Thursday, December 23, 2010

Foggy Thursday Morning

This morning, I clipped leashes to all five goats.  Luna and Moonshine are tethered together, so not only do I have only one lead to hold onto, but they tend to keep each other in line.  When one doesn't want to move, the other is tugging in the right direction; when one decides they want to walk on the wild side, the other will usually hold them back.

Lily likes the deck.  She didn't hesitate to scramble up immediately this morning, before I could take care of the milking does.  This time, she stood in front of the sliding glass door, staring in at what I am sure was Breezy, likely staring back at her, quivering with excitement.

Mooney and Luna were slow enough this morning so that I could pick up their leash before they got into the muddy pen.  I much prefer to take the leads off at the gate, rather than have to wade into the muck and grab gunk covered leads off the ground!

My landlady leaves today for a four-day visit to family for the Christmas holiday.  I volunteered to help care for her critters, so our routines are going to be extended and should prove to be very interesting, possibly very entertaining.  The last time I did this, Mandi was here visiting and helped me the first night we needed to get 10 does and kids into their nighttime enclosure.  They didn't know me very well, and it took an hour of getting most of them in, having them escape and run around the pasture, chasing, slipping, sliding, laughing, and yelling.  I think we have experience and a better plan in place now, so I hope this won't be a huge ordeal.  Mina (Bette calls her MamaLlama), the female llama and the last remaining sheep are also in that area, along with the pony and mini horse.  Looking forward to seeing how this will all work out!

Winter Solstice Week

The rhythms of the ranch seem to ease the days into weeks.  Not much changes suddenly here, but then, after days of very slow movement, without expecting it, we see that things have, indeed, changed.

The uniform of light clothing for summer milking, feeding and moving animals has definitely gone by the wayside.  No more t-shirts and shorts.  We are solidly into the territory of a wet, muddy and often cold season.  The bottom of jeans tucked into the tall shaft of black rubber boots (covered in multi-colored polka-dots), a t-shirt under a long-sleeved T, and a yellow slicker with hood covering the ball cap that holds a small flashlight clipped to the brim.  We don’t wear this gear in public, that’s for sure, but it sure works well and the goats don’t mind at all.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed slight changes in the demeanor of the goats.  Normally ready and waiting at the door of the barn when I open it in the morning, these days I find most of them lying in the hay, looking at me with surprise that I actually want them to leave this cozy place.  Normally, Lily is the first out the door, leading the rest of the goats toward their pen and morning meal, nudging them along if she has to, me running to catch up.  This past Monday, I nudged and led the other goats out of the barn and walked about 20 feet before realizing that Lily wasn’t with us.  I turned around and looked at the barn, and there she stood in the doorway, staring at me as if I were nuts.  I have to hold onto Salsa and Imbri so they don’t fight over the milk stand, so this meant leading them back to the barn to grab Lily’s leash too and get her moving on.  At the milk stand, Lily walked onto the patio, paused and sniffed at the stairs leading to the deck while I loaded Salsa up and tied Imbri to a post to wait her turn.  It took a solid tug to get Lily to move, and we walked back out onto the wet gravel driveway to urge the two youngest (Moonshine and Luna) on to their breakfast.

I knew then that this spelled a change in Lily’s future behavior and in what I was going to have to do with my routine to ensure a smooth transition in the morning.  I had no idea what was to come.

Tuesday morning, I knew to take Lily’s leash in hand and tug to get her out of the barn and moving.  She again seemed interested in the steps, which I don’t want to encourage.

This morning, those subtle changes that have been building came to a head.  I am so thankful to be on vacation this week and able to deal with these things in the daylight, instead of pitch black and rain!

Lily came out of the barn with less urging, but I could tell that she was going to do more than sniff at the steps when I was securing Salsa and Imbri.  I saw Lily’s foot go onto the first step, and called out, “Don’t do it, Lily.”  As I moved toward her, she scrambled up all seven steps and onto the deck, rushing all the way to the other end, which ends in a banister that she couldn’t get through.  Grabbing her leash, I turned around to see ... Moonshine and Luna had decided to come have some fun on the deck, too.  I herded them all back down the stairs, and Mooney ran to the milk stand to try and steal some grain from Salsa.  She tried to head butt him, rattling the stand, and he turned away.  The little ones were slow, and I had to pull on Lily’s collar to get her to move.  As we neared the path to their pen, Moonshine slowed and started to turn, but Luna stepped up her pace as she went right by it.  Uh-oh.  She was headed toward the end of my driveway and into the land of 15 other goats, a pony, miniature horse, llama and sheep, and no fences to halt her progress for a very long way on over 200 acres.

I circled to Luna’s left as I caught up to her, Lily by my side, which usually causes Luna to turn around, but she started to trot, and then suddenly turned onto the path to the chicken coop.  With Mooney behind me now, curious as to what his sister was doing, I knew that I had to get at least 2 of the 3 loose goats secured, so I focused on herding him into his proper place.  Once he remembered there was food to be had, he scurried through the gate.  I urged Lily in behind him, closed the gate, and then looked at Luna, trying to figure out how best to round up the rascal.  She cautiously took a couple steps toward me.  I called her gently, and opened the gate up so she could see it.  Within moments, she trotted right to me and veered through the opening, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Tonight’s adventure?  Moonshine running back and forth at full speed, between me and Becca, trying to fly by me, rather than trotting to the barn like a good boy.

I have been enjoying the fact that most of the goats have learned their routine well enough that I don’t have to hold onto 5 leashes, especially in slick mud.  With this new development, I may well need to add at least one more goat to my leash collection.  I sure hope this doesn’t last long.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Seven Weeks Already

Well, it’s hard to believe it’s been seven weeks since the bucklings made their way to a new home on that rainy Saturday.  Surprising, too, that it’s been that long since I’ve posted to the blog.  As sometimes happens, the days become routine, and blur into weeks, and - apparently - months without the muse tapping me on the shoulder to write and share.

I still miss the babies, though I have been grateful from Day One for the fact it takes much less time to handle all the goats in the morning and at night, especially now that it is pitch-black dark at both of those chore times.  I also don’t miss the smell, though I do miss their spunky playfulness and cries of greeting when we come home or step outside.  I have yet to move their crate from the barn to create more space for the other goats in there now that it’s no longer needed.  Perhaps this weekend will be time.

Salsa’s milk production is slowly lessening as time goes by, and I wonder sometimes if she will be as good as Imbri and continue to produce milk long after her babies were weaned.  I hope she will because, though she makes sure to remind me every three weeks that she can be bred again, there are no registered bucks within easy reach to breed any of the goats to this year.  Time will tell.

One reason I decided to update the blog is that I made a mental note this morning of something that might be of interest, which is something that hasn’t happened in a while.

My days begin when the alarm clock goes off at 5:00 a.m.  I look out the window and groan at how dark it is outside.  It feels like I should still be sleeping, and I don’t want to venture out with my flashlight to begin the rounds.  Rainy days are especially difficult, facing the chill, wet and mud.

The routine in the morning is that all the goats go out of the barn except Salsa.  I lead Imbri to the milk stand, while Lily, Luna and Moonshine stop and hang out nearby until I herd them toward their pen.  Even though they know the way, they seem nervous in the dark and don’t want to go without me or without my flashlight guiding their way.  I put the three goats into their pen, milk Imbri and add her to the group, then fetch Salsa for her turn on the milk stand.

Often I find half of the herd snuggled down in hay and reluctant to get up when I step inside the barn with leashes in hand.  Lily is usually up and waiting for me, so I often clip her leash on first, and scratch her neck and shoulders while watching to see who will get up first.  Salsa starts pushing the other goats around, head butting them to continually establish her position as “herd queen,” often sending goats careening into my legs.

The youngest goats (Luna and Moonshine) are most reluctant to go outside.  During the winter time, leashes are a must or they will refuse to leave the barn, or worse, go walking right by the entrance to their pen and up the driveway.  Being that she is in heat again, Salsa was in fine form this morning, jostling the other goats, and trying to get to the door and get outside, baaah-ing loudly the whole time.  I had a hand on her collar and was tugging on the leashes for the other goats, trying to encourage them to get out into the dark mist..... 

Suddenly, Salsa jerks forward and out the door, pulling me behind her.  I knew I didn’t want her on the loose in heat, because she travels far and fast, so I hung on and dug my heels in, skidding on mud as the rest of the goats decided that it was fine to go outside after all, and ran past us.  Muttering curse words under my breath, and glad that I didn’t fall on my keister in the mud, I got Salsa back to the barn and inside, hearing her jump on the door as I turned the latch.

