry I'll have to trade the goats for camels.  Camels are notoriously bad tempered.  I don't need any more fighting.  I hope it rains soon.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Just Musing

Not much going on yesterday.  Down in the barn, my mind went searching for a topic, coursing back and forth like a bird dog on the hunt.  There are times when a subject arises and I mentally compose a journal entry almost in its entirety before actually writing it.  For the most part, however, they're written on the fly.  Words leap up, vying for attention.  I love Mark Twain's comment:  "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."  My mental bird dog stopped and pointed at words themselves; specifically, colloquial exclamations.

Egads and zounds (ye gods and God's wounds) appeared in the 1500s, similar to the current "OMG."  Language is not static.  It is constantly evolving (sometimes devolving, I think), and exclamations seem to be most vulnerable to change, subject to fads brought about by the youth of the era.  In my mother's heyday, the Roaring Twenties, something great was "the bee's knees," "the cat's meow (or pajamas)."  Language was sanitized in the '50s; "super-duper" being the best I can come up with.  The Age of Aquarius brought in "cool" and "far out."  I'll admit to perhaps overuse of "cool" still.  I'm glad to have missed "phat" and "bitchin'."  It seems "brilliant" has been in vogue with the Brits for a long time, and "sweeet" is a term I frequently hear now.  (Spellcheck is going to go bonkers today.)

I'm cool with that.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I think the baton has officially been passed.  When I bought my first two goats, I'm sure the sellers were afraid to answer their phone because I called with so many questions.  Is this normal?  How do I handle this problem?  Can I do such-and-such?  Should I...and on and on.  They were so patient and helpful.  I kept them in mind yesterday as I received call after call.  The goat triplets made it through the night and their owner was able to get to town to get some goat milk replacement powder.  It's not the optimum, but better for them than cow's milk.  Another owner called; one of his does was in labor with a difficult delivery.  It's really hard to be a long-distance midwife, but I gave him what advice I could, time being of the essence.  He called back later.  The poor doe had two breech babies and one crosswise in the canal.  He helped her deliver all three and was able to save two.  As he had phrased it, "Is this Goat 9-1-1?"

I've been working on another ornament, same "pattern" but with different beads.  I think it looks like a gilded poinsettia and will leave off any dangles.  I must quit beading and get back to my other projects.  I might need the dining room table to actually serve dinner some night.

Here is one of Nature's jewels.  I discovered this moth on the screen when I'd gone out to bring in more firewood.  Another one of those times I wish I were a better photographer.

Frank, handsome as he is and as much as I love him, just isn't very bright.  Yesterday he got himself trapped in one of the sheds for the second time this week.  He dashes in behind me and hides and then gets shut in when I head on to the next chore.  Both cats spend most of the day sleeping, so I don't miss him until I open the door again.  He doesn't seem to associate me with shutting him in.  He is just so glad to see me as his rescuer, rubbing against my leg and telling me how awful it had been.  I'm his Cat 9-1-1.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To the Rescue

Little kids (the goat kind) are having it rough this season.  The rejected triplet from a week or so ago is doing well, still not accepted by its mama but thriving on the milk from my girls.  I received a panicky phone call yesterday from a gal who had purchased three kidlets that had developed severe diarrhea in just two days.  It turns out the babies were less than three weeks old and the breeder (not from around here, thank goodness) had airily told the new owner, "Oh, just feed 'em cow's milk.  They'll do fine."  This breeder also sells babies at one week.  In my opinion, this is the caprine equivalent of a puppy mill.  Unless I know a kid is going to a home with a milking adult goat in residence, I don't think a little one should be sold until it is weaned.  I was able to scrounge up a gallon of milk for this trio of kids because one of my regular customers is out of town for a couple of weeks.  Scours (diarrhea) and the resulting dehydration can kill a goat quickly.  I'm hoping for the best.

On the home front, there is peace in the valley (make that hill top) again.  One thing about goats, once the war is over, no grudge is held.  Ruth and Cindy got along as if they'd never fought or even had cross words.  There's a lesson in that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

She Started It

Ruthie is being retired (no party planned).  She is now the oldest goat in the herd, and she's been giving less and less milk and I've decided to let her dry up entirely.  She's past the age for breeding, so her job from now on will be as grazer and brush trimmer.  As a kid, she was always getting into something, a real trouble maker.  She's mellowed over the years, but evidently that leopard didn't change its spots.

