Sunday, August 31, 2014

Eggs for Breakfast

This morning I headed to the barn to feed Kersey and Brett went to open the hen house and feed them chickens scraps from last night's dinner.  He came into the barn with the first egg from our flock.  It was palm-size at most, perfectly formed and pearly white.  I was in the process of carrying two bins of supplements out to the mares but eagerly reached my hand out to hold the egg.  I started towards the house, juggling the egg in one hand with the bins balanced on my forearm.  And then I dropped the egg.  Kersey, walking next to me, had it for breakfast.  I saw it fall, heard it crack, and then it was gone.  Kersey said it was delicious.  But, then, she thinks horse manure is delicious so her opinion is suspect.

Brett said, Better that you dropped it than me.  He knew that I wanted to take a picture of it for you and that I was disappointed in not being able to do that.  He was happy to have no part in the egg drop incident.

We are back to hot days this weekend.  The nights are nice and cool, in the mid 50s, but the days are back up to the low-to-mid 90s.

Last night some neighbors came over and we drank margaritas and sat, talking, in the garden until well after dark.

This morning I rode Lucy.  When we walked outside a bit after 7:00, Lucy saw me and started galloping like a nutcase around her pasture.  I decided to ride her after breakfast instead of before.  She clearly wanted her hay and she wanted it ASAP.    So, it was already 80 in the shade with the sun beating down when I fetched her from her pasture at 9:00.

 I tacked her up in the barn where it was cooler.  We only rode for a few minutes; that sun was doing a number on both of us.  We cooled off by walking under the trees and then I gave her a bath.

I put her back in her pasture, still wet, and she immediately rolled.  Wet horses love to roll, its hard-wired into their DNA.  The minute I slipped the halter off, she started pawing the dust and snorting.  Then she lowered herself into the dirt and groaned with pleasure as she flipped from side to side.

We have friends coming over this evening for dinner.  In the meantime, we are hiding inside and the horses are hanging in the shade or by the water trough.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My Peaceful Place

The memorial garden I planted for my mom has been decimated by gophers.  First they ate the lily bulbs -- all 25 of them-- and then they started eating the dahlia tubers.  Cha-ching!  Not to mention the disappointment of having buds one day and stalks on the ground the next; sheared off at the soil level.  They didn't eat the lilacs or rhubarb -- I planted them in wire cages.

Friday on my way home from work I stopped at the nursery.  My plan was to buy some small cages for future bulbs and tubers.  I was also planning to buy some native perennials in the hopes that they might be more gopher resistant.  After expressing sympathy for my loss (which felt kinda weird to tell you the truth.  They were plants, not loved ones),  the master gardener told me that gophers eat everything.  Everything.  But she did have a gopher repellent that she said works very well.  The gophers hate the smell and move to a new neighborhood.  Or area of the garden anyway.  I picked up a bag of the granules and some plants.

I planted lavender and alyssum by the pelican.  The blue-purple and white will, hopefully, look like the ocean around the base.  I planted all the flowers yesterday evening.  I put a healthy palm-full of granules in each planting hole and then scattered more over the top of the bed.

This morning, they were still standing.  I put in drip lines over to the pelican and then covered everything with composted manure.  I added compost to the main flower bed as well.

Kersey slept under the garden table.  Brett was busy on his tractor moving compost over to the garden for me.  He's getting around really well, and the swelling has greatly diminished, but his range of motion went backwards.  He said working on the tractor was good therapy; it required that he bend the knee beyond 90 degrees to reach the reverse pedal.

When I finished, I sat in my favorite red chair and soaked in the peaceful garden.  Small birds flew to the feeder, flitting between the fence and seeds.  Kersey slept under the table.  A breeze blew through the garden, drying the sweat on my face and neck.  I looked at the pelican and thought of how my mom loved to sit in a garden, with a book.  She would have loved sitting there.

It's hard to believe that last August, when we moved in, the garden looked like this.  It was almost impossible to imagine a peaceful place among all the weeds and brambles.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Kitchen

I've been meaning to post about our kitchen remodel for quite a long time.  It was a post I was looking forward to sharing with my mom and after her death, well, I just couldn't face it.  I had spent too much time picturing my conversations with her as she looked at the pictures.

