Sunday, December 23, 2012

Winter Goat Pandemonium

I started to write that it’s winter time, which means more pandemonium than usual at the home farm, but that’s not really true.  There’s adventure to be had no matter what the season here, and goats will provide plenty of entertainment, aggravation, exasperation, wonder, joy, and sustenance no matter what the season.  I guess I thought winter was the greatest season of pandemonium because it’s wetter, wilder, and more physically challenging.  Today was a day for the outdoor motion detected camera, which is still not purchased, let alone installed.

I was up until 2am the night before, so waking up at 8am gave me six hours of sleep instead of the three I would have had if I’d gotten up when the alarm went off.  It was Sunday, so although it put me behind schedule, it didn’t make me late for anything.  I remember hearing the clock radio blasting the Sunday morning local talk/interview thing and hitting the snooze button once, but remembered nothing about the two hours it blasted after that, plus an hour of blissful silence.  I definitely needed the extra hours.

I stumbled out of my room to take Duncan outside to “do his duty.”  It was raining.  It was coming down in torrents.  Poor Duncan gingerly made his way out into the wet like a good boy, and briskly trotted back into the house when he was done, shaking as he went through the door.  After feeding him, Breezy was next, and she pulled back at first, not wanting to get wet, but nature’s call won and she eventually did what she needed to, getting us both overly soaked in her hesitant, procrastinating process.  She shook three times when we came in; I changed jackets and shoved my hair inside to try to stay warmer.

I gathered the hay and put it under the tarp shelter in the goat pen, then opened the door to the chicken coop in case they wanted to venture out into the downpour.  The rain came down in sheets as I opened the barn door and walked into the relative calm of goats lying down.  They slowly stood and stretched, and I felt regret as I clipped leashes to their collars and gave them their morning scratches.  It was wet outside, and I’d rather they have the option to stay in the barn, but they kept breaking out of the new fence attached to the barn and going back to the old pen.  Without a battery hook-up for the new fence, it made no sense to try to keep them there.  I knew they’d break out and end up going to where I was going to lead them anyway, so I pushed aside any feelings of guilt, took Salsa’s collar in hand, and opened the barn door.

I usually wait with Salsa while the rest of the goats file out, leaving last so as to avoid having to come back for a straggler.  None of them wanted to leave.  I walked to the back of the barn with Salsa, who is the “herd queen” and the boss, thinking pressure from her might get them to move.  Imbri hopped out and over the soggiest part of ground in front of the door, and her kids followed.  Lily was last, but trotted when she left the barn.  As I walked Salsa toward the milk stand, I saw trouble brewing.  Lily, who never does this, had jumped onto the milk stand, then put her front hooves on my milking chair and was beginning to reach her head toward the surface where the milk bucket, strip cup, sanitizing spray, hoof trimming implement box, and Salsa’s morning grain in a large blue scoop were waiting.  I shouted at her to get off, knowing it was fruitless to do so, and stepped faster, still careful on the slick ground. 

I was too slow.  Before I could get 20 paces from her, Lily had knocked the milk pail to the ground.  As the metal clanged and clattered loudly, scattering the protective cover across the cement tile, it startled all the goats and they jumped and took off.  Unfortunately, Moonshine and Luna’s leash had become caught on the metal milk stand, so they dragged it out into the rain 6 feet, pulling it over onto its side on the gravel as I approached.  I released them, then hooked Salsa to a post so I had hands free to get everything fixed again.  Becca came outside to see what the ruckus was all about, and held Lily while I righted the milk stand and maneuvered it back into position.  Imbri and the kids had hightailed it back to the barn, so once I got everything back into place, I had to walk back to get them in rain that was now being blown sideways in random gusts of wind.  The three of them stood side by side in the doorway looking out, all of them maaaing loudly.  A missed Kodak moment, but in the pouring rain, there was no way I was pulling out a camera.  I grabbed leashes and they came willingly, though very vocally.  Eventually, everyone got into their proper places, I re-sanitized the milk bucket, and finished off chores by milking, mulling over what had happened and what could be done to avoid it in the future.  I chuckled to myself while the cat wound around the legs of the stand as I realized that there was nothing to do but enjoy the occasional chaos.  Their independence, spunk, curiosity and playfulness are some of the things I love the most about goats.  Ours certainly have plenty of that!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Goat Panic and Wonderful Bread

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear dark as night.  As the days shorten, my mornings require the light attached to my ball cap in order to be able to get around outside and get the critters cared for.  Often on mornings like this the goats are quite happy in their barn and aren't eager and cooperative about going outside.  Rainy days are worse.  Those days, I often have to pull some of them out of the barn.

So it wasn't unusual when I opened the door and walked into the dark barn that Lily, the black LaMancha, was lying down, sleeping.  I thought it was an odd location and she was in an odd position, but I know I sleep strangely sometimes, so I shouldn't be surprised goats do, too.  I decided to let her snooze as long as she wanted to while I put leashes on the other four goats first.  I kept glancing at her, watching for her to stir and get up.  She didn't.  I started getting worried.  There was a lot of ruckus in the barn, with the other goats tromping around and Salsa re-establishing her authority by pushing and butting the other goats around.

Finally, I couldn't put it off any longer.  Lily hadn't budged.  With a worried and hesitant tone in my voice, trying to sound a little confident as I started to walk toward her, imagining the worst, I said, "Hey, Lily, time to get up, girl."


Lily immediately lifted her head upon hearing her name, looked at me, and slowly stood up, stretching.  I felt like I'd been confronting a teenager who just wants to snooze just a little bit longer...  She punked me!  With a sigh of relief, I clipped the leash to her collar and gave her some extra scritches and scratches in all her best itchy places.  I let everyone out of the barn, relieved that I could still plan to breed her this fall.  Salsa's milk production is still good at 1/2 gallon a day, but she is visibly drying up and it's time to give another goat or two a shot at being milkers.


I had what was turning into a long section of this post devoted to The Day I Slept Through Two Alarms.  Upon rereading it, I realized that it is really not that interesting to anyone else and I was bored reading it myself. Of note, the kids were only 10 minutes late and I got the tardies (four carpool kids) excused for them, and She Who Does Not Run or Jump (Me) ran.  'Nuff said.

So let's talk about Food, shall we?

Now that I am working full time again, my cooking exploits are jammed into every spare moment of the weekend, and I am frustrated because there's not enough time for all I want/need to do.  I am contemplating asking for a four-day work week, though not expecting any type of positive response to that.  Besides, with the pay being so low I'm not sure I could make it worthwhile ... though it is coming up on holiday season and I could ramp up soap making ...  Ah, to think of for another day.

I've been learning how to can pickles, both sweet and garlic/dill now.  I am a salsa and tomato soup making machine.  If you want to know about the Best Tomato Soup Ever, let me know and I'll write all about it and share the recipe.  I am spoiled by my homemade soup now and doubt I'll ever willingly go back to store-bought, ever.

I discovered that focaccia is really easy to make using a bread machine.  Super simple.  The problem with my homemade focaccia is that it is rather delicate and doesn't hold up well for sandwiches.  It makes a great base for my arugula and parmesan bruschetta, but BLTs, no.

Bex and I love to go to the Windsor Farmer's Market on Sunday mornings.  We have fallen in love with Mama Tina's new meatballs and sauce that she sells by the twos in a little pouch.  I can easily warm those up and slice them onto ciabatta rolls from the baker at the farmers market, topped with mozzarella cheese, for an easy and filling dinner.  I was contemplating that this weekend.  I doubt I could beat Mama Tina's meatballs, especially since she just won Double Gold at the Harvest Fair for them, but ciabatta bread.  Now that's another story.

I decided to try a bread machine recipe and see how it worked out.  The recipe said that the dough would be "sticky" and not to try to add flour to it.  As I looked at the dough after the bread machine was done with it, practically sloshing it around in the pan, I muttered to myself, "Sticky?  More like soupy!"  With some apprehension, I poured the dough/batter onto a floured cutting board, scooped the edges up as much as I could so it would fit under the largest mixing bowl I own, and set the timer, hoping that it wouldn't ooze out like The Blob all over the kitchen.  After 15 minutes was up, I gingerly removed the bowl and was relieved that it pretty much stayed together.  Despite flouring the sharpest knife I have, the dough still stuck to the knife and did not seem at all to want to be separated into two pieces.  I forced the issue and then transferred the halves to two floured pans to rest and rise for another 45 minutes.

Resting time after dough prep for the focaccia is just long enough to preheat the oven, about 15-20 minutes.  There's the extra time for the ciabatta.

