Thursday, March 30, 2017

Blender dogs

I apologize for the silence on the blog lately. We've had a very busy week – we're painting the kitchen, whoo-hoo! – and I haven't had a chance to post anything worth reading. (Kitchen photos will come later.)

So meanwhile, as a sort of placeholder, please peruse the following humor piece I wrote many years ago. To demonstrate how many years ago, it references Older Daughter going to summer camp (that was in 2010).

It's also guaranteed to tick off a bunch of small dog owners, so I apologize in advance. Satire, folks – remember, it's satire.

Blender Dogs

I like Big Dogs.

Great big dogs. The bigger the better. Show me a Lab and I'll want a Malamute. Show me a Malamute and I'll want a Newfoundland. Show me a Newfoundland and I'll want an Irish Wolfhound. Show me a Wolfhound and I'll want an English Mastiff. I'm not sure there's a breed bigger than a Mastiff, is there? But if there was, I'd be interested.

Now doubtless some psychology types would have a hey-day with this bit of information. Likes Big Dogs, does she? Oh, she's just compensating for being short (or something like that).

Yes, I'm short. But no, I'm not trying to "compensate" for anything. I just like Big Dogs. Oh, and hairy too. Big and hairy, that's how I like 'em.

But some weirdo-types like the opposite: they go for Small Dogs, the smaller the better. Show them a Beagle and they'll want a Yorkshire. Show them a Yorkie and they'll want a Pekingese. Show them a Peke and they'll want a Pomeranian. Show them a Pom and they'll want a teacup Poodle. Open any issue of your local PennySaver newspaper and turn to the Pets section, and you're likely to see dozens and dozens of ads for Chihuahuas (beastly little critters).

If there was a dog breed the size of a rat, I'm sure it would be more popular than chocolate. And some of these Small Dog lovers have even been known to dress up their Little Dogs like ballerinas or Darth Vader or dolls. Gack.

I call these rat-like creatures Blender Dogs (more on this later).

See, to me a dog must have substance. Dignity. Presence. Purpose. Of what use are those tiny little yappy things except to offer temptation to boot them across the yard? (Not that I ever would – please don't misunderstand – but it's just so tempting.) Yeah sure they can climb onto your lap, but then so does my Big Dog. I just can't breathe when she does it.

And above all, you'd never find a Bull Mastiff or a Newfoundland dressed up to look like a ballerina or Darth Vader or anything. Why? Because to do so would be an impingement on their dignity. Besides, they're usually bigger than you and can convince you that your attempt to fit them into a Darth Vader costume really isn't in your best interest.

I realize this penchant for Big Dogs has a lot do to with living in the country. After all, it's hard to have a Great Dane in the city unless you plan your life carefully around his needs. A Dane would take up most of the floor space in your average New York City apartment, and if you were to train him to pee on a newspaper, you'd have a yellow swimming pool on your floor. (On the other hand, walking your Dane down the street would be an outstanding deterrent against muggers, n'est-ce pas?)

So yes, Big Dogs are more suited to the wider spaces of country living. Let's face it, a Yorkie would be bobcat bait if left out in a rural yard for any length of time. We have owls who would snap up Chihuahuas for appetizers. And it's my suspicion that a coyote would jump the fence and snack on a Pomeranian or Pekingese just to shut it up.

Because little dogs yap. Oh my goodness, they yap. They yap and yap and yap. They never shut up, in fact. We know some people with a Pomeranian and they actually have to squirt him with water to shut him up enough so we can hold a conversation.

We own a Great Pyrenees, a dog with dignity, presence, and purpose. My Pyrenees doesn't yap. She barks, thank you very much. Loudly. Deeply. A gruff, dignified bark. She barks and barks and barks. But see, she barks for a reason. She's barking with dignity, with presence, and with purpose. She is defending her flock (us) from those evil awful turkeys that occasionally strut down the driveway. Or she is protecting us against the wind. Or robins. Or fluttering leaves. See? Dignity. Presence. Purpose. All the difference in the world.

Great Pyrenees, for those unfamiliar with the breed, are livestock guard dogs. But in our case, we are the livestock and she guards us. If I walk into the kitchen, she follows and collapses under the kitchen table, guarding me. If I walk into the living room and sit down, she wanders over and collapses at my feet, guarding me. If I go into the laundry room (where we also keep the dog food), she follows and guards me as she sniffs around for crumbs of dog food that fell to the floor. (Okay, her purpose in this room might be a touch mercenary.)

And if, heaven forbid, we leave the house ... well, she is inconsolable. Her flock has escaped! She has failed in her purpose to guard us! It is most distressing to her.

