Thursday, January 31, 2013

Strangers In Our Midst

There are new kids on the block and I'm having trouble identifying these pint-sized, red-headed strangers.  They are no problem, but I'd like to know who the invaders are.  I've never seen them before, that's for sure.  In outward appearance, they look very much like half-size woodpeckers, but these little birds are absolutely frenetic, flitting quickly here and there, and spending most of their time upside down.  They will hang head down from the tips of branches, pecking at whatever is on the end.  They race down posts and poles head first.  A whole flock has moved in, and Google isn't helping me with an introduction.  Steve used to complain that you have to know how to spell a word before you can find it in the dictionary; I feel the same way about looking up a bird on the internet.  It really doesn't matter in the long run.  I'll just enjoy the newcomers while they're here.  Odds are they will move on as quickly as they appeared.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Direct Hit

Bessie Anne asked to go out while it was still dark yesterday morning.  Opening the door for her when she came back to the porch, there was an overpowering scent of skunk.  I didn't want to accuse her without proof, but held her collar until I could give her a good sniff to make sure she hadn't done the deed again.  I just hate to start a really cold morning with a dog bath, but Bess was guilt free.

After watching the most current episode of Downton Abbey, Dolly packed up and prepared to go home.  Standing in the drive, I gave my best impression of the mistress of the manor as I waved goodbye, but it was difficult to attain the image, dressed in mucky shoes and bibbies as I was.  Ah, well.  The mistress of Downton didn't have to milk goats.

Dolly's taillights blinked around the corner and I headed on out to do chores.  Approaching the feed barn, I was again struck with the scent of skunk, getting stronger as I got closer.  All buildings at Farview are built on or into a hill.  The feed room addition to the barn sits up on pier blocks, with substantial crawlspace underneath.  Cats and chickens can go under there, but it's too low for Bessie Anne.  Nearly knocked over by skunk stink when I went in to get the chicken feed, I can only assume skunks can get under the building too.  I'm thinking Bess might have chased one of those black-and-white "kitties" in there earlier.  Skunks are notoriously nearsighted and it must have fired off a volley without hitting its target.  The barn, however, took a direct hit and that smell will stay around for days.  I will take that as a warning shot and it's back to the leash in the dark, morning or night, for Bessie Anne.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From Downtown to Downton

I am a big fan of the PBS series, "Downton Abbey."  I have recorded all of the first two seasons of this "Upstairs, Downstairs" type of program dealing with an aristocratic English family and their army of servants pre-World War I and later.  I saved the first three episodes of season three without watching because I thought Dolly might also enjoy them.  In order to "put her in the picture," I went back to the very first episode of season one so she would have an introduction to the characters and story line before jumping ahead to the three I was waiting to see.  Little did I know she would so quickly become so addicted.  Although sunny and clear, the wind chill was brutal yesterday, not conducive to spending any time outdoors.  That was a good thing because all we did all day long was follow the Crawley family members and their staff through trials and tribulations, intrigues and romances, failures and successes.  Bleary eyed and butt weary, with one episode left, we finally called it quits about ten-thirty last night.  We'll be going back to Downton this morning.  Well, it's still a history lesson.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Out On the Town

After barn chores and the two of us bringing more firewood up to the porch (cold weather has returned; twenty-six degrees this morning), Dolly and I headed to town in our search for history.  Our first stop was the Fountain & Tallman Soda Works Museum on Main Street in Placerville.  The tiny, two-story building is the oldest original building in town, being made of stone.  The rest of Placerville burned to the ground three times in the 1800s, being rebuilt with brick or stone.  Supported by the El Dorado County Historical Society, the welcoming docents were full of information about the building, the area, and Hangtown (the old name for Placerville).  They are particularly proud of a piece of the Hanging Tree that had been cut down for city expansion, and an intact bottle from the original soda works.

We went next to the El Dorado County Museum next to the county fairgrounds, where Mark, another volunteer, greeted us and walked with us to explain the exhibits.  Much larger than the other, this museum is filled with memorabilia.  I had no idea that John Studebaker, of the family that later made automobiles, built handcarts and wagons for miners during the Gold Rush and never lost his connection to Placerville.  I was very interested in the roster of naturalization in the county, filled with the names of men from many nations who came to work the hills for gold and decided to stay in America.  There were beautiful woven baskets, some so fine there were thirty stitches to the inch, made by Miwok Indians.  The tribes suffered greatly from the influx of miners.  Information on Charley Parkhurst was fascinating.  Charley drove a stagecoach for Wells Fargo and was known as a rough, tough, son-of-a-gun.  On his death, it was discovered that Mr. Parkhurst was, in fact, a woman.  Outside, Mark pointed out a huge copper "bowl," probably four feet deep and six or more feet across.  No, not a cooking pot.  This was a vessel in which placer miners would swoosh down the water flues to clean the sides.  That must have been one wild ride!  It is said that the noise from the rock-crushing stamp mills could be heard for two miles.  In addition to larger mining equipment and wagons, there is a small plot devoted to tombstones for which the graves have been lost.  The headstones had been stolen or otherwise vandalized, found by or donated to the museum, and respectfully given a dignified and touching resting place.  With the sun and temperature dropping, we thanked Mark for our tour and headed home.

I urge everyone to visit their hometown museums.  I should have done this long before.  I've got a much better appreciation of the local history.  It was a great way to spend an afternoon with a good friend.  It was a good day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fogged In

For a bit of variety, Dolly brought a bank of thick fog instead of rain yesterday.  Oh, there were a few drizzles off and on so I didn't have to check her credentials.  We spent the day doing what old friends always do when reuniting, pretty much nonstop talking.  We'd decided to put off our planned outing until today because of the fog.  Rain will keep deer and assorted wildlife under cover, but they feel safe to venture out in fog, so discretion seemed the better part of valor.  It's better not to run into them on the road, literally or figuratively.

