Tuesday, January 28, 2020

First Agility Class

Sage and I had our first agility class last night.  After a lot of preparation, the day finally arrived.  In order to train and compete in agility, the dog must by at least a year old so no damage is done to growing and forming joints.  We are fortunate to have one of the top agility training facilities in California relatively close to us; a bit more than an hour away.  But, hey, when you live in the mountains, in the boonies, everything is about an hour away.  I got Sage on the waiting list about six months ago and was advised to get a solid base in obedience while we waited for Sage to turn one (December) and waited for our turn to come up.
Learning how to be a ranch dog

 We started with puppy kindergarten, then moved to level 1 obedience, and just started level 2.  She’s pretty solid and can already do more than is required for agility.  I also worked with her on doing things that help her understand and control where her back feet are — like walking through the rungs of a ladder laying on the ground, or walking along a railroad tie.  Sage loves all of it.  Aussies are smart, in addition to being high-energy, and I found that wearing out her mind with thinking work is as important as physical exercise.
Working with Brett at obedience training class a few months ago

Class last night started with all the dogs (about ten, I think, maybe 12) in a circle for introductions — dogs, owners, trainers, assistants — and ground rules.  It took 20 minutes, which was the hardest part of the class.  Sage wanted to play with the other dogs.  It was pure torture to sit next to me for all that time.  She whined, and talked, and tried to belly crawl towards the other dogs.

Finally, we were divided into two groups.  The first group worked in one half of the huge arena (looked like it was used for cattle roping in the past) and the other group in the other.  We started on the “obstacle” side.  First up was a wobble board; basically, a square flat board with a knob in the center underneath that makes the board very unstable.  Sage put her feet on it, it wobbled and thunked down, and she leapt backwards like her paws had been bitten by a snake.  And she wouldn’t go back.

Next was a teeter totter.  This was a long, low board that only “teetered” a few inches, and not in a sudden loud way.  There was fencing along either side so it was like a narrow bridge with no way to jump off at the midpoint, when it tottered down.  The first time across she didn’t like it one bit.  But on the second and third time, she was fine.

She did great on the low ramp.  She worries about new things, but once she’s done it and it isn’t new anymore, she loves it.

When we moved to the other side and worked on “handling” exercises, she was a pro.  She held her sit-stay; she marched through the ladder; raced through the tunnel; and confidently marched through the weave poles (which were set up with guides because weave poles are the hardest obstacle for dogs to learn).

She was exhausted when we got home.  But, she had fun — we both had fun — and that is what I wanted.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Brawl in the Barn

The dogs are fed their meals in the barn, at the same time as we feed the other animals.  There are two storage containers of food, one for each since they are on very different dog foods (Kersey being a senior and Sage being a super active youngster).  The two containers are touching each other, forming a low wall of sorts.  When feeding, Kersey waits on the far side where she can snag any pieces that fall and Sage waits a few steps behind me in the area where I place her food.  There is a good five or six feet between them, including the food bin barrier.
Photos on the back porch, not in the barn
So, I was dishing up their breakfast.  The dogs were in their usual spots.  And then Kersey, who is the friendliest most unaggressive lab ever, started growling.  And snarling.  Sage stepped backwards and dropped her tail low to the ground.  And she wasn’t even close to Kersey.

As I reached into the bin of Kersey’s food to fish out her medication and add it to her bowl, I have to admit that I fumbled a bit.  Kersey was still growling and snarling and looking downright mean and ugly.  Sage was now laying across my feet, whimpering.

Once I gave Kersey her food, she was fine.  And at dinner she was fine.  She hasn’t done it again — this was four or five days ago.  But it was weird.  Very weird.

Maybe she was hangry?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Made a Mistake

...but the end product came out okay.  Phew.

I signed up to bring snacks to class tomorrow.  I have been hanging on to this recipe for Sourdough Rye Brownies for a few months.

Intriguing, right?  Brett isn’t a fan of chocolate (some sort of genetic flaw) so I decided to make them for class because I could never eat a whole pan of brownies by myself.  Well, maybe I could, but it wouldn’t be a good thing.

Early this morning, before chores, I mixed some of my sourdough starter into rye flour and water.  It was pretty thick and over the course of the four hour resting period it didn’t look like it did anything.  At noon, I mixed the lump of starter with more rye flour, five eggs (!), and sugar.  It was kind of a strange color from the bright orange yolks and brownish rye flour.  But it bubbled happily over the next couple of hours.