Moonshine had his big head in the feed dish on the milk stand, and I shooed him away while getting Imbri up and situated, telling Lily that no, she’s not allowed to head butt Imbri while she’s on the milk stand.

Thankfully, the rest of the morning routine went as planned, and hard rain held off long enough so I didn’t get soaked to the skin.  The mud on my jeans is something I’m starting to get used to again, and the head cold I’ve been struggling with all week the biggest annoyance.  I will be glad to get extra rest this weekend, and hope that I can find the space for that, amongst household things that have to be done, transcription, and preparing for the holidays.

In case I don’t post before then, here’s hoping each of YOU have a wonderful holiday season, filled with light, love, peace, joy, and renewed hope for the best and brightest future for you and your families.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Stinky Brothers Are on the Road

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes - and participated in the transfer, as well.  Ebony and Ivory are on their way to their new home.  In the back of a Ford Explorer.  Seriously! 

It was pouring rain when the mom and sister of their new owner (she had to work this weekend) arrived after a two-hour drive to pick up the bucklings.  They oohed and aahed over how cute they are, and what beautiful bucks they are going to grow into.  We went into the house to get out of the downpour and go over the paperwork together.  Paper and green bills exchanged hands.  I really didn't expect to be able to sell these guys, and even though there was quite a wait for it and I got 25% of what I'd hoped for, I am quite pleased.  Our first goat babies are going to a fabulous home with people who are going to care for and love them and know exactly how to make them happy and productive bucks.

On this rainy Saturday, with the smell of freshly baking focaccia in the air and my clothes and hair still drying after getting drenched outside, I am remembering that fresh April evening when I got the call that Salsa had delivered her first kid on April Fool's Day.  By the time we got home, there were two little fuzzballs, wobbling around and trying to leap.

They are always playful and friendly, eager to explore and get lots of lovin'.

Then there was that fateful day when I knew that they were going into rut and we had to separate them from their mama.  Despite that ever growing smell, they never lost their cuteness or affectionate personalities.  Much as I hated them rubbing their heads all over my legs, it was part of who they are.

So today, they are on their way to their new home in Arbuckle, a good 2+ hour drive from here.  It wasn't a 4Runner that showed up to pick them up, but a Ford Explorer, even smaller.  Good thing is, from talking with them it was apparent these folks have done this before, and knew exactly what they were doing.  The back was completely encased in a tarp, so any errant spray wasn't going to get in the wrong places.  The boys were reluctant to get in, but once inside, settled in nicely.  I'm sure they were confused about what was going on - they've only been off the property in a vehicle twice.

I wish I could have gotten pictures, but in the pouring rain that just wasn't going to be possible.  I am happy for the reduced feed expense and half hour plus of time regained each day, but am going to miss the Stinky Brothers.

Bye-bye, boys.  We'll miss you.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Finding a Home for the Bucklings

I revamped and updated my craigslist posting for the bucklings.  I added the words "can be registered" and actually used the word "goat" (duh) in the title.  I promptly got two responses, and one more followed a day later.  That's the largest response for these guys.  Ever.

I'm now down to two people.  The gal I've been communicating with the most and who is first in line seems like she has a good set-up and support.  I like that she treats her goats like family, has a night time shelter for them, and has experience raising and showing goats.  However, I am beginning to wonder how much experience she really *does* have at dealing with bucks.

I advertised these are bucks ready to "work," meaning BREED and "make beautiful goat kids."  To the experienced buck owner, this means they are in "rut."

When I sent her pictures, she said her 3 and 6 year old nieces who live on the property were excited because they are so cute!  Yes, these guys are cute...

They are also SUPER SMELLY.  I responded to her with some comments about how the girls would learn quickly that they can't really play with these guys - they are too smelly - but that if she breeds them to her does, her nieces will have a blast in the spring.  I told her how I wear old clothes and gloves to handle them, how they rub their smelly heads on my legs, and if I'm not careful, how they might spray urine on me.  Seriously!

So we are talking about her making arrangements to pick up the brothers this weekend.  I ask her how she's going to transport them, and she says her parents will bring them home in a 4Runner, which is what they use to transport all their animals.

A 4Runner.

This is a 4Runner.

It's an SUV.  It's a very expensive SUV.  There is no separation between the two front seats and the back.

She said they would put the seats down and put a tarp over them and some hay for the boys so they'll be comfy.

She lives 2 hours 18 minutes from Healdsburg, according to MapQuest.  That means closer to 3 hours driving time.  One way.

When we brought Bug home last year, he was in the back of a full sized pickup truck with a camper shell over it.  Becca and I spent most of that 1 1/2 to 2 hour ride with our heads practically hanging out of the windows because of the smell.  I cannot imagine the two bucklings inside the same vehicle with me.  They will rub all over you.  They will spray urine all over the place like two 3 year olds with super soakers.

I've written back to her about my concerns, and will see what she comes back with.  I'm beginning to wonder at her level of expertise with bucks ...  I hope they find a pick-up truck, or decide this isn't the right move for them.  Then I can move on to the next potential owner.

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Short Work Week

Just another week in paradise.  How lucky are we to be able to live in Sonoma County's wine country?  This is the time of year when the grapevines begin to turn, spectacular colors beginning to appear, as they prepare to lose their leaves and add to the Fall glamour of bare vines and trees waiting for the warmth of Spring.  The air as we drive down Westside Road is fragrant with the smells of harvest and crush.  Grapes freshly harvested have a spicy smell that makes me want to start baking, and I don't mind as much being behind a large truck filled with the fruit, or a slow tractor making its way to the next vineyard.  The crushed grapes tantalize with a hint of the wines to come, and I wish that I had the time to stop at one of the many wineries just to taste and bring a bottle home.

Sunday afternoon we got aaaaall dressed up for a wedding, our first since CorSica (Cory and Jessica) were married in May.  Guess what?  I can wear my mother-of-the-bride dress again!  It's too beautiful to keep in a closet forever, and I was so happy to be able to put it on again.  This time I wore some sassy shoes, though after about 5 hours, Becca grabbed my boots from the car and I got my feet into something more comfortable for dancing.  Becca was going to wear her bridesmaid dress from CorSica's wedding, but decided to change into a cute little blue print dress that she looked really sweet in.  This was the wedding of the mother of one of Becca's best friends.  Diane has been through a lot the last several years, heartbreak that was just too public (in the newspaper) and helping her kids to pick up the pieces while she did the same for herself.  She and Reuben met in a divorce group and started out as friends.  Their friendship grew into a beautiful loving relationship, and they celebrated their wedding and new blended family on 10-10-10.

The wedding was hosted by a family from their church, who provides a beautiful setting on Mark West Springs Road AND catering and decorations to boot, as part of their ministry.  Diane and Reuben didn't have the means for a fancy wedding, and Diane's expectations of something very simple were blown away by the gift of this fabulous setting for their wedding.  The oak trees were filled with paper lanterns and accented by tiny white lights that sprang to life after the sun went down.  It was a perfect day, still warm even as guests started dancing to fun music.  I hope for a lifetime of happiness together for these generous, loving people.

Monday was a day off of work for me, but not for Becca.  Columbus Day is a "charged holiday" in this household, you could say.  The partners at the law firm I work at select the court holidays that we'll get off at the first of each year, and they normally would have chosen Cesar Chavez Day, but the mid-week holidays are more difficult, and definitely not as fun, so we had off the day commemorating the person who supposedly "discovered" North America, and who decimated and enslaved native populations wherever he traveled.  At our house, this is Indigenous Peoples Day.  Take that, Columbus.  This has happened before, where I have a day off work, but Becca still needs to go to school.  A few years ago, the first time this happened, I made the assumption that Becca was off school, too.  Imagine my surprise when I got the phone call from the school that she was absent!  Whoops!  I am always careful to check now.

What to do with myself?  I had a whole day to myself.  I made it productive and fun, too.  After bringing Becca to school, I took a trip to the feed store (of course) and headed home.  Lots of laundry to catch up on, and some major reorganization needed in the living room, meant that I could do both AND catch up on some of the television programs I'd recorded on the DVR.  I started some focaccia in the bread machine, and got busy.  I needed to leave about 12:30 to meet Dr. S and pick up a tape to transcribe, otherwise, I was on a roll at home.  For lunch, I decided to use all these wonderful things I had from home.  I grabbed the chevre I'd made the previous weekend, and some of the pesto I've been making and freezing from farmer's market basil.  I mixed them together, and spread it on the freshly baked focaccia.  Good food like this is even more special when everything has been made by you from the freshest ingredients possible.  A lovely interlude!  (I used the bread, cheese and pesto as lunch for most of the rest of the work week, adding fresh tomato slices from our garden!)

