Fun on the farm

I really wish I didn’t suck so much at blogging. I’m constantly noticing, even photographing, things I mean to tell you about, and then I forget or get distracted and don’t write them down. Meanwhile I’ve reached that life stage where you start reconnecting with your old (holy cow, some of them are ooooold) friends from school and university years, and they say, “So what are you doing these days?” and I want to say, “Oh, too much to squeeze into one Facebook comment – but go take a look at my blog!” So this post is for old friends.

Vos rolling
Vos takes a bow on my hugel-mound

Right now it’s about noon on a pleasant summer day – not too hot, a bit windy. Sitting at my computer I can look through my window and see, in the distance, the Columbia River with its fringe of trees … closer in our north pasture with cows lazing about on the green … and, closer still, an expanse of dirt that will, when we get around to planting it, be lawn, because the Hubbit doesn’t share my desire for wild grasses and other native plants and I’m tired of arguing about it. In any case, to be honest, when it comes to gardening I’m better at conceptualizing than doing. Meanwhile, we have a flat expanse of dirt that the horses visit about once a day because they’ve decided it’s the best place to roll. In the middle of the flatness is a mound – dirt piled on compost piled on logs – because I read about hugelkultur and wanted to try it. Vos loves rolling up against this mound, the better to scratch his back, and he really doesn’t care if it gets flat and misshapen in the process.

1779 Pond excavation (2) - Copy
I’m quite sure digging the pond had nothing at all to do with a boyish desire to play with a large machine…

I can also see what we call the pond area. When we bought this property the Hubbit took into his head that he wanted a pond. A big pond. I mean, he was talking a quarter acre, and although he didn’t quite manage that he did his best. He spent an entire day digging dirt out of the pond and dumping it in a large pile in the middle of what is now the south pasture, and then we got involved in a whole lot of other things, and there the hole in the ground and its matching heap still sit, waiting for inspiration to strike, energy to surge, and pennies to rain down from heaven. One day we will have a swimming hole, and also a raised up picnic spot. For now, the cattle mosey up to the pond area to get water, hay and attention, and it’s where we keep them in winter.

We have seven cattle at the moment. The three cows are Tumelo (Faith), Tshepo (Hope) and Lerato (Love, who is also Tumelo’s mother). Last year Tshepo and Lerato gave us two heifers, Obie and Kitty-Kat. This year we were expecting three calves, since Tumelo was old enough to be bred, and I was all excited to blog about it, but thought I’d wait until the third one came because I just knew that, sooner or later, I’d get to be up to my armpit in a cow’s vagina – which is exactly the sort of experience one wants to blog about – and I didn’t want to jump the gun.

Jonathan, Pi and Lerato
Our young helper Peter Pan, with Pi and Lerato. Pi is maybe 10 minutes old here, and weighs around 100 lbs.

Well, first Lerato gave us Pi (born March 14, aka Pi Day), and he was huge. It took two of us to pull him out of her, and she’s a big cow. So I was worried sick for the following couple weeks, waiting for Tumelo and Tshepo. It was Tumelo’s first and Tshepo is a small cow, so there was real potential for trouble. Every night we’d go out several times to check on them – and this was in March, in Washington, so we were sliding and crunching through ice and snow. One evening I went out and nothing seemed to be happening, and quite by accident my flashlight illuminated a small black creature who had arrived with no fuss at all. So that was Tumelo’s rent paid; I named her calf Eezee. Two down, Tshepo still to go. Every day I fed her treats to win her trust, so that if she had difficulties she’d let me get close enough to help her. Day after day, her belly got bigger and bigger. And every day nothing happened. Nothing at all. Eventually we realized she was just fat. The bull had stayed only three weeks instead of the usual four – we let him go early because he was bored with so few cows and kept breaking out of their pasture – so evidently he’d missed her Magic Moment.

I was going to tell you more, about chickens and plowing and other fun farmy stuff – but that will have to wait. There is a Smell. On a farm it is not unusual for things to smell, but this is different. This is a Smell riding a Harley. It rumbles. It is going places.

Aaand … here comes the Hubbit to tell me about it.

So apparently the pump in our septic tank has died, and he is going to fix it, which will involve crouching over the open drain with his head inside … and this Smell isn’t merely riding a Harley; it’s wearing a Hell’s Angel jacket and carrying a ball peen hammer. Therefore I have to be there. To fish him out, if he falls in.

This is what happens when you marry Senior MacGyver and then go live on a farm. He can still fix pretty damn near anything, but his knees don’t bend as well as they used to, and sometimes he gets a little unsteady. It’s just as well I still think he’s cute.

