Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Things That Go Bump

Awakened at three-thirty this morning, I couldn't imagine what was banging around in the laundry room (next to the bedroom).  At first I wondered if I'd dreamed it, but no, there it was again.  Something was definitely going bump in the night.  Getting up in the dark, I rounded the corner and flipped on the light.  The banging stopped.  Peering as best I could behind the appliances, I could see nothing.  Bess, Frank and Pearl clustered together in the doorway.  Obviously I would get no backup there.  Frank and Pearl seem to feel their obligations end in the barn.  My house, my problem.  Not willing to move washer or dryer in the middle of the night, I went back to bed.  In fact, we all went back to bed.  Even the little night thing settled down.  Ah, well, it is Halloween.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties,
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

All Is Well

Order has been restored at Farview.  Sheila came in and was relieved of her two-day supply of milk.  Ruthie appeared to have gotten past her unrequited passion of the day before.  The only time Bessie Anne barked was when we got a surprise visit from Stephanie, who came by to share video clips made down in the barn and goat pen when she was here.  It's pretty funny to hear my voice and see French subtitles!

Leaving Tim's goat ranch tomorrow, Stephanie will make a stop in Nevada before moving on to a farm in Moab, Utah.  I received a note from Jule who is now working in a vineyard in Cloverdale.  I applaud the bravery and spirit of adventure of these young women.  What a wonderful way to really experience rural life in America and make a contribution of their efforts at every stop.

Walking out to say goodbye to the goats, who all came to Stephanie to have their heads rubbed, I noticed that the few days of rain have thrown a pale green blanket across the pen.  Dormant seeds (well fertilized!) needed little encouragement to sprout.

I got caught with my dust rag down, my own fault, but how nice to see Stephanie again.  It was a good day.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Word For the Day

The only word that fits yesterday, start to finish, is the F word.  FRUSTRATION!  After listening to Bessie bark until my teeth were on edge, I went out armed with a leash when it was barely light enough to see.  She was circling the big oak by the drive, looking up, so whatever the bad thing was, it was a tree climber.  Try as I might, I couldn't find any movement in the branches or see an outline on a limb, but I wasn't going to stand under the tree for any length of time and push my luck, so the source of her panic will remain a frustrating mystery.  Bessie was exhausted and covered in burrs.

Down in the barn, Ruth was suffering frustration of a different sort and pretty darn vocal about it.  That happens in a herd of does without a buck.  Sheila.  Oh, Sheila.  You haven't been ignored until ignored by a goat, and Sheila has mastered that game.  I finally gave up on ring-around-the-rosy and left her to swell up like a toad.

Back in the house, I tackled Bessie's burrs.  Pearl suddenly demanded attention, in my face and getting between the brush and Bess, making the job impossible.  She is normally an aloof cat and this behavior was definitely out of character for her, but in line with the rest of the day.

Clint Bowyer did not win at Martinsville.

At sundown, Ruth refused to go to her room and stood looking over the hills as if waiting for Lochinvar to come riding.  Knowing that the night thing could be out there (and Lochinvar wasn't), I had to get her into the barn and safe.  I waited, I coaxed, I yelled, and finally I got a rope around her neck and brought her in.

Frustration, start to finish.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Name Is Mudd

Six o'clock on a Sunday morning.  It's still dark.  Any neighbors within shouting distance would probably like to shout, "Shut up!," and I wouldn't blame them.  At five-thirty, Bessie Anne and the cats went outside and I fired up the computer.  At five-thirty-seven, I heard Bess's footsteps on the deck by the outside bedroom door.  Before I could get up to to let her in, she took off like a bat, barking at the top of her lungs.  Six-fifteen and she's still barking.  Perfect in so many ways, Bessie has one major flaw; she is absolutely rotten when it comes to recall.  I've learned from experience that when she has her eye on something she considers a threat, she goes deaf.  If I holler or go out to see the problem, she gives a look over her shoulder and says, "Oh, good, now I've got backup!," and charges after the offender, redoubling her barking as she goes.  Thinking she might have outgrown this, I just tried again.  Big mistake.  Now her bark has taken on a note of hysteria.  I wish it were light enough to see the cause of her concern, because it is concerning to me.  She doesn't bark at just anything.  Deer, squirrels, turkeys; none of them faze her.  The last time she did this, she had a raccoon up a tree and I was scared it would come down and attack Bessie.  I heard that someone down the way is in big trouble for shooting and killing a black bear recently.  This was right in the neighborhood.  All I can offer my neighbors right now is a huge apology, because I'm not going out in the dark to see the reason why Bess is yelling.  It (whatever it is) might come down the tree.

To be continued.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Signs Of the Times

It isn't just the tinge of color in the leaves across the hill that tells me the seasons are changing.  Walking out yesterday morning, I saw and smelled smoke from burn piles drifting up the cut and heard the whine of chainsaws down by the creek.  The number of turkeys cruising through is increasing daily.  Juncos with their black "executioner's hood" are arriving to winter over here.  With little to no transition, tank tops have been traded for turtlenecks.  Diaper wipes are disappearing out of the bucket in the barn, dragged out by mice and squirrels to line their burrows.  The goats' coats are thickening and the chickens are finally getting recovered in feathers.  Fall is here.

