Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Yaks are Found!

It must be Christmas! Squeaky's return was a miracle. But more holiday miracles were on the way.

Yesterday afternoon, our friends RY and Sue pulled into our snow-packed driveway to tell us that the yaks had been located. We'd placed an ad in the local paper, and sure enough, someone called. Glad Quantum was smart enough to include RY's number along with our own, since we still can't get cell service out here.

The girls are doing well, and next week RY will help us trailer them back home. A local rancher found them 5 miles away, wandering across the road. He called the local cops a few times - which really disturbs me, because we'd been in contact with the police and they said they hadn't had any word. Then he finally found our ad.

As I understand, they're all well, though they were scrawny and dehydrated. Silly beasts! They had access to a stream and plenty of grass if they'd stayed close, the way all sense suggested they would. The rancher has had them for 2 weeks now, but was nice enough to wait to contact the real owners - a few folks wanted to take them off his hands.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Squeaky Returns!

I got a new computer a few weeks ago, thanks to Quantum's mom, but I'd been too depressed to restart my blogs. Last night at about 9 p.m. my depression got banished for good.

Squeaky is back home.

It's a pre-Christmas/Solstice miracle.

I've spent the last six weeks walking our land, screaming Squeaky's name. Then the day before Thanksgiving we had a major windstorm and the yaks got out of the corral, and they were gone too.

I probably haven't had this much exercise since I was a teenager, walking the train tracks to my friends' houses. (In NY, when you're a kid without a car, you do a lot of walking.) Up and down the hillsides and mountains, pretty much every day, looking for signs of my cat, trying to find the yaks' trails.

A few times I found paw prints that looked suspiciously like a cat's and were maybe the right size.  But no luck. No answer to my calls.

So six weeks went by, and at this point I was severely depressed. Despite the fact that the yaks were missing, I knew they could handle the cold weather, that there was plenty of grass nearby. We've got a few dozen arroyos on the land, so they had places to shelter from the winds (and the winds have been SCARY!) and there's a streambed, so they have access to water.

Squeaky missing scared me though. "He can protect himself," Quantum said. "You know he's a good hunter, and he has all his claws. He'll stay close to the treelines and if a predator comes along, he can climb a tree."

But how could I not worry? We've got coyotes here, and I know how canny they are. On her recent visit, my aunt told me about a time they'd tried to bait her dog into following them. Probably to make lunch out of her.

All the locals warned me that coyotes were the biggest danger. And we've got a bobcat - I found its scat while I was wandering the woods looking for Squeaky and the yaks, and I saw the sucker dashing across the road a couple months ago. And we've probably got weasels and who-knows-what other predators that would compete with him for food and shelter.

Quantum pointed out the many burrows in the cliffs of our arroyos and said that Squeaky would find shelter in one of those. And I knew there was plenty for him to eat. Lots of birds. I'd seen rabbits on numerous occasion. And the treacherous holes dug in the earth pretty much everywhere that our neighbors said were voles.

So I walked and I called and I cried. A lot.

I knew Squeaks was a good hunter. Back before I stole him from my previous roommate he'd been an outdoor cat, menacing the squirrels in the back yard, and actually killing one of them. And there wasn't a single anole lizard near our house that had a full tail.

So last night, the miracle happened.

CK banged on our door, and told Quantum, "Whatever you're doing, drop it now and get out here."

CK doesn't have a bathroom in his trailer. My aunt was kind enough to gift us with a portable potty, but for some weirdo reason he doesn't want to use it. (We have a closet in our trailer that we turned into an indoor bathroom, with a wooden seat that Quantum made and a bucket underneath. Oh yes, after the fire, our friend RY and his wife Sue, gifted us with a pickup-top trailer. It's tiny and cramped, but the heater and the stove work!)

So here's CK out taking a dump in an empty cat litter bucket. He has a hat with a flashlight on the rim. He sees a pair of eyes glow in the light. "Oh crap, it's a coyote," he says to himself. Then he says, "Maybe not. Maybe it's Squeaky!" He calls Squeaky's name and the kitty comes out of the brush. CK pulls up his pants and goes after the cat, bribes him with a can of cat food and gets him within reach.

So now Squeaky is sitting on our bed. He's eaten a heck of a lot of catfood, some dogfood, some chicken.

He looks emaciated. He's lost about 30% of his body weight. But he looks whole, and above all, he's home.

Raz, the cat who adopted us the day after the fire (more about that another time) is fascinated with him and has been following him around all day. Zen is super excited. And Squeaks is purring.

Depression? Gone. Squeaky is home. The yaks will be found and gotten home. I didn't half believe that two days ago. Now I do.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for my baby boy. Your prayers have been answered, your magic has worked. I am so grateful that our little guy is back.

Blessings, and may you find your own holiday miracles!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Please Pray For Squeaky

Halloween night, our trailer went up in flames.

Quantum had just woken me up to watch Next Iron Chef America, so I think it was about 9pm Colorado time. Bare seconds later I smelled smoke and grabbed the puppy to get him out of the way. I reacted out of sheer instinct (puppy will just make things worse by being in the way) and didn't even consider that we were about to lose our home and all our possessions.

Smoke was coming from the bed. Our dearly beloved electric blanket the seeming culprit. While I dragged the puppy over to CK's trailer, Quantum looked for the fire extinguisher, (it wasn't in it's usual place) and then tried pulling the blankets off the bed.

In less than 3 minutes a sheet of fire erupted from the bed and began to envelop the trailer. I screamed for CK to grab the dog and for Quantum to get the hell out.

The door was open throughout all this. We are hoping and praying that Squeaky, my beloved kitty, survived. We've looked through the rubble that is left, and haven't found his body. CK says he thinks he saw him run out of the trailer and head for the woods. I believe I've found tracks that could be Squeaky's. And I've been calling for him in the woods now for 9 days with no answer.

Amazing, the entire field and woods weren't burned down. Though the winds here usually flow in one direction or another, that night they formed a vortex, swirling in a circular pattern and keeping the flames localized.  Perhaps Steve and Dad and Grandma were helping.

It was two or three hours before I realized that I was barefoot. I escaped with a t-shirt, a pair of pants and that was it, not even a bra or socks.

The trailer burned down in mere minutes. Everything we own was lost, 30 plus years of my writing, 3 computers, six months supplies of beans and dried foods and who knows what else. Even if we'd had cell phone reception (we didn't) our cell phone went up in smoke as well.  I'm devastated by the loss of our possessions - photos, books, writings, the stuffed critters I got for my first Christmas, my Dad's and Grandma's ashes - now ashes in the wind, I much else.

But above all, I'm missing my kitty boy. And even if he survived, the woods are vast and there are coyotes. To any and all who are kind enough to pray for his safe return, I am grateful. If it helps you to know what he looks like, he's black and short haired, with a long tail and a slightly larger than proportional chest. He has a small white star on his chest and his armpits and belly have a few white hairs. His eyes are olive green-gold. He's 9 years old and has been my dearest support since adopted him from a former roommate whose ex abused him. I do not have a picture of him to post, even, as those too were lost in the fire, and I hadn't yet uploaded them here.

In the past few days, folks have been kind to us, and RY and his wife Sue were sweet enough to give us a small pickup-top trailer that they had, so hopefully today we will be able to move out of CK's trailer where we have been living  (very crowded) for the past week or more.

I'm posting this from the library and it may be some time before I again have computer and internet to post.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Up in Flames

Greetings All,
We are safe. Our trailer erupted in a sea of flames Sunday night. Our computers are toast, so until I can replace it there will be a delay in my updates. Please pray for the safe return of our cat Squeaky. Thanks for your continuous support. Please check back for more word.