We moved into the house just over a year ago and there were two things that needed immediate attention: the floors and the kitchen.  The new flooring went in first.  The kitchen had yellow, stained and faded linoleum.  The previous owner put a lot of money into the house before he flipped it.  Most of that went into a new septic system, roofing and plumbing.  But, he also put granite countertops and new appliances in the kitchen.

We started getting bids on replacing the cabinetry, selected a contractor, developed plans and then started work in November.

That center island cabinet was one big empty box, with a door on the sink side of the kitchen.  No shelves and you had to crawl all the way in to reach the back.  

The space above the refrigerator was wasted space as well.  I needed storage capacity, and lots of it.  I had a large kitchen at Aspen Meadows -- and it was full.

The drawers were not very deep.  They did not go back the whole width of the counter.  The corner cabinets were impossible to access.
We wanted to save the granite and a large part of the reason we selected the contractor that we did, is that he said he would try to remove it in one piece and then put it back on.  The other guys wouldn't even try.

I packed up my dishes back into the moving boxes we had saved and we started living on take out.  I didn't get my kitchen back until Christmas.

The new cabinets were installed in December.  Yes, that is snow outside.

I love the lazy Susan in the corner bottom cabinet and the tall, narrow cabinet for baking sheets.

The glass doors for the upper cabinets went in next.

And this is where we sat for months while we waited for the new pantry doors to come in.  We made the pantry wider so the shelves would be easily accessible.  The doors were "custom" ordered from Home Depot to fit -- and had to be sent back twice because they arrived damaged.
I am particularly happy with the center island.  Narrow shelves on the ends for my spices and deep pull out drawers, on both sides, for pots and pans.

There are cupboards above the refrigerator now, and the pantry doors look great.
I love how this kitchen flows; its very cooking friendly.  I don't have to walk miles to get what I need and it's beautiful to boot.  My parents were with us last Christmas so my mom got to see the kitchen complete (except for the pantry) but she never saw the "before" pictures.  She had looked in the windows while we were still in escrow and said "Oh, Annette, are you sure you are up for this?  It looks like a lot of work."  It was, but it was (and is) worth it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Strawberry Jalapeno Jam

I love jalapeno jelly dripping over soft cheese, the whole mess spread on a cracker, sweet and spicy and smooth.  My jalapeno bush is loaded so a couple weeks ago I tried to make Jalapeno jelly.

I used too much pectin.  I made a big green rubber ball.  It was an epic failure.  I was disappointed and discouraged.

Saturday, the strawberry guy from Watsonville was at the Farmers Market so I bought a pint.  They were a bit over ripe for eating but perfect for jam.  Hmm, I thought.  Hmmm.

I cut up the strawberries, chopped up some jalapenos, added lemon juice, sugar and pectin -- and voila! amazing jam.  I got the pectin amount right this time.  Phew.

The chickens enjoyed the strawberry trimmings.

These Polish chickens crack me up.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lovely Lucy

This morning I rode Lucy before we fed and did barn chores. I know you must all be sick of me saying how much I love this horse. But I do. I adore Princess Lucy. Despite the fact that I was carrying her halter and not her morning bucket of supplements and carrots, Lucy met me at the gate. She's no longer in heat and was relaxed at the tie rail, nudging her head into the space between my arms and body while I was getting the saddle settled. She holds her face in the cradle of my arms for a minute or so, eyes closed. We stand like that, quiet, still and connected until she lifts her head.

Kersey, aka Sugar Thief, stole the sugar cube I placed next to my helmet on the bench in front of the tie rail. Kersey has also been sneaking into the feed room if my back is turned (and I forgot to close the door); she eats the cat's food.

Lucy and I had a lovely ride in the cool of early morning. I tried Carol's new exercise for getting Rogo to stretch down and it worked very well with Lucy. Carol clinics with some amazing people and shares her lessons learned -- I applied this lesson she recently learned from Arthur Kottas. On the circle, I used a soft half-halt (light squeeze of my index finger) on the inside rein. Lucy took a stronger connection with the outside rein and stretched her head down and forward, taking the bit with her. We did this at walk first and then at trot. While we were walking, Lucy was making those raspberry-blowing-breathy sounds that horses often make at canter, in rhythm with their strides. Lucy was doing it at walk, her ears happy, relaxation coursing through her body. In a nutshell, her walk was lovely, her trot was lovely and her canter was... you guessed, lovely.
Lucy and her BFF, Pistol.  These two are never more than a few feet apart all day long.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Random Saturday

1.  Its been a crazy week at work; the kind that leaves you exhausted at the end of the day and barely able to function.  I do the evening chores, make something for dinner (grilled cheese anyone?), and collapse in bed.  Brett was convinced that I was angry with him all week.  I promised that once the work project was completed, I would be a nicer person.  We finished it up Friday afternoon.  That elephant is no longer riding on my shoulders.

