Thursday, May 31, 2018

Music soothes the savage beast

As many of you remember, we lost our beloved Jersey Polly on April 22. She left behind her then-seven-week-old calf Anna (whom we have taken to referring to as Little Orphaned Anna). Anna refused to take a bottle, so in desperation we pressed Amy into nurse duty.

Well let me tell you, Amy hates acting as a nurse cow. She will grudgingly let Anna nurse, but only when her own calf Trooper is nursing. No Trooper, no Anna.

This is a photo of a cow who hates her job. She is literally glaring at me because I have her lead rope looped around a post to make her stand still long enough for Anna to fill her belly.

Over the past few weeks, we've developed a routine. We keep Amy's calf Trooper in the corral with Anna. We put Amy into the corral in the evening, let her nurse the calves, then at dark we put the calves in a pen for the night. Around 6 am in the morning I release the calves, let Amy nurse them, then lead Amy out of the corral and release her into the pasture with the rest of herd to graze. At noon I bring Amy up, have her nurse the calves, and turn return her to the pasture. Around 6 pm, I bring Amy up for the night, have her nurse the calves, and leave her in the corral over night. Rinse and repeat, day after day.

As I said, Amy hates it. She hates being brought into the corral when she's enjoying the fresh grass and the company of the other cows. She hates being forced to nurse a calf which isn't hers. We've learned to stand with her holding the lead rope while she's nursing the calves lest she chase Anna off prematurely.

Over the last week or two, Amy has developed a nasty attitude when it comes time to bring her up from the pasture. She'll pull little tricks like just flat-out lying down and not getting up, no matter how much I tug on the lead rope or shout at her. In fact, escorting her up from the pasture has become a two-person job: I do the leading, and Don follows with a stick to whack her rump if she balks. She knows Don won't brook any temper tantrums, so she usually follows docilely enough when he's there. But if I'm solo, forget it.

Last night I tried to bring Amy up solo. No such luck. She balked, she laid down, she dragged her feet, she twisted and writhed on the lead rope. I was getting more and more frustrated and wished I could beat her to a pulp -- believe me, not something you want to do with a milk cow (or any cow). When I go out solo I bring the cell phone with me in case I need to call Don, who comes along armed with a stick. As soon as he gets close enough, Amy starts moving and gives no further trouble as I march her up to the corral.

Two days ago I was busy in the evening, so we fetched Amy up from the pasture, but this time Don stood with her on the lead rope while the calves nursed. And -- he sang to her.

"She had her eyes half-closed," he commented as he told me about it.

So yesterday evening, when I was ready to murder a cow, I did the same thing while I was holding her lead rope while she nursed the calves. I sang Amy a lullaby over and over.

And it worked! She started chewing her cud, she didn't fight off Anna, and she generally calmed down.

And so did I. I no longer felt ready to murder Amy and I emerged from the corral feeling better. Music does indeed sooth savage beasts. Both of us.

We'll keep up this routine for another month at least. At that point Anna will be four months old, the youngest recommended age for weaning a calf, and we can release her to the rest of the herd. She'll doubtless be able to sneak milk from the other cows, who are usually pretty good-natured about double-dipping.

And in the meantime ... we'll sing.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Forever Young

On this Memorial Day, here is an essay Don wrote several years ago as a tribute to an uncle he never met but for whom he was named. His mother's older brother, Donald Sowers, died in World War II.

Forever Young

I don't know how he died, really. No one does, since everyone who was with him died at more or less the same time.

I'll bet he was afraid. I would have been.

It must have been hell on earth – above earth to be exact. A booming, banging, grinding, shaking, shattering horror. Especially it must have been tough on him, hanging as he was below the belly of a crippled plane, a bubble of glass exposed to the flak and the fire from enemy aircraft. A tasty and too-visible target.

His B-24 Liberator was powerful, true. But it was also lightly armored and easily damaged in combat. When damaged, the B-24 often lost the electrical power needed to rotate its gun turrets, and the gunners would have to hand-crank their turrets around, trying to follow the enemy planes.

Too slow. Too slow.

He was probably the youngest man on board. He was certainly the lowest-ranking member of the ten men who made up the crew. That first day of August in 1943, he'd only been in the Army Air Corp for a year and a half. He'd only been overseas for six months. He was 19 years old. He came from a farming family that lived in a very small town in Kansas. He had one sister, two brothers, and two very worried parents.

