Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bibby Map

Someday I'm going to write to the manufacturers and get the schematics for a set of bibbies.  (Just like I'm going to write to a linguist and find out why pants only come in pairs and bibbies in sets.)  There must be a reason for all the loops, funny-shaped pockets, and button holes where there are no buttons on a set of overalls.  Note to the uninformed:  there is a difference between overalls and coveralls.  I'm aware, through practical experience, that the loop on the leg side seam is to hang a hammer.  In my opinion, it's placed too low for practical use, but perhaps that's because I'm a wee bit vertically challenged.  I've been told that one of the skinny pockets on the opposite leg is to hold a screwdriver.  So far, so good.  But why the two extraneous button holes in the bib front pocket?  There are skinny, shallow pockets also in the bib; why?  Different manufacturers put funky pockets and loops in different places.  Do they make bibbies for different occupations?  Does anybody ever use all of those nooks and crannies?  It's hard enough to remember to get a Kleenex or the occasional nail or screw (or, as has happened to me, a cellphone) out of a pocket before throwing the bibbies into the wash.  If all those pockets were used, either the washing machine would sound like a cement mixer on laundry day or laundry prep time would take twice as long.  I'm just sayin'.

Warm weather has kicked off the social season and I am caught up in the whirl.  It's as if we are coming out of hibernation up here.  Last week I attended the anniversary fete for Craig's parents.  Today I'm lunching (if I were a corporate person, I'd say I was "doing lunch") with my friend Arden, and next week I'm going to Fiddletown to see Tinka and Bill.  The first vee of Canadian honkers flew over yesterday, headed home.  I'd say Punxutawny Phil got it right this year; looks like it's going to be an early spring.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vas You Dere, Sharlie?

Back in the days when radio was our source of  home entertainment, there was a vaudeville and burlesque comedian (Jack Pearl) who did a Baron Munchausen routine.  The Baron was prone to wild exaggeration and when his veracity was questioned, would respond, "Vas you dere, Sharlie?"

Now, I could say that I labored for hours in the hot sun, raking a ton of leaves and hedge trimmings into a mountain.  I could say that a strong wind came up from the north and destroyed all my work.  I could say all those things and who would say nay?  After all, vas you dere?  The truth is I worked for about an hour before my back gave out (it seemed like hours), and it was pleasantly warm in the afternoon sun.  I couldn't move a ton of anything, but there were so many leaves, etc., that the mountain (that part was true) had to be raked down the hill in stages.  The strong wind was more of a breeze, and it did blow a lot of the leaves around, providing Pearl with fun as she chased after them, but what are a few more leaves when the entire hillside is covered.  I did finish the job and it looks darned good.  I'm not worried about the mound that I didn't get pushed all the way down the hill.  The turkeys will scatter that for me as they scratch for bugs and stuff in the days to come.

Pearl was particularly energized after napping all day.  She is the self-appointed supervisor on any outside project, but she kept getting distracted yesterday, running here and there but coming back to point out I'd missed a branch or leaf.  She's a hard taskmaster.  Bess, on the other hand, had not felt well all day and had several episodes of sick-up.  She took advantage of the outing to lay in the sun, moving along with the pile of leaves when necessary so as to stay close by.  I was getting pretty worried about her until she finally ate dinner in the early evening and it stayed down.  It must have been a 12-hour bug that had laid her low.  Frank avoids even the word "work," and so had stayed in the house all afternoon.

As I raked across the front of the house, I uncovered daffodils sprouting where I had not planted them.  These renegades were making a break for it, escaping the neatly planted rows up against the wall.  Every year I find daffys that were evidently struck with wanderlust popping up in the most unexpected places.  It's like a treasure hunt for their brilliant gold.

The one section of the front yard that is now bare of leaves is just the tip of the iceberg.  By the time true spring arrives and I finish the job, there will be mountains of leaves that will rival the Alps.  Think I'm exaggerating?  Vas you dere, Sharlie?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Feeling Crabby

Not yet sunup, the coyote pack, the beastie boys, ran singing and yipping under the full moon this morning.  I love waking up to their wild, free song as they run through the hills in the dark.

I've got to get the trash down to the big road this morning.  The other night I had the last whole crab in the freezer and the carapace and leg shells are beginning to make their presence known.  Don't get me wrong, I'll eat crab in any shape or form, but there is something so decadent about eating a whole crab, melted butter dripping from fingers and chin, cracking the shell and picking out every sweet morsel.  It seems every group or organization that wants to raise funds up here throws a Crab Feed, always well attended.  I used to think that crab was meant to be eaten in company, a shared experience.  I'm here to say that devouring a crab alone just means it is all for me!  I don't have to fix side dishes or worry about being neat and tidy.  I'm left to wallow and I'm happy as a hog to do so.

A friend on the other side of the valley told me she has been transplanting lettuce and beet seedlings into her garden.  The snow last week told me it is way too soon for such activities up here.  I'm not even ready to rake off the blanket of leaves from the herb garden.  Daffodils are pushing up leaves, and a few paper-white narcissus are blooming.  More and more anemone buds are appearing and some are in full bloom on the deck.  While it still drops down to freezing at night, the last few days have been warm and the urge to get outside and do something has been strong.  The hedge in front of the bedrooms has been left alone too long.  Wasps had made nests in the hedge last summer and I wasn't about to get close with the clippers then.  I've never forgotten how those evil insects swarmed and stung my mother when she did that very thing, cut into a nest while trimming a hedge when I was a kid.  I figured the cold weather made it safe, so that was my chore yesterday.  Before my Kids yell at me, I only used the two-step ladder to reach the higgledy-piggledy branches on top.  For me, it's a two-day process; do the trimming one day and the cleanup the next.  It's a good excuse to be outside and get some exercise after days of cold and wet.  The hedge looks pretty good, too. 