--Posted by Singe for us

Monday, November 1, 2010

A fire, trailer gone, people safe

Last night we had a fire and our trailer is no longer. We are okay, but Squeaky, our cat is missing. Please send your prayers for his safe return. Since our computer is toast, it may be a while before you hear from me. I look forward to my return.  Lemur

Monday, October 25, 2010

Smoked Venison and Molasses Candy - Back to the Little House

Little House in the Big Woods Book and Charm (Charming Classics)So as I said a while back, I'm re-reading the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

One of the first things that occurred to me is that I should build a smokehouse. Quantum and I have been planning to get an elk as soon as hunting season hits, however our biggest challenge is going to be keeping the meat. We barely have a fridge. An acutal freezer is out of the question at the moment. Can't afford to buy one, and don't yet have the wind turbine to run it with anyway.

Little House in the Big Woods gives very exact information on how to build a smoker. That would be an excellent way for us to preserve the majority of the elk. I don't have access to any big hollow logs - most trees on our mountainside don't grow big. But it may be possible to rig the stone oven so that the smoke vents into a smoker. I just need to find the right container to hold the smoke and the venison.

Meanwhile CK has been allegedly building a solar dehydrator for several weeks now. All I see thus far are a bunch of black-painted beer cans. That would be another great way to preserve the meat, if that bugger would get off his butt and finish it.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic StoriesI laughed when I got to the part of the story where they described making candy with molasses and snow. I tried this when I was about 12 and it was a blatant failure. I ended up with a mass of gooey gloppy brown snow. What I didn't realize at the time, but was made clear when I read it today, was that I needed to heat the molasses to the upward point of "soft ball" stage. Looking at the Little House Cookbook suggests that this was exactly the problem.

So much else is making me horribly jealous as I read this book. The description of the hogs, fresh eggs, cheesemaking. It'll be at least 4 to 6 months before I can get a couple milk goats and some chickens. No sense getting them just as we're moving into winter. And oh how I wish we'd gotten onto our land in time to have had a garden.

Ah well, I've got lots of recipes for beans!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Eggless Chicken Cabbage Bread Pudding

There's nothing like not having the ingredients you want to get you creative in the kitchen. Once again being stymied by my small pantry and a nearly nonexistant fridge has led to a genius dinner. This savory autumn dish is almost exclusively made of leftovers and is simple to make. The apples add just a touch of sweetness.

Eggless Chicken Cabbage Bread Pudding

1 lb leftover chicken meat, cooked then chopped or shredded
1/2 large cabbage, about 6 cups, roughly chopped
2 apples, cored and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups buttermilk
1 raisin pumpernickle cinnamon bagle, cubed
1/2 loaf stale Italian, French or other peasant bread (about 1/2 lb), chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If your bread is extremely hard, cut it in larger chunks and soak it in the buttermilk until it becomes easier to chop, approximately an hour.

Heat a large frying pan over low heat and add in the olive oil and cumin. When the seeds just become fragrant, add in the cabbage and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute, stirring lightly until the cabbage is wilted. If it toasts a little that's fine - I love the crisp texture and smoky taste of slightly toasted cabbage. Add in the garlic and saute for a few moments longer, until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and let cook for two more minutes.

Pour the cabbage mix into a large mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients except for the butter and cornstarch. Stir lightly until everything is well distributed. Add in the cornstarch. By this time the other ingredients will have cooled slightly, so the cornstarch won't congeal immediately.

Butter a large baking casserole with the butter, reserving any excess butter.

Pour the cabbage/apple/bread mix into the baking dish. Dot with the excess butter. Bake this for approximately 30-40 minutes until the top is crispy and lightly browned.

Serves 4-6

Friday, October 22, 2010

More Yak Pics Today

Well we finally figured out how to get our camera working. So here are some photos for you to enjoy.

First of all here's our Pit Bull puppy Zen, intrigued by the weird noises that the camera is making.

 Zen was absolutely fascinated with the camera. I'm hoping he won't eat it. The girls were less thrilled about having their photos taken. But we managed to get some anyway. Squeaks on the other hand, hid under the bed.
One of our Yaks in the pasture. I think this might be Yazoo but it's hard to tell from this angle.

This one is definitely Yazoo, you can tell by the heart-shaped star on her face.

Yazoo at the fence and curious.

And our girly-girl Yazoo back in the pasture.

Here's baby Yeti-Starr munching on some hay and getting herself covered with it in the process.

Yonkers isn't thrilled when we come near. Notice the broken fence in the foreground. That's because she wanted to get at the hay.

Yonkers glowering at me from the corral.

Yonkers and Yeti off to the pasture for some grass.

In other news, Quantum has been working on making us a stone oven. The idea is that we'll use it for baking and also run a pipe from the heated area into the trailer, and maybe get some warmth! I've always wanted a brick oven for bread and pizza, so I'm completely thrilled.

My stone oven in progress.
Closer up, looking at the stone oven.

And here's a really cool stump that Quantum found while he was wandering around in our woods. We've got no idea what we'll do with it yet. Probably some kind of sculpture.
A nifty stump.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Picking Up the Poop

Well, Yonkers seems gloriously healthy again. Which also means that Yonkers is back to her ornery self. Now, any time we come near the fence, she charges at us and bats little Yeti and Yazoo out of the way with her horns.

Just when we were getting friendly with Yazoo, too.

It also didn't help when Zen got loose the other day and I ran screaming into the corral to make sure they didn't attack him. Brat!

So they're not too thrilled with me at the moment, and picking up the poop becomes more challenging. Until I get back in their good graces, I'm waiting till they wander out into their pasture and then muck out the corral.

Somebody has to do this job, so it may as well be me. After all, I'm sure standing in pure manure could harm their hooves.

Fortunately the job itself isn't too bad. Unlike human and predator poop, yak poop doesn't smell that bad to me. I guess I associate the smell with my fond memories of my pony and my aunt's horses and cows. On the annoying side, life might be easier if I had one of these:
Ames True Temper 1890100 Classic 4-Tine Spading Fork with D-Grip Wood Handle
instead of one of these:
Ames True Temper 1551800 Classic Square Point Shovel With 30-Inch D-Grip Wood Handle
The annoying thing with the shovel is that I end up picking up large amounts of dirt or hay along with the manure. That won't hurt my compost pile, but it does mean I fill buckets faster. Is there a correct method for mucking up a corral or stall? Advice in making this job easy would be appreciated, since my girls poop a lot!

For those of you who need to know, yak manure is much like cow manure. It comes out either in little round pellets (I'm thinking this might be baby Yeti) or bigger stuck-together piles. I prefer the piles, since they're much easier to get onto the shovel.

My garden will be happy come spring. Quantum's also working out an idea for an incinerator to burn yak and maybe even human, dog and cat manure and heat the house with it. Note that this furnace will be outdoors, with a pipe of non-poop smelling air coming in. Anything that makes this trailer warm will make me a happy camper!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Parsley Pesto

One of the problems with having a tiny refrigerator that needs to be run on ice, is that I can't stock up on fresh veggies when I go into town. Yes, eventually I'll dig a root cellar, and eventually I'll have room for a real fridge and electric to run it. But for the moment we've got other priorities. So for the last couple nights we had a bean and chicken chili soup. It was absolutely delicious, but right now I'm craving something fresh and green. No chance that the dinky store in town has fresh basil, but they might carry parsley, so I think I'll make some of that next time I go into town.

