Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Chaos

Put 2 small children and anywhere from 5 to 9 adults into our little house, then add one large green dragon, and you have chaos. Hilarious chaos, but chaos nonetheless. And so it was on Christmas Day when friend Barb brought the spectacular dragon she had created for the Portland Revels, a fun and fanciful annual holiday musical production.

The dragon's head, being worn by its creator, did not seem to worry Cedrus. Kestrel, however, was keeping an eye on the dragon from behind. Click to enlarge photos.

Auntie Fudge is terrified of all things reptilian, but fortunately brave, almost-3-year-old Kestrel shooed the dragon away before it could devour his beloved aunt. Perhaps he suspected his daddy was inside the dragon costume. You can see the action here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8528199@N07/?saved=1 or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ7Ze9IhSMg

Before the dragon made its appearance, Kestrel's almost-1-year-old brother Cedrus had entertained the crowd with the hand motions, at least some of them, to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. For the ultimate in cuteness, watch this video:http://www.flickr.com/photos/8528199@N07/?saved=1 or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlBqKQeLmIQ

Christmas 2009 was a vast improvement over 2008's when we were snowed in without power and could not get out our driveway much less get anyone else in, except dear friend Irv who hiked down from his house on the hill above us. I cooked a chicken and sweet potatoes on the wood stove and Johnny took some of it to the linemen who were working round the clock to restore power to the zillions of customers without. The massive ice and snow storm had wreaked havoc across northwest Oregon and beyond. At 3 p.m. on Christmas Day, after four days without water because our well pump needs electricity, our power returned. That made it a good Christmas after all, but nothing to compare with this year's hilarious chaos with friends and family.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Almost Christmas

The gifts are wrapped, packages sent off that need to be sent off (late, but, hey, there are twelve days of Christmas), guest room readied, living room uncluttered, greenhouse cleaned up and watered... Now all that's left to do is clean the rest of the house, string lights and cook. No biggie. Hah!

Fortunately, all of the family and friends know what they're getting into when they come here. This is a farm. There's dirt. We heat with wood... more dirt. Plants are everywhere in this house. Still more dirt.

Everyone also knows that I always wrap packages in used Christmas paper. With re-used bows and ribbon. I just cannot bear to throw away the beautiful paper that other people wrap our gifts in. So I save it. I have stacks and stacks of perfectly re-usable Christmas paper. It's not that I give fewer gifts than others give us, it's just that some family members decided years ago to save their paper and give it to me. They thought that would be funny. I think it's wonderful. I'll bet no one on the planet has the variety of paper to choose from that I have.

But I confess that sometimes the packages look a little, well, rumpled. And sometimes there are bare spots where tape has been pulled off, taking the color with it. I try to conceal these blemishes with stickers or bows or ribbon. Sometimes, that works. Sometimes, it just looks like I'm trying to cover up some mess with stickers or bows or ribbon.

This year, I decided that Christmas is for kids, mostly because I lacked inspiration for big people gifts... without Amazon wish lists I'd be in deep trouble. Unfortunately, most of the intended recipients of my Christmas gifts don't have wish lists or don't keep them updated. Those people are getting coals and switches. No, not really. I bought them all books. I say you can never have too many books. But I didn't know what books they each liked so they're all getting the same one, one someone recently sent me and I liked. It's small so it's easy to fit it into areas of old wrapping paper that look reasonably respectable. What do you bet next year some of my friends and family update their Amazon wish lists?

Here's hoping everyone has a peaceful, happy, holiday season. I know, that's asking for miracles in this stress-filled world at a stressful time. But they tell me Christmas started with a miracle, so why not hope for another?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Horizontal Surface-itis

My friend Nancy C.'s husband diagnosed her as having an illness he calls horizontal surface-itis. It's the uncontrollable urge to fill up every horizontal surface with stuff. Alas, I suffer from it, too. After describing this to friend Hazel, she realized she also has it. All of us are now, with Christmas fast approaching, trying desperately to clean off all those horizontal surfaces that we have piled high, including, in my case, the horizontal surface known as a floor.

