Monday, September 30, 2013

It Was A Setup

It was a setup in more ways than one yesterday, mostly good (I can say that; I was a beneficiary of the good part).  Deb and Craig were running a little late so I only had time to throw a couple of warm muffins at them and give Craig a quick crash course in running the splitter before I had to get down to the barn.  Time and goats wait for no man.  I darned near strained my neck as I watched for Dave and Larry to drive up.  Clay had to work at his day job and wasn't expected.  Barn chores take a solid hour; no sign of the rest of the crew. 
I didn't take a "before" picture of the mountain of logs that Dave and Clay had cut on Wednesday, but this shows the size of some of those rounds and a fraction of the two-plus pallets that Deb stacked.  I don't know that I've ever seen a couple work together as well as Deb and Craig; they're a well-oiled team.

We were still waiting for those "many hands that make light work" when the last piece of firewood was on the stack and the tarp pulled over.  This Dynamic Duo definitely earned a hot lunch.  (I had not lifted a finger at the woodpile, but had been busy in the kitchen.)  Halfway through the meal, Larry came in.  He'd been camping; it wasn't until later I discovered he still had his travel trailer hooked up and had come directly from the campsite.  After some good-natured jibes, his apologies were accepted.  With no wood left to split and no time to bring more up from the pasture, Larry went up on the roof and cleaned the chimney.  Dave, who had organized this work force, was a no-show.  Was it a setup?  Credit is due for all the work he put in cutting wood, and Deb and Craig never hold a grudge.

Me?  With a stack of firewood waiting and a clean chimney, I am set up for winter.  I had a great day with Deb and Craig and enjoyed Larry's company for a short while.  I'm not the one with aching muscles so I can say unequivocally that it was a good day.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Big Day Today

The Kids are coming!  The Kids are coming!  Busy lives, time, distance, summer heat all preclude frequent visits.  We always stay in touch, but it's not the same as seeing their faces.  Tree Guy had borrowed my splitter and I was worried he wouldn't get it back in time, but he brought it yesterday and put it in place under the oak.  Last night I made spicy Mexican meatballs for albondigas and rice for lunch and batter for breakfast muffins when the Kids get here.  Each of the Kids is an excellent, adventurous cook, so I tend to revert to meals they might remember from childhood when they come up.  After all, they're coming to Mom's and what brings back memories better than food?

The weather has made a dramatic change from hot to almost chilly, and the thought of a bank of firewood to draw from is sounding better and better.  Driving into town yesterday, I noted that trees are beginning to turn color and some of the grapevines next door are a gorgeous red.  Just that one day of rain last week has put a green blush over the fields.

I think Cindy, one of the older goats, is getting ready to take her leave.  She is not ill, just tired.  The animals get a certain look in their eyes that signals the end is near.  Somehow I thought Ruth would be the next to go; she's the oldest at nearly fourteen, but she's still bossy and full of herself.  Cindy and Esther are two of triplets born to the Lady Lucinda.  It's hard to watch an old friend go, but it is what it is.  Poppy is also aging and I look over the stall door every morning, hoping she's still on her feet.

Going back to yesterday's entry and the world of computers:  I got a request this morning from a prior WWOOFer, Jule, asking me to proofread a play review she had written in English, checking grammar and syntax.  Jule is in Berlin, Germany!  How marvelous is that?!  Communication at the speed of light, and I come from the Dark Ages when a letter would take days, if not weeks.

The clock is moving faster than I this morning and there are still things to do.  It's a big day for me today.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

How Far

On many mornings I wake up brimming with ideas for an entry, writing the words in my mind before opening my eyes.  There are days I actually make notes on a theme, a word, a title.  And then there are times when I sit in front of a blank page and my mind is just as empty.  This is one of those times.  I thought perhaps to write of the pleasure I take when a guest tells me how peaceful they find it here, how their stresses drain away.  Opening a new tab on the computer, I looked up the poem written at the base of the Statue of Liberty; "Give me your tired...."  It seemed fitting for the subject.  And then my mind took off in a different direction.

The Dewey Decimal System was as much a part of my growing up as learning to read.  Cabinet makers must have a lot of time on their hands now that they no longer make those wooden banks of drawers made specifically to fit index cards for libraries.  Research for a term paper meant hours if not days in the library, flipping through cards, locating the books, trying to find the exact reference needed for the theme.  I took a course on journalistic law and spent many nights in the law library looking up precedents.

With the advent of the computer and the Internet, all that has changed.  Now it requires a few keystrokes and the world is at our fingertips.  Still in my bathrobe in the comfort of my room, I could access the Statue of Liberty quote in seconds.  Hearing gunshots in the early dawn, I just checked the opening dates for deer season.  Back in the day when I was required to take a much-hated class in Data Processing, it meant hours of keypunching thousands of cards to feed to a room-sized computer.  Years later, I bought an early home PC to use for word processing, wondering how it could be used for anything else.  Now it seems nearly everyone has a computer, a SmartPhone, a laptop, an iPad.  How far we've come.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Going South

I've been watching the sky for days, waiting for the annual vulture migration.  I'd just about decided I must have missed it when I glanced out late yesterday afternoon and there they were!  A drawback to the otherwise marvelous digital camera is that it's hard to take "instant" photos; there's that tiny delay when the shutter clicks.  I could only catch a small portion of the many birds circling before they drifted over the hill to the east on their trip south to the Owens Valley.  It was a perfect opportunity, too, as they were more visible in front of the white cloud backdrop this year.  Ah, well, it is enough that I got to see them.  The wing span of these birds is as wide as I am tall and they look like glider planes in the sky as they ride the thermals, rarely needing to flap to rise and circle; awesome in the best sense of the word.

It's been a long while since my friend Arden has come by so it was a special treat when she came for a visit yesterday.  We munched on warm zucchini puffs as we caught up on each other's news, traded and discussed books, and laughed.

I love this picture.  Going out at sundown, the clouds to the east were reflecting the reds and pinks of the sky to the west.  I leave it to the imagination as to whether this portion of the driveway is leaving or coming home.
Thinking this was a better shot of the clouds, I didn't see that the girls, especially Tessie, were in the picture.  The others are on their way down to the barn.  This is one of the best times of the day for me, the other being sunrise.

