Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Essentials

I'm all for new technology.  I love the DVR, flat screen monitors and TVs, cell phones, food processors, etc.  However, and I repeat, however, there are those times (as in a power outage) when one has to get back to low-tech basics.  My land-line telephone went out awhile back.  I found a surprisingly cheap model not too long ago but when I got it home, found it did not have a "speed dial" or memory feature as the old one did.  After my last guests left yesterday I made a hit-and-run trip to town.  It took three stores to find what I needed (batteries not included).  That type of phone just isn't being made anymore.  As I explained to the Nice Lady, I can find the right buttons in the dark when there's no electricity, but it's very difficult to look up the number for PG&E in the telephone book then.  Cell phones will work as long as they've been recharged (note to self:  keep cell phone charged).  There are wireless phones all over the house and I love that convenience, but I'm dead in the water without one direct land line.  Every cook needs a whisk and a box grater when the power goes out.  All those canned goods in the cupboard won't feed anyone if only an electric can opener is available, so I use an old-fashioned hand cranker.  A carpet sweeper or broom will get the house looking tidy when the vacuum cleaner won't run.  We switched out the electric stove top for propane gas after a three- or four-day stint without power and no way to even boil an egg.  I use the coffee maker every day, but keep a coffee pot for emergencies.  One of my wishes when I win the megabucks lottery is a windmill to pump water.  I really appreciate my wood stove in the winter.  My friend Camille has a pellet stove that is efficient for heat, but it requires electricity to run the auger.  Guess who freezes her butt when the power is out during a snow storm; not me.  I once needed to withdraw funds from a bank when their computers were down.  Impossible to believe, but no one in the bank knew how to handwrite a receipt so I could take out some money.  Shade-tree mechanics with a little experience could fix any vehicle engine for years.  Now a computer is required to diagnose a car problem.  Go figure.

As I said, I love new technology and enjoy the "toys" of the new generation.  Total dependence, however, is a grave mistake.  Sometimes one has to revert to the essentials to make it through the day.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Those Weren't Ants

My intentions were to write about my current guests, my great-niece from the Long Beach, CA, area and my great-nephew from New Hampshire.  I've not seen Jeff since he was a little, little boy and, while Lori and I are frequently in contact, it's been some time since she's visited.  Arriving in the morning, I fed them a quick breakfast and then Jeff did a tour of duty in the goat barn with me.  We all did a lot of nonstop talking and then they went to sample the wares of a few of the local winemakers in the afternoon while I caught up on some chores.  That's what I intended to describe.

At sundown, I went out alone to put the critters to bed.  Cindy got balky and would not go into the barn with the other goats.  Hoping to coax her in through the milking room, I lifted the lid of the grain bucket hanging on the wall and reached up to get a handful.  I wanted a handful of grain; what I got was more than a handful of mice.  The little thieves leapt out in twos and threes, running down my arm and jumping from my shoulder, and more kept coming.  And then it happened.  Two mice sprang out and landed with unerring aim, falling down inside the front of my bibbies.  Never have I been so glad that bibbies do not have a waistband or that I was wearing a turtleneck and not a tank top.  No clogger could have danced faster than I as I tried to get those mice down and out my pants legs.  I was laughing loud and so hard I scared Cindy and she ran into the milking room to hide.  Getting her in there was the plan in the first place; it was the unique method that surprised me, one I do not plan to repeat.  I was still laughing when I got back to the house to tell of my latest farm adventure, too good not to share.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Don' Wanna Grow Up!

Christmas is a time for children.  Responsible, hard-working, most of my "boys" well over six feet tall, and, as impossible as it seems to me, at or approaching middle age, Christmas brings out the child in each of my Kids.  Deb and Craig had been struck down by a wicked flu bug and, as with Pete down south, were very much missed yesterday.  Dave, his lady Sandra and her daughter Katie, Larry, and Clay timed their arrival so that the girls could spend a little time with me in the barn while the guys restocked the porch wood rack.  Chores over, it was time to shuffle cards and count out chips for some serious nickle-dime-quarter poker.  My mother would not tolerate talking during a poker game, and the kids' dad would leave the table if someone called a wild card.  Neither of them would have enjoyed the raucous banter, name calling, laughing (oh, the laughing!), and Larry's infamous "One-eyed Jacks, Suicide Kings, and Black Mariah" games at my house.  There were a couple of breaks for chile verde and bedtime for the critters, and then it was time for gifts.

Dave gave his brothers Ninja warrior weapons and headbands and, thankfully, Clay and Larry only shot each other and everybody else with the Nerf guns and did not throw the whirly star thingies or stab the dog with the little daggers.   Along with some lovely, serious gifts, I was presented with a farting stuffed pig.  It couldn't be a real Christmas without a new pig of some kind.  Watching the "inner child" in each adult come out to play was such fun.  It was a merry, merry day.  I hope they never grow up, and I don't want to, either.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Stuff Of Dreams

Those were not visions of sugarplums dancing in my head last night, they were lists of things yet undone flashing in front of my (closed) eyes.  Next to me, Bess was having "sympathy dreams" as she whined and cried in her sleep.  The baking is done, the chile verde simmered in the oven all night, the poker (dining room) table is cleared of all sewing projects, and presents were purchased.

As we are now all adults (I won't say "grown up;" that may never happen - insert smiley face here), we set a five-dollar limit on gifts.  That demands a degree of imagination and creativity.  Being the mom, I claim a certain exemption and throw in cookies and other goodies; somehow, they never complain or claim I've cheated.

Since one of the things unfinished is wrapping packages, I'd best get at it.  Shhh, I may dust, or not.

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Money

It's no secret how I feel about shopping; I'd rather take a beating.  I would go window shopping only if I were in the market for a window.  Cruise the malls?  Seriously?!  A friend was describing something recently and said, "You know, just like Starbucks."  I did not know.  I've never been in a Starbucks.  I do not do debit cards and save the credit card for true emergencies.  Checks and currency of the realm are used to make purchases.  All of this is leading to the fact that I found a crisp dollar bill amongst the change hurriedly shoved in my pocket in my rush to get out of the store on my last shopping expedition.  New money always makes me smile.

In the early days, one of my Kids (who shall remain nameless) was the family bank.  Frugal by nature, Kid saved allowances and gift money.  Kid was known to make loans to siblings, and even the father hit the Bank Of Kid a few times.  Loans were granted only on surrender of collateral:  piggy banks, a bicycle, something of substance.  (I believe the father's word was good enough for the loan department.)  Reneging was unthinkable; the bank would be closed to the offender forever and collateral forfeited.  Points were given if repayment was made with uncreased bills, i.e., new money.  It might be only family legend, but it has been said by reliable sources that Kid ironed wrinkled, old currency so that it stacked well.

I smoothed the dollar from my pocket and transferred it to my wallet.  New money makes me smile.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Number One

Not much got crossed off the list yesterday and I didn't feel one bit bad about it.  I will today when I have to double-time everything, but yesterday (Christmas Day) was spent at my friend Camille's.  I'd been invited for a simple midday meal of turkey soup, which sounded great to me.  As Camille described it, then her mom Olga just went wild, adding this and that to the menu until there was a veritable feast on the table.  Garlic chicken with crispy skin, baked yams, roasted Italian Brussels sprouts with pancetta, onions, and provolone cheese, and, of course, the turkey noodle soup.  The two ladies cooked up a storm.  Olga had also made banana bread, but I didn't have a nook or cranny left to put another bite.  With sympathy for the midwest and east-coasters who are suffering with ice storms and heavy snow, we sat on the sun-drenched patio in the afternoon and watched the kittens play and Honey stretch out and nap while we talked of "sailing ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings."  It was a great day in good company.

Back to reality.  Numerous lists have been made and revised.  Some, but not all, items have a line through.  It's coming down to priorities now:  what can actually get done, what can we do without, when is enough enough?  In a panic about our holiday, I don't want to lose sight of that which is most important - being together with family.  That's Number One on my list always.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Home Stretch

December 25.  The rest of the world is celebrating the holiday and I'm peddling as fast as I can to catch up.  Baked and stirred most of yesterday, and then I stepped in quicksand.  I had a bit of trouble while hunting in the freezer for the pork I knew was in there.  There wasn't any.  I know this for sure because I took everything out of the freezer and time slipped away while I put it all back.  Fearful that the nearest grocery store (which is a fair piece up the road) would either be closing early or out of pork, I called.  The nice man in the meat department said he had plenty of pork butts.  "And how much might they be?"  "Oh, about a billion dollars."  "Well, that's okay then; I won't have to break open the piggy bank."  He turned to ask someone the price, and I heard the response, "Punch in 1103."  "Wha-a-a-t?!," I yelped, thinking $11.03 a pound.  The nice man nearly dropped the phone he was laughing so hard.  There was a kitchen time out while I jumped in the truck and went to get the main ingredient for Saturday's chile verde.

Determined to get in the mode, I dragged out the box with the Christmas tree last night.  It took all of "A Christmas Carol" and most of "It's A Wonderful Life" to insert each color-coded branch into the trunk.  Filled with as much spirit as I could handle for one day, I left the tree au naturel and went to bed.

