Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lobster Feed Weekend

This weekend Kyle and Camille came up to visit with their significant others.  The occasion?  Our first annual lobster feed.  Yes, it was such a success that we decided to make it an annual event.

Kyle & Ana picked up Camille & Cody Friday night on their way over from San Francisco.  They arrived just before the pizza place closed.  Saturday, we headed over to Renwood for lunch and wine tasting.
Kyle, Ana, Camille, Cody

Afterward, the kids continued down the wine trail while Brett and I headed to the market to pick up the seafood for dinner.  Brett set up the burner and pot in the garden -- it was far too large to fit on the BBQ.

I layered in artichokes and potatoes, with water, wine and aromatics (lemon, celery, garlic, thyme).

I added in sausages, lobster tails, prawns, mussels and corn.  We had a table set up in the garden (covered with butcher paper), tunes playing, SF sourdough brought over by Kyle and Ana, and wine on ice.

When the mussels had opened, Brett poured it all down the center of the table.

We had no plates, no utensils -- just bibs and fingers and lots of melted butter.  It was amazing.  

Sunday, we headed up into the Sierras with the kayaks.

After a quick dinner of BBQ burgers and watermelon, the kids piled into Kyle's car and headed home.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Forest Bathing

Have you heard of it?  Forest bathing?  I heard a story about it on the radio; I think the practice started in Japan -- if I remember correctly (which is always up for debate).

Its not what you think; or, what I thought when I first heard the term.  You don't go into the woods and take a bath, or swim in a pond, or submerge yourself in water at all.

Rather, its bathing in the sense that you let the forest wash over you, seep into your pores, and settle in your heart.  It's not about exercise; climb every mountain and all that.  It is about taking deep breathes of fresh air and being still.  Studies have shown that forest bathing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and instills a sense of well-being.  (Well, duh, I thought).

This month has been beyond stressful for me.  I've needed my garden and the horses and the forest.   And Brett, of course.  He's been incredibly supportive.  We've taken the kayaks to a lake every weekend.  Last weekend, we went to Echo Lake which is near Lake Tahoe.  It was beautiful, but it was also packed with people.  Cars were parked on top of each other, blocking the road, for a good mile.  There is a trail head at the lake which leads to many trails; short day hikes and long backpack trips to lakes deeper in the Sierra.  The lake itself, wasn't crowded.  But it was choppy and windy and that, combined with all the people, made it pretty much impossible to relax and refresh.

Today, we tried another new lake.  Woods Lake is very high -- up at 8200 feet.  The lake is very small and quite shallow.  No motor boats are allowed at all; not even fishing boats.  Despite that, the lake was dotted with fishermen in canoes, rowboats, kayaks and on the shore.  Schools of trout streamed under our kayaks, speckled brown, slipping and sliding beneath us.

We paddled over to the far side of the lake where granite cliffs rose from the snow, still deep at their base, to jagged peaks and ridges.  Waterfalls coursed and tumbled and sang on their way down.

A large beaver dam rose out of the water on our right, close to another waterfall behind the reeds and rushes.  After we finished paddling and loaded the kayaks on the car, we walked up a trail to get closer.

We learnt that there is a trail that crosses the stream at the bottom of the lake, and climbs up and around, passing by two more lakes before returning on the opposite side of lake.  We made a promise to come back and spend the day on that trail.

As we paddled and drifted on the glassy surface of the lake, I closed my eyes and felt the sun warm, the breeze cool and the hint of a thunderstorm on its way in.  I breathed in Ponderosa and cedar and reeds.  And I felt my worries drift away on the wings of the osprey that soared above us.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summer Garden Invaders

Last summer, tree rats were in the midst of a hostile take-over of my garden. They ate my plums, my apples, tomatoes and a baby chick.  They dropped from the rain gutters to the ground by my feet and scuttled off in the dry leaves, leaving me standing with my heart pounding.  They built nests in the hen house -- they were beyond brazen.  And, I was beyond angry.

I tried every version of trap known to man.  I planted mint around the base of every fruit tree (they supposedly don't like the smell of mint and I really don't care if I've got an invasive mint problem in the orchard; it smells great underfoot).

