What Have I Got to Say For Myself?

I am acutely aware that I haven’t posted in a while.  The thing of it is, this blog started out as a sort of social outlet, a conversation if you will, about my daily life and my dreams for the future.  It was a way to keep my momentum going.  But I was single then.  It seems terrifically unoriginal, disappointing even, that I feel less inclined to blog now that I have a in-person human partner to share things with.  “Sara got a boyfriend and now she never hangs out with us anymore. So lame.” But it’s true.  I’m not really the type that loves to just talk about myself all the time, so it’s a bit hard to muster up the inspiration to do so when I feel like I’ve been sharing everything with someone all day long already.

On the one hand, I am happy to trade a blogging life for a love life.  Fun as it is to post pictures of my adventures on the internet and receive feedback from this growing community of people both familiar and strange, it’s even better to carry in the firewood and draw up the chicken tractor plans with a real live person.  On the other hand, I don’t think blogging and having a partner are mutually exclusive.  Plenty of other people do it, after all.  I may no longer be able to call myself “a single girl” going back to the land, but the overall mission is still the same.

The truth is, I might not post as often, but there will still be plenty of plans and schemes to share.  Before and after pictures to boast about.  Even some moments to wax rhapsodic now and then.

So with that in mind, allow me to fill you in on the latest Domestead news!

1. We are observing Sober January. Between the Fella and the Roomie and I, we have been known to put away the ale faster than a Shire-full of hobbits.  This merry-making naturally crescendos to a bit of a frenzy during the holidays, and by New Year we’re all a little worse for the wear and in need of some rest and, well, detoxification.  Last year Paul and I were alcohol-free for all of January and it was such a good thing there was no doubt we would observe Sober January again this year. The Fella is on board, as are the rest of the Ranch Folk.

2. We will break our alcohol fast with our own home-made beer! The Fella and I are totally committed to reducing costs and adding creativity by making our own brews.  We won’t break the fast until the beer is ready, and, if I have my way, we won’t be buying beer at all 2013 (okay, except maybe for special occasions.) Turns out my Pa is into the idea as well, so we may have a little Ranch brewery bubbling along in the not too distant future.

3. Peaches is getting bred this month! That means little goaties and goat milk (finally!) by June. Very exciting to know this project will be moving forward after stalling slightly due to my lack of funds.

4. The winter garden is chugging along. It’s been COLD. But the layer of straw on the beds has kept everything – kale, beets, peas, onions, garlic, chard – alive. We harvested the mature kale plants heavily for New Year’s dinner, but they are super resilient and are already sprouting new leaves. God I love kale.

5. We are getting about 1 egg a day from the hens. They are smaller than the eggs Flora and Fauna used to lay. I think the old girls have officially retired. The new layers are the two Barred Rocks I got as pullets this summer.  The one lone Ameraucana still hasn’t started laying, but maybe she’ll start now that the days are getting longer (it’s still awfully cold though, she might wait until spring).

6. The bees, sadly, didn’t make it. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion about that for a while, but the rain kept me from checking. Well, the rain and my dread about facing it.  I’m not sure yet what happened. I feel like I stopped feeding them before I should have. I was confused by conflicting sources of information (i.e., my instructor said ‘don’t feed in winter,’ but did he mean winter as in ‘when it gets cold,’ or winter as in ‘the specific season before spring’?; the organic beekeeping lady said it was wrong and unhealthy to feed bees sugar; the wild bees by my uncle’s house are thriving; etc. etc.). They also could have had varroa, although I hadn’t spotted any when I tested them, and was told that new colonies are usually fine the first year. Sigh. An expensive undertaking that I have to start over with. But I definitely want to try again. Hopefully I’ll be able to reuse the hives and frames (depends on what killed them off.)

7. Haven’t been riding in a long while, although I pass by old Hammer on my walks to the river. He’s just as cheerful yet wizened as ever.  That is definitely something I need to put some effort into this year. No more slacking on riding!

So that’s the long and short of it. Some good, some bad. Such is life on the Domestead.

Quick Homestead Update

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Tomatillos!

It’s still way too hot outside, but things are doing okay. I discovered last night that my sprinklers in the vegetable garden are not working properly, which explains why things have been looking peaked despite getting more fertilizer and lots of sun. Sometimes it’s the simplest things. Oh well, at least I know now.

Amazingly, all of the plants that were ravaged by deer are coming back for another round – even the Roma tomato, which, because it’s a determinate, I had assumed would not produce any new fruit at this point. But believe it or not, there are new flowers and little green maters all over the plant. What a little trooper!