Happy holidays to one and all!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Playing Favorites

Favoritism has never been a problem with my Kids; each was and is my favorite, special in his or her own way.  When it comes to mice, however, I have to admit to partiality.  Psychologically, it has been proven that we are drawn to those who like us, and there is one mouse who gets more attention these days.  For some time, she (and it is a she) would bring a snack and sit a couple of feet from me and nibble as we looked each other in the eye.  I began to watch for her and she didn't disappoint.  Her coat is a little scruffy and I know why.  She has two small children (in people years, I'd say they are seven or eight) and they are hellions.  They race around in and out of the burrow, get in squabbles, and one is a total bully.  He has tried to snatch food from his mother and if his sibling should find a tidbit, Bully Boy immediately takes it away.  The breakfast buffet is across the room from Mama Mouse's house, a long way for such a tiny creature.  I've tried to make her life a bit easier by leaving Willy Wonka prizes (the biggest flakes of corn) by her doorstep.  That gives her some breathing space and more time to enjoy her meal while her rambunctious brood play tag, and I get to enjoy her company.  For the majority of mice, I squirt milk, I put down grain, and they're on their own.  Mama Mouse and I have bonded and, yes, she is my favorite.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Determination

Kathy V. is a friend I've never met.  In one of those round-about ways of the universe, we were introduced online by an in-person friend to us both, Kit, because Kathy V. (I always think of her with initial included) and I raise goats.  Kathy V. and I rise early and we frequently connect on Facebook before dawn for a quick chat.  The other day Kathy V. gave me the recipe for cajeta, Mexican goat milk caramel.  It didn't sound difficult and I'm overloaded with the main ingredient.  What the heck, I'd give it a try.  The directions said to "simmer for an hour," and then an additional half-hour of careful watching and stirring for the final reduction.  Simmer apparently means different things to different people.  My first batch "simmered" for nearly eight hours on Saturday and by the time it was caramelizing I was falling asleep and had to turn off the stove to stave off calamity, planning to continue the process the next day.  After consultation with Kathy V. yesterday, I was game to try again with the day's fresh milk.  An hour of what I call a low rolling boil brought the mixture to the correct stage (where eight hours had brought me before).  I had jars ready.  I was on the verge of success.  I heated the first batch and added it to the second in the interest of saving time so the caramel could thicken to perfection during the last critical half hour.

The phone rang.

Once scorched, there is no way to rescue a ruined pan of candy or caramel sauce; that burned flavor is in there to stay.  A double batch of cajeta and two days' work down the drain.  I reject the term "stubborn;" however, having tasted the almost-finished product, I am determined to make this happen.  (I will not, by the way, answer the telephone.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Murder Mystery

I made a gruesome discovery yesterday morning.   The half-devoured body a barred Rock hen lay out in the open in the chicken pen.  How could this have possibly happened?  With no hiding places, I could not have missed her the night before and left her outside in danger.  Opening the doors to let the others out (after removing the remains), I found the crime scene inside.  Over time, the big door had warped, leaving a gap at the bottom; a gap not so big I was worried about the chickens getting out, but evidently big enough to allow a small or thin predator in.  Feathers on the floor told the tale.  When chickens sleep, they sleep deep.  I doubt they raised an alarm when the murderer entered, made its choice, and struck.  The flock had obliterated any footprints, so I have no idea what could have climbed the fence (nothing had dug under), squeezed through the opening and then dragged the prey outside.  The killer remains unknown and at large.  Last night I jammed a board up against the door, effectively closing the gap after the little kids were tucked inside.  I'd rather read a murder mystery than find one.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Again

I have a love/hate relationship with elastic, especially waistband elastic.  We start out fresh together and everything is hunky-dory.  It grips gently and promises to give and take (expand and contract) with me.  I believe in long-term togetherness; bibbies and socks are about the only clothing items I actually wear out.  Sweatpants are brought out only in the wintertime year after year, and then are not exposed to the elements.  They are layered under bibbies and protected.  Why then do they turn on me?  It is the evil elastic that has waited for its chance at a wicked giggle.  Pants under pants are not going to fall to the floor (as has happened to me with other britches and elastic-waisted underwear more than once in the past), but the day comes that I notice an uncomfortable bunching of what had belonged at my waist is now down around my bum.  Yup, the elastic has let go again.  Droopy drawers under bibbies make a fashion statement appropriate only for a down-on-the-farm segment of "I Love Lucy."  Now if I can just remember where I put the safety pins.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ho! Ho! Ho!

With a big burst of enthusiasm and moved by the spirit of the holidays, I decorated for Christmas yesterday.  Well, this is as far as I got so I can't say I'm done with that deed.  BUT!  Wait for it...I brought one of the trees into the house!  It's still in the box, which I put behind the fake ficus, but it is in this house instead of the shed and I hummed "Jingle Bells" all the way.  By golly, I think I'm feeling holly-fied.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What A Finish

In all ways, it had been a pretty nondescript day.  The same old barn chores, same old goats, same old household tasks.  Cloud cover moved in during the afternoon; nothing new there.  Ho hum.  At the appropriate time, I put the kids to bed in barn and coop without incident while it was still daylight.  Haven't needed the wood stove for a couple of days but the temp started dropping.  Had I not stepped out on the porch for wood, I would have missed this spectacular, unusual cloud formation and fire in the sky.  The day might have been blah, but the finish was a big bang.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spinning Wheels

The last few days have been shirtsleeve weather; layered shirts, to be sure, but no jacket needed.  And still there is snow on the ground and ice in the driveway.  The truck did a little fishtailing on the way down to the feed store, but a couple hundred pounds of grain in the back end gave enough traction on the way back up so that four-wheel drive wasn't necessary this time.

I had stopped spinning my wheels about Christmas, too, and had been baking and sewing up a storm.  And then I got sidelined by a gift I was assured was "Not for Christmas."  I was twelve when the movie "The Quiet Man" (John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara) came out.  My sister Pat had four of her seven children by then.  Pat was not her name, but she'd never been called anything else because it was said she had the map of Ireland in her face and tall, red-haired, green-eyed, she took after her Irish dad's side of the family.  In 1952, my brother-in-law took a second job at a drive-in movie in El Monte.  One of the perks was that his family could get in free.  Anxious to see this film made in Ireland, my sister popped a big grocery sack of popcorn, loaded up her kids in the back of the station wagon (yes, it was a "woodie"), picked me up and off we went.  The first night, the drive-in was full and we were turned away.  We tried another night, got in, and then a thick fog descended and the theater was closed.  A third try; it rained.  Nothing if not determined, Pat loaded us up a fourth time and we got to watch Sean Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher at last.  My sister died this week.  Finding the DVD of "The Quiet Man" in the mail from my friend Kit yesterday brought back such a fun memory.  There was also Maureen O'Hara's memoir in the package.  I planned just to look at the pictures and then, well, read just the forward, maybe just the first few sentences.  Chapters later, it was time to put the goats to bed and I'd lost the whole afternoon.  It was a good day.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Old Dog, New Trick

Bessie Anne has taken on the job of teaching me a new trick.  It's nice to know she hasn't given up on me and thinks I'm still trainable.  This job is no small inconvenience as she'd rather sleep in and, in order for it to work properly, Bess has to get up with me in the morning and I keep rather erratic hours.  Regardless, for the sake of consistency, she follows me into the kitchen every day now.  Cat and dog both know that nothing happens until the coffee machine starts; that's a fact of life in my house.  Bess waits until she hears the click and then her work begins.  It's a little hard to describe her moon-walking, backward-stepping, butt-wiggling, head-shaking tap dance or how she maintains eye contact while going through these gyrations, but since it works every time, who am I to question her training methods?  Patiently, as soon as I take the first step in the right direction, Bessie leads me to the milk-bone box where I have learned to perform as requested and give her one treat, and only one.  In the beginning, I would ask, "This is what you want?  You want a milk bone at this hour?  Seriously?"  That I was slow on the uptake did not discourage her.  Another little dance convinced me that I was on the right track.  My reward for doing well is seeing her pleasure as she takes her treat to the dining room (which is where all ladies eat).  Starting the day with a success story is a good thing.

The turkeys were back in the goat pen last night.

Monday, December 16, 2013

They Come and Go

It was good to be out of the chair and up and moving again, perhaps a bit slower, but moving just the same.  I don't do sick or hurt very well; I get cranky.  Chores were a lot easier yesterday.

For days and days there have been turkeys around every corner, in every nook and cranny, and especially in the goat pen at night.  Therefore it was very strange at dusk when there was not one turkey in sight; none in the pen, none in the vineyard, none under or in the trees.  Where did they go and why?