I picked up Becca early and we headed back home.  She is getting really good about using her time after school to work on homework, so that it is much less stressful for her in the evening at home.  She had all of her homework assignments completed - yay!  We pulled up to the gate on Westside and Becca got out to open the gate so I could drive the car through.  She hopped back in, and we started the car, looking up the driveway to see a deer grazing by the road, just past the orchard.  We don't get to see deer very often lately, so it's always a treat.  Then it raised its head, and Becca and I both said, "Buck!"  He was a beautiful young boy, probably four points, and he started to move up the driveway as I slowly approached in the car.  We followed him for quite some time, as Becca and I laughed joyfully at how his jumps and hops reminded us of Mooney, our wether goat, who boings just like this deer was.  When the buck found a break on the side of the driveway, he leapt down the hill and was quickly out of sight behind the trees.  We never know what we will find on our .8 mile drive from Westside to the house, and love seeing the wildlife.  We were too transfixed, and he was moving too quickly, to get a picture.

Tuesday evening, I handed Becca the filled grain scoops and she headed off toward the milk stand while I gathered the alfalfa for evening feeding.  I heard her call to me, cautiously.  I popped my head out and asked what was up, and she said, "Snake," very quietly.  "Where??"  "In the grass there," pointing.  As she was walking by an area behind the house that I let get a little overgrown, she said she heard it slither, and saw the tail end of a brown snake go into the grass.  She didn't see or hear a rattle, but we never know, so we took it easy and avoided that area for the night.

The next morning, I heard water running and realized that I'd forgotten to turn off the sprinklers for my potted garden.  I turned off the faucet and went back to investigate where the sound was coming from, because it shouldn't have sounded like a water fountain.  Something had dug into the arugula, lettuce and two of the four blueberry bush pots the night before.  The lettuce was almost completely destroyed, because the soil in that pot had turned to sludge, and they'd been buried and floating in water, which had filled the pot because the sprinkler had been pulled up and unhooked.  I quickly transplanted what could be salvaged into another pot, and fixed some of the mussed dirt in the other pots.  It wasn't the cat, because he likes to use leaves and there was no evidence that he'd left anything in there.  It's a puzzle that I'm still trying to figure out, because whatever it was dug into the arugula again last night.  No evidence of raccoons, because nothing is eating Star's cat food.

We headed off to school, and as we were driving along Westside, I saw a coyote dash down the hillside to the side of the road.  She grabbed a newspaper, of all things, and ran back up the hill a short ways, standing there with the newspaper in her mouth as we drove by.  We wondered if she was making a nest for the winter, or what it might be for.  We often despair at the garbage and items left dumped by the roadside, but if the animals can make some use out of some of it, good for them.  Despite signs along some of the roadways warning of the illegality of dumping and camera surveillance, we see cartons of beer cans, mattresses, old appliances, even car seats - and I don't mean the kind you strap children into - full-on car seats from a vehicle.  We stop and pick up the items that we can when they are in a safe place for us to get them, but sometimes we have to complain to each other for months about something left that we can't get to.

The rescue of the miners in Chile started on Wednesday.  I had heard about the collapse when it happened,  the discovery of the surviving men and the start of the long process to retrieve them.  When I heard about the size of the capsule that was going to bring them 2000 feet up to the surface, I started to feel claustrophobic just thinking about it.  I recognize that I'm not suited to be a miner underground that far in the first place, so I'm sure that they were more okay with it than I would be - and the impetus to get out of there had to have been great after 69 days.  I was really surprised, however, when I got to work and asked someone if they'd heard about the rescue starting, and she ... didn't know what I was talking about.  She hadn't heard about the accident, about the discovery of them alive, about the preparations to get them out, or even the rescue that started that morning and was on all of the radio stations and the front of the local newspaper in our lobby.  I know I have a lot going on in my life, and I do get hyper-focused sometimes on my day-to-day living, but how can one be so out of touch with what is happening in the world to miss this story - completely?

Thursday morning, drive to school.  Only two more work days left until the weekend!  We listen to country radio on Froggy 92.9 in the morning.  A song came on the radio that we didn't recognize, and that always causes Becca and I turn up the volume and listen to it.  Wow, was this a good song.  Brett Eldredge, an artist I hadn't heard of before, singing "Raymond."  It is such as sweet song, about a man who works in a nursing home and one of the residents who has taken to him.  He brings her coffee every morning, and listens to her talk.  She calls him Raymond, and thinks that he is her son.  Such a tender song, sad to think of all the lost souls alone and without family, but such hope recognizing those who give of themselves to love and care for them.  Don't miss it if you can listen to it or watch the video here.

And then, that same afternoon, I learned that one of the sweetest, smartest, strongest ladies I've had the pleasure to know in my life, passed away at 92 1/2 after suffering the attack on her body by cancer.  I knew Ruth from R Ranch at the Lake.  She loved the place and had been a member there even before R Ranch was started, when it was a Napa Valley Horseman's Club.  Her daughter, Nancy, has had the struggle of helplessly watching her mother suffer in pain and trying so hard to make her at ease, knowing she was going to lose her.  My heart goes out to all of them.  I'll miss Ruth, but will always carry her and her example of quiet and loving and happy strength in my heart, to remember and learn from.

And this is what the beautiful sky looked like on the day that we lost Ruth.  A fitting tribute to her ...

The bucklings were trying to bust out of their crate last night, so this weekend I'll look for their mother's paperwork, see if I can get the boys registered, and see if that will help me find new homes for them.  I was able to get up early enough this morning to start a batch of yogurt and some honey wheat bread. Soon Becca will be up, and we'll get ready to head to Santa Rosa and meet up with Jessica, Amanda, and Amanda's future mother-in-law Marie, for an afternoon at the wedding expo.  This will be the first I've ever been to, so it should be interesting.  I know that it will definitely be fun to spend time with all my girls and Marie.  I hope all of you have a fabulous weekend, too!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Beginnings

There has been a huge gap in my blog postings, which I really didn't expect to happen.  I suppose it's a combination of things.  One is that the speed of life has been so dizzying, there hasn't been a lot of time for contemplation before a keyboard.  The wee hours of weekend mornings that I love to use to write have often been consumed by oversleeping because I'm transcribing too late at night, transcription because I'm trying to keep up with a big onslaught of work at home, or a pre-teen who surprises me by getting up early.

There's also this thing that has happened over the last couple of blog postings.  I like what I've written, and an audience began to develop.  I saw people checking the blog regularly to see if something new was posted.  That made me feel great.  I also allowed it to make me feel as if I had to do something more than just be me.  I set expectations for blog posts higher than I'd had when I started this mission.  I started believing that I needed to have a "wow factor" in order to post something.  It had to be entertaining, funny, insightful, educational, or ... something more than my everyday life.  What happens when I set goals too high is that I start feeling that I can't reach them, and just sit and stare at them for a while.  Uh-oh, I got stuck.

The way to get unstuck is to just start moving again.  Or as Dorey in "Finding Nemo" says, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming," paraphrased of course - this is from memory.

Moments over the last month?  Here they are, and I hope you enjoy.  I know I have, for the most part.

Cooking!  Baking!  I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  Part of it is that I'm trying to do weekday prep on the weekends, so we have food that's easy to prepare and healthy to eat during the week.  Another goal is to use as much milk as I possibly can, so it doesn't go to waste.  I've been making a crockpot yogurt every weekend with mixed results.  I love the flavor, and Becca uses it with fruit to make a smoothie to down before we head out to school - often drinking it in the car.  The downside is that I've had a hard time with the texture.  It's been like a slightly thickened milk.  That's fine for smoothies, but not much else, and I don't like drinking my yogurt all the time.  I used a different starter yogurt culture last time that worked better, and picked up a tip that using a little tapioca flour might help.  I'll try that and let you know how it works.

Cajeta is a fixture every weekend, and more and more people are trying and loving it.  I've been told it will be okay to sell some at the school Christmas craft fair, so that is on deck.  I've been trying to figure out how to provide samples.  I started off thinking of buying tiny spoons, but don't like the idea of so much waste.  Next, small cookies?  Maybe.  After the apple/pear/cheese tasting last weekend, I decided that apple slices are the *perfect* way to showcase the deliciousness of cajeta, in addition to providing an idea for its use in a real fashion.

I discovered a fabulous honey wheat bread recipe that I modified and have been making every weekend.  When Becca doesn't want yogurt, we toast slices of this bread and smear homemade apple butter on it for an easy start to the day.  Yum!  I'll post the recipe below.

