I Still Remember How to Get to Work

Big day today. I sucked it up and went back to the corporate office in Austin today. I really want to come here more than every 6 weeks, but to do that I have to work outside the house, so Anita can concentrate.

It was weird driving there, since I hadn’t in so long. And the parking garage had only like ten cars in it. I parked on the first floor, which I never had before.

There were lots of hand sanitizer stations and signs indicating where you can and cannot stand. At least there’s coffee. Only two people in the break area, please.

I managed to find my desk in its new spot. Oh my. It’s in the middle of the building, with no natural light or privacy. At least I have a white board “wall” for now. And a big concrete pillar to look at instead of someone’s head.

What a fine “wall.” and yes, I drape things a lot.

I didn’t give myself enough time to get settled in before my first meeting, but I did it fine. See, I don’t completely suck at scrumming. and after that, I found most of my cables and got things set up to where I can work.

Another thing I suck at is minimalism. Even not using all my stuff, I gots the decor! But I need to feel safe, secure, and aesthetically well to do good work. Ah.

Man. This looks bleak. The boxes are gone, at least. It’s like a basement that’s not underground.

No doubt I can stand this until we get better seats, which I hope will happen soon. Right now I’m only the second person in my department to go back. It’s so quiet, well, except my friend Henry is back within earshot. It’s good to hear his Spanish calls again!

I guess it feels a little more normal. But safe. No one breathed on me! (You have to wear a mask except at your desk.) Maybe I’ll have fewer nightmares tonight.

Nightmare Time

Hmm, since I decided to just flow along with all the disasters and challenges of our times, my subconscious has been staging a rebellion in the form of really bad dreams and insomnia. These are things that I’m lucky enough to not suffer from, normally.

I had a dream so scary about my mother disappearing that I yelled in my sleep and scared Lee. At least the source of that one was obvious; I’d started a book in which a child’s mother drops her off at her grandparents’ house and drives off. Apparently that bothered me more than I realized.

Let’s pause to look at some fuzzy white calves.

But that’s not all, the endless dreams of being lost, deserted, confused, unloved…you know, the kind of things an anxious person would dream about…they keep coming and coming. And if I wake myself up to get away, I drift off, eventually, to visions of things I’m confused about at work dancing in my head. I’m feeling a little challenged, I guess (not necessarily a bad thing).

This is not normal.

And trying to get to sleep, a thing I have finally perfected in my old age, has suddenly escaped me. I get all sleepy, lie down, and weird fuzzy thoughts pop up. Go away, weird fuzzy thoughts! (By the way, you do NOT need to give me advice on getting to sleep; believe me, after all these years I know exactly what works for me, am an excellent relaxation breather, own CBD/hemp oil, etc.)

I know the things I’m trying to let lie dormant don’t want to be dormant. That’s the real challenge of living in the moment, isn’t it? The past and the future keep vying for your attention. I’m not sure why things I did that were awful (when I was 26) keep popping back up, unless there’s some useful tidbit I need. And I sorta DO know why the future keeps poking me, even though over the weekend, the family worked out a long-term plan for that.

I want to get back to my centered self, subconscious. Leave me alone.

Maybe I need to rethink how I deal with the totally legitimate stressors that are buzzing around me at the moment and give them some space and time. Okay, they get a half hour around 3:30 pm. I hope they will show up and present their cases to gain my attention, then wait until the next day. Yeah, right.

What’s keeping you up at night? Illnesses (yes)? Interpersonal things (yes)? Family issues (yes)? Work or lack thereof (yes)? Natural disasters (yes)? Politics, climate change, racism, religion? Whatever it is, you’re normal, and however you’re dealing with it is just fine. We’re all doing our best, right?

It’s Always Something

People my age will remember early Saturday Night Live shows with Gilda Radner playing the irascible Roseanne Rosannadanna (not Emily Litella, as I said in my first draft). She’d end her confused monologues with the memorable phrase, “It’s always something.”

She was absolutely right, once you start thinking about things. Right now a lot of people feel like the world is in the worst shape it’s ever been in their lifetime. And there sure are a lot of calamities and issues these days.

I started thinking back through my life, which is a while, since I’m one of those Baby Boomers everyone thinks is so awful. What did I find? There was always something.