2.  We didn't have grilled cheese every night.  I did cook a couple of evenings.  One of my "go to" quick weeknight dinner: California clam bake -- clams, corn and linguine.

3.  I finally had a chance to ride Lucy this morning.  In June and July, I was averaging four rides on her per week.  August has been one, maybe two.  Weekends only.  Between the shortened days and Brett's surgery, I just can't ride during the week anymore.  This morning I rode Lucy mid-morning after hitting the farmers market.  It was hot and the flies were out.  Lucy is in heat and pooped four times at the tie rail -- in the 15 minutes it took me to groom and saddle her.  She pooped again in the arena. I grabbed my fecal collection vial and took a sample (light load so I'll worm her).  The flies were biting when we started so she was very distracted, twitchy, and hoppy.  We moved into trot to escape the flies and she settled.  It was a short ride, we're not in the best of shape and the sun was beating down.  Afterwards, I doused her thoroughly in fly repellent (we use a repellent, not an insecticide) and turned her back out in the pasture with Pistol.  The two of them stood together under the trees most of the day.

4.  Even though the days are hot, autumn is coming.  I feel it in the cool -- almost cold -- nights; in the afternoon breeze; in the acorns starting to fall; and the woodpeckers pounding on the house siding.  At the farmers market, apples and pears are mingling with the last of the peaches and plums.

5.  Brett continues to gather strength and heal.  The staples were removed from his suture yesterday.  He still spends most of the day with his knee elevated and the ice machine plugging away.  We go through a ten pound bag of ice every day.  Brett comes outside with me in the mornings to help with chores.  He feeds the dog, the goats and gives hay to the horses.  Then he walks down the driveway, out the front gate, to the mailbox where he picks up the paper.  By the time I get home in the evening, he's tired and sore.  But he is making progress.  The biggest hindrances are swelling and stamina.  I remind him that it took months to come back last time but, well, he's impatient.  There's a song that plays over and over in my head, watching him: the Village People "macho, macho man; I want to be a macho man" -- sing with me!  You know the words.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flash Helps Pops

Flash has always been loyal to and protective of Brett. Flash is a soldier, doing his job and not letting emotion interfere. He is an aloof horse who tolerates, but doesn't seek out, affection. He watches out for Brett, though. Maybe he sees himself as Brett's security detail, his bouncer, as Silver with Brett as the Lone Ranger.

When we first bought Flash and were still boarding him, Brett tore the ACL in his knee while swinging onto Brett's back. It wasn't anyone's fault; the ACL was damaged and looking for an excuse to tear. Brett managed to slide off of Flash and hobble to the fence, using Flash to hold himself up. I tried to lead Flash away, back to his stall, so I could take Brett to the doctor. Flash refused to leave Brett until he was convinced that Brett would be okay. The same thing happened when Brett was injured during training for mounted patrol. The guys helped Brett off and tried to take Flash to the trailer. Flash wouldn't leave Brett so they hobbled back to the truck together.

This morning, Brett wanted to help with chores. He was very stiff and sore from overdoing it yesterday. Finding the line between exercising the knee and doing too much is a fine one and it constantly moves. The farrier was coming today so I told Brett that I would move the boys from their pasture -- which is big and far from the barn -- into their stalls. That way, the farrier could easily get them to trim their hooves and put on new shoes. The girls' pasture is right next to the barn so they were fine staying out. Brett wanted to help. I agreed to let him bring Flash into the barn (as if he needed my permission, he does what he wants). Brett limped out to the pasture with me and put the halter on Flash. I already had halters on Jackson and Mufasa so they wouldn't interfere. We followed behind on the walk back to the barn. It was hard to tell who was leading who. Flash doesn't march at the walk, he ambles; a good pace for Brett. They made their way slowly with Brett leaning into Flash. Brett probably won't admit it but it looked to me like Flash was supporting Brett and making sure Pops made it to the barn okay.

Talk about a partnership... the two of them have it in spades.

Monday, August 18, 2014

More Quilts, More About Africa

My sister, Marie, sent me pictures of the quilts she had made for herself, my brother and my dad.  And, Janice asked me a bunch of questions about my time in Africa.

