Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving at Oak Creek Ranch

Tuesday the first wave of a storm system from the Gulf of Alaska arrived.  It brought high wind and pounding rain, but no snow.  When the clouds cleared Tuesday afternoon, the ground was covered in leaves.

Wednesday morning, we woke to patchy clouds that cleared throughout the morning.  We decided to move the horses out of the barn and into their pastures.  The second wave appeared to be a non-starter.  As we led the horses out, the skies darkened and rain, then sleet, started to fall.  The horses have trees and a run-in shed for shelter so we opted to leave them in their pastures.

It snowed throughout the afternoon.  Not hard, but enough to cover the ground with a light coating of white.  Lucy wasn't sure what to make of the snow.  This is her second winter with us, here in the mountains, and we didn't get any snow last winter.  She sniffed it, pawed it, and then jumped sideways when it sprayed her.  Then she settled into her lunch, with a pile of snow building on her back.

Meanwhile, we waited inside for Kyle and Camille to arrive.

Brett wasn't feeling well so he spent the day on his recliner, with chills, worrying that his appetite wouldn't return in time for Thanksgiving dinner.  Fortunately, Thanksgiving morning he felt a bit better.  He's still far from 100% percent but he was able to join us for dinner.

My sister's kids, Kristin and Nick, arrived mid-morning on Thanksgiving.  My dad, sister and brother are travelling this Thanksgiving so I hosted those of us who didn't go, at our place.  I could have asked the kids (all 20-somethings) to bring parts of the dinner but everyone was traveling.  The easiest things for travelers to bring are rolls and pie, which can be picked up at the market on the way.  But, those are my two favorite things to make so I didn't ask them to bring anything.   I made the pies first thing Thanksgiving morning.

Then I stuffed the turkey and slid it into the oven.  We had a heritage breed turkey, which is very lean due to its life running around outside eating bugs and roosting in trees.  It was delicious.

We rounded out the meal with mashed potatoes, gravy, and rolls.  Brett ate a little bit and went back to his chair.

The kids took Kersey for a walk after dinner.

I was on the couch, wiped out.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thanksgiving Prep

I made my to-do list for Thanksgiving and got started today.  I'm trying to do as much as I can ahead of time so it isn't too crazy on Thanksgiving itself.

I started the morning by making a batch of granola.  I make my own, full of nuts, oats, coconut, sesame seeds, brown sugar, honey and cinnamon.  When it's done baking, I add in dried cherries and blueberries.

Next I browned a turkey wing and some chicken scraps from the freezer.  When I roast a chicken, I save the carcass for stock.  I added onion, parsnips, carrots, celery and a huge bouquet of herbs.  I had it simmering on the stove for most of the day.  I will use it for our gravy on Thanksgiving.

I made pie dough for a single (pumpkin) and a double (apple).  I wrapped the dough and put it in the freezer.  Thursday, all I will need to do is roll it out, fill it, and bake.  Making the dough is the most time consuming and messy part of making pie.

I also tore a loaf of artisan bread into little pieces, tossed it with olive oil, and toasted it in the oven.  It will go in the stuffing.

Last, I made cranberry sauce.  I put a cup of port in a pot with a couple cinnamon sticks and let it simmer together for about five minutes.  Then I added a bag of cranberries, the zest and juice of an orange, some sugar and a smidge of water (the orange wasn't very juicy).  Brett and I sucked on the cinnamon sticks when it was done.

Meanwhile, Brett and his friend Richard spent the entire day working on the fences.  Everytime I looked outside, they were in a different pasture working on a section of fence.  Richard left at dusk and we collapsed on the couch.  Dinner?  I had a bowl of Frosted Flakes and Brett had a can of barbeque beans.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Random Friday

1.  The three chicks that we bought on Camille's birthday in May (and named Camille1, Camille2 and Camille3) started laying eggs this week.  So almost everyday this week, we got an egg.  The rest of the worthless molting chickens are still on hiatus.

2.  We received one call on Mufasa.  I was not impressed, in my gut.  The guy said he has been competing in rodeos since he was a kid (and is 61 now).  He wanted to know why a horse with Mufasa's bloodlines, training, and conformation was being sold so cheaply.  He told me that I'm too honest and would never make it as a horse trader (he is one).  I will admit to highlighting all the reasons Mufasa would not work as his next rodeo project.  We do not want Mufasa to go to a rodeo home.  He doesn't do well with pressure and needs a quiet life full of trail riding, or maybe chasing cows on a ranch somewhere.  I really don't give a damn if we sell him for less than he is worth or into less than a competition situation.  We are interested in Mufasa's well-being; not in maximizing our ROI.  ---as if that ever works with horses, anyway.