 

So what are you doing these days? Have you ever been tempted to give up city life and go live on a farm? If your significant other fell into a septic tank, would you pull them out?

 

Modern magic

I love living at a time, and in a place, where I just have to point my finger and KAZAM! – magic happens. Take this evening, for example. In fact, take just the last 15 minutes.

First, by way of context, a word picture. I am sitting at the dinner table, refusing to make eye contact with a deeply apologetic (if you’ll believe one wag of it, which I frankly don’t) small shithead mongrel. In the mudroom is a punctured hen, trembling and panting in a crate. I have cleaned her up and wrapped her in a warm towel, and she’s resting on a cushion of fresh hay. I think she will probably be dead by morning, and I’m very much inclined to insist that Himself put her out of her misery. Himself is very much inclined to “see if she makes it”. I lack the moral or intestinal fortitude to haul out an ax and Do The Deed myself. As the designated Mother Earth figure around here (you learn to make do with what you have, and I’m the only member of the household with both opposing thumbs and mammaries), it falls to me to ensure that any “making it” is achieved as effectively and with as little suffering as possible. “Fuck it,” I say in motherly tones, directing another unloving glare at the mongrel.

0224152004a[1]
CeCe the shithead mongrel chicken-chomper thinks that if she doesn’t look at me I can’t see her, and therefore I won’t be mad. She’s our current foster dog, and I’m thinking her forever family better not have chickens…
At that moment my glance falls upon my magic wand phone, and suddenly I know what I need to do. I point my finger and KAZAM! – there’s Google.

Right, yes, I know, most people would have thought of Google immediately – but I grew up in a different era, okay? I remember the day my parents bought a brand new, hot-off-the-press, late 60s edition set of Encyclopedia Britannica, from an actual human salesman who came to our home. They and he and 11-year-old I sat around the dinner table my great-uncle made (the very table that I now sit at, clear on the other side of the planet), and the salesman covered the table with brightly colored glossy brochures. They were full of snippets of information and they had an amazing shiny-glossy-paper smell, and I was only vaguely aware of the salesman periodically inviting my parents to notice how much their brilliant firstborn was enjoying the opportunity to LEARN. Then he went outside to his car, and came back in with a big box and a free bookcase. And inside that box, good friends, was all the knowledge in the world.

I loved those encyclopedias and spent hours browsing through them during the ensuing years, and I can tell you with no shadow of doubt that nowhere in the lengthy, comprehensive, very-small-print index was there a category for “how to treat an injured chicken”.

I started out to tell you about a 15 minute snippet of my day, and I seem somehow to have wandered more than 40 years off course. Let me get back to the point.

Via my phone, Google told me I could give the hen aspirin – five regular aspirins in a gallon of water. It told me how many milligrams of aspirin were in a regular aspirin (325). It told me how many ounces of water were in a gallon (128). My phone helped me calculate how much water I needed for one baby aspirin (about a cup). Then Google told me I could give the chicken sugar for shock, and how much (3 Tbsp per gallon of water), and also that I should flush out the wounds with hydrogen peroxide and cover them with Neosporin, and that I should continue to do this for several days, and that there was every chance she would survive. Google even provided numerous anecdotes from people whose chickens had survived an astonishing array of injuries, and it comforted me greatly to know that there are real live people out there who will put a splint on a chicken with a broken leg instead of … well, say for example, eating it.

I did everything Google and my phone told me to do, and tucked the hen back into bed, using the same phone to record the occasion. KAZAM! (Seriously, guys – pictures. Taken with a phone that fits inside my pocket. And the pictures – which are in full color – are already available to be shared … with you … wherever you live, anywhere in the world. Do you know how amazing this is? Or is the amazement limited to people whose first camera was a Box Brownie?)

Hurt hen
You can’t see it here, but she’s been well-basted with antibiotic ointment, as well as generously dosed with aspirin in sugar water.
Hurt hen
Tucked up for the night. I still don’t really expect her still to be with us tomorrow … but we’ll see. I’ve done the best I can. (Feel free to chip in here with advice, Mother Hen…)
0224151943a
Argos would SO love to get inside the mudroom… and finish what CeCe started…

So is it just me, or are you also sometimes sideswiped with amazement at this brave new world we live in?

I asked my husband for a vacuum cleaner for Christmas

So it’s official: I’m a plugger. Either that or an alien has taken control of my brain.

A few weeks ago I told Himself that the one thing I truly wanted for Christmas was a Roomba. And when, two days later, he came home from Costco and plunked one down on the counter, and I didn’t see it until I was halfway through bitching at him for not telling me he was going to Costco so he could pick up the things I needed … well, I cried. Yes, really – tears of joy. And then I called all my friends to brag about how much he loved me.

