Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fire on my mind

 Even though it's become the new normal  around here for fires to spring up all around us every summer, last week's blaze just on the other side of the hill from us was a jolt.

Bruce took pictures of the dogs, Max and myself sitting in in the circular drive, watching the last loads of water being dropped.  By now, the fire had been contained and we knew that everything was going to be OK.  It was a close call, though.

These pictures are good reminders of why we need to get serious about doing more (much more) to fireproof the area around the house as much as possible.  I confess that I've slacked off with this the past few years and cleared only the area closest to the house.  I told myself that we were pretty safe, what with the pond on one side, the graveled drive in front and Corny's pasture nibbled down to nothing.

But the truth is that if a wind-driven fire swept through, there's a lot that still could burn.

View from the top looking down...

So this past weekend, Bruce and I worked to remedy that.  We piled a full trailer load plus six additional garbage bags of dried grass, brush and tree prunings from the little hill our house sits on.  Yesterday I filled another six bags, and even after all that we're still only about halfway through.  The hill is steep and the rocks slide under my feet as a scrabble along like a two-legged spider, balancing with one hand on the rubble and tearing up everything all the way to the bare earth with the other.  I grew quite adept at chucking clumps of weeds down to a pile at the bottom.  My thick leather gloves protected my hands from most of the thorns and stickers, but there's nothing to be done about the ants except work very quickly around their nests and then get the hell out before they swarmed up my legs and arms.  I also refined my technique for pulling stubborn weeds so that when they finally jerked from the ground, I didn't  lose my balance and take a tumble down the hill with the weed clutched in my hand.  It's slow work, but progress is being made.

From the bottom looking up, things look pretty good...

...until you look over a couple of feet

While I'm the mountain goat part of the operation, Bruce, at the bottom, manned the rake and pitchfork and got it everything loaded into the trailer for its final drive to the landfill.  I think I've got the better part of the bargain crawling up and down the hill.

However, for next year I'm thinking it might be time to hire a crew to do this for us.  I say this every summer, but this year I mean it.  Really.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ma and Pa Kettle go to the Fair

Yesterday was Bruce's day off and we had all sorts of exciting plans for the day: going to the dump, poisoning a nest of ants in the garden, bagging up yet more bags of brush, tidying up the compost heap...but life should not be an endless round of scooping up dog turds and replanting the bulbs the chickens have scratched up.

So instead, we dumped all those mundane chores and took ourselves off to the big city for a bit of sophistication and culture:  The California State Fair.

We didn't try this

This three-toed sloth slept through everything

 After walking many miles of hot asphalt goggling at the many splendid sights, we drove back home to a Frogpond that was waiting to be fed, watered and tucked in for the night.

It was a good day.  My big question, however, is one that came to me this morning when I stepped on the scales:  Is it possible to get fat by just breathing in the aroma of deep-fried Twinkies?  Apparently.  I've gained two pounds in a single day.  Time to stay home and clean the chicken coop.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Strawberry Fields...sort of

Yesterday morning this mammoth sunflower in the middle of the front raised bed was peeking through the petals neatly folded over its face.  Today  I went out and there it was, fully open and grinning at the sky.

I love these guys.

This raised bed has been a busy place these past few days.  In addition to the sunflower holding center stage, the tomatoes to the right of it are flourishing and loaded with ripening fruit.  The zinnias are blooming and the tithonia is getting taller.

And to the left, in the bare area where I dug up the potato crop this spring, I now have four rows of rather bewildered looking strawberry plants.  I'd planned on putting in more tithonia and sunflowers there (if I got around to it), but Dorothea called me yesterday afternoon and asked if I wanted some strawberry plants.  I drove off down the hill to her house without even taking time to change out of my gardening pants -- wasn't worth it, seeing as I'd be coming home and planting strawberries.  And that's exactly what I did -- all of them were in the ground by the time the sun was down.  Bruce and I put up a canopy frame over the area and then I said goodnight to everybody and went inside.

This morning I cut lengths of green shade cloth and wired it to the frame.  Not surprisingly, I had trouble with the measuring part and one panel is shorter than the other.  Deja vu.

The whole structure of flapping mismatched shade cloth has traveled well beyond the realm of "rustic" and is solidly banjo-twanging tacky.

Pish -- who cares?  What matters is that the strawberries were happy campers as they sheltered beneath the dappled shade and made it through their first day at Frogpond.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Day After...

On the morning after the fire just over the hill, the sky looked fresh and innocent as though nothing had ever happened.  As fires go, it wasn't a big one -- less than 20 acres -- but with smoke drifting through the trees on our far property line, all the "what-ifs" had me in a panic.

I'd have buckled down and dealt with things on my own if I had to, but having the Bralys drop everything and come over made such a difference.  As it was, we did nothing in addition to what I'd already done or planned to do, but with them here my heart calmed down considerably.  If the worst had happened and the fire came over the hill, they would have been right there to get the animals out and do whatever else needed doing.  Words can't express my gratitude (I think I'm going to bake a cake for them -- it was Hugh's birthday after all).

Yesterday I got dressed in my go-to-town clothes and went to town.  I picked up Mama and then we went to have our hair done together (how mother-daughter is that!) and after that we had lunch at our favorite sushi place.

Afterwards I came home and made jam from our own nectarines and plums.  The plums were fast and easy to prepare, but the nectarines, while delicious, were only the size of large walnuts.  By the time I'd peeled them and taken out their pits (the size of large olives), there were only a few small chunks of fruit to drop into the measuring cup.  It took a long time and many, many nectarines to get the level up to four cups.  It took 3 1/2 hours to produce 4 1/2 pints of jam.  Was it worth it?  Yes!  If summer had a flavor, it would taste just like that jam.