In addition to a very nice note, Stephanie sent photos of her day at Farview.  This one shows that great smile of success and the stream of milk from Cindy.  It makes me happy that she enjoyed her time with me.

It's not like me to admit defeat, but it seems the prudent thing to do.  It has been years since the lawn tractor has been serviced and with the latest breakdown, I decided to call in the experts.  The weedeater also needs repair so I'll knock off both at the same time.  A shop in Mt. Aukum will come and pick them up next week, with a promise to return the tractor by the time Dave and his crew come up.

And speaking of the crew, I talked with Clay, who just returned from his trip to Mexico (all these international travelers!).  He mentioned he might come up and help on Clean-up Day.  When I said I'd be making chili verde for the gang, the words were hardly out of my mouth before he said, "I'll be there!"  I'd better let Craig and Deb know, as chili verde is one of Craig's favorite dishes and it wouldn't taste the same without him.  Besides, many hands make light work.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good and Bad

The sun came out while I was milking, almost too warm for the jacket I'd put on.  The rains had softened the goats' hooves as well as the dirt, so I got a start on trimming toenails (one hoof each per day) and dug up another bucketful to throw into the abyss under the stand.  The day was off to a good start.

With the danger of sparks and fire lessened, I thought it would be the perfect day to mow down the patches of persistent star thistle.  Ah, well.  Going out to the little tractor, the first thing I noticed was the flat rear tire (usually it's the front).  Then, although the engine wanted to turn over, it wouldn't start.  Check the gas.  Not only low, the tank was completely dry.  Hmmm.  Find the gas can, put some in the tank.  Watch it start a fast drip out of a part I can't recognize.  (I know about fuel lines and filters, but what is that black thingy there that I can't get off or tighten?)  Not wanting to waste what gas I'd put in (not at today's prices!), I backed the tractor around to the barn door, filled the tire with the air compressor, and raced around the yard to cut down the blankety-blank thistle and get back to the shed before running out of fuel.

Had I been able to foresee the future, I wouldn't have wasted time on Home Economics in high school.  The only dishes we made in that class (that I remember) were creamed peas and baked Alaska, neither of which I've ever made again.  I should have been in Auto Shop where I might have learned something really useful.  Auto Shop should be a requirement, not an elective.

When I called for advice (and maybe a little sympathy), Dave suggested I go down to The Pit, otherwise known as Steve's shop downstairs, and see if I can find an owner's manual for the tractor.  It took me five years to find where Steve kept the nails.  I'm not holding out a lot of hope.  Ah, well.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Real Women Eat Quiche

Farview Farm is beginning to develop an international flair.  My latest WWOOF guest, Stephanie, was from France.  Before coming to Tim's goat ranch, she had been on a farm above Yuba City in the valley, where her job had been to help with canning.  At Bell Ranch, I believe the primary responsibility is to clean the huge barn and give Kathryn a break.  My offering to the program is participation in milking goats and making cheese.  The first step in the cheese process is to set the curd and, with explanations, I got that started while we become acquainted before heading to the coops and barn.  Stephanie drew the rainy-day card, but the livestock must be tended regardless.  I'll admit to worrying as she stepped into the slippery chicken pen.  I didn't want an international incident if her feet were to slide out from under, but we passed that hurdle just fine.  I get such a kick out of the childlike smiles of success when beginners get that first squirt of milk to come out; it's not as easy as it looks.

Stephanie actually took notes while we moved on in the making of feta, cutting, heating, and stirring the curd, and then hanging it to drain the whey.  It felt a little gutsy to offer a Frenchwoman broccoli quiche for lunch, but hoped to make her feel at home.  I think the bigger success was the warm cheese bread I'd made.  She exclaimed it was exactly like French brioche.

I'm getting a routine and timing down pretty good by now, so we'd had a day of (to me) stimulating conversation, enjoyed a meal together, and had a finished package of cheese by the time Tim came to pick her up.  Who would have thought that, up here in the back of beyond, I would have the opportunity to meet such nice people from other countries who share my interests and bring different perspectives to my life.  This is "armchair travel" at its best!  I wish Stephanie bon voyage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Can't Help Myself

(Oh, no.  Not another sunset.)  One of the drawbacks of living alone is not having someone to turn to and say, "Oh, look!  Isn't that beautiful (terrible, funny, odd, etc.)!"  I do point out these things to Bessie Anne, but since I understand dogs see the world in shades of grey I doubt she appreciates the sight as much as I, and some things are meant to be shared.

After tending to the chickens and getting the goats in the barn, the half moon shone behind a gauze of clouds.

There is such a comforting feeling to walk back up to the house and see lights gleaming and smoke wreathing the chimney.

