Saturday, August 31, 2013

Country Calm

The silence of the morning was suddenly rent with horrible loud shrieks and screeches that went on and on.  Bessie, upset, ran off the deck toward the sound, looking back at me as if to say, "Come on, Mom, we've got to do something!"  She didn't understand why I calmly continued my walkabout.  Even though they sound as if being stuck with hot pitchforks, I knew from past experience that Frick and Frack (Caspian and Titanic), the alpacas down on the corner, were having a squabble.  It didn't help that Shadow, the donkey, chimed in with his braying.  That set off Valentine, the donkey who lives on adjoining property to the north.  Bess gave up, sat down, and started shouting, "Shut up!  Shut up!"  Other dogs in the neighborhood apparently agreed and barked along with her.

So much for country peace and quiet.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Birds Of A Feather

Feathers abound at Farview.  Chicken feathers in all colors, enough to stuff pillows for an army; sapphire blue feathers from the jays; coal black feathers from crows and blackbirds; spiffy black and white feathers from woodpeckers; mousy brown sparrow feathers; iridescent bronze feathers from the turkeys; tiny, tiny hummingbird feathers.  With all the feathers on the ground, one might think there were a lot of naked birds here.  With the exception of the chickens in moult and wearing summer bikinis, all other birds appear fully clothed.

This is the first feather from a red-tail hawk I've ever found.  I came across it down in the goat pen, so I'm assuming its donor was hunting ground squirrels.  I don't know enough to say whether it is a wing or tail feather, but am thinking wing.  The picture is somewhat deceptive; the feather is big, nine inches long and two inches wide, cream colored at the base and darkening to strawberry blond, with subtle dark striations and a black band toward the tip.  It will look quite nice tucked in the band of my hat.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Barn Bully, Babes, & A Bird

Spider-Man lives in the milking room in a custom web just above a larger neighbor.  Peter Parker's breakfast arrived on the fly (it was, in fact, a fly).  Before Peter could tie on his bib, the big bully from downstairs sneaked up the back way and made a dash for the tasty tidbit.  Spidey went into martial arts mode to protect his meal and the two arachnids became a flurry of legs as they fought.  Surely the larger spider would prevail, but Spidey drove him into the corner and finally off of his web.  Breakfast would have to wait.  Quick as a flash, the little spider wrapped the fly in Saran and tucked it into his larder.  Ah, the drama!

Lizard babies are popping up everywhere at Farview.  Teeny-tiny little babes, maybe an inch, inch-and-a-half long, and they are fast!  A whole colony lives by the water trough, darting here and there as I run water for the goats.  I've almost got to kick them out of the way on the front porch and deck where they practice doing pushups.  Not sure, I had to check to find out if lizards are oviparous or viviparous, two neat-sounding words for egg-layers or live-birth mamas.  Turns out they lay eggs, although I've certainly never run across a clutch of lizard eggs.  Not just because they are my adopted totem, I'm happy to see this new crop as they will help keep the insect population in check.

That goofy sparrow was back on the deck doing her squat-and-flutter dance yesterday.  What is she doing?  Why is she doing it?  Why does she do it day after day at about the same time in the very same spot?  I'm making the assumption that it is the same bird because I can't imagine a flock would take turns doing this bizarre behavior, and it is always just one bird.  Falling leaves are piling up on the deck (job security for me), and this sparrow moved some off of her dance floor to make room for her samba, cha-cha, or maybe it's a break dance.  Ah, the mystery!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Says It All

 Another day of heavy smoke has left the animals and me with a bad case of ennui.  Frank took over the sock basket while Bessie Anne snoozed behind the door.  Pearl, princess that she is, chose to have her own room and napped under the window in the guest room while I just noodled around on the computer.  Any strenuous outdoor activity is out of the question; it's too hard to breathe.  The reports say the Rim fire will burn for months even with the more than 4,000 firefighters on the scene.  The American fire up in Placer County has burned for weeks now and is still not under complete control.

Temperatures have been moderate this last week, but as I was watering the deck plants in the afternoon, Bessie went wading in her pool all on her own.  She usually waits for me to stand by her side.  Bess has never had the opportunity to swim, and would probably want floaties if the water were any deeper.  I thought she was pretty brave to go in without urging.

Just before sundown, clouds started building over the mountains.  Their promise of rain is a mixed blessing as they also threaten lightning strikes.  We are actually pretty lucky on this side of the hill because the delta breezes clear the air in the afternoon, blowing the smoke up into the Tahoe basin and over into Reno.
The slanting rays of the setting sun lit the forest on the hill across the road to the east and made a spectacular view from the end of the deck toward the west.   

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lead Me Not...