I put on a movie, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," for Dolly to watch while I tended to the kids' bedtime and fixed dinner.  There are some wonderful lines in that film, like, "It will be all right in the end, and if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end."  I have rather eclectic taste in programs, but try to tailor what I offer guests to their interests.  When Larry was here, we watched a documentary on Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under two presidents.  For some, I've put on "Girl with a Pearl Earring," "Story of the Weeping Camel," or "Secretariat."  One documentary on the Pamir Kirghiz people, "37 Uses for a Dead Sheep," although fascinating, has never seemed appropriate to share.  I think the title may be off-putting.  Later, Dolly was introduced to the PBS series about a quirky Cornwall physician, "Doc Martin."

 What adventures await us today, I don't know.  Without a doubt, rain or shine, it will be a good day.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Mouse Tige

There is a small mouse who joins me nearly every morning in the barn.  He brings a snack and sits just a few feet from my side, holding the rolled kernel of corn like a ham sandwich and munching away, looking straight into my eyes.  Most mice run for cover if we make eye contact.  There are days when he finishes his treat, goes to his stash, gets another and comes right back.  I've named him Tige.

I think you'd have to be my age to remember Buster Brown and his dog and constant companion, Tige.  Although the cartoon strip that launched Buster Brown and his mischievous exploits had run its course by the time I was a kid, I listened to the radio show that featured these characters. "Hi, I'm Buster Brown and this is my dog Tige!"  His dog was, of all things, a pit bull.  Buster's pageboy haircut became the rage for women, but what I remember most were the shoes.  Buster Brown was the poster boy for a chain of shoe stores.  He was then to children's shoes what Jimmy Choo is for women now.  I liked to go the shoe store because they had fluoroscopes that showed the bones of your feet in glowing green.  In our little town, the Buster Brown store was the only one to have this fascinating innovation.  (We didn't know then about the dangers of radiation.)  All this being said, I hated the brown oxfords that were always my mother's choice.  Even worse were the brown socks she sometimes made me wear with them.  Back in the day, kids didn't get to have an opinion.  Even if we expressed one, nobody listened.

On the radio show, Buster had another friend, Froggy.  The line I remember most is, "Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy!" If an amphibian were to join the breakfast club, I know what I'd name it.  For now, it's just me, the goats, and Tige and his friends.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I miss songbirds.  I had canaries when I was a kid, German rollers.  My Aunt Hilda had a large, walk-in aviary filled with canaries, as well as parakeets, cockatiels, and one large cockatoo, Joe.  In southern California, meadowlarks, mockingbirds, and other birds whose names escape me sang all the time.  Up here, the sky and trees are filled with birds of all shapes and sizes.  They are prodigious noisemakers.  The local birds caw, coo, cheep, crow, yell for Rod-ri-go, gobble, squawk, and twitter, but not one sings.  I had a moment of hope the other morning on my walkabout when I heard an honest-to-God "tweet."  It was the first real tweet I've heard up here, but I couldn't see the bird, and it was just the one morning, and no song was forthcoming.  I've heard that altitude has an effect on musical instruments; guitars and banjos need retuning, drums need tightening (or maybe it's loosening), etc.  I wonder if songbirds don't travel to the foothills, or if they're around and their voices have been affected.  I'd get a canary for the house, but it wouldn't be fair to the bird or to Frank and Pearl.  They get enough treats as it is.

Like a reservation confirmation for Dolly's visit, the rain has arrived.  Overcast skies in the morning didn't open up until I was down in the barn, hatless.  It then drizzled off and on all day, but rain didn't really begin in earnest until last night.  Opening the door for the cats to go out in the dark this morning, I did hear singing.  It took just the one night of rain to bring out the frog chorus and they were singing in stereophonic sound, sopranos and basso profondos competing for center stage.  Ah, well.  You take what you get and be glad that you got it. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I've Been Socked

See that woman running down the back roads in Fair Play, bibby straps and arms flapping?  Hear her yelling at oncoming cars, "Bring it on!"?  See her kicking small squirrels, large deer, and bicyclists out of the way?  That would be me.  I'm not paranoid, but the high-tech fates are against me.

Old computer died; got a new one.  Old printer won't talk to new computer; got a new one.  Need a spreadsheet; figured it out.  (I won't mention the Farm Census forms).  Problems solved, right?  Wrong, totally, dreadfully wrong.  This morning the computer couldn't-slash-wouldn't connect to the internet.  Reboot.  Reboot again.  And again.  Call tech support; busy signal instead of the automated selection menu.  Call again; busy.  Keep calling for a half hour.  Busy signal.  Has my server gone defunct and I wasn't told when even the telephone won't connect?  Called the sales number and got a live person (after a punishing time on hold).  "We are experiencing technical difficulties and expect to have service restored by noon, Eastern Standard Time."  Whoopdedoo.  This was almost worse than a power failure.  It's a little scary to realize how dependent on computers our society has become.  This was a situation involving the entire populace using this internet service across the United States.

Obviously, the server is back "on line."  I'm a pretty patient woman, but I'm dawdling before going down to the barn.  In my present state of mind, I'm liable to grab on to those teats with a grip that would send the girls through the roof.  I'm thinking calm thoughts and taking deep breaths.  I can't say it's helping.

Evidently the rain is waiting for Dolly's arrival.  We didn't get any last night.  It's definitely overcast this morning; suits my mood.  I feel like a dark cloud.  I won't say it couldn't get worse (ever!), but I'm hoping it gets better.  I feel like I've been socked.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sock It To Me

I know I'm going to catch a lot of flack so I might as well 'fess up now and get it over with.  It's all my fault.  We have been enjoying the most beautiful weather this last week; cold, crisp nights and bluebird skies and shirtsleeve-warm days.  Sitting out on the deck has been so pleasant.  And I've ruined it all.  These lovely days got me thinking about doing some excursions and, since it's been awhile since she's been up here, I called my buddy Dolly and invited her for a visit.  Wouldn't you just know?  The very next day the weather report changed to rain!  She's sending it on ahead (due tonight), but it will definitely be raining when she gets here on Saturday.  How does she do it?  Fortunately, the outings we've planned are to a couple of historical museums in Placerville and, time allowing, a tour through the Gold Bug Mine, so rain won't affect us.  As long as I've lived here, I've never been to the museums in a town filled with history; it's about time.