I popped the risen dough into the oven for 25 minutes (25-30 is what the recipe calls for) and it was a little darker than I wanted it to be when I took it out, so I'll go for 20 next time.

What I received for my efforts were two good-sized beautiful rustic loaves of golden bread, crispy on the outside and light and perfect on the inside.  They were crispy enough without me bothering to spritz water on them every 5-10 minutes while they baked (I'm all about making it as simple as possible - why bother?).  I made a sandwich with part of the cooled loaf and discovered that it not only tasted good, but it held up very, very well.  I have a winner.

Sorry focaccia, you will be made for special occasions for the bruschetta, but ciabatta is my new go-to weekend bread making buddy, stickiness and all.

If you'd like to try your hand at ciabatta, the recipe is at and below.  (P.S. I did not "dimple" the bread.  Unnecessary for ciabatta.)  Enjoy!

Ciabatta Bread

Servings: 24
Submitted By: Marina    

"This is a bread machine version of the Italian classic which still bakes in your oven. Though not sour, this bread has the crisp crust and coarse crumb one expects from ciabatta."

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 1/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast


1.     Place ingredients into the pan of the bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer. Select the Dough cycle, and Start.

2.     Dough will be quite sticky and wet once cycle is completed, resist the temptation to add more flour. Place dough on a lightly floured board, cover with a large bowl, and let rest for 15 minutes.

3.     Lightly flour or use parchment lined baking sheets. Divide into 2 pieces, and form each into a 3x14 inch oval. Place loaves on prepared sheets, dimple surface, and lightly flour. Cover, and let rise in a draft free place for approximately 45 minutes.

4.     Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

5.     Dimple dough for a second time, and then place loaves in the oven, positioned on the middle rack. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. During baking, spritz loaves with water every 5 to 10 minutes for a crispier crust.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stretching That Birthday Out

There is a bit of benefit when you cannot have all of your friends together to celebrate your birthday.  I used to find it humorous that my son-in-law Anthony likes to celebrate his "Birthday Week," but this year I am beginning to see the fun in that.

My friend Roni is one of the sweetest people I have ever met.  She is kind, intelligent, funny, kind, witty, energetic, and did I mention she is kind?  She is near the top of all the people I know who has the biggest heart, and no matter what is going on in the world or in my life, we always find ourselves laughing out loud together.  You know the kind, big belly laughs, with mouths wide open, often bent over, unable to contain it all.  I love spending time with her, and now that Becca has gotten to know Roni, she loves spending time with her, as well.  Yes, Becca loves Roni's cats and her new kitten, Leo, but that's not the only reason.  The kid has a respect and admiration and love for Roni that sparked early and deep, which is pretty unique.

Roni asked if she could take Becca and me out to lunch for a late birthday celebration.  I love spending time with her, and no matter where she wanted to go I was game.  She picked one of the best spots in the area, The Tides at Bodega Bay, so on a bright and sunny Saturday, we headed over to her house to meet up.  Of course, there had to be a little play time with the kitties beforehand, but we kept it short so that we could go enjoy the coast.

We headed out Highway 12 and through downtown Sebastopol, then off on the curvy and winding road to Highway 1.  The rolling hills and quaint farm houses dotting the scenery as we drove made it feel as if we were truly traveling into a different place and time.  The sky was overcast, but it wasn't too cold, and Roni and I pointed out the old town of Bodega and the church made famous by Hitchcock's film "The Birds" to Becca.  She'd seen the movie in class recently, and it was fun for her to see these spots in person.  We rolled up the highway, and as we approached Bodega Bay the fresh scent of saltwater became more evident.

We found a parking place easily and walked into the restaurant.  As we waited very briefly we admired the freshly baked pastries in the nearby display case and Roni said that we would shop here after lunch to bring some goodies home.  The restaurant was busy, but not overly so, so we didn't have much time to admire the surroundings before we were able to be seated.

We had a great view of the bay from our table, and Becca spotted a sea lion playing in the water not long after we sat down.  It was hard to focus on the menu when there was such a beautiful view outside, but we were hungry and attended to that quickly.  Roni suggested dungeness crab cocktail to start, and we agreed.  Becca and I had never had one before.  We really enjoyed it, but next time I think I will do without the sauce.  It was good, but covered the delicate crab flavor.  We enjoyed our meal over lively conversation, Roni having perfectly prepared calamari and me closing my eyes to savor the fresh fish and chips.  We teased Becca that she wouldn't be able to get the tall club sandwich she ordered into her mouth, but she worked hard and was able to prove us wrong.  All in all, it was a spectacular lunch, enjoyed with Roni and I sipping margaritas and Becca a Shirley Temple.

After lunch, we perused the glass case containing all those wonderful pastries, and each of us selected some to bring home.  We stashed those in the car and grabbed the bag of stale bread that Roni had been collecting for the seagulls and headed out to the pier.  We settled at a table and I started to open the bag.  As soon as I had the bag open and my hand touched a piece of bread, suddenly a loud cry started from the seagulls and we were surrounded!  We had a ball feeding them, at first tossing them to the ground so the birds could grab the pieces, and then learning that the seagulls could easily catch them if we lobbed the bread just right.  Eventually, Roni discovered that they would eat from your hand, so the three of us began a combination of feeding by hand and playing "catch" with the birds.  The sea lions were playing, and one was trying to take a nap through the chaos of the calling and flying birds.  We spent quite some time in the fresh ocean breeze playing with the gulls before depleting the store of bread and heading to the car.

Our conversation on the drive home was just as animated, and we briefly visited with the cats at Roni's before heading home to rest up and take a nap after our coast adventure.  It's amazing how tired good food and ocean air will make you!  It's a day I'll never forget, especially learning to feed the birds by hand, which was a special treat.  Thank you, Roni, for a special day!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Birthday Surprise

On Friday, August 10th, I was exhausted at the end of the day.  Dragging.  But really happy for the weekend and looking forward to seeing my family for dinner.  It was Friday, after all.  Because this was the family dinner night closest to my birthday, I knew that Mom would have cake and there would be singing.  Bex had gone down early with Manda, so "Corsica" and I car pooled down after work.

A few weeks earlier, I had mentioned to Jess that I knew that this was a big birthday for me, and I knew how big her and her sisters' hearts are, that I suspected that they might be thinking of planning a surprise, and not to worry about that please don't. I didn't want to be caught unaware and possibly embarrassed.  (What if I was wearing something wrong or my hair needed a shampoo or some other such thing?)  Jess' face fell, and suddenly she was the little two-year-old towhead that I'd disappointed, and I immediately regretted the words coming out of my mouth.  How selfish was I!?  I backpedaled fast.  I told her that if she wanted to do something, that she could, just please make sure I wasn't embarrassed.  She agreed.

Fast forward a week, and we are all at Six Flags/Marine World when Mandi tells me that Jess told her about our conversation.  She said she was going to come clean.  They had been trying to plan a party, but it wasn't working, so I didn't need to worry about it.  They were trying to figure out who on my list of Facebook friends were "real friends" and not acquaintances, old classmates I didn't really know, old coworkers, professional contacts, etc.  Besides, they had asked my dear friend Tammy if she could come up, and she could not make it, so they just lost all the umph they had in planning it.  Tammy's arrival would have been the biggest part, and they weren't able to make it work they way they wanted to.  We had plans already to go dancing on the 11th, closing night for my old stomping grounds at Kodiak Jack's, so I was told I could invite who I wanted to go.  The list of people that would want to or be able to go there was small, so that was easy.

Back to Friday night.  We pulled up to the house and I recognized Kyla's car, remembering that she and Loren would be visiting for dinner, as well.  This was going to be a lot of people, more than usual.  Still tired, I walked in the door and into the living room.  I always make my way to my mom to greet and hug her first, and so I was weaving my way through toward her, feeling somewhat stunned in my exhausted mind at the birthday greetings being said and shouted from all around me.  Smiling as I slowly walked, I noticed a blur as someone rapidly appeared from the hallway and walked across the room to stand in front of me.

I blinked.  I think my mind went completely blank for a moment.  I couldn't wrap my brain around what I was seeing.

It was Tammy!  And right behind her came Emily, her daughter and Becca's best friend. 

The surprise had been delivered after all, and boy what a great surprise that was!

Tamily (Tammy and Emily) live in Orange County, and I was trying to figure out how long she'd been in Sonoma County, so I blurted out, "Where are you staying?"  She said, "With you, I hope?"  Of course!!  My brain was trying to figure out where we'd pick up their stuff, never thinking that they might have traveled all day to get there.  I have some pretty darn amazing friends!