It was a good day.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Job

My job description has changed.  I did my time out in the woods with Steve and the guys for years.  We'd drive up and down bumpy, narrow, one-lane dirt roads in the National Forests, permit firmly in hand, looking for slash piles left by logging crews until finding one close to the road, hopefully one where the crews had bucked off the brushy limbs.  A milk crate held the saw kit:  oil, file, gas can, and whatever other paraphernalia Steve could think of.  It wouldn't do to break or run out of something that far out in the wilds.  There were always two or three chainsaws in the back of the truck.  Once started, those chainsaws didn't stop.  Steve and anyone conned into coming along climbed up on the slash pile and the logs started dropping.  It was my job then to haul those logs and rounds, some so big I had to roll them, and stack them in the truck and trailer.  I also learned how to sharpen the blades on the chain.  Many times it was just the two of us.  We cut wood on 100-degree days and we cut wood in falling snow.  Steve had a don't-quit attitude and unbelievable stamina, and it was sometimes hard to keep up with him.  He recognized that when I started to stumble, it was time to stop for the day.  There would be a truck bed loaded to the gunnels and a trailer behind that filled to the top with logs and rounds.  Lunch on these trips became a tradition:  fried-egg sandwiches, a box of Cheez-Its, and a Milky Way bar.  Being the chief logger in charge, it was Steve's decree that we could not eat lunch until the job was done and we were back in the truck on the way home.  Nothing ever tasted so good as those sandwiches.

Dave and Clay got here while I was down in the barn and started testing their chainsaws while I finished milking.  They also found the cookies.  They were down in the pasture, already cutting on that three-feet-across limb, when I got back to the house.  It was a perfect day for the task, not too hot, not too cold, a nice breeze to blow away the sawdust.  When I figured they were due for a break (not my first time at this rodeo), I got on the little tractor, packed a couple of cold beers in a shoulder bag, and tootled down the hill where I was welcomed with big smiles.  A couple of hours later, I made that trip again; same smiles.  By the time the guys had come back and unloaded a big pile of rounds ready to be split under the front oak, I had lunch ready.  Clay had enjoyed the fried-egg sandwich tradition with Steve, so I upped the ante and made Rodeo sandwiches:  crisp diced bacon topped with eggs, a slice of onion, and cheese, covered and cooked until the broken yolks were set, the onion soft, and the cheese melted, served on toasted bread.  The cheese had to suffice because the feed store didn't carry Cheez-Its, and the cookies for dessert instead of a Milky Way bar, but the guys didn't seem to mind.  I know my job.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Wish I Had A Penny

If I had a penny for every cookie I've baked in my lifetime, I'd be independently wealthy now.  This thought came to me as I was taking the umpteeth pan of oatmeal-cranberry cookies out of the oven yesterday.  Dave and Clay are coming up today to play lumberjack, cutting rounds from a huge fallen oak limb down in the front pasture, and I needed something to round out their lunch.  Planning ahead, I thought that if I baked enough cookies, that would work for the gang on Sunday, too; ergo, a double batch.

We didn't have a lot of money when the Kids were little and in school.  Lunches were not bought in the cafeteria but carried in lunch boxes or brown-paper bags: a sandwich, a piece of fruit, maybe some chips when we could afford them, and homemade cookies.  I never bothered with those recipes that made only a wimpy three dozen; they weren't worth the time and usually called for frou-frou, expensive ingredients like macadamia nuts.  I needed "working-man" cookie recipes; big, substantial, cheap, and make a lot.  The first pan went down waiting gullets and, because I never had a timer then, the last pan usually burned.  I'd be so tired of making cookies I'd throw the pan in the oven and think, "I'm done!"  A neighbor gave me a recipe for molasses cookies.  I will admit now what I wouldn't then:  they weren't very good.  They made me think of Gammy's cookies (from The Egg and I):  "...big and round and about half an inch thick.  They stuck to the roof of the mouth and had no taste."  No matter.  The recipe made about twelve dozen and that was reason enough to shove them at the Kids.  On a trip from California to Wisconsin, I had baked a double batch of those dreadful molasses cookies so I could pass them out in the car to whining children.  I can hear the Kids' dad even now, "Don't make me stop this car!"  After a few days, those cookies clumped together to the point I was breaking off chunks instead of handing out cookies.  I think that was the last time I used that recipe.  It may be that the Kids used their lunch cookies as bargaining chips, trading for store-bought Oreos or Nutter-Butters.  They've never said and I never asked.  I just kept baking cookies.

Every flat surface in the kitchen is covered with oatmeal cookies this morning.  If I know Dave and Clay, cutting firewood will leave them hungry enough to eat cardboard.  These cookies are pretty good.  I know; I had them for dinner last night.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I Love A Parade

A constant stream of animals and fowl paraded through the property yesterday.  It is certainly not unusual to see wildlife here, but not in the numbers that I saw all day.  One tribe of turkeys waited under the oak for the breakfast buffet while another twenty or so were gathered in the goat pen as I walked down to the barn.  I darned near had to kick them out of the way; they were in no hurry to leave.  Deer were sighted throughout the afternoon, singles and in pairs.  Coming back from a trip to the feed store (my big outing for the week), a number of vultures were sipping from the goat trough and I had to wait while another tribe of turkeys cleared the drive.  A bit later, I watched more turkeys pecking and scratching in front of the house and a pair of ground squirrels playing tag in between the turkeys' legs.  Going out to take in the laundry was delayed because I didn't want to disturb the three deer that were grazing through the yard.  At sundown, the goats were snorting the alarm as they watched a strange black cat prowl across the far pasture, certain it was a panther looking for dinner.  It took some effort to convince them there was no danger and that they'd be better off in their rooms anyhow.

 A parade of another sort will arrive on Sunday.  Dave has organized a work force and all of my local Kids are coming to split and stack firewood to set me up for the winter.  While it is said that many hands make light work, there is nothing light about this kind of work; believe me, I know!  My Kids lead busy lives and it's hard to express my appreciation enough for giving up a day of their time, let alone their labor.  It will be great to see this bunch together.  I can't wait!