I blew a day of gorgeous sunshine as I sat at the computer yesterday.  I received a twenty-page form from the US Government 2012 Census of Agriculture.  Response is mandatory by law, due February 4, and the questions are (in my opinion) far more invasive than those of the IRS.  Since much of my information is floating out in the ether following the demise of the old computer, I spent much of yesterday teaching myself a new spreadsheet program and locating and entering new data.  Aaargh.

As long as the day was shot anyway, I called Nikon and discovered I needed an updated version of their program in order to sync camera and computer.  The tech, in Pennsylvania, was very helpful but we had a communication problem in that she could talk faster than I could listen.  Mission accomplished and new photos transferred, I am finally able to show those doggone-good biscuits.

Any complaints regarding rain should be sent to the Farview Farm Complaint Department, headed by Ruth and Inga; they enjoy the taste of paper.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


The barn is built on the slope of a hill.  The dirt floor in all stalls is uneven.  In winter, although it isn't aesthetic, I rake up the night deposits and instead of loading up buckets to carry them out, I use the material to level the floor as best I can, a bit at a time.  This involves packing the stuff down with my feet in a pathetic excuse for a native American circle dance:  step to the side, together, step to the side, together.  My imagination fills in the buckskin clothing and rhythmic drumbeat as I do my doo-dah dance and, of course, my mind goes free-wheeling again.

In what might seem a checkered career (it all made sense then), there was a time when I rented a spare room to boomers, out-of-town iron workers.  The most memorable returning guest was Joe, a Chippewa Indian who was legendary in the trade for many reasons.  One thing about Joe; he could drop asleep anywhere, anytime, and once he was asleep there was no waking him.  Deb was living with me then.  She came home late one night, came in and woke me, saying, "Mom!  There's an Indian asleep at the dining room table!"  "Yes, dear.  That's Joe and he'll be staying here for awhile."  "Shouldn't we wake him?"  "I tried."  Joe and I had been sitting, talking, and making arrangements for his rent when he went out like a light.  I was just glad I'd removed his dinner plate before his head hit the table.  His buddies were known to rent a pool table for the night if Joe happened to crawl up on one for a nap; easier than trying to get him to go home.  Joe was big.  When I opened the front door to his knock, he completely filled the space.  He referred to himself as the FBI (freakin' big Indian).  Joe was full of get-rich-quick schemes and he was a story teller.  Deb and I loved to listen to his rough, gravelly voice as he told of his trips back to the Michigan "rez," and his friend, White Mouse.  Joe was notoriously late for work, but his bosses put up with him just to hear his outrageous excuses, made up on the spur of the moment and funny as all get out.  Iron workers are a close-knit clan, a tribe unto themselves, who work hard at a dangerous job and party even harder.  My boys, well, they became honorary members.  Dave has stories of his own to tell of his times with the guys.  "Act like a lady and you'll be treated like a lady," was the men's creed, and neither Deb nor I was ever worried in their company.  Later, Joe and Steve became great friends.  We sure had a lot of fun.

Yah'eh-teh seems to be a universal greeting.  I'd sure like to say it again to Joe.  He liked to dance, too.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Go Tell Aunt Rhody

My Christmas gift bibbies have a different design.  Instead of side-by-side bib pockets, these pockets are back to back.  The small one in front is perfect for my cell phone; the one in back is larger and deeper.  Retrieving anything from the back pocket requires much rooting around in the depths between my bosoms (my mother's word), sometimes with both hands, elbows pointing skyward.  It's laughable.  It always makes me think of my Aunt Kate.

I actually had an Aunt Rhody.  Truth be told, her name was Kate Rhoda and she was my great-aunt.  Aunt Kate was a force to reckon with.  Tall, spare, iron-straight spine, and deaf, a widow without children, she was as close to a matriarch as our family had when I was a kid.  When word was sent that Aunt Kate was coming to visit, my mother and/or her sisters, Aunt Hilda and Aunt Ruth, went into a frenzy of cleaning because Aunt Kate was of the white-glove inspection sort.  I think Aunt Kate knew what havoc her visit would cause and that's why she always announced a pending visit in advance.  She was strict, but not mean.  Back in the day, hearing aids were powered by very large batteries.  Aunt Kate wore her battery in a bag sewn into her slip, and it required frequent adjustments; hence the reference to the bibbies.  Aunt Kate lived with her brother, Uncle Charlie, and his wife Lena in what was called a California bungalow.  I was nearly an adult before I figured out that Aunt Kate and Uncle Charlie weren't the couple.  I thought Lena, an unassuming little woman who stood in Kate's shadow (as did Charlie, now that I think of it), was the housekeeper and never dreamed she was Charlie's wife.  It must have been difficult to be Lena in that household.  Aunt Kate learned to drive when she was in her fifties and she was a terror on the roads, but she loved to drive and no one was brave enough to tell her she was doing anything wrong.  Aunt Kate, probably in her seventies when I was a kid, grew her own vegetables in a pin-neat garden in her backyard, made her own sauerkraut, and her baking skills were legendary.  I don't think she'd ever bought a loaf of bread in her life.  Aunt Hilda, on a visit to Kate's, was given a pan of cinnamon rolls to take to my mother.  Hilda ate them; she couldn't help herself.  Knowing the rules of protocol, she then had to call Mother, confess her crime, and beg Mother to tell Aunt Kate how good they were so Aunt Kate wouldn't find out.  That was a bargaining chip my mother held over her sister for years.  Going to Aunt Kate's house meant Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and a reminder of good manners.  I'd been taught to say Ma'am and Sir, not to interrupt a grown-up conversation, not to touch anything, not to run in the house, all enforced at Aunt Kate's.  I didn't need the reminder; Aunt Kate was always kind to me, but she was intimidating.  She lived well into her nineties and remained that force to the end.  I don't think anyone ever told my Aunt Rhody anything she didn't want to hear.