A rather uneventful day sure had a lovely ending.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wet, Wetter, Wettest

The first day of real rain was a disaster.  It came a little earlier than predicted and caught me unprepared.  Windows in the feed shed were open and the floor under the big bag of goat chow was flooded.  I trundled it through the mud down to the barn to open and put in the barrel so it wouldn't get moldy.  The milking routine went to pot as no one wanted to leave the barn.  How quickly one forgets the feel of frozen fingers and water dripping down the neck; how quickly it all comes rushing back.  The wind was fierce (there were five documented tornadoes in the valley!) and whipped the tarp off the one dry woodpile.  I had the forethought to stock the rack on the porch sometime back, but wind blew the rain all the way up to the door.  I did get a fire going in the wood stove to take the chill out of the house, but it was a struggle.  Going out during a lull in the storm, I found the deck bench plastered up against a far railing and felt lucky it hadn't been flipped over the edge.  The cats hold me personally responsible for this weather and mutter in resentful tones as they go from door to door, looking for the one with sunshine outside.  It's a good thing I'm aware of the rain beetles.  They are particularly active after dark.  Tapping at the windows sounds like bony fingers against the glass, bumping and whirring against the screens like blind men.

Ah, well.  Yes, it was me who wondered if summer would ever end.  It did, not with a bang but a splash.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Still In the Hole

Candles.  Lots of candles.  Still rooting around in the closet, I started pulling out candles.  By actual count, I have thirty red tapers of varying lengths and thirty green, ditto.  Even had there been one helluva sale, I can't imagine what possessed me to buy sixty candles, or what I'm going to do with them now.  We're going to have one well-lit Christmas, for sure.

The day was spent delving into the second box of "stuff."  I became ruthless, pitching cards from jobs left long ago and people long forgotten, procedure manuals, photos unidentified and unidentifiable.  Some things will have meaning for the Kids, report cards and school photos, letters written as children and as adults, and those I saved.  Other items in the save box are those I am not yet ready to relinquish.  I did manage to condense two boxes into one, and it will go back into the closet for the Kids to find someday.  I hope they'll have as much fun as I did travelling down Memory Lane.

The day was cold and overcast, with a single burst of sunshine just before dark.  I decided it wasn't yet chilly enough for a fire and just put on a jacket in the house.  That will change today.  The rain came in the middle of the night and the wind is up.  Frank and Pearl went for their morning outing and Pearl just came back in, complaining loudly and demanding to be fluffed.  The humongous beetles that come out during the first real rain are whirring and banging on the windows, attracted by the light.  I found them on the Internet and they are, in fact, called Rain Beetles.  Droning around on the porch, they look like the prototype for the old VW Bug.  The cats think they are toys meant just for them to bat around and chase.

Tim is sending the next WWOOFer on Wednesday, this one from France.  If I stick my head in the closet again today, I'd better come out with the dust rag, and that's all!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

In an effort to clean up, I've made a mess.  "Things" (whatever they might be) have a way of moving in and claiming their own space.  If that thing stays still and sits quietly, it isn't long before it belongs there.  For years now, every time I opened the entry hall closet to take out or put away the vacuum cleaner (as I did yesterday), I've noted a spare motorcycle helmet back in the corner.  It seemed well behaved, didn't cause any trouble and, after all, it had to live somewhere.  Dave and his friends are coming up in a couple of weeks and I've been gathering stuff to be hauled away.  That helmet has to go.

Head deep in the dark closet, I wondered what else had taken up rent-free residence.  That's when I went down the rabbit hole.  Accessories to long-gone vacuum cleaners, toys from when seventeen-year-old Taylor was a baby, an "Irish Only" parking sign that never got sent to my sister who no longer drives, and two large, heavy, unidentified boxes.  It was like opening a time capsule.  Loose photos, photograph and scrap albums, letters sent from Dave on sea duty and from the others, crayoned pictures, touching birthday and Mother's Day cards, my Girl Scout troop when I was ten, and journals.  I flipped through cards and albums; the journals were my downfall.  I have written almost-daily journals since my Kids actually were kids.  It was early afternoon when I opened the first one and eleven at night when I quit reading and I haven't scratched the surface.  I did condense some things in the first box, but haven't even opened the second.  The helmet waits by the front door.  If it sits there long enough, it will send in a change-of-address card.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Where Do They Go?

Without so much as a wave goodbye, a fond adieu, or even, "Thanks for the vittles," Peter Parker and his eight-legged, arachnoid buddies have taken off.  Not one spider can I find now in the barn.  Where do they go and how do they get there?  I watch bird migrations all the time.  Up around Honey Lake, I've seen barren hills appear to ripple and move with hundreds of deer on the way to winter feeding grounds.  I've never seen a herd of pedestrian spiders on the march, though.  The only reminder that they were ever here are the rafters festooned with swags of webs now covered in dust and bits of detritus tossed by the girls.  The barn looks like Haversham House.  I shall have to clean up as well as down.