When I went down to the pen at sundown last night, Ruth and Cindy were in a knock-down, drag-out fight, with Esther acting as referee.  There is a vast difference between mock battles and a real "I'm gonna take you out!" fight, and the girls were definitely going at it.  The clash of heads literally shook the ground on impact.  It's scary when the goats become so single-minded, intent on winning.  Poppy and Sheila dashed into their room when I opened that door, and Tessie and Inga said, "Get us out of here!"  The combatants carried the fight down the hill toward the barn, and I had to move fast to get out of their way.  I've learned that they have to settle whatever the problem is themselves; it's not wise to get in the middle (or anywhere near).  Esther seemed to be watching for any foul, occasionally stepping in to bop one or the other as a reminder to fight fair.  It was getting on toward full dark when Ruthie cried uncle and ran around and hid behind the barn, leaving Cindy panting and shaking, but willing to call it quits.  She and Esther finally went into the big room together.  Ruth peeked around the corner to make sure it was safe, then dashed back to her stall.  I imagine there are some king-sized headaches this morning, but I sincerely hope that peace has been restored.  I never know why these fights break out.  It might be a change in the pecking order, or perhaps just some sideways glance taken wrong.  I'm always glad when they're over.  I don't like trouble in paradise.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I was amused down in the barn (as I am so frequently).  By the entrance to any number of burrows, there are ragged remnants of the winter's supply of blankets, those diaper wipes pulled from the bucket last fall and taken underground to keep the mice and ground squirrels warm.  One industrious little mousewife has thrown out the dried grasses she had chosen instead.  Obviously I'm not the only one stricken with this spring-cleaning fever.

Nature opted for the blue dress after all yesterday, but kept an underslip of cold air.  It was warm enough to sit at the end of the deck with a book for awhile after chores.  Bess moved from sun to shade and back again.  Pearl joined us and took the opportunity for a bath.  Is there any creature more hedonistic than a cat?  Long, luxurious, licking strokes, followed by an arched back and big stretch, then curling up for a nap in the sunshine.  And they say dogs have it good.

In the afternoon, restlessness took over and we all went out to the front yard and I dug up the stand of dead mullein.  I'd grown so used to seeing those six-foot sentinels, my horizon looks strange to me now.  As long as I had the garden fork in hand, I went ahead and dug out the rest of the wild grasses in the herb garden.  Everywhere I go outside, clumps of daffodils are pushing up, and there are even a few paper-white narcissus blooms.  It's still too early to rake off the blanket of leaves, but that is moving up on the To-Do list.

When a wood stove is the source of heat, one has to plan ahead and light the fire before the temperature drops at sundown.  I'd made a late run to the feed store and by the time I'd unloaded the goat chow, chicken feed and bird seed, it was close to dark.  The stove has to be monitored while the vents are open and the fire catches hold so it doesn't overheat and start a chimney fire, so I can't leave the room for half an hour or so.  That would have to wait until the kids were put to bed.  When they were all tucked in, the house was cold.  Ah well, a hot toddy while the embers caught made it all better.

It was a good day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Like a woman in a dress shop, Nature is trying on different looks, not quite able to make up her mind.  Friday was a warm spring day, too nice to stay indoors.  Yesterday the clouds came down lower than the surrounding hilltops, dampening everything, including spirits.  This morning the sky is clear, below freezing, pastures and railings white with frost.

Given that it was grey and cold outside, yesterday was a perfect day to stay by the fire and rest my achy breaky back (apologies to Billy Ray Cyrus).  The NASCAR Shootout was seventy-five laps filled with enough excitement to satisfy the most rabid fan, the surprise leader crossing the finish line milliseconds ahead of second place to take the checkered flag.  Next Sunday is the Daytona 500, and weekends will take on meaning again.

Gee whiz, the quick-change artist is at it again.  She started out with a clear blue sky and pink sunrise, but has switched to a grey wrap-around to go with the white ground.  Personally, I thought the blue looked just fine.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

When Will It End?

This madness must stop.  I'm bent over like a crone and my arms look like I've been the victim of a botched "death of a thousand cuts" attack.  It began so innocently yesterday morning as I took my walk-around, planning the day before starting chores.  I strolled up a section of the driveway that is somewhat hidden from everyday view by the drooping branches of the live oak and saw all the dead weeds from last summer.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  Some of that section has never been weeded.)  Having a few minutes before heading to the barn, I cleaned up a small square.  Later in the warm early afternoon, enjoying the look of the cleared walkway, I thought I might go pick a few more least get a good start while the weather held.  I became a woman in the grip of obsession, marching down the line like Grant through Richmond or Sherman to the sea.  The dead, stiff, three-foot stems of the St. John's wort had to be broken off at ground level and they snapped back on my forearms, which soon ran red.  Just another three feet and I'll quit.  I swear, just another four feet and I'll quit.  By sundown, I couldn't stand up straight, blood was staining my gloves, and Bess had given up hope, but by golly I'd cleared the entire hundred-by-twenty-foot section.  There are seven huge stacks of weeds by the drive; nothing on earth could have forced me to haul them to the burn pile last night.  Bessie Anne ran ahead and I hobbled behind her back to the house just before dark.  A bowl of oatmeal was the best I could manage for dinner. 

