Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gosh Darn Varmits: Big and Small!

I continue to use gopher repellent in the garden and the gophers continue to eat the roots of my plants, leaving limp leaves above with nothing underneath.  I've decided that, going forward, I'm going to plant everything -- big and small, groundcover and accent, plants -- in wire cages.  It will be labor intensive but I don't see how I can win the battle any other way.  And I do intend to win.

The garden is mine.  You hear me gophers?  Mine!  That goes for you deer out there, too.

Yeah, deer got into the garden the other night.  They stripped the leaves on my Jonagold apple tree.  Fortunately, they left the leaves on the lower branches and I think the tree will be fine.

They came in over the gate.  Do you see the top piece of wood above the gate?  It's there to keep deer from jumping in.  But, Brett can't fit his tractor into the garden unless he takes that down and we needed the tractor to bring in all the bark.

He started the project Friday and we thought leaving the top wood bar off one night would be okay.  We were wrong.

Deer never used to come onto the property while Sedona was alive.  She didn't like to be in the house and she was a guard dog through and through.  Kersey loves being in the house with us.  When she is outside, she is usually asleep on the front porch furniture.  If she did see a deer, no doubt she would run up with her tail wagging and lick it's legs in welcome.

More rain today.  The storm will move out tonight but we sure appreciated it while it was here.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Musical Pastures

Brett asked me to take a look at Jackson this morning.  I usually muck the girls' pasture and Brett does the boys'.  Jackson wasn't limping but he was scuffed up again and, this time, I could clearly tell that the scuffs were from another horse's teeth; not tree bark and not predators.  I've had my suspicions; Mufasa is pushy with Jackson but I've never seen him be aggressive to the point of biting.  Clearly, he's a sneaky horse and bites when no one is looking.

Jackson is also too thin -- while Mufasa and Flash are in good weight.  That, combined with the bullying, convinced me that Jackson needed to be moved.  He needs more weight going into winter and he needs to be left alone.  He has laminitis and is prone to abscesses.  I don't want him pushed around when he is in too much pain to get out of the way.  Every winter I hold my breath; wondering if Jackson will make it through.  I want him to have the best shot possible.

We moved him in with the donkeys.

Tuffy wanted to know how long Jackson was staying.  He wasn't letting them near the hay.

Jackson dove into the hay but he did, eventually, let the donkeys join him.  The donkeys can't have a lot of hay so if Jackson limits their access, its a good thing.  Jackson needs the groceries; they don't.

Brett and I spent the afternoon spreading eleven yards of bark in the garden.  Brett brought it in with his tractor and I spread it with a rake.  The sky was dark and cloudy, but the rain held off until we finished.  As I spread the last tractor load, rain started to come down.

We moved the table back under the oak tree as the rain intensified.  Then the heavens opened and the deluge started.  We ran (okay, Kersey and I ran; Brett walked) for the house.  Forty minutes, and half an inch of rain later, it was over.

I love how the daisies and black-eyed Susans pop after it rains.  So clean, so crisp, so bright.

After chores, Brett barbecued a couple steaks and I boiled some corn we bought at the farmers market this morning.  We also drove out to South Fork Farms and bought a loaf of amazing bread -- stone ground organic wheat, baked in a wood burning brick bread oven.  (No, we did not finish our steaks.  The were HUGE.  Kersey is going to love her breakfast tomorrow).

King Fire Update: With the help of the rain this week, the fire is now 84% contained at 97,000 acres.  The smoke is greatly decreased; we didn't notice any at all today -- the first time in two weeks.  The weather has been cool here with snow further up in the Sierras last night and today.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


The rain started overnight with a heavy misty wetness.  Then, after I left for work this morning, it started coming down.  And down and down and down.  All morning long.

It looked like the rain gauge was pretty full when I got home this evening.

So, Lucy, how do you like being a muddy ranch horse?

Galloping in the rain, rolling in the mud, a big appetite from all the fresh air... what could be better?

Pistol's been there, done that.  She was a bit more sedate about the weather, demonstrating to Lucy how to stand under the oak tree, in the stream bed, where it was dry.