In addition to the apple butter, which is fabulous and also made in the crockpot, I've been making focaccia.  Dropping ingredients into the bread machine and using the dough setting makes prep easy.  After that, shaping the dough on a cookie sheet and brushing with olive oil before baking is all that is needed to finish it.  I discovered a lovely Meyer Lemon Olive Oil at the farmers market a couple weeks ago, and it is *perfect* brushed on top of the focaccia.

I make both the bread and focaccia using whey instead of water, which imparts more nutrients and lovely flavor and texture to the breads.  It also allows me to use the whey so it doesn't go to waste after making cheese.  I am still trying to perfect cheesemaking, and currently have a Camembert attempt started in the fridge.

Those goats are still keeping us on our toes!  They have been well behaved the last few weeks, but a couple days ago we made a mistake and ended up on a trek in the dark looking for an errant goat.  Typically, we put leashes on the big girls (Lily and Salsa) and Imbri, letting the youngest Nigerian goats trot off to the barn themselves, as they are most likely to do.  Imbri has a habit of going to the barn instead of waiting at the milk stand, but Salsa is good about hopping right up for her food.  Lily likes to wander about and nibble on interesting plants, so she needs firm guidance to get to the barn.

It was Friday night, and dark when we got home after dinner at my parents' in Novato.  Salsa was loudly telling everyone that morning that she was in heat, and she greeted us with a yell (and another and another) when we drove up.  When we put leashes on the goats and let them out, Becca and I both forgot that when Salsa is in heat, she doesn't behave properly.  As soon as she was out of the pen, she walked the opposite direction, and we both realized that we were going to have to chase her down.  We decided to get all the rest of the goats into the barn first, so we didn't have to run around after FIVE instead of just one.

We walked in the dark, with only the light from the flashlight gizmo mounted on my cap (I LOVE THIS HANDS-FREE FLASHLIGHT), stars flickering in the sky, but no moon.  The motion-detected light at the front of the house was on, so we could see Salsa standing near the gate to her pen, in addition to hearing her bleat loudly.  She started to walk away from us, so Becca headed down behind her, while I walked the upper driveway in an attempt to head her off at the pass.  Too slow.  I was 2/3 of the way there, when Salsa popped out of the path between the bushes and started walking away from me.  I called her gently, and she started to trot with intention.  She was on a mission to find bucks.

Becca joined me, and we held hands as we got to the end of our driveway and turned left, up the hill toward my landlady's house and animals.  It was so dark that we couldn't see anything but the circle of light from my flashlight on the driveway in front of us.  This made me a little nervous, and I suggested that we go get the car, but Becca was fine.  I angled the light up a little, we saw a faint glint of white up the drivway, and kept on walking.  Salsa had quit yelling, so it was hard to tell exactly where she was, but as we neared the gate to my landlady's goats, we saw her white coat glowing on the right side of the driveway.  She had her nose pressed against the fence, and one of my landlady's bucks was on the other side of the fence, nuzzling her nose and making blubbering noises.  She didn't want to leave him, so Salsa didn't try to run away when Becca grabbed her leash.

We turned and headed back down the dark driveway, and she was fine until the buck quit following along on the other side of the fence.  Then she started to pull back and yell again.  I had to grab Becca's arm a couple of times on our way to the milk stand, so that she didn't get pulled over by Salsa trying to go the other direction.  She is a LaMancha/Saanan full sized goat, and outweighs Becca.

The rest of the evening was uneventful, but it was a lesson that we didn't forget the next night we got the goats out of the pen.  Salsa is in heat for 2-3 days, and should be over it by tonight, but we'll still hold onto that leash at least for another couple nights to be sure she doesn't run off.

We had a good day yesterday, meeting Amanda, Jessica, and Marie for Amanda's first foray into wedding dress shopping.  What an endeavor!  The selections are so overwheming, and so beautiful.  We had a ball looking around and helping Amanda select dresses to try on, and then watching her model each of the selections for us.  The first one she tried on blew us all away.  It was absolutely perfect on her, and there was nothing else after it that gave us the same impact.  She tried it on one more time at the end, and we all concluded that this is probably *the* dress.  There are two wedding shows next weekend, however, and Mandi wants to see if she can win a gown before committing, so she will wait.  I think this is the winner, though.  If you are looking for a wedding gown, check out Wine Country Bride in Santa Rosa.  They have a fabulous selection of reasonably priced gowns, and the service is SUPERB.

One of our favorite restaurants, Las Guitarras in Cotati, is closing.  We are so bummed about it.  It is hard for me to make it there since we've moved, but that has always been one of my favorite restaurants.  We made it a point to meet up with my parents for lunch there after wedding dress shopping, and had good food, times, in good company.

We will be getting ready to attend the wedding today, 10-10-10, of the mother of one of Becca's best friends.  It's the perfect day for it!

You might wonder about the title - New Beginnings?  Where?  Well, it's me starting to blog regularly, even if I'm worried about what my "audience" might think.  It's wedding dress shopping for Amanda's new and renewed commitment with Anthony next year.  It's a farewell to a good restaurant, after losing a good man that managed it, and a new beginning for that building, while Las Guitarras Novato continues on strong.  Finally, a new beginning for Diane and Reuben - may they have a lifetime of happy years together.

Honey Wheat Bread - Bread Machine Recipe

This recipe is modified from the Mabon Marigold Honey Wheat Bread posted by girlichecf on You can find her original recipe posted here.  The link also contains the recipe for the AWESOME Apple Butter I've been making with local, in season Gravensteins.

1 cup warm water (or warm whey)
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Place ingredients into the bread machine in the order listed, making a dent in the side of the flour to place the yeast in.  Select the wheat setting, choose the crust color and loaf size, and start.  My bread machine bakes this in about 3 1/2 hours.  No fuss, wonderful aroma in the house, great treat!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Goats Running Amuck

As usual, last night I began the evening chore routine by chopping carrots and a banana for Salsa, a treat that she enjoys (none of the other goats will eat them).  After I was done, I started out the door to begin setting up food and fresh water and bedding in the barn, and Becca went out the back door, saying, “Mom, I’m going outside.”  Okay.

After putting the fresh cut fruit and veggies and milk bucket, etc. at the milk stand, I headed to the grain shed, and was surprised to see Becca on her way to the barn with grain and hay.  Cool.  She was getting a head start!  When I started to the barn to help, she shooed me away.  “No, Mom, I can do it.”  Um, okay.  She won’t let me help with the barn, so I’ll do the chickens - okay with her?  Yes.

By the time I was done feeding and putting fresh water in for the chickens, tucking them into the coop, it was time to get the bucklings from their pen.  Becca was on her way to the gate, putting my gloves on.  Let me back up a little to note that we now don gloves when handling the bucklings.  Their “lovely” aroma is hard to get rid of, so we take as many precautions as possible to avoid smelling like buck.  As I approached the pen, she asked me to go away, because she wanted to do it herself.  “Are you sure?”  She’d never done this part by herself before, and it can be tricky.  Yes, she was sure.  Go away, basically.

I went to the faucet to turn off the water for the night, keeping a close eye on what she was doing.  Smooth as silk, she had the leashes on them, and started walking them down the driveway toward the barn, both acting like proper little gentlemen.  Smelly gentlemen, but with manners, nonetheless.  Even Ebony was behaving himself, not trying to jump on the back of his brother and attempt unspeakable acts.

She said that I could do the milking, so I waited on the deck for her to get the rest of the goats out and set Salsa up on the milk stand.  She put the hobble on, cleaned her for me, and then walked up to me with a smile and the sanitizer spray bottle in her hands.  She said, “Hold out your hands.”  I did, and she sprayed my hands and said I could get up.  I was laughing so hard.

I figured that episode was an interesting one-time modification in our routine; however, Becca wanted to repeat it tonight.  She insisted on handling the bucklings again herself.  This time, she walked them to about 50 feet from the barn, and decided to remove their leashes so they would - presumably - run into the barn on their own.  It didn’t work out that way.  The leashes came off, and they wandered off to the side to nibble on weeds.  When I approached she said, “No, Mom, let me handle it,” and swung the leashes around, which usually puts enough pressure on goats for them to move away - toward the barn.  But these are young bucklings, and they went the OTHER direction - at a mad run.  There was no way I could catch either one as they rushed by me, and I turned around and started running after them, cowboy boots pounding on the gravel.  I shouted, “Keep them away from the does!” as I saw them head that direction.