The 2012 NASCAR season starts this weekend.  Gee, I guess I'll have to stay in my chair for that, loyal fan that I am.  Further spring cleaning will just have to wait.  I'll go milk the goats this morning as soon as my stiff, cramped fingers uncurl.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Satisfaction Guaranteed

After what seemed like weeks of being housebound due to either weather or projects, when the day turned warm yesterday afternoon, Bessie Anne, Pearl and I went out to do some work.  (Frank had put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign while he napped in a pool of sunshine in the house.)  The wild grasses that had moved into the front walkway are deceptive.  What looks like a small fistful above ground will have a tough root mass the size of a football underneath and must be dug out with a fork and the dirt shaken off.  It was a time-consuming chore, but it was so nice to be outside again.  Bess moved from one patch of freshly turned earth to another.  Pearl played with the long fronds in the growing weed pile, sometimes trying to catch a clump as I tossed it over.  (She can't catch any better than I.)  I go nowhere alone, and by the time my little entourage and I had hauled the last wagon load over to the burn pile, I had worked up a sweat.  I had earned a cold beer and the little kids had gotten bored.  We all sat on the porch as the sun lowered and looked with satisfaction on the cleared walkway.  I'd grown used to the wild and woodsy look, and had forgotten how really nice it is when cleaned up.  It felt so darned good to get out and do something physical.

Something else that was so darned good was the Bubble and Squeak I made for dinner.  Leftover fried cabbage from the night before mixed with sauteed onions and mashed potatoes, all crisped up around the edges in a little butter.  Yum.

It was a day destined for satisfaction.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What I Hear

What I didn't hear was the storm that blew through the night before.  It was the topic of conversation yesterday.  I could tell from the drifts of hail/snow that the wind had to have blown it sideways up under the covered part of the deck and then switched directions and blew it up onto the porch.  There was enough of the white stuff that it took hours of sunshine to melt off.  I'd slept through all of that, and only heard the owls.

Down in the barn, all the stalls have half walls with square, hog-panel wiring above to keep the goats from jumping out.  The barn birds are out in full force now and there will be forty or fifty sitting on the wires, twittering at the top of their lungs as they wait for me to put down the nighttime treats.  At one point in time my Aunt Hilda became interested in birds and built large, walk-in aviaries for canaries, budgerigars (parakeets), cockatiels, and cockatoos.  Papa, my grandfather, kept one favorite cockatiel in the house.  The bird's name was Joe, and he could say, "Hi, Joe, whaddya know?"  (That was considered high humor back in the day.)  Listening to the birds in the barn, it makes me think of Aunt Hilda's aviaries.  These little guys have lost their fear of me and come hopping around my feet to pick up grain that the goat on the stand might have dropped, and I can occasionally hear a really brave one rustling around in the open feed bucket.

Weather permitting, when I'm done with morning chores I take Bess and a book and we sit out on the deck for awhile.  When I was a Kid, I went for two weeks (not quite two weeks, but that's another story for another day) to a Girl Scout camp aptly called Singing Pines.  When the wind blows here, it may whistle though the bare branches of the oaks by the house or rustle the leaves, but it does sing and sigh through the pines down by the road.  The pines were singing yesterday.

There were a couple of hiccups in the power yesterday morning, just enough to require me to reset the clocks.  While cooking an early dinner last night, the power went out completely.  I was just happy I was using the stove top and not the electric oven or microwave.  I started planning for full dark when I got back from the barn, and it was a tremendous relief just at sundown when I heard the clicks and hums that signal that the electricity is back on.

I like what I hear.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Darn that owl!  Make that "those owls."  Before five this morning, a pair of them were yelling back and forth, and one was in the tree right outside my window.  It's not unusual to hear a few whoo-whoos as they tag team during the night, but the nearest one just could not shut up.  The farther one couldn't get a whoo in edgewise.  I gave up trying to go back to sleep.

Just as well.  Some long while back, I spoke about opportunity costs.  While cleaning out The Black Hole and the second shed, working on the beaded ornament, finishing the paint project, and getting half done with the sewing, the rest of the house has gone to wrack and ruin and it needs my attention badly.  I'm going to have to go through it like a whirlwind because company is dropping by today.