While the bowl of flour and eggs did its thing, I melted chocolate with butter. As I was measuring the chocolate, I discovered that I was seriously short.  The recipe takes a lot of chocolate.  I ran down to the corner market praying that they would have high quality chocolate.  They did.  When I was checking out, Laura looked at the chocolate and asked what I was making.  I told her and she screwed up her face.  It does sound weird.  Rye brownies.  She thought maybe it would be okay with sea salt on top.  Good thought.

Back home, I melted butter with the chocolate.

Then I measured out the remaining ingredients: sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla.  I mixed it all together, — starter flour mix, melted chocolate, and remaining ingredients, put it in the oven, and crossed my fingers.

It smelled divine.  And it looked pretty good too.  When I took it out of the oven I looked at the recipe to see if there were instructions on when to take the brownies out of the pan.  It said, “sprinkle the top with additional sea salt” if you want.  What?  Additional?  I hadn’t put any salt in the batter.  I went back and read the recipe.  I found salt... on the second page at the very top.  And baking soda.  OH CRAP.  I didn’t put either in the mix.  I sprinkled the top with sea salt and went out to do chores while it cooled.  I stomped from pasture to pasture.  I didn’t have time to make another batch.  They took friggin’ all day.  And, the expense of all that chocolate.  And five eggs.  OMG.

Half way through chores I went back in the house and cut myself a piece from the corner.  It was fine.   A bit gooey, but who doesn’t like a moist brownie.  And the taste was great.  As they cooled completely, they got less gooey.  Phew.  I will definitely make this again — I’m curious to see how much difference the baking soda and salt make.  I think the sourdough starter saved me; the brownies had a way to leaven even with out the baking soda.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Bagel Love Affair

I don’t remember having bagels growing up.  The first bagels I remember were those I bought in the university union cafe after swim practice.  I was cold and tired after my early morning workout, and the bagels were warm and squishy from the microwave.  They weren’t toasted; it was just a plain grocery store bagel split, spread with cream cheese, and zapped until the cream cheese melted into gooey oozy wonderfulness.

So, I consider it accurate to say I didn’t have my first real bagel until my early 20s, when I was working at a law firm in Century City.  Once a week, mid-morning, the receptionist would page “Penny Lane.”  That was the signal — the bagel lady was in the break room with her cart full of fresh, New York style bagels.  It was a revelation.  There weren’t a million flavors like at bagel shops now; just the basics: plain, sesame, poppy seed and, my favorite, salt.  Tearing my teeth into the chewy crust, and then the moist interior, — with just a wee bit of cream cheese.  Heaven.

I still love a good bagel.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a good bagel shop nearby.  I’ve tried to make bagels a few times over the years and I think I finally nailed it.  I used this bagel recipe.

I followed the recipe exactly except for throwing in a tablespoon or so of sourdough starter.  I was feeding my starter and it kills me to dump the excess down the drain so I tend to throw it into whatever I’m making.  Bagel dough needs to be kneaded a long, long time so I did that in my standing mixer.  Usually I like to knead dough by hand because I enjoy feeling it come together, but I wasn’t really up for kneading for 15 minutes or more.  After kneading and an initial rise, I cut the dough into eight pieces and rolled them into balls with nice tight skins.  Another rise, and then I poked my finger through each ball, twirled the dough until the opening was wide and set it down to rest.  Fun.

While the bagels rested again (they aren’t hard to make but they do take a while with all the resting that goes on), I heated the water bath (water plus malt syrup and sugar) and turned on the oven.

I put them in the simmering water four at a time, and cooked them a couple minutes on each side.  Then I fished them out and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

I brushed them with egg white whisked with a little water and then sprinkled most of them with sesame.  I don’t have any rock salt on hand or I would have used that.  Maybe next time I’ll try flakey sea salt and see how that goes.  After brushing and topping the bagels, I popped them in the oven.

They came out looking like the real deal and, more importantly, tasting like the real deal.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Perfect Snowfall

Yesterday morning, I drove an hour southwest to my Master Gardener training class.  It wasn’t raining yet but the wind pushed me across the parking lot and blew me into the door of the classroom.  Mid-morning, the wind rattled the windows violently as I listened to a lecture on plant cell structure.  By lunchtime, the rain was coming down in sheets and Brett was texting me that the rain at home was turning to snow.  At about the time we dissected a Brussels sprout, he said it was all snow.