Brett told me that the boys went crazy in the rain as well.  Mufasa was bucking in place, then launching himself down the length of the pasture.  Jackson got in some bucks and farts -- and even Flash joined in for a few minutes.  By dinner time, they were sedate... and filthy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Little Drop of Rain

Last night, as Brett and I headed upstairs to bed, lightening lit up our room and thunder crashed.  We were surprised at Kersey, who sat looking at us with her tongue hanging out and her usual happy grin.  Sedona was absolutely undone by thunder, ripping screens on the windows to shreds in an effort to get inside.  It was really the only time she wanted to be inside and, even then, she would sit on my foot and whine pathetically.  Unlike Kersey who wasn't going to let some pyrotechnics interrupt her beauty sleep.

We hoped that there would be enough rain to counteract any lightening strikes and to help the firefighters working on the King fire.  This morning we woke to cloudy skies and a few hundreths of an inch of rain in the rain gauge.

It was just enough to turn Lucy into an appaloosa.

In the mornings, the horses get their vitamins and supplements.  Kersey is always happy to clean their bowls afterwards.  There isn't much left, just a few crumbs of low starch supplement with a bit of glucosamine mixed in.

While I got to work mucking the donkey and mare pastures, Brett doles out hay to the goats, donkeys and horses.  He takes care of the hay because I am allergic to it.  If he isn't home and I need to feed hay, I wear long sleeves and gloves and hold my breath a lot.

The sun was just peeking over the hill as we finished up.

We didn't have nearly as much smoke today; just a faint whiff of it in the air.  After church (first time Brett has been able to sit with his knee bent long enough to get through a church service), we went to the nursery and picked up more gopher repellent.  Yep, they ate three more plants.  I bought two big bags and plan to use it liberally -- its organic and won't hurt the plants or Kersey.

Brett's knee is doing well.  He walks with no limp at all (unless he's tired).  He's trying to make it through the night without pain pills and that's going okay.  The knee wakes him up and he tosses around a lot, but he doesn't want to be dependent on the pills for sleep.  Starting tomorrow, he will have full morning chore duty by himself.  I have been going into work late so I can help him but my five weeks of doing so are over.  I'll be heading down the road as the sun comes up instead of heading out to the barn.  (I'd rather head out to the barn).

The rain overnight helped the fire and the lightening doesn't appear to have caused further fires.  The King fire is 17% contained tonight.  There have been ten homes burned to the ground and 22 "other structures."  There were some displaced people in church this morning -- it really brings the tragedy of the fire home.

Have a good week everyone.  Fall starts tomorrow.  Yahoo!!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Still Smokey

This is what we are living in:

Lovely, right?

The fire is still only 10% contained and growing every day.  I believe it is over 80,000 acres now with the length being over 20 miles.  It is still burning away from us, thankfully.

This morning the newspaper had a graph showing the fire and concentric colored circles indicating smoke density.  You guessed, we are right in the middle of the worst smoke area.

We decided to drive south-west to the town of Volcano for lunch and then do some wine tasting in Amador County which isn't in a "hazardous to your health"  smoke zone.  Needless to say, I didn't ride Lucy this morning and I didn't take Kersey for a walk.

My sister, my neice and my son are all visiting my dad this weekend; wine tasting as well.  The drive (six hours) to his place is a bit more than Brett's knee can handle yet so we didn't go.  Kyle called me while we were out; my dad had a bit of an episode but he is, thankfully, fine.  It did give us all a scare though.  I am very thankful that my sister was with him when it happened.

Tonight as we were finishing chores, we got a few drops of dust dimple rain from the orange tinged sky.  Hopefully, it is raining harder over the fire.  At the least, the increased humidity and cooler temperatures should help the fire crews -- who have come here to California from as far away as Alabama and New Jersey.  I'm wondering where Dom's friends, who are here fighting the fire, are from.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Smelling Smoke

California is on fire.  At least, that is how it feels.  It seems like they just finished fighting the Sand Ridge fire south-west of us and now the Kings fire is devouring the forest to the north east.
Photo courtesy of Capitol Public Radio's website

Yes, it is close to us.