In our house, the results of this creeping disease are particularly dramatic, because Johnny apparently suffers from it as well. He has spent the last week picking his piles of important papers (along with not-so-important papers) off the floor of the study and putting them away. For the first time in years, we discovered we have a blue rug in there. Unfortunately, we're still unsure about the former kids' playroom floor covering as that is my job to unclutter and I haven't had the will to begin. It's all I can do to make enough room on the table to put two plates down so we can eat. (I seem to have other things that take higher priority than undoing my horizontal surface-itis-ness. Like another Christmas Bird Count two days ago and a jumping lesson on my wonderful gelding yesterday.)

I can always find excuses for delaying the inevitable... Grandkids are arriving for Christmas and they want sparkling lights so my mission for today is to clean up the greenhouse and string lights all over the jillions of plants in it. The greenhouse, being attached to the front of our house and more commonly known as the jungle room, is easily accessible and viewable from the living area of our house and really does look pretty all lit up. But, yes, I will also have to clean up the rest of the joint so everyone has a place to sleep and eat not covered with dust and who-knows-what-else.

And, since the looming holiday is Christmas, I need to wrap gifts. Which will create more of a mess all over the floor, because that's where I'm most comfortable spreading out the wrapping paper and working.

Horizontal surface-itis is alive and well at our house.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count

The bird count I look forward to all year was yesterday, Monday, Dec. 14. Although for Johnny and me, it really started the day before when we packed up the van and headed for the end of our sector high in the coast range of mountains above our farm. There was snow on the ground but we slept warm and cozy inside the comforters we inherited from my dad. Dad never used sleeping bags but rather made his own bed rolls from comforters with snaps sewn on the sides. With our flannel sheets and light sleeping bags snapped inside his comforters, we were quite comfortable. ...Or we were until I opened the van door at 4 in the morning to listen for owls. (I heard none.)

We ate breakfast before daylight, then hiked down the road a piece, listening and watching for birds. There aren't many in the deep forest of my sector, but every one we come upon is a delightful surprise. Varied Thrushes start their day gleaning at the sides of the road. Red Crossbills seem to spend all their time calling jip jip as they fly from one fir cone-filled treetop to the next. We saw 114 of them yesterday.

Soon Johnny hiked back up to the van and drove home to do morning chores, bless his heart. I continued to hike and count birds for the next six hours. Johnny rejoined me for the afternoon and we road birded for another two hours. During all that time, we saw not a single person or vehicle. Although it was foggy much of the time, there was no wind and I did not feel cold... probably because of the number of layers of clothes I had on plus insulated coveralls.

Today, I confess, my calves are so sore from hiking up and down hills I can hardly navigate our stairs. Although I hike many miles each day here on the farm, they are level miles. There's nothing level in the mountains. But, oh it is peaceful and lovely. As the photos show, my sector is mostly second growth fir, but there are areas of alders with creeks. Although the snow had melted over much of the area I hiked, icy flows remained from our recent cold snap.

Here and there on the U.S. Forest Service land which my sector is in are Genetics Trees, trees that are being preserved to provide cones to grow more great trees. I've pictured the tag on one of these trees, GT 290 (according to the nearby sign). Click on the image to enlarge and read the tag. (Obviously, I do more than count birds on this trek.)

After the count, all the participants gather at the home of a very generous friend who provides an incredible meal. I can't even remember everything she served, all delicious: chicken, ham, potato salad, baked beans, fruit salad, deviled eggs, hot cocoa, chocolate cake... While eating we tell the highlights and/or lowlights of our day, report to the coordinator on what we saw, and just have a great time.

I love this count. A few sore muscles are a small price to pay for a great day in the beautiful coastal mountains of Oregon.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Frozen Stories

The pond has saved my back this week. Although it is almost entirely frozen over with quite deep ice, one pocket by the dam overflow remains open. I dip my bucket into this little pool and carry the water to the horses, just on the other side of the dam. The stock panel Johnny erected to keep the beaver away from the overflow is working beautifully to hold the ice on the far side.