I was young so the memories revolve around things that are important to a child.  I remember my school, the International School in Dar es Salaam.  I remember my blue and white striped uniform dress that came in two styles; a straight from the shoulders dress and the one I preferred -- it gathered at the waistline and the skirt flaring out below.  I came back to the States with a British accent because the school was run by the British.  I was very sad when I lost my accent; I enjoyed the attention it brought me at school when I returned.  I also had to learn how to spell "American" -- airplane and color were especially troublesome (not aeroplane or colour.  I still get grey and gray mixed up).

My best friend, Sandra, who lived down the street was Canadian.  For a time, two boys also lived on our street.  They were tough kids and one of them shoved Marie, causing her to fall into a barbed wire fence.  I'm pretty sure she still has a scar.  Alex and.... can't remember the other.  I think Alex is the one who pushed her.

We went on safaris.  I remember stepping in a pile of elephant poop at Ngorongoro crater and getting in trouble for doing so.  We slept in tents on safari, under big mosquito nets that made me feel like a princess.  We had to take pills for malaria.  I didn't know how to swallow a pill so my dad ground up the pill with some water and I swallowed it down.  Bitter.  Horribly bitter.  With the help of pieces of tootsie roll, I quickly learned to swallow pills.

I remember lions draped on tree limbs, cubs climbing on their mothers, and the males always sleeping.  I loved zebra (big surprise) and elephants the most.  My sister called ostrich "dancing ladies" which was an accurate description.  We rode around in a Land Rover, open in the back.  My parents and a guide were up front and us kids were in the back.  We were charged by a rhino once and almost went into a ditch.  I had no concept of the danger and thought it was wildly exciting.

We gave two young Masaii boys a ride.  I sat knee-to-knee with them in the back of the Land Rover, fascinated by the scars on their adolescent faces and curious, but also repulsed, by the flask of cow's blood they carried.  They offered me and my sister some and the look on our faces amused them immensely.

I remember the smell of the open air markets where we shopped with my mother.  They smelled horribly acrid in the pervasive heat.  We didn't have fresh milk; my mother mixed it from powder.  Once a week, a man on a bicycle would pedal up to our door with a basket full of lobster and Blue fish.  I loved both.

There were always praying mantis and lizards on the walls in the house.  We had to be careful of snakes.  My sister and I rode our bikes a lot.  She took a bad fall one day and high-tailed it back home running towards the back door steps to find my mom.  Instead, she found a snake laying across the small porch.  She screeched to a stop and Sebastian, who helped around the house, killed it.  He said it was a mamba but we don't really know -- there was only a pulp left when he finished with it.

We loved Sebastian.  He lived with his wife and toddler in a small house behind ours.  His wife didn't speak English and we didn't speak Swahili but she would grin at us as my sister painted the little girl's nails.

We lived near Oyster Bay and spent hours at the beach.  There were coconut palms on the shore and coconuts laying on the beach.  I remember the smell of my bamboo mat when it was wet from my skin after swimming.  My dad taught me how to dive through the waves and I was very proud of that accomplishment.  I was stung by a jelly fish and rushed to the doctor.  It hurt a lot.

My dad had a small sailboat; the Pintail.  He and my mom went sailing a lot.  Sometimes, they took us kids along and we would drop anchor near a small island and then swim to shore where we had a picnic lunch.  My sister would scream every time the boat listed but I loved the wind, the salt spray and the little boat slicing through the water.  Even though my brother was just a toddler at the time, I like to think that those outings influenced his current love of sailing.

Those are the memories that are at the forefront of my mind when I think back on those years.  Wonderful, magical, adventure filled years.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

In Praise of Summer Fruit

Notice, I did not say "in praise of summer."  If you've been reading this blog for awhile you know that summer is my least favorite season.  Most of the time, I detest summer; the wilting heat, the mosquitoes, the furnace that is the interior of my car, the inability to be outside during the day.  Given my propensity for passing out when overheated, I do not ride unless it is very early in the morning.

But, I do love summer fruits and vegetables; especially peaches and tomatoes.  Peaches and cream for breakfast, peaches cut up in a bowl on my desk at work (its not good to dribble peach juice all over your work) and peaches in salad or cereal.  The same goes for tomatoes.  BLTs, tomato and cheese sandwiches, caprese salads, sliced with a sprinkle of sugar, or just eaten straight like a peach.