I love a parade.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bluebird Sky Day

Washed clean by the rain, colors on everything popped yesterday, including the goats.  Leaves on dust-covered trees and vineyards shone again.  Even the truck looked good.  Succumbing to temptation, Bess (and Pearl) and I took a book and went out on the deck after barn chores.  We (all of us; Pearl will not be left behind now) went in to watch the start of the NASCAR race, but that cerulean sky kept calling.  I'd been unable to mow for weeks and weeks due to high fire danger and star thistle had given the property a pretty ramshackle appearance.  Some chores are beyond me and I can't keep the place up the way Steve did, but I'm hell on wheels on the mower.  NASCAR would have to do without one fan; the opportunity was too great to miss.  It's difficult to describe the pleasure of riding around on a just-right day with enough breeze to cool but not enough wind to blow chaff and the satisfaction of looking back and seeing the yards neat and tidy.  It's addicting.  One yard led to another and the west point, driveway, south side, back and south back yards are all mowed down.  The ironworkers I knew looked forward to hanging steel on what they called a "bluebird sky day."  I know exactly what they meant.

Camille brought a slab of honey-cured salmon and I made bubble-and-squeak for a shared dinner before watching another episode of "The Newsroom."  It was a great finish to a perfect day.

Postscript to yesterday's entry:  it wasn't lights in the downstairs shop that I saw in the early morning darkness.  It was the downstairs porch light that I don't believe we'd ever turned on once in sixteen years.  Between that and the ceiling fan that turned itself on twice, it's been Twilight Zone time.  Beyond weird.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Summer Wine, Winter Whine

The calendar said that it is now officially fall, but Winter fired a warning shot across the bow just to let us know he is waiting in the wings.  That "light rain" in the morning turned into a day-long, steady downpour.  It's funny how one trip to the chicken pen slip-and-slide brings it all back; raindrops down the neck, trenching around the goat barn, bibbies wet to the knee.  Yup, like Maurice Chevalier in "Gigi," I remember it well.

There were a couple of electrical blips, brief little hiccups, early in the day but they did the darnedest stuff.  While the television went off, digital clocks stayed sane, and suddenly the ceiling fan went on by itself both times; weird.  It is a good thing Pearl just asked to be let in (again) by the laundry room door because, while it is still dark, I saw that lights downstairs in the shop are turned on too.  I haven't been down there in weeks, and would never notice in the daylight.

The thunder and lightning show came in the afternoon and it was a doozy.  Unplugging the computer seemed the better part of valor even though I was in the middle of paying bills.  Speaking with my great-niece in SoCal, I quickly terminated the call because the phone started crackling in my ear with each lightning strike.  Bessie Anne tried to be brave, but thunder claps like cannon fire right overhead had her stuck to my leg like a limpet.  Even Pearl followed from room to room.

Speaking of Pearl, she has done a 180 turn in personality.  From a rather aloof, don't-pet-me cat, she is rapidly becoming the next best thing to a pest.  She goes everywhere Bess goes, is on and off my lap a dozen times, demands treats every morning, and talks all the time.  Last night I was brushing Bessie's bangs out of her eyes and there was Pearl, grabbing the slicker brush and pulling it over to her face.  "Me, me, me!"  "Who are you, and what have you done with my Pearl?"

Having made his point, Winter gracefully withdrew at day's end, leaving us with a spectacular sunset.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flagging Interest

Goats, like dogs, are friendly creatures and like dogs, they wag their tails to show they're glad to see you or when they've found a tasty tidbit to munch.  When people say of another that their interest is flagging, it means that person has lost their enthusiasm for the project at hand.  In the caprine world, it means the exact opposite.  Cooler nights and shorter days have brought the girls into cycle and at the peak of estrus, their constant, furious wagging is one of the best indicators that they are ready to mate.  This is called "flagging," and it's the come-hither sign to the buck.  Flagging interest in a goat shows she has intense enthusiasm and the subject is sex.  Six goats and six tails on speed; it's a wonder they don't stir up a whirlwind.  Bending close to wash the udders becomes precarious.  Getting too near could get me whapped and getting hit in the face with a tail is like being whipped with a rope.  With no release for their tension, the girls get cranky and start fights.  As they get older (some are downright old), I notice they do more pushing and shoving than butting and I'm glad.

After thirteen years of nearly daily milking (time off for good behavior isn't an option), I don't think I will breed any of the goats again.  I don't know how long the three remaining milkers will continue to produce without freshening, but after they dry up we'll all retire.  It isn't that my interest has flagged; it is that time has come.

Miss In-again Out-again Pearl has become the family alarm clock, prowling around the bed in the dark and telling me it's five o'clock and time to get up.  We then begin the morning ritual of me opening the door again and again; sometimes she comes in, walks down the hall, and immediately wants out again.  She likes to order her staff around, for sure.  Just light enough to see now (excuse me, Pearl wants in), I found the deck wet from a slight rain.  The early morning sky is heavily overcast, so perhaps we'll get enough today to do some good.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Watch Dog

Farview yard art is constantly changing.  I never know what I'll see when looking out a window or door.  Heather was surprised when the turkeys came right up to the porch the other day, but I'm past the point of running for the camera for them now.  A tribe of fifteen or so was waiting under the oak for breakfast to be served yesterday, and they are so unafraid of me now that they moved only a few feet back while I refilled their water pan.  This spike buck browsed his way slowly across the front yard and then moved over to the bird feeding station for dessert in the afternoon.
Bessie Anne is a watch dog.  She is not a barker or a chaser.  She watches.  She spends long periods of time lying by the open door, just watching.  She gets quite excited when a car or truck drives up, but she is not a jumper and knows I will not open the door for her until she has put her butt on the floor.  UPS drivers and the propane guys are The Cookie Men; showing good sense, they all come supplied with dog biscuits to make friends with the canines on their route.  Bess could hardly contain herself this week when we got a propane delivery.  This guy gave her not one but three cookies.  He was taken aback when Bessie accepted her treat but did not scarf it down immediately, as he was used to seeing.  I explained that Bessie is a lady.  She took her cookie a ways away and then ate it slowly in ladylike little bites.  That's why he gave her two more.

