"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Today I chose the slippery beam. Apparently both choices are equally awful. Walked back to the house this time with a cold muddy bum. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

My Mud Nightmare Has Come to Pass

Just went out to do the afternoon feeding, with Haku tied to me via a long leash around my waist. That's my new plan for desensitizing him to the livestock - take him with me every day and make him walk among the animals. It's about 4 o'clock, dim, very cold, and very muddy.

It's been very muddy for weeks. The mud is worse than average this year, because we raised a pig this year. Pigs always root up, dig, and generally soften up the ground wherever they are, and this pig spent a lot of time in the barnyard. Homero laid a couple of wide 2x8 beams across the worst of the yard, and that helped for a while. But now the mud has come up over the beams, and while you can still see where they are, they aren't much help anymore. They're slippery, see.

I have to choose between trying to walk on a slippery beam with a 90 lb. dog tied to my waist - a dog that is tugging manfully - or walking in the mud. I chose the mud. I have good boots. They go up to my knees.

One of my good boots got stuck. Really stuck. I pulled and pulled - I let Haku pull and pull to help me - but no dice. That boot was in almost to the top and it wasn't coming out. After a few minutes of thinking and not coming up with any plans, I gave in to the inevitable.

I slipped my foot out of the boot and set it down in the mud. It sank in right up to my shins - just as cold, squishy, and awful as I had known it would be. Without my foot inside, it was easy to grasp the empty boot and pull it up. Now I had a new dilemma. Should I put my gross muddy foot back inside my boot, or should I carry the boot and keep the inside clean, and walk back to the house half barefoot?

I really didn't want to get the inside of my boot as muddy as the outside. Then I'd have to clean it out with the hose, and it would be wet for days. So I started off towards the house - about 50 yards - squish, squish, squish.

It froze last night. Not hard enough to lock up the mud, obviously, but enough to make the ground very uncomfortable on a bare foot. When I hit the sharp, frozen gravel, I decided to put my boot back on. Now I have one leg wet and filthy to the knee, and two muddy boots - one on the inside as well as the outside.

Haku, as usual, has four legs muddy to the hocks. He doesn't care.

A Goat Named Christmas

On Christmas Eve morning, when Homero went out to feed the animals, he found a baby goat curled up, asleep in the hay. He wasn't sure which of the three does was the mama, so he picked up the baby and put her in the mama barn, chose the mama goat that most resembled the baby (Polly), and came back in to get me. 

When I entered the mama barn a few minutes later, the baby was nursing on Polly, so clearly Homero chose correctly. Polly must have given birth the evening before. The baby was dry and fluffy, nursing like a pro, and Polly looked great. 

I HAVE been checking the mama goat's udders when I go out, because I know that they were probably bred quite early, since we just let the buck run with them year round. Last year (or was it the year before?) we lost two babies because they were born in the middle of a deep freeze in the middle of the night. 

This time we (and the goats of course ) were luckier - it's been very wet but not cold. The barn has plenty of dry straw, and now that we put them in the mama barn, they ought to do just fine. Until I let them out, a few days from now, anyway. I can't imagine how that tiny baby can traverse the lake of deep mud between the door of the barn and the grass of the pasture. I need to get some chips down, pronto. 

A search for another baby - dead or alive - and any sign of placenta turned up negative. It seems this baby was a singleton. And it's a she. She's a doeling.  We named her Christmas. We're going to keep her. It's about time I added a new doe to the herd. It seems that Iris most likely did not get pregnant again this year. That makes two years in a row and I think it is unlikely she will produce again. Flopsy is also getting on, and she only has one teat. Polly is my best goat, and I think a doeling from her would make a good replacement for Iris or Flopsy. 

If, that is, we can raise her to maturity without being killed by Haku. I'm terrified about him killing baby goats. He doesn't bother the adult goats - only the sheep - but the adult goats don't prance and gambol and run around enticingly, which the baby goats most certainly will. Also the babies are perfectly prey sized for Haku. 

In an attempt to avoid that horrible fate, I brought the baby inside and let Haku lick her all over. I even brought Haku out to the mama barn and let him lick the baby all over right in front of her mama. Polly did not like that at all. She was very protective, keeping herself between Haku and the baby, and lowering her horns menacingly. But Haku behaved himself and was very gentle with the baby. 

I'd be perfectly happy if Christmas were the only baby we get this year. I don't need more goats and I don't need more milk than Polly can provide. It's always nice to have a couple of babies to sell, or to eat, so it wouldn't be awful if there were more babies, but they'd be surplus. The only thing I will need to do next year is find a different buck. Hopefully I can find someone in the same position as me who wants to trade bucks straight across. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dog Drama (Faith and Canines)

The farm, like the earth itself, is practically in hibernation right now. I can hardly remember a time when we have had fewer animals. The cow and the pig have both been butchered. The turkeys are gone as well, having been butchered and sold for Thanksgiving. The freezer is full of meat, and the only live animals I have left are the perennials - ponies, goats, and chickens.