I recently had the thought that it had been quite some time since I'd heard the beastie boys.  For awhile there, I heard them nearly every night, yipping and calling as they hunted in the hills.  As if that thought had conjured them, when the full moon rose last night, the coyotes gathered for choir practice and they sang.  They were not on the move and they did not yip and yodel; they sang a wild and beautiful song I've never heard before.  I stepped out on the deck.  Moonlight shining on snow in the pasture, voices raised in chorus; magical.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Benched

This is not the time of year to take a day off, but I sat on the sidelines yesterday with a pulled chest muscle.  I would gladly have handed off barn chores to any passing stranger, but no strangers passed.  I was very thankful that the girls came in for breakfast in orderly fashion; raking out stalls was as much effort as I could put forth and chasing down a recalcitrant goat was not on my wish list.  Animals and fowl fed and watered, I retreated to the house where the most active thing I did all day was stoke the wood stove.  I could hear Freddy Fender singing "Wasted Days" and felt bad about it, but not so bad that I did anything.  After a day of rest, it was easier to move when I put the kids to bed.  And yes, the turkeys were in the pen...again.

I'll be back in the game today, Coach.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hot and Cold

Turkeys in the goat pen have become a nightly thing.  Last evening they did at least have the courtesy not to block the path.  I tried to veer off or run ahead to get a shot that included the goats, but the girls either veered or ran with me (that herd instinct), so all I got was their shadows as we paraded to the barn.

I am not ready to break out the bikinis, but it did get up into the 50s yesterday.  (Mornings are still freezing and below.)  I had to make a trip into town and was a bit concerned about the roads.  While the pen has melted off, there is still snow in many areas of the yards and on the deck.  Down in Diamond Springs, two guys with shovels were clearing the sidewalks at WalMart, a week after the snowfall.  A couple of places on Bucks Bar get dicey when icy so it was a slower trip than usual, but I wanted to get home before the temp dropped and I almost made it.  The deeper snow in the shade at the bottom of the driveway had frozen again when I got to the house and tires just spun.  Four-wheel drive saved the day.  Groceries stayed in the truck while I hurried to get the goats tucked in while it was still light and closed the doors on the coops.  Priorities, you know.  Unloaded the truck, threw a log on the fire, handed Bessie a treat, and gave a great sigh.  It's good to be home.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Turkeys, Turkeys Everywhere

Partridges may live in pear trees; turkeys prefer pine.  At least five were clustered in the branches just off the deck while their buddies gathered under the oak at the edge of the woods.  Farview is absolutely overrun with turkeys.  A few of the Peeping Tomettes peered in the windows as they walked the rail again yesterday.  At least one tribe of twelve to fifteen waits behind the shed to come running when I throw down seed in the morning.  That major massing in Joel's vineyard the other day?  They've moved into the goat pen.  For two nights now, I've counted thirty-six in the pen and more coming over the fence and others gliding down from the tree over the barn when I arrive to put the girls to bed.  The large number is not surprising anymore; it is the fact that they so grudgingly move out of the way, barely.  The goats always come to meet me at the gate and we walk down to the barn together.  (Poppy moves slower so she heads in that direction as soon as she sees me coming.)  The progress of our parade is stalled as we wait for turkeys to give ground.  The goats are as confused as I and seem unwilling to challenge the invaders.  After the girls are tucked in, I head back up the slope, walking within a few feet of the big birds who stand as if daring me to question their right to be exactly where they are.  To paraphrase Coleridge:  Turkeys, turkeys everywhere; nor any bite to eat.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ain't It Funny?

Willie Nelson could have been writing my theme song when he penned, "Ain't it funny how time slips away?"  Dates and events have a way of sneaking up on me and in many cases pass right by.  I know darned good and well that Christmas is just around the corner.  Have I done anything to get ready?  I have not.  I had a sewing project in mind.  That came to a screeching halt when the machine quit before I could run the first seam.  Rather than give in to my first impulse (which was to beat it with the sledge hammer that sits handily by the front door, left there after my last project), I turned my back on it.  Ignoring an inanimate object is not productive; it will not feel shame and it will not self-heal.  Ignoring it will, however, burn up two days of precious time.  Tools in hand, I finally approached said machine and was able to get it up and running again.  Our relationship will probably never be the same, but at least we can work together again.  That project is underway and hopefully will be completed in time.  Or not.

One would think my house would rival the Griswold's.  I have not one, but four, Christmas trees in the shed.  That shed is filled with bins of lights and ornaments and decorations.  Have I put up even one?  I have not.  This house used to scream Christmas; even the bathrooms were decked with holly.  Obviously the pressure of a deadline has not kicked in yet.  The oaks in the yard are more festive than I; there is mistletoe in their branches.

I have given a passing thought to holiday baking.  That's as far as it's gotten.  Have I baked one cookie?  I have not.  For awhile I could use the excuse that losing power was a possibility and I didn't want to end up with pans of raw dough in a cold oven.  It was a balmy thirty-four this morning and that delaying tactic won't fly.

The Kids won't be up for our celebration until the 28th so I've got a few days' grace.  Will I be ready?  I will not.  I'll probably be putting up the tree on the 27th.  Ain't it funny how time slips away?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quartet and Trio

Ever get that feeling you are being watched?  Turned away here, these four turkey hens (can't call them Peeping Toms) had peered in the window and waited while I went to get the camera.  Lots of birds land on the rail but they are the small sparrows, blue jays, and black-caps, not these feathered behemoths.  It's a little spooky to have four sets of eyes staring at you.  Having had their photo op moment, the quartet continued on with stately, measured tread around the corner of the deck to peck at the dried seed fronds of the licorice mint.
Slightly warmer yesterday, I could use the cart instead of the sled to haul alfalfa to the goats, but in the shade, five days after the snowfall, there were still four inches of snow on the table.  It's been that cold.  One by one, the turkeys marched to the end of the deck and, like high divers, leaped into space and glided to the ground. 

I have learned to stoke the stove well before sitting down in the recliner at night.  Once the footrest goes up, I'm in the chair for the duration.  Bess snuggles at my side with her head on my ankles and Pearl takes her place on my lap and nobody moves.  The fleece throw has been replaced by fur as we three keep each other warm.  It could be worse.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Traffic Control

There is a lot of foot traffic at Farview.  I do see the turkeys and the occasional deer, but even so I did not realize until yesterday just how many pedestrian creatures travel through the property.  No vehicles had been on the driveway since the first snow fell.  While some renegades cut across the yard, I find it amusing that the majority of the walkers and joggers stayed on the drive.  When my milk customer came in the afternoon, having braved the icy roads, he asked how was my weekend.  It took me a minute while I tried to remember what a weekend was; that's not a word in my vocabulary.  "You must have had fun.  Looks like you had a lot of kids here."  Oh good grief!  He was talking about all the tracks in the driveway!

It really hasn't warmed up much for over a week.  Low 20s this morning, 46 in the house.  Enough snow melted yesterday that I found the lid to the trash barrel.  It had blown off the first night it snowed and I expected to find it down near the woods.  I'm glad I haven't had to go anywhere (the truck is 4-wheel drive) because the lid was lodged just behind a front tire.  It's also a good thing because I hate to drive in traffic, and pedestrians have the right of way.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Making Tracks

It was pretty much a rerun of the day before, but colder in the morning yesterday.  There must have been more snow during the night because I could not find the pan for the wild things' water at all.  The ice was so thick in the goat trough that I could not break it, no matter how hard I beat on it with my stick.  The girls had to settle for nibbling on snow until it warmed up (ha!) later in the day.  The sun did come out, melted the ice on the satellite dish so the TV came alive again, and thawed some of the snow on trees.  As the weight was lifted, one branch would spring up, knocking snow from its neighbors and sending sprays into the air; really quite pretty.

Tracks, and the occasional pile of scat, showed where the wild things had been.  Turkey tracks are interesting in that there is a light, straight line between the prints, possibly from one low toe.  Deer had been in and out of the goat pen cleaning up alfalfa leftovers, and the driveway was a regular thoroughfare as critters and pedestrian fowl made their way to the feeding station under the oak.  The chickens have not ventured out of their coops for two days; they are not as dumb as their reputations would have us believe.  While it would be easier to walk in my own footprints, it is not safe.  The compressed snow has turned to ice.  Snow looks light and fluffy, but I do not think it would make for a soft landing.  That's not the kind of track I'd like to leave.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Snow Days

Woke up yesterday to a white, white world.  It had started snowing the night before.  I didn't hear it (funky hearing loss from this blasted cold), but there had to be a pretty good wind out of the south that covered the satellite dishes in snow, so no television and no internet access (still no television).

Bessie Anne bounds around in the snow like a puppy.  As shaggy as her back is, she has never had any hair on her belly; just the thought of it makes me shiver.  Back on the porch, her legs are covered in icy snowballs.  I brush them off as best I can, she chews off others, and the rest melt on the rug.  Pearl has not left the house for days, deigning to use the indoor "latrine" provided.

I stopped counting at thirty-six.  The contrast of the dark turkeys in the snow was striking.  They stood like statues (frozen turkeys?) in the vineyard as I made my way up the hill after milking.  The tribe later cruised through my yards, looking for seed and water.  With the onset of snow, it is actually warmer than the days before and while slushy, the troughs and bowls were not frozen.

So far, so good with the power.  The wood stove had been stoked all day so the living room was cozy last night.  (Heat does not turn corners, so down the hall to the bedroom, not s'much.)  Bess and Pearl are in their next-to-best favorite winter hangout.  The best is when we are all in the recliner together.

