Friday, November 30, 2012

Bit Of A Break

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just the Beginning

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hurry Up!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pot o' Gold

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a good day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fall Palette

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

R&R Day

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

"That" Question

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Turkeys

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Your Mark...

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Clear the Decks

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Twilight Zone

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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Location, Location, Location

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Box of Chocklits

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Crash Landing

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Breakfast Club

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What A Treat!

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Small Things

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Birds of a Feather

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

It never warmed up all day.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Da' Boys

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hurry, Hurry!

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

First Things First

Get up.  Turn on computer.  Let dog and cats outside, see if there is snow on the ground, and bring a few logs in.  Open the vents on the wood stove, put wood inside.  Make coffee.  Watch early news for weather report while the fire catches.  Let dog and cats back in the house.  Take coffee back to the computer and log in.  And that's the way every day starts in winter.

No snow yet, but the prediction now is that it will come by ten this morning.  The temperature is thirty-four degrees, so it could happen.  Then again, they said yesterday that the foothills might get "possible showers."  Yeah, well.  What we got was a steady downpour all afternoon.  I do recognize that predicting weather is not an exact science, but one hopes for a little more accuracy.

Tree Guy stopped by yesterday and we talked hunting.  He had just returned from an elk hunting trip and had some good stories, but no elk.  I have wonderful memories of hunting with Steve, his dad, uncle, brothers, and the last hunt that included his best friend and boys.  I didn't shoot, but was darned good at spotting deer for the hunters.  I loved being with the guys and the camaraderie around the campfire at night.

I received a very disappointing call yesterday.  Deb has been ill for several days and she and Craig won't be coming up tomorrow after all.  In addition to missing their great company, Deb is a terrific organizer and would have made a great supervisor for The Crew.

The coffee mug is empty.  The journal entry has been written.  It's time to move on with the day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Poor Timing

Mother Nature and I are not in sync.  A dozen worker bees are due here on Saturday and there's a lot of outside work to be done.  The last few days have been perfect with warm sun and cool breeze.  This morning there is a thick overcast and a cold wind.  Snow is predicted for tonight, possibly as low as two-thousand feet (I'm at twenty-four hundred).  Ain't that just hunky-dory?  Dave assures me that his crew from the Freed Spirits Motorcycle Club "won't melt," and will be here rain or shine.  Deb, Craig, and Clay are as reliable as they come.  It just seems so unkind to ask for help and then offer less than optimum working conditions.  Just more proof that I'm not in charge.

Like the cats, I went around in the house this morning, looking out windows for a break in the gloom overhead.  Of course there wasn't one, but what I did see was beautiful yard art.  Weather like this brings the deer down from higher elevations.  Standing in the back yard, posing like a bronze statue, was a gorgeous, stately three-point(!) buck watching over his harem of does as they grazed by the front pasture.  I was happy to see that this handsome boy had survived the recent hunting season.  I may not be able to change the weather, but I can give these lovely creatures shelter in my woods.

If we do get snow and it is enough to cover the satellite dish and stick, I will lose contact with the Internet.  The timing of my journal entries may become erratic.  I'm not in charge.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In My Opinion

I'm not happy with The System.  Yesterday was Election Day.  I have voted in every election since I turned twenty-one (in the old days, that was the age of majority).  The most American thing I know to do is to join my community and my country at the polling place to make my mark.  Therefore I have declined the option of a mail-in ballot.  It has been important to me to make the effort and take the time to go in person to vote.

As I got out of my truck yesterday, a man came out of the local polling site and he was boiling over.  He was one of those who had received a "mail-in only" ballot, but had not realized that meant he could not vote in person.  He had been given a provisional ballot to take away and bring back because he had not mailed in his vote.  This man told of convincing his eighteen- and twenty-year-old children of the importance of voting, of making their opinion count, but knew they also had not mailed their ballots and that they would not come in for the provisional.  Two votes lost, probably forever, and the dad's credibility took a big ding, too.  I have heard from others who ran into this same situation, so his was not an isolated case. 