Parsley Pesto

2 packed cups fresh parsley stems and all (about 2 bunches)
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts, walnuts or almonds
3 cloves garlic
Grated rind of one lemon
Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste.
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or to taste)

With a blender:

Whirl the nuts in your blender till they create a fine "sand". Dump the nut-flour into a seperate bowl. Chop the garlic, parsley and lemon rind, in your blender. With the blender running, pour in the oil in a fine stream. Add the parsley mixture to the nut flour and stir in your cheese. Season with salt and pepper, then add lemon juice to taste. Salt will make the the lemon juice taste more lemony, so add the lemon juice last.

Makes about 1 cup.

Spoon onto pasta, or eat on toasted bread. Or stuff the pesto under the skin of a chicken, then roast.

If you have leftovers (I rarely do) you can put it in a jar, cover it with a light film of olive oil and keep it in the fridge for a week.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back to the Little House

Little House on the Prairie Boxed SetEvery decade or so I go back and read the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

At the time my Mom started reading this to us I was probably about the same age as Laura when she lived in the Big Woods. By the time we'd started with Little House on the PrairieLittle House on the Prairie 75th Anniversary Edition, I got tired of being restricted to a chapter a night and started reading the books on my own.

I'm a couple of years shy of 50 now and I've read the entire series at least four times. I used to have my own copies, but they got lost somewhere along in my divorce, so I suppose I'll have to hunt down another set.

Now that I've embarked on my own pioneer adventure, its probably time for me to read the series again. I'll report to you if I have any new revelations.

A few thoughts about the books before I hie off to my library and borrow some copies:

One of the things that surprised me last time was the simpleness of the language. As a seven- or nine-year-old it was relatively easy reading. As an adult reading it years later, it was almost too simple. And yet Mrs. Wilder's very clear writing style gives us a series that has held up for nearly eighty years since it was published. Unlike the works of other "classic" writers, such as Dumas and the Baroness Orczy or Austen or Melville, her clean style makes her writing always "modern" sounding, relevant and easy to connect with for every new crop of children (and adults) who read it. It's possible that her exactness and her vibrant, clear description were learned as she became the "eyes" of her blind sister, Mary. No doubt the editing by her daughter Rose Wilder Lane helped too.

As a kid, I was always fascinated with "how-to," wilderness survival and the crafts of more "primitive" times. The detailed explanations of things like building a smokehouse, making a pig's bladder into a balloon or cooking johnny cake enthralled me. These books became a detailed instruction manual for crafts I might someday undertake.

As an adult focusing on green living and a more rustic lifestyle, the how-tos are going to be eminently useful.

I'm a bit ambivalent about the TV series. Much as I liked him as an actor, I could never see Michael Landon as Pa/Charles Ingalls. Personally, Victor French, the guy who played Mr. Edwards, always seemed more like person who should have played Pa, while Edwards, from the description and illustrations of him I recall from the books, should have been played by a more scrawny jack-rabbit of a guy. Karen Grassle was near perfect as Ma/Caroline Quiner Ingalls. The same for Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls. I think one of the things that bugged me is that even though Melissa Gilbert was actually 16 or so when they started bringing in Laura's romance with Almanzo Wilder - about the same age as the real life Laura when she met him - she looked way younger (I thought she must have been about 13 at the time) and it always struck me as sort of icky. By the way, kudos to Alison Arngrim who played Nellie Olson. Playing an effective villain is challenging!

The entire series was a little too smarmy for me. At times it got so sugar-sweet that I wanted to smack the writers. It's probably not the show that's the problem, its Brady Bunch Syndrome. Any challenge that can be solved in a half-hour to and hour of TV time isn't a problem. And half the time it was something that a few moments of honest communication could have solved. And yet every once in a while it shows up on TV and I can't help watching.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic StoriesI managed to snag a copy of The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. Maybe I'll try some of the recipes and report my findings - and updated recipes no doubt - as well. I'm off to the libary, folks! Enjoy!

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Sunday, October 17, 2010

R.I.P. Steve

Steve, a couple days before our move.

Those of you who've been with this blog from the beginning of our move may remember Steve, our buddy who helped us get our trailers fixed up and with the packing.

Quantum came home from town last night to tell us that Steve is dead.

I first encountered Steve when I was walking our puppy on the way to the store. This huge tattooed refrigerator of a man came out of one of the houses I passed to see Zen. We immediately hit it off and I came home to tell Quantum about this really cool dude I'd met.

From the moment I met him, it felt like he was a brother, a kindred soul. Over the brief year or so that we knew him, Steve became one of our dearest friends. He had a pit named Crab and although Crab pretty much hated every other dog in the world, he loved Zen, so we'd go over his place to let them play together, and the friendship blossomed.

Steve is (I can't bear to say "was") a giant gentle man. His house pretty much was a party, with friends from all over the neighborhood coming to cook on the grill and drink beer and talk about anything and everything. When either of us needed a break, or were depressed or frustrated and wanted someone to talk to, or just wanted to hang out and have fun, we'd go over to Steve's house. Zen loves him. Just the mention of the names "Steve" or "Crab" will set Zen bouncing with excitement. Steve loves to laugh, has a sharp wit and a ready smile. He adores his dog with every fiber of his being. Laid back. A good listener. Honest as all get out. Kind. Loving. And the sort of friend who would help you hide the body.

His wife Mary-Lee is also wonderful. We didn't get to see her as much, since she had a nursing job that kept her busy at all kinds of crazy hours. She makes the best macaroni salad on the planet. Another great listener and a dear sweet lady. They were childhood sweethearts who seperated and then came back together - I only learned that part last night.

Around the time that we were moving, they were planning to move back to New Jersey, the Pine Barrens where he'd grown up. Their move was delayed because Mary-Lee's son got in some trouble and was on probation. Mary-Lee says they did finally get to move. The place they were staying had a lot of area for Crab to roam, and Steve and Crab were having a lot of fun together and seemed very happy at the end.

Two weeks ago Steve and his dad were hanging out late at night having a few drinks on the porch. Steve decided to take his dad's motorcycle for a spin. He hit a pole and the motorcycle burst into flames. I'm told he probably died on impact.

Rest in Peace dearest brother. And feel free to visit if you wish. You remain vibrant and in our hearts forever.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Water Rights and Wrongs: What's a New Farmer to Do?

The 20 or so 2-liter soda and Gatorade bottles and one 5-gallon camping container are nearly empty again. That means I'm going to need to drive all the way to town to our rented apartment and fill them up, lug them back into my truck and drive back home again. 10 miles of driving, and the gas to do that. At least an hour of time.

It seems silly when the stream on our land is flowing beautifully. All I should have to do is head over the bank with a bucket or two and carry it back up.

But of course there are the cooties and the rules.

The "Cooties"

In the process of getting onto our land, we figured we should have our stream water tested. After all, I know there are all kinds of nasty bacteria that hang out in water. Last thing I need is to end up with some icky bug and need to go to the hospital. I can't afford a hospital. I can't afford a day where I can't do the work of making our trailers and farm ready for winter.

Quantum calls up a water testing lab to find out how much it'll be. "For which test?" the lady says, "we have over 200 different tests that we can do." Two hundred? It boggles the brain. "Really, we just want to know if our water is safe to drink," Quantum says. She asks a few questions about our land, mentions the Latin names of a few types of bacteria, then suggests that we should just boil our water and not worry about testing it.

While I appreciate the savings, I'd sorta like to know what kind of cooties are hanging out in our water, if any. I'm daunted by the idea of needing to boil every cup and gallon of water that we're going to drink or otherwise use for the rest of our lives on this land. The idea of doing that is worse than the hard work it'll take to haul it out of the stream. Not to mention the energy cost of heating it.