Not much has melted, so it looks like a rerun of yesterday outside.  Doesn't look like more snow this morning, although the clouds to the southeast are pretty dark.  If I miss another entry here, be patient; the sun will shine again!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A First

Low temperatures are nothing new.  Ice in the trough has happened many times before (that stick was definitely necessary).  It was a first, however, when I opened the box of udder wipes and found them frozen stiff!  Knowing I was not going to save the milk yesterday, I could not bring myself to torture the girls that way and milked them come-as-you-are.  Carrying warm water to the Silkies worked well and it stayed liquid all day.  With no water coming from the tap in the morning, all I could do for the wild things was break a hole in the ice in their pan.  Still frozen at night, at least I could refill it and hope for the best.  Ratty Rita is finally starting to sprout feathers to cover her nudity, but it's taking too long.  She told me that she was worried too as I stroked her back last evening; she hinted she'd like to be a house chicken.  While that would not be a first, not this time, Rita.

My friend Tinka in Fiddletown told me last night that she would be happy with my 24 degrees; it was 17 at her place.  In some bizarre do-you-one-better race, it was 20 and falling here at five this morning.  Take that, Tinka!  Knowing there is a possibility of a power outage in our future, the laundry is done, the dishwasher has run, and all things electrical were accomplished yesterday.  They say the real cold is coming in tonight with snow predicted to 1,000 feet, and possibly to the eastern Sacramento border.  Wouldn't that be something?

Even if we keep power, if the satellite dish fills with snow I may not be able to access the computer to write an entry until there is a thaw.  The joys of high tech in a low-tech rural setting. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Carry A Big Stick

The routine has been to fill the waterers for the chickens in the morning.  That does not work in this weather.  Even with wrapped pipes (so far, so good), the faucets are frozen and nothing comes out until well after sunup.  There was a good inch of ice in the goat trough yesterday and there I was with no way to break it.  With a vague memory of having seen something suitable, I headed back to No-Man's Land, the barn.  Now that I think of it, No-Man's Land isn't quite right; more likely it is No-Girls-Allowed Land.  It was set up by a man and only men seem to be able to find whatever it is they're looking for, probably because they know what they're looking for.  They know instinctively where a guy would put the wire twister pliers, while I go poking around for that swirly-twirly thingy to connect the chicken wire.  Hoping not to encounter Thing and ignoring his latest destruction, in a back corner under a pile of unidentified guy stuff, I found a bundle of what I think are construction stakes.  At any rate, they were the right size to bash the ice in the trough so the girls could get a drink.  They would probably prefer hot cocoa, but there's a limit to my services.  I will, however, take a small container with warm water out to the Silkies this morning.  I found them sucking on ice cubes last evening because their waterer never did thaw.  I quickly got them some fresh water and gave them time to hydrate before tucking them in for the night.

I have relatives in New Hampshire, Maine, and Pennsylvania who must be laughing up their sleeves at this California whiner, given what their weather must be.  They would probably think that 24 degrees is a shirt-sleeve day.  Goody for them.  It's all relative, my relatives, and I think it's cold!  Today appears to be a repeat of yesterday, and I left the big stick by the water trough.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Told Ya So

I can see the satisfied smirks on the faces of the weather people as they look at thermometers today.  (What is the generic term we are supposed to use?  Oh, right.  Meteorologists!)  They were right, in spades.  After a not-so-cold morning, the temperature started dropping yesterday.  Tree Guy came in early afternoon to weatherize the sprinkler system for the new trees and it was doggone cold by then.  I'm a wuss and went back in the house to thaw after he left.  Later, a hoped-for ray of sunshine broke through and it was now-or-never time.  Putting foam wrap on pipes is not rocket science, but Steve or the boys always took care of that.  I really like the challenge of doing something new.  Whether I did it correctly remains to be seen, and I won't have to wait too long.  It is 24 degrees this morning.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winterizing

The days have been unusually warm for this time of year; no complaints from me.  It has been easy to become lulled and to put off getting finalized for winter.  Those in the know, or those who at least make better guesses, say that is about to come to an abrupt end with nighttime temps dropping into the 20s and hard-freeze warnings beginning tonight and lasting the rest of the week.  I covered the last window opening in the barn yesterday, and turned off the main water to some outlying pipes.  Making a run to stock up on feed in case the prediction of snow down to 2,500 feet comes true, alongside the road I noted a number of large trees that went down in the last big blow.  That is always such a worry here and, let's face it, we haven't had the best record with the oaks in the last couple years.  Deb and Craig loaded the porch rack with firewood, making trip after trip with the little red wagon, so I'm set there.  Capital-P Procrastinator that I am, I still have not put foam insulation around some of the standing water pipes; that's on the agenda for today.  I'm waiting for a call back from Tree Guy; I need his advice on what to do about the sprinkler system he put in for those trees he did plant, and how to winterize those still in the pots.  Making a mad dash to get the trash down to the big road today, I found it had drizzled during the night and there is still a heavy mist, dark skies, and a chill wind.  There's not going to be much in the way of transition here; winter is landing with a bang.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Other Guest

The Thanksgiving gathering included a guest I neglected to mention.  Honey, Camille's German shepherd, was very much a part of the party.  Our ritual greeting always begins with a trip to the milk-bone box; Bessie is included.  Bessie Anne is as good a hostess as one could find anywhere.  She is tolerant and generous, rarely vying for attention as Honey makes the rounds.  As humans settle in for conversation, Honey casually lies down with a front leg on either side of Bessie's food dish.  "Hmm hmm hmm (she hums).  Oh!  What's this?  A bowl of perfectly good food going to waste."  Like picking chocolates out of a box, she selects one kibble at a time.  That dish empty, she strolls over to Bess's milk bowl, hoping for some leftovers and giving it an extra good cleaning, just in case.  The room is large, but the cook top and work island make mine a two-butt kitchen.  Bess has learned to position herself out of the way; Honey, not s'much.  Both dogs (and all the men) close in while the turkey is carved.  So many tidbits are handed out, it's a wonder there is enough left to put on the table.  Bessie Anne and Honey are well-behaved girls and neither would beg in the dining room.  Having had her fill of the bird, Honey preempted Bess's couch, stretched out, and let the tryptophan take over.  I laughed as I walked through the room later as Honey had moved over to Bessie's dog bed.  It was a size-20 trying to fit into a size-6.  After the last guest left, I started picking up the toys that Honey had rooted out of the toy basket.  Struck by a thought, I looked under the cushion in Pearl's bed.  Pearl makes herself scarce when Honey visits.  With no Guard Cat On Duty, need I say it?  The treasured chunk of milk bone was...gone. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Getting Closer

A flock of tame vultures is not on my agenda.  (Before I go further, I know full well that purists will say that a flock of vultures is called a committee.)  At any rate, it's enough that I feed more wild things than a zoo without having to provide a meal for the vultures.  These birds that I find fascinating are marvels of biologic engineering, built to do what they do best in the most sanitary, efficient way possible.  Every morning now they sit on posts around the goat pen, warming themselves with wings spread to the morning sun.  They used to fly away when I approached but, over time, they've let me come closer before moving a post or two down the line.  As I was leaving the pen yesterday, one of the big birds was perched on the post by the gate.  Walking slowly, I kept going up the slope.  Vultures have large, dark eyes, and this one was watching me but made no move.  He (she?) let me get within three feet, almost touching distance, and sat there still.  Did this wild thing trust me?  Was it as curious about me as I was about it?  For a long moment, I stood there and we simply looked at each other.  Then the spell was broken and we each went about the business of the day.  It was magical while it lasted.

It is the first day of December.  Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the holiday season, is behind us.  My crew is going to celebrate Christmas the weekend after the 25th, but I'm already feeling the pressure.  Three weeks and then some and I know without a doubt that, even so, I will be running late.  Since I don't run as fast as I used to, I'm going to try to be a little more prepared this year.  (I say that every year, so good luck with that.)  The Big One is getting closer.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Eh?"

That cold I caught has kicked my butt.  It hangs on still and one of the effects is a hopefully transitory hearing loss.  As someone who, as my daughter said, made my living listening (medical transcription), it is extremely frustrating.  Years ago Deb and I took sign language courses (ASL), purely out of interest.  At the time, I realized how difficult it was for a hearing person to really understand a world without sound.  I'm getting a lesson now.  I can't hear the telephone ring, but I can (mostly) hear the voice on the phone.  I can't hear the birds, their constant chatter and calls.  I can't hear milk pinging into the bucket.  When the clan gathered on Thursday, I could hear the laughing but not always the reason for the laughter.  "Eh?"  My family patiently repeated themselves for my benefit, patience being the definitive term here.  I knew I was invading personal space as I got close enough to catch what they were saying.  I can't tell whether I'm shouting or whispering.  When sound does penetrate, it is monaural, one-sided, so the sense of direction is lost.  I have learned to lip read Bessie Anne and Pearl; I can see their mouths open and close, but no sound!  That's actually pretty funny, and so are some of the misinterpretations of what I think I've heard said.  "Eh?"  (Text me.) 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pinball Wizard

Bouncing around like a pinball (without the bells and flashing lights), I actually got everything that needed doing done before the first guests, Dave, his lady Sandra, and Larry, arrived.  Whew!  When Clay got here soon after, we sampled Dave's homemade Apple Pie Moonshine.  Smoooth!  Deb and Craig texted when they were leaving Woodland, asking if I needed them to pick up any last-minute items and I got a chance to use the line I'd been saving.  "Yes, please stop and get a turkey, 22 pounds minimum and completely thawed.  I forgot."  I got the response I'd hoped for.  "WHAT!!"  It's the small things that make me chuckle.

