California (Knows How to Party)


Friends, something special going to happen in a few short days. Parties here at the Ranch go way back. I learned my party-throwing skills from my parents and godparents, who taught me about kegs of beer, pit barbeques, live music, and straw-bale lawn furniture when I was but a wee thing. Granted, the kegs of beer were fun when I was little mainly because of the cans of Hansen’s soda floating in the icy tub, but I was known to beg a glug of beer off a grown-up now and then as well. I would even pitch in by giving pony rides to the little kids with my feisty Welsh pony, who miraculously put up with it for hours on end. Not normally known for his patience, was he.

Year later, my sister and I took up the mantle, throwing a series of annual summer “Ho-Downs” here at the Ranch with another close friend. These epic parties were more like raves, with two fulls days of camping and DJs and lots of people. Porta-potties, multiple kegs, generators. Big time. Unfortunately, those parties took a turn to the dark side when they got too big, and people who didn’t know me or my sister acted disrespectfully towards us and our home. There always some yahoo gotta ruin it for the rest of us.

But lesson learned and moving on, after a few years off to regroup, my sister and I resurrected the Ranch Party. This time around the guest list is scrupulously managed, and much smaller than before. It’s not to be snobby, but rather because, after years of practice, we know what works. People from various walks of life, but similar sensibilities about generosity, cooperation, and, of course, shenanigans, just make for a better party. As a rule, you don’t get an invite unless you’ve been here before, and we know you can play well with others. No drama, no fuss, and no one getting stuck doing more than her fair share of work. Once this party gets going, it runs itself.

I thought a lot about whether to write about Ranch Party, because it is very personal and it almost belongs to a part of my life that is separate from this blog. On the other hand, the hard work, planning, and creativity that goes into preparing for the party is something that fits right in with the kind of stuff I talk about here. In the end, I am finding that I just can’t help it! I’m so excited!

Let me make a big confession: I am a girl who thinks about her wedding even though a groom is nowhere on the horizon. But before you groan, wait! Listen! It’s not because I collect unicorns and watch princess movies, it’s because I LOVE THROWING PARTIES. I love it! It truly is an art form, as years of practice have taught me. I love thinking about the music, the lights, the flowers, the food, and making everything just right. There’s something very deeply gratifying about creating a wonderful experience for people you love and then getting to watch it all unfold. And, when done right, that’s how throwing a good party is. Sitting back with a cold beer and taking in the spontaneous combustion that occurs when you take a beautiful setting and mix in great people, flowing drinks, bumping speakers, and a whole bunch of twinkly lights.

So, of course, this isn’t a wedding, but Ranch Party is an opportunity to create something way beyond your typical summer barbeque. Because I live here now, I have plenty of time to realize a vision for it that we were never able to pull off in the few short days we had to get ready in the past (especially when my crazy job prevented me from fully participating in the set-up, leaving my sister to do a lot on her own – which she did an awesome job at, mind you). It’s going to be magical and unforgettable. Thanks to a ton of help from Paul, the incredible cache of party-supplies we have amassed over the years, and of course the awesome rabble-rousers who will be bringing it this year, this is going to be a spectacular event.

Nothing like Dre’s party. But then, that’s okay with me.

Rain and Sweat and Scary Spiders

So what we in hot, dry Northern California miss out on in terms of the lush green summers and the wonders of fireflies enjoyed on the East Coast, we make up for by never having to deal with muggy, sticky, gross weather that gives you swamp-ass and makes you feel like you have to take a shower ALL THE TIME.

Or, at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That was the deal.

And yet here I sit, in the swamp that is my ass, feeling like I have an inch of slime all over my body, and let me tell you, the novelty is not that awesome. Sure, I was glad when the insane lightning show last night, and the inevitable wafts of wildfire smoke that accompanied it, were then thoroughly doused by a freak and quite substantive rainstorm.  But it’s gotta be in the 90s right now and I’m pretty sure that’s steam I see rising off the ground.  And I just think if my armpits are going to stick together like this for the rest of the day, I should get to see some lightning bugs, goddammit!