But let us come home or even get out of bed in the morning and she is incandescently happy. She will jump up and down in delight. She will caper around the room. She will attempt to climb into our laps in ecstasy. Her flock is complete! Her mission is accomplished! Her purpose in life is fulfilled!

But if one of us is gone ... she is worried. There are wrinkles of concern on her forehead. This week, for example, our older daughter is away at summer camp. This means our Pyrenees is upset. A lamb is missing! She is failing at her mission! She keeps putting her nose under our hand, seeking comfort in her distress. She feels responsible and at fault because one of her flock has strayed. It's like she's trying to apologize for letting our older daughter escape from her watchful guardianship.

See? Big Dogs. Purpose. Dignity. Presence.

Whereas Little Dogs do nothing but get underfoot and yap in a voice shrill enough to shatter glass. Don't you just want to boot them across the room? I know I do.

And Little Dogs can be vicious monsters. Perhaps because of their size, no one ever attempts to train Little Dogs, and so Little Dogs grow up thinking they're Big Dogs. They snarl and snap and growl and bite. They think they're the biggest, baddest canine on the planet (which is why it's always amusing to watch a Chihuahua meet a Rottweiler). And most owners don't attempt to rein in this little terror because, gosh darn, they're so cute when they act fierce.

So this is why I call these canine brats "blender dogs." Why blender dogs? It's quite simple.

Any dog that can fit in a blender, should.

So here's what I propose. Since Big Dogs have a "purpose," I propose to teach them a new trick: To press the buttons on a blender.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Friday roundup

So what's today -- Wednesday? Oh well, I've decided it's time for a "Friday" Roundup which, as you recall, is posted so we can all check in on what steps we've taken, big or small, to inch us incrementally toward greater preparedness (regardless of what day it's posted).

Now that spring is here, we're getting more active. Here's what we've been doing for the last couple of weeks:

• On March 1, I was a guest with the "Advanced Prepping Intensive" webinar run by Preppers University on the subject of -- what else -- homesteading and rural living. Really neat course if anyone's interested in signing up for future classes.

• I organized our medical supplies. This is necessary not only to keep things in easy-to-find order, but it also allows us to determine anything we're short on.

• A neighbor and I attended a day-long gardening seminar with multiple workshops. Of the various subjects offered, the one thing we both wanted to learn something more about was permaculture. The hour-long class we attended on this subject was, of necessity, little more than an intro, but we may be attending a 12-hour version coming up later in the spring. If permaculture lives up to its hype, it might be a decent solution to the problems of growing gardens in a dry climate with minimal water.

• We peeked in at the bees -- and they're still alive (yes!). We'll be making a new little "bee lot" to put the hive (we're also getting in two more nucs in a few weeks) near the house so we can keep an eye on them. We'll also be putting out wasp traps to catch yellow jacket queens in an effort to avoid the disastrous attack that killed one of our hives last summer.

We're also going to get some pollen patties to feed to the bees when the weather is warmer and they can start foraging. Pollen patties stimulate brood, so we don't want to feed it to them too early in the season.

• I backed up my computer and my blog. I urge everyone to do this!!!

• I planted two tiny sweet cherry bushes (they look like tall twigs at this stage). These are probably the last fruits we'll plant in the garden. Right now we have a wide variety of wonderful fruits (some of which haven't yielded produce yet): peaches, pears, apples, plums, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, sour cherries, and now sweet cherries. The nice thing about planting fruit is they're perennial and low-maintenance.

• We cut, split, and stacked a bunch o' firewood. Before:

After (hard to see, but there are three layers of wood):

• We augered holes, inserted railroad ties, and made the first of what will be several "airlock" gates to keep cows out of the driveway or otherwise go where we want (or don't want) them to go. As we get older and the girls are not available for cattle roundups, we need to find ways to guide and direct the beasties. Via this gate, the cows can go directly from the wooded side of the property to the field side without having to be directed through the driveway.

• We made an appointment with the regional mobile butchers for early April to dispatch six or seven more cows (and steers). Yes, you read that right. We're halving the size of our herd and shifting the focus of our farm a bit to make things more efficient. Cattle are wonderful prepper livestock to have, but we don't need that many at the moment and we can ramp things up with very little effort (and the help of a willing bull) at any time.

• I cleaned chicken coop. Heavens how it needed it.

That's about it for us. What has everyone else been doing?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where's Little Boy Blue when we need him?

On this, the first day of spring, we found ourselves in desperate need of Little Boy Blue:
Little boy blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow,
The cow's in the corn.
But where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack,
Fast asleep.
That's because when I went out this morning to do chores, I saw the cows in the corn. Whee.

Here's Pixie near the raspberries.

And a bunch more culprits in the orchard.

The source of this mayhem, it turns out, is a gate the enterprising cows managed to lift off its hinges. Wheee.