Monday, February 25, 2013


When I was a kid, children could be seen periodically hopping as they walked down the sidewalk.  We all knew that stepping on a crack would break our mother's back.  In the movie, "Simon Birch," (an outstanding film that I've seen countless times) every spring the boys touched an overhead branch for another year of good luck.  Rarely do I get in the truck to go somewhere that I don't whisper, "St. Francis, please protect all the little creatures, especially from me."  Whatever compels us to begin these repetitive habits, once begun, they're hard to break.

Animals, at least my animals, have their own ritual actions. When we are going out to the deck via the kitchen door, Bessie Anne hurries after me, but takes a second to check her bowl; not to take a bite, just to look.  She does this every time.  Pearl is usually outside at dusk.  As I walk out to tuck the critters in, I can count on Pearl running to me from wherever she might be.  She wants just one swipe of my hand down her back and then she goes on her way.  She never stays to be petted, it's just that one ritual touch she requires.  Frank has his own obsession.  When he wants out, he will never walk between me and the open door.  He will go out of his way to pass by the "outer" leg.  I've learned I can't force the issue by widening the gap; he'll find a way to squeeze past on the outside.  These are not actions that were taught by reward.  There is no apparent reason.  These compulsions seem to spring from some internal source, be it human or animal.  We're all funny creatures.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

White Rabbit Syndrome

"I'm late!  I'm late!  I'm late for a very important date!"

Why is it that when I really need to be somewhere at a certain time the universe conspires against me?  It wasn't lack of planning:  I'd filled the gas tank in the truck, I'd gotten directions from the computer, I'd bagged up those things I was to take along and set them where I couldn't forget them.  I was ready!  And I was late again.

I'd been invited to a party to celebrate my son-in-law's parents' 50th wedding anniversary and no way was I going to miss it.  Craig is one of the dearest men I know, and his parents, Terry and Arvin, are absolutely just as special to me.  Think of every nice superlative and that would be them.  Fifty years together says a lot about their relationship.  I think they're an inspiration.

The fire in the wood stove had gone out overnight.  I thought about just leaving it, but then Bessie Anne and the cats would be left in a freezing cold house all day.  It took forever for the wood to light.  It takes a lot of fiddling with the vents (open one, close another, open them all, close all but one) to get a good hot fire going so the chimney will draw.  Time crept by and I was late getting down to the barn.

Inga was darned near banging on the door to be let into the milking room.  Her udder was so full it was stretched to shiny.  We'd had the conversation before about cause and effect and the fact that it was her own danged fault.  I had more sympathy for me than for her.  Those tiny teats of hers were impossible to grab and milk was squirting out to both sides, little to none going in the bucket until enough tension had been released.  Yes, I'd wanted to get a shower, but hadn't planned on a milk bath.  Because it was undoubtedly painful for her, she'd lift a back leg in protest, leaving me to keep a foot from going in the bucket or kicking it over.  Twice as much milk in Inga's case takes more than twice as long to milk out.  Late, late, and later.

Rain when I finally got on the road meant ice going over Buck's Bar.  It's not a road that allows speed on the best days, and only slow driving on the worst.  Getting off the freeway to pick up Dave, I hit every single red light in the small town of West Sacramento.  Back on the road again, high wind warnings were posted and the truck was buffeted all the way to Vacaville.  Dave was the navigator and got us right to the restaurant.  Almost.  We could see it just across the intersection.  "Turn left here, Mom, and we can pull right into the parking lot."  I did, but we couldn't.  No driveway.  Every turn I made to get us back in range put us farther away; meridians, no U-turn signs, no left turn signs.  Arrrgh!

Of course we were the last guests to arrive in a crowd of more than fifty family members and friends, some of whom had been in the original wedding party.  Deb and Craig had done much of the organization and planning for this event and they outdid themselves.  Smiling faces everywhere, good great Teppan food (that's a show in itself), what's not to like?  In this convivial atmosphere, all anxieties melted away and it was a wonderful party.

I made it home just as darkness was descending.  The chickens had given up hope and tucked themselves in for the night.  Poppy and the goats were a little worried and beat me down to the barn.  Bessie Anne got her cookie for being left alone all day.  Frank and Pearl only wanted to go outside.  I was just a little late.  It's the White Rabbit syndrome. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oh Deer!

It seemed I was in a remake of "Harry and the Hendersons," but instead of Yeti, it was deer appearing silently and as if by magic yesterday.  The sun had gained warmth by the time I'd finished in the barn (except for that darned Inga who wouldn't budge this time; we'll both be sorry this morning) so my little house tribe and I headed out to the deck.  Looking up from the pages of my book, I saw a couple of does down in the front pasture.  I paused in my reading to watch as one or two joined the first, and then they just kept coming.  I counted fifteen by the time they'd organized and started moving up Irish Acres, following the road up the hill.  My friend Dolly loses it when she sees one deer, and would have been in throes of ecstasy at the sight of this many together.  I was pretty amazed, myself; the book lay forgotten in my lap.

I had taken pictures of the anemones in the early morning, brave flowers that had withstood being buried in snow, their bright cerise petals glowing in the sunlight.  I also took a number of photos of the deer.  Unfortunately, the camera and computer seem to talk to each other only under direct supervision of a Nikon tech.  Maybe it is me they don't like.  I am starting to take this personally.