He was assigned to 98BG, a bomber group stationed out of Benghazi, Libya. His mission that day? In coordination with 178 bombers and 1,700 crew members, the 98BG was to attack and destroy the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. These facilities provided the Third Reich with one-third of its fuel … and the Nazis were very hungry for fuel in the waning days of 1943.

The oil refineries at Ploesti were protected with massive anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of German and Romanian fighter planes. The distance traveled by the Allied bombers meant that no fighter protection could attend them. They were alone.

"Fire over Ploesti" by Roy Grinnell

It was a tremendous undertaking, a gamble of men and machines desperately needed for the war effort. A 2,400 mile, eighteen hour trip there and back again, with only a half-hour of available time over the target.

And in the end, for over 500 airmen and 52 bombers, there was no going home.

They say he's buried at a cemetery near Liege, Belgium. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. The records show that his B-24 was shot down over the refinery, but that it happened before the crew could disgorge the plane's 8000-pound payload of high explosives. And the B-24 Liberator was well known for burning merrily when it crashed.

But his name is on one of the white crosses standing in formation at the lovingly well-tended cemetery.

His parents back in Kansas received the medals that he was awarded posthumously at a ceremony, probably one of many such ceremonies on that same day. The medals were: a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Both his brothers eventually went to war as well. One went as another tail gunner, the other as a pilot. His younger sister stayed home, grieving for the older brother she would never see again on this side.

Eventually she married my father.

The parents, the brothers, and the sister passed away some time ago. There is now no one who can tell me anything more about Donald Phillip Sowers – Sargent, United States Army Air Corp. The uncle I never knew and whose name I share.

Donald Philip Sowers never woke to the face of his bride on the day after his wedding. He never paced the floor late at night singing softly to an infant daughter who just couldn't sleep. He never got to hold his child's hand the last time she needed, or wanted, help to cross a street. He never felt the aches and pains of a long life, well lived. And well loved.

But I will remember him and so will my children. If you've taken the time to read this, tip a glass in his name and remember him. And all the other lost brothers and sisters as well.

Think of the things he missed, for the things you have.

Donald Philip Sowers died fighting the greatest evil of our time – a young man of 19 who will never grow old.

A few years after WND printed this column, a blog reader contacted us. She had visited the Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium, and found the grave of my husband’s uncle. She kindly sent us many photographs of the cemetery in general and his tomb marker in particular. They are moving beyond words.

Too many people have no idea what Memorial Day really is. It’s become a day to welcome summer: a day for barbecues, for beer, for picnics, for an extra day off work.

But that wasn’t the original intent. Memorial Day was meant to remember those who died preserving our freedom. Can we remember? Or will we now let those freedoms wither in our brave new world of social justice warriors too cowardly to face real threats?

A mighty "thank you" to our past and present veterans, whose sacrifices too many of us are willing to overlook, dismiss, or forget.

A safe and thoughtful Memorial Day to everyone.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Flying the coop

One of my favorite birds is the humble robin.

It's hard to resist photographing these perky, fearless thrushes. They's so durned photogenic.

We had a robin's nest on the rafter in our barn.

I often saw one parent or the other with beaks stuffed with goodies for the babies.

These delectable treats were then shoved down the throats of whatever mouth looked widest.

Pretty soon the fledglings got so big, they sorta slopped over the edges of the nest. They looked like lazy bums lounging in bed, waiting for mama to feed them.

I thought the jaunty tufts of feathers above the eyes was a particularly nice touch.

On May 18 I went out and saw one of the fledglings had flown the coop.

Suddenly everywhere I turned, fledglings would explode in awkward flight away from me. There were only four, the standard number of chicks, but they seemed quite invisible until they would suddenly scatter away from me (making it hard to photograph them). It must have been quite a task for the parent birds to keep track of where their offspring were, since they keep feeding them for a couple more weeks until the kids learn to catch their own food.

Meanwhile I saw a parent with what looked like new nesting material (curiously, they never use the same nest twice). No time to waste! Must start another brood!

And so summer continues....

Thursday, May 24, 2018

One of these things is not like the other...

A couple days ago as Don and I were driving out, he glanced up at some approaching Canada geese flying in a classic V-formation. "That's a nice-looking flock," he remarked.

But as the flock got closer, we noticed something unusual: a white bird flying amidst the grey/brown Canada geese.

I snatched my camera and managed to get a shot. I believe the interloper is a snow goose.