Fortunately, they ran around the back of the house instead, and I heard them clip clopping their way across the deck.  As Becca rounded the far side of the house, they ran back toward me, doing their little deer/bunny hops and kicking up their heels.  I was able to grab collars, and Becca put the leashes back on.  She was somewhat upset that I’d caught them, when she wanted to do it herself, so I let her handle getting them back to the barn on her own, staying far away.

Becca wanted to get the rest of the goats out, so I set up the milk stand and waited for Salsa to come.  And waited.  I took a look at the goat pen, and Becca had let all the goats out but Imbri, but they weren’t coming my direction, just wandering about.  When Becca started to shoo them my direction, they did what the bucklings had done, and it was a mad dash around the house - this time four goats instead of two.  I got Salsa to come to me, and loaded her onto the milk stand, while Becca chased goats up and down the driveway and around the house.  She caught Lily, and was walking her down the driveway.  Lily started choking herself by pulling against her collar, and I saw Becca stop and lean over her, stroking Lily's sides gently to calm her down.  They walked calmly out of sight, and I turned my attention to Salsa again, while thinking that Becca is a “good goat mama.”  Then I heard galloping hooves, and looked up to see Lily dashing by like she was running for the roses.  I bent my head down and laughed quietly, but really hard.  As Becca walked by, she said “Stop laughing!”  I looked at her over Salsa's back, and she had the biggest grin on her face, which made both of us laugh even harder.

Becca got a good workout, chasing those three remaining goats around until they finally went into the barn, and I was very entertained, watching them running headlong up and down the driveway with her in hot pursuit.  After all the goats had disappeared with her around the corner, there was quiet, the barn door closing, and then a scream.  It didn’t sound like she was scared, but I wasn’t sure, so I yelled, “Are you okay?” while getting ready to get up and help if needed.  She rounded the corner and said, “Yeah, that was just a yell of VICTORY!  You should try it sometime, Mom.  It’s very freeing.”

A friend has often told me that we should have a web cam here, to catch some of our crazy adventures.  As I tucked the last goat in for the evening, I thought, “This was a night for the web cam.”  Maybe some day.  Or maybe some of these things are best left to the imagination.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Farm Fresh Weekend!

This has turned out to be a Farm Fresh Kitchen Weekend.  A really satisfying weekend, overall!

It started Friday night, when I started a batch of chevre (goat cheese) for one of the attorneys at my office.  I had brought some chevre to share at a birthday gathering last month, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  She asked if they could buy some cheese from me for a birthday party.  I told her I can’t sell cheese, and can’t guarantee yet that I can produce a good batch consistently, but if I could do it, I would like to offer them some as a birthday gift.  She was delighted!  Last weekend, I made a batch that turned out horrible.  It was a rare hot day, and the heat in the house just basically curdled it, and not in a good way.  The party was the 12th, so I knew that if I was going to be successful I would need to start it Friday night.

Well, I learned that the best way (for me, at least) to make chevre is to do it this way - overnight.  I heated the milk, added the culture and rennet, and then it was able to sit overnight for the requisite 8-12 hours.  Draining took another couple of hours, and voila!  It turned out wonderful.  I love the smooth, fresh taste of this homemade chevre.  It is so good just on its own and on crackers or french bread.  I was so excited to be able to call and let her know that we had chevre success!  Becca and I were getting ready to go to the feed store, so I asked if we could drop it off for her.  The timing worked out well, so I put the container in a cold sack with an ice pack (it was pretty hot here yesterday) and headed to Santa Rosa.  She and her partner are always so gracious, and I was happy to see the smiles on their faces and the appreciation of what I had done.  She said what made it so special is that she knows that I am out there in the early morning, milking my goats by hand, and that I take care and pride in them and in the products I make with their milk.  It meant a lot to me that she was aware of not only the time it took to make the cheese, but the love and care that goes into the production of the milk itself.

We headed off to the feed store to pick up food for the critters:  alfalfa for the goats, chicken feed, and cat food.  Last time I bought chicken feed, I discovered that Western Farm Center in old town Santa Rosa carries organic feed, and I was really happy to get that for my chickens.  I was even more happy to see that it came from Hunt & Behrens in Petaluma.  Organic AND local!  The perfect combination.  I don’t usually frequent Western Farms, unless there’s something I need to pick up on my lunch hour or they have something special no one else does, so I asked at my usual feed store if they were carrying organic feed yet.  That was confirmed a couple weeks ago, so I headed there for our shopping this weekend.  They always load my truck for me, so I don’t usually see what’s back there until I get home.  I was disappointed to see a different bag for the chicken feed, and even more so when I examined it.  This was shipped to California from Missouri.  Why, when there is a local producer?  I’ll ask them to look into picking up the feed from Petaluma, or I’ll just start getting it at Western Farm.  The price is about the same.

Unloading the truck needed to wait until Sunday, as by the time we got home, it was time to take care of the animals for the evening.  I had also finally unloaded all the beautiful things that we brought home from Gail’s last weekend, and I couldn’t face moving things out of the truck again.  I had such a good time in the morning, though, appreciating each thing and finding a place for it at the house.  The rocking chair has become a favorite retreat for both me and Becca on the front porch.

I am tickled with the shelf, pitcher and pots that Gail sent home, and am looking forward to filling those pots with living and wonderful things.  I used the enamel cookpot for the chevre, and find it to be the best pot, ever.  The wagon wheels look good by the front of the house where I am hoping to add a fountain.  There is still so much to do here, but I am really enjoying it!

I was so pleased with the chevre I made, I wanted some for myself, so I started another batch last night.  I was hoping to start it with last night's milking, but Imbri had other ideas.  I should have known better to stay alert when milking her last night.  When I placed her feet on the milkstand before washing her and my hands, she moved her foot.  I firmly picked it up and placed it back, which usually takes care of the matter.  I was almost done milking when a song came on the Blackberry that I wanted to make sure I had “liked” for Pandora, so I paused momentarily to grab it.  That’s all it took.  I looked back just in time to see her foot move directly into the milk pail.  Oooooohhhhh, I was so frustrated!  There is no way to recover from a move like that, and nothing to do but let the milk go to waste.  Taught me a good lesson, tho’.

I am much more confident in making the cheese now, and think that I may be ready to try Camembert next.  Mmmm.  I saw a recipe a couple weeks ago for Cajeta and Goat Cheese Brownies.  OMG - wouldn’t that be a great combination??  So part of this chevre is going to be used in that brownie recipe.

I was reading through some dairy recipes this morning and saw a chevre recipe that mentioned putting the cheese into molds.  Why hadn’t I thought of that before?  A year or so ago, I bought a cheese making starter kit.  It included two cheese molds, but I never thought to use them because all the recipes I’ve seen so far call for the cheese to be drained in cheesecloth.  I decided to use the molds for this cheese today, and hope that it all works out as well as I think it will.  So much easier and prettier than the bagged cheese look.

It’s Sunday, so that means it’s Windsor Farmers Market Morning!  To top it off, we heard on the radio last night that a Tomato and Pepper Festival was being planned at the same location during that time, including tomato sampling and a salsa contest.  Something more to look forward to!

I really love going to this farmers market, and I’m sure you are all tired of reading about it by now.  I was especially pleased with what we brought home today.  We had to get the biegnets, of course, plus the sausage/spinach ravioli that we really look forward to every week.  I have pesto in the freezer, so we passed on the prepared pestos, and picked up some more fragrant basil so I can add to my pesto stockpile.  Hot and spicy jalapeno and serrano peppers were on the list this week, because I loved the way that the addition of that to basil pesto really adds a nice warmth and brings out the flavors in a fabulous way.  The tomatoes I picked this morning, plus what I brought home from Mom’s last week, meant salsa was on the menu, too.  I was surprised and very happy to see big, red, ripe organic strawberries, and picked up a basket of those to add to our homemade yogurt.  I could smell them from the aisle, which is what drew me in to their bright red luciousness!  Corn was all over the place, and very reasonably priced!  Four of those, please and thank you.  I need eggs for the brownie recipe, and was happy to pick up the last dozen from a Healdsburg rancher, and chat with her about how to stop mine from being a cannibal and eating her eggs.  No real resolution to that yet, but I’m still going to work on it.

We were getting a little weighed down, so put all our purchases quickly into the trunk and came back to look at the tomato and pepper festival area.  We sampled different tomatoes that I’d always wondered about and hand’s down, we are getting the Purple Cherokee tomatoes from OAEC to grow next year.  I love the sweet Burbanks that I’ve been growing the last couple of years, but the Cherokee tomatoes were something special.  Super large, purple in color, with firm flesh and an amazing, intense, sweet tomato flavor.