I interrupted a long-distance phone call to grab the camera for this shot.  The vultures turn the power poles into totem poles; talk about yard art!  I'd been trying for days to take their picture as they posed, but just as I was trying to focus they would fold their wings and the moment was lost.  I lucked out yesterday and got not one but two, as well as the silly thing trying to balance on the wire.

The last chore of the day before barn duty was to sweep the deck.  I haven't checked the almanac, but I'm pretty sure that fall has arrived.  My watch dog is sitting on the step at her favorite outdoor watching post.  While I pushed this mountain of leaves, Bess would move along the deck with me (usually in my way), lying down to rest her head on the bottom rail and look out over her domain.  As always, I wonder what she's thinking while she watches.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Addendum 2013

I just made an amazing discovery.  Blogspot gives me basic statistics:  how many "hits" per day, week, month, year, and total, their internet sources, and from what countries, but not who (I always wish I knew the "who").  Lately I've noted some of the hits are on "Gammy's Bed," an entry written in February 2011.  Much like Khayyam's moving finger that, having writ, moves on, I rarely go back to read prior entries.  But, curious now, I went back to read that bit and discovered a "comment" written just this month and signed by Marcin and Linde, members of the Betty MacDonald Fan Club.  MacDonald's book that referenced her grandmother, Gammy, was written in the 1940s.  Who knew she was still being read (by anyone other than myself)?  I think that is so cool, and even cooler that MacDonald and her Gammy have an active fan club.  Coolest of all is that somehow (how?!) they found my blog and made the effort to write a comment.  Right on, and write on!

Blog Fodder

I never know where blog fodder will come from, but Farview seems to be well stocked.  Coming back toward the house on our morning walkabout, Pearl suddenly ducked around the juniper bush while I continued ambling along.  When I got up to the porch, Bessie had joined Pearl and both were batting at a woodpecker on the ground under the lilacs.  Wondering why the creature didn't just fly away, I thought, "Boy, that one is a goner."  Not wishing to see carnage, I went to the rescue and discovered this tousled "red-headed stepchild," a fledgling whose topknot feathers were just starting to sprout.  It didn't appear to be injured.  The panicked youngster bit any finger within reach, so I held it close under my chin until I felt its heart rate slow a bit and it became calm in my hand.  Now what?  If I tried putting it up high anywhere I could reach (I'm past the age of tree climbing), the baby would just fall again and start the drama all over.  Bess and Pearl suggested I just put their toy back on the ground.  Not an option.  I have bird cages, but had no idea what to feed this kid and really didn't wish to keep a wild thing trapped.  What to do?  It was time to get on with my chores so I needed to make a decision.  Bess and Pearl were the bird's most immediate danger, so I walked Bird out to the fenced garden, put it down in a barrel in the shade of the waiting mulberry trees, and wished the little one well.  Out in the semi-open, I hoped its mother would come back for a crash course in flight.  It wasn't until late afternoon before I walked back out to the garden, not sure I wanted to see what I might find.  I found nothing, and that was a good thing.  It might be that Bird was taken by a predator, but I'm thinking it finally remembered how to use those wings and flew off to rejoin its family.  I like happy endings, even if I have to make them up myself.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I really admire the adventuresome spirit of those who take to the WWOOFing trail.  It is a leap of faith on all parts.  The host farm takes in complete strangers for a specified period of time, feeding, housing, and training them, in return for needed help.  By the same token, the WWOOFers travel on their own dime to parts unknown, in some cases to different countries, with hopes of being treated well, learning new skills, and having a great new experience.

Heather, my latest WWOOFer, is a lovely young woman who is a special needs teacher working with autistic children in upstate New York.  She described her job as extremely satisfying but also very stressful, and she is taking a short hiatus to do some traveling by bus, rail, and ship.  Here, we did the usual tour de force, including milking Sheila and Tessie.  I'm sorry to report that Inga once again did her "Whut, you talkin' to me?" routine.  I'll deal with her today.  Heather and I made a batch of chevre to send back to Bell Ranch, and lunched on posole.  The weather was perfect, cool and breezy.  Turkeys and vultures made their appearance, but the deer missed their cue and didn't show up until after Heather was gone.  I find the enthusiasm these guests bring refreshing, and thoroughly enjoy hearing of their travels and discussing their opinions on a wide variety of subjects.  Heather has long-range plans to someday have a small, self-sustaining farm of her own, and I think she may include a goat or two also.

As always, I thank Tim and Kathryn for sharing their guests, and wish the traveler safe journey.  It was a good day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Revere and Me

"The WWOOFers are coming!  The WWOOFers are coming!"  I feel I should be wearing a tricorner hat as I send out the news.  This time it is "one if by land," as Heather is coming to spend the day.  I understand she is from upstate New York and is traveling alone.  It has always been a fun day for me when the WWOOFers come to learn to make cheese and milk goats.  For them, it is a day off from their chores at Bell Ranch.  Most of yesterday was spent making a big pot of posole (pork, hominy and chili soup/stew), so big that Camille came for dinner last night.  We barely put a dent in it.  I hope Heather is hungry!  California is showing off for this east coast guest as the temperature has dropped significantly in the past few days; it's actually chilly this morning.  Between the posole and a trip into town, I'm a bit behind in my prep for today and I've still got to get the trash down to the big road.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Longfellow and Me

"Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands," wrote Longfellow.  Here, under my spreading oak tree, I've got the whole danged village.  Silent woodland creatures, my foot!  Dry leaves on the ground sound like crunching potato chips as the creatures parade back and forth.  Roving bands of turkeys came at different times all day for the birdseed and to scratch for bugs under the blanket of leaves, some of the ladies taking a sun bath and all of them gossiping loudly.  A flock of crows tried to hurry them along by cawing at the top of their lungs high up in the tree.  Turkeys will not be rushed.  It was obviously not the first trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet for the biggest ground squirrel I've ever seen.  I had to take a hard look to make sure it wasn't one of the grey tree squirrels, and it wasn't until he finally took off running (waddling is more like it) that I got a glimpse of his tail.  A young spike buck and his girlfriend came for leftovers in the afternoon, while other deer grazed on the slope and munched on low-hanging oak leaves throughout the day.  Feed elsewhere must be getting scarce.  The deer are starting to strip the green leaves from my lilac bushes under the kitchen window, and I startled a buck in the herb garden when I opened the door to call for Pearl last night.  The number of vultures continues to grow as more show up each day.  I've never before seen them drinking from the goat trough, and they are congregating on the ground as well as on the posts and wires.  Huge shadows drift across the ground as they circle overhead.