Some families watch the parade, some watch football.  Mine plays poker.  Sandra is a newbie to our traditions and also to the game of poker.  Ha!  The guys were like lions circling a kill; fresh meat!  There is such a thing as beginner's luck and the gal did right well by herself.  Deb and Craig had come straight from a camping trip and got here shortly before Camille and her mother, Olga.   Chips and cards were cleared away as everyone helped with the last minute prep work.  There was a time when I brought out the good dishes and fancy silverware to set the Thanksgiving table.  Priorities being what they are, this year we even dispensed with a tablecloth.  Surrounded by family and friends, a table laden with food, we all had much for which to be thankful, especially Pete's successful surgery.  Dave said it well, "The food is always great [I'll take a small bow here], but it is the company that makes this day so special."

The meal over, the dishes cleared, the animals put to bed.  "Let the games begin!"  Camille was introduced to the competition and was also a fast learner as we got back to the important business of the day.  While the entire day certainly was a success, I'll admit I had to hit the piggy bank several times.  Sigh.  Care packages of leftovers provided, last goodbyes and "love you's" said.  Laughter.  It is the memory of laughter that echoes long after the last taillights blink.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Apologies

Like the White Rabbit, "I'm late!  I'm late!"  Woke up at 3:20 this morning and decided that it was ridiculous to get up at that hour; I'd fall asleep with my face in the mashed potatoes in the afternoon.  Went back to sleep, planning to snooze for maybe an hour.  Yeah, well.  That ending was predictable.  If I don't get that turkey in the oven and pretty darned quick, there will be a mob of hungry, angry people in my house with torches and pitchforks.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Special Delivery

I have suspected for some while that we have a new post-person, mail-lady, or whatever the current politically correct title is for the female who delivers the mail on our route.  Those suspicions were confirmed yesterday when I found a package in my mailbox.  The prior carrier would not deliver a package of any size, but would leave a little postcard notice.  That meant a trip up to the post office, hoping to time it just right.  Our little local post office is not open on Saturdays and closes completely for lunch.  The former mail-lady was an independent contractor in more ways than one.  That business about "Not snow nor rain nor heat..." did not apply to her.  If she didn't want to deliver the mail, she didn't.  One day a teen driver took the curve too fast and wiped out our bank of seven or eight mailboxes.  Steve was willing to build a replacement stand for all the boxes and we went to the postmaster to get the specifications.  He told us the carrier insisted the posts be put in concrete.  We pointed out in the printed Federal USPS instructions we'd been given that posts were not to be set in concrete.  "Hmmm.  Yes.  Well, she wants them in concrete so you'd best set them in concrete."  Guess we know who ruled that roost.  (That postmaster left some time ago.)  All this is just one of the quirks of rural life; we accept and adjust.  Most of my mail these days is addressed to Occupant or Resident anyway.  I felt pretty darned special, not only to receive a package, but to find it in my mailbox!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Ending

Finally, some good news to report.  Pete was released from the hospital last evening.  There had been some setbacks and complications, with the specter of a second surgery looming but avoided.  I know we all slept better last night.

While waiting all day to hear news from down south, preparations for Thursday moved ahead slowly here.  The wind that had piled leaves on the porch had really done me a favor by blowing the parking area and entry walkway completely clear of the ankle-deep drifts, saving me the effort of raking them away.  The porch had needed washing anyhow.  I never realized until Larry sided the house that houses get dusty on the outside too; dusting being my inexorable nemesis.

My mind has been elsewhere this past week and not actively gathering blog fodder.  Let's just say my Thanksgiving Day came early this year.  It was a good day.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Love A Parade

I don't have to wait for Thursday to watch a Thanksgiving Parade.  These are just a few of the participants that came marching through yesterday.  All that is missing is the oompah band.

Ratty Rita is just the most pathetic-looking creature, especially on a chilly morning.  I suspect mites may have played a part, as well as the ordinary moult, in her denuded condition.  She is getting a bit of fluff on that part my Daddy used to call the pope's nose.

Bessie Anne is putting a lot of faith in Pearl.  Having watched Bess poke around a number of times in Pearl's cat bed in the living room, I waited until both girls were out of the house and went to check.  Sure enough, under the cushion there was that chunk of milk bone I'd brought home from the feed store.  Bessie evidently trusts that Pearl will protect it and not eat it.  I'm not sure how Pearl feels about a lumpy bed.  I may have to put up a sign, "Guard Cat On Duty."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ratty Rita

Most of the chickens have dressed themselves for winter, refeathering those bare backs and bums.  The roosters, Mad King Charles and Tzar Nicholas, once again strut around in their regal finery (still minus the tail feathers).  And then there is Rita, Ratty Rita.  Rita is a Rhode Island Red who stripped down to a bikini (moulted, that is) and has done nothing to get ready for cold weather.  Like Pick-Me-Up Peggy did, Rita runs in front of me at night, stopping so I will stroke her back.  She does not want to be held, just petted.  That naked back is surprisingly warm under my hand.  Like the skin of any plucked chicken, it isn't particularly lovely, and gives Rita a rather woebegone appearance.  She croons as I give her the requested attention.  I think the others make fun of her and this is her way of regaining self-esteem.  In every flock, there are one or two with distinct personalities and/or distinguishing characteristics.  This year it is Ratty Rita.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Big Blowhard

The bucket of used wipes continues to be emptied daily.  How many blankets can the colony of barn mice and squirrels use?  I fear that the locals have started a black-market blanket business, an underground operation, as it were (pun intended).  Trash Guy is going to think I'm not doing my part for his job security if there are no wipes to donate.

In the seventies, singer Jim Croce wrote a song with the line, "You don't spit into the wind."  I'm going to add to that good advice:  when a strong wind blows, check the direction first before pitching a bucket of goat poop over the fence.  I'm just saying.

There was a lull when I wrote the entry yesterday, but by the time I got down to the barn the wind had kicked up several notches and the girls were happy, happy, happy chasing leaves.  Topping off the trough and waterers was a damp procedure as the wind blew the water from the tap and hose sideways.  Like campfire smoke, the spray followed no matter which side I was on.  The power blipped on and off all day, so often that I gave up changing the time on the digital clocks.

Pete came out of the CCU yesterday and may go home in another day or two.  Whew!

Did I mention it was windy?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pinata Party

It can get pretty blustery here on top of the hill.  When newscasters predicted 45 mph sustained winds yesterday, I started putting deck furniture and the trash barrel under cover in the morning.  (I've chased stuff down to the woods before.)  Our winds normally come from the south or the north, rarely from the east.  The east wind yesterday was a bonanza for the goats as it blew swirls of dry leaves into their pen.  There is no treat the girls enjoy more, and they were like little kids at a pinata party, scurrying here and there to grab up the goodies.  While they were occupied, I took the opportunity to nail up covers on the barn window openings; we're done with summer heat.

A couple of mice make me laugh every morning.  The older one goes to the grain buffet and brings a Willie Wonka-size chip of corn back to his corner, sits and munches as we look at each other.  Bam!  The smaller, younger one comes out of nowhere and does a drive-by, snatches the corn and disappears down a hole.  I'll swear the expression on the one says, "Kids today!  What're ya gonna do?"  This happens every day; it's either a game or the older one is a slow learner.

I was given a great gift.  Before going out to do chores, I called down to the hospital, hoping for a status report.  Imagine my surprise when the nurse handed the phone off and I heard Pete's voice.  He could barely talk because he was so tired and I could hardly talk for the tears, but, oh, the relief just to know, really know he was okay was overwhelming.  Full recovery is going to take a while, but he's on the right path.

Light as a feather with that burden lifted, I went shopping for Thanksgiving, prepared to battle with the hordes.  There weren't more than fifteen people in the store; more clerks than shoppers!  The checker said it was the first lull they'd had all day.  My list was long, but I was in and out in forty minutes.  That's my kind of shopping trip.

The winds blew down something somewhere and the power went out last night, but for less than an hour; reason enough to celebrate.  It's calm this morning so the party for the girls is over, but yesterday was a good day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In My Dreams

First things first so no one has to wait for the news:  Pete came through his surgery and is on the road to recovery.