When I was a little kid, I had nightmare after nightmare about an atom bomb falling on my school. I had dreams where we’d be taken deep into tiled corridors that were supposed to lead to the safe area, but we never got there.

Little Susie in the 60s. Duck and cover!

Later, I thought that what happened after high school, if you were a boy, is that you went to a faraway place and fought in the war Walter Cronkite kept telling us about every night, where there were always charts about injuries, deaths and MIAs.

Next, a whole lot of propaganda got me scared witless about drugs. Someone was going to slip me LSD and I’d be thrown into a psychedelic poster of Jimi Hendrix and never escape! I was scared to death of sugar cubes. Meanwhile, Mother’s Little Helper was over there turning my mom into a basket case. But, those weren’t DRUGS. Hippies used drugs!

Watermelon, the gateway drug for chickens.

Time marched on. There was always some calamity that was going to cause the downfall of society, kill us all, or take away this freedom we’d been told we had (being White people and all that). As I got older, I was sure we’d never survive a succession of war-mongering poor-people hating presidents (my opinions; not always accurate).

There were social things to get all up in arms about. Seat belts! How dare they! What? Cigarettes are bad? Don’t be a litterbug! Plastic is evil! Etc.

Yeah, it’s always something. After a while, you realize that there’s always some crisis or something to fear. The news has to report something. There’s always a war somewhere, a drought somewhere, a big storm, a fire…some are just closer to home than others. So…

This line of thinking led me to post this status on Facebook a couple of days ago.

I figure I’ve made it through all of these things. I’m just going to continue trying to do the right thing, strive for a better world, and deal with whatever threatens me at the moment. What comes is going to come.

This poor grasshopper certainly didn’t see that bird coming or guess that it would be impaled on a fence. It’s always something.

I’m not going to be oblivious, complacent, or complicit with evil, meanness, or cruelty. I’m not going to be unsafe. I’m just not going to let it rule my life. This is the only life we get to live, and like Billy Joel said,

They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known.

Summer, Highland Falls, Turnstiles

I’ve been doing a lot better with it, with all the practice the pandemic has given me. I’m just gonna “roll with the changes” (REO Speedwagon?).

These curious heifers are just dealing with life as they keep getting moved from field to field. They just take it as a chance to meet new people. It’s always something, isn’t it, ladies?

I Discovered Something!

It’s been a great day, for many reasons, and a great weekend. We took Apache out again today, and he was his old self again! He and Spice were very brave when they came upon some people building a new gate between our two pastures.

This is as close as the horses would get.

But they had fun. Fiona kept plopping down and rolling whenever she found dirt.

The flies are bothering me.

I also had fun seeing things this weekend. One is that I see signs that I wasn’t mistaken, we DO have a loggerhead shrike this year. I didn’t see one last year, and I was bummed. Today I saw lots and lots of insects impaled on our fence, though!

Plus! I’m very happy to share that another chicken started laying. Her first egg is pinkish and has little blue spots! On the other hand, Hedley, the one that lays white eggs, has started spending a LOT of time in the nest box. She did lay today, but if she’s gone broody I’m just giving her three eggs and letting her go for it.

The new one is on the bottom. Cute!

I also found two new and interesting insects. First is the extremely cool Beelzebub Bee Killer Mallophora leschenaulti, which is a type of robber fly. This things is huge, loud, and intimidating. I saw two yesterday and two today.

The other new insect is what I’m excited about. It turns out that my entry of the Long-jawed Longhorn Beetle Dendrobias mandibularis is the first one Milam county and the farthest north it’s been seen.

I’m the first!

Also, this is one of the most beautiful insects I’ve ever seen. So colorful!

Look at those antennae! And it’s so shiny!

I’ve been waiting to finally see something new and different to share on iNaturalist and I finally did! I feel so scientific.

Book Report: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

The book I’m talking about today is next month’s topic for the cul-de-sac book club in Austin. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was Joanna Cannon’s first novel, which came out in 2015. Since I wasn’t reading novels five years ago, I’d never heard of it, but dutifully ordered it when it was decided upon by the group.

I even read a paperback. Wow!

I got it on Monday, and finished it last night. It was a nice respite from the more solemn reading I’ve been doing lately, but it doesn’t mean that Cannon didn’t sneak in some messages, some of which are quite current today.