When the results of the presidential race are announced within two hours (and it was actually much less) of the West Coast polls closing, it's a wonder why we bother with anything but local races and propositions.  Why bother with absentee ballots?  Why bother with "provisionals?"  Perhaps candidates would pay more attention to the country as a whole instead of concentrating on the "swing states," if we went to a popular vote and abolished the Electoral College.

I am not speaking of political parties, I am not addressing the pros or cons of any issues.  I'm am only voicing my displeasure with The System as I found it during this election.  That's my opinion.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Trivial Pursuits

It was a day filled with minutiae.  I got so interested while watching a mouse I almost forgot to keep milking Inga.  The mouse was on a rope hanging by the barn door and was determined to peek through a small hole in the wall that was just out of reach.  Mouse hung precariously, trying every which way to stretch far enough, in constant danger of falling.  Tiring, it would climb back up to rest on the beam, then back down again for another try.  What in the world was going on in that little mouse brain?

On any given day, Cindy is the most vocal of all the goat girls.  If Ruth had advertised when she was looking for a boyfriend, Cindy is printing it all in caps.  She stood most of the day by the gate to the pen, calling for Prince Charming.  (Prince Charming is the stud goat of a rancher I know.)

Ground squirrels, notable by their absence of late, have returned to the barn.  Their place in the pen has been taken by voles.  At least their burrows are smaller.  I'm still hauling in buckets of dirt to fill the chasm under the milking stand.  This actually tends to another need.  I dig dirt from trenches designed to divert runoff from flooding the barn when it rains.

I'm happy to report that Frank is fully recovered from his muscle strain and has nary a sign of a limp.

Earle came to pick up his weekly supply of milk and eggs.  When he heard I'd be selling some tools, he raced down to the shop for a preview.  I swear, it's a Guy Thing.  He latched on to some wood-working clamps and put a couple of items on his wish list if The Crew doesn't take them.  He later came back for a load of goat poop, and went back down for the rest of the set of clamps.

I was gifted a big box of local apples recently, shortly after receiving a recipe for apple cake from my niece in New Hampshire.  What the heck, I thought I'd give it a try since I had the major ingredient on hand.  Turned to be the best apple cake I've ever made or had.  I've got The Crew coming up this weekend, so I'll be doing more baking, for sure.  The recipe used four apples.  Ninety-six more in the box.  Hmmm.

I watched a documentary on a sloth sanctuary.  Sloths come in two-toed and three-toed varieties.  Sloths race around at five feet a minute; get out of the way at rush hour!  Cindy and Ruth (et al) can't hold a candle to a female sloth in heat.  Those girls let out a constant high-pitched howl that can be heard for a mile.  The most interesting fact to me was that as mother's milk is impossible to provide for orphaned baby sloths, they are fed goat milk!

And that's all the news for the day.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Made It

Some days are just meant to get through, and yesterday was one of those.  The first day of time conversion (Daylight Savings Time ended for the season) always throws the farm upside down.  It is difficult to accommodate the change in sun versus clock time.  Even my cell phone was confused and I had to fiddle with the battery, etc., to convince it that California had moved back an hour.  The load of laundry I hung on the line in the early afternoon (by the clock) is waving to me this morning; it needed that extra hour of daylight to dry and got left out overnight.  My "inner child" rebelled at the thought of putting the animals to bed at four-thirty, even though the sun was going down.  Going walkies after dark will be added to the routine, as the shorter days leave Bessie with a nighttime urge.  You can't housebreak a dog and then tell her no, she can't go out.  Ah, well.  As I told my friend, it is what it is.  By clock or by sun, it's time to get on with it.  We made it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Little Drops

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand.
Make the mighty ocean
and the beauteous land.
Small beginnings are at least a start.  When an overwhelming task looms on the horizon, I sometimes take on a portion that I know I can finish.  (I thrive on success.)  Heading out to the feed barn to tackle sorting out trash and treasure before the crew gets here next weekend, I was dragging my feet.  There is not one square yard of empty floor space and the walls are lined with shelves groaning with "stuff."  It's the same down in the shop, but I'm not ready to think about that yet.  As my steps got slower, I suddenly veered off to the right and went into the "first shed."