We had to stop and sample the salsas.  Some were good, some so-so, and I was looking forward to going home and making my own salsa fresco.  Then the lady started putting out samples of this clear jelly-looking stuff.  Hmm?  Becca and I tried it and it was fabulous.  Sweet, hot, but not overpowering, with an intense pepper flavor.  We asked who made it and what it was - it’s pepper jelly.  I’ve bought jalapeno jelly at the grocery store before for my brie quesadillas, but this was amazing.  We booked over back to the market area she pointed out to find the farm that provided it (and took first place in the contest).  We found the small stand, with produce on the tables and a tall, kind-faced man behind them.  I looked around - no jars - and asked if he had any of the pepper jelly that we’d just fallen in love with at the festival.  He smiled and said, “Well, let me tell you what happened.”  His wife gave him two jars for the competition, and told him that she wasn’t sending any for him to sell, as she made them for holiday gifts.  He laughed, and said that he will have to tell her what a hit they would have been, and that there were customers hoping that she might send some next week.  He gave me his card in case I wanted to call and see if he was bringing any, but I told him we’ll be there anyway, and will look for him.

As we walked away, I remembered that the lady I bought the pesto from before has pepper jellies, and so Becca and I headed over there to sample what she had.  She had an awesome peach pepper jelly, and a tomato pepper jelly.  Becca like the tomato one best, so that’s what we picked up.  I preferred the peach, but I’ll get that one next week.  Heh.

We stopped at Safeway to pick up some odds and ends needed to fill in the blanks, and headed home, feeling VERY satisfied and excited about getting into the kitchen!

The first thing I started was cajeta, because it takes so long to make.  I decided to try making a vanilla infused caramel this week, instead of the traditional cinnamon.  Instead of simmering it with a cinnamon stick, I am using half of a split vanilla bean.  It is on the stove now, and smells absolutely heavenly!!  While that started cooking, I did some dishes and made some fresh salsa that we’ve been nibbling on this afternoon.  Next is the strawberry puree and hopefully some pesto.  Of course, once the cajeta is done, we’ll look at time and see if we can get the brownies made tonight.  That might have to wait.

It’s now time to start getting the barn ready for the night and tuck the animals in soon.  We are stepping even more carefully now, as my landlady told me this morning of her little adventure last night.  She’d gotten home late, and stepped out of the truck in the dark at the same time her dog started going after something near the driver’s side door.  She knew his sounds and was pretty sure it was a snake - the frogs are so loud at night, that she didn’t hear any rattle.  She went to the garage to grab a flashlight and the pole she uses for snakes, and came back to see it coiled near her door, and her dog going after it.  He killed it before she could do anything.  It was a baby rattler, and luckily the dog is smart enough to know how to avoid getting hurt himself.  She showed me the snake this morning, and it’s a good reminder to look very carefully these last days of summer, make lots of noise, and be aware.

P.S. I just strained the vanilla cajeta and sampled it - it is truly amazing.  Not a speck more sugar in this recipe than my regular recipe - all I did was replace the cinnamon stick with the vanilla bean - but the sweetness is so intense and smooth.  This is going to be fabulous in those brownies.

Busy Busy Labor Day

Monday the 6th was Labor Day.  Our plans for the day were to go to pick up some items from my co-worker, Gail, who needs to clear out her barn as she is selling her ranch vineyard home and moving to an apartment - at least temporarily.  I also promised Becca that we would go to Memorial Beach at the Russian River in Healdsburg.  Which was going to come first, I wouldn’t know until Becca got up.

I had originally thought it best to go to Gail’s in the morning, before the heat set in, but it got hot more quickly than I had expected.  By the time Becca was up and moving, the house was starting to feel like a warm oven, and I knew that loading the truck would not be a good thing to do until the thermostat was on its way down, instead of up.  I called Gail to check in and see if a 5:00 pick-up would work.  It would!

Off to the beach it is, then!

Becca and I had made our favorite spicy peanut chicken recipe the night before and I had grilled the chicken breasts for the week, so there was chicken to shred and leftover sauce that would make a great picnic lunch.  We packed our insulated picnic backpack with good food and some of our special treat Pepsi Throwback, and headed off to the beach.

I knew that at this hour (about 12:00 by the time we got everything together), that it would likely be hard to find parking.  I was worried when we saw people walking up the road toward the park entrance, and then a sign saying that the lot was full.  But - what is this?  A truck is pulling into the parking lot, and a ranger is manning the gate.  I slipped into the driveway to check in with the ranger, and he waved us through!  Woo-hoo!  There is a $6 fee for parking, and the ranger at the booth was also very kind and cheerful.  We cruised slowly through the lot, looking for one of the two apparently open spaces available (the ranger closed the gate behind us - score!).  Up ahead, I spotted another ranger, showing us where the last available spot was in the lot.  It was in the sun, but I was *not * going to complain!

We gathered our things and walked through the grassy picnic area.  It is lovely, with tables and barbecues, though many people brought their own.  Becca and I disagree about whether the hammocks hanging in the trees are provided by the park or were brought by the people using them.  We took at look at the sun-soaked beach and scoped out a place to put our chairs.  There were plenty of people there, and a line of colorful umbrellas down the middle. 

We walked along the sand, which felt more like a combination of sand and dirt, and Becca decided to step out of her flip-flops.  Not for long!  Ow!  The ground was super-hot, so she jumped right back into her shoes.  We found a spot near Memorial Bridge and settled ourselves in.  We made a mental note to find a beach umbrella to bring next time, and then headed into the water.

OMG.  It was cool, but super comfortable, and so easy to be in.  I only waded in to about my knees, but Becca got my permission to cross the first barrier to about 4 feet. 

The bottom of the river here slopes very gently, and the current is basically non-existent.  I can see a little bit of river movement on the other side of the buoy lines, but the nearby dam really eases that flow.  There was a group of people near us in the water, and then suddenly I saw a woman grabbing a pair of pants from the water and frantically checking the pockets.  Somehow (I never figured out how) her pants came off in the water, and out came her driver’s license, credit card and ATM card.  While enjoying the water, we observed the group setting up a search area and looking for these tiny items in the cloudy water.  You couldn’t see more than just a few inches, and she was in about 3 feet of water.  Eventually, she found credit and ATM cards, but by the time we left her ID was still missing.

After a while, I decided to go back to the beach and sit down, while Becca stayed in the water.  She did somersaults in the water and had a good time.  I had brought a book, but just wasn’t comfortable enough with her in the river to read.  There were two lifeguards on the beach, one right next to us, but plenty of people, and this is *my* kid.  I am still not very comfortable with natural water, having lost too many loved ones to it, but am trying to get over that fear, as Becca loves being in the water so much. 

We watched the canoes coming in and out of the boat launch area, and some teenagers on the other side of the river with a rope swing near the end of another bridge.  Becca and I enjoyed watching the boys grab the swing and run out in an arc, leaping into the air over the water.  Some just let go to fall in, and others did spectacular flips and dives.  Apparently these kids have used that part of the beach a lot.

When it was time to eat, Becca pointed out that the umbrella behind us didn’t have any belongings under it, and suggested we moved our things to take advantage of the shade.  Just as we got our food ready to eat, a woman came and asked if we could move - it was her umbrella!  How embarrassing!  Now we know that these are not park umbrellas.  After moving, we finished lunch, and after a bit of a resting period, Becca went back into the water.  We left about 4pm to head home and change, put our things away, and get the truck ready to go to Gail’s in Sebastopol.

Gail lives in a remote part of Sebastopol, among ranches, farms and vineyards.  It was a beautiful drive through the country, as we took back roads through Forestville to get there.  I love the “back way” that we take down Westside Road, past vineyards and farms, through cool redwood groves, and across the 1929 built Wohler Bridge over the Russian River.  We look for ducks as we cross the bridge, and often are able to spot them swimming about.

Gail heard us coming and was at the gate to open it for us when we pulled up.  Her house is so cute, and I loved the vineyards surrounding it and the cottage and other outbuildings.  She directed us to the barn, where she had the water trough ready for us to load up.  She started going through things in the barn, offering many - shelves?  Rocking chair?  Wagon wheels?  What about this box of things?  She pulled out a small enameled bowl that I joked with her about offering me a commode, as it was similar to the container my grandparents used to leave at the back door so we kids didn’t have to trek out to the outhouse at night when we visited.  Without going through the rest, I agreed to take it and browse through what was in it.  She didn’t care to look before giving it to me.  We loaded the truck up and said some sad goodbyes, as I know that she is saying goodbye to her home over and over again as she packs and prepares to leave.  We arrived home late, and fed the animals, moved the goats, in the dark.