I wrote yesterday about staying grounded.  I wrote with such assurance that I even fooled myself.  Oh, being with the animals was calming, but I couldn't stay with the animals all day, and it was a long, long day.  Trying to hold on to the positive, the mind will still go to dark places.  I don't know how it was for Pete, but his whole life flashed before my eyes.  It did help to know that a panoply of well-wishers were sending good thoughts for my son.  Catholics, Mormons, Lutherans, Jews, unnamed Christian groups, Buddhists, and a couple of agnostics were as one in their intent.  I've said before that time is elastic, expanding and contracting as dictated by circumstances.  We were given an estimated time frame for the surgery and the clock ticked ever so slowly toward that hour.  I will swear it took fifteen minutes for every single jump of the hands.  That hour came and went, slowly.  It was during the next hour and a half that panic set in.  Had it not been raining, I might have gone back down to the barn for the comfort of the animals.  Finally the texts started flowing and we knew the operation was over and Pete was in CCU.  And now we wait again.  Stay calm on a day like yesterday?  In my dreams.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grounded

Life throws us zingers:  those times when what you really want to do is run screaming in the streets, those days when your mind feels like a balloon with an untied knot zooming fast in every direction and going nowhere until falling to the floor.  In heavy weather and rough water, ships will throw out a sea anchor that will keep the ship steady and on course.  No matter what else is going on, regardless of what anxieties I might be feeling, it is my animals that keep me grounded.  They are my sea anchor (to mix a metaphor).

I won't know until late this afternoon how Pete's surgery went.  I do know he is wrapped safely in the thoughts and prayers of many, most of whom wouldn't know him from Adam's off ox.  I and my family, especially Pete, appreciate this outpour of caring.  I hope Pete's doctor is included in these prayers; that he has had a good night's sleep, a good breakfast, that his hands are steady and sure.  He will hold my son's heart in those hands, and mine as well.

And so this morning I will gather the buckets and go out to the coops and down to the barn.  Even with the rain that began in the night, the chickens will tumble down their ramps as they do every day.  I will throw down grain and squirt milk for the mice this morning as I did yesterday and the day before.  The girls will come in and get on the stand and eat their cereal as I sit by their side as I do every day and begin the rhythmic squeeze-and-release while warm milk fills the pail.  There is comfort in routine, in knowing without thinking about what comes next.  On a day like this, my animals will keep me grounded.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Turn Backward

"Backward, turn backward, O time in thy flight...."  That's the beginning line of an old poem that comes to mind today.  They say it gets easier when your Kids grow up and are out on their own.  That is not always the case.  When they are little, sometimes an "owie" can be healed with a kiss to make it well, and a bandaid is a badge of courage.  Scary things can be driven away by pulling the Kid into the safe haven of your bed for the night.  Moms know how to do these things.  We had our share of stitches and casts, a bad accident or two, and a couple of serious illnesses.  Small potatoes.  A bit older, and hearts get broken.  Those are harder to fix.  A teen is sure they'll never get over a lost love, but moms can reassure and comfort and bake cookies and time will, in fact, make it all better.

My Kid has a broken heart that only the doctors can fix.  He will have surgery tomorrow.  It's all out of my hands; a terrible, helpless feeling.  I wish I could turn back the hands of time and have my little boy on my lap and make it all better for him with a kiss, a hug, and a cookie.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Backwater Blues

There are days I feel that I am in the world, but not of it, more of an observer than a participant.  When loved ones are in crisis and what I want most is to enfold them in my arms, distance and circumstance make me feel far removed.  The SoCal Kid begins his round of tests today and all I can do is offer long-distance support as I did when his brother had surgery some months back.  Clay, my "fifth son," has two moms:  his "original manufacturer" mother and me, his "after-market" mama.  His OM is also in the hospital now and we are all holding the good thought for her and for Clay.  And so it goes.

Here in my alternate universe, Inga and I are back on track.  Now it is Tessie who wants to play the Catch Me If You Can game.  She's not a serious runner and since she has always worn a necklace (collar), if I'm sneaky and approach without looking directly at her, I can snag her and walk her back to the barn.  It's my feeling that the girls get bored and devise these little games for amusement; theirs, not mine.

A friend who also raises goats and I were chatting online the other day about preparations for the holidays.  I mentioned that Craig ("fourth son") has developed an allergy to walnuts and some recipes have to be altered so I don't unintentionally do him in.  She has family members with the same problem and said, "We, too, make bull and steer cookies."  That's a farm joke (I won't explain it) that had me falling off my chair laughing.

Waking in the middle of the night to one of Pearl's hourly "all's well" announcements, for a groggy moment I thought I'd left lights on in the living room, the moon was that bright.

My own little world here at Farview is, for the most part, serene.  I wouldn't change it and there is no other place I'd want to live.  It's only that there are times I'd like to reach out and really hold a hand.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Holding Pattern

All things seem to be in a state of status quo these days.  The rain that has been promised for weeks fails to appear; sure not complaining about our mild fall temperatures here in northern California, but we could definitely do with fewer promises and more real rain (like the weather people are in charge).  My SoCal Kid remains in hospital, awaiting more definitive tests.  Being The Evil Mom I am, I tease him via text with mouth-watering menus as he breakfasts on cardboard pancakes and dines on grey pot roast.  I continue to contend with this week-long cold; at least my voice has returned, albeit a growly one.  Pearl maintains her self-appointed job as Watch Cat On Duty, making hourly patrols through the house beginning at midnight and announcing, "Two o'clock and all's well," and Bessie Anne still ignores her and snores away.  I've started making my annual lists in preparation for Thanksgiving, but, as usual, that's as far as I've gotten.  Since the menu hasn't changed an iota in probably fifty years, a list seems superfluous, but there is a certain satisfaction in crossing "Make Lists" off the To-Do List.  There are worse places to be than in a holding pattern; there's always the anticipation that good things are coming.  I'll settle for that.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Some Days

Some days get shot in the foot before the first step is taken.  Inga had done "her thing" the day before, so I knew we were facing a long, somewhat painful (for both of us) milking  process yesterday.  I got the first call while still in the barn.  Tree Guy is scheduled for hernia surgery next week and faces a lengthy recovery.

The second call (still in the barn) was from my SoCal Kid, phoning from a hospital bed.  Pneumonia for sure, and undergoing a series of tests for other problems.  It's very difficult when one's children, no matter how old they are, live so far away.  We agreed that the hospital is the worst place in the world to get any rest ("Wake up, sir.  It's time for your sleeping pill."), so I would not call him on the off chance that he was catching a nap.  Texting is the perfect answer here, and I didn't promise I wouldn't do that; a text message wouldn't wake him and I could still stay in touch.  His stay has been prolonged from overnight to several days.  The word was spread amongst the siblings.

With the best of intentions, I ruined Bessie's day.  She declined to go with me to the feed store, but I picked up a milk bone for her anyway.  This was one of the big bones, so I only took a broken half.  I thought she'd be pleased.  She was not.  Even a half was too big.  Bess started looking for a place to hide it.  She thought about the dirty-clothes basket, then the clean-clothes laundry basket, then the socks basket.  She went into the guest room to see if the closet door was open.  She considered stuffing the bone into the couch between the cushions.  Getting frantic, she cried little whimpers as she made the circuit again and again.  She asked to be helped up onto the bed, thinking to tuck it under her pillow, but decided I wasn't trustworthy and rejected that idea.  She made the rounds of potential hiding spots again.  I have no idea where I'll find that treat that wasn't a treat, but will undoubtedly come across it someday.  I won't make that mistake again.

All I can say about yesterday is, it could have been worse.  I'm grateful it wasn't.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Early Bird

Rising early gives me a jump start on the day.  Watching sunrise is such a pleasure; some are simply breathtaking.  Stepping out yesterday to catch the colors just before sunup, I realized the vultures were also awake and flying to the topmost branches of the lower side oak.  It will come as no surprise to readers that I have a fascination with these birds (okay, all birds).  Hummingbirds go nearly dormant after dark, their heart rate and breathing slowing to accommodate their high metabolism.  I have learned that vultures let their body temperature drop at night; one reason why I find them warming themselves on the posts in the morning.  The early birds in this photo were only a few among many who were finding the highest spot to wait for the first rays of the sun.

It isn't just diaper wipes that are being raided down in the milking room.  Those wipes are being stolen as fast as they land in the bucket.  Bert and Ernie have invited some cronies to join them for a drink at the milk bar and now there might be six or eight slurping away every day.  Yesterday I caught movement and, lo and behold, a gopher was at the edge of the grain pile thrown down for the mice, shoving food in his face as fast as he could until his cheeks could hold no more.  This was a new face in the lineup, and what's up with that?  I'm used to the ground squirrels and mice, but now a gopher?  The barn birds now help themselves from the feed bucket on the shelf while I'm milking.  Is there no end to the freeloaders?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

'Tis The Season

It is the season of raging hormones, and it isn't just the goat girls who are in the mood.  That buck and his ladies I saw the other day are a good indicator that those boys are in rut now.  Deer, like goats, have a five-month gestation and breeding now will put the fawns on the ground when feed is at its best for the milk-producing does in the spring.

Turkeys who normally travel in small, sexually-segregated groups are massing together.  Looking out while milking yesterday, I counted close to fifty of the big birds cruising through the goat pen, jumping over the fence and into the front yard.  They seemed to be rehearsing for the big show; some toms fanning their tail feathers and strutting their stuff, a few minor skirmishes here and there, and the ladies' chorus tuning up in the cheering section.  The alphas, the junior contenders, and the omegas were defining their roles, but no serious battles were being fought.  Having a ringside seat and seeing this many wild birds so close is pretty amazing.