I’d say almost anyone would enjoy reading this, though it helps a LOT to be familiar with the everyday items in England in 1976. I know what Fairy Liquid is, thanks to spending so much time in Ireland, but do you? (It’s dish washing soap.) And candies are very important, at least to the main characters, so it would help to Google those as they come up.

The fun thing about the book is that it’s about a cul-de-sac and the varied characters who inhabit it, which of course reminds me and my neighbors of OUR little Bob Cat Run, with its fascinating cast of characters. We will have to decide who is the “Walter Bishop” of our street (he’s the one everyone has a bad opinion of). Oh wait, I think I already know, ha ha. It’s not me or Anita, either!

Much of the story revolves around two young girls who are best friends, Grace and Tilly. They are the junior detectives in the mystery aspect of the book, who, after one neighbor disappears suddenly, decide to find God in the neighborhood. Eventually Jesus shows up, which is a fun twist (I won’t tell you how that happens). All the neighbors get their chance to shine, too, and you eventually learn all their secrets. That’s the fun of the book.

You’ll love the woman who wears a bikini and tans in her front garden every day, the couple with the very nervous wife, Grace’s parents (and her very odd mother), the guy who lives with his elderly mother well into his forties, the friendly widow, the refreshingly rational gardening guy, the exotic new family, etc.

What really makes the book special, though, is how gently Cannon weaves lessons about honesty and lies, ignorance and enlightenment, and most important to me, about how each and every one of us has secrets we think will be ruinous if revealed, but are probably worse being hidden. It’s a fun read with interesting characters, but it also makes you think about morality and judgment. That’s what elevates The Trouble with Goats and Sheep from a pleasant escape to a book that will live with me for a long time.

By the way, it’s also really funny. I had to read passages aloud to Lee. I think I laughed the hardest when Grace’s father tries to convince the new neighbor he’s a worldly, tolerant guy by repeating racist stereotype after racist stereotype. I was happy to see the two of them actually ending up talking to each other from the heart and becoming friends. That’s what we all need to do when confronted with “the other,” I think.

I have a nice stack of books on my shelf, so I’ll start another one while patiently reading a chapter a day in Caste.

Enter Here for Surprises and Adventures

Hmm, the adventures thing may be exaggerated a bit, but I did get a new gate to go from our part of the property to the rest of the ranch. In addition, Chris smoothed all the dirt that had been disturbed when running the water line, and did a bit of grading, too. The chicken house area looks marvelous.

It’s all smooth now. At the rate the Bermuda grass grows, it will be covered in a week to ten days. Notice the feathers on the ground, which I mentioned in my previous post. It’s your fault, Bruce.

The highlight of the day was seeing this big gate that swings open mightily and allows me to easily head to see the horses. We had the gate already, so it didn’t cost anything. It’s very sturdy on the hinge side, since Chris drilled a big ole bolt through the roof support pillar. The other side is only temporary. The fencing project is not done, but at lease those of us who have to go into that pasture can do it easily (thus, Jim could drive the riding mower over the the horses to mow this morning).

I can now go from here to there without crawling under a fence or climbing over a fence and nearly knocking it over.

The entire family was pretty giddy about getting the new fence, as Lee shows here.

That man cracks me up. And there’s Alfred before I pulled those clumps of hair out.

Surprises and Adventures

I’ve used the new gate to go visit the horses twice already. Last night, I went to join Sara to feed them, and I got quite a surprise. In the field where the 18 cows should be, there were just three cows, each with a little white baby.

Who the heck are they?

These are not the 18s. First, they were afraid of me. Second, their ear tags were in the left ear, not the right. Um, where were my friendly cow buddies? Where was 18-1, bravest calf ever?

As I walked up to the barn, the Vrazels were driving by. They warned me of another surprise, a large cow and her newborn calf were in the pens. I said, hey, um, where are the 18s? Tyler laughed and laughed. “They’re in Oklahoma!”

Oklahoma? Yep, they sold them all and trucked them off when I was at work one day. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Cattle ranching. Not for the sentimental. I am sure they got a HUGE payday out of those young cows, all of whom were due to calve in November. But still. Sniff.

On I went, and sure enough, there was a very large red Angus cow with a very small and shiny black Angus calf. I blurted out, “Hi, Sprinkles,” and Sara asked if I had to name everything. I guess I do. In any case, Sprinkles is cute as can be, and seems to have recovered from being sick and needing to be penned up. Mama, on the other hand, was mostly pissed off.