3.  Remember how Brett and Pistol have been going through the evaluation process to be used in the therapy program at Windows to My Soul?  Brett got a call this week and was informed that he and Pistol have been selected to work with a current client.  They therapists love Pistol and they think Brett will be a good male role model for this teenage boy who is very troubled.  Brett and Pistol will be participating weekly, starting in early December and going through February.   Buffy always referred to Pistol as "the wonder horse" and she truly is a multi-talented, awesome mare.

4.  Throughout November, we've been getting rain storms every 7-10 days.  This means we haven't done much riding; just about the time that the arena sand stops squishing and sliding under our feet, the next storm arrives.  There is a very cold storm on its way from Alaska, due to hit just in time for Thanksgiving.  We may get snow, real snow (not the icy stuff) this time.  Kyle and Camille arrive Wednesday, in the thick of the weather so I'll be on edge until they pull in the driveway safe.  My niece and nephew are coming Thanksgiving Day, when the worst of the storm should be behind us.  Still, the roads will no doubt be slick and icy so we will hold our breathe waiting for them as well.  Then, we'll crank the wood stove and get down to the important task of feasting.

5.  Brett's good friend, Richard, is coming for a short visit this weekend.  I expect the two of them will be busy repairing and installing fences.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Bad Week for Fences and Gates

Tuesday morning as I was pulling on my jeans to help with the morning chores, barely awake, and shivering in my cold dark closet, Brett opened the front door and called up to me.  "We have a problem."  My first thought was burst pipes but, no, it was another section of fence in the front pasture that was leaning to the ground.  We had to move Flash and Mufasa out of the pasture so Brett could remove and replace the fence.  I didn't want to put them in with the donkeys because Mufasa can be a bully and I didn't want him to bother Tuffy and Finessa.  I moved Jackson, Lucy and Pistol over to the donkey pasture and Brett put Flash and Mufasa in the Oak pasture.  Jackson joined the donkeys first.  He's spent time in the pasture before, when he has had an abscess.  He immediately got to work on breakfast.  Pistol is always interested in food so she hardly looked at the donkeys, huddled in the back corner of their pasture, watching the horses arrive.  Lucy has been fascinated by the donkeys since her arrival.  (She nickers softly to Tuffy when we walk by their pasture and seems to think he is foal in need of mothering.)

When I removed Lucy's halter, she immediately paced the fence line and sniffed the piles of donkey poop; oblivious to breakfast.  Tuffy approached her with his ears forward and a jaunty attitude.  He reached his nose up to her and she arched her neck while touching her nose to his.  Tuffy gave a little squeal and bucked.  She trotted off -- and he joined her.  They did a lovely circle, side-by-side.  Lucy stopped, looked over at the others eating hay, and headed their direction.  Tuffy ran in circles around her; trying to get her to play.  She squealed at him and he ran off, kicking out in her direction as he went.  Finessa, remained at a safe distance, watching.

Tuesday night after dinner, while I was buried under a blanket on the couch in my sweats, there was a knock on the door.  Brett climbed out from under his blanket on the recliner and padded to the door.  Kersey looked up with interest from her bed and thumped her tail.  A delivery guy stood there, he had left us a box on the front porch.

"Your gate closed on my truck and I can't get out," he explained to Brett.

Brett put on his work boots and jacket and met the guy down by the gate.  He had dropped off our box and then drove back down the driveway.  The gate opened and he started through.  Then for some unknown reason, he stopped halfway out to do paperwork or make a phone call or god-knows what.  The gate stopped when it hit his van, but there it sat wedged.  Brett released the gate, and the guy drove off.  And the gate no longer worked.  Brett secured it closed with a bungie cord and stomped back to the house.

Yesterday morning, our friend and neighbor, George, came over with his bag of tricks and mechanical knowledge.  The gate had blown a fuse (we didn't even know it had a fuse) and it was an easy, inexpensive fix.

