Country Living Series

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Hay day

We have a neighbor who keeps both horses and cattle, and at this time of year he's always on the lookout for Good Deals in hay. He's one of those people who simply knows everyone, and so Good Deals are likely to come down through the grapevine to him before almost anyone else. Such was the case this year when he scored round bales of bluegrass for $55/ton, an incredible price.

We just sold off two six-month-old calves, so we're down the seven animals we'll be over-wintering. In years past we've had as many as 23 animals (way too many for our acreage) and needed a proportionately high amount of hay, but this year we won't need nearly as much. In fact we have several tons of leftover hay in the barn -- it will be fine for another year of feeding -- and just wanted to supplement our supply with another three tons or so. Our neighbor, who was engaged in hauling hay for his own animals, agreed to haul three extra tons for us as well.

He pulled in yesterday with his gooseneck trailer loaded up. This fellow is a former long-haul trucker and we have never, but never, seen anyone more talented in backing trailers and maneuvering huge rigs in tight spaces.

These bales are comparatively lightweight at about 800 lbs. each. Don shoved most of them off the flatbed with the tractor.

The last few bales were too far over for Don to reach with the tractor bucket, so the three of us -- Don, myself, and our neighbor -- climbed onto the flatbed where we heaved-to and rolled the remaining bales onto the ground.

We have some cleanup work to do in the barn before we can put these round bales under cover, but rain is not expected anytime soon so they'll do just fine waiting outside until then.

And meanwhile, it's an awfully nice feeling to have our winter feed taken care of, thanks to our neighbor's help.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Baaaaaad wasp year

We are having a very very VERY bad summer of wasps and hornets.

Wasps are stinkin' everywhere. It's impossible to step foot outdoors without having these nasty hymenoptera hovering around, making outdoor work impossible. Don tried to do a wiring job on a small trailer the other day and got driven indoors within minutes. I've been getting bombed while taking Mr. Darcy for his afternoon walk. I can't water the garden except in the very early morning otherwise I'm too harassed by the wasps or hornets.

Early one morning I was out in the garden, idly watching the cows who were grazing outside the fence where we have some extra tractor tires stacked and waiting to use as garden beds. Suddenly one of the cows snorted, shook her head, swished her tail with agitation, and moved away from one of the tires. A closer inspection revealed a massive paper-wasp nest within. We're talking massive. Oh great.

And this is just one of several known nests. Some are small, and some are underground, but they all contribute to the sense of walking on eggshells whenever we set foot outdoors.

We've set endless traps and caught thousands of wasps, but it barely makes a dent in the population.

I'm most bitter about my watermelons, which were developing absolutely beautifully until the wasps discovered them. Now every single melon is being systematically hollowed out by seething masses of wasps.

The other day Don had some tractor work to do, clearing brush from a spot, which he did early in the morning to minimize wasp activity. He had to spray out a wasp nest that had formed inside one of the tractor implements. Then -- I'm not kidding -- he donned a full bee suit with zippered veil to work on the tractor. If he'd uncovered a nest while working on the tractor, he would have been severely stung without the bee suit. As it turns out he did NOT uncover a nest, but as we joked later, if he HADN'T been wearing the bee suit, he'd have found five.

So it's that kind of summer. Miraculously, though we've been bitten several times by irascible insects, we haven't been stung (at least, not since Don got one nasty sting back in June while on the tractor). Knock on wood that track record continues.

We need a good hard freeze or three to kill all these nasties off. However since that would also kill off the garden just as it's maturing, I guess we'll have to be patient and keep dodging.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Co-mother hens

If you remember, about three weeks ago we had a Jersey Giant hen who stole a nest and hatched out eight chicks.

We also had a Buff hen setting on eggs as well.

Well, the Buff hatched out five chicks, so combined we have 13 peeping babies.

The funny thing is this: For the first 10 days or so, I kept both hens and all the chicks in an inner pen in the coop, for protection. After that we opened the pen door and let everybody venture out. But by that time, the chicks were making absolutely no distinction between hens regarding who their mama is. Essentially we have co-mother hens.

Sometimes I see the Jersey Giant hen with some of the chicks:

Other times the Buff seems to collect more:

At night the chicks will tuck themselves under whatever hen has room.