I finally opened the box yesterday morning and sorted through everything.  Oh my goodness.  Many of these items I was keeping an eye out for in the antique shop for when I had some money to spend on them, and then some that I never would have been able to buy.  Beautiful enameled pots, including a huge roasting pan, a copper container that I haven't figure out yet what it's for, a hand crank set of beaters, enameled ladle and spoon and coffee cup - I could just imagine a cowboy over an open fire using some of these items!  Some I will have to post pictures of later to see if anyone can help me figure out what they are and what they are for.  An antique sifter, and - Cast. Iron. Coffee. Grinder. From. Brazil.  So many treasures that I can really use on the farm.  Thank you, Gail!!!

All of this was just the Labor Day holiday, and here we are already at the next weekend.  This short week just flew by, so I am going to end this for now, and work on a separate post for this weekend, which has been really good!  Ending with another sunrise picture from my house.  I love this place, especially in the morning.

Monday, September 6, 2010


This has been such a busy couple of weeks.  I’ve missed being able to sit down and write about what is happening, what I might be pondering, the latest adventure or misadventure.  I really *should* be asleep right now, but that will come soon enough.

Becca started the 8th grade.  It began much as 7th grade did, but for some reason this year the impact hit us like a truck.  Maybe it’s the added milker and two stinky bucklings that make it more of a challenge to get everything done this year.  Perhaps it’s just that August 18th as the start of school just doesn’t feel natural.  The groove of moving from season to season, starting school after Labor Day, feels more natural.  We are in the middle of summer, and bam!  Two hours of homework each night, book reports already scheduled and projects.  Add to that the traditional fundraising that hits immediately, this time three catalogs, magazine orders and Entertainment books, plus they want us to volunteer for Relay for Life - it’s mind-boggling.

As usual, Becca settles into the beginning of the year focused and organized.  She is excited about her classes and teachers.  She loves Art, as always, and couldn’t wait to get started again with violin.  I hope that she (we) can maintain this level throughout the year.  She is talking college and the art program she wants to apply to for high school, so she needs to maintain this concentration.

August 29th brought our first gathering at Jessica and Cory’s place for Fantasy Football.  I still don’t quite understand how it all works (and forgot to watch games today!), but our group all got together to pick our team players.  I feel like I did well- actually all of us did - and it should be a fun and different kind of football season.

Friday morning, the 3rd, was one of those that you just soak up and remember for years to come.  It epitomized all that I love about this farm and what I am doing here.  It was one of those clear summer mornings that have been so rare here this year, when I could see “my” mountain clearly as the sun rose.  I first walked out into the pitch black of the dark before dawn, and looked up into a brilliantly star studded sky as my dogs “did their business.”  I tried to get a picture of Duncan standing in the pool of light shining down from the studio next door to my house, but the camera on my phone couldn’t capture it.  (Batteries are missing from my good camera, though we did find those today - hurrah!)

As I fed chickens I listened to Foghorn crow to greet the slowly rising sun.  Moving goats from the barn to their pen, the sky began to lighten.  As I started milking, I watched as that magic moment happened, when suddenly the world turned golden.  It’s so hard to describe what that looks like - it’s not really “light” out yet, but the air starts to shimmer and everything starts to gleam.  As I brought the last goats out of the barn, the sun burst over the horizon and suddenly it was day.  There was a picture perfect moment as the warmth of the sunshine began to pour into our little valley that I was able to capture with my camera.

Even Luna was enjoying the growing warmth of the sun’s rays.

What a beautiful day.

Saturday, Becca and I headed off to Cal Berkeley with Jessica and Cory for a football game.  Each year, one of the teachers at Becca’s school gets tickets for interested students to attend Come to College day at Berkeley.  It is an opportunity for the kids to tour the school and have a good time watching the Bears football game.  We are familiar with the blue, gold and white, as Becca used to cheer for our local Redwood PAL Golden Bears team.

We decided to take the teacher’s suggestion and take BART in, rather than trying to find parking on game day.  We drove all the way in last year, and that was so stressful and difficult.  This was our first time taking the train, and after fumbling a little bit on how it all works, we avoided disaster by not jumping on the first train we saw (going the wrong direction!), and discovered this is a great way to get to and from the game.

It was a beautiful day to walk the tree-lined campus with the beautiful buildings and grounds.  Becca has gone back and forth over the last year or so about whether she wants to attend SSU or Berkeley - she is determined to go to Berkeley again now.

We had really good seats, and though we couldn’t see the cannon that is fired after every Cal score, we were close enough to it to jump every time it went off.  This game was filled with cannon fire.  The stadium was packed with 58,000, but the turnout from Becca’s school was disappointing.  Forty people signed up for the game, but only seven or eight showed up, including our four, the teacher and her husband.  We all had a blast together, though, and sported new t-shirts and hats for the occasion.

One of my favorite parts of the college games is the half time show.  The marching bands with their strutting drum majors are such a fun part of the ritual.  Many of the Davis fans were really poor sports, however, and I was surprised and disappointed to hear boos from them when Cal’s band went onto the field, and when Cal’s cheerleaders walked by their section in the stands.  There were no boos for their band or cheerleaders from the huge Cal crowd.  At least “our” team showed better sportsmanship.

The game was such a blow-out that we decided that it just wasn’t worth fighting the crowds to wait until the end.  We left with 10 minutes left on the clock and a score of 49 to 3 with the Bears winning on the board.  We heard the cannon fire twice more as we were walking through the campus, though one of those shots might have been signaling the end of the game.

The trip back on BART made us feel like we were old pros at this train thing.  We stopped in San Rafael for coffee on the way home, and Becca and I stopped at Safeway to pick up a few things before heading to our house.  Still in our Cal regalia and high from the game, we split up to pick up things separately.  When Becca met up with me, she said that she saw a guy in a Davis jersey and hat coming down one of the aisles toward her.  He looked at her hat and shirt, and scowled at her.  She said she turned on her heel and went the other direction.  Is this an example of how Davis treats a loss?  I was kind of hoping that Becca would look into Davis for its ag program, but maybe art at Berkeley isn’t such a bad idea.

We made it back to our house in time for evening chores before it got dark.  What a full and tiring day, but in a really good way.

Sunday morning, I turned on my pocket Pandora on the Blackberry for morning milking.  I had it set to my John Denver station, and I just can’t think of any better type of music for morning chores on the farm.  There is something so soothing about his voice and the pictures he paints in my mind with his lyrics.  It’s music I can sing along to, and both evokes happy memories, and helps create new ones.

While milking Imbri, I recalled how badly I wanted to sing with him.  I remember going to a concert in 1980 when his Autograph album (no CDs back then) came out.  I watched transfixed on that night, and said that I wanted to be on that stage with him, even if it was as back-up singer.  What a dream job that would be.  When I got home that night, without realizing it, I gave up those dreams forever in the instant that I accepted a marriage proposal.  I had no idea what that would mean, or how foolish I would be about failing to pursue my own dreams and goals.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I “regret” not pursuing those musical dreams, but ultimately, I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made that brought me down different pathways.  I am so happy and proud of all of my daughters.  I am so blessed to be where I am, and what I am doing right now.  I am so grateful for all that I have learned and accomplished since then.  Who knows what those dreams might have brought me?  It might have been happiness, but it also could have been ruin and despair.  What I try to teach my girls is to grab on with both hands what they are passionate about and want to pursue, BUT - don’t ever look back with sadness and regret.  Learn from the experiences, grow from them, remember them, and move forward.  We get to create our present and our future every single day, and it can all be beautiful.

After starting a batch of homemade yogurt, we went to the Windsor Farmer’s Market, a Sunday morning ritual that I really look forward to.  Healdsburg’s market on Saturdays is closer, but Windsor offers things that we can’t get closer to home.  The first thing we do is head to the biegnet stand to get hot, freshly made, light-as-air biegnets dusted with powdered sugar.  With those in hand, we walk to the far end of the market and stroll along, taking in the sights and sounds and making our selections.  We picked up fresh basil and peaches, homemade sausage and spinach ravioli, pondered whether to get fresh and locally made sausage (next weekend), and bought a spicy pecan/basil pesto for inspiration.  Becca always likes to end our farmers market foray with a snow cone when the cart is there, and then we headed home.  There are a few things that we’d like to try next weekend, and we made a mental note together.