We had a glorious dinner and visit, and I think it was one of the best birthday dinners I've ever had.  We got home late, and it's always great to have Tamily there to add more joy to the morning and night time rituals of caring for the animals.  Quick sheet changes (a weekend chore that needed to be moved up the list pronto) and fresh towels, and we were ready to collapse into bed ... and talk more. 

Becca and I love being with Tamily.  I am always so grateful that Bex and Emily get along and love each other as much as their moms do. 

The horrors that widely differing personalities could have inflicted on our long and deep friendship are too much to even try to imagine.  When Tamily are present, our family is whole.  We look forward to a few years down the line when they can live closer to us, and fantasize about what we can do with the studio next to my house to bring all of us together.

Saturday morning I awoke early, as usual, shutting down the alarms so as not to disturb everyone, and quietly went about getting ready to move and milk the goats and feed the critters.  I was surprised to see Emily slipping out, and she asked if she could help.  What a treat that was, to be able to spend some quiet time with her in the morning.  She milked Salsa all on her own, and is a real pro.  Reading, and odds and ends followed until Tammy and Becca got up.  Then we made breakfast and enjoyed spending time together until time to go to our early dinner.

Pack Jack's BBQ was *the* BBQ place for me for years.  Brick oven smoked, simple fare, in a plain yet funky environment perched on the side of Highway 116 just outside of Sebastopol.  Paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, lots of napkins, and finger bowls (large!) to help with cleanup after enjoying ribs with their homemade sauces.  Fire destroyed the restaurant many years ago, and I was so happy to hear that they were reopening this summer.  Being that Tammy was a Sebastopol native, as well, we knew we had to go there for dinner, so off we went on a lovely drive through the country to meet the rest of my kids for another birthday dinner.  We stuffed ourselves and had a great dinner visit, then drove into town to meet my parents at Starbucks.  The plan was for Becca and Emily to spend the night with them so the adults in our group could kick up our heels at Kodiak Jack's.

After fortifying ourselves with some caffeine and sugar for the night, we kissed the girls and my folks goodbye and headed into Old Town Petaluma.  The memories that flooded as Tammy and I chatted on the way were so fun to share with the kids.  This place was our stomping ground from the day it opened, as we are both western dancers, with Tammy teaching and me competing with some teaching on occasion.  We met at Kodiak's under unusual circumstances that solidified our friendship into a bond that is hard to describe and is lifelong.  It shows the kind of people that Tammy and I are - we weren't petty and stupid about fighting over a man who had been two-timing us, recognizing instead that he was the problem, and discovering on the way that we had a lot more in common than getting involved with a cheater!

Kodiak's is closing, and the 11th was actually their closing night.  We had such a fun time walking up to the bar and seeing Barry's shock of recognition of the two of us together there again.  It made me feel even more like I was home when he remembered my old habits and got our drinks started.  We found a table and gathered together with other friends and family, high spirited and enjoying being together.  It was karaoke night, so it took a while for us to be able to get onto the dance floor, and Barry touched us all with his closing speech about this home away from home, and then sang a modified version of "I Love This Bar."  (There's a cover charge. :-) ) 

Tammy and I put in our requests to the DJ and waited mostly patiently for dances we could do.  So much changes in the world of line dancing and we hadn't been keeping up with the newer dances.  We took a refresher lesson and got some of our non-dancing friends and family involved, so we had a good group when that song was played. 

It was like old times on the floor with Tammy again, but we were beginning to despair toward the end of the evening that we wouldn't be able to dance our absolute favorite, when Tammy went up to the DJ and pulled a connection card.  She used to work as a DJ and dance teacher at Two Steps Up, and when she mentioned that, magically our favorite dance was played shortly.  It's one that isn't taught much these days (Hawaiian Hustle, choreographed by Petaluman Sue Shotwell), but it is soooo good that the few who knew it flocked to the floor with us and youngsters were trying to learn it on the fly.

Shortly after, the booty shaking and freestyle music started, so we gathered our things and regretfully said goodbye to the old place and old friends.  Maverick's is opening in Santa Rosa and Barry will be there, but it just won't be the same as the old brick building filled with memories and spirits of old friends.  There are new ones to make at Maverick's, so we'll have to check it out.

We had done all the chores before leaving home, so everyone was tucked in as Tammy and I rumbled up the dirt driveway well after 1am.  Though we were tired and knew we should sleep, we collapsed on the couches in the living room instead and chatted another hour or so.  Tammy and I needed to meet up with the girls in the morning so she and Emily could begin another long drive south on Sunday.  Eventually we recognized that we needed sleep and that the goats wouldn't wait for milking in the morning, and headed off to bed.

Sunday morning, we decided to meet up with the kids for breakfast at the airport in Petaluma, and were able to spend more time together, laughing and talking over good food, before they had to hit the road again. 

It was a full weekend, little sleep, but what an amazing way to spring into my 51st year!  Many thanks to my girls for pulling this all together, to Becca for being such a good keeper of a good secret, and to Tamily for making that trek up to make it a truly special time.  I am looking forward to the next time!!!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Da God Squad

On July 28th I gathered some close friends together who were a part of the California Wind Children with me in my youth.  This is a group that is difficult to describe briefly, but I will try for those who are unfamiliar with this part of my past.

Based at an Episcopalian church, this ecumenical group of teens from 14 and up, created musical performances and performed them locally to raise money for their summer work projects.  Those same performances were sung and played on one-night stands across the country as they continued to earn money while traveling to the projects.  Individual responsibility and teamwork were important to the group, as the teens were completely responsible for all aspects of their functioning, from purchasing, repairing and maintaining the buses and other vehicles used for travel to finances, public relations, sound, choreography, every aspect necessary to keep the group functioning and meeting their goals.  There was a director, yes, but he did some steering, that was about it.

The group worked with the Cree, Navajo, Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes on reservation projects and helping run summer camps for children.  Other projects included establishing a summer program for youth in Camp Meeker, CA modeled after the Outward Bound programs in Europe, a trip to Wales to work with the rangers there on renovation, bridge and fence building, erosion control and other projects, and a peace focused project in Ireland.  Francis Ford Copola supported the group's work with Native Americans by providing studio time and the opportunity to record three record albums at his studio in San Francisco.  There is so much more to tell, but suffice to say that for many who participated (last count is 234 individuals participated in the group in one form or another over a span of nearly a decade) it was a life-changing experience.

I like to get together with my old friends from this group from time to time, and although only five could make it that July weekend, we had such a good time and a great visit, lasting long into the night, which unfortunately caused a couple of my guests to arrive at their South Bay homes in the wee hours of the morning.

I discovered the day after this visit that a youth group would be camping on the property behind my house, which belongs to the Bishop's Ranch - yes, an Episcopalian retreat center and a terrific neighbor.  So ...  Episcopalian youth group from the Bay Area, camping and working at the retreat center, what is this group all about?  I was told they are "The God Squad," so I went to the internet and did a search.  It's a group of teens from several churches in the Alameda County area who do work projects, including work with the Lakota in North Dakota.  And Lakota youth and adults that these kids knew would be joining them that weekend.

I made some queries and found out that we could go visit the group one evening.  I got together a large quantity of ice cream and a couple jars of cajeta (caramel sauce I make from goat's milk) and we headed down there to dispense some cheer after their long hot day of work clearing campsites and trails, and to find out what they were all about.  Unfortunately, due to family issues at home, the Lakota were unable to make this trip, but what a great group of kids were there.  Becca and I drove down to the campsite with our neighbor, Bette, bouncing over ruts in the trail and driving through a dry creek bed.  I introduced myself to one of the leaders of the group, and he asked the kids to gather round.  Several of them had already been sitting near the campfire with guitars.  He explained that I used to be with a youth group in Novato, and one of the other adults interrupted and asked, "Were you in the Wind Children?"  Surprised, I said yes.  She then stated excitedly, "I have one of your albums!"  The kids oohed and aaahed, looking at me with fresh eyes.  Album?  As we dished out the ice cream with lots of cajeta over top, we chatted with some of the kids, who were really appreciative and came back for more.  I asked the woman with the album which one she had, and she couldn't remember.  Then she said that she knew all the songs, and her favorite went like this:  "Wind Children of the Wind Children of the Wind Children of the Wind."  I laughed with delight.  That theme song was on the Flower and Flag musical history of the US, written in response to an invitation to perform on the White House Lawn for the bicentennial in 1976.  I told her that I have extras of the third and final album we recorded and that I would bring some down for them in the morning.  (For those in the know, yes, I was expecting her to sing Sim Cu Na!)