Waking, the first thing I see when I lift my head is Venus, the morning star, shining brighter than all others in the still-dark sky.  It's as if she lights the way or announces the sun's arrival in the east.  Not a bad way to start the day, a diamond on blue velvet.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Earth Day

I'm not trying to make mountains out of molehills.  Quite the opposite.  I'm trying to fill in the Grand Canyon.  The earthen floor in the milking room used to be level, or at least reasonably so.  After years of subterranean excavation and collapse, the floor has a decided slope.  Despite my best efforts, the milking stand sits on a slant and the situation has reached a critical point.  Nothing for it but to import more dirt.  Our local dirt is decomposed granite and there is only a brief window of time when it can be easily worked.  This is going to be a slow process, as that window isn't open right now.  Nothing but powder on the surface, concrete hard two inches below in the summer and slurry mud when the rains come.  It is all I can do to dig enough to fill a five-gallon bucket, and one bucket of dirt a day is about all I can carry in.  (I carry two buckets of poop out.)  I'm concentrating on getting the stand level now.  I'll worry about evening out the rest of the floor later.

Earle came yesterday and moved a mountain.  He had the easy job.  Pellets of goat poop weigh little when dry, and he shoveled a small pickup load in about forty minutes.

They say determination can move heaven and earth.  I don't know about heaven, but I'm doing my best to move earth.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Having driven off all intruders, the tiny king sits alone, wearing his red and green royal raiment, and surveys his kingdom.

During my morning walkabout yesterday, there was much chittering and whirring of wings as the breakfast crowd arrived and tried to get a quick slurp to start the day.  King Tut fended them off and then sat in solitary splendor with a smirk of satisfaction (I swear!).

On a throne of a different sort, when I got up today it was fortunate that I turned on the bathroom light as I entered because Frank had raced ahead of me and was head down in the toilet, getting a drink.  There could have been disastrous results in the end (my end) had I not been patient.

It's only in my own mind that I am queen of this castle.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ladies Night

When life hands you tomatoes from a friend's garden, make Summer Tomato Pie!  Debbie K. from two driveways up the road and Camille from two driveways down the road came for an impromptu dinner last night, an opportunity for them to meet.  I'm about a week away from a trip to town to go shopping and supplies are getting low, so it was a case of using what was on hand.  I think I could make pie crust in my sleep, but what to put in it?  I make a really good onion and bacon pie, but was a little shy on bacon.  Quiche?  No Swiss cheese.  And there were these luscious red globes I'd been gifted.  Bingo!  The savory pie hot from the oven, sourdough bread, and Camille's salad made a light, colorful dinner, perfect for Ladies Night.

Someday I am going to keep an actual count of how many times I get up while writing this journal to open the door by my desk for cats and dog who want to go out or come in, one at a time, never as a group.  The cats are vocal, Pearl getting pretty demanding if I don't immediately accommodate.  Bessie just gives me The Look.  There is a bench under the window just behind the computer screen.  Suddenly a cat's face will appear, staring.  Bess gives a short bark when she wants in.  There are occasions when I know darned well that Pearl has not had time to walk all the way down the hall before she wants out again.  Is it a game?  I think they get a perverse pleasure out of getting me to dance to their tune.  Excuse me.  Frank wants in.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


You know from the git-go that a day with a sunrise like this is going to be a good day.  My "fourth son," Clay, came up to share a day of his vacation before heading to Mexico for a week, and the day got even better.  We never seem to run out of conversational topics.  A neighbor from up the road stopped in, and I started a batch of feta for her.  Larry, third son, called just to say hi while on the road to a job in Fresno.

I am facing the daunting task of a massive, long-overdue clean up.  Dave, first son, and some (maybe all) of the members of his motorcycle club are coming up in the near future to gather and haul away some of the "stuff" that Steve collected out in the yard and down in the shop and barn.  The word "hoarder" comes to mind.  Steve was an out-of-control tool-aholic.  Call me insensitive, but I just think that seventy-two screwdrivers and fifty-seven wrenches are a few too many for any one person.  Clay and I spent some time in the shop trying to get a grip on what will need to go and stay.  Yeah, well, good luck with that.  We edged our way between table saws (yes, plural), counted five air compressors (not counting the two in the barn), opened drawers and shut them again on massive amounts of tools, opened boxes and tried to figure out what use that particular item could possibly have, turned out the light and closed the door.  I had pushed "fifth son" Craig to take something, anything, the other day, and convinced Clay to take a couple of things; a mere drop in the bucket.  Did I say daunting?  I'm no further ahead than when we walked downstairs.

Back up in daylight, we watched the selfish hummer drive away all comers from "his" bottle of juice.  This bird is actually portly, and that's being kind.

Still talking, we had dinner and then put the barn and coop kids to bed.  Not too much later, Clay left for home.  I never, ever tire of hearing "Love you!" as wheels crunch down the drive.

My joy cup runneth over.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Little Bird, Big 'Tude

"All for me, none for you!"  One chubby hummer has laid claim to one of the feeders, driving away all intruders.  He would like to extend his territory to the other bottles, but can't leave his throne for fear of invasion.  It might be understandable if he were actually slurping juice and hungry.  He just sits on one of the "flowers," head turning this way and that, clicking a warning and then flying at the enemy, swordlike beak at the ready.  Until this pint-sized despot turned up, this has been an unusually agreeable group of hummingbirds this year, sometimes sharing the same flower two at a time.  (Don't ask.  I don't know how they do that without tangling tongues.)  I'm watching to see if there will be a palace coup.