Mixing species is certainly nothing unusual. A few years ago in November or December (I forget which), I was driving down our two-mile dirt road on the way to town. At a low spot, I braked to allow a small flock of turkeys to walk across the road. I had to rub my eyes and take a second look, because there in the midst of the turkeys was ... a pea hen. As in, a female peacock. In north Idaho. In early winter. Just walking calmly with the turkeys.

(Not my photo)

I guess if you're all alone in the world, you'll grab whatever company you can.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Q&A: Laundry, eggs, meals

Here are a few recent questions posed by readers:

“Can you tell us a little bit more about your system for hanging clothes, please? I can’t really tell how it’s done on those larger clothing items. Looks like a great idea though.”

Once upon a time, I had a regular clothesline.

Clearly it was great for summer use, but not so great for winter use, so during inclement and cold weather I just used our (propane) dryer.

Then two things happened.

One, we ran short of propane in January 2008, during a time when there was too much snow on our rugged dirt road for the propane delivery guy to fill our tanks. We had to severely curtail any and all propane use, including the dryer. So I went to a local hardware store to see about a standing clothes drying rack. The sales clerk showed me the only one they had left in stock, sitting on a shelf, for the rather exorbitant price of $45. “But it’s broken,” I said to the clerk, pointing to a fractured dowel.

“Then I’ll drop the price to $30,” he said.

“But it’s also broken here.” I pointed to another fractured dowel.

“$15 then.”


I took the rack home, mended the dowels with wood glue, set it up in front of the wood stove, and hung a load of laundry. It only held one load, but it dried the clothes beautifully. I remember looking at it and telling Don, “I’ll never use the dryer again.” And I haven’t.

I used that single indoor clothes rack exhaustively throughout all winter weather thereafter. The only annoying thing is it really didn’t hold sheets well – it was far too small. So when it came time to wash sheets, I only washed one set at a time and draped them over the handrail of our stairs to dry.

Then the second thing happened: My outdoor clothesline broke from overuse in October 2010 (dropping four loads of wet laundry to the ground).

So Don built me a clothes rack suspended from the ceiling of our upstairs, which has a pitched roof.

Originally the rack was on pulleys suspended by paracord, the idea being I would raise or lower the rack as needed. As it turned out, I literally never moved the rack at all – it was at a fine level for hanging clothes – and the only disadvantage is it blocked the doors to a tiny second-floor deck.

A couple years ago, Don removed the rack, split it in half length-wise, and rehung it in another part of the upstairs under the sloped ceiling (on permanent supports, not pulleys), so now we have full access to the little outside deck.

This clothes rack absolutely revolutionized our household laundry. It easily holds four loads of laundry. I hang shirts on hangers along the edges.

Sheets are no trouble at all – I remember once when we were all recovering from the flu, I had everyone strip their beds and I washed all the sheets and hung them without a problem.

I have two standing racks I use for socks and dish towels.

Interestingly, Older Daughter requested a standing rack as a birthday present last December. Growing up with line-dried clothes, at first she thought a clothes dryer was kinda neat (she’s a live-in nanny with a professional family in New Jersey), but now she understands dryers are expensive to operate and batter the clothes around. She uses her collapsible clothes rack when needed and folds it away in her closet when it’s not in use.

And so the legacy continues.

Next question:

“What do you do with your extra eggs? Do you barter, or feed them to Darcy or what?”

All of the above. We barter them, we sell them, and a few go to Mr. Darcy. A few years ago, we bartered eggs for Younger Daughter's music lessons. We have several neighbors who buy eggs, and I have a lady in Coeur d’Alene who will take eight or ten dozen eggs whenever I’m in town (every few weeks). Yesterday I had fourteen dozen eggs in the fridge (!!) but thankfully my buyer in Coeur d'Alene took the whole batch. Obviously the chickens don’t lay this heavily year-round.

Last question:

“Also, now that you are empty nesters, how much time do you spend making meals and what are some of your typical meals? You have mentioned Don loves sandwiches so do you go simple with just the two of you?”

Yes, Don is a sandwich guy, so I make sure we always have fresh bread in the house (I use a bread machine and make about three loaves a week).

Since the kids are gone, we don’t jointly cook much, so we just forage whatever is in the fridge. We have a freezer full of beef, so sometimes Don cooks a roast, slices it, and that becomes lunch meat. Of course we’ll eat any leftovers when we host the neighborhood potluck.