I enjoyed learning about the projects these kids have worked on, in East LA, on the Lakota reservation, helping with recovery efforts in New Orleans after Katrina, and in Galveston.  These kids are hard working and inspirational, much like we in the CWC were as teens.  I am looking forward to finding out more about what they are doing and how I can support them in their efforts.  How exciting that this spirit of helping others, learning how to be responsible, and how you can do more than you ever imagined possible, is still around and being nurtured in young people. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

More Transitions

It's been an interesting couple of days.  An interesting week.

I used to live on a working ranch in Northeastern Santa Rosa, on the way to Calistoga and Napa Wine Country, near Safari West.  The Cresta family is a well known family in this area.  Three generations live on that ranch, and for six years we were blessed to share that space by renting one of the homes on the property.  From Bill, the patriarch, on down to the youngest of his teenage grandkids, they were good people, hard working, and became family to Amanda, Becca and me.

One of Bill's grandsons, Broc Cresta, was an up and rising rodeo star.  All the family participated in rodeo, whether it was steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing, or raising champion steer wrestling horses or putting on roping events.  Broc was ranked 12th in the world as a team roper, heeler being his specialty.  Two turns at the National Finals Rodeo and loving the hard scrabble life of professional rodeo.  He found love last year when a barrel racer named Brittany stole his heart.  At 25, the world was his and he was chasing the dream.

Suddenly, the dream ended last weekend.  At Cheyenne's Frontier Days rodeo in Wyoming, he competed, spent time with friends and Brittany, went to sleep in his travel trailer, and ... never woke up.  Friends and family still await the results of the autopsy to try and figure out why in the world this young man left us too soon.

I attended the memorial at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday afternoon.  Trucks and trailers filled the parking lot of this huge venue, as barbecue grills billowed smoke outside.  Hats and boots and freshly pressed shirts and jeans filed in solemnly, pausing to look at the pictures of Broc and the table filled with his awards, belt buckles, spurs, and his saddle.  Hundreds gathered inside the theater while a video set to music played.  Tears welled up as I sat down and saw this young family I'd lived with, photos at the ranch and the many places Broc and they had traveled, all too soon far away memories.  A rodeo announcer took care of formalities as hats came off in the audience, and Broc's young friends and older brother filed in.  Beautiful words were spoken about a good young man, stories that made us laugh and cry.  Brittany played "Over You" by Miranda Lambert, and tears fell again.  Her heartbreak at losing young love was so apparent, so huge, as was Broc's brother's grief as he expressed his love for his little brother.

I had the chance to meet with some of the family after the service.  I sought out Brent especially.  I wanted to let him know that he would be okay, and that I understood his pain.  I told him that I was his age when I lost my little brother, who was just a year older than Broc at his death.  Brent's eyes were filled with pain and fear as he asked the question he was afraid to hear the answer to, "Does it get better?"  I was able to tell him yes.  It takes time, and the hole is always there, but eventually it doesn't tear you apart, eventually it doesn't make you wish you were dead, eventually you learn to cherish the memories and value the lessons learned instead of mourn the loss as much.  Eventually, you can look at his picture and smile instead of cry.

In looking at photos of Broc, I saw some taken of him at his last rodeo in Cheyenne.  I was surprised to see the number 222 on his back.  I had already thought about the time between my brother Tim's death and Broc's death, had marked in my mind that they were close in age, and they both died in hot July.  222.  Tim died exactly 22 years and 2 weeks before Broc.

We honored a young man who was a hero that little kids looked up to as they watched him wield his rope on horseback with amazing speed and accuracy at the rodeos and on television at the NFR.  We honored an honest, quiet, and hard working young man who loved as hard as he worked at his craft, and who touched so many lives in such a positive way.  Another young life to show us and remind us that you need to live every day as if it were your last, wring every bit of joy out of it that you can, and love as many and as much as you can.  Don't waste your time.  You can never get it back.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Catching Up. Again.

It's been over a month since I've written a blog post.  There are notes here, but as time went on I quit even making those, meaning to "get to it" but not quite making it.

I'm always thinking, and there's an emotional side that simmers under the surface here that doesn't always make it into the written word.  As I discussed online with a friend recently, I'm a Pooh-Bear sort of person.  I'm not Pollyanna, ignoring all the bad and pretending it's not there, but I recognize the challenges, sort them out as best I can, and move forward toward the sun.  Positivity and humor keep my motor humming.

It hit a point about the time you quit seeing blog posts where my tank ran low.  It was good enough to keep me going, and there are moments of joy and bliss, great stories, and some fun times with friends and family.  Those fueled me just enough to go, but not enough to write.  There was a deeper worry that was dragging at my ability to express myself.

As many of you know, I lost my job the end of November 2011.  I am blessed that I had savings to keep us going, enough ways to make ends meet, and fabulous family and landlords.  The end of June I hit the end of my savings, and though at this time there are still job applications hanging out there with potential, the pickings are still slim and the competition massive and fierce for the few jobs available to me.  I have begun to worry, and I have begun to go into debt that is going to bite me soon.  I quietly work to keep going, and refuse to allow it to completely sap my energy, drive, love, or zest for life.  I know that I will find a way.  I won't let it stop me from what I want and need to do.  This is just to let you know why I have been absent, and to let you know that I recognize it's time to come clean and start sharing again.

Since I last wrote, I've driven late at night from Petaluma to Healdsburg without realizing that the "pull" on the car's steering was due to a flattening tire until I saw it completely flattened the next morning.  I couldn't get the lug nuts loosened, so called for "roadside" assistance, only to discover the spare was low and the driver had no air compressor on his truck.  I was blessed not only that my son-in-law was able to bring a compressor to the house, but he "stole" two tires so he and my daughter could buy me new ones, as I wasn't sure how I was going to handle that.  All of my kids show me over and over how amazing, loving, resourceful and supportive they are, and I cannot be more thankful to have them in my life and so close.

There have been farmers market days that were great.  At the Windsor market there's a man with what I call a "hurdy gurdy," cranking out tunes and singing in French.  I look for the little monkey I know must be lurking, and I feel as if I've been transported to Paris and am walking tree-lined avenues at a leisurely pace with happy people about.  If you haven't heard him, check it out on Sunday mornings at the Windsor Town Green.

There have been days where the goats ran to the wrong pen in the morning, and then ran away from me as I tried to get them to the correct area.  A mystery wherein it appears that someone brushed and clipped the goats while I was away one day, leaving no trace or clue as to why or who it was.  I have given up trying to figure it out, and am simply grateful for the mystery person who brought smiles and delight one day.

The four youngest chicks have finally been integrated into a flock with the two Americaunas, but not before we had more shenanigans as they continued to be moved outside to their separate pen next to the others, then back inside to my bedroom in a box for the night.  One morning, I awoke to find Traz had escaped from the box.  Thankfully, she had not roamed during the night, but simply found a roost over her companions and didn't make a mess.  On another night, we arrived home after dark and the four chickens had escaped from their outside pen.  We panicked and quickly were able to round them up and into the box for their night in indoor safety.  They have integrated rather smoothly, though not without some tears from Becca in the first few minutes when Zeus pecked at them and there was much chicken shrieking as they established their "pecking order."  Because of the time we gave them to know each other separated by fencing, this was short-lived and they are all doing well now.

Persephone, the Americauna hen, started laying and I am delighted every morning now when I go out to check and discover a beautiful, perfect, small blue-green egg.

I am excited about the rest of them starting to lay, as not only will this completely obliterate the need for me to buy eggs from time to time to cover the gaps in Roxie's laying, but will provide extra for sale.  The Rhodies should lay much larger eggs than these!

I was able to resolve a problem with the propane tank after 9 months of needing to use portable tanks to take care of hot water needs.  After being told by the company that there was an underground leak in our pipes that we couldn't take care repairing right away (thousands of dollars and I was not confident in the diagnosis of the problem), I discovered that all the propane in the large, rusted looking tank was gone, which shouldn't have happened since it was completely locked off and not being used.  After an inspection by a seasoned pro, it was discovered the leak has been in the tank the whole time and our pipes are fine.  They quickly arranged to replace the tank with a new one, and credited me with the propane lost plus extra for the nine months of inconvenience and the potential unnecessary and high cost of replacing pipes that weren't damaged.  Whew!