There are two small buildings in the front yard that always create curiosity in visitors.  They look out of place, but there is a rational explanation.  The family that built the house lived in a trailer during construction.  Knowing that it would be a lengthy project, the wife said she'd go along with that as long as she had a "real" bathroom and a place to do laundry.  That was the first shed.  There is a stall shower and toilet, hook-up for a washing machine, hot water heater, and the pressure pump for the well.  No longer used as a bathroom, it has become (surprise!) a repository for bird seed and "stuff."  Included in that stuff are buckets of acorns brought in by the small creatures and crammed into every nook and cranny.  I've succumbed to the "Steve Theory of Stuff" and all on my own put things in the shed that I might need "some day."

The first shed is a lot smaller than the feed barn and, as I was walking out, it seemed a whole lot more manageable.  Cobwebs, blown leaves, acorns, trash, some "treasures."  Cleaned out and organized.  It's a beginning.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Coat of Colors

The oak, peach, plum, and cherry trees are changing into their fall coats.  The varieties of grape vines are likewise dressed in reds and golds.  On my drive to town the other day, pistache trees in the woods along the road blazed with their spectacular colors and walnut trees glowed yellow.  We may not rival New England, but until the branches go bare for the winter, our locals put on a pretty darned good fashion show in the fall.

The tractor and weed eater are home from the repair shop, looking good and running fine.  Greg and Joe worked some kind of magic because I've never been able to start the rolling weed eater on the first pull before.  It wasn't just me; poor Pete spent hours working with the darned thing when he was here, Larry had done the same, and I've always had to wait for one of the guys to start it each season.

Blanche DuBois may have "...depended on the kindness of strangers;" I am so thankful for the kindness of neighbors and friends.  Joel and Judy picked up a part I'd ordered for my truck while they ran errands in town and Jennie got coffee that I'd forgotten (it was at the top of my list) while she was shopping.  Two trips to town in two days would have been too much!  I replaced the module so I'm no longer in danger of being ticketed for a missing taillight, and the coffee will certainly brighten my mornings.  Color me happy.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How Was Your Day, Dear?

I have found that when a day "goes south," the best way to recover is by doing something physical.  In the morning, Frank had been in terrible pain and could not bear weight on a foreleg.  His last injury resulted in an expensive surgery.  I gave him some painkiller and hoped for spontaneous recovery.  The rest of the day was filled with piddly and not-so-piddly irritations and I was getting cranky with the world.

The rain had stopped and Bess and I walked out for a breath of fresh air in the afternoon.  We were joined by several tribes of turkeys, also out for a stroll.  Almost all of the uncovered wood was in a pile on the ground.  I'd thought when I started that I'd just get a few pieces around the edges out of the dirt, and then a few more, and then a few more.  It felt pretty good, so I just kept at it.  As I reached ground level, about a dozen golden-eyed, slow-moving frogs and one warty toad the size of an orange were disturbed from their sleep and dislodged from their homes.  There is a pile of unsplit wood a few feet away, so they won't be homeless long.  The stacked wood appears higgledy-piggledy because, for the most part, it is wood from the old, old oak tree down in the pasture.  Even though well aged, it is very heavy and tremendously dense and was impossible for Tree Guy to split in even sections.  It may not make for a neat and tidy woodpile, but it sure makes for a good, long-lasting fire in the wood stove.

A day of rest in the house had left Frank a bit gimpy, but certainly not in distress anymore.  An afternoon of exercise and the satisfaction of a job begun and finished had improved my disposition.

It was a good day.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Batten the Hatches

The predicted rain started sometime in the night.  For a change, I am prepared.  While down at the barn, I put the covers back on the windows for the girls.  There are clear roof panels among the metal ones that keep the recesses of the barn from becoming the Black Hole of Calcutta.  (I just looked this up and discovered that there actually was a black hole of Calcutta, a phrase I've used for years, usually in reference to my workroom.)  Prior winds had ripped the old tarp to shreds, so I put a new tarp over the woodpile, brought another wagon load of firewood up to the house, and restacked the loose logs so that fewer touch the ground.  I had picked up a supply of goat and chicken feed the day before, and made a trip to town for my own supplies yesterday.  It's too soon to turn off water lines, but, by golly, I think I'm ready for winter when it comes.