This unusual co-parenting arrangement seems to be working just fine for the chicks. There's always someone to hang with and show them the ropes of searching for food.

Oddly enough, the Buff mother is dominant over the Jersey Giant mother and likes the chicks to be with her. Notice who has all the babies?

And notice who's standing off by herself, watching her family gather around the other mother?

Still, I don't feel too sorry for the Jersey Giant mama. She gets her share. Besides, it's the chicks themselves who make the decision which hen to go to.

It's amazing how much a batch of chicks -- hatched by a hen rather than an incubator -- makes a barnyard seem more alive and "proper."

So the babies are thriving as they flow between one mother or the other, and we have two very happy hens co-parenting the chicks. Whatever works, I guess.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Baby blackbirds

You might remember in late June I mentioned a pair of blackbirds was nesting nearby.

The nest had four eggs, as well as one parasitical egg from a cowbird. (I froze this egg overnight and re-inserted it into the nest, as I learned simply removing the egg might trigger retaliatory measures from the cowbird against the blackbird nest.)

So was the nest successful? Yes it was. (I just forgot to do a follow-up post.)

One June 26, one nestling had hatched.

By the next day, all four eggs had hatched.

Here are the nestlings on June 30.

July 7, feathering out.

By July 11, the nest was empty, with all the babies gone.

The only thing left was one lonely little cowbird egg -- and a few days later, it too was gone.

With the rampant predation of baby birds in the wild, it's always nice to see a successful nest.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

(Insert zombie voice) Cofffeeeeeee......

A reader sent this.

I loathe and detest coffee, so I'll insert "tea" instead ... although the zombie voice doesn't sound the same with "teeeeeaaaaaa......"

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Bucket list? What bucket list?

I stumbled upon an article recently entitled "It's Time to Kick the Bucket List."

Apparently there's been a "national epidemic of bucket-list neurosis" of which I've been entirely (and happily and thankfully) unaware.

"Bucket lists started out as something harmless and amusing before turning into a nightmare," notes the article. "Compiling a bucket list was once the perfect way to pass the dreamy days of summer vacation. Now it’s just another form of work." — to the point, apparently, of becoming a "clinical disorder." (To be fair, these days everything can be categorized as a "clinical disorder.")

Apparently suggested bucket lists can now be found online, growing increasingly frantic: "100 places to see before you die. No, make that 1,000 places. Fifty restaurants to eat in before you die — no, 200. The Top 111 Bucket List Ideas. 329 Great Bucket List Ideas. 15,378 Top-Quality Bucket List suggestions."

But — "A bucket list is supposed to be deeply personal, the product of much internal debate and intense self-searching. It’s not supposed to be just another dumb thing you found on the Internet."

I've never had a bucket list for life. While there are many things I'd love to be able to do, see, or experience, they don't burn a hole in my heart because I haven't had a chance to cross them off a list. But maybe that's because, in general, I'm content.

The writer of the article may agree. "They [the items on the bucket list] can seem like a consolation prize for not having a satisfactory life. If you are rapidly approaching the final curtain and you still have dozens of things pending on your bucket list, it raises the question of what you were doing all that time."

All that time. You mean, all of life? What have Don and I been doing "all that time"? Well, we've:

• Raised and educated two phenomenal kids.

• Created a homestead farm.

• Created a woodcraft business.

• Created a writing career.

• Watched a lot of beautiful sunsets.

• Created a home-centered life so we could enjoy the kids, the farm, the woodcraft business, the writing career, and the sunsets.

• Found (or re-found) our faith.

• Honed skills we already had and learned many new ones.

• Helped create a wonderful neighborhood community.

In total, our accomplishments might seem modest. We haven't gone bungee-jumping in Madagascar or swum with man-eating sharks in the Seychelles. But our accomplishments are satisfying, and give us — as we approach our senior years — a feeling of contentment. I find that hard to beat.

The whole bucket-list thing is an example of wallowing in envy — everyone's trying to demonstrate their life has meaning. You might say it's a bucket of envy: "If I don't finish these things before my life is over, then my life has been meaningless."

"Bucket lists often become obsessive, expensive, painful," concludes the article. "They create the impression that life is not so much something to be lived and enjoyed as a series of onerous obligations to be checked off."