Menu:  German-style pizza with the thinnest crust, creme fraiche, bacon, onions, and mozzarella.  Chicken cordon bleu (stuffed with ham and cheese) with savory wine sauce.  Mixed vegetables with herb butter.  Spaetzle (tiny dumplings).  Apple tart and dark chocolate cake with apples, both served with fresh whipped cream.

At twenty-two, Jule is an accomplished chef.  The ambitious meal was cooked to perfection and her timing (one of the hardest things in cooking) was spot on.  I was a very full and grateful guest.  On her travels again today, I wish her safe journey.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Best Days

Many, many nights before I close my eyes, I look back and think, "This was a good day."  Any days spent in the company of one or all of my Kids are the best of all, and yesterday was one of those.  Deb and Craig timed it perfectly and arrived shortly after I'd finished in the barn.  I'd come into a windfall of avocados and mushrooms, so we spent time in the kitchen while I made a huge bowl of guacamole (there's never enough guacamole!) and my helpers sliced a ton of crimini mushrooms to dehydrate.  There's something about the kitchen, any kitchen, that stimulates conversation, not that we needed any help in that direction; there was a lot to catch up on.

After a late lunch-early dinner (what Judy calls "linner"), we went out into a perfect afternoon to check on the animals and fowl and walk around to enjoy the fall day since we're due to go back up into the 90s again next week.  Deb and Craig had brought a gift of bulbs, two hundred bulbs to be exact.  Ground squirrels and voles have eaten their fill of every bulb but daffodils I've ever planted in the ground, so we worked our way around the deck, filling pot after pot with white, pink, lavender, and purple scilla and anemone bulbs.  There are no greater optimists than gardeners.  We stick little dried knobs and seeds in the dirt and envision banks of flowers and baskets of vegetables.  What would have been a daunting task alone went quickly and pleasantly in company.  Many of the pots were in the vicinity of the feeders, and we were constantly buzzed and dive-bombed by the hummers who resented the invasion of their territory.

Inevitably, sundown came, delay it as I would.  Tail lights down the drive, "Love you!" in the air.  It was a perfect day.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Playing Chicken

I would have given my right arm for another pair of hands yesterday (well, that would have been counterproductive).  Running a tad late from the start, I was tending the chickens, letting the Silkies and then the bigger "little" girls out of their houses, checking water bowls and putting down breakfast.  The roosters get a burst of testosterone in the morning and won't take no for an answer.  Just as I opened the gate to leave the big pen, Mad King George raced after a reluctant red hen and before I could step out, she managed to squeak past me to freedom.  Oh crum.  Bessie offered to help, but I'd spent so long teaching her not to chase chickens, I didn't want her to start again so put her into the feed shed.  Sure this would be the day the dogs would show up (they've been good lately) or a hawk would swoop down, I couldn't leave the unnamed hen out on her own.  I couldn't leave the gate open because the entire flock would have escaped.  There are no inside corners where I could trap Chicken, so around and around the pen we went, sometimes slowly, sometimes so fast her legs were a blur.  I'll bet we made thirty laps, going one way and then the other.  Chicken would stop to scratch away leaves and peck a few bugs or seeds.  I would move up stealthily, get close to grabbing range, and off she'd go.  If I'd had a pair of helping hands, they could have opened the gate as we made a pass and I could have herded her in, but none were available.  Near tears and out of breath and cuss words, after an hour I had to leave her to her fate, let Bess out of isolation, and get down to the by-then crazy goats.

The disruption in their schedule had made the big girls cranky and squabbling and no one wanted to follow the rules.  Poppy plodded on in her placid way and ignored the chaos around her.  I wanted to hug Poppy.

Chicken and I made a few more laps after I came back up from the barn, to no avail.  Later in the day, I enlisted the help of a milk customer (who undoubtedly had better things to do) to chase Chicken with me.  Unfortunately, during the misty day Chicken had discovered sanctuary under the feed barn; just enough head space for a chicken but not a human.  Down on our bellies in the dirt, Chicken stayed frustratingly just out of reach.  That mission failed.

Nightfall.  Bedtime.  Tucking the Silkies in, I headed to the big pen.  As I opened the gate, I heard tiny footsteps behind me.  As if it had been her plan all along, Chicken followed me into the pen, jumped up the step to the coop, and went in to get her snack, undoubtedly telling the others of her adventures and getting a laugh at my expense.  I shut the doors and went to the house.  Good night, Chicken.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Settling Down

I needed to let the dust settle.  After a flurry of activity and company that required nearly daily dusting, I feared my reputation would be ruined.  A chill wind blew all morning and I went around closing windows and wore a jacket all day (no complaints there!).  I'd thought to hang the washing on the line, but it never would have dried so fell back on Plan B, the dryer.  Folding clothes was the most ambitious project of the day.  Other items on the To-Do List got moved way down in priority and I caught up on DVRd series episodes.  In the evening, Camille brought a pizza to munch while we watched the latest debate.  (I wish she had not pointed out the vice-presidential candidate's unfortunate resemblance to Eddie Munster; that sticks in my mind.)