Speaking of the ornament, I'd left it on the table (silly me).  I found it later on the floor, one of the points destroyed, threads hanging and beads scattered.  I have nothing but circumstantial evidence, but in my opinion it all points to one of the cats.  When questioned, they both gave me blank stares and lawyered up.

As long as I'm awake anyhow, I'd better get going.   Wow!  Light enough to see outside now...and we either got a heck of a lot of hail last night, or it snowed!  Not a lot, but the ground and deck are white.  Didn't see that coming.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Comedy of Errors

I put in a load of clothes to wash last night, but forgot to put them in the dryer before I went to bed.  This would not ordinarily be a problem except that all my socks and my bibbies were in the washer, and today is Trash Day Tuesday...and I got up late.  I think of sweatpants as strictly "in the house" clothes, but, come on, who is going to see me (or care) at six-thirty in the semi-dark?  Bess loaded up and I, in fleece-lined slippers, sweatpants, and quilted flannel shirt headed down to the big road.  At least I'd run a brush through my bed hair.  Accumulated rain in the truck bed was frozen and we had to wait for the defroster to thaw the frozen condensation on the windshield so I could see to drive.  We got to the corner just as Trash Guy drove up.  Oh goody.  Nailed.  We exchanged pleasantries and I grabbed my empty barrel and jumped back in the truck.  Back at the house, I discovered the lid had blown off somewhere along the way.  Rats.  Back into the truck.  Back down the road.  No lid.  A neighbor was at the corner, picking up his barrel, so I didn't get out, not wanting to display my fashionista attire.  No lid.  Back at the house I put Bess inside and went out to walk the road.  Did I mention it was freezing?  Met Trash Guy again as he was coming down from Fleur de Lys winery.  He said he thought he'd stuffed the lid inside the barrel.  Turned around and huffed and puffed my way back up the steep grades of Gray Rock and my driveway.  No lid.  Got Bess back in the truck and back down the road...again.  Turns out the lid had never made it back on the barrel and was waiting there at the side of the road at the corner.  My neighbor's truck had hidden it from view on the first drive by.  I'll bet I don't do that again.

After a rainy night and morning, the sun came out in the afternoon and I noticed the rays highlighting the almond tree.  Most of the blossoms had survived the downpour and the hail, and I wanted a picture.  Bessie Anne was snoozing, but Pearl accompanied me into the orchard.  Suddenly she was off like a shot, racing for the feed barn.  Before I could turn around, Faye, the old black lab, bounded after Pearl.  Faye, being Faye, stopped in her tracks at the word "cookie," and came bouncing back to me.  We went back to the house where I grabbed a couple of milk bones and the leash, and Bessie came out to keep her visitor company (and get a bone or two for herself).  Faye's people came to get her.  She's been so good for so long, they thought she'd become trustworthy.  Uh huh.  I think Faye was Jonesing for a milk bone.

One thing about rain clouds...they sure make for a beautiful sunset.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Of Course

Awoke to pounding rain and howling wind.  Of course.  The almond tree blossoms have worked their way down and filled the tree.  Poor tree.  Now it is hailing, and snow is predicted down to three thousand feet later today.  If the ground squirrels must stay inside, at least their burrows are clean.

All of this cleaning can be detrimental.  I am so easily sidetracked.  While rooting through piles of stuff in the workroom, I ran across these irridescent beads that remind me of ice crystals and (down in the barn, of course) I began to plan a design for an ornament.  I really like the three-dimensional effect and the way the beads catch the light. 
My sewing project is still all over the dining room table, of course, right next to the paperwork for taxes.  I just got a request to do some painting and since that will take precedence, I'll just push all the other stuff aside and work on that.

My plan yesterday afternoon was to dig out some of those too-tough-to-pull weeds in the front yard.  They are encroaching on the walkway.  Then the clouds rolled over and the temperature dropped like a rock, and it seemed more prudent to haul more firewood up to the porch.  So much for the best-laid plans.  Of course.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spring Cleaning

I'm not the only one who is feeling the need to do some major cleaning.  Down in the barn, I had the feeling I was being watched and looked over and into the eyes of the first ground squirrel I've seen in months.  She (or he; I have no idea how assignments are distributed in the squirrel world) was pushing loose dirt, goat poop rolypolys, and twigs out the entrance of her home.  Out in the pen, I could see dirt flying up in tiny geysers from any number of other burrows.  I could better have understood this general awakening if it had been the day before, sunny and warm.  Yesterday was grey and drizzling rain.  I guess when you open your eyes underground, it doesn't matter what it's like on the surface.  When the alarm sounds, it's time to get up.