Neither Don nor I have ever parasailed over a volcano, climbed the Pyramids, or even seen Yellowstone (that's criminal — it's practically in our backyard). (Actually, Don informs he visited Yellowstone when he was a young boy.) But we've raised kids, milked cows, built furniture, and enjoyed dinners with friends. Life is pretty durned sweet as a result.

In talking this over with Don, he said he only ever had one item on his bucket list, a prayer he’s had for years: "God, let me live long enough to see our children grow up to be strong, competent adults." That prayer has been answered.

As I recently told my Dad, Don's and my married life did not unfold in a conventional way (i.e. work an office jobs for 30 years while living in the suburbs, then retire) — but it's been a helluva ride and it's not over yet.

Nope, no bucket list, but that's okay.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Parenting in the age of fear

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Parenting in the Age of Fear."

For those unable to access the WND website, here's the text:

Parenting in the Age of Fear

Every parent has done it. Come on, ’fess up.

Your kid fell asleep in the car. Your errand is very brief. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. Because your chore will take such a short time, you crack the windows, lock the vehicle, and dash into the store for two minutes.

Of course all is well when you return. Your child never stirred from his nap. Relieved, you unlock the door and continue your day.

Unbeknownst to you, a stranger observed this incident, photographed your license plate, and reported you to the police. The next thing you know, there is a warrant for your arrest.

Something like this happened to a writer named Kim Brooks, who found herself justifying her decision to leave her four-year-old in the vehicle both to the police and to the world at large. “If it had been warm out, I would have said no,” she wrote. “I knew about how quickly a closed car can overheat, even on a 60-degree day. But it was cool and cloudy. I’d grown up in that same town in the 1980s and had spent hours waiting in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon, windows open, reading or daydreaming, while they ran errands. Had so much really changed since then?”

Ms. Brooks contacted a lawyer, who told her to wait to see if the police would either press charges, or report her to the Department of Children and Family Services. “And so I waited, terrified, until the morning I received that second call and learned that I was being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (my son),” she wrote.

Ms. Brooks’ case might have loped along like endless other parents accused of negligence for something that was perfectly normal a few years ago – except she decided to look for other mothers experiencing similar accusations. “I was beginning to understand that it didn’t matter if what I’d done was dangerous,” she noted. “It only mattered if other parents felt it was dangerous. When it comes to kids’ safety, feelings are facts.”

Feelings are facts. That’s a terrifying standard, especially when parenting is under the microscope.

I know something of the fear Ms. Brooks felt. When our younger child was a five-month-old baby, I took her to town with me on a sparkling October day. She was attired in nothing but a diaper, so I put her in my trusty sling, draped a jacket across both of us, and we skipped across the parking lot toward the store. We were both laughing in the snappy air and pretty sunshine.

That is, until I stepped into the store. Immediately I was accosted by an outraged woman. “How dare you take that baby out naked in this weather!” she snarled.

Taken aback, I looked at our daughter. Her eyes were bright, the cotton sling was tucked over her bare shoulders, she was warm against her mommy’s body, and she was laughing out loud. “She’s perfectly warm,” I assured the woman. “She’s laughing and happy. See?”

Not satisfied, the woman dogged my heels into the store and absolutely lambasted me for my poor mothering skills, for my unthinking cruelty to take a baby out unclothed on such a cold day (it was 60F degrees), and quite literally threatened to call Child Protective Services over the unpardonable sin of not dressing my child in a down parka for the polar expedition of walking 50 feet across a parking lot in October.

She finally left me alone. I did my shopping, but before I stepped foot outside the store I confess I looked around to see if the harridan was lurking in a corner, waiting to take my license plate number and report me to CPS. For a young mother, it was a terrifying experience.

Parenting has changed over the last few decades. “What kind of parent wouldn’t buckle up his children in the car?” asked my husband rhetorically. “Oh yeah, my parents. Your parents.” In fact, most parents in the late 50s and early 60s didn’t buckle up their children.

When I was a kid, my father was always diligent about vehicle safety (he frequently sang this jingle), but even he didn’t hesitate to drive home at night with us unbuckled after we had all gone to a drive-in movie. We children were sound asleep on a makeshift bed in the backseat. Somehow we all survived the trip home and no one ever accused my parents of neglect.