The dust rag and I enjoyed our day of rest.  Tomorrow, as Scarlett said, is another day.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Who knew?  I had heard the word (thought it was "woof") but it had no meaning for me until I met Jule yesterday.  I had the pronunciation of her name right but the spelling wrong.  It seems that WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farming, is an organization that connects volunteers and host farms and assists with travel arrangements, etc., to promote organic farming.  Jule is taking advantage of a break before her third year of college to travel inexpensively and learn.  In her case, the goal is to speak better English and see the United States.  She lives in Berlin, Germany, and working on farms provides the secondary gain of exercise and a far different lifestyle that that of her city life at home.  From Tim's goat ranch, she will be going to a vineyard in a small town on the coast above San Francisco and then to a lettuce farm on the island of Hawaii.  What a wealth of experience this young woman is acquiring.

Jule took to goat milking like a pro, and helped with cleaning the barn.  She had to see one before she would believe that some of my chickens (the Araucanas) lay green eggs.  We had started the process of making feta cheese before leaving the house so the curd would be set when we were done with the animals.  We finished the second part and put the solid curd to hang and drain the whey while we had lunch, then cut and salted the feta.  It will need a few days to cure and mellow the raw salt flavor, so I sent a packet with Jule to enjoy later.

I had thought to teach Jule how to spin yarn on a drop spindle to enlarge on her farm experience, but we became so engrossed in conversation that the opportunity passed.  It was so enlightening to get a perspective on America from another country's viewpoint.  We share an admiration for the great chefs of the world, and one of her life highlights was dining at Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen in London.  I have a strong German heritage on my mother's side and Jule translated my grandparents' wedding certificate which, although they were married in Illinois, was printed in German.  It was too nice a day to stay inside, and we were still chattering out on the deck when Tim arrived to pick her up.  I was so pleased to be invited to early dinner on Sunday when Jule is going to cook ethnic dishes like spaetzle as a thank-you for her host family before going on to her next adventure.

The day, which had been so beautiful and sunny, turned dark in a matter of moments and the cloud cover thickened.  Camille arrived shortly after Jule left and had driven her truck instead of riding up on the quad, a good thing because there was a smattering of rain before I went out to the barn, and more while we had dinner.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hard Times

This is a difficult season for the wild things.  Nothing is growing, very little is green.  There's not much for them to eat.  In the early afternoon, a doe was in amongst the turkeys, lapping up birdseed.  From the deck, I could see her ribs were showing.  The deer are eating leaves from the lilac bushes from the ground to as high as they can reach.  I call it pruning.  Turkeys, not sated with the seed under the oak, are getting in with the chickens to share their breakfast.  As soon as the rains come, the earth will green again, but in the meantime, these are hard times.

I took TG down to meet Camille, who also needs some help with the trees on her place and a few renovations to her house.  While they talked business, I stepped outside to play with Honey and Shadow.  The dog didn't lick me and the donkey did.  I don't know why that cracks me up so, but it surely does.

This going to be a busy day.  Tim is bringing another apprentice over for goat milking and cheese making.  Ula is a young woman who has come over from Germany to learn the goat trade.  I guess Tim, who raises meat animals, feels a day with dairy goats would complete the experience for his trainees.  I've started a pot of soup for our lunch, but I'd better flick the dust cloth around a bit before they get here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The New Fall Line

Nighttime temps in the forties have prompted the chickens to finally get dressed.  They've been running around in bikinis for months, barely enough feathers for decency.  Unfortunately, the fall styles are a work in progress.  Tzar Nicholas has grown a ruff of beautiful, long, golden feathers, but his neck is still bare underneath and it looks like a bad comb-over.  Both Nicholas and Mad King George have covered their bums with fluff, nowhere close to the proud rooster tail feathers of last year, but certainly better than the naked look they've been sporting.  The girls look like a flock of two-legged porcupines, studded with pin feathers; definitely the "spike" style of punk rockers.

Fall takes on different meanings.  Going down the driveway on a short run to town yesterday, I thought something looked different in the landscape.  Oh crum.  A huge branch had fallen from the tallest oak in the woods down by the road.  That branch would make a good-sized tree by itself.  Of course it fell across the barbed wire fence by the front pasture.  That won't make Tree Guy's job any easier.  He must think of this place as job security.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

The word must have gotten around to all creatures great and small in this area because I end up playing host to a variety of two- and four-legged visitors.  I had to usher out another one of those tiny peeper frogs from the living room.  It might have wanted to watch a little TV, but Frank thought it might be a squeaker toy and discretion seemed the better part of valor.

Stepping out on the deck with a pitcher of juice for the hummers (established guests), I saw this little fawn on the slope.  Not hard to see why the black-tail are also called mule deer with those huge ears.  This photo hog waited until I came back with the camera, took a couple of shots, and then chatted with him/her for a bit.  "Why are you out here all alone, little kid?  Where's your mama?"  Then off to the right, heading into the trees, I caught sight of the doe and another twin.  Neither my movement nor voice had scared the curious fawn, but I'll bet his mother gave him what-for when he caught up.