The lilac bushes in front of the kitchen window are leafless right now, but not bare.  Tiny birds, sparrows, wrens, and juncos, rest in the branches that are at eye level when I'm at the sink.  They are every bit as welcome as the blossoms that will come later.

I'm getting to be a regular nighttime gadabout, again going to dinner with friends.  Out twice after dark in a month must be a record.  Timing is everything, and I can see that could be a problem should I continue this social whirl.  "Meet us at six."  At five forty-five, when I should have left, the goats were no problem, but the chickens were not ready to go to bed while it was still light.  Bessie Anne did her best from outside the fence and I herded from the inside, but it was a case of get six in and two would pop back out.  Those little chicken legs are fast!  I arrived out of breath and only a little late to join my friends.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I am really having trouble writing today.  This journal is about life on the farm.  It is not a forum for my personal opinions on politics, religion, pro-choice, smoking, or other controversial issues.  Yesterday, here on the farm, was spent reading a book I had been given, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford.  The reviews tout the book as "a Romeo and Juliet love story," and "conflict between father and son."  As such, it's a nice little tale.  The setting is Seattle, Washington, during the 1940s.  The "back story," the part I found so disturbing, is the rounding up (like cattle) and relocation (euphemism for internment) of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

You see, I remember much of those years.  My sister was in high school then and there were many Japanese Americans in her classes.  One day, they were all gone.  We lived not far from Santa Anita racetrack, which became a collection center for families displaced from their homes and dispossessed of all belongings.  They were housed in the barns and stalls until transported to permanent detention centers like Manzanar and Amache.  As late as the 1950s, my father, who was a realtor, could not legally sell a house to our gardener, Mr. Ozawa.  I knew these things.

I did not go to college until after all my children were born.  Early on, I was assigned a paper to write on prejudice.  This was sometime around the Watts riots in Los Angeles, and I knew my classmates would focus on the black versus white issues.  Taking another tack, I started to research the relocation of Japanese Americans here during World War II.  After countless hours in two of the largest libraries in our area, I found a two-inch column, another small article, and no books whatsoever.  By the 1960s, it was as if it had never happened.  It appears that history is written, not made.

Mr. Ford's book (he's Chinese, by the way) has a 2009 copyright.  "Farewell to Manzanar" is a documentary-type film.  There are articles on the Internet now.  A spotlight is finally shining on a dark period.  There are so many lessons to be learned.

I'll get back to farm life tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2012


The fingers forgot what the brain knew when I wrote that Arden had worked with gorillas, as she so gently reminded me in what follows: 

I must correct you about my time in Borneo - I was there (with 11 other volunteers) to help track Orangutans (moms and babies) in the rain forest, We followed them dawn to dark as they broke nest (in trees) roamed, foraged and built another nest for the night. We took copious notes and picked up samples of droppings , At the time little was known re Orangutan behavior in the wild and Dr Guldikus was doing a study (via the Leaky foundation). Meanwhile in camp we (kind of) lived with about 60 semi-domesticated Orangs and most of them had been orphaned and grew up around humans. The treks were sometimes exhausting. The experiences with the camp Orangs were joyful, funny and precious, We also spent a lot of time with the delightful Native guides - most of them young men who flitted through the forest in their bare feet followed by the fat Americans stumbling, rumbling and mumbling from behind. Oh! and sweating.
My apologies to Arden and to the Orangutans.  Regardless, that was a brave and amazing adventure and I'm happy to share it in Arden's own words.

I got another of "those" calls.  This was from a woman whose Nigerian dwarf goat had given birth to triplets but rejected one of the babies, and the lady was looking for supplemental milk for the poor little kid.  She came to the right place!

This project of cleaning out The Black Hole is snowballing.  Not everything can be thrown away when cleaning out one room, so space must be found somewhere else.  The second shed out front has been used for storage and seemed like a logical place.  Right.  But first it also must be cleaned out.  Where will this end?!  Empty boxes.  When and why did I develop this obsession with empty boxes?  Trash Guy must think of me as job security.  I can't say how many boxes of all sizes I broke down, but there is a lot more room in the shed now.  Steve had his own quirks.  I had not realized how many Christmas lights he'd acquired.  There are over a dozen unopened boxes of brand-new lights, a huge tub of icicle lights to decorate outdoors, and more tubs of light strings and I have no idea where he used those, and that doesn't count the drawers of Christmas lights I've found downstairs.  If I were ever to use them all at once, Farview Farm could be seen from outer space! 