Saturday, I went to the farmers market and loaded up on tomatoes from my favorite vendor.  He slid four or five more into my bag with a grin.  Back home, our neighbor had brought me a small bag with four tomatoes from their garden.  What to do?  Two things:

Tomato soup for dinner last night.

A simple soup with a bit of onion, lots of tomatoes, a splash of cream and this secret ingredient:

I made grilled Gruyere cheese sandwiches on local sourdough to go with:

And today, the creme de la creme; the piece de resistance -- the reason I bought all those tomatoes:

Sweet Tomato Jam; my grandmother's recipe.  No directions, just the ingredients but so simple that you don't really need instructions.

Don't add the water.  I have no idea why my grandmother did that; it just makes the jam take longer to come together.  I doubled the recipe.  It takes a long time -- a couple hours -- to cook down to jam thickness so be patient.

I don't peel or seed the tomatoes.  The seeds contain natural pectin so you need those.  The skins are part of the nostalgia.  I like it lumpy because that's how I remember it when we visited my grandparents in Illinois as a child and, later as a teenager, my grandmother's sister Irene.  It has to be lumpy, it has to be sweet (yes, the sugar amounts are correct) and there has to be pieces of lemon to pick out and suck on as you work your way through the jar.  Throw everything together in a big pot and let it boil.  I smush the tomatoes periodically with a potato masher.

I think this is the best batch I've ever made.  The tomatoes were exceptionally sweet and very ripe.

Don't worry, Dad.  One of the jars is for you.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This Place is Hard Work

I didn't expect to have a difficult time taking care of the barn chores while Brett was recovering from his knee replacement surgery.  After all, we've done this before -- five years ago when he had the other knee replaced.
Five buckets of supplements for the horses; filled and toted out to the their pastures.
Of course, at that time we lived on 2+ acres; now we have eight.  The animal count was similar although we've added a couple more horses to the mix; they get older; they retire; it happens.  So now there are five horses instead of three.  But, still two miniature donkeys and four goats, chickens and a dog.
The goats need hay and water.

The days are hot; the goats seek the shade and it takes three trips with a bucket to refill their water every evening.
Another difference is the division of labor.  Down in SoCal I telecommuted two to three days per week.  The days that I was home, we shared the feeding and mucking chores.  Even on the days I went into the office, I was able to shift my hours to avoid traffic -- and allow for chore time.  My new job does not involve telecommuting.  I am in the office Mon-Fri from 8-5.  There are occasions when I work from home -- such as when it snows -- but I am normally at the office; a 50 min commute from home.  So, I'm typically gone from 7am until 6pm.  And, typically, Brett does all the chores during the week.  I help on the weekends, of course, but my mucking muscles were not very well developed and hay slinging skills were non-existent.
Hay; they all want hay; horses, donkeys and goats.  
I took on the job of total ranch care on Monday when Brett had his surgery.  Monday and Tuesday, I took vacation days.  The rest of the week, I worked from home so I could assist Brett.  By Wednesday evening, I thought I was going to die from fatigue.  But Thursday, I started hitting my stride; feeling stronger as I slung manure into the cart and pushed it up the compost pile to dump.  For all three pastures.  The smallest pasture is twice the size of the one we had all the horses and donkeys in down south.  It's a lot of ground to cover.  And in the late afternoon/early evening when the temperatures are in the 90s... its pure misery.
The mare's pasture gets a lot of sun; the worst one to muck in the afternoons and evenings.

The donkey pasture; fortunately this one is pretty shady in the afternoon.

The boy's pasture; nice and shady with many oaks and pines but, oh, so dusty.

Friday, Brett was getting around well enough that I was able to go directly outside and start working instead of first getting him settled on the couch with the ice machine.  I even had time to ride!  It was short; just 20 minutes, but it felt great.  And I did all the barn chores afterwards with no trouble.  Next week, its back to regular office hours although I will getting in closer to 9am to give me time to do the chores.  I timed myself on Friday and I think I can do it.  All of it.  I'm feeling very studly and proud of myself.
And don't forget the chickens.  They need to be let out into their run and given any scraps
from last night's dinner.

Even Kersey gets exercise.  I make her leave her comfy crate and come with me.  She dragged herself around the first few days but she's getting more energetic now; sticking her nose down squirrel holes and sniffing along the fence while I work.