I wish I knew more about the turkey vultures.  The maintenance crew left behind after the annual migration numbers about thirty this year.  Most of them sit sunning themselves on posts around the goat pen every morning.  It is nearly impossible to tell male from female; they have none of the sexual characteristics of their namesakes, the turkeys.  Not only are these birds silent, they are also very private; none of the braggadocio of the turkeys regarding masculine prowess, and if they have a mating ritual, it is performed away from prying eyes.

Tennyson wrote, "In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love;" all well and good.  In the animal world, it appears fall is the season for all that mushy stuff.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Nosy, Noisy Neighbors

Two blonds with poofy "big hair" have moved in next door.  We've not been introduced.  Our first encounter was a Kodak moment, and there I was without a camera.  Running a bit late, I was rushing to let the Silkies into their pen when Bessie Anne gave a short warning woof.  I looked up to see two alpacas at the nearby fence line, staring at Bess like they'd never seen a dog in their life; well, not a unique dog like Bessie.  Bess is familiar with the llama, the horses, and the occasional cow next door, but the alpacas were something different, and she moved closer and stared right back.  As I went about my chores, I heard that now-familiar screech of a cranky alpaca.  It must be idiosyncratic of the species (I'd hoped the bad attitude and bad language were limited to Frick and Frack).  I later learned that Frick and Frack have returned to their original farm, much to Camille's relief.  Frieda and Fern (I have no idea of their real names) came from that same alpaca herd and, in fact, one of the girls is the daughter of Caspian, he of the gnarly teeth.  Frieda and Fern paced along the fence line, following my every move and keeping an eye on Bess.  Neighborhood Watch has taken on a new meaning.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hanging Around

Spikes and forked-horns aren't uncommon, but to see a three-point buck and his small harem down in the front pasture during my morning walkabout was pretty surprising.  This "prince of the forest" was in no hurry and we spent long moments just looking at each other before he herded his ladies down into the woods.  Such a nice way to start the day.

I get myself into the darndest situations.  In honor of Veterans Day and those who serve(d), I ran the flag up the flagpole at the corner of the deck in the bright morning light.  It's always been a bit difficult to pull the rope, but it wasn't too bad on the way up.  At sundown, I went out to take the flag down, and that's when the problems began.  It was as if the pulley at the top had frozen.  I pulled down; nothing.  I heaved up; nothing.  I got a bit frantic.  I could not dishonor the flag by leaving it flying after dark, but I still had to bring in the laundry from the line and get down to the goat barn and the sun was dropping rapidly.  I tried, I really tried, to bring that flag down but nothing was working.  I know I said I would stay off of ladders, but these were extenuating circumstances.  That corner of the deck is on the second story and the pole goes up another eight or ten feet.  Desperate situations call for drastic measures, so I got a ladder and a can of WD-40 and did what had to be done.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit shaky as I clung to the skinny pole and climbed high enough to spray the pulley, and I could hear my Kids' voices, "What!  Are you crazy?!"  Be that as it may, the flag and I quit hanging around and I went on to finish the day's chores before dark, barely.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Time Out

Being the herd animals that they are, isolation is probably the worst punishment a goat can get.  Tessie's time out in the play yard for the night had the desired effect.  She was so glad to see me in the morning, sticking to my side like a burr as I opened stall doors for the others.  Tess apologized in every way possible to me and to her pen-pals.  She took her turn for breakfast on the stand without coaxing and spent extra time rubbing against my side.  I told her I understood that it was the hormones talking and not a personality defect that had caused the problems of the previous day.

With the first signs of a cold coming on, I took a voluntary time out myself.  Luckily, it was NASCAR Sunday and I could curl up under a soft throw and nap for a hundred laps or so.  The most die-hard fans will agree that a nap somewhere in the middle of a race is almost obligatory, even without the sniffles, and no penalties are imposed.

Tessie was the first girl in the barn door last night.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Girl Trouble

Tessie was flagging like crazy yesterday morning and yelling her head off, telling the world that she was in season and looking for a good time.  She was cranky to the max and even drove poor Poppy away from her breakfast.  The situation wasn't any better by bedtime; in fact, it was worse.  I got the girls into the barn, but Tessie, with her unicorn horn, was headbutting and ramming the others left and right.  When she hit one hard enough to make her scream, that was it.  I got Tessie out of the big room and segregated her for the night in the gated play area.  I can only hope that the madness and frustration will have passed this morning.

Pearl has finally made the time change and lets me sleep in until five (new time).  For a petite cat, she has a voice like Ethel Merman and tells me loudly in no uncertain terms when she wants out, in, or wake up!  It cracks me up, however, when we are alone together in the kitchen.  She will stand in front of the treat drawer and whisper, "Hey, how's about a little something while the dog is in the other room?  It'll be our secret and I'll never tell Bessie Anne."  I will admit that I weaken and quietly open the drawer and the bag of goodies for Pearl.  Lest I be accused, a la Smothers Brothers, of "Mother always liked you best," I make it up to Bess with a milk bone sometime during the day.  Pearl doesn't like milk bones.

Ah, those girls.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Putting On The Brakes

Back in the day when I was consulting, I drove over 50-60,000 miles a year.  That's a lot of time behind the wheel.  Now I go to town a couple of times a month and, with the occasional side trip, put maybe 3,000 miles on the odometer annually.  Therefore, when I was told that the brake pads were getting thin a year and a half ago, there was no great sense of urgency.  At that time I arranged with a local shade-tree mechanic of my acquaintance to replace the pads and purchased same in readiness.  "Oh yeah, I'm gonna get to that," was the response when I'd mention over time that the brakes were still on the To-Do List.  I'm patient and I'm loyal, but I have limits.

Go-To Guy started his own business some time back and it wasn't until a friend mentioned that Go-To still takes on side jobs that I gave him a call last week.  Go-To and his wife came here yesterday and, ta da!, the truck has new brake pads.  Almost all the tools needed were in the barn, but then he looked for an Allen wrench.  "Do you have an Allen wrench?"  Do I?!  We made the trek down to the shop and I opened a drawer.  Dozens and dozens of Allen wrenches in every size known to man.  "Take your pick."  Wife and I stood and chatted and Bessie Anne supervised Go-To's work until it was time for my participation.  The only thing I know about changing brake pads is how to bleed out the air from the line, but I can do that like a pro.  Shiny new brake pads in place, the truck was parked and we went inside for some get-caught-up talk and a beer, the country equivalent of a tip.  A year and a half later, I can cross brakes off the list.

It was a good day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Triple-A Rating

Reality strikes without warning and comes from unexpected sources.  I got one of those smacks upside the head when I opened a piece of mail from AAA, the automobile club.  It was a card thanking me for being a member for fifty years.  Fifty years?!  I actually went back and looked at the envelope, sure that I'd opened someone else's mail by mistake.  To have been a member of anything for fifty years must make a person pretty old.  That's a big dose of reality to swallow in one gulp.  The thing is, that's not me.  I'm not sure I'd even pick the face I wear now out of a lineup as me.  Yeah, the exterior shows the wear and tear of years, but the interior hasn't really changed all that much.  I still love to dance, and get some strange looks from the dog when I do a little Texas two-step, dip and twirl to a waltz, or get down and boogaloo by myself in the living room (it's one way to pass the time while dusting).  I can still do (or think I can do) a day's work as I used to; it just takes me a little longer, but I also have more time now so no big deal.  I still love a good joke, a good meal, a good drink.  When I was much younger, I walked into a small shop where the female proprietor and a female customer stood watching a young man leave.  One said to the other, "Nice buns."  At the time, I wondered about these middle-aged women.  I understand them better now.  I still appreciate a nice rear view.

I worked for a number of years as a consultant in a number of what were then called convalescent hospitals, filled with the elderly and infirm.  In each one, I reminded the aides to give the residents the respect they'd earned and not treat them like children.  They'd been parents, CEOs, responsible (or irresponsible) citizens who had no choice and no control over growing old.  Pain and frustration sometimes made them cranky, and they deserved forgiveness.  Those aged shells held a wealth of experience and personality.

I may have been an AAA member for fifty years.  I may not climb ladders as I used to.  I may need a fire extinguisher to put out the candles on my cake.  But don't discount this old gal.  That's not me; that's not my reality.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bert and Ernie

Like habitues at the coffee shop, Bert and Ernie wait at the "counter" every morning until Sheila is up on the stand and I get a good stream going and milk is pinging into the bucket.  Perched on the board where I've placed a couple of wipes, these two little mice anticipate what comes next; warm milk squirted onto the wipes until they are soaked.  They don't even duck from the spray if my aim is a bit off.  In fact, if milk puddles on the board, so much the better.  They lap up the milk and then suck the wipes, turning them this way and that to get the last drop, watching me with beady black eyes.  These addicted boys might duck into the corner as I move about the milking room, but go right back for another sip.  Others may come later to partake, but Bert and Ernie are always first in line.  I don't know which of us enjoys our morning routine more.