Costumes.  One would think we'd had a career as thespians from all the costumes stored away.  Lab coats when we were mad scientists, Chinese coolie outfits for the Gold Rush Days theme, faux suede Indian shirts and leggings, the boots he'd created when he was Young Frankenstein, a Wookie (from Star Wars) suit which could be adapted to become an Ewok, blond wigs and black wigs, witch's hats and capes, an astronaut's helmet, boots, and air pack.  Did I mention that Halloween was Steve's favorite holiday?

Yesterday's mission was just to clear out that which could be thrown away (like boxes).  The rest went back into tubs to be sorted and donated later.  At least the four(!) Christmas trees are tucked away in the corner.  One of these days I'll take the stuff from The Black Hole out to the shed.  Or not. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Full Up

The weather was great, the drive was beautiful, and I was going to lunch at my friend Arden's.  That's a winning combo, for sure.  Arden used to live right across the road and we would share a meal at one another's house once in awhile.  Neither of us is the kaffeeklatsch type, but it was nice knowing she was there.  Arden's snug little house in P'ville has memorabilia from her years of living in Mexico and her trip to Morocco, and other lovely works of art.  Arden can say, as few others can, that she has been to Borneo to work with orphaned gorillas.  She's an avid reader and we swap favorite books.  It's needless to add that we never run out of topics of conversation.  Arden is the Queen of Soup.  Yesterday's offering was a hearty split pea with brown rice and chunks of carrot, with grilled kielbasa on the side.  It was darned near as good as the company.  Audrey is Arden's little dog of mixed heritage, with liquid brown eyes and fur like a cloud.  Audrey can play me like a violin and knows just the lightest touch of her paw will get me to pet her.  I miss Audrey too.

Gasoline prices being what they are, I try not to let the truck's tank get below half full; it would be embarrassing to keel over in the station to see the total if I had to fill an empty tank.  Something weird is going on.  I knew the big Chevron station had closed, so went out of my way to find the big Shell station.  It, too, had closed!  What the heck?  There are any number of little independent gas stations in town, and some larger, like Valero, but they don't have their own credit cards and don't take checks.  Who carries that much cash?  Since my days as a consultant I've had cards for every major gas company so regardless of where I was or the condition of my wallet I could always fill up my vehicle.  Good grief, if everyone has to start bankrolling their gas tank with cash, I envision a return of highwaymen on the roads, "Give me all your gas money!"  I finally found a tiny, two-pump Chevron station with difficult access; getting back across the busy road when leaving was taking my life in my hands.

At the end of the day, my heart, my tummy, and my tank were full.  It was a good day.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Flowers and Feathers

When the peach and plum trees are ready (they're not yet), they burst into flower all at once.  One day they're bare; the next, they fairly shout in pink or white.  I should have started a photo diary of the almond tree.  A few pale flowers, not more than eight or ten, appeared on its very uppermost branches.  Over days, more blossoms have opened, gradually working downward.  Now the top quarter of the tree is covered.  It's like watching a beautiful veil drift in slow motion over a bride's face.

The rain drizzled down all day yesterday.  Not enough to do much good, just enough to keep the goats damp and frizz my hair.  The poor chickens.  They are the rattiest bunch of fowl right now.  Why they lose their feathers at the worst time of year, I'll never know.  Many are running around in the cold with bare butts and/or backs.  If people get goosebumps, what do chickens get?

On those gorgeous sunny days, I worked inside with enthusiasm.  Forced indoors, I perversely did nothing but watch documentaries all day and wish I could be outside.  I wonder what the flip of the coin will bring today.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Slow Day

Slim pickings for blog fodder yesterday.  The big event was a trip to the feed store.  Not like today, when I've already traveled all the way to the corner to put out the trash.  (This could get exciting.)  Last week it was pitch black when I hauled the barrel down to the big road, and today it was just getting light.  I can hold off putting the kids to bed until almost a quarter to six.  The days are definitely getting longer.

I haven't always been such a stay-at-home stick in the mud.  I did enough traveling on a daily basis as a medical records consultant to satisfy anyone's travel lust.  Based in Sacramento, I'd drive four hours down to Salinas and Monterey, work my eight hours in the facility there, and drive another four hours home.  I measured distance in time, not miles.  It was three hours north to Ukiah, two hours southeast to Modesto,  three hours west to Menlo Park.  When I was scheduled for Sacramento or Davis, it was like getting a day off.  After two years of being on the road, I pretty much burned out.  As much as I really love to drive, I was ready to stay put.  There was another aspect of that job that I was ready to change.  As a consultant, I'd go in, identify problems, recommend solutions, train personnel, give atta-boys left and right, and go home.  There was never the satisfaction of completion, never the opportunity to dust off my hands and say, "There.  That's done."