It's about time to get dressed and load up my bibby pockets.  Aunt Kate would be so proud.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

American Idle

"Who are you, and what have you done with my mother?"  (Opening statement from my daughter yesterday.)  She knows full well that my recent outbursts of activity and energy are not my modus operandi, housework being my nemesis and least favorite thing to do in the universe.  "But, Mom, you've been my hero!"  It's always good to have someone to point at when the coffee table needs a swipe and be able to say, "I'm not as bad as she is!"  I'm afraid my daughter has found I have dusty feet of clay.  I did say that the housecleaning mania would pass.  Fear not, dear girl.  Your hero once again rides on a scruffy white charger, rusty, unpolished lance in hand.  Managing to totally ignore housework, I opened a book yesterday after chores and spent the rest of the day enthralled with another author Pete introduced, Terry Pratchett.  Reading his series is like watching Monty Python, typical British bizarre, great characters and funny, funny dialogue and story line.  Like peanuts, you can't stop with just one; I'm on my third of his books.

Had I not been sitting on the deck, reading and working on my winter tan (too hot to sit in the sun in summer), I would have missed an amazing sight.  I kept hearing an unfamiliar call from the crows, different from any I'd heard before, and repeated over and over.  Looking up, I saw there were at least fifty crows, maybe more, flying right over the house in the same vortex as the vultures when they migrate.  Only one or two were giving the call to order.  They weren't riding the thermals, but working to stay in formation.  Even more unusual, three red-tail hawks had joined in this ritualistic flight pattern.  These are not "birds of a feather" and do not normally keep company.  I watched until, at some unheard signal, the flock disbanded and scattered to the points of the compass (unlike the vultures that swirl off as a group in one direction).

 No worries, Deb.  Mom is back.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wild Start

My day started with wildlife.  Just after daybreak yesterday I walked out on the deck and saw a big doe at the edge of the forest looking back at me.  We enjoyed each other's company until she slowly walked into the woods and I went on about my business.  Later, while I was milking, Bessie fired off an alarm and the goats outside went on alert at something in the big pen.  Curious, I left Inga for a minute to see what was up.  Silly girls; it was simply a blue heron walking along under the big oak (or what's left of it).  These magnificent birds show up in the pasture once in a great while, sometimes standing like statues, sometimes walking on their tall stilts, then taking off with an S-curved neck and big beating wings to fly away.

Another gorgeous day lured me outside to finish deadheading the marjoram in the herb garden and trimming almost all the lavender bed.  That sure makes my hands smell good.  Bessie Anne moved along with me, lying in the sun and then shifting to a shady spot.  Still too nice to go inside, Pearl joined us on the porch (Frank was still snoozing in the house) and we all enjoyed the peace and quiet of the afternoon.

I'd been hankering for, of all things, biscuits.  I'm having trouble getting my camera to sync with the new computer or I'd put up a photo I took last night; not to brag, just to share the prettiest, best-tasting biscuit I've ever made.  The new baking cookbook I'd been given had a recipe for baking powder biscuits made with butter and a bit of lard.  (Anything with lard is bound to taste good.)  All my life I've only used Bisquick.  Admittedly, this recipe was more time consuming but the result was a biscuit two inches high, crusty golden brown, flaky and tender inside.  With a melting pat of butter and a dab of Joel's homemade blackberry jam, I'm saying it was ambrosia of the gods.

The day that started with a glimpse of the wild things ended with comfort food of the highest order.  It was a good day.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Great Gettin' Up Mornin'

I could hear Harry Belafonte warbling (I wore out his records when I was a teenager) yesterday morning as I walked down to the barn in a light jacket and no stocking cap, it was that warm (comparatively speaking).  Let out of the coops, the chickens were able to get a drink instead of sucking on ice cubes.  Sheila didn't stand and shiver when I put hands on her udder.  It truly was a great morning.  Drawn like moths to the light, after chores Bessie and I (with a book) went out to sit on the deck in the sunshine.  Ahhh, that renewed my spirit.  Having burned the last stick of firewood from the porch rack, I made many trips to the woodpile in the afternoon.  One has to plan ahead, and I started the stove again as soon as I'd restocked the rack because the sun and the temperature dropped about the same time.  It had been the first day in what seemed like ages that I'd let the fire go out, but it doesn't do to let the house get cold; it takes forever to warm it up again.  My niece in New Hampshire called.  She pooh-poohed what I called cold, seeing as how her yard was under two or three feet of snow, had been and would be for another three or four months.  It's all relative when it's below freezing, snow or no snow.  It's a balmy thirty-eight degrees today; another great gettin' up mornin'.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful

The good thing about a dripping faucet on a really cold night is that water won't freeze in the pipe and potentially cause it to burst.  That's happened before.  The bad thing is that a constant drip could, with our low-producing well, drain it dry.  That's happened before, too.  The pump runs on electricity, so dripping water equals a higher bill.  All that being said, with a slow drip it is possible on a freezing-cold night to end up with a beautiful crystal stalagmite such as I found yesterday morning.  It really surprised me as I am very careful, aware of all of the above, to turn faucets off tightly.  I can only think that perhaps a bit of ice was in the mechanism when I'd finished filling the chickens' waterers the night before.  With the weak warmth of the morning sun, I shut the faucet and stopped the leak.  The column of ice sure was pretty, though.