In the absence of that lazy blue kid, I did the next available thing: roused both Don and Younger Daughter out of bed to round everyone up and shoo them out of the garden.

Grunt. Welcome to spring.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A good day

Have you ever had one of those good days where you get lots done and nothing goes wrong? Yesterday was one such day.

We've had about a week of unrelenting rain, often for 36 hours at a stretch. Obviously this limited any outdoor work. So when yesterday turned out to be dry, Don and I exploded outside and got stuff done. (I'll have more on each task in future blog posts.)

Don cut a great number of firewood rounds.

Later in the afternoon, I split the wood into an enormous stack.

Don fired up the tractor and did something he'd wanted to do for several weeks: clean out the manure that had piled up under the barn awning. It was a task that we didn't get done before the snow got deep, and it had piled up even more through the winter, so it was long overdue. We shooed the livestock down into the pasture for the day and he spent many hours scooping poop.

This is primo material to enrich a lucky pasture or garden once it's composted.

I made two chicken pot pies for our neighborhood potluck (it's our turn to host).

Then I released Matilda and Sean into the driveway area to let them stretch their legs...

...while I planted two thin twigs which are actually bare-root sweet cherry bushes we got in from a nursery this week.

The day even ended on a pretty note: Deer against a setting sun...

...and swans flying overhead.

Perhaps our accomplishments yesterday seem modest, but in comparison to days and weeks of not being able to get anything done outdoors, we were left tired but smiling by evening. Yep, a good day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Defrosting the garden

The garden is slowly defrosting. The gate is no longer blocked by drifts, for starters.

The potato beds, which were buried a few weeks ago, are now bare. This photo was taken February 15:

...and this a couple days ago:

One of the boxes holding grapes has weeds that will need to come out -- but it also has dozens of tiny thyme plants growing, seeded from the herb tire right next to it.

The thyme tire (no photo, sorry) is one of my older ones from several years ago, back when I was still figuring out the concept of tire gardening and foolishly put the tires on bare ground -- which meant, of course, weeds grew right up through them. We transported the tires full of herbs to a new spot, which kept the weeds intact. The weeds are easy enough to pull, but not the grasses, and over the last couple years the grasses have started chocking out the thyme. I'm going to empty the tire, fill it with fresh soil, transplant the baby thyme plants and start over.

The baby orchard is nearly free of snow.

Only about a week ago, there were huge drifts nearly burying them.

Now this is all that's left:

The young fruit trees look healthy and eager to bud. Here's a peach:

And here's an apple:

Not everything is snow-free, however. This quarter of the garden is still fairly buried.

Many of the Brussels sprouts I planted last year (and which got infested with aphids) have overwintered very well, and will produce seeds if I let them. I'll let one plant go to seed and pull the rest.

Most of the herbs did fine, but I suspect the rosemary didn't make it. (Shucks. I have to accept that rosemary doesn't overwinter very well.)

Here's oregano, which would seed itself across the entire garden if I let it:

Here's spearmint. It started as one tiny plant I bought at the local hardware store and is diligently spreading through the whole tire, which I'm encouraging. The nice thing about gardening in tires is I can plant spreading herbs such as mints and not have to worry about it infesting other parts of the garden.

Here's sage, which is the toughest herb I've ever seen. It handles winters beautifully.

The blueberry tires are free of snow, and the young plants are budding profusely. We might even get some fruit this year.

You can see the dramatic advantage of using tires in a snowy northern climate. The soil heats up and melts off the surrounding snow much faster.

So, while it's clearly too early to do anything in the garden at the moment, it's high time I get Brussels sprouts and cayenne peppers planted indoors. I'll probably get a jumpstart on broccoli as well. Spring! Glorious spring!

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's those heart-stopping moments...

Gray hairs. I have more gray hairs today than I did yesterday.

As I mentioned before, it seems we've broken the back of winter and spring is slowly coming at last. Temperatures have been above freezing, and the snow is melting. In fact, it's melted off enough that I could finally dig out the walk-through gate in the corral.

Our elderly Jersey cow Matilda and her yearling calf Sean have spent a long boring winter in the corral. Matilda is bottom of the bovine pecking order and would never be able to compete at the feed boxes, so I wanted to make sure she had enough to eat by bringing her into the barn each night. I never meant for her to never get out, but when the deep snows came, there wasn't much choice but to keep her confined in the barn and corral (plus drifts blocked the gates). There's plenty of room, but I'm certain it was boring for her.

So when the snow melted, I looked forward to the chance to let her and Sean out. I did that yesterday.

It was a mistake. A big, BIG mistake.

Matilda and her calf seemed delighted to be out, able to stretch their legs. Feeling good about things (always a dangerous sign), I went into another part of the barn to rummage for what I needed to get some seeds planted indoors.