No, we aren't in any danger.

This fire, unlike the Sand Ridge one, is burning away from us.  It is 73,000 acres as I write this and only 10% contained; heading deeper into the National Forest.  Last night, it leapt through the canyons and advanced 15 additional miles by morning.
Another Capitol Public Radio website picture.

We woke at 2am, our bedroom smokey, our throats burning and eyes watering.  Brett got up and closed all the windows in the house.  During the day, the wind blows the smoke north east, towards Tahoe.  At night, it shifts and blows straight over us.
It does make for beautiful sunrises

The firefighters say that this fire is like a seven headed dragon.  It is going in different directions, all at once.  They are concentrating on saving the communities on its western edge and letting it go deeper into the National forest where there are no homes.  The drought has killed many of the pine trees and that, combined with the fact that no fires have burned in this particular area for many years, has created a perfect fire storm.

The DC-10 planes full of flame retardant fly over our house and into the mushroom clouds of smoke, big and loud over our ranch and then as small as gnats entering the smoke of the fire.

I'm checking the Cal Fire site multiple times a day.  The monster fire just keeps on growing.

And the worst part?  Arson.  It was started by some demented fire bug.  In custody.  Bail sky high.
Tuffy and Finessa are keeping close watch on things. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

How Do You Spell Awesome?


I always envied those who could afford schoolmasters. Until Lucy, I have always bought young horses with no dressage experience. I had a lot of fun but I didn't progress in dressage very fast. I was new to dressage myself when I started on the journey fifteen years ago, I've still never ridden a test beyond Training Level, I've never had access to regular lessons and I'm getting older (so I'm not as brave and don't enjoy "challenging" horses anymore). I did learn a lot with each horse, and I felt enormous satisfaction in teaching the horses; Jackson in particular. But I never felt what a well trained horse should feel like so I didn't truly know where I was going.

I'm not complaining. I was happy. I was riding! Really, that is all that mattered. The horses were all unique personalities and gave me their best (well, except for Winston and Auke) all the time.  From Starman, I learned shared thought and communication, from Auke that I like a sensitive horse (because he wasn't), I learned all about try from Jackson, and I learned about talent (yes!) and obedience (forgetaboutit) from Winston.

Lucy has the best of each and more. She's very sensitive, very forward, obedient and she tries to figure out what I'm asking for. When I get it right, she blows me away with her talent. Like Sunday morning...

I rode Lucy early, before the sun came over the ridge and started baking the valley. The kids were still asleep and Brett was inside reading the paper (he didn't want to distract Lucy with thoughts of breakfast on the way). I've had trouble getting Lucy to work through her body -- she bends and transitions and does everything I ask for but I don't feel self carriage. Of course, it was me. I wasn't asking for that, not really.

We used the concentric circle exercise again. I started at 20m and took a steady connection at the trot, with my inside leg asking for bend and a guarding outside leg so she didn't pop her shoulder out or drift. I kept that at 15m and then, on a 10m circle, I kept her active and stepping way under with the inside hind leg as she bent around my leg. It almost felt like a leg yield on the circle, but not quite. It felt like we were floating effortlessly around. I kept that feel on the 15m and 20m circles as well. At one point I gave the rein completely to see if she was carrying herself (because I was pretty sure she was) and she just kept right on keeping on, perfectly balanced.

When we finished, I noticed that her lips were wet -- the first time I've had her relaxed enough in steady contact to get that for more than a short time. I was pretty pleased with myself for figuring out how to ask for better connection -- and I think Lucy was pleased with me too. "Some students," she told Pistol later, "are a bit slow; but she's improving. I think that there may be hope."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Good Weekend with the Kids

Kyle and Camille came to visit this weekend.  Camille flew up from Southern California and Kyle drove over from San Francisco.  They arrived Friday -- Camillle in the afternoon and Kyle in the evening; just in time for dinner (pulled pork sandwiches and cole slaw).