Later in the afternoon I glanced out the window and there was that handsome buck with the big spread of antlers just at the edge of the woods.  Had I missed him in the morning?  It has been my experience that bucks follow does, and not just during rut.  Whether that is because, as the hunters in the family told me, he waits to see if the does are safe before he'll come out into the open or if he comes last as a rear guard, I don't know.  Maybe he was with the morning herd and had been in the thick brush on the other side of the road.  Regardless, it certainly was a day for deer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wait Fifteen Minutes

The saying goes, "If you don't like this weather, wait fifteen minutes."  Almost as quickly as the snow came, it went.  Oh, there were still patches in shaded spots yesterday, but for the most part it was gone.  Inga had found a nice warm place to lie in the sun and was reluctant to come in for milking, but responded to repeated coaxing (and, okay, yelling) so I could finish the barn chores.  In the late afternoon, Bess and I made a quick trip to the little hardware-and-sundries store in Fair Play.  (My late friend Doris used to call the only two establishments, the little store and what is now The Pub, the Downtown Fair Play Shopping Mall.)  Art, the store owner, said the snow, melt, and following freeze had turned his dirt parking lot into an ice-skating rink that morning.  Incidentally, I found that Art buys eggs for resale and we cut a deal.  Since the little girls have stepped up production, I'm happy to have an outlet for eggs that otherwise would just pile up in the refrigerator.  Snow on the driveway had been no problem on the way out, but coming home the wheels started spinning.  I was about ready to throw the truck into four-wheel drive when they found traction and we made it back up the hill just fine.

There was a World War I song (no, I'm not that old; my dad was a soldier in France in that war) with a line that goes, "Keep the home fires burning...."  I often hum that song as I bring more firewood to the porch or stoke the stove.  It's below freezing again this morning and I've got to keep the home fire burning.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

There's Hope

I am, as my friend Linda says, cautiously optimistic.  After another phone call to Nikon tech support, camera and computer are at least on speaking terms.  They may never become best friends, but at least they are communicating.

This photo was taken just a couple of hours after the snow started falling the other day.  That's my truck!  So glad I went to get feed when I did.

"Whitecaps" has a whole new meaning up here.  The Silkie pen has a covering of just chain link and chicken wire.  I have no idea, other than the fact that so much snow fell so fast, how it managed to cover the wire and not fall through.  This was taken yesterday morning after I'd let the littlest kids out of the Taj.

Double socks and boots were the dress of the day, and I had to pull out the little purple sled to haul alfalfa to the goat pen.  I again thought of whitecaps when every post around the pen was wearing a snow beanie.  Deer often come into the pen at night for the salt block and water trough, and I could see where they'd pawed through the snow to get at any alfalfa the girls might have left from the day before.  Down in the barn, it was darker than usual because of snow pack on the clear "skylight" panels.  While there wasn't a lot of warmth in the sunshine, it began to sound like a waterfall as the melt began, punctuated by heavy plops as clumps of snow dropped onto the roof from the dead tree branches above.  I live in an area referred to as a "banana belt," and it's rare that snow sticks more than a day or two.  By afternoon, most of it was gone from the sunny areas.  The ice was melting so fast from the house roof and I heard so much running water that I got worried a pipe had burst.  There was just so much snow that the gutters couldn't accommodate the runoff.

The Breakfast Club conned me into giving them treats again this morning.  It's great to start the day with a laugh, and those little faces looking up in expectation do that for me.  They really think they're getting away with something.  It's okay; I'm an easy mark.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Joys of Winter

Feed supplies were getting low; not critically, but low.  It could have waited another day, but it wasn't raining at the moment and discretion seemed the better part of valor so I jumped in the truck to do the deed.  Less than a mile from the house, I had to turn on the windshield wipers.  Of course I did.  Patrick was kind enough to wrap a plastic sheet around the bags of goat chow for the ride home.  Unloading three hundred pounds of feed in drizzling rain was, shall I say, not my idea of fun, but it was good that I'd gone when I did.

Perhaps if I lived in New England, I might feel different, but in California there is something magical when you realize that some of those raindrops are fat and slow.  My jacket was still drying in front of the stove when the snow began, not fifteen minutes after I got back to the house.  I haven't seen the turkeys for a couple of weeks.  Looking out, I saw a group of eighteen hunched in their black feathers, tails drooping, looking for all the world like a convention of undertakers.  (Apologies to undertakers everywhere.)  A little later, they'd put white coats over their backs, it was snowing that hard, over an inch in less than an hour.  This photo was taken while it was still dropping big, fat, fluffy flakes.  I've got some great shots in my camera taken when the snow was five-plus inches in the front yard, but camera and computer are still on the outs.  It's been so long since we've had snow that I forgot the routine and went out to put the kids to bed without changing to boots.  Drifts were well over my shoe tops in the pasture on the way to the barn where the goats had clumped together.  Poppy, in her wool coat, was in the field.  I brushed snow off her back as she went into her stall so it wouldn't melt in the night.  Back in the house, pulling off wet, cold socks and shaking snow out of the cuffs of my bibbies, I watched programs I'd DVRd as the satellite dish reception was blocked.  I watched until the power went out.  What a surprise.  The real surprise was that it was back on this morning.  Early this morning.  I got up at four simply because I didn't know what time it was.  Bessie Anne, Frank, and Pearl think I've lost my mind and are still asleep.  Bless those guys at PG&E; they earned their overtime.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Slow But Sure