Then there's the question of whether I need to boil the water for all our critters.  For my kitties and dog, I'd prefer they're drinking water that's as purified as whatever we're drinking ourselves. But for the yaks? After all, these girls suck down a few gallons each every day. Besides, deer and bobcats and who knows what other critters drink from the stream all the time. Cattle grazed here for years. Do I really need to boil water for the yaks?

But for right now, with Yonkers only just in recovery from pneumonia, I guess its best to use the cleanest water I can get.

When I had my Cactus War and moved a majority of cacti away from the puppy's tender feet, I of course had to water the poor buggers. For that I wasn't willing to use water I'd carted all the way from town. So I went down to the stream with a bucket. Well not only did I catch a mess of algae, but I also got some sort of wiggly thing in my bucket. Maybe it was a dragonfly nymph? So now I have to consider not only boiling the water, but filtering it as well. I know protein in your diet is good, but ... maybe not that - after all I'm trying to make water, not SOUP!

A buddy of mine has helpfully sent me the URLs for a couple water filtration/purification systems. Some of them are even solar powered. Unfortunately they also cost money. So not happening just yet.

The Rules

Until you move to Colorado or some other semi-desert state, you've probably never heard of anything called Water Rights. Out here they're absolutely wacky about this stuff. And the laws regarding how it works are such a disaster that most folks hire water rights lawyers just to unravel the whole mess for them.

Now the funny thing, is that the spring from which this creek starts, is directly on our land. So I own my land, but according to the deed and the idiots who make the laws, I don't own the water on my land. Make sense? No, not to me either.

Here's how crazy the government and rules lawyers get about this: Some people have been told they can't even catch rainwater. That's right, RAIN water. Water that falls from the damned sky. Water whose molecules could have originated in the Pacific Ocean or Canada or Bangladesh for all we know.

According to our realtor, we can't put a pump in our stream. (Nothing that I know of stops me from building a small container, hand-carrying water into it, and then pumping that water up the hill to our trailer, but I'm not going to push things by suggesting it to the Powers That Be.)  We can't change the stream in any way. Can't dam it (not that we'd want to) can't deepen it. Can't use it to irrigate our land (at least not if we pump it from the stream).

On the other hand there's no problem with us grazing yaks on the land and letting them drink the water.

Meanwhile, this isn't just my problem, but a problem for land owners all over the state.

From what I'm told, many "old" families have bought land, sold off the land without the water rights, and basically screwed over the new landowners, often selling them back the water on their own land. And this has been going on for years. Sounds a bit sleazy and a lot confusing to me.

Granted I'm a bit biased, but I think this situation is ridiculous. Maybe I'd think differently if I was someone who'd inherited the water rights to everyone else's land. However I'd like to think that wouldn't be my attitude.

To me, things like clean water and clean air are a basic human right. And a basic animal right, for that matter. The idea of selling water, like the idea of selling air horrifies me. But no doubt, unless we make a change, the world is headed that way.

If you care about your water, consider signing the petition. If you have a blog, join Blog Action Day 2010 Water.|Start Petition

The Survival Handbook - Don't Leave Home Without It

How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter and Self-Preservation AnywhereOne of my favorite books as a kid was Bradford Angier's How to Stay Alive in the Woods. I read it more times than I read Black Beauty (and as my parents can attest, I read that one over and over). What can I say, I was a weird kid. How to trap and hunt animals (despite the fact that I cry if I step on an ant), building a shelter, orienteering, what plants are safe to eat...I was hooked. I've always been a how-to junkie. I've always been a freak for anything regarding nature, whether it was plants, critters (especially and always critters!) tracking, any of that.

So far I haven't had to use any of the survival training that I learned. But you never know....

The Survival Handbook: Essential Skills for Outdoor Adventure
So when The Survival Handbook: Essential Skills for Outdoor Adventure by Colin Towell fell off the shelf at me, I had to take it home. Great stuff. It contains the "usual" information on everything from procuring water and food, signaling; to the safest way to move over various terrain, making shelters, first aid, you name it.

What makes this book special and well worth having is that unilke several other wilderness survival books I've read this one is extremely well illustrated. If you don't understand exactly what they're talking about by reading the text, the pictures will make it clear.

Another plus in this book is the excellent handling of "cordage" (rope and stuff) and the detailed explanation of a few simple but highly effective knots. I'm rope challenged. Just the other day I needed to tie the yaks' corral closed and I made a definite bungle of it. The darn thing took forever to untie again.

"If you give someone with little understanding of knots a length of cord and ask them to complete a task, they will invariably use the whole length of cord. If, however you teach someone two simple knots and set them the same task, they will invariably ue only the necessary amount of cord."

Yep, that would be me. Point made. I'm going to study these knots till I get them right! It doesn't require a survival situation for this information to be useful.

So far only two flaws:

1) This book presumes that you have a knife with you. Being female, and having for some reason worn skirts for the past decade (after a childhood of rebelling from skirts I went back to them because they're COMFY) I almost never have a pocket to carry anything in. Until I moved to Colorado, the only pair of pants I owned was my karate gi. Now I've added a pair of sweatpants to my wardrobe. If I ever get a chance to find a real store (there are few stores in Hicksville here) I should buy a couple pair of jeans. So having a knife at hand is something I've done without for a long time. Which is doubly strange considering as a kid I never went anywhere without a pocketknife.

Okay, if you knowingly go into a potential survival situation, you're an idiot if you don't have a knife with you. Except lots of people end up in situations like this without even dreaming that they will. For instance if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.

Moral of the story. Carry a damn knife. Even if you never use it. Stick it in your glovebox or purse or whatever. I'll agree with the author that besides your mind, a knife seems to be one of the important survival tools you can own.

2) On the chapter on wild plant foods, no pictures. Of all the places where pictures are important, being able to identify plants and tell one that is edible and will provide nutrition from one that could kill you if you eat it... Why the heck no plant pictures?

Never mind the flaws though, the cover states that "this book could save your life."  I have zero doubt that its true. Important though - either carry this book with you or read it several times and APPLY the knowledge and practice it before you go into a survival situation. I suggest both.

As the author states, you DO NOT want to try to build a fire without matches for the first time when you're cold, scared and in danger.

The Survival Handbook is not only fascinating, if like me you're intrigued by this sort of knowledge; it's a comprehensive guide covering survival in numerous terrains and climates and might - such as the chapter on cordage - even have practical applications in your day to day life. Read it. memorize it. Take it camping. Take it backpacking. Stick a copy in the backseat of your car. You'll never know when it might save your life.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Family and Fences - On Our Land Days 32-33

Tuesday started out grey, cold and miserable, but I was in a fantastic mood. My Aunt D and Uncle J were coming for a visit! I hadn't seen them in person in ages - years! One of the things I've been looking forward to with our move was them being in driving distance.

Aunt D is one of my two favorite aunts (well, I only have two - both are strong, intelligent, funny women and an absolute blast to hang out with). When I was a kid, Aunt D used to take me to the zoo and the museum, and gets a lot of credit for my fascination with animals, anthropology, dinosaurs and much else.  And as I've probably said before, she is responsible for introducing me to my first yak, and the ongoing fascination I have with them.  J, her husband is a really cool guy whose hobbies include mountain climbing (always wanted to try) and geology.

They came overloaded with gifts: Hummus, spinach artichoke dip, REAL bread, blackberries (oh yum! blackberries!) an electric blanket, a chainsaw on permanent loan, a portable-potty (CK who's been using a bucket - yes really! - adored that) amongst other things.  And of course the best gift of all, their time and company.