Sprinkles and I would like to leave, now.

She mooed and snorted and ran around until we left.

This morning, I came back to do some horse fun, around 9 am. It was NOT hot outside! But, dew drenched my shoes, since I wore the wrong ones. Sprinkles and Mama were still there. Between Sara’s dogs and Lakota having the utter gall to stand quietly tied to the gate, she was in a huff.

Lakota just stood there and ignored her. A real quarter horse! We proceeded head off down the race, to see how Apache would do. Sara rode Lakota, who plodded along like a livery stable horse and was generally uninterested in anything. I led Apache (hope to get riding permission soon). Here’s where it became and adventure, the good kind.

We walked all the way down the race, the place where he was refusing to ride earlier, and the place where he has been all nervous and pushy when we walked for the past month or two. Today, Apache walked beside me, not in front of me and not behind me. He stayed about two feet away from me. He did stop to get a mouthful of grass, but started right back up, every time. He did not crowd into me. He did not try to turn around. He did not rush ahead, or refuse to move forward.

He completely ignored all the “scary” parts of the path where there are big ruts. The scary tree got a nod. When all of the 19 heifers came thundering over to check us out and walk along with us, he and Lakota both looked at them, then kept going. The giant bull didn’t phase them. DAMN!

Sara and Lakota, with Fiona-bomb.

We then went on out to the big pasture where it floods (the bottom). We all walked and looked at stuff. Sara’s dogs came along, and no horse paid the least bit of attention. Even Fiona didn’t dawdle and pitch a fit. She followed right behind us cheerfully. Every time we went through a gate, everyone was fine. Even when Jim drove by on the lawn mower, they just stopped and looked for a minute.

WHO WERE THESE ANIMALS AND WHERE DID MY JUMPY HORSE GO?

I have no clue. Sara and I tried to figure out what was different. Well, we had Lakota instead of Spice…but Apache likes Spice. It was morning, not afternoon. He wasn’t starving. That’s all we could come up with. My attitude is the same (I am pretty calm even when he’s jumpy, to try to keep him calm).

We’re just in a good mood. What can we say?

I’m just going to have to accept that we had a wonderful morning, got lots of exercise, and ALL enjoyed ourselves (even Lakota, I think). I look forward to more of this kind of adventure and these kinds of surprises (but I do hope Sprinkles and his Mama go back to the pasture soon; she didn’t enjoy Sara and me pulling up some grass burs right next to the pen, either).

I hope you have some bright spots in your weekend!

Let’s Talk Chicken Feet and Dog Fur

Yes, whenever one of my personal heroes passes away, I reach out to my animal companions for comfort and distraction. I will say that while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg may be gone, her spirit will inspire generations to come. This I know.

But, before that surprise hit me, right at sunset that signaled the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, I had been thinking about how things are sometimes right in front of you, but you don’t really see them.

Happy New Year to my Jewish friends. Pomegranate grown around the corner from my office.

That leads me to chicken feet. I guess I originally thought that all chicken feet were alike, with claws, nails, and a spur sometimes. Then I read that some have more toes than others. Hmm, that made me look at my chickens.

Bertie Lee has pink feet. They are close to the color of light-skinned humans.

All mine have three front toes and one in back, but then I realized they were lots of different colors.

Patty, who by the way, lays large brown eggs, has bright yellow feet.

I figured they’d mostly have gray legs, but that was not at all true. However, the black and gray hens do have gray legs. Too bad I never got any good photos of those hens’ feet.

And Bruce, who would not pose, has gray legs.

The pinkish lets are pretty common. Fancy Pants and Hedley’s are pink.

Yellow legs come in a variety of colors. I found it interesting that the two Welsummers have different shades of yellow in their legs. By the way, I have good news that Buttercup is walking almost normally now, so I think she’s gonna make it and be able to join the flock in a few weeks, along with Butternut! I wonder if her legs are pale because she’s not as robust? Henley, the Ancona who didn’t make it, had a very pale comb her whole life, compared to Hedley.

And finally, I guess red chickens can have red legs, because Clarence’s legs have a lot of red in them. They are also HUGE compared to the other chickens. He’s a big brute.