Frank is very patient with me.  He understands I have limitations; after all, I'm only human.  Look how long it took me to learn his one-word cat command for "out."  He sometimes has to repeat it several times, looking pointedly at the door, before I get up and open it for him.  He is now in the process of training me to a new routine in the morning.  All the house critters know that treats are kept in the bottom drawer in a kitchen cabinet.  Bessie Anne will lead a guest to the drawer and wiggle her butt until I explain to Guest that Bess would like a treat.  Cute works for her.  Pearl is more subtle.  She sits in front of the drawer, usually when Frank and Bess are out of the house, and won't move out of my path until she gets what she wants.  Frank, on the other hand, is taking a more direct approach.  He seems to know I have a very limited cat vocabulary and so is teaching me another word, "now."  Looking into my eyes as I wait for the coffee to drip, he repeats "now" as he slowly guides me to the drawer.  He is evidently the leader of the gang, because as soon as the drawer opens and there is the crinkling of a treat bag, Bessie and Pearl appear from nowhere.  If I am very good and do as Frank directs (not asks, cats do not ask), I am rewarded by a rub-up against my ankles.  Frank seems to think that old gals can learn new tricks and it is his job to teach me.  I may be a slow learner, but I am still trainable. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Too Much, Too Soon

Nature is jumping the gun around here.  "Too little, too late," is the usual phrase, but this January has been unseasonably warm (when it hasn't been absolutely freezing) and things are happening way too fast.  The almond tree has started to put out blossoms!  It's winter, for crying out loud.  While cleaning out dead stalks, I noticed green stuff starting to grow in almost all the pots on the deck.  "Probably a weed," I thought, but it has a pretty leaf, it is green in a brown world, and I decided to leave it be.  I had completely forgotten that Deb, Craig, and I had planted a couple of hundred bulbs last year, so many that at the end we were sticking them in everything but our ears!  It was only when one of the plants put up a bud, deep red, that I remembered the numberless anemone bulbs.  Neither of us can remember what the pink and white bulbs were, and they've wisely chosen not to show themselves yet.  (I'm thinking ranunculus, but I could be wrong.)

I don't know about the bees, but the barn birds are also confused.  The males are noisily courting the females, and they haven't even built nests yet.  Milking is no longer a quiet time with all the chattering and yelling going on, birds flying back and forth in the barn.  No wonder Owl told Bambi they were "twitterpated;" it's the perfect word.

Oak trees are starting to put out leaf buds.  It's too early; they'll get frost burned.  We've gotten snow as late as April and even May.  As pretty as they are, it's too much, too soon.

Rain and freezing temperatures are again predicted for tomorrow.  Tree Guy's No. Two Son cleaned the chimney yesterday; not a moment too soon.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

In A Perfect World

In a perfect world:

  • I would not have forgotten to clean the catalytic converter in the wood stove the last time the chimney was cleaned.  Another chimney fire was narrowly averted last night.  (Won't make that mistake again!)
  • The morning lineup would alternate milkers and nonmilkers so my hands could get a break and I could do barn chores while the nonmilkers were on the stand.  After the first one that I bring in so she has no choice, the rest sort themselves out and come in any order they please.  Three milkers in a row makes for a tough morning.
  • Bessie Anne and I would not have gut rumbles at the same time.  Together, last night we probably burned a hole the size of Rhode Island in the ozone.

Ah, well.  Perfection is beyond our reach, and would probably be boring if we found it.  I'll settle happily for what I've got.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

And Yet Another

Warm enough to work outside in shirtsleeves, I decided to tackle the mountain of leaves piled up on the deck yesterday.  It's a job I'd been putting off; one, because it's an exercise in futility to do it while the trees are still shedding, and two, because it's no mean feat to move all the potted plants and rake and sweep the length of the deck.  There isn't room under the railing to just brush stuff off that way, so it's a case of start at one end and push the growing mountain ahead to the other.  Bess and the cats were my "helpers."  I'd get a pile moving down the way, sweeping up behind it, and one of my helpers would come tromping through, scattering the pile and tracking leaves behind them.  A couple of hours and a beer break later, I was done.

I had no more sat down in the house when there was a thunk on the big window.  Fingers crossed, I looked out, hoping that whatever bird had hit the pane had just glanced off.  No.  There was a tiny hummer lying on the bench below.  Frank was already on his feet, coming to inspect the victim, so I hurried out and picked up Bird.  He was alive, but very still in my hand and I was afraid to hope he'd make it.  Then he sat up!  One wing was a little wonky, but I could deal with that later if necessary.

Pulling the cellphone out of my bibbies one-handed, I got a picture, but with his head turned it didn't show his true colors.  There was a bit of ham in this boy, because he turned toward me for his closeup and there was the glowing magenta tipped with gold over his emerald back.

We sat together for maybe five minutes.  The fact that a stunned bird let me hold him wasn't so unusual.  What took my breath away happened after he'd gotten over the shock and regained his senses.  Bird fluttered to test his wings and then flew off my hand...and then came right back to sit on my finger!  He did this three times!  Motionless as well as breathless, I waited while he gained confidence.  Finally, he flew off into the trees, no doubt with stories to tell his brethren.

Yet another close encounter story for me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Time Traveler

A few bars of music, a whiff of aroma, a certain taste; all are the keys that open the time traveler's gate.  I've spent the last four days or so back in 1958 thanks to Stephen King's book, 11/22/63.  It's his take on the JFK assassination and it's a pretty darned good story.  I'm not giving anything away if I say it involves a man in 2011 finding a way to go back and try to stop the killing, and he starts in 1958.  King has the details of 1958 nailed to the wall.  I know; I was 18 that year and I remember.  The music we danced to and the dances we did.  Some songs with risque lyrics were actually banned from the radio (so of course we ran out to buy the 45 rpm records).  The cars were big, gas-guzzling monsters, usually two-tone, with bench seats and three-speed gear shift on the column.  I learned to drive in my dad's Chevy.  Two dollars would fill the tank.  No, really!  My boyfriend, soon to become the Kids' dad, bought a Plymouth Savoy that had wannabe Cadillac fins and automatic shift with buttons on the dash!  Skirts were mid-calf.  Pencil skirts were coming in, but some girls still clung to the multi-layers of flirty crinoline slips.  Drug stores had lunch counters and cola came from taps with separate flavored syrup and soda water, mixed on the spot.  We used to collect Coca-Cola bottles because of the bottling city and state stamped into the bottom.  A chili size was a favorite meal.  (Do restaurants even serve a chili size now?)  White Shoulders perfume was my Aunt Hilda's signature scent.  My mother didn't wear much perfume, but I remember the smell of her face powder and almond-scented Jergen's hand lotion.