That said, I'd had enough of bending over the sink peeling fruit, so I regretfully dumped the rest of the lard bucket of tiny nectarines onto the compost heap and invited the hens over to have a feast.  They set right to work and took considerably less time than 3 1/2 hours to pick off all the flesh and leave nothing but a scattering of pits.  I'd say that the girls enjoyed tasting summer too.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Today was turned all upside-down by a tree that fell over onto a power line in the hot afternoon wind.  The power went off and, naturally, the pump to our well stopped. This happened about a quarter of a mile from our house, so the subsequent fire sent smoke blooming over the trees.  I called Mary and she and Hugh and both their kids showed up with a horse trailer, just in case we had to haul Corny out.  I'd managed to catch and cage three of the five cats (Poom, Max and Arby), Corny was closed in his pen with a halter on, the chickens were loosed, I had the dog leads ready, my laptop and Bruce's camera in the back of the car.  And so we waited to see what happened.  The helicopters choppered overhead carrying their loads of water, spotter planes circled, and fat tanker planes roared past -- it was very noisy in the sky.  I'd called Bruce and he was on his way home.  There was nothing to do but wait.

In the end, the firefighters knocked the fire out after it had burned about 18 acres.  Towards evening Bruce and I drove the road behind our house to see the damage.  Blackened oak trees still were smoking and the fire crews were on the ground cleaning up remaining hot spots.  We have top notch fire teams up here -- that's a blessing.

Tonight I'm tired but very thankful to be safe in our house.  I'm also grateful to have friends like Hugh and Mary who were here in the drop of a hat when I called.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Poom's Day

                                               Poom hard at work holding down the bed.   

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Several days ago while I was blogging about the woes of trying to measure curtains, a cow's intermittent bellowing from the lower pasture kept breaking into my thoughts.  After half an hour or so of this irritation, it suddenly occurred to me that she might be hurt, trapped in a fence or in some sort of other bovine trouble.

I went down to the pond and looked over the fence at one of Mike Warner's cows.  She stood very alert and still, every so often letting loose with another long, soulful moo.

And then she stepped forward and there behind her wobbled her brand new calf.  Apparently mama cow was just letting the world know all about the pasture's newest citizen.                               

Bruce and Murphy came down with me and we stood around oohing and cooing like people do when a baby's involved.  I think that mama appreciated the admiration.  

Birthing is hard work.  I wanted to do something nice for mama and her brand new baby so I trotted up to the barn and brought down a flake of Corny's hay.  It was well received.  
And then a heavily pregnant auntie cow showed up and the three of them munched and gazed about with cowish eyes.  I gazed back and was very happy.


I'm getting just a little bit tired of rattlesnakes.  Yesterday evening we caught our third one of the summer.  It was small, extremely belligerent and adamant about wanting to remain in his home under our deck.  We were as adamant about wishing it gone.

So, off we drove again to the rock wall at the end of our road -- Bruce and I in the front, Murphy nervously in the backseat and Mr. Snake, rattling furiously in the lard bucket in the trunk. We've got the drill down.

When we got to the rock wall, Bruce tipped the snake gently on top of it.  I wanted to take its picture but lost sight of it so Bruce reached over to point it out.  As his finger got closer, that snake decided to point Bruce out and suddenly lunged at him.  I'm happy to say that he missed.

And I got the picture.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Project -- Part 3

The four curtain panels in all their hemmed glory.  From start to finish, it only took two months to complete and only three tries to get them all relatively the same length.  Empires have been won and lost in the time it took me to correctly measure 87 1/2" correctly four times.

I just put the sewing machine away in the cupboard for the second time in two days and hope not to take it out again for a long time.

The curtains though...aren't they pretty with the dappled sun casting shadows on them?  I'm off to water the garden now and am taking along a celebratory glass of wine.  Cheers!

The Project -- Part 2

Of one thing you can be certain: I don't know how to measure.  I bought a new iron yesterday and immediately set about ironing the remaining panels so I could get them up and get this tedious project at last completed.  It became a lot more tedious when I noticed that two of the panels still grazed the floor. How could this be?

And here I must admit that my first reaction was to blame Ikea and their obviously defective fabric that shrank at different rates when washed.  I really thought this and railed on and on about it to Bruce, who was working from home yesterday.  Then I got out my tape measure and measured both panels and discovered that the two panels had each "shrunk" by exactly one inch.  Ikea was vindicated and I had to bear the blame for measuring incorrectly -- and not once, but twice.

So I called Bruce into the bedroom and asked him I could get away with leaving them the way they were.  Was it really that noticeable, I wanted to know.  I'm sure that at that moment Bruce wished he'd gone into work that day, but he was trapped.  He, of all people, knew how much I loathed the idea of ripping out those two hems and redoing them.  So he said what I wanted to hear -- that he didn't think anyone would ever notice and I should just leave them as they were.  And then he fled back to his office.

I studied the curtains hopefully.  I looked at them while they were open and while they were closed.  Then I pretended that I was someone walking into the room for the first time, just sort of glancing around.  And every time, my eye was inexorably drawn down to the bottoms of those curtains.

This morning, I dug around for my seam ripper and commenced ripping.  Then I hauled my sewing machine back out of the cupboard and sewed the hem of a panel that is exactly 87 1/2" in length.  

I still have the second one to do and vow that it will be done this afternoon.  And it, too, shall be 87 1/2" long.  So help me God.