Celebrations for the 4th of July were had over two nights.  On the night of the 3rd, we joined Jessica and Cory in Windsor for a BBQ and to watch the fireworks from their driveway.  It was easy and I thought we'd escaped the crowds until I needed to leave, taking a "wrong" turn (the back road I wanted to take was blocked) and sitting in bumper to bumper traffic with no traffic assistance personnel (they didn't expect the crowd this year) for over an hour.  We got home extremely late, and while discovering a backed up sink and small leak I bumped the pipe and it decided to separate, creating a lovely 1:00 a.m. mess in the kitchen.  We cleaned it up, and thankfully were able to have everything fixed in short order.

Amanda and Anthony were surprised by their friends and family with a stay at the beautiful location they'd been married at a year before, Vine Hill House in Sebastopol, for their anniversary.  They invited us to join them on the 4th to watch fireworks from Vine Hill and have a BBQ together.  We had a great visit in a beautiful location, and though the fireworks started late, they were perfectly visible from the (cold!) lawn.  We huddled under blankets and listened to the accompanying music on KZST, having another grand evening together.

Amanda and her friend Kyla treated Becca and I to a trip to Six Flags in Vallejo (Marine World it will always be to me) on Friday the 13th.  We had a great time wandering through the park, and the daredevils among us took full advantage of the light lines for crazy coasters.  I discovered that, though I love the wooden coasters, Roar was far too rough for me and may have been my last roller coaster ride.  Welcome to rapidly approaching 50.  Becca was able to feed a giraffe, her "favorite animal," which delighted her to no end.

We helped to move Amanda and Anthony out of a toxic living situation and into a beautiful location where they can begin to meet their goals of buying their own home.  I am so proud of them for being proactive and finding a way (and new, wonderful friends to help) toward great things.

The next two weeks are a blur of preparation for a reunion gathering I hosted at my home this past Saturday.  I like to usually send a wide open invite, but was unable to because of parking considerations here.  Unfortunately, there were so many with plans that even though I sent more than 50 invites, 1/10 were able to be here.  The kids were terrific in helping me at the house, as there were still unpacked boxes about and some work that I hadn't been able to get to outside to be done.  The place looked great, and we were able to have an intimate gathering that lasted well into the night, talking and laughing, singing and sharing stories.  It is a day and evening that will remain a treasured memory for years.  Thank you to my South Bay friends who made the extra long drive to visit.

More plans are in the works as I write this blog post, stopping from time to time to go out and see if Persephone has laid her Tuesday egg.  I'm looking forward to sharing the adventure with you again!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

From Father's Day to Lonestar

I have some catching up to do.  There are times when it feels like there's nothing new in my world and the days run together in their routine monotony.  There's really nothing monotonous about life, as each sunrise brings something new and beautiful to my life.  They just aren't always something to write about.

For Father's Day, we headed to Novato to visit with my parents and honor Dad.  I am so blessed to have such warm, intelligent, funny and generous parents.  We had a great visit with them and family, and left midday to carpool home - me and my three daughters.  I felt like I wanted to show them my old high school, and asked if they felt up to taking a walk through campus.  They were all game.  We found our way to the parking lot, discussing whether we should take staff parking during the summer on a Sunday or not.  It's funny how that seems like such a huge no-no, even if the school is closed for the day.

We got out of the car and started walking into the school campus.  As we walked past a brightly painted mural with hornets all over it (the school mascot), I said to Mandi, "Watch out!  Hornets!"  She reacted immediately, as she's allergic to bee stings, and then playfully smacked me on the arm when she saw the joke.  We wandered through the corridors, past classrooms that I spent time in with favorite teachers.  Their "ghosts" were there - whether they're still living or not - and it was a strange sense of coming home.  We headed to what used to be the "smoking pit."  The kids are still skeptical when I tell them that students were allowed to smoke on campus in this specific area.  The area has been cleared, no benches or anything at all left in the center of what really looks like a pit now.  There was a yard duty stationed nearby, not to check IDs, even though most were under the legal age to be able to purchase cigarettes, but to make sure nothing caught fire, or left the area still lit, and to prevent the smoking of "wacky tobaccy."

We wandered in a circular fashion around the campus, passing the area where most of my classes were - business courses such as shorthand, accounting, typing, taught by two of my favorite teachers, now deceased.  We peeked into the open lockers, some painted, some covered in contact paper or graffiti, others containing rotting food.  The kids were surprised that we had a pool, and envious.  I told them about first period PE and how cold it was to have to take swimming your sophomore year.  (NHS was 10-12 grades then.  What are called "middle schools" now were junior high, 7-9.)

We found our way to the front of the school where the kids wanted to take my picture at the iconic sign on the lawn.  No, I'm not sharing the results.  After that, we walked to the car.  Jessica asked if we could do donuts in the parking lot before we left.  Baaaad!  I gave a cautious yes, and halfway through the first turn asked her to stop because I was already getting dizzy!  We laughed so hard on our way out of the parking lot, as I told them about the morning I drove my siblings to school, had to stop in the line into the parking lot on the inclined driveway in a stick shift Datsun pickup, and rolled it into the car behind me.  A teacher's car.  Oops!

Becca had some adjusting to do in her freshman year in such a different environment as high school, so she started summer school on Monday.  This will be our routine for the next five weeks.  Bette and I were able to get the cucumbers into the ground finally.  They are doing well.  Next we need to finish the prep and get the rest of the seedlings in the ground, along with the corn and peanuts.  It will be interesting to see if peanuts work in this climate.

Tuesday's news to note involved small, slimy creatures.  I have a sprinkler system set up for most of the potted garden plants in the back of the house, but there are a few that need hand watering.  I headed over to the sunny part of the yard to take care of those plants in the morning and suddenly felt something cold, rubbery and wet under the center of my foot.  I immediately stepped back and scolded the banana slug that had decided it was going to travel the deck at that time.  They are more prevalent here than any other place I've lived, and I've mostly gotten used to them.  Except when I step on them.  In the evening I grabbed the watering can to take care of the plants that needed a boost after a hot summer day, and was surprised to see a tiny frog jump from the can as I tipped it to start watering.  I was grateful that it didn't land on me.

I'm still looking for a good job, and was happy to find two that I could apply for on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Becca and I decided it was time to inaugurate the barbecue for the summer.  I had taken the cover off a few weeks earlier, so it was dusty and touched by cobwebs.  I also needed to reattach the propane tank and new regulator, as we've been temporarily using those for hot water until the big propane tank is replaced.  We took all the webs off, scrubbed down the grill, and got it started up.  After making sure that it worked, we turned it off and went inside to prepare chicken and pineapple kabobs for dinner.  Becca made a delicious sweet and spicy honey barbecue sauce to use for them, and we brought everything outside to get things started again.  I noticed I'd missed a few cobwebs underneath the grill and got down to the ground to take a closer look and clear them.  Then noticed the small hornets nest attached underneath.  It appeared empty and I hoped it was abandoned, so I knocked it to the ground.  We were a little unnerved when the creature building it showed up soon thereafter, obviously confused at not finding what it had just left.  I started the grill to encourage it to go elsewhere, and it did.

The kabobs were delicious!  Afterward, Becca surprised me by making ice cream sundaes with fudge sauce, fresh garden ripe strawberries, and banana slices.  Perfect end to a fun evening with her.

Friday night we had something special planned.  We regretfully did not make it to family dinner, as Lonestar was playing at the local SonoMarin (Sonoma and Marin) Fair in Petaluma.  What I love about this fair is that all of the attractions are included in the price of admission.  Yes, it's a little more, but all concerts are available to everyone at the fairgrounds, and the rides are all free, too.  We met Amanda and Anthony and their friends at the fair, and because we got started a little later than we'd expected and the lines were long, didn't have a chance for the kids to go on the rides (I generally don't do them at county fairs).  We got some food (the egg rolls on a stick are half the size that they used to be!), wandered the shops and carnival area, and then headed to the concert pavilion to grab a beer (OMG - something with Shark in the name and it was soooo good!) just as the band started.

I normally stay back or find a seat on the bleachers, but Mandi and Anthony took us to the front of the stage, where we stood and had a blast watching a band that is still going strong at their 20th anniversary year.  Energy, humor, and a tremendous amount of talent.  Along with their standards, every now and then they'd break into a mainstream hit from an earlier era, just a few lines, which puzzled some of the youngsters and made us older folk laugh with joy.  We had a ball, listening to all of their old hits, plus some new music.  I had to sit down for a little bit, because my feet hurt.  (I've been having problems with plantar faciitis.  New gel insoles were helping with that, but I'd forgotten the new cowboy boots weren't 100% broken in yet.  Not a good choice for walking the fair.)