We've got Longfellow beat by a country mile.  All that's missing is the smithy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tickled By A Tail

Yes, I'm easily amused.  For some reason, those mouse tails dangling out of the supply box in the milking room just tickle me.  I see them hanging nearly every morning, one or two, and once three.  Deb suggested replacing the wooden door with one of plexiglass or perhaps just putting a window in the existing door.  We decided that would be too creepy, like the sci-fi movie with the shrinking man who lived in the dollhouse and the giant eye peeping in the windows.  I'd feel like a voyeur spying on the mice, and I'm not sure my imagination isn't better than the reality of whatever it is they are doing anyhow.  The mice I do see are always so busy, dashing here and there, only taking time to sit and have a bite to eat or a slurp of milk, so it is intriguing that these tails hang still and straight for long periods.

I suffered a moment of panic and dread yesterday while refilling the hummers' feeders.  Glancing down into the back yard (which is really the front yard as it faces the road - oh, never mind, it gets too confusing), there was Pearl, lying in the open and stretched out flat and not moving.  I couldn't bear the thought of losing her too and it took me a minute to get the courage to call her name.  Finally an ear flicked and she raised her head.  A wave of relief washed over me when Pearl got up and walked away wondering why I'd wakened her.  She had picked the darnedest place to take a nap.

Dinner last night at Joel and Judy's was, as usual, quite wonderful and I gorged on bagels and lox and Judy's kugel and enjoyed the company of friends.  Trout was evidently not available so Joel had made smoked halibut instead; it was delicious.  The goats certainly put a crimp in my social life and I had to leave the party early to come home and tuck them in.  I'm still stuffed.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pearl Tries

From my seat in the barn, I can see Pearl rubbing up on Bessie Anne like Frank used to do.  It's hard to tell how my girls feel about Frank being gone, but it's as if Pearl is trying to fill in for her brother.  Bessie Anne accepts these ministrations from Pearl with good grace.  Frank was in the habit of coming to sit on my lap or beside me in the chair, especially in the morning.  Pearl now jumps up to be with me, but she's more of a Type-A personality and cannot sit still.  She tromps back and forth across my legs for a few minutes before leaving.  She is also one of those cats who wants to be petted, but then drops that eighth of an inch below my hand so that all I brush are the tips of her fur; frustrating!  It has been awhile since Bess has asked to go walkies, but she did want to go out last night.  The half-moon was so bright I hardly needed the flashlight to see our way around the drive.  Pearl came to join us, but it was as if our little parade was missing the bass drummer.  She still chooses to sleep elsewhere than on the bed with Bessie and me, but she's trying in so many ways to follow in Frank's paw prints.  Perhaps she needs that continuity for comfort, too.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rushing the Season

Halloween is still a month or so away and I have already started putting up decorations.  All I need are a few bats to hang under the eaves to go with the vultures in the tree.  These are but a fraction of the flock that is gathering here.  They continue their comedy act as they wobble on the power lines.  Lacking a larynx, these magnificent, slightly ominous birds are silent as they sit sunning themselves.  I scan the skies every afternoon now, hoping I don't miss the day the vultures take off on their journey to their winter campground.

The other afternoon I hauled a wagon load of weeds out to the burn pile.  In the bottom of the wagon, suddenly there was a quick, skittering movement.  Hiding under the few leaves left was one of those beautiful skinks.  I took a picture, but it is blurry as skinks are rather camera shy.  Only about four inches long, this little guy wriggled like a fast snake with tiny back legs; if he had front legs at all, they were so shortened as to be invisible.  Unlike the abundant lizards seen everywhere, it is rare to catch a glimpse of skinks, a nice surprise.

"You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours."  The turkeys parade through the property as if it were theirs.  Searching for bugs and seeds on the north slope, they are doing an excellent job of clearing away the tall dry weeds that grew there, helping cut down on fire danger.  The ornamental grass that grows in the herb garden has put up the long seed stems that seem to be a favorite of the turkeys.  They'll start at the bottom and strip the stalk to the tip.  That grass makes the garden look so straggly and unkempt, but it's a small favor to please the turkeys who have cleaned up the rest of the yard.  Barely daybreak, I hear the first crew arrive on the job.  Unlike the vultures, the turkeys are a vocal bunch.  It's best they gather here; Thanksgiving is coming.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Right Tool

It is possible, but not advisable, to hammer a nail with the flat side of pliers.  A hammer is meant to hammer.  There is the matter of which hammer:  sledge, ball-peen, claw, etc.  It's best to choose the right tool for the job.  A fork can be used to beat an egg, but a whisk works better.  I missed a perfect score on a welding test by one.  The instructor had asked, "Can you light a cigarette with a welding torch?"  I answered yes; I'd seen every welder I knew do it.  I objected to the grade and calmly and rationally explained to the instructor that had he used the word "should" instead of "can," I would have, of course, given him the answer he wanted, which was no.  A welding torch is not the best tool for lighting a smoke.  The teacher was not interested in semantics and I was stuck with a less than perfect score (but I maintain I was right).

Now, in the case of goat poop, trial and error have taught me the best tools to clean the barn.  Goat poop is similar in size and color to olive pits.  (Sheep poop is much the same and looks like pits from jumbo olives.)  Someone devised a special tool for scooping horse poop which is called road apples for a reason.  I have no idea, other than a water hose, what dairy farmers use to clean up cow plops.  No one, as far as I know, has perfected a tool specifically for goat poop.  My barn has a dirt floor (in dry weather, that is; in winter it has a mud floor and calls for a different approach to the problem).  Goats are prodigious poopers.  Every morning there are thousands of pellets.  The best tools to clean the barn are a plastic leaf rake and a flat-blade shovel.  A cheap plastic rake works better than a rake with metal tines for this job.  All the little rolypolies are raked into a pile, avoiding raising a cloud of dust, and then scooped with the shovel into a bucket to be removed.  I generally haul two buckets of a morning out to the growing mound of manure; that's a two-gallon paint bucket times two.