As said, the weather was miserable though the rain had stopped, so by the time I got to their motel, picked them up and drove them over here, we didn't have time or ability to do much more than walk around, introduce them to the yaks, and give them a basic tour of the area we we've planted ourselves in.  They'd wanted us to go to dinner with them, but we're in terror of trying to drive home after dark with the road the way it is. We did get some time for the usual family stuff. Its funny how family members can have completely different version and understandings of their relationships and the events in their lives. For example, my mom has always perceived my grandmother (mom's mom-in-law) as disliking her while Aunt D's version is that grandma just wanted mom to be strong. Makes me rethink myself and how others perceive me.

Last night we basked in the warmth of the electric blanket, and oh, it was so hard to pry myself from under the covers in the morning! We didn't dare leave it plugged in for fear Zen would decide to bite a wire, but we were able to get the bed nice and toasty before bed, and the extra blanket added warmth even not plugged in.

I picked them up at the motel again and we made a stop at the apartment for water, filling close to 20 gallon bottles. How many of you have family that'll help you haul water?

Back at the land, Uncle J helped Quantum put the wires up for the grazing area we'd been making for the yaks. We'd already had the posts put up, but Quantum and I had been having a hard time figuring out how to string the wire. We'd tried looking up the info on the internet, but unless you had the right tool...  But Uncle J had an idea for attacking it. Aunt D and I took a short walk and by the time we got back they had the first two rows of wire strung nice and tight. Amazing.

The fence was strung up in no time, and we let the yaks out into their new pasture. It took them a few minutes to realize that they had access to grass again. According to the folks we'd bought them from, the girls were supposed to remain in a small corral for a month to acclimate, but they'd already eaten or pounded down nearly every shred of grass in there. Much as they like their hay, it was obvious that they prefer the grass.

Yeti and Yazoo decided to put on a show for us, racing and gamboling through the field. To my great relief they didn't even test the strength of the fence, respecting its boundaries. Even Yeti is probably strong enough to break through (or at least hurt herself trying) at a dead run. They romped around, bucking and dancing, tails flying high.

After that, we went for another walk. Uncle J wanted to help us gather stones for the oven/heating unit, and CK, on best behavior with company, even helped. Aunt D and I wandered around to some areas of the land I hadn't had a chance to investigate yet. Gorgeous loose slabs of stone everywhere. A "grotto" carved out by running water, a cliff overlooking one of the ravines I'd investigated only from below. I'm still astonished at the beauty and diverseness of this land. Every time you turn a corner or pass through a grove of trees you find something new and breathtaking.

Aunt D reminded me of how powerful a woman my grandmother was - brave enough to survive WW2 and then risk taking her two young children across the ocean to a new land. I can only hope to live up to a memory of courage like that. And with her blood flowing through my veins, I know that I can make this land, this farm, this crazy dream work for me. I have to. How could I insult her example.

It was a little sad dropping them off at their motel again. In the morning they'll be headed back home, exploring a mountain pass they haven't visited yet. But they're living only 4 hours drive away, now, and I can't wait to see them again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stabbing Yonkers - On Our Land Day 31

For the past week we've been trying to get Yonkers her antibiotic shot. One would think this would be an easy prospect. Just corner her and stab the needle in.

Except that Yonkers is by no means a friendly yak. Whether because she's naturally ornery or because she wasn't socialized as a baby, or probably both, she doesn't like people very much.  And looking at the huge black bruise on CK's belly didn't inspire any confidence in us.

Although she has gotten to the point where I can wander around in the corral shoveling up yak poop, she doesn't let me get much closer than three feet away. And I'm the person she seems most comfy with. The idea of going into the corral and nailing her with the needle, wasn't a good one.

So Quantum worked on finishing the chute. After a couple days of bracing it together, and creating drop gates that we could let her into and out of the chute with, we hooked it up to a cable, attatched the other end to the bumper of the pickup and dragged it in. We braced it up against the fence and put a bucket of Senior Feed in.

Yazoo, being the little piggie she is, immediately went for the feed, walking right into the chute and chowing down. "This is a good sign," we said. "No doubt Yonkers will get used to it and go in too." Little Yeti was more cautious, trying to poke her head though the bars.

We waited. And then the wind came up.

We've got some funny winds that pass through here. Things will be calm and then we get a sudden gust that sends things flying. If the land were flatter and not protected by mountains, this is no doubt the sort of wind that creates a tornado. Already the wind has sent things flying, tossed around a table, broken crockery.

So as I sat in the trailer, expectantly watching for Yonkers to go into the chute, one of these swift gusts came along and blew the chute down. We were lucky - the yaks were at the far side of the corral and no one got hurt. We ran out, and managed to push it back into shape, but it wasn't looking great.

An hour later another gust came up and tore the damn thing into three pieces. So much for the chute idea.

At the same time, Quantum had been working on a "bang stick" inspired by the bang sticks they use on sharks. He carved a piece of PVC so that it would hold the needle. The idea was that if we could get Yonkers close enough to the edge of the corral, he could stab her with it from about 4 feet away, and drive a second piece of PVC to depress the needle. Getting her close enough being the operative challenge. Every time we got close, either the babies would come over and investigate or she'd get nervous and move to the interior of the corral.

The good news is that Yonkers was actually looking much better. Her nose cleared up quite a bit, and her breathing, though not wonderful, was far less labored than it had been. Still we were determined that she'd get the needle.

Finally, today, Quantum went to get more hay and returned with our new friend RY, the guy who originally helped us trailer the yaks up here. If I haven't mentioned it, RY is a huge burly guy. Somewhere over six foot tall and built like a linebacker. He's in his sixties or perhaps older, but is one of those big farmer types who just seems to get more powerful with age. RY came in, lassoed Yonkers (managing by inadvertent good luck to catch one of her forelegs too) and we dragged her over to the fence. Then, brave guy that he is, he got in the corral with her, pushed her up against the fence and jabbed the needle in. She bucked like mad. Even with a leg tied and weak from illness, she's a powerful critter. She managed to get away, and it took three tries to get the needle in (which she managed to bend a little) and shoot the meds home.

Whew! We were pretty much useless for the rest of the day. We'd been so stressed about getting her the meds that the relief was exhausting.

Obviously we're going to need to invest in a lariat. And build a stronger chute. But for now, Yonkers has been stabbed and we can hopefully look forward to her recovery.

Soon after RY and his wife left, the moon came up, a thin lovely new crescent. And the weather got chill, but Yonkers was eating and looking really hungry for the first time in a week.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Bowl Runneth Over: On Our Land Days 28-30

Sewage is one of those things we don't usually need to consider with all our modern conveniences. You finish your business, you flush the bowl, the toilet does its happy swirly thing. If something goes wrong with that process you call a plumber. Unless you're unfortunate enough to be a plumber yourself.

For the past week or more, I've been wishing I was a plumber.  Or whatever the RV tech form of that is. First the little handle on the toilet broke off. There are two handles on an RV toilet, by the way. One is to run rinse water. Which would be lovely to use if the water tank on this thing was full. The second handle is to flush the bowl. That's the one that broke in half. Lucky for us, there's a little prong (previously covered by the now broken handle).  At about the same time (and the two problems most likely aren't related) the damn thing stopped flushing at all.

Since we had a thousand other things to do, the toilet wasn't given immediate priority. In no time it became a piled up cesspool of biohazard. Just peeing is a challenge in dexterity, since you need to balance on the edge of the bowl and manage your stream so that nothing splashes back. Gods the idea of something splashing back! Eww!