One wouldn't ordinarily think of the barn as a source of temptation.  One would be wrong.  That camp box hung on the wall stores emergency supplies:  teat dilators, thermometer, rubber gloves, betadine, bag balm, and the like.  The front drops down, and the top makes a handy shelf for the milk and feed buckets and diaper wipes while I'm working.  The box has been taken over by numerous families of mice.  Since, fortunately, we've had few emergencies, the mice are rarely disturbed in their high-rise condo.  They put up with my daily clanging and thumping of buckets as the goats go through their routine and have yet to put in a complaint.
Ruthie came in for her breakfast and I began to brush her down (each girl gets prettied up for the day).  That's when I noticed something dangling from the crack under the box.  Hmmm.  Looking closer, I could tell it was a mouse's tail.  I really, really wanted to give that tail a tweak.  A second tail joined the first, side by side, and the temptation grew stronger.  That's when my mind went wild...The Telltale Tail (Poe), Tale of Two Tails (Dickens), The End Of the Tail (Paul Harvey).  I cracked myself up, chortling as I tried to resist.  I'm weak; I'll admit it.  Instead of giving the tails a tug, I did stroke with a finger.  Either those mice were sound sleepers or the tails are not particularly sensitive because they were not zipped back up as I'd expected, but waved around slowly and finally drawn up (where they belonged).  If I'm led into temptation, don't expect me not to follow.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Naughty Girls

The Naked Ladies are making their annual Farview appearance.  They always come as a surprise, sending up a two-foot long, bare stalk before bursting into lovely pink blossom.  Why these amaryllis grow in stages, flowers before leaves, is beyond me. 

The Rim fire continues to grow, now 225 square miles, 150,000 acres, and is approaching townships.  It is inside Yosemite, but the valley floor remains safe.  We are still impacted by smoke, but the worst of that is up in Tahoe and as far as Reno.  We wait every day, hoping for the delta breeze that clears the sky in the afternoon and gives us, literally, a breathing space.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Where There's Smoke

This is what "smoke is heavier" looks like.  Same scene, same time of morning, dense smoke.  The animals do not seem to be affected so far, but it really is difficult to breathe.  We've been fortunate in that the afternoon delta breeze  kicks in to give us a break from smoke and heat.  A new, smaller, fire broke out up in Georgetown, threatening homes.  It seems to be under control but not out yet.  The Rim fire has spread to the giant sequoias.

The sound of sirens down on the nearby "big road" yesterday had hearts thumping and Bess and I went out to look for smoke.  There had been a blip in power and I did not hear the unmistakeable horn of fire engines, so the assumption is that someone hit a pole and the sirens were from police and possible rescue vehicles.  Whew.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fighting the Good Fight

The happy dance is over.  That victory celebration was for naught.  I knew the war wasn't over, but thought I'd won at least one battle.  I was wrong.  An outpost of guerilla squirrels wearing cammo fur tunneled up again in the corner of the goat barn that I believed I'd taken back and the hole is bigger than before.  I'm not giving up, but I'm fighting determined forces and I'm definitely outnumbered.

The smoke is heavier this morning as the Rim fire continues to rage.  Coyotes are yipping on the hill across the road as dawn breaks, and yesterday afternoon I watched the twin fawns and their mom graze in my yard.  The forest will return after the burn and homes can be rebuilt, but the loss of wildlife in a fire is unimaginable.  None of the newscasts I've watched have addressed that issue.  It breaks my heart.

It's been hot, it's been smoky; both good reasons to stay sedentary.  The delta breezes kicked in yesterday and the temperature dropped and the smoke cleared.  Drat!  Cursed with an overactive guilty conscience and the loss of any excuse, I attacked neglected housework in the afternoon.  That's enough of that silliness.  It's another war I can't win.

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Watch

The smell and taste of smoke is in the air, the first thing noticed upon awakening before daybreak.  For two mornings, nearby hills are obscured by smoke that has drifted 150 miles up from the Rim fire that has grown to over 105,620 acres, doubling in one day.  The Delta breeze sprang up yesterday afternoon, giving a break from the heat and pushing the haze back over the hill, but it was short lived.  This picture was taken this morning.  Yesterday the smoke was so thick the sun could not even make a shadow until after ten o'clock.  I was happy to learn that Camille's mom is out of danger from the fire raging in Montana and did not have to evacuate.  The fires have everyone's attention and concern and dominate our conversations.  Bless the brave men and women who work in unimaginable conditions to put these fires under control.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ringside Seat

The full moon rising was tinted by smoke from the Rim fire down by Yosemite.  Like a picture, the moon was accented by pines on the hill and framed by the living room window.  My chair is positioned so that I can see a portion of the deck and watch lizards dart, tiny frogs hop, and the occasional squirrel come creepy-creeping along.  A variety of birds land on the railing, even the turkeys that one year (peeping Toms).  Hummers are always looking in the window to remind me to fill their feeders.  One pine and one oak are just outside and give an indication of which way the wind blows.  Green leaves on the oak will soon turn color and then drop, leaving bare branches to silhouette in winter.  That same window becomes magical when snow falls and I sit watching, snug by the wood stove.  The front door is never closed all summer long.  From my chair, I see deer as I did the other day, a continuing parade of turkeys, and young ground squirrels playing in the driveway.  I can watch sunrise and see sunset from the same vantage point.  The scenery changes with the season, the players come in on cue, and I have the best seat in the house for the best show on earth. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Looking Back

Lacking inspiration, I've spent some time this morning reading old entries and reliving good times with family, friends, and animals.  I see that weather has played a big part in daily life here, and continues to do so.  It determines a lot of whether something or nothing gets done.