Later in the afternoon, Brett noticed that the wire had come off of a section of fence between the arena and our neighbor's property.  The posts are still solid in the ground so the repair won't be as extensive as the pasture.  Poor Brett, he never seems to get a break.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Our Longest Hike in, well, Forever

Brett and I used to love hiking together.  Then his knees quit working and my feet started screaming so we pretty much quit.  Brett now has two bionic knees and I have wonderful inserts in my shoes.  In the past year, we've started going on short hikes together.  While we were in Yosemite, we decided to tackle the mist trail, which leads to Vernal Falls.  Our plan was to go as far as the footbridge, which gives you a view of the falls in the distance.  The climb is pretty steep but not too long to get to that point.  We stopped on the bridge, admired the view, caught our breath and waited for our heart rate to return to normal... and then we kept going.

At the junction of the mist trail and the John Muir Trail we veered right and headed towards Nevada falls.  We put our heads down and made our way up the switchbacks.  One, two, three... a look at each other, a smile ... four, five, six ... glancing up, the sheer face of the cliff rising above the last switch back ... seven, eight ... legs like rubber, we hit the top and the trail started to level off.  Then we hit ice.

We turned around.  I tried to walk on it a bit, but it was slick and slippery and I almost fell.  I sat on my butt and slid back down the trail to Brett.  And we headed down.

At the trail junction, we turned back onto the mist trail and continued up towards Vernal Falls.

We got fairly close, but didn't climb the stairs carved into the granite.
I took a picture and we headed back down.

We hiked almost six miles.  SIX MILES!  And it was a steep six miles.  Brett's knees were a bit sore and our feet were screaming by the time we got back to the car, but we were thrilled with ourselves.

This morning we left right after breakfast.  A storm was coming in and we didn't want to be caught in the snow.  We barely made it out.  The snow was falling thick and fast, the road obscured and cars on the shoulders -- either giving up or sliding there.  We managed to get through (gotta love a Subaru).

We stopped at a couple wineries on the way home and were gifted with a gorgeous sunset when we left Cooper Vineyards.

Back home, Chris had tucked the horses in the barn.  Brett went to the neighbors to fetch Kersey while I got the wood stove going.  It was 48F in the house; in the 30s with slushy ice on the ground outside.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Random Friday

1.  The storm earlier this week was a good cold one.  Enough snow fell in the Sierras that many of the ski resorts were able to open.  We were on the cusp of getting snow at our place, with temperatures in the high 30s.  We did get a significant amount of rain.  So far, we are at 85% of normal rainfall for the season -- a good start.  And, there is another storm coming through this weekend -- another cold one with heavy rain.

2.  I was able to finish planting my 500 daffodil bulbs before the rain started last weekend.  I have planted 500 daffodils each fall since we moved into the house -- we are going into our third season.  I completed the circle around the front lawn and put the rest in my garden and around the tree where we scattered Sedona's ashes.  My favorite flower and my favorite dog together; it seems appropriate.

3.  The chickens have not laid an egg in a week.  heavy sigh

4.  Last Sunday, Brett and I rode before the storm let loose.  It was overcast and cold, with a bit of wind.  Lucy was full of energy but well behaved.  Pistol worked in a beautiful frame and was happy (and fit enough) to do a lot of trot and canter work.  Her trot was particularly nice to watch.  As we took the horses back to their pasture afterwards, scattered drops fell.  By mid-afternoon, we had moved all the horses into barn.

5.  We will be spending this weekend in Yosemite; celebrating our 15th anniversary.  We had such a good time there last year that we decided to go again.  Yosemite is 3 1/2 hours south of us -- and Lake Tahoe is an hour east.  The drive to Yosemite is beautiful; no freeways, just a country highway winding through the Sierra foothills before climbing up into the mountains and then dropping into Yosemite Valley.  We are fortunate to live close to two of the most beautiful places on this earth.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Selling Mufasa

Since Brett stopped riding Mufasa, Mufasa has been spending his time in the pasture with Flash.  In the summer he wore a fly mask, he gets his share of the cookies Brett carries in his pocket, and Brett checks him daily for ticks.  Other than that (and regular vet and farrier care), he is left alone.  With the demands of keeping the property up, Brett is only able to ride Pistol a few times a week.  There is no additional time left for Mufasa.  -- and the same goes for me.  I don't ride Lucy, or spend as much time with her, as I would like.  Any "free" time I have on the weekend is devoted to her -- or Jackson.
We tossed around the idea of selling Mufasa -- or even giving him to a trainer with the right skills (one who trains using the same philosophy as Mark Rashid).  But, we didn't take any action on it.  We want to make sure we are doing the right thing for Mufasa and that means being confident that he will be okay.