It wasn't all moonbeams and lollipops in 1958.  Racial prejudice was overt and hateful.  Gloria Steinem had not yet burned her bra and women were expected to be dutifully obedient to their husbands and were certainly not equal in the workplace if they worked outside the home.  Minimum wage was $1/hour; it didn't stretch any farther then than it does now.

Ah, well.  It was fun to travel back in time for awhile, but that was then and this is now.  Time to gear up and get down to my own brand of reality in the barn. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Soakin' Up Rays

Another morning spent out on the deck.  Approaching the last chapters of 11/22/63, I was intent on finishing the book but Pearl wanted to go in the house.  Okay, fine.  I was walking her back the length of the deck to the kitchen door (her favorite door, even though it was not the closest) when I noticed a coyote sitting in the sun at the edge of the woods.  While I enjoy all wildlife, a coyote this close is not a good thing.  Coyote looked at me, and just sat there.  I stamped my feet, waved my arms, yelled, "Go away!"  Coyote enjoyed the show but didn't move.  My antics, of course, brought Bessie Anne around the corner.  She saw the interloper and before I could catch her, Bess took off running.  She didn't have a snowball-in-hell chance of getting close to Coyote, who had faded back into the woods, but she yelled a good fight and had enough sense to stop before going into the brush.  I waited until Bessie worked her way back up the hill (going down is always easier than coming up) and I let Pearl into the house.  Returning to the bench, book, and an exhausted Bess, I glanced down and, son-of-a-gun, there was the coyote sitting at the edge of the woods.  I couldn't risk sending Bessie into a tizzy again, so stood for a minute just looking and not saying anything.  I could have gone for the gun, but decided to let the fellow sun worshiper be for the moment.  Bess napped in the shade, I finished the book, Coyote soaked up the rays.  I kept an ear out for the chickens, but they were safe in their pens and it was a quiet day.  Just another close encounter of the strange kind.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Chutzpah, hubris, gutsy.  Whichever word, I know a mouse with plenty of moxy.  There I sat by Sheila's side, milking away and thinking pleasant thoughts on a chill but sunny morning yesterday, when I felt slight movement by my outstretched leg on the stand.  Looking down, I saw the two black beady eyes of a small mouse looking at me.  Usually direct eye contact sends a mouse skittering down the nearest hidey-hole, but this little critter stayed put and stared right back.  I continued milking so as not to break the spell, and Mouse moved even closer to me and toward the bucket.  Was this my little friend who has eaten breakfast so close by?  Had he been overcome with curiosity as to what I've been doing every morning?  Did Mouse want a drink of milk to go with his cereal?  (Tempted?  Oh, yes, I was tempted to aim a squirt his way, but resisted.)  What in the world possessed Mouse to climb up on the stand with a stamping goat and a giant She, let alone call attention by touching me?  Only after Mouse moved back between Sheila's front feet did I raise my hand.  That was not a safe place; one hoof coming down like a pile driver could squash Mouse flat.  Even then, the little guy just went over to the corner of the stand and sat watching awhile longer, showing more bravery than good sense.  Whatever the reason, it was a unique experience and a great way to start the day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sad Little Faces

I just love chickens.  I get such a kick out of the feathered little busybodies, gossiping as they scratch in the dirt, sunbathing and taking dirt baths, cheering each other on when an egg is produced.  I laugh at the roosters as they strut their stuff, Mr. Aren't-I-Grand, hoping to impress the girls, who go on about their business saying, "Yeah, yeah.  Look at you."  The flock comes tumbling out of the coop in the morning, hoping to find some vegetable goodies in amongst the scratch I've thrown down.  In the evening, they race around the corner to greet me as I open the gate and cluster around my feet as I take them in for the night.  Five days a week, I stop at the pen on the way to the house to fill the chickens' bowl with milk.  They get all excited when they hear the clank of the buckets and run to the fence, almost hopping up and down.  Unfortunately for them, two days a week I need to save all the milk for my customer.  I have to turn my head away as I walk on up the drive.  "Hey!  What about us?  Come back!  Where's our milk shake?"  All those sad little faces lined up at the fence.  I feel like such a big meany.  Today will be a good day for the flock; they'll get their slurp and I'll be a hero again.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Sun, book, deck, dog.  Yesterday was a rerun of the day before, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  When my niece in New Hampshire called to tell me they'd come through their recent storm unscathed but for the three feet of snow on top of the two feet already on the ground, I couldn't help myself.  I know it wasn't a nice thing to do, but as she told of not being able to open the front door at all and having to climb over the drift when they got the garage door up, I simply had to throw in that I'd actually gotten a sunburn during the morning here.  She reacted as expected, but at least she didn't hang up.