I wasn't the only one confused yesterday.  Camille called early on to ask when it was she was expected for dinner again; was it to be last night?  "Um, no."  I've been anticipating some dental work, but an appointment had not been set.  I said I'd call to find out if the office had a plan and let her know, as pork chops would not be on my menu afterward, for sure.  While we were talking, a doe with twin fawns, followed by a young buck, walked past in the drive right in front of the open doorway.  It's rather unusual for deer to be this close to the house at that time of morning.  The dentist's office pulled some strings and will get me in today, so Camille and I played phone tag, trying to connect for dinner last night.  That didn't happen.  Her mom is in Montana near a raging wildfire and was preparing for evacuation.  One of the firefighters on scene there had said the fire was moving forward faster than a car could drive.  Now that's scary!  It's a bit cooler here today, but smoke is still in the air.  The forecast is for thunderstorms and they always carry the threat of lightning.  We've each got our plans in place for a quick bug-out.  I'll put the pork chops in the freezer for another day.

There's a great comfort in looking back and seeing that some things don't change.  What I lack in excitement is more than compensated by stability in what seems like a perilous world.  It's time to go milk...some things don't change.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Never Too Old

One hundred degrees outside, ninety-six inside.  At dusk last night Bessie and I went out to water wilting plants on the deck.  She wanted to wade in her pool, and I turned the hose nozzle to "mist," pointed it in the air, and we both stood under the spray until we were soaked.  I got to figuring that, in dog years, she is becoming my contemporary.  No wonder we both puff like steam engines as we plod back up the hill, take our naps in the afternoon (or morning, or evening), creak a bit as we stretch, and sometimes have dessert before (or maybe instead of) eating dinner.  We both get excited when company appears at the door, although she displays it better.  Grey hair is starting to show on her muzzle; I've got her beat in the grey hair department.  Robert Browning said, "Grow old along with me...."  It's nice to have a companion to do just that.

One thing about it, we're never too old to play in the sprinkler!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Smoky Days, Smoky Nights

Anyone who saw the 1980 movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy" will remember the rhinoceros fire warden that went around stamping out campfires.  The squirrels are on duty, but I keep waiting for the rhinoceros to show up.  A pall of smoke hung over the hills like fog all day yesterday.  We could see and taste it, and it was hard to breathe.

I actually wanted a picture of the turkey flock that was stepping up onto the porch on their way to the herb garden, but by the time I'd gotten the camera they'd moved on and only the watchful squirrel was left.  It wouldn't have surprised me if the turkeys had started knocking on the door, they were that close.

I work better with an incentive plan.  I asked my friend Camille over for dinner so I'd have a reason and a deadline to do some housework and some cooking.  It's been so hot that I've not done much and a bowl of cereal did it for dinner.  The plan worked.  I zipped around with the vacuum cleaner and dust rag and then started on Dave's recipe for spicy shrimp scampi and linguine, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Moroccan cauliflower fritters.  We gorged.  It was a good plan!

It never cooled off last night.  Bessie's panting woke me several times, so I know she was hot too.  The cats stayed outside.  The smoke does not appear as thick this morning.  I hope it will be a better day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hard To Believe

Just for the heck of it, and because I am completely out of blog fodder today, I took a look back at the entry for December 31, 2010.  It was twenty degrees that morning.  Seventy degrees at five-thirty today, heading for ninety-eight.  It's hard to remember what that cold feels like, and hard to believe I've been writing daily entries for going on four years.

There are days when ideas crowd my mind, pushing and shoving to come out first.  I wake up "writing" whatever topic was perking away while I slept.  I put notes on the erase board in the kitchen or scraps of paper for future entries.  I look, really look, at everything that happens during the day and at the animals who share my life, the beauty of a bird or sunrise, thinking about a possible mini-essay for the blog.  It's so easy to drift through the days and not pay attention.  This activity gives a focus to my life.

And then there are days like yesterday when absolutely nothing happened.  The goats came in orderly fashion, squirrels and mice did nothing out of the ordinary, it was too hot to do much in the house.  Bess and the cats slept all day and I napped off and on.  Not much blog fodder there.

When all else fails, I can always rely on Nature.  Putting the kids to bed last night, the sunset caught my attention.  The sky that had been cloudless all day was filling with swirls and puffs, some with streaks of rain that would never reach the ground.