When Brett took Pistol to the Mark Rashid clinic a few weeks ago, Brett spent a fair amount of time talking to Mark about Mufasa.  Mark remembered Mufasa from the clinic in March.  He said that Brett had made the right decision in deciding to stop riding him.  At 66, riding a skittish horse isn't a smart thing to do.  Mark still feels that there is really good horse inside Mufasa and, in the right environment, he could be wonderful for someone.  He needs a confident, flexible, rider.  When we bought him, he was being ridden by a 20-something kid with a balanced seat and a kind manner.  Mufasa was better then, than he is now with us.  We are not the best place for Mufasa; not for him to be the horse that he is capable of being.

Yesteday afternoon, a cold winter system moved into the mountains from the Gulf of Alaska.  We set up the horses' stalls and then brought them in.  The girls and Jackson came in first.  Then we went to the boys pasture where I put a halter on Flash and Brett went to get Mufasa.  Except that Mufasa had a meltdown.  He would come close to Brett, trembling a bit, and then lose his nerve and run off.  Brett was getting wet and increasingly irritated.  He threw some hay in the run-in shed and stomped off to stack hay in the barn.

Mufasa was miserable.  He was running around in the rain, calling to the others.  I took his halter off the hook and went into the pasture.  I must have been a sight -- my rain jacket zipped up tight, and my cowboy hat squished onto my head on top of the hood of my jacket.  It worked well for me, but I'm sure I looked like some freaky alien.  Mufasa snorted and took off.  I stood by the gate and he eventually came over to investigate.

Me, in a quiet, kind, but matter-of-fact voice:  Mufasa, you are a pain in the ass.  I know you want to go into the barn.  You need to trust me.

He took a couple steps towards me -- and then took off.  I stayed by the gate.  He came back.  We did this for what felt like forever.  I told him that I wasn't going to put the halter on him until he touched me.  He had to touch me first.  He was curious about the jacket and my dripping hat.  He did, eventually, stretch out his nose and touch me on the shoulder.

I approached him, slowly but with confidence.  He trembled.  I praised him for staying.  I scratched his withers and then slipped the halter on.  He thought about wiggling out and running at one point, and I said "whoa" in a stern voice.  He stayed.  And then we calmly walked into the barn where dinner was waiting in his stall.

Brett and I talked about selling him again.  We had hoped that time in the pasture would mellow out the fear, but it hasn't.  I created an ad.  I tried to make it honest and fair to Mufasa.  We'll see what happens.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Three In a Box

Lucy, Pistol and Jackson have been sharing the run-in shed.

Look Ma!  Lucy let me in!

It's just your head Jackson, I don't know if that counts.
Lucy: This is Buckingham Palace and he's our guard.

Better shine those boots, Jackson.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Random Friday

1.  Goldfish questions answered: We do not feed the goldfish.  They live on algae, mosquito larvae and bits of hay that wash off the horses' lips when they drink.  There are around 5 fish in each water trough.  We have rocks or concrete blocks at the bottom of the trough so the fish have a place to hide from predators and to hibernate during the winter.  The water in the troughs does get a layer of ice on cold winter nights and the goldfish disappear into their beds once the water gets really cold.  It's a good system and watching the goldfish swim around makes me happy.  I don't know why I love watching them, but I do.  Sometimes they will swarm around the horses' lips while they are drinking, looking for food.  Flash doesn't like it.  He always swishes the water around by swinging his head through the water before he drinks.

2.  Fall is in full swing in the garden.  The last bloom of roses brings a splash of pink in a palate otherwise dominated by gold, orange and red.

3.  Pistol is looking great.  She'll always be a stocky horse but muscle is starting to be more pronounced than fat.  When we ride, she and Brett spend a lot of time at trot and canter.  I'm not sure how much regular riding she will get with winter coming on, but the foundation is set and she is thriving.

4.  We had a wet, cold storm system come through earlier this week.  We decided to try putting Jackson in the covered round pen and put Pistol in his stall.  Jackson is the most independent of the horses; he marches to his own drummer and doesn't mind being alone (as much).  Also, the round pen stays bone dry whereas the stalls have run-outs which get wet and muddy.  The drier we keep Jackson's feet, the better he does.  Brett lugged a big black rubber water trough into the round pen and filled it with water for Jackson.  When he went outside the pen to turn off the water, Kersey ran in and jumped in the water trough.  Brett scolded her for splashing and swimming on a cold overcast day and for making a mess in the round pen.  Kersey just looked at him and thumped her tail.