Argh. I’d better check. Did we move to Stepford and I just didn’t notice? Nope, can’t be – there are still six dogs living here. That would never happen in Stepford.

And speaking of the dogs, they are the one disappointing element in this scenario. When we introduced them to Stella (yes, the Roomba has a name, and her name is Stella, long non-PC story), I was looking forward to getting some entertaining video to share on here. But apparently they are inured to my habit of adding new members to our pack. Their reaction was, essentially, “Gee, no butt. Nothing to sniff. Ho hum.”

Argh … those poor floors need refinishing. And the walls need repairing and painting. Oh well, such is the price of five years of rescue. I’ll get to it – and in the meantime at least hairballs are now history!

Shortly after bringing Stella home, Himself departed for Darkest California to spend a week with his family. In his absence, did I set up a comparative research study into local cocktail options? Did I splurge on chocolates and red wine and invite my girlfriends over to watch porn? Did I treat myself to a full body massage and facial, change my hair color, and acquire a boy toy, or even a new vibrator?

I did not. I am a Plugger. I truly couldn’t think of anything more exciting to do than to clean my floor. (Boring? Yeah, well, you try living with six large(ish) dogs. On a farm. In a wind-tunnel. In the heart of a dust bowl.) But as I pondered the logistics of this task, I worried that Stella might choke or have a seizure if I set her loose on the army of dust bunnies. She’s a tough little thing, but it was a mighty army.

Plus, as I pondered and contemplated and generally thought about matters housewifely, it occurred to me that a clean floor would look so much better if the walls, and windows, and doors, and counter-tops, and furniture, and everything else, were clean too. Because here’s the thing … We used to run a dog rescue. (I have mentioned this once or twice before.) And although we used foster homes, sometimes we had more than 20 dogs in our home. Technically, some of them lived in runs out in the barn, but Himself is a soft touch, and I insisted on giving all of them “indoor socialization time”, and the end result was, quite frankly, icky. I retired last January and I’ve been trying all year to fix the mess and damage, but even with the amazing FlyLady as my guru I couldn’t ever quite catch up.

And I thought to myself, “Himself deserves better. I deserve better. Stella deserves better, for crying out loud!” So I blew a hole bigger than the one in Kimberley through our budget to hire someone to help me clean our house. And I stayed up past midnight doing things like reorganizing the pantry.

It's important to keep things in context ... so I just want to mention that Crater Lake, in Oregon, is way bigger than the Kimberley Big Hole. The hole in our budget was nothing at all like Crater Lake.
It’s important to keep information in context … so I just want to mention that Crater Lake, in Oregon, is way bigger than the Kimberley Big Hole. No seismic event occurred here, and the hole in our budget was nothing at all like Crater Lake. That has to count for something, right?

So now, every morning when I get up to let the dogs out, I press Stella’s glowing green belly button. She chirps gleefully and sets off, humming a happy note, to tackle her mission for the day. When she’s done she puts herself away, and I empty her when I feel like it.

And here we are, just days away from hosting our Christmas Day open house for anything between five and 50 guests, and although I am feeling just the teeniest bit of urgency with regard to getting a bit of food planning, shopping and preparation done, as far as cleaning is concerned there are no emergency measures required.

Honestly, it feels just like Christmas!

A Day in the Life of a Wannabe Writer … or, NaNo Ate My Brain

Yes, I am procrastinating. I am also, by writing down whatever random thoughts happen to free-associate within my wrinkled brain, getting those old creative juices flowing in preparation for doing some serious work on The Novel. (Note: wrinkles are widely regarded as desirable in a brain.)

It occurs to me that the novel-writing process is a bit like knitting a sweater. And when I say that I am referring very specifically to the sweater (aka “jersey”, because this happened in South Africa) I knitted attempted to knit when I was in seventh grade (aka Standard Five, because that’s what we called it 44 years ago … Good grief, how did that happen? That was in Historical Times, y’all!)

Back then, Home Economics (aka Domestic Science) was compulsory for all girls. We learned essential skills like how to bathe a baby, sew a layette, maintain a sewing machine, set a table for a formal dinner, and prepare the simpler elements of such a dinner.

I totally sucked at all of it. I desperately wanted to be with the boys, learning woodwork and car maintenance, but back in the early Seventies in South Africa that was absolutely not an option. (I need to explain this to Himself. He is regularly baffled by my inability to remember the significance of fluids vis-a-vis a vehicle engine. I must tell him that it’s Not My Fault! I wanted to learn that stuff, but the system was against me!)