At the end of the show, the crowd applauded and whistled loudly, but didn't ask for an encore as enthusiastically.  It took the band coming back on stage to wake them up again.  I was really puzzled.  Was it the crowd, or have people become so accustomed to encores that they just expect them without feeling like they need to ask for one?  It felt awkward for a few moments.  The drummer started a beat and we were invited to clap along.  It felt familiar.  Then the guitarist started playing and I turned in shock and delight to Amanda.  "Ohmygoodness.  They're playing Pink Floyd!"  It took several bars and the rest of the band joining in for the crowd to recognize what was coming, and the energy shot to the stars again.  The band went through a medley of about five or six similar songs, Beatles, a little AC/DC, and ended on a KISS classic, "I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night."  I didn't expect that, which I guess made it more fun.  These guys are amazing musicians, and it was great fun for me to be able to watch their performance and skill.

Becca stayed with her sister and brother-in-law to end the evening on the carnival rides, while I hobbled to the car and home to milk goats and get everyone settled in for the night.  On the drive home, I felt the car pulled slightly to the left and though maybe I'd lost a balancing weight when I went barreling down the driveway earlier and hit a bump too hard.  Der - I wasn't thinking clearly, because a balancing weight wouldn't have caused that sensation.  I took it easy going home, did the chores, and then drove to town to meet up with Amanda and bring Becca home.  They'd had a good time on the rides and playing carnival games, and it was about 1:00 am when I picked her up.  I had a bit of trouble with bicyclists, of all things, at 1:00 in the morning on Westside.  I thought there were two cars close to each other with their high beams on, and they weren't turning them down as I approached.  I flashed mine to get them to knock down the light volume as it was really blinding me, and I slowed to a crawl.  As we passed, I noticed they were bicyclists in their reflective spandex gear and was shocked anyone would ride at that time of night.  I suppose everyone likes a midnight ride now and then, but it seemed even more unsafe on what's already a treacherous road to ride on.

We got home and settled in finally about 1:30 am.  Saturday morning, when I woke up and took the dogs out to do their thing, I saw why the car was pulling.  Um, I had a flat tire.  Not completely, but significant.  It was time to clean out the trunk anyway, and time to get new tires for the front.  I suppose I can't put it off any longer.

The next section of the 2006 road trip log will include several photos, so since this is a rather long post I'll wait to add that until next time.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Windsor Town Green Concert and Good News About the Propane Situation

Wednesday was nothing to write home about.  Or blog about.  We were able to go to Kohl's to spend the "Kohl's cash" from Becca's earlier shopping trip, courtesy of our friend who treated Becca to summer clothes.  I was able to get some cool clothes for myself.  Otherwise, we just tried to stay out of the heat as much as possible.

The town of Windsor has a fun tradition of summer evening entertainment at the Town Green, a great community gathering place.  There are free movies outside on the lawn on Tuesdays, and a free live concert featuring various local bands on Thursdays.  This Thursday was the first concert, and Becca and I decided to go check it out.  We've slid through one previously when we stopped at the farmers market to pick up veggies, but didn't stay for the band that time.  We arrived early to get a good parking spot and found a park bench to sit on near the stage.  People had set out their chairs and blankets on the lawn to save their spots, and we watched as they filtered in, found their places, and greeted friends. 

We sat near a restaurant valet stand, which I'd never seen before and is such a good idea.  People come up and place their orders for food.  They pay for it, and take a numbered sign on a long pole with them to their seats, sticking it into the lawn near them.  When the food is ready, it is delivered to their location.  There were no huge lines of people waiting to get food, and it allowed everyone to relax and enjoy the concert.

As we were waiting for the band to begin, we saw this dog walk up with his family.  How do I know it was a "he"?  He was intact.  He was also one of the ugliest dogs I've ever seen.

My friend Ann thinks he's an English Bull Terrier, and that sounds right to me.  Becca called him "The Target Dog."  He has one black spot around his right eye.  I recoiled when I saw him initially.  His head was oddly shaped - not just straight from forehead to tip of nose, but curved in a reptilian fashion.  His eyes were tiny and pink rimmed.  I had a hard time looking at him for a while. 

Then I watched him interact with people.  Friends of his family would come up to greet them, and he calmed waited for attention.  When he got it, his tail wagged rapidly and he was excited and happy.  He didn't bark at other dogs, and he was calm as he relaxed near the chairs.  I have to say that as a representative of his breed, he provided a stellar example.  I have a better understanding of why someone would want to have him as part of their pack.  I still don't understand not neutering him, though.

When the band started, I was happy to hear that they knew what they were doing.  This was a country band, and a good one.  I quietly sang along, trying not to change the lyrics as my friends once did in their country band...  "Oooo I'm drivin' my life away."  I looked to see if anyone was dancing, and saw the first four of what would become a larger crowd in front of the bandstand.  They were skinny women in shorts and revealing tops, with cheap straw "cowboy" hats from the county fair, all with long white or grey hair.  One woman stood out, as she wore a pink brassiere clearly visible underneath her sheer, white shirt.  Ooooookay.  It takes all kinds, and this is Sonoma County, after all.

My eyes were drawn, of course, to the only couple doing a two-step, modified to dance up and down the walkway rather than in a circle.  The skinny grey bearded male counterpart of the couple became known to us as "Sparkly Man" because of his shimmering lamé and sequin encrusted gold long-sleeved shirt, which he wore with a pair of shorts.  He was flamboyant and obviously thought a great deal of himself, as he strutted and gestured gracefully with his partner, bald head gleaming in the sunlight over the grey fringe around the edges.  We tried to get some pictures of him, but I'd forgotten the good camera and my phone camera does not do well at all with distance shots.  I'm sure that you get the mental picture.  He danced every song and never had the same partner.  It seemed as if he'd brought a group of women with him who admired his ability, and he was taking full advantage of it.  It was clear that he and women he was with were having a great time.  I wished that Tammy was with me so that we could join in the dancing. 

We had left the chicks out, so needed to leave by about 7:00 pm so we could get them indoors before dark.  Next time, we'll be able to stay longer.  It was a lot of fun!

Friday morning, I followed up again on telephone conversations I'd had on Wednesday with the propane company that delivers our gas.  Last year I contacted them because I was smelling propane near the tank and believed there was a leak.  I asked them to come out and check it out.  They did, with a young driver I'd never seen before.  He tested the lines and the tank and told me that the leak was in the underground piping.  He said that the metal pipes deteriorate over time and that we should replace them with plastic.  He locked the tank and "red tagged" it.  I asked him a lot of questions, really questioning his diagnosis.  I believed strongly that the leak was from the tank, but even after talking with the owner at the company later, I had to conclude that this was what it was and we'd have to deal with it.  I helped Bette arrange for an estimate to replace the pipe.  Because the current line goes under concrete and the deck, it was less expensive to trench a new line to the other end of the house.  Less expensive doesn't mean not expensive.  It was horribly expensive.  In the meantime, she helped me set up a temporary system of using portable propane tanks to take care of things until the larger issue could be resolved.

Over the months since the tank was locked I've smelled propane from time to time, but never took the time to call again to ask them to come out.  There's a minimum fee of $50, and I figured they would probably poo-pooh my concerns again.  Over the last few days, the smell has been extremely strong, so I went to look at the gauge on the tank to see if it had lost any propane over the last 9 months.  I was shocked to see that it was nearly empty.  Was this confirmation that I'd been right all along?  Or was the tank now leaking but we still had a problem underground?  In any event, it needed to be taken care of.

I got the typical reaction when I asked the woman answering the phone to see if someone more experienced could come do the inspection.  "All of our drivers are trained."  I stifled a sigh.  I don't understand why people are so defensive when it comes to understanding that training and education or certification don't mean anything in the field.  It often takes experience to understand the nuances of a given situation.  It doesn't mean that the young man wasn't qualified or didn't know what he was doing, but perhaps he didn't know what to look for.  I ran into the same argument when a doctor at my daughter's orthodontist's office told me that we should go to a free or sliding scale clinic to have some work done for Becca.  It took us a long time to find a good dentist, and if we have to put off some minor work to make sure that she doesn't have a bad experience or deal with poor quality work, then we will do that.  She argued that California standards are so high that there are "no bad dentists" in California.  I beg to differ.  Passing a test does not mean that you will do quality work when on your own.  I've had horrible experiences with "free" or "low cost" clinics in the past, and won't subject my daughter to them.  The last time I tried a low cost clinic, I ended up at an oral surgeon's office to fix the mistakes made.