The Fresno jalapeno was the worst hit and it’s almost fully recovered. Incredible! I’m glad because my mom just clued me in to a great way to use all those super spicy peppers – make chipotles! Hello?! Why hadn’t I thought of that? I was trying to eat them all fresh and was just burning my face off all the time. They will still be hot as chipotles, but I can store them for much longer and use small amounts in all kinds of sauces this winter.

And, as you can see, the tomatillos are coming in now. I just harvested about a pound or so. I wish there was more so I could cook a bigger batch, but I’ll go ahead and make a simple salsa verde this weekend and freeze it. Hopefully I’ll be able to add another pound or so to it before the season is through, and then we’ll have some chili verde once the weather is actually cool enough to enjoy it!

The bees are thrilled to be getting syrup again. I feel validated after seeing feeder covers on the hives of a nearby commercial beekeeper, and the fact that it seems like the bees just doubled their numbers in the last two weeks! Definitely the right decision. What a relief to know we’ll be going into winter with a big strong colony.

The three chicken pullets who still haven’t been named are doing great. Pretty sure they’re all hens, which is good. I am thinkin’ we’ll get an egg or two out of them before winter comes. They’re almost as big as my old girls now.

The goats are just super cute and awesome as always. Peaches hasn’t had a regular heat yet, so she hasn’t been bred. We are still weighing our options as far as the new kidding shed is concerned. It might end up being a pretty large barn – well, larger than the one we have now.  Money is tight, but we want to build the right thing the first time rather than cutting corners, and we definitely need more hay storage as it is.

So that about does it. I haven’t been riding since the heatwave started. I miss the saddle, and I felt like Hammer and I were making some progress in the arena as well, but riding in this heat would be cruel to him and me! We’ll just have to wait until fall to really get into a good routine.

Okay, I guess I’ve officially exhausted all avenues of procrastination. Time to load up the truck and go to the dump. YUCK!

New Shoes

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My outfits have changed somewhat since moving back to the Ranch.  I still feel like a million bucks when I step out in a new pair of shoes, but these days they look a little different, notably that they look even sexier covered in dust and manure.  The dirt road to the stable is my new catwalk, and I grin from ear to ear as I tromp along in breeches, half chaps, boots and spurs.  “The equestrian look is very in this season,” say the squirrels to one another. “And I just love how she’s pairing it with the little brown dog, very chic.”

Likewise, I was really excited when I finally got a chance to wear the new hat my dad gave me for Christmas: that would be the pith helmet with the bee veil attached to it. Best outfit all year? Definitely the matching used coveralls I found for $20 at the hardware store, which go so well with my smoker and hive tool.

When I lived in the city and worked at a law firm, I wore a suit nearly every day. Not a beekeeping suit, but a black or grey uniform – I called it my ‘lawyer drag’ – designed for looking formidable when marching to battle in the courtroom. I grew to hate my suits so much I just stopped caring how I looked in them.  My non-lawyer friends would always thrill about how spiffy my suits seemed, how I should accessorize them with a ‘bold necklace’ or a ‘feminine top.’  To me it felt like putting on a garbage bag, and no necklace was going to change that.  Actually, it felt like that scene in Walking Dead when they cover themselves in zombie guts in order to blend in when they walked down the street.

My suits were zombie guts. That’s such an accurate description, it’s hardly even a metaphor.

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my appearance, ever since puberty when my body betrayed my tomboy inclinations and abruptly transformed into something resembling the Venus of Willendorf.

My actual senior portrait. Voted most likely to promote fertility.

There I was, tan and freckled, with gappy teeth and tangled locks and. . . a huuuge rack.  I fought back by playing with the aspects of my appearance I had more control over – hair color, clothing, shoes – to varying degrees of success.  Sometimes it was black eyeliner, or fire engine red hair, ratty jeans with a suit coat, or just some great big ugly shoes.  My goal wasn’t particularly clear, and I’ve never really had what they call ‘style,’ I just wanted to have some say in the matter.  Thus it was especially offensive to me to suddenly lose control over my wardrobe when I became a lawyer. (Well, it was hardly sudden, you’d think after 3 years of slogging through law school it might have dawned on me that I was embarking on a profession with a problematic dress code.)  I mean, we even had our ‘casual Fridays’ taken away at one point. How vile. How soul-crushing!

So when I decided I was going to move back to the Ranch, getting to wear what I want, no matter what that is, was something I actively thought about. Seriously, it was right up there with starting a garden, getting some chickens, and plotting out my new life by firelight. Because wearing what I want is important to me for totally non-superficial reasons.  It is how I converse with the world at large, even when no one is actually looking.  It’s how I say “This is me, and I am so many things.”  I am sundresses and workboots.  A cascade of hair. A hoodie. A briefcase.  A very old pair of jeans.  That these things aren’t trivial to me is something that I’ve known about myself for a long time, but has never been more clear than it is now. After a ride, when I glance down at the mud on my new boots, the dust on my clothes and the smell of horse sweat filling my nostrils, I know I look good.