Every time Bessie walks outside, she brings back into the house a collection of stickers, leaves, etc. (I won't address the et cetera), and deposits it onto the carpet.  Pearl does her bit, but isn't as conscientious as Bess.  Some time back, I purchased an old-fashioned carpet sweeper, thinking to use it as needed during a power outage.  It doesn't replace the vacuum cleaner, but it is fast and light, terrific for a quick once over to pick up the stuff Bessie Anne brings in.  In fact, I'm becoming almost obsessive about keeping the carpet swept.  The carpet sweeper is the perfect tool for a daily swipe.

I most sincerely hope that no one develops an easy-dust tool.  My reputation would be ruined.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What Day Is It?

I am easily discombobulated, and yesterday was a fine example.  Goats are a seven-days-a-week job without a defined "weekend."  My train gets derailed when NASCAR holds a night race on Saturday instead of a day race on Sunday, and this week my Monday milk customer came on Tuesday.  Hearing Trash Guy coming up the road yesterday morning I thought, "What's he doing here on a Thursday?"  Duh.  He was on schedule and it was Tuesday.  Darn that train.  Of course it was too late to get the barrel down to the big road, so I proceeded to get the barn chores done early (the girls cooperated beautifully) so I could get to town.  Dr. Doug did his deed and we hopefully will not see each other again for awhile.  I told him we had to stop meeting anyway, as I was wearing my last clean pair of bibbies.

What American doesn't remember exactly where they were on September 11, 2001?  I was returning from making an early-morning delivery of transcription.  Steve came out the front door and said, "We're at war."  I asked where, with whom, and he said, "Here, in America."  I couldn't quite process this and thought, "I know they always said the South would rise again, but this is ridiculous."  (I'm good at jumping to conclusions; it's how I get my exercise.)  Steve always turned on the television as soon as he opened his eyes, so he had seen the Towers fall in real time.  Like the rest of the country, I spent the next two weeks in tears.  It seemed that the only way I could share the pain of those in the East was to watch day after day and night after night.  Working in hospitals for years and going through many disaster plan preparedness trials, I knew what the doctors and nurses were feeling as they stood waiting for the injured who never came.  We get so little air traffic here that a plane or helicopter passing overhead is reason to look up, but it was eerie when America was a no-fly zone and not one plane was in the sky.  Everyone I know was compelled to touch base with all family and friends, even on the west coast, just for reassurance.

I know what day it is.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Situation Normal

What started as a two-visit trip to the dentist a few weeks ago turned into a snafu, and then quickly went on to fubar.  (If those terms are confusing, ask someone in the military for a translation.)  Today I will make the fifth or sixth trip to see Dr. Doug (no, not the squirrel).  These visits have entailed a number of extractions, and another one today.  Yesterday someone asked me how my teeth were.  I said they were just fine, thank you, the dentist has them.

Early morning appointments are difficult and sometimes impossible because of the goats.  There are some things that can't be rushed; rising bread, a three-year-old child, and goats included.  The girls will pick up on the slightest nuance and react accordingly if they sense tension.  I talk to the animals all the time, but rarely with my voice.  I speak with my hands, moving slowly and gently as I brush them down or reach for the udder.  Animals don't interpret words, sounds yes, but they understand touch.  One can say the most awful things to a dog in a sweet tone of voice and the dog will wag its tail happily as if it had been called the most wonderful dog in the world.  A calm hand on a shoulder will quiet a barking dog faster than yelling at it to shut up.  At any rate, I really was in a hurry to get the barn chores done yesterday but was successful in keeping a slow, steady pace and, wonder of wonders, even though I was earlier than usual and the routine was somewhat disrupted, the girls came in in orderly fashion.  I'd been particularly worried that Inga would pull one of her delaying games, but she was one of the first ones on the stand.  I'm hoping for a repeat performance today.

Last night I dined on a sumptuous meal of cottage cheese with an ice cream bar for dessert.  Tonight I'm looking forward to something I can sink my teeth into.  In fact, I'm looking forward to being reunited with my teeth.  That's what I'd call situation normal.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Man's Land

Hamlet told Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery."  I'm beginning to feel that's what I'm running here; with Frank gone, this is a female world.  (Apologies to the roosters, but they're cocky enough to survive the slight.)  Neutered though he was, I used to tell Frank he was the man of the house and should behave accordingly.  Now there "ain't nobody here but us chickens."  (That's from an old 1946 song.)  Having gone to an all-girl school, I'm familiar with the situation and it's amazing how one can learn to cope.  We're coping, the girls and I.  Mother, yes; Mother Superior, not s'much.

The Rim fire continues to burn and on some days the smoke hangs heavy over the hills; those are the days we miss the delta breezes.

It seems fall is coming a little early this year.  Leaves already cover the deck and the walkways; we're barely into September.  The hens have all but stopped laying.  There are heirloom tomatoes on the vines, but not one has turned red.  I need to wrap the water pipes with new insulation and clean the gutters before winter comes.  Days are rapidly getting shorter; six o'clock and no sign of daylight, and I've got to get the girls tucked in earlier each night.  We have occasional bursts of heat, but they are short lived and not intense.  I'm not yet ready to start singing "Jingle Bells," but that time is just over the horizon.

Yesterday was a hard day.  In the barn, I kept expecting to see Frank come strutting his macho self down to intimidate the goats with his impersonation of a lion.  In the house, every shadow passing the open door could have been him.  It could be my imagination or maybe wishful thinking, but Pearl seems to stay closer to me and even came up on my lap, briefly, for a pet and a stroke.  She's a very busy, independent girl with things to do and places to go.  Well, this is no man's land now and we girls have to stick together.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

You Never Know

You never know when that goodnight belly rub will be the last, or that it will be the last time you brush that soft fur.  You never know when an event will occur that puts your belief to the test.  Sometimes you get fair warning and have a chance to prepare and to appreciate "the last time," but most times are just slapped in your face and you are left wishing you could say "Love you" one last time.