Right now the garden is just getting planted so we don’t have much by way of fresh food (unless we buy it), but we have a pantry full of food I canned up, so we’ll often raid that. In short, we just eat when we’re hungry and have whatever is on hand.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How much car can you afford?

I stumbled across an interesting article recently entitled "Find out how much car you can afford with 20/4/10 rule." The idea, it seems, is not to spend too much on vehicles. Consider this passage:
"The 20/4/10 is a good example of one. It can help you get solid starting numbers to help your car buying decisions. Here’s how it works:

• 20% down payment on the car.
• 4-year car loan or less.
• 10% or less of your gross monthly income goes towards car expenses including gas, insurance, DMV fees, repairs, parking/speeding tickets, and interest payments.

Imagine you want to purchase a new car for $30,000 and you earn roughly $50,000 a year. That means you need to put at most a down payment of $6,000 (20% of the cost) and spend no more than $417 a month (10% of your income) on expenses for it."
I found this to be appalling advice, especially coming from a website entitled "I will teach you to be rich." How can you become rich if you "invest" (cough cough) in financially losing strategies by putting yourself in extreme debt for something that does not hold value? Hellooooo?

How's this for a concept: If you earn $50,000/year, you have no business buying a $30,000 car. New cars literally -- literally -- lose half their value the very second the wheels leave the car lot.

If you're trying to be rich, I imagine the first rule of thumb is not to spend money on things you can't afford, especially things that don't hold their value. Foolish people that we are, we buy used but reliable $2000 vehicles for cash and drive them until they fall apart.

Of course, we're not rich, so what do I know? Maybe it's better to listen to the experts.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A day in the life

A friend and I were noodling around a blog post called "A day in the life" in which I would document what I do in a 24-hour period, thus answering the eternal question of "What do you DO all day?" now that we're empty nesters. So I did just that -- documented a couple of sample days, namely Thursday May 17 through Friday May 18.

Thursday, 5 am
Got up, made tea, scanned the news on the Internet, started some writing projects.

6 am
By this point Amy and the calves started to bellow. At the moment, Amy is a nurse cow; she's nursing not only her own calf, but Little Orphaned Anna as well, after her mother Polly died. Amy will tolerate Anna's nursing, but only when her own calf is nursing. To make sure both calves will nurse simultaneously, we put them in a separate pen at night and I let them out in the morning.

Because Amy can get a bit testy with Anna, I usually stand and hold the lead rope to keep Amy quiet. It can be boring until I remember to look around and enjoy the scenery. I imagine there are a lot of people who wouldn't mind watching the dawn come in and listening to a chorus of birdsong.

When Amy finished nursing the calves, I put her down in the pasture with the other cows until noon or so. I released the chickens and checked for any morning eggs.

6:20 am
Back into the house to work on my tea and on the computer. I'm a morning person and my brain is most alert during this time of day, so it's the logical time to write. On this particular day, I finished up my WND column...

...and drew up a calendar for my writing commitments over the next couple of months to make sure I don't miss any deadlines. I sent article queries to two parties and got no bites. I worked on an article I have due in a week.

8:30 am
It's my turn to bring dessert for the Friday potluck, so I made a quadruple batch of shortbread cookies.

10 am
By this point Mr. Darcy was bouncing around the house, ready for his walk, so Don and I took him out to stretch his muscles and run. He's still technically a puppy and boy does he need his exercise. It's been cooler in the last few days, cloudy and raining at times.

10:30 am
Breakfast (brunch?), then Don and I peeled off for our separate tasks of the day. He went into the shop. I coated tankards for a production run we're finishing up.

When they were all coated (for the first time -- we coat twice), I put them on a shelf to dry.

11:30 am
Then it was into the garden. I'm still prepping beds, weeding and adding compost, then planting. On this day I worked on watermelon and cantaloupe tires. Weeding:

Adding compost:

Planting (pardon the misspelling):

12:00 pm
Time to fetch Amy in from the pasture so she could feed the calves. She's often a bit grumpy about this, so I sweetened the deal with a bit of grain. Sometimes she eats the grain and sometimes she doesn't.

12:20 pm
I put Amy back in the pasture with the other cows. On the way back, I slipped a string through the faucet handle near the well pump. The other day one of the cows, using the faucet as a scratching post, turned on the water for a few hours. The string prevents the handle from being pushed up.