 Kitchen pigs are all clean; two rooms down.  I'll have to take a deep breath before tackling the pig population and the dozens and dozens of glasses (and a lot of et cetera) on the open shelves in the dining room.  That's a couple of days' worth of work.

I'd been looking out the door at the straggly weeds that the turkeys so enjoy long enough.  A few contained in the herb garden among the marjoram and thyme is one thing, but they'd spread out into the walkway, their three-foot fronds stripped of seeds and looking pretty ratty-tatty.  Tired of being stuck in the house and knowing weather is coming, Bessie Anne, Pearl, and I went out, pitchfork in (my) hand, to clean up a little.  These weeds have a root mass the size of a soccer ball that has to be dug out.  Bess found a place to lie in the low afternoon sunshine and Pearl amused herself by darting here and there, peeking under leaves, hunting who knows what.  I worked on until Bess, who is in charge of these things, decided enough was enough and came to lie where I was going to dig next.  My back and I agreed that she was right.  I put the pitchfork away and my fellow musketeers and I went in to light the wood stove and rest until it was time to put the kids to bed.

I'll see Bert and Ernie this morning.  They'll be waiting.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sweet Smell Of...

Rain is predicted for next week.  Leaving off washing pigs for the day (an indoor job), I took advantage of the still-warm afternoon and breeze to wash bedding; not just the linens but blankets, pillows, and comforters.  No matter how they try, no one has yet found an artificial aromatic substitute for washer or dryer that can compare with the sweet smell of laundry hung on the line, scented by sun and wind.  Slipping between those crisp sheets last night was pure bliss.

Having four Kids in five years, for the longest time there were always two in diapers, cloth diapers at that.  On rainy days, the house would be festooned with diapers like a ship under full sail.  It wasn't until my youngest was born that I got a dryer and thought I was in seventh heaven.  A dryer became a necessity as much as a stove, indispensable to daily life.  I understand that in some places (condos, mobile home parks, etc.), it is now forbidden to hang laundry outdoors.  A clothes line was in place when we moved here (bringing a dryer, of course).  Well, why not use it?  Moving here was a step back in time anyhow, so I began hanging clothes outside.  Come wet, cold, winter weather, I will be as grateful as the next for the dryer in the laundry room, but the sheets will never smell as sweet.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Commitment

All right, I am committed (or perhaps "should be committed").  The Great Pig Wash has begun.  Don't get me wrong; I love each and every one of these little porcine faces and piggy butts.  For the most part, I remember who gave me each of these treasures and that also puts a smile on my lips.  Amazingly, out of the many, there are only a couple of duplicates in the entire collection.  My son Dave has particularly gone out of his way to find unique additions, but many others have made special contributions.  I may have said it before, but I've gotten fairly used to hearing, "I saw this pig and thought of you," and do not take offense. 
These are the washed and/or fluffed pigs from just the breakfast room (there are pigs throughout the house), and not all of them are pictured in these photos.  Not included are the ceramic wind chimes or the numerous pig portraits on the walls or the teeny tiny piggies in their wee display case.  In just these two photos and from just the one room, there are ninety pigs.  It is only the tip of the iceberg, but it was enough for one day.

I am trying to accommodate the time change, staying up late (by the old time) so I can sleep later (by the new time).  Pearl is making no such effort.  Four-fifteen (new time) is as late as she will allow in the morning and she is nothing if not persistent.  Really sleepy, I thought to get up and let her out and then go back to bed today, but a quick trip in bare feet across the icy laundry room tiles opened my eyes, as it were, and so the day begins.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Baby Steps

I would never make it in the 442nd, the "Go For Broke" company.  I tend to approach a project slowly and only after exhausting all available excuses to procrastinate or not do it at all.  It is the time of year when the house gets its semiannual major cleaning in prep for the holidays.  (The other is in spring after the house has been closed up for the winter.)  Being blessed with selective vision, I am able to ignore dust and cobwebby corners by simply not seeing them most of the time.  Taking off those blinders, my initial foray was to heartlessly send an army of homeless spiders out into the streets.  Wiping down their webs was enough for the first day, the "toe in the water," as it were.  It seems I am constitutionally unable to throw away plastic jars, sour cream containers, or bags.  I might have been a hoarder in another life.  One never knows when one of those items might be just the thing in which to save three leftover peas in the refrigerator or line a wastebasket, but even I recognize when enough is too much.  Yesterday I girded my loins (I'll figure out what that means one of these days) and ruthlessly attacked the small mountain of accumulated empty jars and bottles, winnowing out the truly useful from those just taking up space.  Tomorrow is trash day and I'll bet I win Trash Guy's Award of the Week for my contribution.  The plan for the next several days is to make inroads on washing the collection of tchotchkes (namely, pigs of every size, shape, and description) that covers every flat surface in the house.  I'm not joking; there are probably 500 pigs and their piglets on shelves, walls, and floor in every room.  The stone, crystal, ceramic, wood, and metal pigs will get washed and the innumerable stuffed pigs get thrown into the dryer to be humanely dusted off, better than beating them with a stick.  This not a one-day job, but it's a step in the right direction.

Pearl did not get the word that we were supposed to get an extra hour of sleep with the time change.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I'm Not Alone

I seem to have companions in my move to the State of Confusion.  First off, I thought we changed clocks on Sunday night, not Saturday, so my bedside clock said the usual 5 a.m. when I awoke.  Fired up the computer on the way to make coffee; came back to find it said 4-something.  Huh?  Checked the cell phone.  It agreed with me and my clock that it was 5-something (time was flying).  By then, I didn't know who or what to trust.  Turned cell phone off and back on.  Nope, still 5 and some change.  Then, right before my very eyes, the 5 became a 4.  I think the cell phone people didn't look at the calendar or their clock either.  The goats, sheep, and chickens are on my side:  when the sun is up, it's day; when the sun goes down, it's night, and none of us knows what day it is.  (Must remember to put in a change-of-address card for all of us.)

I put those few walnuts rolling around in the sack back where they'd come from and traded that excuse for hauling wood up to the porch.  The wagon had been getting harder and harder to pull and I didn't know why.  The tires looked okay but when I checked, they were squooshy.  When did that happen?  There is a small air compressor out in the barn.  Risking Thing's ire by invading his territory, I turned it on and filled the tires.  What an amazing difference!  The bouncy tires rolled instead of my having it pull it like a sled.  Note to self:  check tires more frequently.  I did not completely fill the porch rack; I may need that excuse again.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What Shall I Do?

There are perhaps only fifty or so walnuts at the bottom of the bag now after hammering away all afternoon and most of the evening.  I really wanted to finish the job but my butt gave out from sitting on the floor, even with breaks to put the kids to bed and heat a frozen pizza and, of course, letting Pearl in and out.  Then I got to thinking:  what shall I do when the bag is empty and I need an excuse not to do something else?  I've come to rely on that bag of walnuts.  I look around and see that this should be done or I should take care of that, then go get the piece of steel plate, a hammer, a bowl, and a bag for the shells and settle down to do something that is really nothing, but it relieves me of some of the guilt.  Creaking and groaning as I finally got to my feet in my oh-so-graceful way (it ain't pretty) last night, I  thought, "Well, you can finish up tomorrow."  Having had a night to sleep on the problem, I've decided those few walnuts left are my last bastion against doing something I didn't want to do in the first place.  I realize now I'd been looking at the walnut bag in the wrong way, as another task that needed doing.  That bag is my friend, my saving grace, and what shall I do for a good excuse when some other job calls for my attention and that bag is empty?  Sigh.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Change Of Heart

What is it, I wonder, that causes some animals to undergo a complete change of heart, if not their entire personality, over time.  I've seen it happen before.  Eons ago we had a cat named Toolu who was a don't-touch-me cat.  People who had come to our house for years didn't believe we even had a cat because she would disappear the minute anyone walked in the door.  Then one day she came out of a back room and stuck to the Kids like lint on blue serge from then on.  If they lay on the floor, she curled up on back or hip.  I have a picture of one Kid sitting in a chair with Toolu perched on his head.  Pearl has done a similar about-face to the point that I look at her and ask, "Who are you?"  She asks, no, demands, to be petted, weaving back and forth until she's satisfied.  She plays with leaves and bits of string.  Not quite ready to settle in my lap, she will lie on the foot rest of the recliner to watch TV with me.  She has taken Frank's job with Bessie Anne and is now her constant companion.  Bess seems happy enough with this substitution.  If Pearl is outside when we step out to attend to chores, she comes running to be with us.  We are, indeed, all for one and one for all.

Sheila has also undergone a personality change and has become very lovey-dovey.  Always the first one up on the stand (recalling the ring-around-the-rosy games), she's reluctant to leave the room until I give her some extra loving and sweet talk.  She then hangs around outside the milking room door, getting in my way as I go in and out to clean the other stalls.  Last goat done, I go over to open the gate to the big pen.  Sheila follows and stands waiting for a head and neck rub, blocking the way for the others.  Leaving the pen, she'll come along up the hill for a goodbye pet at the gate, putting her muzzle up for a nuzzle.  Go figure.