We did get this real nice sunset out of it though:



But then we went inside (which was pretty pointless, given that the humidity makes inside feel exactly the same as outside) and we found this behind the couch:


Ignore the dust bunnies, focus on the terror.

We have A LOT of spiders in our house, including infinity number of daddy-long-legses, a buttload of wolf spiders and even the occasional black widow, but I have never seen one of these bad boys here, so it was quite an event. Not a good event. More of a screamy one. I dare you to google images for “brown recluse” if you have even the slightest shred of doubt that is what you’re looking at. Because we did. Which was about the time the screaming started. Some of the photos on the interwebs looked like they had been taken of the exact spider that was in our house. I don’t mean the same species of spider, I mean like the EXACT SAME SPIDER.


And it was big. It was big enough to put a leash on it and call it Rex, but Paul squished it with his shoe instead. Now we call it Dead, which is catchy enough. I just hope there isn’t another one out there who called it Junior, but hoping so doesn’t seem to have any effect on my now absolute certainty that in every dark cranny of my house (and there are oh, so, many) is an enormous fangy deadly spider waiting to come out and play.

Did I mention :(  ?

Adventures in Hardscaping

So, I’ve been posting off and on about this project, but I never really explained what the heck I was doing. You see, this house was built by my family ’round the time I was born. It’s pretty funky, but over the years it’s gotten nicer and nicer. However, one part of the house that never seemed to get enough love was the back. It’s had an identity crisis ever since the beginning, when it was declared the front of the house, except never, ever used that way.  It was like one of those fancy spotless living rooms no one is allowed to live in, except the ugly wrecky version.  It was always (at least in my memory) just a scruffy hill you had to walk up and over to go feed the animals. It’s never been a place to hang out. Until now!

Here’s the project, from start to finish:


Earlier this year, hill is covered in vinca, retaining wall is rotten, flat area close to house is just dirt.


Clearing the hillside of vinca.


Hillside cleared, one plant in, old retaining wall demo-ed.


Broken up concrete (up-sold as ‘urbanite’ by landscapers but I just grabbed a bunch for free from another project nearby) transported to site and offloaded.


Busted irrigation pipe fixed.


‘Urbanite’ retaining wall built (thanks Mom!), plants in. All plants are deer resistant, drought tolerant, and bee-friendly.


Another shot of the hillside.


Decomposed granite spread around new ‘patio’ area.


Another shot of hillside with plants, new wall, and DG surface. Also notice that big pile of logs has been cleared away. (Thanks Paul!)


New flagstone sitting area! (Thanks Wayne and Paul for helping me move and place these heavy rocks and spread the DG!)

So there you have it. There are a few little things to finish up but it’s too smoky to do it this morning, so I’m going to the grower’s market instead. Cheerio!

Happy Father’s Day!


Dear Dad,
I love you so much I am making public this photo of me wearing the dorkiest outfit imaginable because it also shows what a super daddy you are and always have been.
(For those needing further explanation, yeah, that’s me in The Shorts.)


. . . And Now This Part

I’m not crying all the time or anything, but I’m really sad.  I can’t look at the pictures of Butter, but I can’t take them off the blog (for example the About Henge and Hollow Farm page) either.  I’m just sitting here in my office and not even working.  I’m just staring at the wall.  I really really want to go back to when she wasn’t dead.  I want do-overs.

One thing that my brain is doing with this is being convinced that more tragedy will strike.  That Junebug will get eaten or Lola will get bitten by a rattlesnake or that something bad will happen to one of the Ranch folk.  It’s irrational, but it’s there. This feeling of impending doom, and my inability to stop it.  That’s one thing.