Mid-afternoon, we took apart a couple flowers to look at the variations in stamens and pistols and sepals.  By then, the snow at home was starting to stick.

Right after we dissected a strawberry, Brett texted that the driveway had disappeared and I best head home if I wanted to make it up our lane and to the house.  Most of the drive home was in rain, but as I got to the outskirts of our community, I had snowflakes flying at the windshield.  A couple neighbors had driven up our road shortly before I got there so I was able to drive in their tracks until I got to the house.  The snow wasn’t too thick yet, but it was falling in earnest.  It looked like this late yesterday afternoon.

This morning the sun came out and made the snow shine.  Some of the snow melted during the night but there was still about an inch on the ground.

Sage couldn’t decide if she wanted to spin in circles, leap and land in it, or just eat the snow.

And, dang, it was just plain gorgeous out.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Morning Glory Muffins

My favorite kind of muffin is a Morning Glory muffin.  Hands down; no contest.  They are moist, sweet, and interesting — packed with bits of apple, carrot, nuts, raisins and coconut.  I made some to have for breakfast on mornings when I have class, and not enough time to linger over my usual coffee and fresh ranch egg.

I use this recipe from King Arthur Flour. I didn’t make many modifications other than using 50/50 whole wheat and white flour.  The recipe calls for all whole wheat but I worried that they would be too heavy.  I didn’t want a really dense, heavy muffin.

I sprinkled a little sparkling sugar on the top, just to add a festive touch.

Some of them came out a bit dark so I’ll reduce the bake time on the next go-round.  My oven tends to run a smidge cooler than the set temperature but I think I over-compensated in this case.

They taste exactly how I wanted them to, though.  I ate a couple for lunch, fresh from the oven.  Brett ate a couple when he got home from running errands in the afternoon — and a couple more after dinner.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


There are a number of things that I am waiting in anticipation for today.

First off, we have a storm coming in tonight.  This morning was icy cold and clear.  The frost covered the fence rails and posts so that they sparkled white in the morning sun. The girls pasture which is blanketed in oak leaves, had a carpet of perfectly etched leaves, white edges against their brown centers.  Sage followed me around the pasture, as I scooped up frozen manure that was laying on the leaves.  She cautiously pressed her paw on the edges of frozen puddles and then ate the broken ice.
I took these photos after the frost was gone.  No way was I taking my thick gloves off to take a picture during morning chores.

Storm anticipation also means that we will be bringing the horses into the barn.  Before we do that, I’ll spread clean straw in the stalls and we’ll fill their water barrels.  I always put some sweet feed and carrots in their grain bins so there is a treat waiting when they come in.  I started doing it with Tex, because he wasn’t at all sure he liked the barn and his stall at first, and I’ve kept it up.  They so look forward to the treats.  I will also add more straw to the goat shed.  Their coats are thick and the straw is already deep, but they hate rain and snow so being able to burrow in deep inside their shed will be good.

I’m also anticipating the start of my Master Gardening course.  My first day of class is tomorrow.  In the middle of the storm.  I’m still excited.

I have finished my homework and packed my school bag.  I’m going to bake some muffins later so I can take one with me for my lunch.  The other day Brett looked over at me, where I was sitting on the couch studying.  He said, “Are you studying or coloring?”  I had my color pencils out.  I said, “I’m drawing leaves.”  He shook his head and went back to his book.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Hey Coach

Back in the day, I was a competitive swimmer.  I started when I was a kid and hit my stride in high school and college.  I was one of the “invisible” crowd in high school.  I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t in the band or any of the other clubs, and I was very quiet.  I had a few close friends and I had swimming.  I didn’t go to any of the school dances or the prom.  I hardly even dated and then it was with boys who didn’t go to my school or who were older.  But I was a somebody in swimming (which is an invisible sport, if you think about it, so I was still pretty much invisible).

When I got into high school and joined the swim team, there was a brand new coach.  Those of us who swam for the city team were not impressed when we heard who it was — the middle school football coach, who knew nothing about swimming.  But, he was great.  Coach was always positive and encouraging so we had a team of happy girls.  ...that isn’t easy to achieve with high school girls who are a prickly, sensitive, and demanding lot.  I was the team captain my junior and senior years, and he helped me out of my introverted shell and taught me how to lead.  After I graduated from high school, we stayed in touch.