Horsey Shopping Spree!

Oh dear. One of my favorite bloggers, Cold Antler Farm, just turned me on to a new place to spend all the money I don’t have.

Without becoming an ad for said place (ask me if you do want the deets), let me just say that it was way too easy to ring up close to $100 worth of thisses and thats.  Most exciting: finally a pair of half chaps and paddock boots!

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In black, natch.

When I was a kid I mostly just rode in my tennies and jeans.  Lately I’ve been riding in some motorcycle boots (whaddygonnado?) but the chafing and sweating of my legs against the horse, boot, and/or stirrup is most unpleasant, and recently produced painful rubbies on my leg AND on Hammer’s side. I’m not sure why this is happening now when it never happened when I was kid, but I’m going to go ahead and add it to the list of crap things about getting old.

I even have a little scar.

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I know what it’s like to look death in the face and live to tell the tale.

I also got some spurs.  Nervous about that, never ridden with spurs before. But Hammer is trained for spurs, and a lot of the dressage work requires cues that he expects to feel from a spur. I could try without, but since the little bitty rubber spurs were so cheap and seemed so humane, I’m going to see how Hammer and I feel about this new step in our relationship.  Another new development is that I am going to start riding in an Australian saddle. For those who are unfamiliar, they look like this:

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Not my actual saddle.

As far as saddles go, the typical choices are Western and English.  If I had my drothers, I’d ride English, but with big ladies like myself, it’s much better for the horse if you distribute your weight over a larger surface area.  English saddles cover a small surface area of the horse’s back so they aren’t good for me, or more importantly, for Hammer.  I’ve been riding in a Western saddle, which has a huge surface area, but I don’t like it.  Too big and bulky and too separated from the natural shape of the horse.  I feel like I’m sitting in a lawn chair that’s 5 1/2 feet off the ground, which is not really that fun.  Folks think they’re more secure because of the horn, but I feel the opposite.  So I’m hoping the Aussie will be my Goldilocks saddle and be juuuust right.

See you soon, boyo!

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Touristo

So when I moved back to the ranch, one of my big goals was to start riding again. It had been about twenty years, give or take. I’d gone on a few beach rides in Mexico and Ireland, that kind of thing, but no serious riding since I sold my own horses and moved away to college.  My uncle Chano, who lives on the ranch too and is a horse trainer, said if I wanted I could have his twenty year old quarter horse, a big, 16hh-plus red chestnut by the name of Hammer. Hammer was bred by my uncle and born here at the ranch.  At age three my uncle took him to Mexico to race, and he lived there for five years or so.  Then he brought him back, and trained him in the Spanish style of dressage.  He was shown extensively throughout California and ridden in parades and exhibitions.  He could piaffe with the best of them. But then he was retired. So when I came back, Hammer wasn’t being ridden, he was pretty much just a pasture pet, and was starting to show his age. But hey, a free horse, big enough for me and perfectly trained. I said sure!

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Hammer, so named because of his big head. I don’t think it’s THAT big…

That was last fall. First we got his teeth floated, which is when the vet uses a tool to even out the molars in the back to give them a better surface for grinding down hay and grass. Then I went out and bought some LMF senior horse feed, which has all kinds of glucosamine and chondroitin and amino acids and some sugar to help keep older horses in good condition. It seemed to be working, but it was also winter. He was scruffy, usually in a tatty old field blanket, and still looked like an old fella. I did start riding him gradually, just walking on the trails. I think he enjoyed the stimulation, but he was an awfully mellow old timer.

Today I finally got to go for a ride again after almost two months, and I wish I had a before picture to show you of the old man. The spring pasture and the senior feed have this boy looking stunning!

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I, on the other hand, could still use quite a bit more ‘conditioning.’

Not only does Hammer look great, he’s suddenly full of energy.  He was prancing and spooking and at one point broke into a canter out on the trail just to show off. Now that’s more like it!

Anyway, it was a great ride. Sun shining, dogs running. Back at the stable, Hammer got a long overdue bath, and then let out for a nice roll in the tall grass.

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While we were putting the tack away, Chano told me, “You know, Hammer has another name.”  “Oh really?” I said. “Yes, we used to call him ‘Touristo,’ because of all the places he went after he was born here.”

“Touristo,” I thought, “I can relate.”