In the afternoon, I took the huge, fragrant bunches of basil out onto the front porch and began stripping the leaves from them and putting them into a bowl.  It was 90 degrees in the shade of the porch, but there was a soft, cool breeze blowing that made it a divine place to sit and take care of this “chore,” which was really a wonderful way to pass the time.

Becca sat with me from time to time, and then went into the pool for a dip, returning to give me cold, wet hugs and shake her hair at me, just to get my reaction.  I made up several batches of pesto to freeze for this winter, and then after evening chores we started our ravioli dinner followed by churning some homemade ice cream.  The perfect ending to a perfect day.

We didn’t get everything done today that I had hoped for, but we still have the Labor Day holiday and another opportunity to create more happy memories, and move forward toward creating a blessed present and a bright future.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Different Meanings of "Air Show"

This weekend our local airport is hosting Wings Over Wine County, the annual air show.  This event entails lots of booths and planes, both civilian and military, on display at the Charles Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa, as well as sky-high entertainment.

I remember going to air shows as a child.  My favorite part was always the Thunderbirds in their sleek, fast jets, flying in formations and performing amazing aerial feats.

I grew up on Chuck Yeager and the space program.  Everything was so exciting - how far, how fast, how high can we go?  As I recently posted on my Facebook page, it was a time when people dreamed big and reached for goals with enthusiasm and hope, rather than out of desperation.  The sky was the limit - or was it?  We could go beyond the sky.

Yesterday, we heard the jets flying, so Becca and I started looking for where they were.  We discovered that the old sheep pasture near our house offered a really good and easily accessible vantage point.  We brought Breezy, our Shar-Pei/American Bulldog mix, out.  I turned over an empty metal water trough, and we sat in the sun with a cool breeze blowing our hair.

We ooh'd and aah'd as the jet flew straight up into the air, seemingly never going to stop - whizzing past, the turns and spins - it was so fun to see.  A couple of times, the plane banked and came right over our property, the noise rumbling in an exciting way.  (Breezy was unfazed, by the way.)  We heard the roar of smaller planes, and looked up to see a group of five Mustangs zooming literally over our house as they made a circle and headed back toward the air field.  After a while, the action moved lower and we couldn’t see anything, since it was beneath the ridge of the hills between us and the air field.  We went on back inside.

A few minutes later, I heard the sound of a jet again, and I shouted to Becca, “Jet!” as I put my shoes on to head outside.  She grabbed hers, and we went back to our perch on the hill to watch another F-15 put on a show for us.

As I was rushing out the door this time, however, I had a sudden and unsettling realization.  In my world, the sound of a fast military jet is a source of excitement, getting to watch the acrobatic show.  A woman on the other side of the world, with a 12-year-old daughter and goats outside her house, would find her heart beating in a completely different fashion.  The sound would signal menace and danger, rather than a show for entertainment purposes.  Every now and then, the mental veil that hides the real reason for these spectacular vehicles is ripped away, and I am confronted with the ugly reality that the child inside of me doesn’t want to see.  Doesn’t want to comprehend.  Isn’t really ready for.

So I live with the duality and the discomfort.  Air shows aren’t just entertainment, as a friend recently posted, they're also propaganda.  For the most part, it’s a big military advertisement, a recruiting tool.  I try to find the space inside me that allows me to enjoy the entertainment aspects of it.  I reject the killing that they stand for.  I hope for a world in which these are relics of a bygone era, before mankind evolved beyond killing as a means to resolve disagreements.  I doubt I’ll see that in my lifetime.  Yet, I might.  I never thought that in my lifetime I’d see an African-American behind the desk in the Oval Office doing anything other than cleaning or maintenance, either.  Times change.  I hope and pray that they will change for the better.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lots Going On!

This has been a pretty unique 24 hours.  Where to begin?

First, with 48 hours ago, approximately.  While at Jessica and Cory’s place for an awesome birthday BBQ for Lorna (whose birthday is the day after mine), we discovered a litter of feral kittens and their mom were living in the foreclosed house next door.  When the kids went over to investigate they found 5 kittens, one malnourished mama, and two dead kittens.  Operation Rescue was enacted, and two kittens were gathered up.  (Since then, Jessica has arranged with Forgotten Felines to borrow a trap to catch the rest and mama, get the kittens healthy, tame and re-homed, spay mama and make sure she is healthy, perhaps find her a home if she was domesticated at one point, or allow her to be free if she is truly wild.)

I couldn’t resist adopting one.  Since Tiger passed in May, Star Kitty has not been the same, and I think he needs a roaming and snuggle buddy.

The plan is for this little guy (below) to grow into a fierce barn cat that can keep up with Star as a mouser and pet.  We have named him Boots, after Puss-in-Boots from the Shrek movie with the incredible, heart-melting eyes.

Jessica kept him and his brother Sunday night and Monday, to allow us time to pick up our cat carrier to bring him home.  Because she needed to work late last night, she brought him to our house.  Poor thing was very frightened, and would quiver in our hands when held, until we had petted and calmed him down a little.  Last night and this morning, he is more of a kitten - he is purring, rubbing his head against our hands, rolling over in our lap for belly scratches, and turning into a real love bug.  He is eating well as of tonight (yay!) and used the litter box all on his own tonight, too (double-yay!).

Jessi took care of Boots at her work again today and we both took him to the vet for a check-up this afternoon.  She missed an opportunity for a fecal sample when he had an accident on Jessica’s co-worker Angie (sorry, Ang!).  He is healthy, 1 lb 2 oz, and doing really well.  I did discover last night that his tail is broken at the end.  (I texted Jessica after the discovery, “His widdle tail is broken. :-( " )  The vet said that it has started to form a joint, so it’s going to be a bit crooked at the tip.  It will give him character.

As if that weren’t enough, the bucklings are raging with hormones.  They have been getting stinky over the last few days, and when I came home last night, Ebony was blubbering and attacking his brother as if he meant it.  Salsa was very eager to get out of there.  I opened the gate just enough for her to escape, and she didn’t hesitate or turn back.  I gingerly put leashes on the boys and led them to their crate in the barn, which is now being secured with an extra lock so they don’t escape and impregnate the herd at night.  I am envisioning a leash threaded through a pole so that I can easily keep them at arm’s length, because all they want to do is rub their stinky bad selves all over me!

This morning there was no hesitation - they had to be separated from mom, period.  I put a new battery on the PermaNet fencing to make sure Salsa knew that it meant business, and after milking her, put her in with the rest of the herd.  She walked right in without hesitation, probably happy to be back to her more normal pre-delivery routine.  Imbri immediately challenged her, and they were still sparring when I left for work this morning.  Everyone seemed to have settled in well by the time I got home tonight.

The bucklings came out of the barn last, and again, I veeery carefully, and as much at arm's length as possible (while dodging them), put leashes on and kept their leashes long as we walked (skipped, humped, ran, dashed, stopped) down the driveway.  They normally run around the corner of the shed and see their mom at the gate, then pull hard on me to get there, trying to knock the gate open to get in and nurse after being separated from her all night.  Boy, were they surprised this morning!  They stopped stock still after rounding the gate, then walked to the gate yelling their heads off for her.  I had to go inside to get them in the pen, quickly unhook them, and leave them in, still confused and calling for their mom.  Salsa?  She was too busy head butting with Imbri to listen.  Later, I heard her, so I went out to check and see if she was going to try to breach the fence, but she was eating alfalfa, absent-mindedly calling back to them with her mouth full.  She was totally fine.

Tonight was the first time milking Salsa after she’d been separated from her bucklings during the day.  I have been used to her giving a smidge over 2 quarts in the morning, so figured that would be about what we’d get tonight.  I WAS WRONG.  I was milking away and the bucket was getting fuller and fuller.  I asked Becca to get me another one, because I could tell this wouldn’t hold it all.  The bucket was filled to the top so that when I moved it, some sloshed out.  I usually eyeball the measurement in the 2 quart or 1.5 liter jars and know that she gives about 2 quarts.  Tonight I measured it.  She gave a solid 3 quarts.  Shock.  This means over a gallon a milk a day is what we are going to have at the IBTC farm.  I need more milk bottles, and I need to get started on making stuff immediately!  More goat’s milk soap.  Yogurt.  Cajeta.  Ice cream.  Cheese.  We tried Quark at the Farmer’s Market this weekend, and I could make some of that.  I have some serious cooking ahead of me!

All in all, a very busy, different, couple of days.  I am exhausted.  Time to get a few things done here, get Becca set up for the first day of school tomorrow, and hit the sack.  Tomorrow, another new routine to start getting used to, and oh no - I forgot to get lunch stuff...

Guess we’re getting up earlier tomorrow than I expected.