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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Zen's New Vet - On Our Land Days 16-18

The last two days were filled with me working on my blog and cookbook, while Quantum and CK worked on the corral. Wonderfully boring and not worth blogging about. I seem to be one of those people cursed to live in "interesting times" so days that aren't worthy of talking about are a refreshing joy.

Today I'd managed to contact the local vet and set a tentative appointment. I crawled out of bed, grabbed a cup of coffee and then herded Zen into the Blazer at the crack of dawn. The vet sees appointments at 8:30 to 9:30am and schedules surgeries for the rest of the day. Unfortunately the Blazer had other ideas. 1/4 mile up the driveway the battery crapped out and Zen and I had to walk back to the trailers.

Quantum managed to get the thing back down the driveway, and set it up on the charger, but our morning at the vet was blown. Fortunately Mom was online and she managed to call the vet for me and find out that we could also go see him after 3:30. With the Blazer out of commission I had to take the Pickup. I'd never driven the beast before, and since the seat won't move forward, I had to drive it sitting on the edge of the seat and hanging on to the steering wheel to stay in place.

Walking into the vet's the first thing I noticed was that the place didn't stink of antiseptic. I immediately made friends with an older gentleman who was waiting in the lobby. Turns out he writes for the local paper. Sweet guy and very funny and friendly. Even better, he tells me how good the vet is. Now since I'd been told not to go to the other vet in town (super expensive) and recommended to go all the way to Trinidad, this was great news.

Zen was having the time of his life. within a few minutes he was alternating between licking the newspaper guy's leg and trying to climb in his lap.

I mentioned that I had yaks and the guy turned around and asked the Doctor if he worked with yaks. "I don't do anything the owners can't hold," the doc said, "and I don't do anything that spits at me, like camels or alpacas." He then proceeded to tell us of a time when he was younger and used to do cattle. "I had a cow with a prolapsed uterus," he said, "it hung out of her inside out, and I couldn't push it back in. The size of a 55 gallon barrel. But I sprinkled sugar on it and it shrunk and I was able to slam it right back in and suture it down." I smiled, knowing I'd read that in All Things Bright and Beautiful. Had he read the story there and used it wholecloth, did he get the idea how to fix it from there, or was that really the common remedy back then? For all I know that's still the remedy now.

Once the newspaper guy and his wife left I started filling out paperwork and Zen chose that moment to poop on the doctor's floor. Great way to make a first impression! We got Zen up on the scale/examining table. 55.9 lbs! Zen has gained a pound since I last weighed him.

Our new vet has a great bedside manner. Exactly the wise and unassuming old country vet type I'd hoped to find. I loved that he didn't have several assistants and did all the work himself. (Now maybe he doesn't feel that way.) But with past vets I've usually spent more time with the assistants than you get to with the doctor. I kinda like to know the person who's working on my precious puppy. He mixed the meds for Zen's ear (infected) making sure I understood not only how to use it, but exactly what was in it also.

At one point he mentioned that Zen was extremely well behaved. I did a doubletake. Zen usually flips out at the vet's. I don't know if he dislikes the smells or if it's the usual noise from 10 animals crammed into the waiting room at one time. (Our previous vet liked to schedule a huge amount of folks at once and then make us all wait an hour or more.) But he was right. Zen was a perfect gentleman through the entire visit. Well other than the poop. "What dog did you take to the vet?" CK asked, when I told about it later.

On the way home we saw another cow on the side of the road. Zen just watched it, silent and sniffing like mad. I can't wait till he meets the yaks. Also a bunny crossed the road in front of us. I love having wildlife roaming around again.

When I got home, Quantum and CK were working on the corral. Here's a photo of one of the posts, ensconced in a "post condom". A couple of plastic bags. Quantum's idea is that it'll help keep the post from rotting. It's already pressure treat, so I don't know how needed that is, but why not?

Photos at Last

I managed to pry some pictures out of CK's camera today:

Here's me looking at the tires. This is taken just before our escape from FL at the storage place where we were keeping our trailers. That's CK's trailer being pulled by our blazer and in the mirror in the foreground is our trailer.

This is our "driveway." Note the barely discernible path through the grass. This was taken a couple weeks ago. The driveway is a bit more beaten-down now. In the center is a watering trough which was used for cattle at one point. We're hoping the pipes in this thing can be opened up and lead to a viable well. In the distance on the right is a field owned by our neighbors - the only thing we can see from here that doesn't belong to us. 