12:30 am
Back to the garden, where I moved compost and weeded beds. At this point the rain had held off and we weren't sure if it would skirt around us (as it often does), so I watered as well. (As it turns out, I shouldn't have bothered.) We have the drip system set up but not connected yet.

I noticed the potatoes are just starting to poke up.

I also saw an American Goldfinch from a distance.

3:30 pm
Time for barn chores. I put some hay in the pen for Amy and the calves...

...gathered any eggs I found (at the moment I'm getting between 7 and 11 eggs a day)...

...and fed and watered the chickens.

The calves eat the hay, but what they really want is milk.

"Where's mama?"

4 pm
But first it's time to take Mr. Darcy out for his long run. We have two routes we can take him: either on the road for a two-mile circuit, or over a neighbor's field to a point we call the Overlook, then looping back on a dirt access road to the house.

At this point the weather was thickening. (You can see the cows as distant black dots on the grass.)

This time we chose the field walk. The neighbor is an absentee fellow we know very well and he's given us full permission to walk his land whenever we want. The field walk is shorter than the road walk, but Darcy can run more freely...

...through nice broad fields.

Approaching the Overlook.

The Overlook is a point where the property drops sharply into the canyon that surrounds us. This photo doesn't do justice to the splendid view.

5 pm
I threw in a load of laundry...

...then did dishes. With just the two of us, I only do dishes once a day. Before:


Hanging laundry.

6 pm
Time to bring Amy in from the field for the night. On the way to fetch her, I saw several Hoary Redpolls flitting about.

Usually I have to haul Amy in since she's reluctant to leave the grass, but tonight her udder must have been full because she actually came without a lead rope.

The weather was definitely thickening up. Evidently I shouldn't have bothered watering the garden.

In the corral, I held Amy on the lead rope while the calves nursed, then unclipped the rope and left the animals to themselves. Then it was time for a much-needed shower.

7 pm
Ah, my evening indulgence: a glass of iced wine and a book.

8:30 pm
Time to give the parrot some attention. With the departure of Younger Daughter into the Navy, we have her Quaker parrot Lihn for the next few years. It's become an evening routine to release her from her cage and let her fly around and get some exercise. Usually she ends up sitting on my finger (while I wear a glove, or she'll nibble my cuticles to death as she "grooms" me). She'll groom herself and attend to her feathers as I watch mindless YouTube videos.

9 pm
Don and I shood the sleepy calves into their separate pen for the night, then I closed up the chicken coop as well.

10 pm
Bedtime (for me). Don's a night owl and he stays up later. When two people live and work together 24/7, it's important to have one's own quiet time. Evenings are Don's quiet time; mornings are mine.

Friday, 5:15 am
I awoke to a power outage and rain. Lately we've been getting some short-term outages of a few hours. Rather than scanning the news or working on writing projects, I made tea and drank it while reading a book.

6 am
Repeat routine with chickens and cows.

The power came back on when I was out in the barn. Later it was chilly enough to start a fire in the cookstove, first time in a couple weeks. I took advantage of the surface heat to cook breakfast, a broccoli-onion stir-fry that makes Older Daughter gag but which I love.

10:30 am
After taking Mr. Darcy for his walk (with umbrellas), Don departed for the shop and I sat down to second-coat the tankards.

11:30 am
Because it was raining too much to work in the garden, I finished washing and hanging laundry.

12 pm
Fetched Amy up from the field for the midday feeding. Afterwards, I dipped the shortbread cookies in chocolate and let them cool for tonight's potluck.

2:30 pm
The rain eased enough for me to get a bit of gardening done. I transplanted the broccoli I started in the house several weeks ago.

Then I weeded out one of the beds in which I'll transplant the peanut seedlings. I also weeded the pea beds. (It's a good thing I rather enjoy weeding, isn't it?)

The peas are coming up strongly.

4 pm
Time for Mr. Darcy's evening walk. Don and I took him along the road, where he dragged a suitably macho and manly stick for at least a mile. Good dog.

5 pm
Showered and got ready for the weekly potluck, this time held at our neighbor's house.

6 pm
Full house for the potluck -- I counted 27 attendees. Man I love these potlucks.

8:30 pm
Home. We closed in the calves and chickens and I let the parrot out to play.

And that, dear readers, is a typical routine for a couple of our days. Obviously tasks vary from day to day and with the needs of the season, but this is a typical sample of the varied work we do. It's nothing profound or earth-shattering, but it's peaceful, calm, and productive (for us).