In my early 20s I visited with him and his wife a few times.  Then he moved to Northern California and I went on with my life.  We exchanged Christmas cards every year, and always included long handwritten notes about our lives.  When we moved up to the Placerville area, he suggested getting together sometime since we only lived about an hour apart.  As you know from my last post, I didn’t have the time or energy to do anything social while I was working.  But now that I’m retired...

I Googled his address and realized that he and his wife live just a mile or so from where we buy hay.  And now that I’m retired, I go with Brett when he picks up hay every month or so.  Today was a hay day and so we arranged to meet Coach and his wife for lunch.  It had been 35 years since I last saw him and I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t recognize him, or it would be awkward, or something.  But, I recognized them both immediately and we had a wonderful time catching up.

(All the photos on this post are from this week’s hike — in Cronan Ranch which is close to the site where gold was discovered in California).

Saturday, January 4, 2020


For the past two weeks, I’ve been thinking about the word I want to focus on for the coming year.  The word that best captures what I want to accomplish this year is “restore.”

When I retired in November, I was exhausted.  I am regaining my energy, my good-humor, and who I am at my core.  But, it’s going to take a year of rest to get all the way there.

The best analogy I can make is to a race horse who has finished its racing career and is going to be retrained as a pleasure or competitive horse in another discipline.  The first thing that is done with the horse is putting them out in a big green pasture for six months (or more) and letting them just “be a horse.”  I have seen the magic of this with both Tex and Lucy.  Neither are race horses but both came here tightly wound.  Lucy came from a rigorous training life in show barns and Tex from competitive rodeo where he suffered some trauma.

The past six years have been a blur.  For the first four years after we moved here, I worked for a large, multi-State company.  I had come from a small, community system where I had strong connections and market knowledge.  It was a very steep learning curve for me, learning a new market and a new company, but I liked my co-workers and I liked learning.  Ultimately, though, I realized that working in a corporate silo wasn’t a good fit and I left to work at a small, regional HealthPlan that provides healthcare to the poor.  It was a much better place for me.  But, the department I was hired to run was a mess.  Initially, I was full of energy and ideas — I could see the problems and I knew how to fix them.  I was focused on making my team rock stars and our department a well-oiled machine.  But, there were far more problems than I realized.  For everything I fixed, five more broken systems would be revealed.  It was exhausting.  I worked long hours and had a very long commute (two hours each way).  Eventually, I just couldn’t do it anymore.  One day, as I walked past my assistant’s desk, she said, “Are you okay?”
“Why?” I asked
“Because I’ve never seen you look so defeated.”

I thought, She’s right.  That is exactly how I feel.  Defeated. 

So, I retired.  A bit earlier than in the original plan.  But I was tired of being tired; I couldn’t focus; I couldn’t retain information; I was forgetting things; and I was snapping at my husband.  I didn’t do anything at home except eat and sleep.  Enough of that noise.

Now, I wake with the sun and not with an alarm.  I cook and garden and read books.  I play with Sage.  I hug Lucy and hang out with Tex.  And if I don’t feel like doing anything productive, I don’t.  I’m learning how to smile and laugh again, and I’m enjoying the company of friends and family.  I loved Christmas.  Decorating and baking and shopping didn’t feel like pressure; it was thoughtfully done, with love and intent.  I reveled in the time with my kids and my dad.  I relaxed into the moments.

Restore.  That’s the goal.  Restore myself to me.  Restore my happy core and nurture it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Puzzle Post

For Christmas, Brett and I were given the most wonderful puzzle by Brett’s daughters.  Honestly, this was BY FAR the most fun and most beautiful puzzle I have ever done.

The puzzle is made of wood, with wonderfully intricate die cut pieces.  The colors are super vibrant, and they fit together in the most amazing complex way.

For four days straight, I did hardly anything else.  I sat by the wood stove, hunched over the puzzle board, glasses perched on my nose, hardly looking up.
Can you see the guitar and the eagle and the guy holding a top hat?

The puzzles are made in Boulder, Colorado by the Liberty Puzzle company.  They are crazy expensive so I won’t be running out and buying another one.  But... next Christmas... hint, hint, hint.

For those of you puzzle lovers out there — and I know of at least one (Dom, I’m looking at you), drop some hints and see if you can get one too.

(No one paid me for this review, or asked me to make it.  I just love this puzzle so much that I had to share.)