To the north of our trailer is the area where we'll probably put the house when we're ready to build. We're going to do all we can not to cut down any trees, so the idea is to build in front of these gorgeous cedars and pines.

To our west, the Spanish Peaks rise on the horizon. Yes, this is really our view! Amazing, right?

And here are our yak girls, in a temporary corral at our friends T&R's place. Yazoo is on the left. You can tell her by the white patch on her face. Yonkers, the mommy yak is in the back, with baby Yeti Star in front. Yeti is about 5 months old here. I'm just dying to pet that soft little muzzle.

Hopefully we'll get them on our land this week and the ladies can start getting used to us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Pit Bull Problem: The Nanny Dog and Pit Bull Heroes

By the late 1800's or so, the Pit Bull was known as the Nanny Dog. The Pit Bull was so fiercely loyal to their family and yet so gentle with humans that they were used to guard small children and even infants in their cradles. Their high pain threshold allows them to deal with the pokes and pulls and prods of tiny hands without feeling a need to snap at their charges. The same sweet and do-all attitude that made them a favorite of dog fighting resulted in a dog that was safe to leave with the kids, while their intelligence helped ensure that they could keep the little ones out of trouble.

Some of the famous Pit Bulls and Pit Bull owners throughout history include:

Jack of Little House on the Prairie

As a child I loved the Little House books (and go figure, I'm now living a slightly modernized version). Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved dog Jack, was -you guessed it - a Pit Bull. Never mind whatever sheepdogs and collies appeared on the TV versions, it's pretty obvious from the illustrations by Garth Williams. One of the later books (I'll have to re-read the series to recall which one) featured a stray dog who having been fed by Charles Ingalls (Laura's father) hung around and warded off intruders. This dog also fits the description of a Pit Bull, but who knows?!

Petey from the Little Rascals/Our Gang

The first Petey, makeup enhanced to create the signature ring around his eye (his ring mark actually was an almost-complete circle) was played by Pal the Wonder Dog, who had also earlier played Buster Brown's best friend Tige. Pal was an American Pit Bull Terrier and his son, Lucenay's Peter who also played Petey was an AKC registered American Staffordshire Terrier (also considered a Pit Bull breed).

Petey is perhaps the most well-known and most-recognized dog in the world to this day.

As the eptiome of the Nanny Dog, Petey joins his human children in creating comedy, mayhem and fun. Can you imagine a "vicious dog" being used in this series? Petey was obviously chosen because he was good with children, safe, stable and playful, far beyond his charismatic screen presence.

Helen Keller owned several pit bulls, perhaps some of the first dogs ever to be recognized as what we now call "therapy dogs." Pits are now used as therapy dogs because their high pain threshold prevents them from being upset when bumped by wheelchairs. Their smarts, gentleness and sheer desire to help certainly doesn't hurt here.

The classic American Dog, Pit Bulls were a beloved of early 20th century advertising. Besides Tige of Buster Brown Shoes, there was Nipper, the Victor RCA dog, and the Pit Bull from Pup Brand lemons are but a few.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson owned Pit Bulls, and General George Patton owned some sort of Bully breed. During WW1 and WW2, Pit Bulls were used to represent strength, courage and freedom and loyalty, and were featured on many WW1 and WW2 era posters. Pit Bulls are also the only breed to appear on the cover of Life magazine three times.

Sergeant Stubby

No mere advertisement here, Sgt. Stubby was a true American Hero. During WW1 he fought in the trenches of France during 17 battles. The most decorated dog of World War 1, he is also the only dog ever to be promoted to Sergeant through combat. Serving with the 102nd Infantry 26th (Yankee) Division in April 1918, he was wounded by a hand grenade and was sent to the rear to improve morale while he healed. Returning to active duty and the trenches, he learned how to warn his unit about poison gas attacks and let his people know when to duck and cover from artillery shells. He was single pawedly responsible for capturing a German spy and was alleged to have knocked a young girl away from being run over by a car. After the war he marched with the American Legion, was awarded (amongst many other awards) the Wound Stripe (which later became the Purple Heart). Stubby lived with his person, Corporal J. Robert Conroy until 1926, when he was eulogized in the New York Times with half a page, three columns wide - more than most humans get.