The nests have disappeared from the hen house (having fourteen chickens to share space with has probably helped there).  I lost some fruit to birds, but not to rats.  Knock on wood, my tomatoes are getting plump and starting to think about turning red.  The trap in my tool shed sits empty, with its bait ball of peanut butter untouched.

The rats aren't completely gone.  I've seen one or two; but it isn't an epidemic.

Ground squirrels are out in full force and, while I hate their burrows and their thieving ways, they don't creep me out like rats.

There is a family of ground squirrels living in the pile of compost I have in a corner of my garden.  I can see them from the window, the little ones wrestling and tumbling down the pile, the older ones scaling the fence and surveying the garden from a fence post.  And, when Richard was visiting last week, he caught a squirrel raiding the bird feeder.

I was very careful when I set up the bird feeder.  There is a wobbly upside down cone on the pole that holds the feeder, so squirrels can't climb up.  It is in an open area, not close to the fence or a tree branch.  The feeder is full of black oil sunflower seeds and the birds spill quite a bit on the ground.  Mostly its empty shells, but sometimes they drop entire seeds.  And, some of those seeds sprouted in the spring and gave me wonderful sunflowers in the garden.  One of the squirrels climbed up a sunflower stalk, and when it bent over under the squirrels weight, it launched itself up to the feeder.  The squirrel couldn't fit on the ledge, so he dangled hanging by his front paws, and gorging on seeds.
"I couldn't believe the strength of the little guy," Richard said to me. "He was dangling there for a long time."

I couldn't believe how many seeds were gone.  I cut down the sunflower closest to the feeder and crossed my fingers that there aren't any acrobats in the family.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wood Shed Project

When we moved into the house, there was an existing wood shed just off the porch, between the house and the girl's pasture.  It was also directly in front of the window facing that direction from the family room.  So, while relaxing on the couch I had a lovely view of... the leaning, sinking, warped wood shed.  It annoyed me because it blocked my view and was ugly.  It annoyed Brett because it was falling down and because he kept hitting his head while stooping to retrieve or stack wood.

About a month ago, I had a simultaneous burst of energy and a surge of "hate wood shed" feelings.  I went outside and started pulling it apart -- which wasn't hard, given its rotten wood and rusty nails.  Brett drove his tractor over and knocked over the pieces I didn't pull off.

Since then, Brett's been trying to decide where to build a new wood shed.  It needed to be accessible, and level, and not block our view.  He decided to build it against the side of the garage.  Brett's friend, Richard, came up last week and stayed through the weekend, helping to pour the concrete base and then to construct the shed.

Consistent with everything Brett does, this is a massive and sturdy wood shed.

It looks like a room addition, not a wood shed.  Richard and I teased Brett about what Brett's "real" plans were for the structure.  I wondered if he and Kersey were going to move in together.

Brett still needs to put up the sides, add shingles, build pallets, and paint.  He can do all of that stuff on his own.  Well, maybe not the shingles.  Notice that Richard is on the roof in all the photos.  Brett does not like heights.  At all.

While they worked on Saturday, I was busy with my own projects.  I also picked wild blackberries and made cobbler for dinner.  I knew the menu would be popular with the boys: ribs, baked potatoes, fresh bread, and cobbler.  Yes, I know the menu is missing a real vegetable but they didn't want one.  Boys.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Wednesdays with Tex

Tex is fabulous.

Remember when fly masks were the devil incarnate?  Now, he comes to me for his fly mask, stands quietly, and lets me fiddle with his ears while slipping it on.

I'm not careful, I put it on in the same matter-of-fact way I do with all the other horses.  The other morning, he leaned into it, turning his head and dropping it so I could more easily slip in his ear.

We aren't doing much that is "constructive" in a traditional training sense, but we continue to build our bond.

He will leave his hay and Flash to hang out with me.

He walks with me at liberty in his pasture, sometimes for a decent distance, and I'm able to pull him close with my energy when he drifts.