5.  The chickens are still molting.  I did some research and learned that molting can last up to three months.  Aack!  We haven't had any eggs from the chickens in the past two days.  We might be reduced to - choke - buying eggs if they don't start laying soon.

6.  Autumn on the ranch.  One of my favorite times of year (after spring).

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cold and Frosty and Perfect

Yesterday morning we had our first frost.  This morning was a repeat.  The horses were wound up before breakfast; racing up and down the pasture.  Even Jackson joined in; losing a hoof boot in the process.  After chores and warming ourselves by the wood stove, cup of coffee in hand, we drove over to Apple Hill -- which was blissfully quiet on a Thursday morning.  I had today off (she pumps her arm enthusiastically) and Brett let me pick the itinerary.  We ate apple cider donuts, fresh from the fryer, crispy sugary crunchy with a soft melting interior - tossing the donut from hand-to-hand because it was still hot.  The we filled the back of the car with a crate of Fuji apples, bags of Braeburn, Granny Smith, Arkansas Black and Golden Delicious apples plus a big jug of apple juice for Brett, and a caramel apple for me.  Then we hit the fudge shop.  (Diet? What diet?)

On the way back home, I suggested taking Kersey somewhere for a hike.  We thought about Jenkinson Lake which is very close but the water level is so low that it looks more like a puddle than a lake.  Our favorite lake for kayaking is Wrights Lake, halfway between us and Lake Tahoe.  We decided to go there.  Brett called the ranger station to make sure the road was still open.  The ranger told him that the lake is closed to camping and boating for the season, but hiking is still allowed.  He said that there was some patchy snow but it was not enough to be a barrier to a hike.

Ten miles from the lake we hit patchy snow.  Soon the road looked like this.

We parked outside the barricaded road and Kersey immediately starting doing donuts in the snow.  We followed the road to Dark Lake, where we snapped the leash onto Kersey.  She wanted to swim.  And it was 35F.

Then we walked through a deserted campground to the boat launch at Wrights Lake.  We walked on the road because the snow was too deep to find a trail.  Patchy, my foot.

We got home just in time for evening chores.  Albondigas soup is on the menu for dinner.  It was a great day.
You can see ice on the lake, behind Brett's head.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New Fence

Here are some pictures of the new fence/repair that Brett put up in the front pasture.

The wire now goes part-way up; enough to keep the goats in but low enough that it is easy to reach in and give the horses treats.

The rest of the fencing on the pasture
still looks pretty bad.

Monday, November 2, 2015


I tried to take pictures of the goldfish in the horses' water trough.

(they do a great job of eating mosquito larvae and keeping the algae at bay)

But Jackson kept photo bombing the shots.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Riding Gumby

Lucy is a Gumby horse.  She bends easily (I have to be careful not to overbend her) and lateral work comes easily.

(photo from

Yesterday morning she was calm but full of energy.  When we started our trot work she was very forward, in front of my leg, and ready to run.  She gave snorts of excitement and farts when we lengthened.  I decided not to canter her.  She was full of it.  Instead, we practiced haunches in half-way down the long side, straightened for two strides, then did shoulder-in the rest of the way.  We collected on the short side and extended on the long.  We did quite a bit of leg yield.  Lucy powered into her trot transitions and she kept the cork from blowing out of her bubbling champagne bottle of energy.  I was very pleased.

This morning, I had a different horse.  The sky was overcast with brief appearances of the sun interspersed with long grey periods.  The breeze was blowing, slightly.  It was, apparently, enough of breeze to wake up trolls.  Lucy was on high alert.  When Brett and Pistol came into the court, she settled slightly -- but then she saw a troll making faces at her from the trees and lost her focus.  We spent the first ten minutes doing bendy things: small circles, narrow serpentines, leg yield, shoulder-in on a circle, boxes with turns on the forehand at the corners.  When she was too busy thinking about her feet to worry about the trolls, we moved into trot work.  And then canter.

I learned that Lucy will transition into canter if I weight my inside seat bone.  That's it.  I sit two strides, weight the inside, and she transitions beautifully.  The transition down is just as easy.  I shift my weight to the outside seat bone and give a light half-halt.

Riding a sensitive mare is a blast.  A challenge, yes, but definitely a blast.  An E-ticket package of "let's do it" in a sweet, "yes, please cover me in kisses" mare.