Friday, before Kyle arrived, Camille made friends with Lady Gaga...

and we took Kersey for a long walk.  (Kyle and Camille took her again last night -- and Camille jogged part of the way; poor Kersey -- she got quite the work out).

Saturday, we went out to Skinner winery for a tour of the vineyards and grape crushing activities followed by wine tasting and food on the terrace.

Later in the afternoon, we scattered Sedona's ashes under the tree where she loved to chase squirrels.  We put up her memorial stone.  The artist, who we found at the farmers market, captured Sedona's beautiful spirit perfectly.

For dinner, I made clams and mussels from a cookbook Kyle gave me last Christmas.

The garlicky parsley breadcrumbs made the dish.

The kids and I ate far too much fresh sourdough bread.  But you gotta live, right?

This morning we went to Apple Hill and did some apple picking before hitting the sushi place for lunch.  Kyle is dropping Camille off at the airport on his way back home.

(photos of the winery and Kersey were taken by Camille and generously shared with me)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Walking Kersey

I love my evening walks with Kersey.

The golden light,
The fragrant pines, 
The grazing deer,
and the views.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Two Very Different Rides

I rode Lucy at exactly the same time yesterday and today; a hair before 7am while the air was still cool and the sun just bridging the ridge.

Yesterday morning, Brett didn't come outside with me. He had woken in the wee hours of the morning, restless and uncomfortable with his knee. This happens often and he takes half of a pain pill which lets him sleep -- both of us really, since I don't sleep well next to a body that is constantly shifting and flipping around. The downside is that at 6am he is still feeling the effects of the pill and is a bit groggy. When I fetched Lucy she was eager to come out and work.  Brett was still in the house so it was very quiet as we headed out to the dressage court.

Lucy was so relaxed that our warm-up was completed in record time and we moved on to some fun exercises. I had read in Dressage Today about an exercise of three concentric circles; one 10m, one 15m and one 20m. They can be ridden at the same gait or mixed up. I rode the 10m at walk, the 15m at trot and the 20m at canter with prompt, accurate transitions every time we crossed B.  Lucy never rushed or fussed. We were gold.  We even did some shorter steps and I practiced sitting her trot.

This morning, Brett was up with me early. No pain pill in the middle of the night so he was awake and ready to get to work. He didn't feed while I was riding, but he mucked the pastures. Lucy saw Brett, saw the cart (even if it was a muck cart and not a hay cart -- it's still a cart) and then saw Brett in the pastures with the cart. She could.not.focus.

We skipped our normal walk on a long rein and went straight to trot work. We did the three concentric circles, all at trot, to get her brain focused on bend. We did serpentines; we did more circles; we curved our way from one end to the other. When she was somewhat settled and willing to stretch a bit into the rein, we moved into canter. I used haunches in on the long sides to keep her from running and then some shallow counter canter to the quarter line and back. She couldn't keep balanced and focused on the right lead; choosing to change leads instead of counter canter back to the rail. Yesterday, she would have aced it but today she was too worried about missing breakfast. She wasn't disobedient but her brain was ping-ponging between her work and Brett's whereabouts. We finished up with some leg yield because she can do that in her sleep and I wanted to finish on a positive note.

And then she got breakfast.

After eating my breakfast, I spread composted manure under the fruit trees.  The gophers killed a carnation plant so I dug more repellent in around the remaining two.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pistol's Excellent Day

Today, Pistol's mom came to visit her at the orphanage.

No, Brett.  That isn't right.  Yes Buffy came to visit Pistol but this isn't an orphanage.  ...or maybe it is...  Stop confusing me!

I gave Pistol a bath this morning so Buffy's hands wouldn't get filthy giving Pistol belly, neck and body rubs.

Lucy was not pleased.  In fact, she was a royal witch (with a capitol B).

What do you mean Buffy is Pistol's person?!  Everybody belongs to me.  Everybody, I tell you.  She whined, then pinned her ears and lunged at Pistol.

Pistol got the full spa treatment this morning -- shampoo, conditioner, hair mane styled, tail scrubbed.  And then she got to spend time with Buffy (and George).

What could be better?