Even the do-nothing days are good days.  (But twenty degrees sounds better this morning; remind me of this when I'm complaining of the cold in a couple of months.)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Room With A View

I am not fixated on ground squirrels, truly.  It's just that they are in my line of sight (anywhere I look, actually).  Yesterday this fellow came in through the hole dug under the wall, laboriously climbed up the rubbing boards like a ladder, and perched himself on the ledge for a view with a different perspective.  Maybe it was one of Doug's family, waiting for his return.

Tree Guy pulled into the drive in the afternoon, saying he wanted to look at the fires.  That was a bit alarming, to say the least.  From my place on the top of the hill, I've got a 360-degree view  and he lives down in the cut.  TG's day job is as a professional wildfire fighter.  He had just come back from fires down in Modoc, and his sons are working fires up in Plumas County.  A huge fire, thousands of acres, has been burning for a week over in Foresthill, smoke filling the valley, and a much smaller fire started in Diamond Springs yesterday.  We could see both sites.  It was educational to listen to TG as he described what was happening in each place, based on the smoke color and shape.  When black smoke rose in the Diamond Springs area, he knew there were houses involved.  (I learned today that one was an historic family home.)  It was eerie to watch the smoke take on a mushroom formation like an atomic bomb over Foresthill.  TG said that if the smoke cloud rose high enough, it would create its own weather with possible dry lightning and/or rain.  As a thirty-year veteran in the job, he certainly spoke with knowledge.  Fires are always a concern here, but TG says I've got enough of the property cleared as to be relatively safe.

Perhaps the little ground squirrel was on fire watch, my own warden.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Doug, Up Close & Personal

Cute as Clay is, he is going to have to go some to beat Doug.  Linda, the Wildlife Lady, sent me some photos and says Doug is even cuter in person.  This one, with the droopy ears and gift of hay, is my favorite.  Fostering squirrels must be a full-time job.  In addition to eating very well (photo below), Doug gets a bottle twice a day.  Linda admits he's a little old to still be a bottle baby, but likes it so well she's willing to give it to him.  I think it's because he likes the special attention.
The goal of the rescue service is to return creatures to the wild, but after a spread like this, I worry how the squirrels will survive without fresh strawberries and cut-up apples (and maid service).  Linda thanked me for send Doug to her.  I think Doug should be the one sending thanks.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Doug's Rivals

Pete:  "How did Clay take the news, now that Doug has assumed the title of the 'good son'?"

And so began my morning.  A bit of history here:  Clay has long been teased by his after-market siblings as being The Good Son.  (You'd have to remember the Smothers Brothers for their "Mother always liked you best" routines to appreciate this.)

A flurry of texting began.

Pete:  "Tell him there's always room in the 'somewhat okay son' group...and we will plot/scheme the downfall of Doug."

Clay:  "I can't believe I'm ousted by a flea-bitten varmint!!"

Pete:  "So he's taking it well.  Good to see."

Clay:  "I'm getting my status back.  I can look cute and give you bits of bedding too, dammit!"

This is just a sample of the three-way dialogue that had me laughing out loud and made it hard to get chores done in the barn.  I didn't ask the boys' permission before outing them, but this was just too good not to share.  No matter how old they are, it seems sibling rivalry blooms, even when it involves a baby ground squirrel named Doug.

The hills are heating up again after days of moderate weather.  This is good for the grape growers, but throws me into a state of lassitude and somnolence.  Not much but watering gets done here when the thermometer goes over ninety.  I caught up on all the episodes of "Bleak House."  I plan ahead and DVR programs and/or movies of interest specifically to sit still and watch on hot days.  Bessie moves from lying on the cool tiles in the entryway to the stone hearth behind the wood stove.  Frank and Pearl nap all day long.  Turkeys and deer come out only in the morning and at sundown.  Goats and sheep find patches of shade and lie like stones.  Egg production drops as it is too much work for the chickens in the heat.

In case I haven't made it abundantly clear, in my opinion I have nothing but good sons, including Craig, and one terrific daughter.  (And Doug is a good boy, too.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Kid Got An A

"Hello?  This is Linda from Sierra Wildlife; you know, Doug's mom."  It took me a minute to process this information.  Who was Doug and why was his mother calling me?  Oh, right!  Back in June, I had rescued the baby ground squirrel down in the barn, named him Doug, and had passed him on to Linda.  Linda was calling to report on Doug's progress.

Laughing, she told me that ground squirrels are not known for their personality, but Doug was the exception.  Of the six that she is now fostering, one, Emily, actually has bitten her.  Doug, on the other hand, always brings a mouthful of bedding as a gift when Linda goes to the squirrels' quarters.  The kid obviously recognizes a good thing when he sees it and knows how to work it.  He remains the runt of the bunch, but holds his own in the orphanage.