Not long after this encounter, I passed by the open front door and there was one of the turkey flocks in the herb garden, scratching in the leaves and doing a little weeding in the process.  What made this group unusual was that a couple of the hens had bedded down right up against the front porch, settling in and making themselves comfortable.  Bessie Anne lies in the doorway to keep watch on the property, and the hens paid her no mind.  I think this "my house is your house" business is getting out of hand.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bye Bye Birdy

The day began and ended on a bird note.  It isn't unusual to see a small group of intrepid sparrows or blackbirds drive off a thieving crow in the sky, the crow yelling, "It wasn't me!  I didn't do it!"  That's what I thought I was seeing at first as I glanced up while walking out of the goat pen yesterday.  One sparrow, one crow - and a hawk.  There was no fighting going on.  All three birds were on aerial maneuvers, seemingly for the fun of it.  Soaring and swirling on the thermals, taking turns making occasional dives at one another like fighter planes, practicing for the real thing.  The sparrow didn't have the stamina of the others or perhaps had more pressing business, as it finally broke ranks and went home.  The juvenile red tail hawk (pale tail) and the crow continued the game, rising at times so high they looked like specks in the sky, then dropping to tree-top level.  I lost track of time as I stood and watched these avian acrobats.

In the afternoon, I heard a rustling in the leaves on the deck just outside the open door.  I went to get the camera to catch whatever might be so brave as to come so close.  Caught in the act, this turkey hen made a dash for a quick getaway.  Once again proving that turkeys are not the brightest bulbs in the carton, she turned left instead of right and tried repeatedly to force her way through the uprights on the rail.  Finally having one of those Aha! moments, she backed up, made a leap, and flew off over the top.  Bye bye, birdy.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Happy Days

The goats were still a little squirrely in the morning.  As a herd, they went to stare again through the fence to where they thought they'd heard a snake.  The milking pattern got a little out of whack and the girls took some coaxing to come into the room.  As time went on, they forgot about it and by evening everyone was calm and cooperative.  Note to self:  do not use a spray can anywhere near goats.

A twenty-degree drop in temperature prompted me to wear a long-sleeved shirt down to the barn.  Heavenly!  My ambition rises as the temp drops and I got a lot of "stuff" cleaned off the deck, either moved out to the barn (a major project for another day) or ready to take to the big road on Tuesday.

Ohmigosh.  It's just light enough to see outside and we either had some light rain during the night or there is heavy dew this morning.  It's been dry so long, I can't remember what dew looks like.  I know the last couple of nights have been chilly because Frank has spent the entire night on my feet.  We've all gotten used to the new blanket and it's warm enough, but that little space heater Frank is still appreciated.

Two steps out the door last evening and I went back in for the camera.  The sunset took my breath away.

It was a good day.

Friday, October 5, 2012

False Alarms

Robert, my neighbor to the south, called me over to the fence as I was closing up the barn after milking yesterday.  The goats and I walked over (we go as a troop whenever I'm in the pen).  Robert is in the middle of the grape crush and he asked if it would be okay to toss some of the stems over to the girls.  They are crushing the zinfandels now, and stems have a high sugar content that the girls love.  I appreciate his asking, because too many at one time or if they'd gone mouldy would make the girls sick.  We stood talking under the oak where Tree Guy and Sons have been working and there were stumps and chips all over.  Robert looked down by my feet and said, "Is that just a snakeskin or is it the whole snake?"  Standing stock still, I peeked over the nearby log to see twelve inches or so of what certainly looked like a dark, striped snake.  I could tell it wasn't a rattler, but could see neither head nor tail.  Gingerly poking it with one finger, the thing didn't move so I picked it up.  Robert and I laughed when we found it was a length of heavy wiring from some type of vehicle, covered in a type of insulation I've never seen before.

I should have known it was a false alarm because I know how goats react to snakes.  On my way back to the house the day before, I'd noted the opening to a nest of ground wasps right by my path.  Being swarmed by these evil little insects as a child had made Steve absolutely phobic for the rest of his life.  Loaded with milk buckets as I was then, the decision was to take care of it yesterday.  I made a tactical error.  The wasps weren't active as I went to the barn and I wasn't sure which was the right opening.  Running late, I milked first and then stopped on the way back.  There they were, and there I was, spray can in hand.  I'd forgotten that the girls had followed me to the fence, curious about everything I do.  I sprayed the nest heavily and sent the goats into a panic.  I should have known better than to spray anything in their vicinity.  It's the hissing.  No amount of reassurance will convince them that they aren't in snake danger.  Clustered together, they snorted and stared at the place from where the hissing had come.  I had to go on with my chores and had to leave them to get over it.  Talk about ruining someone's day.  Going down at bedtime, I found the herd still in a clump, still staring at the ground outside the pen.  Getting them into their rooms was a battle.  I hope they'll have forgotten about it by this morning.  They take snakes very seriously, even when it's a false alarm.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Those Moments

Everyone has those "Aha!" moments, those "Eureka, I have found it!" times of revelation and enlightenment.  More common for me are the "Haha!" experiences that leave me laughing (but still in the dark).  Once again the excavators undermined the front legs of the milking stand and I had no more started milking Cindy than she went nose down and I went feet up.  I'm sure it was my imagination, but I thought I heard snickering squirrels (they sounded a lot like Alvin the Chipmunk).