In a few minutes, I heard the moos and bellows of the rest of the herd raising a ruckus. I ran out to the corral in time to see the cattle chasing Matilda down into the woods, crashing through the underbrush. They weren't attacking her, they were merely in high spirits and wanted an excuse to kick up their heels and gamble through the muddy woods.

But poor Matilda, lowest of the low, didn't interpret their high spirits as, well, high spirits. She raced away in panic. They raced after her.

I grabbed a stick, opened the walk-through gate, and headed down to the woods. "What's up?" called Don from the shop window.

"They're chasing Matilda and I want to make sure she's okay," I replied.

She wasn't.

I saw the cows milling about in the woods, and a lump on the ground I at first thought was a log. But no, it was my beloved Matilda, stretched flat on the ground on a muddy wet spot. She'd slipped and fallen and couldn't (or wouldn't) get up.

There is no bigger heart-stopping moment than to see a cow flat on her side. It is NOT a healthy position.

I leaped over and brandished my stick to keep the other cows away, meanwhile screaming at the top of my lungs for Don to come help. But he had gone into the house and couldn't hear me from so far away. I couldn't tell if Matilda had broken any legs, but I was worried the excited herd would trample her if I left off guarding her. I stood there and screamed my head off, but no one heard me.

Finally, without any other choice, I scattered the herd and ran uphill, through the corral, through the barn, across the driveway, and into the house. "Matilda's down, I need help!" I shouted, then dashed back out through the barn, grabbing a rope as I went.

Within moments Don and Younger Daughter had thrown on boots and followed me. Matilda was still flat on the ground. With two other guards brandishing sticks, she was safe from being trampled, but no closer to getting on her feet. It was impossible to bring a vehicle into the woods in these muddy conditions -- it would get stuck instantly -- so our choices were simple: either get her up, or (gulp) shoot her dead.

I slipped a rope round her neck. Her face was pressed into muddy water, and she was stretched head-down on a downward slope -- a very difficult angle. Gently, then more firmly, I tugged at the rope. "Come on, baby, come on, get up ..."

It didn't work. Don and I tried to roll her onto her belly, but she's nearly a thousand pounds and we couldn't budge her. We coaxed and prodded and cajoled, to no avail. We stood, helpless, watching her gasp and tremble on the ground but unable to do anything to help her.

Finally Don had an excellent idea, and sent Younger Daughter up to the barn to fetch some chicken feed. If there's one thing Matilda loves, it's chicken feed (she sneaks some whenever she can, which is dangerous; chicken feed is NOT meant for cows). "But bring it in a bag, not a bucket," Don told her, since other cows would recognize a bucket.

Younger Daughter was back in a few minutes. I took a scoop of chicken feed and held it in front of Matilda's nostrils. They flared, but that was it. She remained on the ground, one eye and ear pressed to the mud. I was beginning to think a .45 to the head was the only alternative at this point.

I held the food to her nostrils a couple more times, then alternately tugged at the rope and tried to encourage her up.

At last -- miraculously! -- she rolled to her side and struggled to her feet, splashing us all head to foot with mud. We didn't care. She was on her feet, and no legs were broken. We cheered.

We let her stand there about five minutes to pull herself together. One ear, the one that was pressed to the ground, was bent downward, and she was caked with mud. Meanwhile we assessed what the easiest and least-blocked path would be back to the corral. Since she was facing downhill, we carefully walked downhill a bit before turning to the side, then back upward toward the barn. Don and Younger Daughter brandished sticks and kept the rest of the herd at bay.

We walked slowly. Matilda was very thankful to go through the gate into the corral. I slipped off the rope, we shooed Sean in behind her, and I fetched a bucket and gave her some of the coveted chicken feed. Then we left her alone to recuperate from her ordeal, and I went into the house to recuperate from MY ordeal.

I checked her every fifteen minutes or so. I coaxed her into the barn with a bit more chicken feed...

...but she didn't stay inside. She went back out, but after awhile started chewing her cud, a good sign. However she continued to tremble as the adrenaline finished coursing through her body. Her left ear still faced down -- can you "break" an ear? -- and I wondered if the cartilage was damaged. Over the next couple of hours, however, she was able to move it a bit, so maybe it was just "sprained."

As the mud dried, I took a brush and brushed her down. Her face and ear seemed very sensitive, so I didn't brush those parts; but she seemed grateful to have mud removed from her neck, sides, and legs.

Today she's fine. However we are keeping her in the corral until the mud dries out. We'll let her and Sean loose in the driveway when grass starts growing, so they can introduce fresh foods gradually to their systems, and slowly re-introduce her to the herd under more controlled conditions later on.

Gray hairs. Yep, got more.