Evidently the rescue service tries to place animals back in the locale where they were found, and Linda asked about my place and if I would like to have him released here.  I told her that with the dozens and dozens of squirrels that have pocked my property like the Gaza Strip, one more could make no difference.  "Oh, no, that won't do!"  Even though there are relatives here, an established colony would kill an intruder, and even his mother wouldn't remember Doug.  I can't imagine where the service will find anywhere that isn't already populated by these little boogers, but she said they will find somewhere and set Doug's little band of brothers (and Emily) loose as a group in about a month to begin their own colony.

It was as if my kid had gotten a gold star in deportment on his report card.  I'm proud of Doug.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ante Up!

"Are you a gamer?  Do you play cards and board games?"  Other mothers might want to know about background, work, does she cook?, and have other questions.  Me, I want to know the important stuff up front.  Dave brought his lady, Sandra, up for the first time yesterday.  I took her out to meet the girls and the little kids.  Sandra made a big hit with the goats by rubbing their heads as they wished, but the chickens clustered in the corner of their coop.  They seem to have become very leery of strangers.  And then we got down to business.  Since nearly every family gathering here involves poker or some other game, I needed to know if Sandra would be comfortable with my competitive crew.   I fear shrinking violets wouldn't make the cut.  I think Dave had prepped Sandra in advance, because she pulled out two dollars (we play for high stakes here!) and we headed for the table and an afternoon of gibes and laughter.  She'll do just fine.

 After Dave and Sandra had gone, I heard one of those dreaded thunks on the window that tell me a near-sighted bird had hit the glass.  I went out to find this little guy (or gal), about the size of a hummingbird, but with a shorter beak and yellow-green coloring.  He sat quietly in my hand while regaining his senses.
When he was more alert, not wanting to stress him further I put him in with the potted petunias.  Fully recovered, he later flew off with no more than a headache.  I like happy endings.

It was a good day. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Way We Were

A series of ads is running right now in which older kids are talking about how easy the little kids in the room have it these days because they can watch television in any room of the house due to some "bundling" program.  The interesting thing to me is that the "older" kids, perhaps all of twelve, are busy doing something:  working on their skateboards together, playing a card game, actually socializing.  The younger children have their eyes glued to the screen of the television or their pea-pods or I-pads or whatever those things are.  A recent newscast stated that teens are waiting longer before getting a driver's license.  Other factors are involved, but one reason given is because texting and other social media allow teens to stay in touch without face-to-face contact.  From the Mt. Olympus of age, I look down and worry about such things.

PBS (that is Public Broadcasting System, not peanut-butter sandwich) recently ran a show called "Life On The Farm" with Jerry Apps.  Mr. Apps grew up on a farm in Wisconsin during the years of the Great Depression in a house without electricity or indoor plumbing (like me in a power outage now).  Kids in school were given two weeks of "potato vacation," when it was a given that the children were needed at home to work the potato harvest.  Child labor laws did not apply to farm kids.  (You could have asked my dad about that.)  Mr. Apps said he knew he had made the transition from boy to man when his father allowed him to fork oat hay into the threshing machine (drawn by horses) by himself.  He spoke of the difference between chores and work.  Chores like milking cows twice a day, hauling in firewood, hoeing a half-acre garden were expected of every kid on every farm.  Work was what one did for other people:  putting up a barn, painting a neighbor's house, helping with their harvest.  He talked about common values and ethics and the sense of community that were somehow lessened or lost with the advent of mechanization and electronic innovations.  I can relate.

I went down to Camille's yesterday to take some photos of a kitten she is fostering and putting up for adoption.  We sat on her patio and listened to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and "Prairie Home Companion" on the radio (she doesn't have TV) while the kitten posed for her closeups.  I'd nearly forgotten how much fun it is to sit with a companion and listen to a game show or hear a deep, mellifluous voice tell stories.

In my "mission statement" when I started this journal, I said I wanted to share a bygone lifestyle that I live today.  Perhaps it is not just the day-to-day life I would like to pass on, but a view into "the way we were."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

No Excuse

Coyotes yipping on the hill across the road in the hours before dawn and their voices entered my dream world as screams; heck of a way to start the day.

These entries are written on the fly.  Sometimes I will develop a subject beforehand if an event occurs or a word intrigues me.  Sometimes I stare at the blank screen without hope.  I do proofread several times before posting anything; even so, I may have to go back and make a correction, as I did with yesterday's entry.  I had written "...the woman that lived...."  Rereading it this morning, the error leaped up and slapped me.  I can remember Teacher saying, "People are 'who' and 'which;' things are 'that.'"  My apologies, Teacher.  "...the woman who lived...."

Life was easier when there were rules.  Rules were the oil that greased the cogs of society and smoothed the way for interaction.  Rules were the formalization of courtesy.  There were books of etiquette, Roberts Rules of Order, even Ann Landers, for crying out loud.  There were consequences for not following the rules.  Ignoring an RSVP meant one would not be on the next invitation list.  Rules for English (which, I will say, is a very confusing, sometimes ambiguous language) are meant to clarify communication; no need to speak to the consequences of muddy writing.  Going over one of my children's homework, I noted there was a lack of punctuation and capitalization.  "Teacher said that wasn't important."  Say what?!  I spoke with Teacher.  "Oh, we don't want to stifle their creative juices."  That might have worked for e e cummings, but it didn't fly in my house.  Said child was required to rewrite that piece before handing it in.  Even creative juices need discipline.  Everyone knew what the rules were.  Not everyone followed them, but knew that they were breaking one and expected, if caught, to suffer consequences without excuses.  There is something to be said for The Good Old Days.