I try not to watch the news for more than the weather forecasts.  It seems each day is a rerun.  The same sort of depressing stories are reported:  violence, domestic and abroad; tragedies, small and large; scandals involving people who should know better.  Forgetting that yesterday was a Sunday (no local morning news on Sunday), I turned on the television to catch the weather report before going down to the goats.  Instead, I found a rerun of "Out of Africa," made in 1985, long before we even thought of moving to the country.  I thought the opening line was one of the saddest I'd heard.  "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills."  It spoke to me of a longing for what had been and was no more, much what I would feel now if I should ever have to leave Farview.  I've seen that movie so many times, and read the book, I only needed a few minutes to run it again through my mind.  That was a good thing, because the girls were waiting.  I didn't need the weather report to tell me it was going to be a beautiful day.  It was.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I'll admit it.  I'm a sun junkie.  Let the sun come out after a day or two of grey days and I'm out there basking like a lizard (without the pushups!).  I'd never make it in cloud-covered cities like Portland or Seattle or in dark-for-months Nordic countries.  Anyone who has ever been to my home realizes immediately that I am also addicted to reading; bookcases crammed full, sometimes double stacked, in every room, piles of books here and there on nearly every flat surface.  Boxes of books hidden away in cupboards like an alcoholic's bottles.  Give me a day with a sunny, not-too-hot morning and a good book and I'm a goner.  Look for me out on the deck; that's where you'll find me.  Beads and chores forgotten, I spent a good portion of yesterday in my favorite spot, doing what I like best.  When I was a kid, I spent two weeks (almost, but that's another story for another day) at a Girl Scout camp named Singing Pines.  I am reminded of that experience whenever the breeze blows here and the pines down by the road and in my woods truly do sing their own song, entirely different from that of the oaks, although they are in harmony.  A finger between pages holding my place, sometimes the symphony of wind and birds draws my complete attention.  At this time of year, looking out over the pasture I will see plumes of smoke rising from the burn piles of more industrious neighbors across the hill.  That smell perfumes the air.  Okay, just one more paragraph, just one more page, just one more chapter as the warmth soaks into my bones.  Yup, I'm addicted.

It was a relief this morning to see by the clock that I am back on schedule.  It's still too dark yet to see what the day will be like.  If the sun shines, I'll be outside getting my fix.  Count on it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Seven o'clock.  In the morning!  Half the day gone before I even opened my eyes.  That's what comes of two days and two late nights while in the grip of bead madness.  I finally put the project down and went to bed last night after I realized I'd made two mistakes and had to go back to fix them.  I may or may not go back to beading today.  My eyes are tired and making fringe is tedious.

The thermometer in my computer lives in LaLa Land.  It cheerfully tells me it is thirty-six degrees where I live.  It is more like twenty-six outside and a sweat-wiping fifty degrees in the house.  A definite drawback of sleeping so late is that even the coals in the wood stove are cold.   This is west coast cold, nothing close to what the east coast is experiencing, but this is where I live and to me, it is cold!

I watched in disbelief yesterday as a small mouse began at the bottom and worked its way up the narrow side of a two-by-four stud in the barn wall, pulling itself up with front paws, pushing with the back legs.  Like the star athlete in gym class, this little guy climbed up over seven feet.  That's like a human scaling the side of a ten-story building!  I couldn't believe the strength in those toes no bigger than dust mites.  I could almost hear Super Mouse chuffing along like the Little Engine That Could, "I think I can.  I think I can."  And he did!

Sometimes inspiration comes in small packages.  Maybe I will finish the beading today after all.

Friday, February 8, 2013

No Excuses

For the same reason I was up until midnight, I have no farm topic for today's entry.  Done with barn chores, milk buckets washed, and the day stretching ahead, I was struck by the "need" to start a beading project yesterday.  When these urges hit, there's nothing for it but to give in because they niggle like a splinter waiting under the skin.  Besides, it was too darned cold to sit outside and I'd already given three days over to reading.  I have a stash of beads collected over the years but, of course, couldn't locate the same ones required by the pattern that had caught my eye.  Aha, a challenge!  Innovation, substitution, tweaking the bead count here and there, trying, taking out, redoing; time flew by.

My niece in New Hampshire called in the afternoon, a welcome break.  She laughed when I told her we might get a flurry of snow here.  The coastal New England states are due for two to three feet of snow in the next couple of days.  Sure takes any excuse to snivel out of any complaints I might have about the drop in temperature or the heavy frost on the ground this morning (no snow).  We talked until sundown here.  Snow or not, it was cold and the chickens and barn girls were more than ready to get inside last night.

Back in the house, I stoked the wood stove and picked up the beads again.  I work with tiny seed beads and a single project can use thousands.  The photo from a couple of years ago is an example; it was an original design of mine.  These projects are totally engrossing; just one more row, what if I change this, will this color work.  It has become a nightly habit to fall asleep in the chair for a little nap before I go to bed.  I couldn't believe it when I looked at the clock and it was midnight.  Reluctantly, the beads were put down and Bess and I headed for the bedroom.  Frank had given up on me long before and went to sleep downstairs.  As the lights went out, he came up to join us, giving me grumbling what-for for not following the routine.  I really had no excuses.  I just got busy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Good Morning!

Mornings begin well at Farview.  As soon as Frank, who sleeps next to my leg, realizes my eyes have opened, he comes up for a nose-to-nose greeting and a bit of stroking.  He and I get up together and he accompanies me to the bathroom.  Animals seem to know or quickly understand that one is a captive audience in the bathroom and I'm generally joined by one or more, with no excuse not to pet or scratch as requested.  As we come out, Bessie Anne's tail starts thumping on the bed and she rolls over for a tummy rub.  She's generally not a morning person and so goes back to sleep most days.  On the way to the kitchen, Frank asks to be let out the front door.  Pearl sleeps on Bessie's bed in the living room, and she wanders in to say good morning, rubbing against my ankles while the coffee machine does its thing.  Looking over her shoulder to see if we're alone, she'll lead me over to the treat drawer and quietly suggest her day would start much better if she had a few of those nibbles.  It's a game we play, seeing if we can get away with the sneak.  At the far end of the house, Bess has either phenomenal hearing or smell because many mornings she appears like a wraith at my side, no matter how silent I've tried to be.  "Aha!  Caught ya!  I would also like a treat, please."  That always makes me laugh.