The day progressed to warm up to almost comfortable.  Camille and her dog Honey came over and we made a quick trip to the feed store; her truck was on the fritz.  Honey called shotgun, and was disappointed that she was relegated to the back seat.  After we dropped a couple of bales of orchard grass at Camille's place for Shadow, the mini-donkey, they came back so Honey and Bessie Anne could have a play date.  After a few rounds of "Chase Me," Bess preferred  to sit in the kitchen and listen to the grownups and Honey picked through the toy basket for anything left with a squeaker, which she pulled out and dispiritedly chomped.  "Weekie, weekie, weekie," punctuated our conversation.

The ground thawed enough during the day that I was able to scrape away enough dirt to open the gate to the chicken pen without a battle.  In the morning, I hadn't been able to squeeze in with the bucket to give the little girls a slurp of milk to start their day.

It's about thirty-four degrees this morning.  I think it's going to be a beautiful day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Spotlight On...

This photo needs no words; Bessie Anne's face says it all.  While Deb and Craig gave her the outfit as a Halloween costume, Bess recognized it as her Suit of Shame.  That was the year Bessie got skunked seven times!  She just couldn't stop chasing every "black-and-white kitty" she saw, and it was a rather prolific year for skunks here.  That's the reason I never let her out at night unless we go together and she's on a leash.  It's been quite awhile since she's come in drenched in that awful perfume, but I keep a supply of the magic deodorizing formula under the bathroom sink...just in case.  ("Now get this thing off me, Mom!")

Another day starting with below-freezing temperature.  I'm going to have a flock of chickens with bent beaks if this keeps up.  They've had to learn to peck through ice to get to water like woodpeckers going after grubs.  And that's only after the sun warms the waterers a bit.  It's very difficult for me to even get into the big pen; ground heave from the frozen earth is stopping the gate from opening more than just enough for me to squeeze through.  I tried to shovel the dirt away in the afternoon, but could only scrape a thin layer before hitting the rock-hard soil just below the surface.  I'm depleting the woodpile at an alarming rate, trying to keep the living room (and only the living room) at a semi-comfortable level of warmth.  A good portion of yesterday was spent in the recliner with a lap robe and lap dog and cats.  Getting up is a real production; I may need to, but the furballs tell me they do not.  Excuse me, I've got to go put a log on the fire. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It Will Pass

Like the tickle in the throat or that first sniffle that signal the onset of a cold, the malady with which I was stricken yesterday began with the smallest symptom.  I saw a cobweb in a corner and swept it down.  The next thing I knew, I was going through the house swiping cobwebs throughout.  That finished, I thought I was over it, but no.  Still in the grip, I went on and on:  laundry, not just washed and dried but folded and put away right then and there!  Floors were dry mopped, carpets vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, wastebaskets emptied.  Where would it end?  I even made fried chicken and mashed potatoes with cream gravy for dinner!  I knew recovery was in sight when I was able to stop myself just short of dusting.  I'm hoping it was just a twenty-four-hour bug.  I don't know, though.  I did beat Trash Guy to the corner this morning.  That's not a good sign.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Photo Op

When my old computer died, it took all of my photos with it, including Bessie Anne's baby pictures.  Craig and Deb were kind enough to send me a couple and here is one of the best.  When we went to the shelter to pick out a new best friend, I had only two requirements:  female, short hair.  This little chocolate lab-mix girl fit the bill perfectly.  Looking into those brown eyes told me this dog had an "old soul."  This girl needed an old-time name, thus Bessie Anne.  We bonded immediately.

We've always called Bessie "a work in progress," as she continues to evolve.  The changes began with a few blond curls on her head, a la Cocker Spaniel, then tufts grew willy-nilly here and there until she became as she is today.  There is no rhyme or reason to her hair patterns.  Her tail has long hair at the base, short hair at the tip.  Her ears look like those of an Afghan hound with long, silky hair.  Her belly is almost completely bald, pink, with freckles.  She carries a thick ruff over her shoulders, and long hair down her back.  She's gone from chocolate brown to blond all over.  Bessie Anne is exactly the dog I wanted, my bestest friend and constant companion.  Besides, now we wear the same hairdo; how could I not love that?

I had another photo op yesterday, and missed it.  When the mouse in the grain bucket waited, I lifted it out and tried to place it on the stand to run away.  Mouse had other ideas.  It chose, instead, to walk up my sleeve and sit there.  One-handed, I tried to pull out my camera but was too slow.  Mouse continued up my arm to sit on my shoulder.  I could feel it nosing around my hair.  Having completed its inspection, it came back down my arm, jumped onto the stand and away home.  I wonder what stories it told to the clan.  I wish I'd gotten a picture.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


The thermometer is struggling to climb to twenty this morning.  Yesterday, no matter how hard I thwacked it, I could not break the ice in the goats' trough but was able to push the iceberg down far enough for water to flow over the lip.  Unfortunately, by the time I walked back up from the barn that water had frozen too.  I felt so bad when I put the Silkies to bed at sundown; their little waterer had never thawed all day.  I don't honestly know if chickens have the capability to lick anything, but hope they aren't getting dehydrated.  I'll be hauling out a bucket of warm water for them this morning.  I realize that on the steppes of Russia or the plains of Fargo, North Dakota, this would be "break out the bikini" weather, but here in Fair Play, we consider it cold!  It's actually warmer when there's snow on the ground.

It was a good day to stay in the house, stoke the wood stove, watch the NFL playoff game, and make a pot of beef stew.  I don't know how, even after all this time, to cook for one.  All of my pots and pans are supersized.  Ask me to cook for ten or twenty; I'm your gal.  I've got enough stew to bag up and freeze to last a year.