I may not go far from home now.  The work may seem repetitious.  As Steve used to say, "But when you're home, you're here."  And when the last goat, sheep and chicken is tucked in for the night, I can say, "There.  That's done."

It may not have been exciting, but it was a good day.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Give and Take

Two contestants in the Race For Poop arrived at the starting line early yesterday armed with shovels, buckets, and big smiles.  Kellan and William offered asked to muck out the two stalls not already spoken for by Earle.  My mama didn't raise any dummies and I wasn't about to refuse that request.  As I continued milking and they shoveled, we discussed the relative virtues of horse versus goat poop, and they came down on the side of goats, stating that the ruminant digestive process leaves the product weed free.  This might seem an unlikely topic for discussion, but Kellan and William take their manure seriously.  They have chosen a lifestyle that takes them nearly off the grid, growing vegetables and rotating crops for a continuous supply, as well as raising meat animals.  Anyone who has ever had a backyard garden knows that it is hard work to do it right, and they plant on a large scale.  I know how hard they worked yesterday to get the food for their plants.  I heard the passion in their voices as we later stood talking about agronomics, economics, and life on the land.  They are so informed.  William almost talked me into raising a couple of pigs here; his arguments were sound and his enthusiasm contagious.  I just can't take on any more mouths to feed.

Their "thank-you" gift was half a mushroom.  Before anyone snorts at "half a mushroom," let me say that this is a homegrown oyster mushroom that must have been the size of a dinner plate.  This half will serve me for at least two meals.  Its fluted layers are a thing of beauty, and to think they grew it themselves!  I thawed chicken, planning to use part of this true gift for chicken Marsala for dinner, but the Superbowl got in the way.  It was a real nail-biter of a football game right down to the last few seconds, and I couldn't leave the television.  (My hopes for a Patriots win were dashed.)  I know for sure what is on the menu tonight.

William and Kellan are very conscientious about closing gates, returning tools to their place, and, as William says, "Leaving everything the way we find it."  I think they are going to leave the Earth a better place anywhere they go.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Blasts From the Past

The Black Hole has become an obsession.  Knowing that Tree Guy will show up again to set off some more of those brush piles, it seemed a good idea to get into some long-closed file cabinets in there.  Much of the paperwork had to do with my transcription business.  Confidentiality is a major concern in medical records, so nothing with patient names could just be put in the trash.  A burn pile is the perfect solution for disposal, and transcription work was easily weeded out.

As for the rest, it was like opening a time capsule.  There were the transcripts from some college classes:  the welding class I took when I opened the muffler shop; the construction codes class from when I got interested in becoming a building inspector.  I found a copy of the vows spoken with Steve, as well as the prolific lists made in preparation for our wedding.  A couple of newsletters announcing my promotions in a company I worked for in the 1990s, as well as a memo to the hospitals in which I consulted in the early 1980s.  I kept a copy of a well-written paper by my daughter for a college English class.  There was the invitation we sent out for our Millennium Party, including the request for items for the real time capsule we buried in the yard on January 1, 2000.  Vet bills for long-gone furry friends.  A folder of correspondence with a pen-pal in England (in the days when people actually wrote letters).

I was ruthless.  Two cabinet drawers are completely empty.  I really didn't need to keep the records of oil changes for a vehicle I haven't owned for years.  There are bags and bags of fuel for the fire.  One drawer is still full of those things, those faces, places and times I can't yet let go.  And there is one drawer I wasn't able to pry open.  It's another time capsule that will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bluebird Days, Coyote Nights

The days are perfect.  Sunny, bright, warm, cloudless blue skies.  The almond tree has started putting out blossoms.  How ironic that everyone I know watches every weather report, hoping for rain.  There isn't enough snow pack in the mountains to get us through the summer without drought conditions.  Driving on Bucks Bar, there are bridges over the middle and north forks of the Cosumnes River and it is apparent that the level has already dropped considerably.  We could be in for a world of hurt here.

Instead of working outside on such pretty days, I'm still in the throes of cleaning out The Black Hole.  How is it that cleaning makes such a mess?  I have been the recipient of others' cleaning efforts, adding to my own stuff.  "Now what shall I do with these odds and ends of yarn that I'll never use?  Oh, I know who will take them!," and, silly me, I did.  I've consolidated a lot, and I do mean a lot, but I still have to find more room.  Stacks of paperwork must be gone through and sorted, some to pitch and some to keep, but where?

The coyote pack has been on the run just after dark, yipping and howling in the night.  The beastie boys are using Gray Rock like a freeway, sometimes coming through my front pasture on their way up the cut behind Dennis's place.  They are loud enough to drown out the television and, if that weren't enough, Bessie Anne joins in.  I'm glad all my animals are in and safe.