So anyway, one of our projects was to knit a sweater jersey. I chose the prettiest shade of soft, pale pink wool, and my mother cast on for me (yeah, I know, but good parenting is about compromise), and at the end of the term in which we “learned to knit” she sent me to stay with my grandmother, who kept me knitting out on the stoep while we listened to the radio. For hour upon hour. Because there was a deadline, you see – I had to be able to wear the bloody thing in time for my first Domestic Science class of the next term.

This might have been what I was aiming for.  (Pic lifted from LL Bean website)
This might have been what I was aiming for.
(Pic lifted from LL Bean website)

I don’t remember how long the visit lasted, but I suspect my granny finally gave up and sent me home. Or maybe the month-long July (winter!) school vacation holiday ended. All I really remember is that after approximately seven years of knitting and unraveling and reknitting, it was the night before the Fashion Show, when all the girls in my Domestic Science class were to model their jerseys.

I had maybe six inches of used-to-be-pink-but-now-badly-needs-a-wash knitted matter … which my mother cast off and stitched into place around a wooden coat-hanger, while I made two very artistic and beautiful pompoms to attach below the hook.

Coat hanger cover
Like the one second from the bottom, only with grime and pompoms. (Pic found on Pinterest. Can you believe these are still a Thing???)

Hey – if I’d been allowed to make a birdhouse like the boys, I would totally have rocked it!

Anyway, that’s kind of how this whole NaNo thing has been going for me. I’m progressing stits and farts, as my dear Marmeee has been known to say in less demure moments. Take today.

First off, Himself woke at some non-existent hour and needed to read himself back to sleep. While he was doing this, various dogs needed out. Himself being contentedly oblivious to their need, I stumbled out of bed to take care of them. I don’t open my eyes when I do this, being convinced that as long as my eyes are shut I am still experiencing shut-eye regardless of what the rest of my body is doing, and can therefore hope to be reasonably functional when daylight strikes. Unfortunately, because my eyes were shut, I failed to notice that all the dogs had come back in while I sat waiting for them, shivering gently and planning Himself’s demise.

Eventually pried eyes open and wandered through the house, counting dogs. After counting to six three times I was able to believe that everyone was safe inside and not in any imminent danger of becoming a pupsicle, so I climbed back into bed, just as Himself turned his light off and snuggled, still contentedly, under the covers.

By now I was wide awake and too pissed to sleep, so I flipped open my laptop and churned out about 600 words of the most ghastly drivel, before deciding that “Henrietta Gurdy’s Lost and Found” was the single most boring, pointless book ever not to be written, and pulled a pillow over my face went back to sleep.

Woke late, and spent the day gnashing my teeth over my hopeless future as a writer-to-be-taken-seriously.

Decided to take myself and my laptop off to Barnes and Noble and immerse myself in latte fumes and works of brilliance and stay there until I had figured out what was wrong with the damn book and fixed it.

Went out to feed the chickens before leaving, and noticed that one hen was sick. Spent 25 minutes trying to catch her. Tottered into the house clutching her, faintly clucking, to my heaving bosom with one hand, while fending the dogs off with the other, just as Himself headed through the door to pick up something or other he found on Craigslist.

Said, “Screw this,” and dumped chicken inside large dog crate in bedroom, with food and water and blanket slung over the top. So fine, our bedroom now smells like a chicken. Read my lips: I Do Not Care!

Realized that, with Himself gone, (a) the house is quiet, and (b) there is no one here to comment on my decision to fuel my creative urge with the whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia I found in the freezer. (Come on, those tubs are small!) Plus it was getting dark. And it’s friggin’ cold. And anyway, somehow in the course of all the frothing and fuming I’d been doing – or maybe it was A Gift From The Chicken – I’d figured out what I wanted to do about Henrietta Gurdy. So I got myself all set up in a corner of the living room…

Aaand ... GO!
Aaand … GO!

… and I sat down and wrote this blog post.

I can always rely on Argos for help...
I can always rely on Argos for help…

And then Himself came home and started making weird beeping noises on his computer … and pretty soon the dogs will want to be fed.

I wonder whether I can count these words toward my NaNo tally? Because I have only 10,067 down, guys, and only 12 days in which to churn out the balance of the 50,000!

Oh well. At least I know how to fix the darn thing now. So there’s that.

Just another Wednesday

Some days give one a quiet sense of things accomplished, small steps taken in the right direction. I’ve had a few of those just lately, and it feels good! No huge achievements or startling epiphanies – just life lived quietly, one day at a time.