It is not unusual for Frank and/or Pearl to stay out all night.  Every night before bedtime, I turn on the porch light, their visual clue, and call their names and "Kitty, kitty, kitty," in that high voice one tends to use with cats.  Most nights they either run in or straggle in like children not ready to be sent to bed, and sometimes Bessie and I stand at the door and wait, finally giving up and turning out the light and going on down the hall, leaving the cats to do cat business in the dark.  After a night on the hunt, they inevitably come to look in the window as I work at the computer in the dark of morning and say, "For Pete's sake, will you open the door?  I'm ready for breakfast!" 

Frank did not come to the window yesterday morning.  He did not come to the deck as Bess, Pearl and I did our walkabout.  He did not come as I called his name time after time and hunted high and low for him all day long.  He did not come back, and he will not come back again.

Not too long ago I said I understand and respect nature, but that doesn't mean I always like it.  Not knowing is terrible, but I assume that Frank was taken by one of the great horned owls that work the neighborhood, or perhaps one of the beasties got him.  I had a false sense of security knowing that there were trees to climb up in and barns to hide under and that cats can be faster than greased lightning.  I wish beyond wishing that cats were not an item on the food chain, but if I believe it, then I have to accept it.  But I don't have to like it.

Frank was my talker, my lover boy, my lap cat, Bessie's best friend, Pearl's brother.  Our lives were enriched by his company and he left a huge hole in our hearts.  I wish I could have said goodbye.  You just never know.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gathering of the Clans

Two creatures should never attempt to perform on the high wire:  elephants and vultures; they're simply not built for it.  Beyond graceful in the air, vultures are awkward pedestrians, galumphing along in a kind of hop-waddle.  I've watched vultures in the air, in the trees, on every post on the property, but in all these years I've never before seen the vultures attempt to rest on the power lines.  They've provided a lot of laughs in the last few days as I watch them miss their landing altogether or teeter as they try to keep their balance. 
Vultures are beginning to mass in anticipation of the migration later this month; there were over thirty on the property yesterday.  The two resident turkeys on the ground are looking at the vultures on the posts over the garden gate like they were aliens.  Everywhere I look there are big black birds of one type or another.  Fortunately, there is no competition between the two groups or it could be a battleground to rival Braveheart.

Gathering the milk buckets yesterday, I found this little male praying mantis (the smaller males have that slim abdomen) in the kitchen, evidently on the trail of his lady love.  The difference in size made me think of Mickey Rooney when he married Ava Gardner.  Playing Cupid, I picked up this skinny guy (Ava also married skinny Frank Sinatra) and put him outside close to where I'd dropped off Ms. Mantis.  I'm not sure I've done him any favors because if he meets up with her and she accepts his courting, he will not be long for this world.  I've actually seen a mating pair and while they are together for quite a long time, in the end she will turn and quite literally bite off his head.  Heck of a way to go.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Marilyn Monroe warbled breathily that "Diamonds are a girl's best friend."  That may be true for Lorelei Lee, but goat girls believe their best friends are grape growers and wine makers.  Their BFFs (best friends forever) are Joel, who throws over vine trimmings and sometimes just clumps of weeds in desperation to please, and Robert.  The girls will trail along on their side of the fence as Joel walks his vineyard, hoping for goodies.  I swear, if a goat could bat her eyes and flirt, my girls would take the prize.  On the other fence line, Robert ("Bonjour, Robair") steals their attention and their fickle hearts when it is the season for crushing grapes, as it is now.  Joel is left with a bruised ego as the goats rush to the other side of the pen where Robert pitchforks over stems from grapes that have gone through the auger.  The stems have the same sugar content as the grapes and no alcohol, and the girls go mad for them.  I had not realized the crush had begun, even though I'd heard sounds of an auger on the hill recently and knew there was more activity at Fleur de Lys.  I did notice that the girls were more anxious than usual for me to open the gate to the big pen after finishing in the barn.  For a couple of days I wondered why they had sticky spots on their coats as I brushed them down, and then realized they were from flinging stems around as the girls jostled for their share of the sweet treats.  It's a good thing the stems are not fermented or the goats would be drunks as skunks.  In the immortal words of Phil Robertson, the girls are "happy, happy, happy."  They know who their best friends are.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Watch Your Step

Black and tan markings made my heart go pitter pat until I could see that the head was not diamond shaped and the tail had no rattles on this snake that cruised through the milking room.  (Pardon the housekeeping; mice throw the diaper wipes out of the bucket as they search for just the right blanket.)  Close to two feet long and pencil slim, it was a pretty little thing.  Not being up on my herpetology, I'm guessing it was a gopher snake just looking for breakfast. 

It might be asked how I can feed, save, and protect mice and squirrels and let this predator continue to hunt the little creatures.  I've got understanding of and respect for natural conservation.  With the exception of rattlesnakes and black-widow spiders (and, yes, mosquitoes), I don't believe in lethal intervention.  The food chain is as clear to me as a printed graph.  I know full well that the coyotes are not singing for pleasure in the night; they're hunting.  I've never been able to figure out the mosquitoes' purpose in the plan, but for almost everything else, I take a live-and-let-live attitude.  I will, however, watch my step in the barn.  It would behoove the snake to also watch where it goes, as the last snake I found in the barn had been squashed flat by the goats.

Little kids, cats and dogs, water and food dishes on the floor (for the cats and dogs, not the children) have made me conscious over the years of where I'm stepping, so it's second nature to look down.  That's a good habit in the Silkie pen, and not just because of the mini-chickens.  A family of frogs has moved into a burrow under the coop.  Last night, one of the little squirts had decorated himself with feathers stuck to his back.  Had this "feather" not hopped out of my way, I might not have noticed it.