Trundling the alfalfa cart down to the pen yesterday, I found those goofy turkeys grazing on the green grass where the water trough overflows.  One is already running the fence line, looking for a way out.  I was halfway through milking Cindy (feet still in the air) before they all figured out how to escape.

Camille and Honey came over to watch television last night (she doesn't have a TV by choice).  Honey went about her business of rooting through Bessie's toy basket, choosing this one, discarding that.  Bessie seems to accept "the kid."  The only possessiveness she shows is when she thinks Honey is getting too much of my attention.  Then she pushes against my leg to remind me, "I'm your girl, Mom.  I'm your girl."  Honey had settled down (on Bess's bed) when Frank wanted to come in.  As I opened the door, I explained to him that this might not be a good idea.  Frank approached cautiously, but took charge of the situation.  Honey raised her head and Frank raised a paw and hissed.  She decided this was a cat with "stickers" and put her head back down.  Just to prove his point, Frank paraded back and forth in front of the German shepherd, but she'd gotten the message.

I just had to laugh.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where's the Fire?

"Where's the fire?," were the first words out of Camille's mouth as she rushed up to my door about noon yesterday.  I'd heard a couple of small planes pass over, but just the once so I hadn't been too concerned and had not gone out to look.  She'd seen smoke, but living down in the cut as she does, couldn't find the source and had come up for a better vantage point.  Out on the deck, we saw plumes rising in the northwest not too far distant.  Not in immediate danger, I turned to a channel that was just breaking news of a wildfire in Somerset on Sand Ridge Road south of Bucks Bar, only six to ten miles away.  Kellan and William live on Sand Ridge and I quickly called to see if they needed help in any way.  They were downwind south of the fire and were all right.  The fire crews were able to contain the fire to about fifteen acres, but it had jumped Mt. Aukum Road at one point and that could have put us in harm's way.  No homes had burned, according to this morning's news, and the fire is under control.

The long, hot, dry summer has left this area a tinderbox of dry brush and the thought of fire is never far from mind.  We've been very lucky the past few years locally (Oakstone notwithstanding).  I think everyone has a contingency plan for evacuation.  I am so grateful that Joel disks the south pasture before the weeds get tall and dry.  I have some stubborn star thistle in a pathway that I will not mow down now for fear of hitting a rock and throwing a spark.  Thistles are an inconvenience; fire would be a tragedy.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Front Row Center

I've got the best seat in the house for the greatest show in town with performances morning, noon and night.  It's a theater in the round, so it doesn't matter where I sit.  Yesterday the play was a comedy.  While milking, I watched a fox taking a shortcut come bouncing across the front yard, obviously upwind of Bessie Anne who was dozing in the shade.  The fox had not been anywhere near the chickens because at the first sight of a predator they will set up a ruckus that would raise Lazarus.  Bess lifted her head and it was an "Oh, crum!" moment for both fox and dog.  (The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.)  Stock still for a minute (I wish I could have seen their faces), the fox turned and ran, with Bessie on its tail.  For once, Bessie Anne showed good sense and didn't pursue far.  She couldn't have caught it anyhow, and it was way too hot to be running around.

Monday, October 1, 2012

No Sharp Pencils In The Box

Present a turkey with a challenge and it is thrown for a loop.  Tribes are drifting through in larger numbers throughout the day as fall approaches.  Most of the time they seem to follow a regular pattern of travel.  There are mornings when they get diverted, however, possibly lured by the hanging grapes next door.  Usually seen as pedestrians, it is easy to forget that turkeys are excellent fliers.  They have to get over a six-to-eight-foot deer fence to get to those grapes and have no trouble.  Getting back on their beaten path, they fly over it again and land in the goat pen.  So far, so good.  I watch from my seat while milking as eight or ten turkeys mosey through the goat herd and cross to the far fence, only about four and a half feet high on this side.  And that's where the problem starts.  Short-term memory loss?  How is it possible that in the time it took to cross the pen that they forget how they got there in the first place?  "Oh, no!  We're trapped!"  They run dithering back and forth along the fence line.  Finally a dim light flickers and one will fly over to freedom.  Ta DA!  Unfortunately, the others seem incapable of learning by example and continue to look for an escape route.  One at a time, they figure it out until there's only one left in the pen, and that pitiful dimwit cries and calls, "Don't leave me!  Wait for me!  Come back!"  The flock offers no encouragement and slowly starts off in the direction of breakfast under the oak.  At last the lone bird looks up, flies over and runs to join her companions, acting as if nothing had happened.  Who needs television?