And that's all I have to say about that!  (Obviously, not much went on here at the farm yesterday.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Done and Done

 "I brake for yard sales" was a bumper sticker I had threatened for years to buy for Steve.  Since they were not my thing, I paid my dues by standing by patiently as he went through boxes and bags of this and that all over the valley and hills.  Countless times we'd be driving along when he'd suddenly pull off the road because he'd seen one of those signs.  He was an inveterate sale-er and he'd be so proud of me.

The board fence in the front yard had seen better days and was falling into disrepair.  I had passed these iron bedsteads in a garden at a place on Bucks Bar Road for years and thought they were pretty.  When the gal who lived there put stuff on sale, I broke down and stopped in.  She made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Don't ask me why, but there were bundles of pipe in the barn (probably from some yard sale he'd gone to) and with my handy-dandy pipe cutter, I was able to get usable lengths that the bed frames slipped right over.  Camille had returned the sledge hammer she'd borrowed (no "cup-of-sugar, please," borrowing up here!) so I could pound the pipes into the ground for support.

Bessie Anne and Pearl, my ever-present supervisors, were on the job as I eyeballed the fence line.  They agreed I was close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades, and we called it good.  It was quite satisfying to sit on the porch later with a good breeze blowing, a sundowner drink in my hand, listening to a band at one of the wineries sing Carly Simon cover songs, and look at my completed project.

It was a good day.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Let Me Explain

Inga just gave me that wide-eyed stare as I patiently explained, once again, the cause-and-effect results when she won't come in to be milked.  There was a hands-on demonstration as I worked to get those tiny teats to give more than a pitiful pffft-pffft of milk into the bucket.  On a normal day, it takes 350 or so squeezes to empty her udder.  Yesterday we were up over 800 before we could call it good.

That blank look isn't totally her fault, even though it is a bit annoying during a repeat lecture.  A goat's golden eyes have horizontal iris that close to mere slits in bright light.  Some people find this disconcerting.  It is difficult to tell where a goat is specifically looking, giving the appearance of inattention.  Oh well, this wasn't the first time we've had this talk; it won't be the last.

I looked in drawers, opened boxes, climbed up on shelves, peered under counters.  I pawed through innumerable screwdrivers and wrenches.  I found tools for which I have no name and no idea of their use.  Unfinished projects and bits and bobs for future plans littered every available space.  About the time I was ready to throw up my hands in defeat, I opened one last cabinet and, lo and behold and eureka!, there was not one pipe cutter in a box, but eight or ten in various sizes.  (I knew we had one from when I closed the muffler and welding shop I'd owned and operated back in the '80s.)

A pipe cutter is a simple, ingenious device with rollers and a metal-cutting blade that simplifies what could be a difficult job.  A pipe cutter is the implement that began my love affair with tools.  My grandfather on my mother's side apparently invented tools, and I appreciate the mind that looks at a task and says, "I can make this easier," and then creates the tool to do just that.  There is a tool out in the barn that I couldn't do without here.  For lack of the real term, I call it a twizzler.  It is a sort of pliers/clamp affair with a pull handle that allows one to take a length of wire and attach fencing with a twirled end in no time flat and little effort.  Another tool that has gotten a lot of use is the one used to put up or take down barbed wire.  Heck, I think a whisk in the kitchen is a work of art.

I spent so much time looking for the pipe cutter, it was too late to use it.  Maybe today, if Inga cooperates.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Inga did it again; wouldn't come in for Camille.  Inga is the most timid of the herd, the least confrontational, and a strange face (make that a stranger's face) sent her hiding behind the oak tree.  Other than that, Camille's babysitting seems to have gone well.

That was not the only act of kindness I received yesterday.  I can repay Camille in a small way by dubbing some of her old VHS home movies onto DVDs with my new fancy-dancy machine.  Holly saved me an extra trip into town and several hours of time.  She is a working mom, so I spent the afternoon baking oatmeal-raisin cookies.  Turns out, those are her favorite cookies so her kids may never see them!

While watering the new trees last evening, I noticed the Red Globe grapes in the garden had turned color but the birds had not yet gotten to them.  Wow!  They are as sweet as honey.  I cut as many as I could eat for dinner and will go back for more today.  

I hate to hit the floor running in the morning, so it was nice to sleep in until nearly six today, fill the feeders for the hummers, sip my coffee, and gather my thoughts.  I had awakened in the night with new ideas for my proposed project and better ways to put it together.  Now if I can just find the pipe cutter downstairs, I'll get started.  (It took me five years to find where Steve hid the nails.)