This other is sort of like defeat.  Things were just humming along on this project of becoming a self-sufficient little homesteader.  I was feeling good at it, like it was all coming together, and everyday was a step forward.  The bees are healthy and I’m going to get honey, the garden looks gorgeous.  The barn is finished and looks great and the animals were healthy and happy.  Then one of my laying hens gets eaten by a hawk and I’m down to one layer.  And then a horrible accident kills Butter and we have no doe.  Two giants steps back.  Is that a weird way of thinking about it?  Am I being really selfish?  It’s not that I don’t also feel sad because I loved Butter (I didn’t really love Merriweather, to be honest)  but she was brought here for a purpose. She wasn’t just a pet.  And now that project is stalled, indefinitely.  It sucks.

Anyway I guess we’re just in this part now.  Ugh.


Still reeling.  Yesterday I came home early from work, and when I got here I had this feeling like I needed to check on the new chicks because it was so hot out. I went out to the barn and saw that they were fine but something else was really wrong.  The goats were calling but in a weird voice, and I couldn’t hear Butter.  I rounded the corner and saw Hank and Diego’s little worried faces and no Butter.  Went into the pen and looked around everywhere and couldn’t find Butter.

Then I heard a little sound.  I still honestly can’t tell you if it was from her, but the sound is what made me turn and look back into the barn, and then I saw her.  Her tiny little body had become freakishly wedged between the rock wall and the edge of the sleeping pallet.  She was upside down and severely bloated.  I couldn’t tell if she was alive or dead.  I hadn’t seen her before because she was so wedged in there, and her fur was the same color as the wood chips and rice straw in the barn.

The next hour or so was awful, because we couldn’t tell if she was really dead. There was a lot of rushing around, calling the emergency vet, trying to get her cool trying to keep her upright to help with relieve pressure from the bloat, checking for any signs of life.  By the time the vet got here we were pretty sure she was gone, and the vet confirmed it. No heartbeat. Our baby girl had died.

It’s never easy to lose an animal you have taken into your care.  It’s right to feel a sense of duty towards them, to love and protect them from harm.  They didn’t ask to have you, after all.

Still, it surprised me and Gina both how much we had come to love that little goat.  How losing her feels like a physical blow to the chest.  She had a wise and gentle spirit that was so very different from the boys.  While they are bombastic and totally focused on food and chewing on clothes, Butter would just sit quietly, enjoy a chin scratch, and look deeply into your eyes.  We love the boys, but Butter was clearly special.

Keeping perspective is a challenge.  What did I do wrong?  What if I had gone straight out there instead of checking my email when I got home, would I have been in time to save her then?  Did we let her down by building a pallet with a Butter-sized space between the wall?  Are we unfit to have goats?  Should we just give up?

In the days ahead there will be a lot of thinking, but it’s important to be able to draw a lesson from this experience, without being unreasonably hard on ourselves.  We can prevent this from happening again.  We can close up that space. We can make sure the new kidding shed doesn’t contain similar hazards, but we can’t foresee every possible freak accident.  If we can’t stomach that, then maybe we shouldn’t have animals.  But we know we can.  This is the way of the life we have chosen.  Eggs and Butter, blood and death.  Heartbreak has happened before, and it will happen again.  So we just have to get up, put on our boots, fill the water buckets, set out the hay, toss the grain, collect the eggs.  And then get up, and do it again.

RIP Butter.

The Resurrection of a Barn

Earlier in the blog I was calling this project a ‘barnraising,’ but the truth is, it was more of a resurrection. This crazy little building, made of the very rocks on which it sits, built by my parents when they were younger than I am now, has housed goats, ponies, chickens, and sheep over the years.  Here’s what it looked like in the very beginning:


But after decades of neglect, it was a shambles:


The roof had caved in and it was barely standing.


But we all came together to rebuild it.


And now it’s finally done, and better than it ever was.




With new life inside!



So many thanks to Larry, Gina, Wayne, Dad, Betsy, Mom, Paul, Erin, and Papa!