The weather has been unrelenting. Except for one quick, two day freeze that brought a half-inch dusting of snow, it's been all mud. The chores are so miserable that I have allowed the unthinkable: chores once a day instead of twice. In my defense, the days are very short - there are barely eight hours of daylight, and that of a dubious, dark grey quality. We feed once, at about 11 am, double rations for everybody. As the animals are all huddled in the barn against the chill and the damp, they are not expending very much energy.

I always take Haku (the new shepherd) with us to do chores - he needs the exercise, but it is a giant pain in the ass. He cannot be trusted off leash, nor can he come into the main paddock with me, even on leash. The mere sight of the sheep sends him into a berserker rage and at 90 pounds, he is quite capable of pulling me off balance and sending me ass-first into the mud. So I put him in the adjacent pasture while I do chores, and he leaps frenetically at the fence and barks himself hoarse while I trudge through the mud.

"Shut up, Haku," I scream, with an armload of hay, the wind whipping half of it out of my arms and into my eyes.

"Shut UP, Haku," I scream, as I dig my naked hands into the ordure and pry the chicken's feed pan loose and carry it over to the hose for cleaning.

"Haku, for the love of all that's holy, SHUT UP!" I yell, as I duck back into the mama barn to scoop up chicken food. After a moment, I realize there is silence - and it is not relief I feel, but dread. I pop out of the barn, and see Haku dragging the sheep around the lower pasture by the scruff of her neck. I don't know how he got from one pasture to the other, but it hardly matters at the moment.

"HAKU!" I scream, and start to run after them. The mudboots I have put on are too small, and I am running with my toes curled under. It hurts.

"HAKU!" I keep screaming. The dog cheerfully ignores me. Even dragging the sheep, he easily outmaneuvers me. Occasionally, the sheep will break free and run for a bit, and Haku seems to enjoy it when she does, for it gives him a chance to chase her around again. The dog and sheep make large circles; I make smaller circles inside their orbit, lunging and stumbling and screaming ineffectually. I wasn't exactly checking my watch, but it felt like a good ten minutes before I managed to step on Haku's leash as he dashed by me and bring him to a jerking halt.

I was so angry at him. This is not the first - nor the second, nor the third - time he has attacked the sheep. He has never actually injured her, I think because her wool is so thick he can drag her around with a mouthful of wool without piercing her skin, but the poor thing is seriously traumatized. Haku has been punished each time, but it makes no impression. I'm going to risk the collective opprobrium of the internet by admitting that when I finally managed to drag Haku off of the poor sheep, I growled at him, flipped him on his back, twisted his ruff savagely, and whacked him across the snout with my bare hand, hard enough to hurt. "NO!" I yelled into his face. "NO!"

I dragged him out of the pasture and tied him to the fence by his leash while I finished my chores. The sheep was cowering in the far corner of the barn, but when I tried to approach her to check her for injuries she nimbly stepped around me and took off. That is, to me, enough evidence that she isn't seriously injured. As the late, great James Herriot said, if you can't catch your patient there probably isn't too much to worry about.

For those of you who might wonder, Haku is enrolled in a professional training course and we take him once a week. We also have a friend who is a professional trainer and she comes quite often to help us. Haku is a challenging dog, to say the least. He is an absolute sweetheart with the family - loving and docile and playful and trustworthy. He is also fine with visitors and people in general - but with animals, be they livestock or other dogs, he is a holy terror.

We are committed to Haku - we knew when we adopted him that he had been given up twice by other families and that we were, practically speaking, his last chance. If we were to take him back to the shelter, he would be deemed unadoptable, and we all know what that means. We will never ever do that - Haku is ours forever, even if he succeeds in his lifelong ambition to kill the sheep. We were warned that he was released the last time for killing chickens. When we decided that we were in love, that we had to adopt him, Homero said (privately) "He can kill all the chickens, I don't care."

Our last dog - my first dog - Ivory , was also challenging as a puppy. There were times I felt I had made a mistake, that she would never be a proverbial "good dog." We had to hang tough for - I'm going to say three years, until she calmed down and became a relaxed family dog, instead of a crazy whirlwind of destruction. She used to lunge at the fence and bark whenever the neighbor came home. The poor girl was only trying to get into her own house, and Ivory made it a trial every day for years. She also used to steal all my daughter's stuffed animals, sneak them out through the dog door, and then tear a small hole in them and run around the backyard, shaking them violently, until all the stuffing came out. She did this over and over until he whole backyard looked like a ski resort.

As it turned out, Ivory did become a "good dog" She lived with us for fourteen years - years which spanned the birth of my children and the growth of my family from a city-dwelling duo to a country farming family of five. She learned to be a farm dog, to herd goats, to chase rabbits through the blackberry bushes, to hunt and kill rats. She accompanied our family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and she provided us her whole life long with affection and protection. She was a real true member of the family, and even now, almost a year after her death from a nasty cancer, I cry every time I remember her. I have ugly tears rolling down my cheeks right now.