I hiked down to Agency Creek today to see if there were any icicles to photograph. There were not, but to my surprise only a small stream of open water remains. The creek is lined with ice. I don't think I've ever seen this happen here before.

It is supposed to warm and rain tonight. The freezer was repaired yesterday and today I moved the food back in. Let the world thaw, I'm ready.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cranky Weather

Okay, so it's me, not the weather, that is cranky. It's cold. Very cold.

At the beginning of this single digit cold snap, the upright freezer in our house quit working. Good timing, I thought smugly, and moved all the frozen food into boxes and coolers and loaded them into the garden trailer, parked in the shop/garage. No worries about the food thawing in this weather. We called the repair person who said he'd be out soon but hasn't been. I want a new freezer before the weather warms. But that's the least of my complaints.

All seemed manageable at first... as long as the well pump kept working so I could carry hot water from the house to thaw water troughs and buckets. The sheep and llamas have to deal with ice water as I just break their ice with a shovel (a 2 x 4 won't do it on the two inches of ice that accumulates each night). I scoop out the ice chunks with a deep fat fryer basket. This trick I learned many cold winters ago. I have another such basket by the horse water troughs.

On about the second or third day of this ordeal, Johnny woke one morning to say, "I don't think I put light bulbs in the pump house." He went down to do so. Shortly thereafter, water quit coming out of the house tap... either because he'd had the door open for awhile down there or because the pump finally got tired of the cold and froze. ...Well, not really the pump since it's a submersible, but the lines above the ground.

Eventually Johnny got that thawed and life seemed manageable again. But it was not to last.

As I came toward the house for another load of hot water, I saw a geyser behind the chicken house. A pipe had burst there and water was gushing out all over everywhere. I ran to unplug the well... and call Johnny, who was, of course, working on someone else's problems elsewhere. He assured me I could still draw hot water out of the tank which is upstairs... if I opened a faucet upstairs to let the air in. I did but no water came out of the hot water spigit he had kindly installed in the mud room during a past cold snap. I stepped outside to call him again (we don't get cell phone reception in the house and I have no cordless phone) and saw steam rising from behind the chicken house. The hot water was draining, all right, through the broken pipe into the chicken yard.

I called Johnny again. This time he came home, capped the chicken water off, and I went back to hauling water to the animals. Life was good. Relatively speaking.

Then the water in the kitchen sink stopped running out of the kitchen sink. I bailed into a bucket and dumped the water on my frozen plants outdoors. (I suspect I'm going to lose a lot of outdoor plants this cold snap... there's no snow cover to protect them.) I tried shooting hot water down the drain to thaw what I figured must be frozen under the house. Didn't work. Johnny put straw under there thinking that would warm it enough. Didn't work. Then he got out his amazingly long snake and tried to unclog whatever was clogging it. Didn't work. Our drain is still blocked which means no operable dishwasher or washing machine. The dirty dishes are piling up. I'll have to wash in a tub like in the good ol' days which, if you ask me, weren't so good at all.

Late last night, as I was attempting to haul my last load of hot water for the day to the animals, the hose from the spigit in the mud room spewed water everywhere. I don't know if the washer finally gave out or what, but I said many curse words I didn't remember knowing... and decided the animals would just have to have not-so-warm water tonight. This morning, Johnny fixed it for me. I will now attempt to get through yet another day and hope for fewer challenges. Johnny, meanwhile, is back to trying to unclog the drain.

The good news is, although the freezer repair person has not shown up, the food is still well frozen outdoors and the weather shows no signs of thawing it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Excitement on the Raptor Route

I should have known that my raptor run today might be exciting when I read the email from Nancy. Nancy owns Oregon Wildlife Center, a 500 acre sanctuary for endangered animals, mostly antelope, that is part of the 80 mile raptor survey route I run once a month. I wrote last night to tell her I would be coming through her place today. She replied, " Watch out for the rhino. They have been aggressive lately. Shouldn't be a problem but call me if you encounter any trouble. " And she gave me her cell phone #.