My son Dave was in attendance at the game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco Forty-Niners.  I told him to wave at me, but that Kid never minds.  I was torn between teams to root for; my allegiance to California and my long-time affinity for the Packers.  Back in the 'eighties, I lost a bunch of coin betting against the Forty-Niners.  They were so darned good and so darned arrogant about it.  California won out, and the game yesterday was everything I could have hoped for; lots of action back and forth, and the Forty-Niners won!

Priorities being what they are, I got the wood stove fired up before I put the coffee on today.  I've got a little space heater blasting by my feet back here by my desk.  It's not terribly efficient, but it's keeping my fingers moving.  It's just plain cold.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

White World

Twenty-two on the deck this morning.  I ventured out just after sunrise yesterday to crunch around wearing slippers and a robe to take photos of the frost-covered landscape.  Pearl questioned my intentions (and my sanity), but joined me in the cold.  Bessie Anne and Frank opted for their warm spots in front of the stove.
I had a great conversation in the afternoon with Tinka, my friend over the hill in Fiddletown.  We live in parallel universes, sharing experiences with wet firewood, stray animals on the property, septic tanks situations, etc.  We live a lifestyle that presents its own set of problems (and joys) and it is nice to compare notes with someone who truly understands.
I also had an opportunity to talk with my SoCal son Pete.  He reads this journal and it's fun to know that he (a city boy if ever there was) gets a kick out of the mice, deer, birds, goats, and the life his mother leads.  There are times I'm sure that he (like Pearl) wonders whether I've gone bonkers, but we agree that there are undeniably breathtaking moments here.
Were I to go out again this morning, it would be a rerun of yesterday.  Frost so thick it looks like snow.  Cold enough to hurt when I take a deep breath.  Two inches of ice in the water troughs.  It's a white world out there.  It is beautiful.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Something Different

I do try not to intentionally frighten the wild things who share Farview; it doesn't seem hospitable.  However, I feel there should be some intimidation if from nothing but size.  It didn't seem right to have to tell those deer to go home.  Yesterday the mice proved to me that I have no fear factor at all.  It's a bit of a blow to the ego.  There was a mouse in the feed bucket when I started chores in the barn.  Instead of racing around and trying to hide in the scoop cup or leaping over the edge, it waited calmly for me to pick it up and lift it out.  Hmmm.  Providing that service was not in my job description.  Later, while milking and watching six or eight of the little critters munching at their breakfast bar on the floor, I caught sight of movement and was astounded to see that a mouse was joining me on the stand within inches of where I sat.  It wasn't like I was sitting still; I was working and milk was zinging into the bucket.  I even spoke to Mickey aloud and got no reaction.  So?  Are these mice on 'ludes?

It was sunny but really cold yesterday (and twenty-four degrees this morning).   Deadheading some of the marjoram plants in the herb garden was as much outside work as I wanted to do after barn duties.  Marjoram sends up tall stalks with lovely purple flowers, but when they die off those stalks turn brown and straggly.  It's a yearly chore to break them at ground level and neaten up the yard.  The house was still tidy from the day before.  Not like there weren't things I could and should do inside; I just didn't want to.  Hungry for vegetables but not willing to go grocery shopping, I decided to take myself out for a Chinese lunch up in Pleasant Valley, something I rarely to never do.  It was just something different. Imagine my surprise when I walked out and found the air filling with what we call "popcorn" snow.  Not flakes at all, it looks and feels like little pellets of Styrofoam floating around.  There were only a few clouds in the sky, but it evidently was cold enough up there and they held enough moisture to condense into snow.  It didn't last long then, but on my way home I saw small drifts in shady places on the side of the road, and more swirled around me briefly again as I walked from the truck to the house.  And here I'd been saying we weren't going to get any.

It was a nice "something different" kind of day.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

So, No Snow

The weatherpersons were so excited yesterday, touting snow down to 1,000 feet overnight.  I got a little excited myself.  I had understood not getting a white Christmas because we kept moving the date around, but it's nice to see a little snow at this time of year.  It validates the below-freezing temperatures we've been having.  In anticipation, I hauled more firewood up to the porch and dragged the last of the holiday decorations (such as they were) back out to the shed, did the laundry and vacuumed, ran the dishwasher; anything that a power outage would affect, just in case.  Other than the satisfaction of having the housework done, it was all for naught.  No snow.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Little Old Ladies

I make no secret of my liking for mice.  I even get a kick out of those who wreak havoc in the feed room, although I'd prefer they clean up their mess and quit chewing holes in the grain bags.  In the milking room, I watch generations come and go.  Youngsters no bigger than almonds venture out with older siblings and leap like jumping beans, disappearing into a burrow faster than a blink.  Grown-ups may be brave and bold or timid scaredy cats. Some will poke their head out of a hole five or six times before racing across the room to the breakfast bar.  I assign gender arbitrarily.  Many of the same mice show up day after day so I learn to recognize them by facial or "personality" characteristics and they get names like "Flute Snoot," "Ruffles," "Brown Nose" (that's a color, not a social comment), and "Braveheart."

The ones who touch my heart most are the old ladies (or they could be gents).  There is one who comes nearly every morning now.  I call her La Vieja.  Her fur is becoming sparse, no longer sleek, and sticks up in funny places like "bed hair."  Her tail is somewhat foreshortened as if the tip has been worn down from dragging on the ground.  There must have been a time when she carried it proudly.  I think her eyesight is not so good anymore; she sometimes bumps into corners and, even though I'm sitting right there on the milking stand, she toddles in from the other room without noticing me.  La Vieja has the dowager's hump that some old ladies get with age.  With these old ones, I know the day will come when I won't see them again.  I simply enjoy their company while they're here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