Frank just wasn't himself the other night and I got worried about him.  Cats tend to go off by themselves when they are sick, and he definitely didn't feel well, hiding away downstairs and not coming up even at bedtime.  At least he was in the house.  I wasn't sure what I'd find when I went down there in the morning, but he got up and greeted me and that was a good sign.  By nightfall, he was back to his old self and we both felt better.

It's daybreak.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Darn.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Lugging milk buckets up the hill the other morning, I looked up to see the Animal Control truck in the driveway.  I knew I hadn't called him so wondered what was going on.  AC Guy and I are well acquainted due to past problems.  It seems he was searching the area for a missing cow, and he knew that lost or strayed animals often turn up here.  The first question, of course, was, "What does he or she look like?"  Turns out this was a black Angus cow (no distinguishing scars or tattoos).  I said I'd keep my eyes open and call if she turned up.  It occurred to me to wonder if they'd ever put a missing cow's face on milk cartons, "Have you seen this cow?"  Maybe there aren't enough cows gone walkabout down in the flatlands to make it worthwhile.  Then too, milk now comes in everlasting plastic jugs instead of biodegradable paper cartons.  What would I know anyhow; it's been so long since I've bought milk in the store.  (It's easy to see how that train of thought went from station to station.)

Before dawn yesterday, I heard, "Fayyye, Fayyye, Faye!"  Seems that cattle aren't the only ones with wanderlust these days.  Neither cow nor dog has shown up here, and no one seems to be looking for the troupe of turkeys that came through yesterday.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ashes to Ashes

The weather blender was stuck on "pulse" yesterday.  Rain - sun - rain- sun - clouds - sun, changing within a matter of minutes.  Tree Guy took advantage of the dampness to light off the burn pile in the south pasture, the one to which he's been making regular contributions.  That pile of branches had grown to epic proportions and I'm glad to see it gone.  (Only four more piles to go.)  I took a couple of grocery bags full of receipts and private papers from The Hole to add to the conflagration, certainly easier than shredding.  The burn pile had been mostly the larger end branches from the front yard oak, but the ground around the stack was littered with twiggy stuff.  TG assured me that the smaller stuff would get chopped up when the field was disked.  That assumed the field might ever get disked again and I don't like to make that kind of assumption, so I started gathering it up by hand to throw into the fire.  To do otherwise seemed like sweeping dirt under the carpet for someone else to find.  The sun was shining at that time and TG and I talked as I wandered back and forth, gathering up little branches and leaves.  Pretty soon he went to get a rake and we did the job properly.  In the process, we uncovered dozens and dozens of frogs from under the leaves; tiny, thumbnail-sized, brilliant green peepers up to golf ball-sized toads.  Given that the earth is so soft right now, they'll be able to find new burrows and homes.

There is a heavy frost this morning, but the burn pile continues to smolder and smoke under its dome of ashes.  That pile of brush was at least fifteen feet around by four feet high, so it may be days before it's finally cold.  Tree Guy said he'd be back today to burn the two big piles down in the goat pen.  That will be good.  I've kept the goats out of that section for a week so as to let the grass grow up.  By the time those brush piles are done, I'll be ready to let them back in.

In anticipation of more fire and gigged by a guilty conscience, last night I went through the accumulated receipts from 2011 in preparation for tax time and sorted out the stuff that can be burned from what needs to be saved.  Tax Guy will be so pleased.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Washed Clean

Awoke to rain this morning.  Frank and Pearl asked to go out first thing.  There was a two-cat pile up when Pearl stepped out and stopped without warning and Frank rear-ended her.  Nothing works faster than the brakes on a cat.  As happy as I am to see the rain (we need it so badly), it appears to have washed more than the truck.  Down in the barn yesterday, I "wrote" today's entry.  All I can recall is that it was going to be good.  Sometimes I'll write down a memory trigger word for a particular topic, but I didn't do that this time and whatever it was is gone, gone, gone.

There are days when I think I should put in a change-of-address card because I've moved to the Twilight Zone; the old series by Rod Serling, not the current vampire world.  How can it be that I will have an important piece of paper in my hand, put it down, not leave the room, and not be able to find that piece of paper again?  I can hear the theme music play.  I'm in the Twilight Zone.

The rain today has put a glitch in some plans.  Tree Guy and Son Two were coming back to fix the splitter and continue work down in the pen, and Kellan and William were going to clean out Ruthie's stall.  Even if this is rain for just one day, it will delay the work as I'd prefer no one drive down and put ruts in the field when it's wet.

Ah, well.  If a lost thought is the worst thing that happens, I'm well ahead of the game.