He has days where he is less brave and days where he is more, but I can always approach him and he always comes right back to me.  On his brave days, I walk around him, drape my arm across his back, hug his neck and rub him all over.  He cocks his hind foot, turns his head, and looks at me with a soft, amused expression.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Trying to Crow

Our new flock of chickens is (knock on wood) doing well.  The 12 chicks that survived the skunk attack are thriving.  Nothing gets into the chicken area anymore except an occasional ground squirrel, tunneling in from a distant location.
Two white Delawares and a Buff Orpington

We ended up with one rooster in the bunch; one of the two surviving Cuckoo Marans.

This week, he started to crow.  Well, started trying to crow.  A mature rooster lets loose with a loud, robust cock-a-doodle-do.  This little guy tries really hard.  But all he manages to eek out is a pretty weak cock-a-a.... and then he rests before trying again.

It's cute.  And I'm trying hard to like him.  We will let him stay as long as he isn't aggressive.  Any aggressive actions toward us, and he will be history.

Unfortunately, he bears a strong resemblance to Calvin, who was a mean barred rock rooster.  Since Marans are a French breed, I've named him Jean-Coque.  I'm hoping that giving him a name will help me like him.

In the meantime, his attempts to crow add an element of amusement to our morning chores.
Two surviving hens from our original flock in front: Amelia, a lagenvelter and an Auracana

Sunday, July 9, 2017

When You Need a Garden

I love my garden.

I love sitting in my garden; watching the goldfinches fight at their feeder and the sparrows sprint to theirs, grab a quick bite, and hop over to the fence.

I love watching the bees.  There are some really yellow bees on my lavender -- they fascinate me.

And, I love the sunflowers that the birds planted.

When I'm stressed, I walk in the garden.  I pick a few weeds, check the fruit swelling on the trees, and pluck the spent blooms from the flowers.

Or, I sit.  Just sit.  Drink in the peaceful, chirping, buzzing busyness of my garden.

This week, in particular, I am very thankful for my garden.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer Schedule

There isn't much to blog about in the heat of summer.
Pistol and Jackson, headed to dinner.
We are up before the sun to feed and finish barn chores before the heat of the day starts settling in -- around 7:30am.
Brett bringing in the hay cart.  Pistol has her nose in it -- they all ignore the manure cart.
During the day, we hide inside (I hide at work during the week).  Brett tosses more hay at lunch, but other than that the name of the game is trying to stay somewhat cool.
Wait for me!
In the late evening, we venture back outside to feed.
Brett always has cookies.
There isn't much else going on.
That's all?  Just one cookie?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Watch Me Fly

Wednesday, the farrier came to check on Jackson and to trim Finessa.

Finessa looks wonderful and is walking about happy as can be on her trimmed hooves.  The x-rays were consistent with founder but there wasn't anything truly bizarre that would keep her from getting a thorough trim.  I am very, very happy.  Our farrier has concerns about her, long term.  I have those concerns also; and have had them for quite a few years.  But, as long as she remains happy and comfortable, I'm not going to think about what will, inevitably, come at some (hopefully distant) point in the future.

Jackson is doing very well too.  Between his meds and his special shoes, he's a new horse.  He is in the pasture with the girls 24/7 now and moving well.  No more gimpy, prissy steps for him.  No sir.

Wednesday evening Lucy followed me around the pasture while I picked up manure.  From her standpoint, I come into the pasture to provide wither and back massages.  The fact that I have a muck rake and a cart mean nothing.  I pull the cart along, stop near a pile of poop, and prepare to scoop.  But no, Lucy stands between me and the pile, positioning herself so the preferred spot to be scratched is right in front of me.  She twists her neck and wiggles her lips, and sometimes offers to groom my hip.  By the eighth or ninth pile, my fingers get tired and I stop complying with her requests.

We were at that point Wednesday evening.  She was standing next to me and I was ignoring her, focused on my scooping technique.  She darted her head to her flank in a rather violent way, spun and took off.  I don't know what bit her, but it clearly hurt.  She ran through Pistol and Jackson, who were standing near the gate, and kept going -- screaming as she went.  (Yes, she is dramatic).  Pistol and Jackson joined in.  I stood at the fence line and watched them careening from one end of the pasture to the other.  After a couple laps, Lucy stopped.  As did Pistol.

Not Jackson.