War and Peace

It seems I've been in an electronic battle for weeks.  After getting the new computer and finding my way around the new operating system, setting up files, etc., I found that the new computer would not speak to my old printer.  That is a bit snobby, in my opinion, but the reality is that technology moves a lot faster than I do, and the printer was obsolete.  That is a pity because I'd just bought new ink cartridges, still unopened.  And that is even more a pity because those ink cartridges cost more than the hotsy-totsy new printer-copier-scanner that I bought yesterday!  I simply couldn't believe, although I was ecstatic, how the price of printers has dropped.  Unlike Steve, who felt that instructions were for wimps, to be used only as a last resort, I read every printed piece of paper that comes with anything new before I even remove the plastic protection.  (Everything comes wrapped in plastic; haven't manufacturers heard of going green?)  Following the instructions step by step, I got the new appliance plugged in and set up and then followed the on-screen directions to register the printer.  "What is the model serial number?"  How should I know?  It took a flashlight, a few contortions, and a long time to find the tiny tag well hidden in a slot on the back of the danged thing.  For someone who finds security holding a written manual in hand, it is disconcerting to learn that new electronics have on-line manuals (if you can find them!).  Ah well, it is what it is.  At risk of sounding like a Wise Guy, I'm connected.

While all this was going on in the late afternoon and I was surrounded by USB cords and CD-DVD disks, I glanced out the window and saw a gorgeous two-point buck and four does grazing under the clothesline just off the deck.  Chaos came to a halt as I went from window to window to get a better view of this handsome boy and his harem.  It's been quite awhile since I've seen so many deer together; the numbers have been fewer as the years go on and more people move into the area.  There's nothing like the peace that comes with seeing these beautiful animals.

I finished up with the computer-slash-printer saga and Bess and I got ready to put the kids to bed.  Opening the front door, there were the deer in the front yard.  Instead of bolting, they stood and looked at me and the dog.  "Go on.  It's time for you to go home now."  They stood there like yard art.  "You have to leave.  I have things to do."  They moved slowly over to the feed barn as if waiting for the buffet to open.  I wasn't sure what Bessie Anne would do, but I didn't want her racing after them.  I worry about her after the vet said she has an enlarged heart.  Leaving her crying behind the screen door, I walked out into the drive and actually had to clap my hands and speak harshly before the danged deer moved off down the hill and into the woods.  What's up with that?  I went back to get Bessie and she and I walked together in the fire-red sunset and the quiet that comes at dusk in the hills and tucked in chickens, goats, and sheep.  It was a good day.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cabin Fever

Cold weather, cold in my head, wet days; all conspired recently to keep me in the house and I was going a bit stir crazy.  When the rain stopped and the clouds parted yesterday, Bessie Anne and I went out for a walk in the afternoon sunshine and a breath of fresh air.  Bess thought it might be a good idea to head toward the grinding rock in the south pasture and I followed.  Out of habit, I walked around the big granite rocks looking for pieces of glass left from target practice by the former residents.  After fifteen years of cleaning up after those people I was positive there couldn't be any left but, sure enough, I found three large shards that had perked up out of the soil to the surface. 

The south pasture is the largest area of cleared land on the property.  Until I expanded the goat pen, these rocks were in the middle of the pasture.  At one time, there must have been oak trees all over.  As near as I can ascertain, this would have been Miwok Indian territory long ago.  Down in Pine Grove, Indian Grinding Rock Park has a huge stone with over a thousand cups where the tribes had made flour from acorns.  I once had an enlightening conversation with a Miwok woman who explained that it took a year to make a loaf of bread.  After gathering and shelling, the acorns had to be soaked over and over to leach out the bitter tannins (which could cause illness), then dried completely before grinding into flour.  Even the gathering process was tedious.  I'm thinking of Tree Guy showing me how to look for the tiny pinholes that told of a worm inside.  How many thousands of acorns must it have taken to make a pound of flour?  How many pounds of flour would it take to feed a tribe?  Who ever looked at an acorn and thought it would be good to eat in the first place?  Why don't the tannins affect the animals and birds who eat the acorns?

Too cold to sit on the rock in the weak sunshine, I could still let my mind go free-wheeling, thinking about the history embodied in this chunk of stone.  It was a good day.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


The critters that have moved into the feed room are in a snit.  Either that or they're doing spring cleaning.  Every morning now I find more stuff shoved off the shelves and onto the floor.  There is a big nest on a top shelf and they're really making themselves at home, rent free.  Since I've never seen them, I don't know whether they're mice or squirrels, but I'm leaning toward mice.  Paper goods have been torn into tiny, tiny pieces and they've found bags of raw wool and added some of that to insulate their winter homes.  And that is "homes," plural.  Another colony has taken the risk of building in a big enamel washtub in a corner on the floor.  They think they're hiding in amongst the other stuff I've stored in the tub, but Frank and Pearl know exactly where they are.  These critters are living the good life.  The scratch (a mix of corn and other seeds) and lay pellets for the chickens are protected in trash barrels in the feed room, but the bags of goat chow are out in the open until I take one down to the barn.  There was a time I could store three bags of chow with no problem.  Now I buy just two at a time so I don't have to go to the feed store every week, but I can count on at least one being opened at the bottom and chow scattered all over.  It's not easy to trundle a seventy-five-pound bag of feed with a big hole down to the barn on a hand cart without leaving a trail of grain, or to lift that sucker up to empty it into the big barrel without making a donation to the barn mice.  I really don't mind feeding the wildlife on my terms, but these little squatters moved in without a by-your-leave and are taking advantage of my largess.  Frank and Pearl may find themselves with a new assignment.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Birdies On My Sill

"A birdie with a yellow bill sat upon my windowsill, cocked his shining eye and said, 'Ain't you 'shamed, you sleepyhead!'"  My mother woke me with this ditty countless times in my childhood; she had others, as well.  It seems appropriate today as I've finally woken from my days-long sleep and there have been birdies on my sill.  The stellar jays have arrived in great numbers, flashing brilliant sapphire blue in the sun.  In the afternoon, I was amazed to see a red-tail hawk sitting in the young, bare oak just at the edge of the back yard, really quite close to the house.  I so wanted to take his picture, but couldn't get out on the deck without scaring him off, so it's only my word that this bird was simply awesome.  Gorgeous in flight, they are even more beautiful up close.