Like … sitting down now to write my second blog post in a week – thanks mainly to inspiration by the inimitable Aussa. (Yes, okay, go and look, click “follow”, but mind you come back, okay?)

For the first time in months, maybe years, writing is not a struggle. I don’t feel I have to prove anything to anybody, including myself. I could work on any of a number of ideas I’ve lined up among my drafts, but instead I’m just going to record today – because really good days make memories, and really bad days leave wounds, but days like today get lived, and that’s worth noting.

Had to interrupt this for a quick errand of mercy. It is HOT – 106F, and I just saw one of our swallows on the veranda outside the window that I’m facing. (We have a pair that comes every year to raise a family or two under the veranda roof. I would like a whole colony; the poop is a bit of a pain, but it’s worth it to have NO FLIES on that side of the house, despite being close to the corral.) The poor creature was all fluffed up and panting. The river is only a quarter mile away, but I wouldn’t want to have to go that far in this heat. So anyway, I’ve put a bowl of water on the table outside, with a stone in it for perching on, and two guinea fowl all the way from South Africa, because all the best restaurants have exotic decor.

0716141658

And … now I have company. Himself and I share an office, and sometimes that’s a lot of togetherness. I do have my own (incipient) office, aka the Ivory Tower, upstairs … except that we don’t actually have stairs to get up to it. The room was inserted under the roof as an afterthought while the house was being built, and we have yet to figure out where the stairs should go. So for now, Himself and I share, and I should mention that he is unleashing his muse. Alackaday!

He is creating a video, complete with a carefully selected theme tune, that he filmed this morning, while I was playing with the tractor. The farrier is coming tomorrow to give Vos and Lizzy their monthly manicure, and I think we’re overfeeding them because the amount of poop they had generated was enough to make you go DUNGGGGGG. Jim scraped it all up into a tidy heap, which he was about to push off to the side of the corral, but then it occurred to me that I should probably learn to do tractor work myself because, you know, he’s getting old and all, and occasionally cranky, and anyway I’m fed up with being ineffectual around machinery. So I poked around a bit between reverse and first gear and – WHOOPS – up onto the dunghill, and making the scraper thingy go up and down, and you have no idea how big a gouge it makes when you rev and those huge tractor tires spin in the dirt! Eventually the heap was artistically untidy again and I had enough dust behind my contact lenses to feel that honor had been satisfied, so I let him get on with it.

No, I am not going to share the video. I was wearing shorts. My knees are visible. They have dimples. Nobody without the questionable benefit of a marriage license needs to see that. You’re welcome.

Anyway, driving the tractor was only one of the interesting things that happened today. The fun started shortly after sunrise, when I reminded Himself of various outdoor chores we had to do before the heat became unbearable. So the first task of the day was to persuade four reluctant and exceedingly stupid steers to move from one pasture to another. This involved much slow stomping through tussocky grass waving long whips, while they basically ignored me. Not for the first time I fantasized about just hopping up onto Vos driving them – I know for darn sure he was a cowhorse in a previous life – but that is probably not going to happen any time soon. This is why…

Vos Rearing

Then it was time to clean up the corral before Himself got going with his tractor. While I was picking up the random bits of junk that had somehow ended up in there (willow branches that Vos and Lizzie have done chewing on, and random toys and bits of wood that the wind or the dogs have brought in), I noticed that we’d grown ourselves a new crop of rocks. Yes, indeed, here in Eastern Washington we grow rocks. A scientifically inclined friend once tried to blame it on tectonic plates, but I’m pretty sure it’s trolls. Anyway, I wandered off to the veggie garden in search of a wheelbarrow so that I could cart them off somewhere useful. Himself said it was next to the grape arbor, but…

07-16 Weeds are winning

… I couldn’t find it.

After my previously described tractor-riding adventure, I came back inside and read a few chapters of Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” (highly recommended). Then I channeled Dave Ramsey and updated our debt snowball for the first time in about eight months and discovered that our debts had shrunk by about one-third despite being completely ignored, thanks to nothing more complicated than scheduled bank payments and this:

Credit card cut into pieces
Picture from Dollar Photo Club

Yes, cutting up your credit cards really does work. Who knew?

And now here I am, watching the shadows stretch toward the river while the swallows swoop around the veranda. There are a couple of finches, too, panting and ruffled. I hope they notice their water bowl soon! I’m pleasantly achey from the morning’s exercise, and I feel good about what I’ve done with today. It’s quiet – Himself is done with his artistic endeavors, and is off reading somewhere. The dogs are sprawled on the floor, asleep. All is calm.

Ah. Spoke too soon.The baby wants his dinner…

0716141854
Argos

What are the ingredients of an ordinary but good day for you?