He kept running.... and running ....and running.  His ears were forward and his mane was flying.  I swear I heard him say,

"Look at me!  I can run!  I can fly!"

He finally stopped; covered in sweat and ridiculously happy.  He stood bobbing his head at me before strutting off.  Gimpy?  Ha!  Not this horse.  Not anymore.

...which made me wonder.... where did I put his bareback pad?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Quiet Moment

Last week, planes were grounded in Arizona due to the excessive heat.  Planes weren't grounded in Northern California, but the roads shimmered and the sun beat down with stage light intensity.  Yes, we were miserable.  The horses stomped in annoyance at the flies while drinking copious amounts of water.  I was thankful to be at work, where we have air conditioning, during the week.  Brett sent me texts throughout the day, giving me updates on how unbearable it was at home.
In the evening, we fed and cleaned the pastures as the sun set.  We did our best to time it so we could finish before last light, while the shadows from the trees were long and welcoming.  We moved slowly, stopping often to lean on our muck rakes.  Its funny how the heat saps our strength.

After finishing up the chores, I put a few cookies in my pocket -- just in case -- and wandered over to the pasture fence.  Tex and Flash were quietly concentrating on their hay, heads down, chewing slowly and deliberately.  I stood quietly at the fence while Brett closed up the barn for the night.  Tex looked up, and then walked over to me.  I slipped him a cookie and, as he chewed, I stood with my arms crossed on the top rail and my head on my arms.  I was tired and hot and I didn't expect Tex to stay.  I just lacked the energy to move.

Tex didn't leave, though.  He stepped closer and sniffed my hair.  I felt his warm breath on my ear and then on my cheek.  He put his head through the space between the rails and nudged my shirt.  I mumbled, "no more cookies, Tex.  I'm out."

And, still, he stayed.  He explored me the way a mother explores her newborn child.  I felt incredible connection in those moments.  Tex blew softly on my face again before returning to his dinner.  Since that evening, he's been completely relaxed with me.  We know each other.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Shaver Lake 2017

The annual Shaver Lake vacation with my extended family occurred last week and into the weekend.  We have been vacationing there since since Camille was an infant -- so, 23 years.  She was three weeks old the first time we went.  I remember racing down the steps from the deck to the waters edge while she napped under the watchful eye of my mother.  On that same trip, Kyle fell down the stairs and split his chin.  He was an early walker and an active child, but never a cautious one.

Originally, the group included my parents, my sister and her family (three kids) and me and my family.  Over the years, the composition has stayed pretty constant, and we stayed at a small cabin within walking distance (if you don't mind a long steep road) to the lake.  We were only at that first, lakeside cabin, for one year.  Eventually, my younger brother and his daughter started joining us.
Taylor (my brother's daughter), Nick (my sister's oldest), Camille, Justin (my sister's middle child), and Kyle.
I lost my mom to a progressive lung disease (with a name a mile long and no cure), and, as it became more difficult for her to breathe, we switched to lower elevation locations.  But, we never stopped going.  The kids never stopped sleeping outside on the deck; all their sleeping bags lined up in a row; talking late into the night about the stars and satellites.
The candid version: Taylor is smiling sweetly; Nick is checking out Camille's belly button ring; Justin is standing like a stud; and Kyle has been told to get rid of his stick for the picture (probably by Camille).

The kids are now adults, with the exception of my youngest niece who is 14.  The rest of the"kids" range from Camille (23) to Nick (29).  My sister had kids first, closely followed by me, and much later by my brother.  Kyle's girlfriend, Ana, has joined us the last two years.
Kyle and Ana
It was warmer than usual this year but the lake was full and we liked the cabin (the one we used to use wasn't available this year).  We ate too much food and drank wine in the evening on the deck.  We played games.  We went for long walks, swatting the mosquitoes that buzzed around our heads and feasted on our arms and legs.

It was a good trip.  And it is very good to be back home.  Brett took care of the ranch and even installed some more sprinklers in my garden while I was gone.  I love my family but I can only take so much happy, crowded chaos.  I am an introvert, after all.  So it was good to walk through my garden and admire the sprinklers, to stand quietly with Tex, and to drink in the quiet of the night.