Now I'm not unused to outdoor plumbing. I've lived in two places where we had to use outhouses. They were foul as hell in summer, and no amount of pouring lime down the holes could drown the stink. Because of the smell, we left the door open and the chickens would walk by, or even wander into the outhouse with us, clucking at we silly hapless humans. In winter they were frozen and less stenchy, but the idea of wandering out to the cold, especially after dark, was enough to strike fear even into Nanook of the North's heart. The wooden outhouse seat itself, reposed behind the woodstove when not in use. In theory it would be a nice warm seat. However the idea of traversing the snow, passing the pines where who knows what viscious predators lurked, pulling down your pants and baring your bottom to the whistling chill of the still wasn't pretty. Just before sundown we'd all make a race toward the outhouse and hope that would do us for the night.

Today I'm thinking of that outhouse with fondness. At least when someone had to go, the stench didn't roil through the min house. At least the level of poop and urine wasn't mere inches from my bare and quivering butt.

Yesterday Quantum emptied the "black water" tank. That hasn't done much for the level of nastiness in the bowl itself. Perhaps it's a problem with the amount of toilet paper that has filled the bowl. This despite the fact that I've done my diligence to put any toilet paper from mere urination into a seperate garbage bag rather than attempting to flush it. Or it may be a problem with whatever trap-door mechanism shunts the waste from the bowl to the holding tank.

My bowl nearly runneth over. My trailer is filled with the not-so subtle scent of moldering urine and poop. Isn't pioneering fun!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

CK Gored and Yak Dancing - On Our Land Days 19-27 Part2

That night we strung a heat lamp over the corral (running it with the pickup engine and the inverter) and stayed up all night. Our big fear was that with Yonkers so sick, she wouldn't be able to defend the herd if predators were around. In fact predators might even be attracted by a sick animal. And despite the fact that yaks are naturally furry critters, innate to cold mountain climes, we wanted her to have warmth if she desired it.

She looked like hell, and we were terrified she wouldn't make it through the night. A few times she lay down, and that scared us until we noticed the two younger girls were doing so as well. I do realize that cattle often lay down to chew their cud, but I'd also read a lot about "downed cows."

Quantum loaded the guns and watched them till about 2am. Around 4 I woke up and sat watch till morning.

In the morning, Yonkers looked pretty bad, but at least she was still alive. Quantum got up in time to drive out and call the vet by 8am, and then to get more hay and Senior Feed for Yonkers. By almost noon he hadn't returned and I was starting to get worried. Had the truck broken down?

No, it turned out that he'd gone to the hardware store for more wood. When he'd called the vet (a cattle vet from Trinidad, not Zen's local vet) the guy had asked him if we had a chute or squeeze box to put Yonkers in. Otherwise he wouldn't be unable to treat her. "I'll make something by the time you get here," Quantum said.

We immediately set to building something, racing the clock.

By 3:30 it was partially assembled, and time for me to run out to call the vet, and arrange where we'd meet him. "Hurry up back, I need the truck to run the power tools," Quantum said, thinking that the vet wouldn't be there yet, and that we were only arranging a place and time.

But no, Dr. Kirk was already on our main road when I called him. He and I looked over the yaks while Quantum and CK struggled to finish the chute. We got it pieced together, the doc helping. Then for the fun, trying to get the thing into the corral and get her into it.  CK, Quantum and I carried/dragged it in. With it unfinished and no gate yet on the back, we weren't sure how to get her in, and our best idea was to try to catch her up against the side of the corral so she'd have nowhere else to go.

What we didn't count on was the fact that sick as she was, she wasn't going to take that sort of nonsense. As we approached with the chute, she put on a burst of power and ran at CK. I'd seen her move quick when we put them in the trailer, but even that was nothing. In seconds she charged at him, stomping his foot and goring into him with her horns. Fortunately her horns are curved back and didn't pierce. It was terrifying. CK got a big bruise slightly above his groin and hopefully a bit of respect for her. He's lucky he's got so much flab that she didn't bang any internal organs.

We all stood back and considered what to do. Finally the doc decided to give us a needle with the antibiotic and told us to finish the chute/pen and then lure her in with some of the Senior Feed (which all three seemed to like).

Doc Kirk is about our age, I'd guess (late 40's) and has a great smile and kind eyes. We'd been dreading the charge, since we're on the verge of broke at the moment, and figuring somewhere between $250 and $500, but he was actually pretty lenient on us. And wow, he was even willing to help hold the posts on the chute while we screwed it together. Truly a nice guy and we're happy to have him for our farm critters. I won't give up the vet in town because I like him as well, but since he doesn't do farm animals, I'll keep them both.

The doc left, and as it was once again getting dark and rainy (we've had rain pretty much every afternoon for the past several days) we decided to let them sniff on the chute overnight and get used to it, and we'd finish it in the morning. It was fairly clear that no way was she getting the shot that night.

Tuesday we worked on the chute. Meanwhile some pretty nifty things happened. First, Yonkers actually looked a little better in the morning. We were determined that she'd still get the shot, but we were also grateful that her nose had dried up a little and that she'd managed to clean it in the water trough.

Zen managed to slip past me on the leash. Of course he headed straight for the corral. I raced after him, catching him just before he got there. To our amazement, the yaks weren't aggressive, just very curious. Zen sniffed at them, they sniffed at him, standing only a few feet apart. It occurred to us that the folks we'd bought the yaks from also raised dogs. They hadn't mentioned socializing the yaks with their dogs, but I'm now fairly sure that the girls were used to seeing and smelling dogs on some level. Yeti was the most curious, and the first one to come toward Zen.

Later while I was getting them some more of the Senior Feed, and uncovering their hay (we'd put a tarp over most of it when it rained the night before) Yazoo came really close to me. I offered her a handful of hay, and she sniffed and backed away. I tried it a second time, and she reached out her huge tongue and started licking my fingers. Its a funny feeling. Almost like a cat's tongue, but not as rough.

Even later, we noticed the little girls play. Yeti started it, kicking up her heels and bouncing.  She nuzzled over to Yazoo, and got her into the game. The two of them started bouncing and running in a circle around the corral. Yak dancing. It was astounding to watch. Like having National Geographic in our own backyard. Their swiftness and power was an eye-opener, letting us know just how lucky CK had been. These critters can MOVE! Yazoo's heels came nearly as high as the top bar on the corral - about 6 ft off the ground.

Quantum says it's becoming clear that the yaks feel the most comfortable with me. He chalks it up to estrogen. Though he warns me that I do need to be a bit more cautious around them. Since I'll be the one training them to pack and eventually milking them, this is probably a good thing.

They like Quantum, though probably not as much just yet. But its obvious that they feel pretty comfortable around him as well.

CK they don't seem to like at all. Yazoo, so curious and calm with me, actually charged him when he was standing outside the corral. I'm now used to Yonkers stamping and charging a little bit, but I'd never seen that behavior from Yazoo at all. Part of it is that Yazoo seems to realize that with mom feeling low she needs to be the protective one. Anytime CK gets near the corral, all three of them back up to the farthest side from him.

Quantum says that CK doesn't have any respect for anyone, including himself, and the yaks sense it. I wonder if it's that, or the fact that CK, being huge (around 375 lbs.) looks like more of a threat? (I'm only 5'5", and though not as thin as I'd like to be, I'm not a large person. Quantum is a stick.) Also I tend to talk soft and deep - unless I'm ticked off at someone. Quantum modulates his voice around the yaks as well, and works to not come off as threatening. CK's vocal tone is what I'd call grating and whiny. But then as you've probably guessed, CK and I don't get along well.

Meanwhile, the night before I'd noticed that Zen was favoring one foot. Also he was starting to get itchy hives (possibly stress)and chew at them. At first I thought he'd been chewing the pads on his feet, but then I noticed it was more than that, and that he has a small infection on his paw. By flashlight I soaked it and put on Triple Antibiotic, and covered his foot with a sock. Going to have to keep an eye on that. Just what I need. But I think I can deal with this without a vet visit. I hope.