I have had to relocate the praying mantis once again.  The petunia pot where I'd put her was directly under the hummingbird feeder and the other morning I found she'd moved up to the feeder.  Had I not just had a conversation with Camille about her, I would never given it a second thought, believing it would be a good place for Ms. Mantis to catch the bees, wasps, and ants that hang around the feeding station.  Not sure I believed what Camille had told me, I had to Google and see for myself that praying mantises can and will kill and eat hummingbirds, lizards, and frogs.  Unreal!  In this case, I simply moved her away from the source of temptation.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cross Your Fingers

I like even numbers.  Odd numbers leave me with a vague feeling of unease.  Since I have little else to do while milking, I count the number of squeezes required to empty an udder.  I'm not permitted to cheat, but I'm always happier when I finish up on an even number.  Reflecting on this quirk of mine yesterday (Inga finished up on 239, drat), I got to thinking about the omens and portents of my childhood.

My mother passed on many of the old sayings from her mother and grandmother (grossmutter, since she had come from Germany).  They were universal at the time, and some are still in use.  Who among us does not cross our fingers (symbol of a crucifix) for luck?  My sister is a big proponent of "knock on wood."  All kids knew that if they stepped on a crack, they'd break their mother's back.  I grew up avoiding cracks in the sidewalk (unless I was really, really mad at my mother - you didn't hear this from me).  A sneeze required someone to say "Gesundheit;" now replaced with "Bless you."  Black cats got a bad rap; rational people were known to cross the road or even turn around if a black cat went across their path.  Not walking under ladders just made good sense, but why a broken mirror had the power to inflict seven years of bad luck is beyond me.  My mother could read signs in the silverware.  If a knife dropped on the floor, it meant a man would visit.  A dropped fork foretold a woman would come, and a spoon meant it would be a child.  It was my job to set the table, and it didn't count if I dropped anything on purpose; I was always tempting fate.  I grew up knowing that dirty underwear almost guaranteed a terrible accident and everyone at the hospital would know about my lack of hygiene.  I never understood why anyone would put on dirty underwear in the first place, but the threat was enough to put on clean britches.

It's a reflex now to say "Bless you" to even a passing stranger who sneezes; I can't help myself.  I like black cats as well as any other, and have had two of my own.  I do look up for paint cans or hammers before passing under a ladder, but will walk under them with impunity.  I know, however, that if I get a green signal at a certain traffic light on my way, the appointment, interview, or shopping trip will go well.  If I win a game of solitaire on the first try, it will be a good day.  And I like even numbers.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Time Flies

Even my Kids won't recognize this person.  It's hard for me to find any resemblance to her when I look in the mirror, time has wrought such change.  But then, it's hard for me to recognize the face in the mirror too, because inside, where the real me lives, I quit growing older along in my forties (really good years!).

Not quite seventeen when this senior portrait was taken, I had already met the man who would be the Kids' dad.  We were married shortly after I turned eighteen, Deb was born eleven days after our first anniversary, and the three boys followed in quick succession.  Girl became wife and mother (motherhood was and still is the best time of my life).

It's been quite a journey, a tale with many twists and turns, ups and downs, joys and sorrows.  The girl I was had no inkling of how many changes there would be in her life, how far the road would lead.

Pictures tell the story of how many years have flown (and, believe me, they did fly!).  One thing has remained constant.  I'm still raising kids, Kids.

Monday, September 2, 2013

More Beauty, More Beasty

Smoke from the Rim fire continues to drift up from Yosemite and obscured the rising sun yesterday; not difficult to tell the dirty brown smoke from the wispy clouds.  That isn't a mountain in front of the sun; the smoke bank is that thick.  The deltas continue to clear the air later on, but I think that gunk has a cumulative effect on breathing.  Bessie also is starting to wheeze.  Like so many records one never wishes to be broken, the Rim is now the fourth largest fire in California history at 225,000 acres.  It did make for a beautiful, if eerie, sunrise.

I know I expressed concern about Ms. Mantis's choice of location yesterday, but never dreamed she'd heed my word and hitch a ride into the house.  Must have jumped unnoticed into the cuff of my bibbies and off when I brought in the milk.  It wasn't until afternoon when I reached for the handle on the refrigerator that I realized I had an uninvited guest.  I also discovered that I have really fast reflexes!  We had a brief discussion regarding invitations and lack thereof, and then I rather unceremoniously escorted her out, relocating this traveler to a pot of petunias.  She was put out in more ways than one and used those prickly forelegs to let me know just how unhappy she was with me as a hostess.  I have to draw the line somewhere.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Beauty and the Beasty

Alliums, any member of the onion family, are such worthwhile plants.  These are garlic chives.  The leaves are a wonderful culinary addition to many dishes and a reason alone to grow these plants.  They become quite spectacular in bloom.  Each cluster is made up of many tiny, white, star-shaped flowers and remind me of a burst of fireworks on display.  Warning:  if there is one garlic chive plant this year, there will be many next year.  Each of those white flowers will put out a fairly large black seed that the breeze will blow everywhere.  There are chives in the strawberry pots, in amongst the roses, decorating the forsythia, and each year there are more.  They are so pretty, who cares?

Finished with morning barn chores, I stopped to top off the water trough.  There on the post by the tap was this gravid (pregnant) praying mantis.  Females are easy to identify by their leaf-shaped body.  The abdomen of males is barely wider than the thorax.  I'm always glad to see the mantises as they are terrific bug catchers.  However, I'm worried about this gal's choice of hunting ground.  Sheila, in the background, may see only that leaf shape as a tempting morsel.  If the mama mantis lays her egg case near the ground, all those baby lizards may look at the hundred or so hatchlings as mantis manna.

Yet another sunset.  I never tire of walking out at dusk to see such glory.  The sky takes my breath away.  I share the photos because they are my way of saying, "Oh, come see this!"  Morning chores are just that, work.  Putting the animals to bed is simply satisfying.  The chickens go up the ramps into their coops on their own, knowing they will get their nighttime snack inside.  Some are already nestled on their roost.  They gossip quietly about the doings of the day.  In the goat pen, the girls are clustered by the gate and we all walk down to the barn together.  The morning lineup is catch as catch can, but the bedtime routine rarely varies, everyone knowing exactly where and when to go inside.  The sky will have changed, darkened and dull, by the time I stop to fill the trough once more, the last task before going back to the house.  There is a sense of peace, knowing the animals in my care are tucked in and safe for the night.  Not a bad way to end the day.