Inga and I are going to have a talk.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Inga did her penance in the barn yesterday, and me right there with her.  Gee, I wish she'd learn that life would be so much easier if she just follows the program.

I'm working on a project for the front yard that I'm not ready to unveil yet (not sure how it will turn out).

This is D-Day for Camille, the day for which she's been in training.  My feeding her animals is one thing; her feeding and milking mine is quite another.  I am in her debt big time.  I'm on a dead run here to make an early morning appointment in town.  Just checkin' in before leaving.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Good Deeds

"No good deed goes unpunished."  Isn't that how the saying goes?  Camille's rehearsal didn't go quite as planned, but most of the job got done.  I went along for moral support as she talked herself through the morning routine, ticking off items on her mental checklist.  Dealing with the chickens went well, although I will admit I was surprised that the little girls actually realized it was a stranger in the pen and huddled in the far corner instead of tumbling out for their morning cereal.  We may not be giving chickens enough credit.

And then there were the goats.  Stalls were emptied in the correct order.  Poppy also recognized a stranger in the midst (obviously forgetting that Camille had been there the previous day) and began bellowing.  Sheep are not known for dulcet tones, and Poppy only has one volume.  Loud!  Sheila, first up on the stand, quivered like an aspen in a high wind the entire time.  Milking uses sets of muscles in the hands and forearms not ordinarily used and it takes awhile to get a rhythm going.  So as not to stand over Camille and add to her stress, I went around and cleaned stalls while she worked.  Ruthie, Esther, and Cindy, the nonmilkers, came in willingly for their breakfast and Camille was able to take a break.  Tessie took some encouragement but finally came in.  It took a long time, but Camille got her milked out.  And then it was Inga's turn; the dreaded Inga.  Camille wheedled and coaxed, sweet-talking and calm.  Boy, did I ever know this script.  The voice went up a notch and was a bit more demanding.  "Inga!  Come in here now!"  Inga stayed just out of reach and gave that dumb-goat stare.  Pretty soon Camille was yelling just like I do in that situation.  Standing well back in the barn out of line of sight, I was laughing; couldn't help myself, evil woman that I am.  Since Camille will be on her own tomorrow, I did not go out to help.  Besides, there wasn't much I could do either.  In the end, we did what I have to do in the same situation.  We finished up in the barn and left Inga to swell up like a balloon (and me to deal with her today).  It took two hours to do what I normally do in one (minus one milker), but Camille is a game trooper and didn't take back her offer to tend the girls.  I sure hope it goes easier for her tomorrow; she's suffered enough for one good deed.

Whether it was a good day or not depends on which side of the milking stand you're on.

Monday, August 5, 2013

New Tree In Town

The five trees I ordered last December are finally here.  I picked them up on Saturday and drove 35 mph all the way from well past El Dorado to home so as not to damage the leaves, pulling to the side of the road many times to let cars pass.  These are fruited Persian mulberry trees and the leaves are the size of dinner plates.  They are said to be very fast growing (already about 8 feet tall) and will have a 30-40 foot spread.  Since the purpose of putting trees in the goat pen in the first place is shade, these ought to do the job.  An additional benefit is the fruit, supposedly 3-inch long berries, similar to blackberries.  I know the birds will be happy, the goats will get all that drop, and, if I get any, the man at the nursery said they make delicious mulberry wine.  Hmm.  That's a win-win-win in my book.

The water line is in and protective cages are ready, but it is too hot and the ground is too hard to plant the trees just yet.  Tree Guy put the saplings together in one of the big barrels in the fenced-in garden area to keep them safe from deer and gophers until the time is right.  The only things growing this year in what I laughingly call "the garden" are the two grape vines (loaded with fruit) and three tomato plants which are growing but not setting any tomatoes so far.

Camille is coming for another rehearsal this morning before she does her solo act with the goats on Wednesday.  (She volunteered!)  It's a lot to ask of anyone to give up more than an hour of time and do hard work, especially when it is hot, and I truly appreciate that she is willing to do this for me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Take A Picture

Drat!  I should have had my camera yesterday (although perhaps it was kinder that I didn't).  Camille has said for some time that she should come some morning and learn my feeding and milking routine in case I ever needed a babysitter for the kids.  Yesterday was training day.  Camille has had experience milking, but it's been a long time.

1.  Throw out food for the wild birds.
2.  Let Silkies out of their coop, throw down scratch feed, check water.
3.  Big chickens, ditto.
4.  Put out alfalfa for the goats and Poppy.
5.  Let the games begin!

I made introductions as the girls were let out of their rooms.
First stall:  "Ruth is cranky and has a room to herself."
Second stall:  "Have rope in hand to guide Sheila to the milking room unless you want to make laps around the barn.  Poppy will follow her out."
Big room:  "Open the door and stand back."  Cindy, Esther, Inga, and Tessie barreled out in a blur.  Individual introductions would have to be made later.