Monday night I made fried chicken. Quantum says it was the best he's ever had. Considering I was working in the dark over a stovetop outdoors, I'm pretty happy with that. Tuesday I made Thai Stuffed Peppers and they were pretty amazing too. I'd wanted to use coconut milk but discovered we were out. I'm guestimating the amounts, since I didn't measure, but here's the basic recipe.

Thai Stuffed Peppers with Chicken:

2 Chicken breasts, brined (see below)
Rice, 1 1/2 cups?
4 Green bell peppers
Rice, 1 1/2 cups
Sesame oil, 1 tablespoon
Hoisin Sauce, about 3 tablespoons, divided
Ginger root, about 1" piece, minced
Garlic, about 3 cloves, minced
1/2 Serrano pepper, minced
Olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons

1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
Garlic powder, 1 tablespoon
Cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon
Hot Sauce. a dash or three
1/2 gallon water

Mix all brine ingredients. Put in the chicken breasts and let sit in the fridge for approximately 2 hours. (The longer you let it sit, the more salty it will be.) Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse. Discard the brine, don't reuse, as this can spread unwelcome bacteria.

Boil the rice with water (or you could use chicken stock) about 1 knuckle (yes, measure it with your fingers) over the level of the rice, and the sesame oil, till al dente (slightly chewy).

Saute the chicken in olive oil until nicely browned on both sides. Remove from heat and chop into about 1/4" cubes.

Cut the caps off the peppers, and clean out the seeds. Reserve the "cups" of the peppers for stuffing. Chop up the caps. Saute the veggies (except the pepper cups) in the pan from the chicken using the leftover oil and chicken juices, until the pepper chunks are wilted but still firm.

Mix the rice, chicken and veggies in a bowl, and add 2 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce. Stuff the pepper cups with this mixture.

In the same frying pan you used for everything else, place the stuffed pepper cups. Add water about 1" lower than the top of the pepper cups. Add the remaining tablespoon of hoisin sauce to the water. Cover tightly with tinfoil and simmer over medium heat for approximately 45 minutes.

Remove the peppers from the pan. The cups should now look a bit wilted and be fork soft. You can now boil the water that you steamed the peppers in until reduced thick enough to make a sauce. (I didn't have time for that as it was getting late.) Add several tablespoons cold water mixed with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch for faster thickening.

Yak Pneumonia - On Our Land Days 19-27 Part1

It's been a crazy week. With the Blazer out of commission, we focused on building the corral. Not nearly as easy a task as we'd thought. The post holes had to be made bigger and then deeper, not an easy chore even with the auger. Since I was afraid to drive the pickup (it's huge) CK did most of the driving into town. Plus CK looks for any excuse to go drive somewhere, get out of work and blather with everyone and anyone. So it wasn't until Friday that Quantum took a run into town.

There he got the news that T&R had been trying to find us, and that Yonkers was looking very sick. She'd come down with pneumonia. This is something that tends to happen with cattle when they're shipped, and has an incubation period of about 2 weeks to a month. T got pretty upset and since he hadn't been able to contact us, was considering giving our yaks away to anyone who would take them. I'm not sure when she came down sick or when he first tried contacting us, but between our focus on the corral, our lack of phone and our inability to get into town, we'd been out of contact with him for about a week and a half.

So naturally we freaked out. Quantum arranged for T's friend who had a horse trailer to help bring the yaks to our land. Quantum and I spent all of Saturday putting the corral together as fast as we could. (CK once again copped out and went into town saying he desperately needed a shower. Weenie.) Fortunately we'd already got the posts in, and would have been done soon anyway. Just as CK was returning, we realized we'd made a mistake and not sent CK for more hay and whatever else the yaks might need. And the feedstore closes at 12 on Saturdays and isn't open at all on Sunday.

Sunday morning we still hadn't gotten the gate finished, but it was moving day for the yaks, and we didn't have a choice. Quantum gave CK instructions on finishing the gate and we took off. Yonkers looked terrible. Her nose was dripping with snot and she was having trouble breathing. She looked like hell and it was scaring the heck out of me.

Getting the yaks into the trailer was no small feat. RY, (T's friend with the trailer) is a huge gap-toothed dude, with a funny sarcastic manner. And brave. He got in the pen and tried herding them in with a broomstick. T got in as well, holding a log in front of him. Now the best way to get them in would have been to put some food in the trailers and wait till they went for it. But RY didn't have time for that (he seems to be on the local fire-response team as well).

Naturally, Yonkers wasn't thrilled with this idea and gave a couple charges at them. Its amazing how fast that old lady can move, even sick. Eventually we got them in the trailer and made the slow journey to our place. RY had already warned Quantum that if he couldn't make it up the road, we'd have to let them out of the trailer and walk them up. He wasn't going to wreck out his truck (can't blame him for that). I was dreading this possibility, especially after seeing how hard they'd been to control getting them in the trailer. I had a clothesline that I'd knotted (we didn't have any stronger rope) and my best thought was to get the rope around Yeti and sit in the back of the pickup leading her, and that the other two would probably follow.

We were lucky. The night before it had rained, and somehow that smoothed out some of the ruts. No problem getting RY's truck up the drive.

We got them in the pen, RY left and I spent the rest of the day researching what kind of illness Yonkers might have. And also what I could feed her. We had enough hay, but I wanted to try getting something like a warm gruel into her. I made up a concoction of turnips, onions, oatmeal, barley, carrots, apples and molasses. She wasn't impressed. A horse would have been thrilled. But these guys don't seem to have been exposed to more than hay and range cakes, and they don't seem to know what other stuff is.

We sent CK back out to town to call the vet's emergency number. He returned with the info that it sounded like pneumonia. (Much as I'd expected - the official name is Bovine Respiratory Disease.) We'd have to go out early to call the vet again, but his assistant said he could probably make it out to us the next afternoon.

Friday, October 1, 2010

In Search of the Zen-Proof Dog Toy

I don't think it exists. Zen isn't a huge dog, but he's a tenacious little bugger. A 56 lb pit bull, he's capable of reducing any toy to shreds in moments.

We've started timing toys on their lifespan:

Average Stuffy Toy: 5.7 minutes

Yes, I know it isn't good to let dogs play with stuffies. The problem is that they're cheap and plentiful. And the dog loves them! I have a few that are my personal stuffies from my childhood, and I have to keep them hidden away in a box. Every once in a while our roommate brings one home and the destruction is near instant. Within moments their stuffing will be scattered across the room, and I have to go collect that as well as any squeaker parts so that my little monster won't choke on them. The good news is that stuffing removed, their small bits and scraps of exterior fur might keep Zen amused for a few extra days.

Knotted Rope Toys: 1.5 days

The nice thing about these babies is that there aren't really any parts that our puppy can swallow and get himself in trouble with. Still he manages to reduce these things into shreds of fiber within a day or less. I'm thinking that I might use the shreds for papermaking. Something has to vindicate the cost.

Tennis Ball: 25 minutes

One might think a tennis ball is a great toy for a dog. And it might be if Zen liked to play fetch. His idea of "fetch" is run after the thing and then play "keep-away" from the humans. Or he'll grab the toy and poke you with it until you wrestle it away from him. The moment you turn your back, the toy is scrap. Once he decides that he wants to bite it however, a tennis ball lasts less than a half-hour. He corners it against a counter or grabs it with his amazingly nimble forepaws and within minutes he's chewed a gaping hole in the thing. Bounce no more, happy tennis ball.

Blankets: 3 days.