Now don’t start laying into me about how important safety is regarding children. I’m not advocating leaving your kids unbuckled or neglecting to attend to their safety. But sometimes it can go too far – not for the kids, but for the parents. Mothers especially have been accused of the vilest offenses for things that – a couple of decades ago – would not have caused anyone to bat an eye. (For further examples of over reactions, see this, this and this.)

The demand to be a “perfect” parent affects all socio-economic levels. “We’re contemptuous of ‘lazy’ poor mothers,” writes Brooks. “We’re contemptuous of ‘distracted’ working mothers. We’re contemptuous of ‘selfish’ rich mothers.”

One of the accused mothers Brooks interviewed stated, “[N]o matter what color you are, no matter how much money you do or don’t have, you don’t deserve to be harassed for making a rational parenting choice.” This mother was censured for child “abandonment” for leaving her children in the car for three minutes while purchasing a Starbucks coffee.

So who’s perfect? “A mother, apparently, cannot be harassed. A mother can only be corrected,” states Brooks.

I concur. The busybody twit who harassed me for not dressing my baby in a parka was simply “correcting” me. Loudly. In public. While following me. While humiliating and intimidating me in front of strangers.

Ironically this forced helicopter parenting is creating a twin backlash. One factor is children who never have the opportunity to make unsupervised decisions while growing up, resulting in stunted abilities as adults. The other factor is parents pushing back against societal busybodies. “There seems to be a slow-brewing backlash to the idea that we should let our lives be ruled by the twin fears of danger and of disapprobation,” concludes Brooks.

Remember those golden summer days when children played on sidewalks and in parks? Remember the tree forts and the bike rides? Remember when children played outside like children should?

If you can remember this, you were a child of the 70s, 60s, or earlier. If you can’t, you’re a child of the 80s, 90s, or later when playing outdoors unsupervised became “dangerous.”

Today, our fanatical insistence on perfect parenting and eternally supervised children means kids stay inside staring at screens of various sizes and shapes. The tree forts and bikes are ignored or never purchased. The imaginative rough-and-tumble games are forever gone. Children never see the sun, but at least they’re “safe” – thanks to societal busybodies who won’t let kids be kids, or parents be imperfect.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Heat wave

Pardon me while I whine for a bit.

For the last two weeks, we've been in the grip of a heat wave. It's laughably cool by some people's standards -- our high was 97F and we don't have much by way of humidity -- but without air conditioning, it's just plain hot. Whine whine.

I hate heat. I always have. I get grouchy and snappish when I'm hot. I can happily walk the dog when it's -0F (you can always bundle up), but go outside when it's over 90F? Ug.

We used to live in central California and then later southwest Oregon. In both places, the summer temperature could effortlessly reach 115F. I wanted to estivate during those times.

When we lived in Oregon, there was a husband/wife team who hosted the morning radio talk show. The wife was in heaven whenever the mercury climbed over 105F. She adored hot weather. Couldn't wait to get outside. I thought she was nuts.

I simply cannot fathom living in the southwest or anywhere it routinely hovers around 100F or higher. Been there/done that/hated it.

I feel intensely sorry for anyone who must work outside during these times -- highway workers, construction workers, landscapers -- and of course, all the hard-working firemen and women fighting the insane fires in California and other places.

Around here, anything outdoorsy gets done in the wee hours of the day. I'm out in the garden by 5:30 am. Mr. Darcy gets his long walk by 9 am. (We dash out for a short walk around 4 pm or he'd climb the walls.)

It's times like this I can't wait for fall. Maybe even winter.

Okay, whine-fest over.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Glory in velvet

A few days ago, I was out watering the garden in the very early morning (to escape the heat) when I noticed a commotion among the trees on an adjacent parcel of land. Soon three deer emerged -- two bucks and a doe.

I had to position myself to take photos from that distance, and by the time I focused correctly, both bucks had jumped the fence into our field.

A close-up of both animals revealed their glorious racks were still in velvet.

That means it's too early for breeding season. Nonetheless, both seemed very interested in this lady.

I'm pretty sure this is the same doe that's been hanging around the neighborhood with her twin fawns. Sadly, no one has seen the fawns lately, which makes me think she lost them both to predators.

The bucks soon ran away and disappeared from sight.

One paused near a fence line before jumping it. I was just able to squeeze in one last photo.

This encounter made me glad it wasn't hunting season.