It is only because of Ivory that Haku has any grace with us. It is only because of Ivory that I have faith, that I have trust that Haku will one day be a member of our family in the same way she was. I know there will never be another Ivory - no matter how much Haku resembles her. He can't replace Ivory - no dog ever could - but Ivory taught me the worth of a good dog, and gave me the will to keep trying. Now that I know what a dog can be, I have to believe that Haku can be that too. I know that if we can stick it out for another year or two, and persevere with the training, that the payoff will be beyond our wildest dreams. We'll have a loving companion for another fourteen years, God willing. In a very real sense, Haku is alive today because of Ivory.

I'm not sure there can be a better memorial for a good dog.

Te gusta me Nene?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

One Husband, Many Heads (Graphic Pictures)

the giant fish

I am not a squeamish eater. I like liver, and I put the giblets in my gravy. Tacos de lengua are alright with me. As compared to your average American, I think I have a high tolerance for and even appreciation of variety meats. Or "offal" or whatever name you favor for all the bits that aren't straight up muscle meat.

It's true, though, that I like my offal disguised in a creamy pate (I make the best chicken liver pate you ever tasted) or minced into invisibility in a gravy. Like most Americans I know, I don't want to see an identifiable organ on my plate. Ew.

Homero is not American. He's Mexican, and in Mexico, they really do use "everything but the squeal." As they do in most other places around the world. It's pretty much just us rich white folks who can afford to ignore a third of the edible parts on an animal. In fact, most of the world will insist that the parts we refer to as "offal" include the best meat. I'm sure every organ has it's partisans; Homero is partial to the head.

Eyeballs. Cheek meat. Tongue. Brains. Even ears and snouts. It's all yummy to him, and it pretty much doesn't matter what animal you're talking about. Before we were married, the first time we were in Oaxaca together, Homero's sister made sheep's head soup (which was delicious) and Homero made a big show of scooping out the eyeball and eating it.

pig head

When each of our pigs has been butchered, Homero has kept the head and made something with it - this last time it was head tacos. To me, it was a whole lot of gristly, greasy, cartilaginous bits, but to him it was ambrosia. 

Recently a friend gave us an enormous fish - I mean a really gigantic fish, a twenty-five pound denizen of the deep. I believe it was a yellow-eyed Rockfish. The filets, when a neighbor helped us get them off, weighed about six pounds each. They were lovely, snowy white and firm, and they looked like plenty of food to me, but Homero wanted to make soup out of the head, too. To be fair, the head was about one-third of the entire fish, and it did make a delicious broth. But it also made one hell of a mess.

Right now, there is an entire cow's head in our freezer. It takes up a fair amount of the freezer all by itself. It's from our Jersey cow, who was butchered this past autumn. Homero insists that he is going to cook it - how, I haven't the faintest clue. We don't have a fire-proof receptacle capable of holding it - you'd need a medieval cauldron, even though she was a pretty small cow. Maybe he could barbecue it over an open fire outside.

Whatever he does with it, he better do it soon. I'm getting tired of wrestling with that frozen cow head every time I want to get into the freezer and get out some food. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Advent Activity Calendar: So Far

 Day one: make christmas cards

Day two: decorate the altar

Day three was going Christmas shopping (at thrift stores). I made the girls make a list of people they really wanted to give gifts to, and I gave them each $40 and said I expected that to be enough - but that I would help them budget and if they wanted to use the money to buy craft stuff and make presents, I'd help them come up with ideas and then I would help them make stuff. 

Day four was supposed to be going downtown to the christmas tree lighting ceremony, but as it turned out I had the stomach flue and wasn't going anywhere. Luckily it was pretty much a twenty-four hour bug, and I'm feeling much better today.

Day five, today, we went down to the port for the annual holiday port festival and gingerbread house show. There are many things going on, but the gingerbread houses are the star attraction. So much so that the line to see them was a half an hour long. However it wasn't too bad because there was a stage and local groups performing, ranging from high school jazz bands to barbershop quartets, so we had music while we waited. The houses themselves can be submitted by anybody, and they are sorted into categories from "under 5" all the way up to "professional bakery."  The show is also a silent auction, with the benefits going to local charities. Some of them were truly spectacular, and others were - as we say - "sincere." 

By the time we got through the show, I had had quite enough holiday cheer for one day. As large as the space is, there were enough bodies present to make it hot and close, and I've never been good in crowds. I think I may have some lingering effects of the flu - a couple of times I felt near to fainting. I was very glad to get back out into the chilly, rainy fresh air. 

Tomorrow is the one event we never miss, in any year - Pioneer Park Old Fashioned Christmas. It's a truly amazing event - the park itself is wonderful. It's a big field with approximately twelve original old buildings from the pioneer era that were all moved here from various locations around the count. They are mostly houses but also a church, a barn, and a schoolhouse. They date from the 1870's and 1880's. All of them are furnished with original furniture, stoves, quilts, etc, from the time period - in some cases the actual furnishings that were in those houses. In the summertime the Ferndale Historical Society gives tours on weekends. And for one weekend in December every year, they have Christmas. All the houses are decorated with period decorations, and in each building there is a different activity for children - dipping candles, writing christmas cards that will be sent to soldiers overseas, and of course visiting Santa. I love Pioneer Park Christmas!