Now blankets aren't supposed to be dog toys. Tell that to destructo puppy. He's already gone through several quilts. Ripped  the stuffing out and tossed it in the air and left us shivering in the night. Thank gods my ex stole the one heirloom popcorn quilt that I used to own or the thing would have been mincemeat. The only reason blankets and quilts last as long as they do is that he has some modicum of understanding that these things belong to us, not him.

Sticks and Knobs of Wood: 24 hour or less, depending on thickness.

In the process of building the new door to the trailer, Zen located a round of wood that had been drilled out for the door handle. That managed to last all of about 24 hours before he broke it into splinters.

Kong-like Toys: 3 days

You know those heavy duty rubber toys that have a space to put peanut butter or pet treats into? Three days max with the Zenster. Even without the lure of a treat inside, he's taken these things as a personal challenge. In no time he reduces them to shards of rubber. Treat part, gone.

Shoes: 10 minutes once left unattended

Zen is 1 1/2 years old. In his carreer he has destroyed approximately 5 pairs of shoes (including a pair of workboots). It's my own fault for not putting them out of reach. The moment you forget, take off your shoes and wiggle your toes, bingo, that's a pair of shoes you can't wear ever again. Unless ventilated sneakers is your style.

Crazy Critters: Not even risking it.

At $5 a pop (plus s&h) ($10 each in stores) these things are supposed to be durable enough for the most toy-destructive dog. I took a look at one while I was in Pet Smart. It's just a normal stuffed-toy-like skin, with a squeaker, but without dangerous stuffing. I give Zen less than 10 minutes to burrow into it and remove the squeaker. Like most stuffed toys, the skin might last an extra couple days of him dragging the scraps around before he gets bored with it. At this price I'm better off getting stuffed toys at the dollar store and disembowling them myself. They advertise the fur as being "extra strong" and "reinforced". I'm not buying it. Looked no different to me than any "normal" stuffie.

Now I love having toys for my evil pup. He gets great pleasure in tossing them around and turning them into garbage. If you've got a dog-toy idea that might stand up, and provide destructive pleasure that might last a week or more, I'd love to hear about it. As it stands, on cost/time spent destroying, nothing has yet surpassed the leavings from a 2x4 chunk of wood. Meanwhile he's eating me out of toy and home.

I Hate (Adore) Jamie Oliver

Okay there is nothing so evil as watching Jamie's Kitchen. His garden glows with abundant life. Tomatoes in ripe ruby colored bunches, hanging low on the vine. Rosemary like a spikey tiara. Bay leaves fresh off the tree, vibrant green with an edge of gold. Garlic and chives, archways of who-knows-what vegetable or herb.

Damn I just hate the man.

Then there's that wonderful old fashioned kitchen with the herbs hanging and the nifty old cabinets. And the luscious outdoor brick oven and fire pit. It's just not fair!

I, on the other hand, am coming to my land at the beginning of winter. I'll probably have to build a stone oven for my bread - for the heat if nothing else. As for glowing heirloom tomatoes, I've got hundreds of seeds, but the plants will have to wait for spring.

Of all the TV chefs, Jamie's Kitchen is probably nearest and dearest to my kitchen and cooking style. "Dead simple" cooking with super-fresh just picked ingredients. It'll probably take me years to grow a garden like that.

I hate Jamie. He makes me lust for his garden. And for my future garden. Evil man.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Herbal "Mange" Itchy Skin Treatment for Dogs

For the past six months or so, our puppy Zen has been dealing with a nasty skin condition. Twice we had skin scrapings done and twice they were negative for mange. I have since learned that often tests will miss the mites and fail to diagnose them correctly.

Trips to the vet for his viciously itchy skin resulted in him being shot with steroids and then with antibiotics, but if anything, these treatments only worsened his itching. Three days after the antibiotics his skin condition actually got WORSE and we spent a scary night staying up with him because we didn't like the sound of his breathing.

He was miserable, itchy and tearing huge patches out of his skin. We tried making him wear a bucket, which he managed to slip out of a few hundred times, and eventually eat.

The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet CareI didn't want to bring him back to the vet, since I knew she'd just pump him full of more antibiotics or steroids. My research showed that these "cures" can increase the flora that leads to itchy skin. I'm also not happy about the idea of pumping my dog up with modern medicines to begin with, so I researched an herbal cure with the help of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care.

I ended up with two different preparations based on my research, and combining several of the recipes in that book:

Dog Skin Salve

3 parts calendula flowers
1 part plaintain leaf
1 part arnica flowers
1 part lavender
1 part yarrow
1 part comfrey leaf
1 part burdock root
Olive oil to cover
2 droppers full neem oil
beeswax granules, approximately 1 oz for a 4 oz jar
3 capsules vitamin E
A sterilized jar

I initially used 1 oz measurements for each "part."

For "instant gratification" (I didn't have time to let the herbs sit in the oil for a couple weeks) put the herbs into a non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel or pyrex) add olive oil to cover and heat on the lowest possible setting for approximately 14 hours. Don't let the oil boil. Strain, saving the herbs for your next batch (or better yet for the slow method).

The slow method: Rather than heating your oil, just place the herbs in a jar, cover with oil and let sit somewhere out of the light. Give the jar a vigorous shake once or twice a day. The herbs should infuse into the oil and be ready to use within about 2 weeks to a month.

Each time I make a new salve, I add a couple handfuls of the herbs to the old oil, cover with new oil and continue the process.

To turn your oil into a salve, most recipes will tell you to use an old pot because the beeswax will allegedly stick to the pot and be impossible to remove. Since I was in the process of moving and didn't have access to an old pot, I used the same stainless steel pot I use for cooking, and didn't have any trouble cleaning it out, with a small application of boiling water. Anyway:

Pour the herb oil into the salve jar you'll be using, leaving about 1/4 of the jar empty. (Basically this is just a measure of how much oil will fit in your jar.) So probably about 3 oz for a 4 oz jar. Pour this oil back into the saucepan and warm over low heat. (Pour the excess oil back in with the herbs.) Add in the beeswax and allow it to melt.

Test your salve for the correct texture by putting a tiny drop on your wrist. Blow on it to allow it to cool. When you rub it into your skin it should smear and melt easily from your body heat. If it's too hard add more oil, if too soft add a bit more beeswax.

Pour the oil/beeswax mix into your jar, stir in the neem oil and the vitamin E (the vitamin E is used to keeps the mix from going bad and of course adds its benefit towards skin and hair health).

Smooth this salve into your dog's wounds and itchy spots about 3x a day.

Dog Skin Oil

1/4 cup olive oil
2 droppers tea tree oil
2 droppers neem oil
1 dropper lavender oil
1 dropper rosemary oil
1 dropper grapefruit seed oil

Mix this and massage into the dog's skin at least once or twice per day.

Within a day or two we noticed that Zen's itchiness had gone way down, and in less than a week, the giant holes he'd bitten in his rump had started healing to small scabs. In a month's time, a huge majority of his skin had fully grown back hair including places we'd thought he scared for life.

Unfortunately, during our move, the salve and ingredients got misplaced so, I've just recently found them and am going back to the treatment. There are still a few small places on his neck that are scarred and hair has not yet grown back on. And he once again has itchy legs. Now that he's back on these treatments I'll report more about how it goes in the near future.

Be aware that we cannot yet state that this was actually mange. However we took him to our new vet in Colorado and he suspects it is/was mange. Zen has an ear infection that may or may not be related to this problem. I'm going to focus on that right now, and afterward we'll do another skin test, while continuing with the salve and skin oil.

Also, regarding the ears - do NOT use these treatments inside your dog's ear, as there is a potential for harming their eardrums and the delicate nerves in their ears.