As I said, it's been awhile since Camille has had the fun of milking, and she had a wee bit of trouble getting those spigots to work.  After the milk bath she had yesterday, I'm thinking of calling her Cleopatra.  She's a good sport, we laughed a lot, and albeit somewhat slower, the job got done.  As it turns out, I really will need her help later this week as I have an early morning appointment I couldn't change.  Timing is everything.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lookin' Good

There I sat, like Lady Astor's horse, eating bonbons and watching the soaps while Kyle worked.  I could get used to that.  (I'm kidding; I've never watched a soap opera in my life.  But I'd eat any bonbon within reach anytime.)

Note to all visitors:  Google maps have a wicked sense of humor and send everyone to the far, far end of Gray Rock.  The middle of the loop is almost impassable, takes a person miles out of the way, and eats up time and gas. 

That said, even after getting lost, the young man was right on time.  Those years between 15 and 17 sure show the changes from boyhood to manhood; it's been that long since Kyle was here.  Having recently cleared an acre with one of those handheld weed-whackers, he was very happy when I showed him my weed-eater on wheels.  I pointed him in the direction of several areas that needed attention and went on down to my chores in the barn.  Getting back to the house, we were both ready for a break and had a chance to sit and reacquaint.  He went back to work and I had things to do, too.

I'd grown so used to the weed growth that gave the place such an unkempt, raggedy look, it just had become part of the scenery.  Last evening as I watered and put the kids to bed, it was such a pleasure to look around and see the edges of the barn neat and tidy, and be able to walk between sheds without fighting my way through knee-high tangles.  It's hard to say just how much I appreciate all of Kyle's effort, and Tom's gift on my behalf.  We're lookin' good here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Help On the Way

The journal is going to get short shrift today.

Having written that, my train of thought jumped the tracks.  Short shrift is a common term, but it got me to wondering if there is also a long shrift, and what is a shrift, anyway?  Turns out that shrift in old, Old English is the act of confession and receipt of absolution.  Somehow the phrase "short shrift" has come to mean make short work, or give little consideration.  I try always to give full attention to the journal, but today's entry will be short.  I hope I will be shriven.

Back to the subject (or lack thereof) at hand.  My friend Tom is gifting me with a day's labor from his nephew Kyle and there are things that I need to do before his arrival this morning.  Tom was a Marine (no such thing as an ex-Marine) and I do not doubt he drafted Kyle into this, but the young man and I have worked together in the past and he's a good helper.  He won't hold his uncle's offer against me, even though he's on summer break from school and at his age (heck, at my age!) doing nothing holds more appeal than sweating it out with a weed-eater or a hammer.

At any rate, yesterday was a run-of-the-mill day, with nothing much of note.  The goats came to the milking room in orderly fashion (of course they did, I had no pressing engagement).  The weather was moderate.  Everything that needed water got watered.  I had a whole eggplant to myself for dinner.

It was a good day.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Break

I'll read anything that comes my way.  Fiction, nonfiction, any genre, cereal boxes and toilet paper wrappers; makes me no never mind.  I get panicky when there's no new book waiting, as if I were to open the cupboard and find it bare.  Great teachers fostered my love of books and good writing, beginning, of course, with my mother.  I thought it was punishment of the worst sort when she demanded I take Mrs. Doeppner's Latin class my first year of high school, but learning prefixes, roots, and suffixes has enhanced my understanding and appreciation of words and their origins.  Is Latin still offered in school, I wonder?  Mr. Savage taught freshman English.  He drove a convertible, wore snappy clothes, and had an eye on the lovely young Spanish teacher.  I can still see him standing in front of his big oak desk, reading The Telltale Heart (Edgar Allen Poe), his unseen hand behind him beginning the thump of the heart as the story went on, ending by pounding loudly at the end as the character went mad.  He knew how to keep us enthralled.  Professorial Mr. McGuigan with his bow ties and horn-rimmed glasses had second-year English and made George Eliot's Silas Marner come alive and gave an introduction to Shakespeare with Julius Caesar.  Sister Marie Antoinette (junior and senior years) had her quirks.  She was claustrophobic and had all classroom windows open wide, even in winter.  In addition to being a wonderful English teacher, she was also an artist and decorated the blackboard (which was green) with beautiful drawings in pastels.  Chaucer was one of her favorites and we struggled through Canterbury Tales.  All plays presented at school were by Shakespeare.  Having one of the few alto voices in an all-girl school, I got to play Petruchio (Taming of the Shrew) and other male leads; a great way to learn the cadence of The Bard's English.

I have a treasure trove of unread books awaiting.  During summer heat, picking up a book puts me almost immediately to sleep.  We're getting a break in temperature just now.  I picked up Stephen King's new novel, Joyland, yesterday and finished it one sitting.  It felt so good to have a book in my hands again.