I replied, "Oh now that's a lovely thing to know. In my little hybrid car... I wonder if anyone else in the country has to dodge rhinos to do their raptor route?"

But I bravely took off with friend Carol. We were not halfway through the route and had not yet come to Nancy's when Johnny called and read me Nancy's latest message..."don't worry I just thought I should let you know that Uhuru has been chasing the 4whlr lately. If they are near any gates, i.e. red gate, or top of the driveway, call me. I am guessing you might not even see them. I am sure you will be fine. "

Well, we did see them. Both rhinos were at the very top of the hill, right alongside the fence dividing their huge field from the area around the main barn and office. But they were walking away from the gate, toward the woods. So we went on through the red gate and started up the hill. The rhinos disappeared from sight over the crest of the hill. As we came back over the top, only one rhino was in sight, with a giraffe on the other side of the fence. The other rhino must have melted into the trees. The one rhino was walking slowly toward the gate that we were hoping to drive through.

I called Nancy. She came out of her house and said, "Oh, I see you. It's okay. Uhuru is too far away to bother. Just keep coming, push the button to open the gate, drive through and stop and wait for the gate to shut." So I did. I did not really want to sit in my car waiting for the gate to shut in case Uhuru decided to sprint through and make mincemeat of my car... and us inside. But after driving through the gate, I was still on the phone with Nancy who said, "Stop! Stop! Wait for the gate to close!" So I stopped and waited. It closed. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on. Nancy instructed me to call again when we were ready to leave and she'd watch and make sure Uhuru was out of the way.

Raptors love Oregon Wildlife Center. Along with the usual Red-tailed Hawks and Kestrels, we saw a White-tailed Kite, only the second one we saw on my route all day. Last month, we saw none. Carol and I were very excited that they may be moving back into the area for the winter. Also, to our delight, we saw many Lewis's Woodpeckers, spectacular birds with black backs, pink fronts and red faces.

When we were ready to leave, I called Nancy. She watched and said "Uhuru is far enough away. Go ahead and push the button and go through the gate. Then watch for the gate to close." This is because Uhuru loves to dash through the gate into the barn/office area. There are vehicles parked there that could be rather easily demolished if he got playful. Not to mention the people. Uhuru, Nancy has told me, is just a big playful puppy. A 5000 pound puppy.

Just before we reached the post with the button on it, Nancy hollered, "Stop! He's coming. I'll have to get someone to come help run interference for you." So she called the guy who works for her, who immediately dashed up in his white van, parking it close to the fence by the gate, jumped out and waved his arms and hat at Uhuru on the other side of the fence. Uhuru backed up maybe two steps. The guy ran across the drive, pushed the button, jumped into his rig and zoomed through the gate. Nancy meanwhile was telling me to do whatever this guy told me to do... only he had spoken not a word to us. Not waiting for direction, I zoomed through the gate after the guy and drove around him and headed down the driveway. "Slow down!" yelled Nancy in my ear. "Or Uhuru will chase you!" I slowed down. But I could see in my rear view mirror that Uhuru was paying attention only to the white van and the guy who was again out of it, guarding the gate. Brave man.

"Nancy," I told her as it appeared we were out of danger. "It was great to come here and great to leave... alive." She laughed and said, "I didn't tell you the whole story of Uhuru chasing the four wheeler. It died while Uhuru was chasing it and the people in it had to make a run for the woods."

As it turned out, she had also neglected to tell me that her own car has a dent in it from Uhuru. "Just a small dent," she said. "But try explaining that to your insurance agent."

In the photos, Uhuru is safely on the other side of the fence from us. I took these photos while we were waiting on the giraffe side of the gate for Nancy's employee to come rescue us. I could have had a really good close-up view of Uhuru with no fence between us if I'd stopped on the other side of the gate. But photos were not on the top of my list just then.