So, next time you see a chicken, see if it has healthy and bright feet or pale sickly ones. And if you see a guinea fowl, they might have mixed feet like Gertie:

I have fancy feet. I’d also like some more watermelon.

This leads me (awkwardly) to all the debris around the ranch right now. All the chicken mating activity means there are feathers everywhere. It’s not a gentle activity! But, not all that flutters in the wind around the area is chicken feathers.

Why, whatever could you be referring to?

It’s once again Alfred shedding season. Or maybe it always is. But, his coat is all clumpy and puffy, and the dog hair balls rolling through the house are even more numerous than usual (yes, we clean them up; they come back). Yesterday, though, he was in one of his extra loving moods and kept following me around wanting to be petted. And he let me do this!

There’s more where that came from!

He let me get hair from his hips, his neck, his chest, and EVEN his belly. He rolled over and let me pluck! Usually you get about two minutes’ worth of plucking before he goes away, but last night he was great and stuck around until I was tired! He let me hug him and tell him he was a good boy.

There, that nonsense distracted me a little. More later.

A Fitting Tribute for a Fine Cow

You may remember that I wrote about how the Queen of the Wild Type Ranch herd, R45, had started going downhill, so she had to be harvested. She had led a long life for a cow, giving birth to fine calves and leading her herdmates for a decade and a half.

I was a great cow. I enjoyed my long and pleasant life.

I mentioned at the end of the article that her beef was not going to be sold, but rather donated. Yesterday, the Cameron Herald had a front page article about where the beef was going, to the local food pantry, all 400 pounds of it. Half will be handed out now, and the other half at Thanksgiving time.

If I were a cow, I’d be honored to know that I contributed nutritious meals for hungry people. She lived a good life and and had an honorable passing. Her memory will live on, which is quite something, for a cow.

Thanks to Sara and Ralph for coming up with this idea, and for inviting other local ranchers to consider doing the same.

Fancy Watering Hole

Today is one of those meeting-filled and task-filled days that left me with no blogging time but lunch. So, I just have a few minutes to fill you in on a major improvement for out Hermits’ Rest livestock.

I already shared that the chickens’ water now is officially hooked up, and both pens can use the same water trough. Butternut and Buttercup especially like it when the water overflows.

Happy chickens and guinea enjoying water overflow. You can see one of the Butters sticking her head through the fence to drink. Mission accomplished there!

Yesterday, Chris brought up a bunch of very sturdy (and FREE) metal poles to use to anchor gates in our new fencing. Note the splatters. That’s all the rain we got, while Cameron got a quarter inch. Boo.

Big ole sturdy pipes, with rain droplets.

Along with the poles came something to dig the holes for the poles, a big auger.

Big ole auger, AKA post hole digger.

But, what’s made all the animals happy is the other thing he brought: a big water trough and one of those handy cut-off attachments that keeps the water level full at all times. Fiona is jealous (the one where she is leaks). Vlassic spent a lot of time thinking about whether to jump in there or not.

That looks pretty darned deep!

I foresee some happy cattle, and hopefully at some point horses and donkeys enjoying this new improvement. We’re a fancy ranch now!

The Hermit Haus Hosts the Master Naturalists Again

Finally, we are daring to have a meeting at the Hermit Haus again. Our Master Naturalist class wanted to finish its sessions, so we figured out a way. Only the students who have Zoom trouble and 3 staff are in the building. Each audience member is at a separate table.

People wear masks unless eating.

The rest of the class, as well as anyone else who wanted to attend dialed into the Zoom meeting.

That took a lot of planning and figuring out our needs. I am proud of our Master Naturalist board members for hashing it all out.

Our tech guy, Don, spent a lot of time getting us a good setup for the mix of online and in person attendees. He got us some nice speakers and microphones so people can ask questions. We tested it all earlier today and it worked great.

Now I know.

There was a weird glitch with our speaker being unable to join the meeting, but I got it working by signing him into our organization account. Yes!

And the talk is going great! Sound is good. Speaker is Hilary in a Dad joke kinda way. Whew. I’m so pleased to be able to give to our community by hosting events again, while still being careful.

Loamy sand and sandy loam.

And I now know a LOT about soil. And saw some of my friends. Everyone seemed so pleased. And I got to wear my cool new mask.

Look! It has a raven and a feather.

Thanks to Robyn at Coffee and Cotton for the high quality products