I was able to talk to the head honcho at the propane company, who said that he would talk to the driver, look at the file, and call me back that day.  That was Wednesday.  I gave him until Friday morning before I followed up.  When he called me back, I was able to have someone scheduled to come out the same day to look at the tank.  I was so relieved when the driver turned out to be someone obviously experienced and confident in what he was doing.  I explained what was happening, the gas loss, showed him where everything connected to the house, and he started carefully doing his work.  It was a sweltering hot day, so I made sure that he was supplied with plenty of ice water, too. 

After a few minutes, he came back to tell me that all of our lines, underground and in the house, tested 100% fine.  There was a leak at the valve in the tank.  He tried to tighten it, but it was not working.  He had already called the owner and insisted on the following:  We are getting a new tank as soon as possible, I will be credited for the propane lost to the leak, plus extra propane to help make up for the inconvenience of the last 9 months.  Within the hour of his leaving, he called to let me know when they could deliver the new tank.  He made special arrangements so that he will be present with another experienced employee in between their scheduled vacations.

I am so excited that we will finally be off this small tank rotation, and I am so relieved that we didn't go ahead with the new pipe lines!  That would have been a horrible mistake and unnecessary expense.

Experience does matter!

Before I close this post, the next day's entry on our trip to Indiana.

Day 3 - May 18, 2006
Kingman, AZ to Albuquerque, NM

The sun rises hot, and though it was wonderful at 6:00 am, by 8:00 am you can feel the heat building.  After turning back to see if I left my hematite necklace in the motel room, we were on the road by 9:00 am, 8:50 to be exact.

Music helps with Becca's poor attitude about doing her school work.  Mom and Dad didn't want to have the radio on, so I pulled out my Walkman.  That made me feel better and calmer again.  Becca is back to work, which helps.

Looking out the windows it is clear we are in Arizona.  There is nothing like this landscape.  Slowly we watched as rock formations started to rise out of the hills, growing ever taller and more prominent.  There is a stark beauty to Arizona that doesn't require green in order to be beautiful.

As we climb up in altitude toward Flagstaff, the terrain changes yet again.  The dry earth and rock formations shift into mountain beauty.  We are now surrounded by pines, and the signs tell us to look out for deer.  We are hoping to change our route on the way home so we can see the Grand Canyon.  Out of all the people in this van, I am the only one who has seen it.

Outside Flagstaff, the pines begin to disappear.  Suddenly, we are surrounded by nothing but flat, yellow earth.  It almost looks like Kansas, except for the mountains in the distance.  We are approaching the meteor crater now.

We saw the crater.  The cost to get in was highway robbery, but I am glad we got to see it.  Becca slipped and skinned her knee in front of the Apollo Lander.  We got some pictures and souvenirs.

We stopped at "THE INDIAN VILLAGE" with an "authentic hogan."  It had a sign over it that said, "HOGAN."  Typical tourist goods for sale.  Seed bead earrings were only $3.98.  It's far too little for all the work that goes into them.

Albuquerque is beautiful in its own way.  The bluffs are back and gorgeous.  The Motel 6 sucked.  The pool had trash and slime in it.  The room was so small that our bed was against the air conditioner.  I didn't sleep well, but still woke up feeling good.

At a rest stop today a group of Vietnam veteran bikers stopped, too.  One of the riders came up behind me in the store, touched the tattoo on my shoulder and drawled, "Somebody's been drawin' on you."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

At Least This Week Wasn't as Hot as Bakersfield in May 2006

We got a late start on Sunday and missed some of our favorite vendors at the farmers market.  Some were out of what we were looking for.  At one stand I asked if they had anymore garlic/cheddar bread, and they had sold out.  But!  They had a free sample loaf for me.  Another stand gave me a discount on my purchases.  It's a mixed bag at the end of market day.  You might not find what you wanted, but you can get great deals, and sometimes freebies, by being there as the tables are being cleared and unsold merchandise packed.  I was happy with what we brought home.  I'd forgotten Tierra Farm was closed on Sunday, so we missed out on the strawberries, but after dropping Bex off to visit at her sister's solo for a while, I picked up a ton of fresh produce to fill in the gaps at the grocery market.  I love shopping around the edges of the store, diving in just a bit to grab TP and coffee.  You can't get those at the farmers market.  Yet?

It was the perfect time to clean out the fridge, adding all that produce, and the great thing was that I didn't have a lot of "lost" food in there.  We are doing much better at eating fresh and using what we have, so no waste.

After a bit of time listening to music, I headed back to Jessi's to visit for a while.  They had just installed a new mister while I was there earlier, so on my way home I picked one up for our house, too.  I know it will help Breezy stay cool when she's outside, and it's going to be a great addition for our summer barbecues.  Becca and I made a great and filling spinach salad for dinner.  Now I'm wishing I'd planted spinach this year!

Monday was just too hot to write about.  We did make a trip to town and were able to take advantage of air conditioning.  Bex and I had a blast putting together a pasta dish without a recipe, tossing in fresh herbs and veggies and cutting fruit as a cool dessert.

Tuesday was cooler, but that's not saying a lot.  It was still hot.  On top of that, we had lots of wind.  The strong breezes cool us down a little bit, but they blow dust and leaves all over and make us nervous about fire danger.  We haven't had a day yet where we were going to be able to stay home to be available if the chicks peck each other too much, so the Rhodies and Chilly are still going in and out of the house.  When I put the chicks in their outside pen, I tip the box on its side to air out and be available.  It also provides some added shade in the late afternoon.  We put the chicks back into the box Tuesday evening, and I carried it inside.  Becca had Chilly on her head as she refilled their water.  When she came back in the room she said, "Watch out!"  I didn't know what she was talking about.  Just as I put my foot down on something on the ground, she said, "There's a lizard in the house!"  Oh my goodness.  I yanked my foot back and a small grey lizard moved away.  It had lost its tail somewhere.  Thankfully it froze as we tried to figure out how to get it outside.  I don't mind lizards much.  I definitely do mind them being indoors!  It must have hitched a ride somehow in the box we brought from outside.

Becca grabbed a shoe box, and I dropped it over the lizard.  Now to figure out how to get it back outside.  I didn't think it would work, but Becca wanted me to angle the lid underneath to pick it up.  My instincts said I needed something flat, but I humored her.  I thought I had nudged the lizard onto the lid, so lifted the end of the box to cover the top of the box completely ... and screamed when I saw the lizard still on the carpet.  I never scream.  I can't remember the last time I screamed.  That had us laughing hysterically as we found something flat to slide underneath and successfully take the lizard outside to release it.  As we passed by the now unused terrarium we borrowed from Jessica, Becca suggested we keep it.  Nope.  Not going to do that.  So that was my adrenaline rush for the week.  That's enough.

While clearing some boxes I discovered a journal that I'd started during our trip cross country with my parents to visit family in Indiana.  I had such a fun time re-reading and reliving this that I thought I'd share a little with you now and then.  Unfortunately, I neglected to write in the journal on the way home, but it recalls some fun moments and reminds me of how much I love being on the road.  (I took Becca out of school for this trip, but she did have homework scheduled and was required to keep a trip log as we traveled.  She was 8 years old at the time.)

May 16, 2006
Day 1
Novato to Bakersfield, CA

Even though Rebecca and I were running 1/2 hour late, we left only 15 minutes behind schedule, at 9:15 am.  After stopping at McDonald's and Starbucks, however, Dad remembered he hadn't packed the food.  After we went back to the house for the food, Rebecca's trip log accurately states we departed at 10:00 am.

She started off strong and willing, but soon Rebecca grew tired of school work.  What could have ended at 11:00 am went on past lunch. We stopped at Albertson's for lunch supplies and enjoyed turkey sandwiches, chips and yogurt.

By the time we stopped in Fresno, the air conditioner fan for the rear AC was loud.  Luckily, we were near the Sportsmobile dealer, who checked it out.  Unfortunately, he didn't have the part we need, so no rear AC.  It's okay for travel, but too hot for Mom at night.  (2012 side note - the part was ordered and shipped to our destination in Indiana.)

We arrived in Bakersfield hot and tired and hungry at 7:00 pm.  The KOA "Kabin" has no power, so it's dark and we need flashlights to find things.  We ate salad with chicken on it, turkey sandwiches and more yogurt at the picnic table with gnats and small flies.  Not too bad, but the air was humid and sticky, and they seemed to stick to our skin.

The Kabin was hot and dusty and situated next to the road, with a lot of traffic.  Top that off with a small airport nearby, and it was noisy and hot hot hot.  We slept without covers after our showers, and sweated all over again.