Involved (tearing my hair is more like it) with computer and camera problems and census forms, life has gone on regardless.  All of the goat girls have gotten their pedicures.  With more daylight, the hens have upped their production and eggs are starting to pile up in the refrigerator.  I recently saw a Jacques Pepin episode where he made orange souffle crepes.  Dolly had brought a gift of oranges from her tree so I have all the ingredients; those crepes are sounding better and better.  With the unusually warm weather lately, the oaks are starting to put out leaf buds.  I spoke with Tree Guy the other day.  Some months back we'd discussed his tree-climbing son cutting out some dangerous widow-makers (dead branches) from several of the oaks.  That needs some prompt attention now.  I'd also like the guys to take care of the burn pile TG created last fall.  I don't want the birds to begin nesting in there, and this false spring has turned their thoughts to love already.  The barn birds have started twittering and staking out their territories on the girders and under the eaves; much safer than the burn pile.

Puttering around after daylight, I see the wildlife start to emerge.  Yesterday a covey of fifteen or so quail in freight-train formation came up the driveway on their way over to the feeding station.  I held off going outside so as not to frighten these shy birds.  Hummingbirds, anything but shy, come for their morning slurp from the feeders on the deck, clicking like castanets if I'm standing too close.

Finally, rain or shine, heat or cold, it's time to gather the buckets and head down to the barn.  There are worse ways to start the day.  It's a good morning.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Can See It...

I took a great photo of Frank yesterday.  Actually, I wanted to take a photo of Frank and Pearl as they posed together for a brother-sister portrait on the couch, but she followed me as I went to get the camera and so that Kodak moment was lost.  I have the picture of Frank as he lounged, looking regal and just a bit bored.  It's right there in my camera.  I can see it.  Maybe one of these days when the camera and the computer overcome their communication difficulties, I'll be able to post it in this journal.  Just not today.

Cats have the unique ability to live in the moment.  They have such focus and intensity when they're on the hunt.  When they decide to give or get affection, and make no mistake, it is their decision when, where, and to whom, there is just no avoiding them.  Ask Bessie Anne about this when Frank decides to rub up all over her or clean her face and ears.  Pearl is more of a hands-off girl, but when she wants attention, she'll head butt like a battering ram.  If ignored, she's not above putting a single claw in my leg.  "Pet me now!"  Cats eat with gusto, be it the kibbles in their bowl or an unauthorized furred or feathered snack on the porch.  At play, a cat completely gives itself over to having fun, concentrating on the bottle-cap hockey puck, feather or leaf, or chasing brother or sister up and down the stairs.  No creature I know is more relaxed than a cat at rest.  That's why the photo of Frank is so good; not a tense muscle in his body.  He is obviously not worrying about something he should have done or what might come next.  He is simply resting, full stop.  I can see it. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


A test question in a welding class was, "Can you light a cigarette with a [welding] torch?"  I answered yes.  I'd seen almost every welder I knew do it.  The instructor marked it wrong, and I girded up to do battle.  He explained to me in rather condescending tones (I was one of two women in his class and he wasn't pleased that females were invading male turf) how unsafe it would be to have the torch up to one's face.  Duh.  Tell that to the welders.  I argued that the question would then be better worded "Should you light a cigarette...," there being considerable difference between can and should.  Might makes right and I still missed the question, such is the power of he who wields the red pencil.

I was reminded of that situation as I've struggled for the past two weeks to complete the Farm Census form, due yesterday.  I so dislike ambiguity, and this form is rife with questions open to interpretation.  How many acres in the property?  That was easy.  How many acres are in pasture, permanent pasture, wooded pastureHow many acres are devoted to house, including roads, and not to pasture?  Shoot, I don't know.  How much of the property is used for farm buildings?  Since the goat barn is in the middle of their pasture, should I deduct that from pasture acreage?  I mean, I'd like to be accurate.  In addition to many other questions regarding livestock, they asked about sheep and goats.  They asked no questions about rams, but wanted to know how many ewes I have.  Don't rams count? (Not that I have any; Poppy is a spinster ewe.)  How many chickens and are they for meat, for eggs, for otherHow many [of each animal] were removed from the property during 2012?  Removed?  What does "removed" mean?  If they wanted to know if they were sold, why didn't they say so?  A few chickens died of old age, and certainly they were "removed," but there was no place to indicate that.  I called the "help line," hoping for clarification.  Ha!  I'd ask a question; the nice lady would say, "Hmm, that's a good one.  Just put 'died'."  I told her that didn't seem to be an option on the form.  "No, I guess it's not."  I'd ask about another section.  "Oh, just put zero.  It doesn't matter."  Well, dang, if it doesn't matter, why ask it?  The questions regarding income, property value, expenditures, etc., were far more invasive than the IRS, as were those regarding my ethnicity and gender.  Since the twenty-page paper form had scribbles, mark-outs, erasures, and corrections, plus the fact it was the last day to send it in, I opted to file online.  Just to add to my already high level of frustration, the questions online were either different or worded differently.  Aaargh.  Oh well, it's done to the best of my ambiguous ability.

Monday, February 4, 2013

In My Opinion

Like a good portion of America, I spent yesterday watching the Super Bowl.  Now that it is over, I can come out of the closet and admit I did not root for the San Francisco Forty-Niners.  I know that it is very un-Californian of me, but that's just how it is.  And I'm not alone in the mass of rabid fans.  The opposite of shouting in a phone text (using all capital letters) is whispering--lower case only--and a couple of family members who shall remain nameless for their own protection and I were texting back and forth, celebrating Raven victories.  Kaepernick got a real "deer-in-the-headlights" look during the first half, but there's no denying he's got an arm like a howitzer, and the Forty-Niners came back strong after that weird lights-out delay.  Flacco earned the MVP award, hands down. 