Feeling more like Rip Van Winkle than Sleeping Beauty, I did get to the feed store yesterday.  Dave and Joanie, the owners, each made it a point to tell me that a couple of my Kids had made "anonymous" Christmas donations of money on the books for me.  We all agreed that I've got the best Kids ever.  The grin on Joanie's face said it all when she told me that one of the Kids had also given her a box of See's chocolates.  She was happy, happy, happy!  In case those Kids wonder, I save that money for a delivery of (expensive) alfalfa when needed, and it is so, so appreciated.

While I'm still croaking like a bullfrog, it's great not to feel so muzzy-headed this morning.  Inga took a page from Sheila's game book and chose to lie in the sun instead of coming to the milking room yesterday, and I left her there.  That's not going to happen today!  It's back to business as usual at Farview.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Knit One, Purl Two

If, as Shakespeare said, sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care, I shouldn't have a care in the world and my sweater should be in fine shape.  I've done nothing but sleep for two days, surfacing long enough to put another log on the fire and then sinking down again.  I'm going to be in a world of hurt if I don't get to the feed store today as the goat chow cupboard is bare!  The girls complain if a meal is late; can't imagine their response if the dish were skimpy.

Having passed the winter solstice, the days are getting a wee bit longer.  Sunrise is a little earlier, and sunset later.  I'm not so fond of heat, but I'm definitely a sunshine kind of gal.

Having slept for days, there's not much in the way of blog fodder.  Blowing my nose like Gabriel on Judgment Day, I shall look for more interesting material today.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I Hab A Code In My Nodz

Atchoo!  Atchoo, atchoo, atchoo!  Few things other than hangnails and paper cuts will get you less sympathy than a cold, probably deservedly so.  After all, none are life-threatening, they are common, and each lacks drama.  In my opinion, however, they are pretty high up there on the misery scale.  Even though it's been at least seven, probably closer to ten years since I've had a cold, I recognized impending signs of sneezing and the scratchy throat.  When the Kids were little, if I said it once, I probably said it fifty thousand times, "Blow, don't sniff."  I really hated the sound of a kid with a runny nose who wouldn't use a hankie.  And there I was yesterday down in the barn, sniffing to beat the band.  Not that I didn't have a pocketful of tissues, but if I blew, it set the girls off in a panic, sure they'd heard the danger signal.  Chores done, I stoked the fire and retreated to the recliner under a cloud-soft throw and napped off and on all day.  I can never remember if it's "starve a cold and feed a fever," or the other way around, but I think it is starve a cold because there is no sense of taste and it's just a waste of time to eat.  Late in the day, I bundled up and went out to bring more wood to the porch; I had burned every last log on the rack.  The one good thing about a cold is that it is self-limited to about three days.  This is day two.

Poor piddiful me.  Atchoo!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mousecicles & Ice Bullets

Crunching over the frozen ground on my way to the barn, I had to come up with Plan C.  I'm tired of playing either the guessing game with Sheila (will she come in today or not) or ring-around-the-rosy.  There are those days when I don't have time or energy to hike the pen, trailing after the silly goose (er, goat).  Ruth, Sheila and Poppy sleep in the back stalls and are let out first.  The new Plan goes like this:  Ruth goes out, then I open the door for the other two but I have rope in hand and snag Sheila.  Poppy waddles out and Sheila and I go around the corner together and she is the first on the stand.  I run around and open the door to the dorm room.  Cindy is a little put out that she has lost her place in the lineup, but she'll just have to get over herself.  After milking Sheila, the rest of the herd comes in as before and, ta da!, I'm done for the day.

While I was happily milking Sheila, I noticed a mouse up on the header board just under the eaves of the corrugated metal roof.  It moved along slowly, standing up for a couple of seconds under each "trough" or dip on the roof then going on to the next.  What could it be doing?  Then I noticed the drops of frozen condensation.  This clever little fellow was licking tiny mousecicles, getting a drink without having to go outside.

The big girls' water trough had still been frozen when I went down to the barn but had started to thaw as I made my way back.  I'd not topped it off the night before and it was down a couple of inches.  The hose crackled as I picked it up and turned on the faucet.  Out shot bullets of ice and a stream of water.  It's a good thing I had aimed at the trough and not the girls!

It was a good day to stay inside, catch the tail end of the Rose Parade, and try to keep the fire going.  It's time to take the trash down to the big road if the doors on the truck aren't frozen shut.  That's happened before.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Blank Page

The start of a new year is a blank page.  I happen to like blank pages; they are exciting, a challenge, and a mystery.  How will they be filled?  What will be written?  Comedy, drama, pathos, some of each?  As much as I take comfort in routine, I like not knowing how even a day will turn out.  There is always something unexpected in what might otherwise be humdrum.  Over time, I've come to realize that the one constant in life is change.  Good, bad, or indifferent, nothing stays the same.  We have to turn the page to find out what comes next.

Joel and Judy outdid themselves with a prime rib dinner last night, including creamed spinach a la Lawry's.  Lawry's is an old Los Angeles restaurant with which we were all familiar, serving prime rib brought tableside in big, covered, silver rolling carts, always with creamed spinach on the side.  I was taken there many times as a child.  I think Joel did the meat and spinach every bit as well as the chefs at Lawry's, and I ate every bite.  How nice it was to enjoy New Year's Eve with Joel, Judy, and Shari, champagne toasts included!

Time has taken its toll.  For years and years the Kids and I would call each other at midnight to wish Happy New Year.  Now we've agreed without comment to make those calls a lot earlier; none of us going out to party; none (or few) staying up until midnight.  The Times Square ball drops without us.

The sun is just rising here on January 1, 2013.  I wonder what today will bring.