It seems like tour in a way.  So typical to have mechanical problems the first day out.  This time we didn't break down on the highway and it wasn't a major problem.

I am writing this the next morning, sitting by the pool while Becca splashes at 7:30 am.  The air is warm and comfortable, smells good, and birds are singing all around.  We are getting ready for Day 2 of our adventure.

May 17, 2006
Day 2
Bakersfield to Kingman, AZ

Somewhere between Barstow and God Knows Where, you begin to wonder why you decided to take this drive.  The air is hot, the ground rocky, and water is the best thing around.  The last rest stop before Needles has signs warning of rattlesnakes.  The best thing to do is watch the shadows of the clouds and wait for them to pass over you.  Any shade is good.

Just when you think there is nothing good at all in this dry, hot place, a vanilla ice cream cone from Dairy Queen makes everything sweeter and lightens the mood.  All feels well, despite the fact that they charge $3.99 a gallon for regular gasoline!

Motel 6 in Kingman tonight.  Mom needs the AC.  After checking in, Dad and I made a run to the grocery store.  We ate salad and turkey sandwiches again tonight.  Still tastes good.

The AC in the motel room was louder than the trains running through blowing whistles all night, but we got a good night's sleep anyway.  Max (2012 note: Mom's poodle) wasn't feeling well, but did better after rest in the room.  Lots of dogs at the motel, and friendly people.

Watched American Idol, then went to sleep.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Flying High and Falling Safely

Thursday evening I received a text from Bette that the fox is still hanging around.  She's caught him near Hope's pen, and walking up the hill near her other goats.  He might be after the feed?  She also caught sight of a rabbit, which looked to be possibly a domesticated breed.  Perhaps someone lost their bunny or it escaped and survived?  We are really happy to see the rabbits closer to home this year, though the fox is a bit unnerving to me.  As long as he leaves my chickens alone, I'll be okay with him hanging around.  He seems to not bother the goats at all.

Friday night we got to drive to Novato and visit with my parents for family dinner night.  It's been a couple weeks since we've been able to make it, and it was great to be able to catch up and relax and visit together.  Mom was able to cook one of our favorite dishes, but unfortunately it took a lot out of her to be on her feet so long.  I was really happy to see that she was able to get up and about again, though!  It's been a long time since she's been able to do much in the kitchen.

On the way home, we drove past the old Novato Muffler and Brake shop that my friend, John, used to own and operate.  I was shocked to see a new sign there that started with the words "CATALYSTIC CONVERTERS."  What is happening in our world where people who work in an industry don't know how to spell the parts that they use?  Because it's easier explained in writing than over the telephone, I looked up their web site and discovered that it's no longer functioning, so I couldn't even send an e-mail to let them know.  The following day I saw a chicken meal advertised by signage at a Mexican market.  It came with "beans, rise and salsa." 

Saturday dawned bright and hot, and we had an afternoon of adventure planned.  Well, we weren't going to necessarily be a part of this adventure, but witnesses to the event.  My niece, Kaila, received a special gift for her high school graduation.  She was going skydiving.  I've always said that I don't believe in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, but some people do enjoy this.  As a child, her family picnicked at the local airport and she'd watch the parachutes come down and always wanted to try this.  Today was the day.

The sky was bright blue with a light breeze as we pulled down the dusty road to the Cloverdale Airport.  Airport is a bit of an exaggeration, but it does have hangers and pilots and a runway for small planes.  We saw a bright green and gold parachute land as we made the turn into the parking lot, and knew that this would be a fun afternoon.  Becca and I rode with Kaila and Amanda, and we met other family and friends there for the event.  Most everyone went inside the building to take a look at the video that Kaila needed to watch before her jump.  You know, the one that says that she's risking Death by participating in this adventure.  My dad said that the man speaking in the video had a long, grey ZZ Top beard.  Dad was trying to figure out if the man was Hatfield or McCoy.

Here's dad outside the building where the video was shown.  He's always good about stopping to let me take a photo when he sees the camera up.

I love this picture of Mom.  She looks relaxed and beautiful in her straw hat.

Our friend, Kyla, was able to make it to watch the event.  She brought her two beautiful labs, too.

Animals will always draw Becca to them.

Kaila went over to the hangers to get outfitted for her jump, and they started the videotape.  The whole adventure was taped and photos taken from start to finish.  She looks confident, doesn't she?

I'm ready!  Then it was time to go to the plane and receive some last-minute instructions.

That's one tiny plane!  There was barely enough room for the four people inside.

OMG.  Am I really going to do this?  Then the plane began to taxi for take-off...

We waited for what seemed like forever, losing sight of the plane completely.  Then one of the ground crew members said that he saw them.  "See that white dot up there?  They're free falling."  We watched two white dots come screaming toward the ground, and then saw the divers reaching behind their backs.  Suddenly, two brilliant chutes opened and their descent slowed.

I swear I saw Kaila's chute spin and go upside down, but I didn't get a shot of it.  They came closer and closer, and the guy she was riding with was able to grab some air and really give her a long ride.

 Kaila landed like a PRO.  The girl we'd seen land before her had fallen on landing.  It looked like Kaila had been doing this forever.

She said her legs were shaky at first.

 Mission accomplished!

She said that her favorite part was the plane ride.  She doesn't want to jump again.  Maybe a pilot's license is in her future?  During free fall she had a hard time breathing, but after that it was fun.  We were able to go to Jessica's house and watch the video that the crew had taken for her, and it was something else.  We had fun being able to virtually share the flight and free fall and hear about her experience as we watched.  Congrats, Kaila!  Check that one off the bucket list.

It was still hot when we got home around 5:00, and I started the grilled chicken with herbs and farfalle for dinner.  Such a good meal, and because the recipe is so big it lasts us a long time.  We're looking forward to Sunday's farmers market and to see what good finds we'll be able to pick up!

Friday, June 8, 2012

We're Talkin' Cake

I decided that we would stay home on Thursday.  We would not get in the car all day.  It is so rare that I am able to do this, to just stay put.  We did it!  It was a hot day with a nice breeze, which meant that it was much more pleasant outside than in.  Especially since I decided that we would bake.

We made the pound cake, and it was just as good as I remembered from when we made it the first time.  I discovered this recipe when Becca needed to bring food to her English class.  Her class had just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and each student was asked to bring a food item that was mentioned in the book.  I thought this was a really fun way to bring this era to life for the students.  We decided to make Cracklin' Bread and Pound Cake.  The Cracklin' Bread was corn bread with BACON added to it.  I think that bacon should be a food group.  It is probably one of my most favorite foods in the world.  Not only was bacon added to the corn bread mixture, but the grease was left in the iron skillet, the batter poured into that, and the whole concoction was baked in the iron skillet.  The bacon grease sizzled around the edges of the batter, making it super crisp and light.  Yum.  Decadent.  Probably Not Healthy At All, especially if one isn't doing hard physical work every day like people did back then.

I digress.  On to the pound cake.  Did you know that the name "pound cake" originated in the early 18th century?  It was so named because the original recipe called for a pound of each of the ingredients:  butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.  That tells you how rich this is.  It is also moist, perfectly dense, and delicious.  You have not experienced pound cake properly if all you have tasted is the store-bought cardboard loaves from the supermarket.  When we were searching for the best way to make this, I knew that the Queen of Butter, Paula Deen, would be the one to have the best recipe, and I was right.  Her recipe can be found here, and at the bottom of this post.  Be sure to check your stock of ingredients, because you might not have 5 eggs left in your carton, or a half pound of butter!

You might be concerned about the shortening called for in this recipe.  Yes, you can find organic shortening and avoid the potential GMO contamination.  Hurrah!

We put fresh blueberries in half of the cake, but they didn't really add anything to it.  I think what I should have done was save those berries to put on TOP of the cake.  This is something that would hold up well for a strawberry shortcake, or be awesome served with any type of berries.

We also made the black bean and corn salad.  We had run out of tomatoes (and I was not making a trip to the store for anything that day!) so we used canned diced tomatoes we had on hand.  They were an adequate substitute, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Not if you love fresh the way that I do.  (Come on, tomatoes, start ripening faster in the garden, okay?)

Here's Paula's recipe.  Remember it takes 1 1/2 hours to bake, so plan ahead and enjoy!

Mama's Pound Cake
Paula Deen

Prep Time:  15 minutes
Cook Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes
Serves:  16 to 20

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, plus more for pan
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

With a mixer, cream butter and shortening together. Add sugar, a little at a time. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl and add to mixer alternately with milk, starting with the flour and ending with the flour. Mix in vanilla. Pour into a greased and floured tube pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.