After all the publicity surrounding football injuries lately, I was surprised to see how many times helmets flew off heads during tackles.  Do the players not fasten the chin straps or is a new design required?  Camera coverage of the game was the best I've ever seen, making it very easy to follow the plays.  Is it the producer who chooses angles and replays?  Excellent job, whoever was in charge of that.  The announcers were, I was happy to see, bipartisan.

I thought the much-touted Super Bowl ads were, for the most part, lackluster.  Budweiser should stick with the Clydesdales, and Go-Daddy needs a new set of writers completely.  Doritos finally dropped the "it's funny to watch someone get hurt" image and put out some pretty good stuff.  (Of course I loved the goat ad!)  Dodge is to be commended for the homage to farmers with Paul Harvey's voice over.  That's the ad that will stay with me.

The finish of the game was as close as anyone could wish for, and I scared the dog a couple of times as I was yelling either "Go!" or "Nooo!"  I became independently wealthy with my nickle bet and, as Dave told me, I can now officially retire.  There was no joy in Mudville, er, San Francisco, but it was a good day, in my opinion.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gather Ye Rosebuds...

It's a good thing we were enjoying the breeze and the sunshine in the garden the day before because yesterday was overcast and cold again.  According to Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating groundhog, spring will be early this year, but just not yet.  It was a good day to stay in, try to get the wood stove going to warm the house again (hadn't needed it the few days prior), and make baked albondigas (spicy Mexican meatballs in a rich broth) for dinner.  There are leftovers for Superbowl today.

These photos were taken the night before (the pretty day) and in sequence in a matter of minutes.  I was awestruck as Bess and I walked out to tuck the critters in, and ran back for the camera.  These would have been published yesterday, but once again the computer and the camera weren't on speaking terms.
Just think of what I might miss if I didn't have nighttime chores.  It's so easy to overlook that which is all around us. 
If I hadn't been busy looking at the fire-in-the-sky show, I would have seen the portent of what was to come.  All the signs for the next day were right there in the lowering clouds.

It's light enough to get a glimpse of what today might be like; frost on the deck, but a cloudless sky.  It's going to be a good day.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Puns and Other Stuff

Barn chores done on a beautiful morning, Bessie and I headed to the deck bench to soak up some rays, me with another Terry Pratchett book in hand.  I love this guy's inventive writing; he cracks me up.  In Men At Arms, Death (who always speaks in capital letters - I can almost hear his echoing, sonorous tones) comes for a troll named Bjorn (pronounced Byorn) who has been fatally bonked on the head.  The troll explains to Death that he believes in reincarnation.  "WELL, SINCE YOU BELIEVE IN REINCARNATION, YOU'LL BE BJORN AGAIN."  I say without shame that puns make me laugh out loud, even bad puns, and this was no exception.  I'm sitting on the deck all by myself (not counting Bessie Anne, who never gets the point of a pun) and burst out with, "Ha ha ha!," when I read this.  A nearby crow joined in.  "Ha ha ha!," said the crow, who evidently thought it was punny too.  Nice to know we share a sense of humor.

Having spent the day before crunching numbers and gathering receipts for the danged Dept. of Agriculture census form, I needed to break out and enjoy the warm afternoon.  My constant companion and I went to work on the lavender bed.  There is something so peaceful about the mountain on a quiet day, trimming the fragrant shrubs, listening to the hens gossiping in their yard close by, and hearing the breeze sing through the bare branches of the oak overhead.  I want to use the term "magical," but it was really just an ordinary day.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Now I Know

Nuthatches!  Those little birds are nuthatches!  Dolly and I were wrong about the red heads, but we can be forgiven because of the angle of the morning sun and because the birds dart around so quickly it's hard to draw a bead on them.  They are dressed in mini-replicas of the black-and-white tuxedo outfits worn by woodpeckers.  The word came to me down in the barn and I couldn't wait to get back to the house to check it out.  A quick Google and there they were; mystery solved.  It's a flock of nuthatches that has moved in.

I knew my "mistress of the manor" impression was off the other day, and it wasn't just the bibbies.  I should have recognized that it was because I am a member of the downstairs staff.  Instead of looking through a lorgnette like the dowager duchess, I scurry around opening doors a dozen times a day for the real royalty here, Her Ladyships Bessie Anne and Pearl and His Lordship Frank.  "Oh, you do not wish to go out this door, m'lord?  You prefer that one, sir?  Right away, sir."  It only takes one of those looks to send me running to refill a food bowl, all the while apologizing for my lapse.  Understanding that Lady Bess has problems with her back legs, I willingly boost her into the truck, up on her preferred chair, and onto the bed.  (She gave Dolly the stink eye when Dolly sat in her chair.)  Lady Pearl walks into the kitchen and sits in front of the treat drawer, gives one brief command, and I immediately comply.  Knowing Her Ladyship's tastes, I spend a lot of time in the cat treat aisle hunting for her favorite goodies.  At bedtime, Lady Bessie gets a lift up.  She promptly lies on my side of the bed, waiting for her nightly massage.  Lord Frank appears from nowhere and demands a rubdown too.  (I'm happy that Pearl hasn't discovered the routine; I've only got two hands.)  Only when all duties as scullery maid, butler, masseuse, and whatever other chores assigned are finished will the true lady of the manor move over and let me climb into bed, my work done for the day.  I am grateful that my masters, the dog and cats, are benevolent despots.  It's good to know one's place in the world.  I live to serve.