Not the first dog or Pit Bull to serve in distiguished combat, Sgt. Stubby is certainly the most famous, and he well earned the honor. His remains are now housed in the Smithsonian.


This brave lady was named the 1993 Ken-L Ration Dog Hero of the Year. Its a distinction she didn't win without courage and peril. Some time before winning this honor she saved her owner's 11 year old son from a rattlesnake, giving the boy a body slam to throw him out of the way and taking the bite herself. Thirty people, twenty-nine dogs, thirteen horses and a cat were fortunate that she survived the snake bite. During heavy rain that caused a dam break on the Tijuana River, Weela repeatedly crossed the flooded river, bringing food to stranded animals and helping other animals and people to find safe places to cross.

Oddly enough, when Reader's Digest later published the news of her heroism, they refused to mention that Weela was a Pit Bull.


Made famous by "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan's TV show, Daddy set an example of calm-submission and canine balance for the dogs he worked with personally as well as dogs and dog owners worldwide. RIP Daddy, our family will miss watching you waddle on screen.

Those I've mentioned are just a few of the Pit Bulls that have achieved heroic status. Pits have served as search and rescue dogs at 9/11's Ground Zero and throughout the world. They act as police dogs, drug sniffing dogs, and therapy dogs. And perhaps more than all else, they are kind and loving family dogs for people worldwide, keeping us sane and standing by us with their gentleness, their wisdom and their ever-faithful generosity.

And with that...What Makes Pit Bulls Special

The Pit Bull Problem: History of the Breed

It's probable that the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) can trace its roots to the ancient dogs of the Molossians. The Molossi tribe of ancient Greece was known for muscular war dogs perfect for intimidating their neighboring tribes. One of the oldest of Molosser breeds, and potentially a direct descendant of the proto-dog is the Tibetan Mastiff. TMs were described by Marco Polo as "large as a donkey" (it's believed that they have since been bred down in size) and then as now, they were kept to protect their towns from predators as large and dangerous as snow-leopards.

Molossers now include everything from the Pit Bull to Mastiff breeds, Rotweillers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Bulldogs and many other breeds.

From there, the ancestor of the Pit Bull moved from Rome, where they were used as fighting and war dogs and in the bloody battles of the Collesium. Then on to the rest of Europe and England. Here they became "butchers dogs," called Bullenbeissers and were used for handling bulls for slaughter. This led to the sport of bull-baiting, where the dogs excelled because of their fierceness, tenacity and because of their loose skin, which allowed them to twist and turn even when they were captured and held down. From here we get all the "Bully" breeds, from the English and American Bulldogs to Pit Bulls to Boxers, Bull Terriers and more.

Despite the fact that baiting was made illegal in 1835, folks continued to want their blood-sports. This led to "ratting" where the dogs were put into pits with rats, racing the clock to see which dogs could kill the most rats the fastest. The "pit" in Pit Bull comes from this practice. Naturally the blood-crazy also wanted to see dog-on-dog battles and in this the Pit Bull and its ancestors also excelled.

Coming to America, the Pit Bull was still used for fighting, but also became an all-around dog of the pioneers moving westward. Their tenacious loyalty and high intelligence made them perfect as guardians of children and the family, herd dogs and guardians of livestock.

One of the most amusing-but-sad truths about Pit Bulls - in contrast to all the negative publicity and stereotype is the fact that both in England and when they were brought to America, Pit Bulls were specifically bred for their capacity to love and care for their human owners. While dog-vs-dog aggession was often encouraged, dogs that showed human aggression were fiercely culled (killed). After all, these folks wanted fighting dogs they could control and who would harm only those they chose to "pit" them against. At this point in its history, the Pit Bull has been carefully bred to be intensely loyal to and caring of their people.

Pit Bulls are one of the few breeds that were created specifically for their loyalty to and gentleness toward humans.

So from here, lets talk about The Nanny Dog and Pit Bull Heroes

The Pit Bull Problem: Why Gangstas Like Pits

Part of the problem is that Pit Bulls ARE often the dog of choice for those in the criminal underworld, gangbangers and gangsta wanna-bes. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1) Pit Bulls are extremely loyal. One of the most, if not THE most loyal breeds on the planet. They will do anything for their owners, including die for them. This makes them perfect for the dog-fighting ring because they will fight to the death to please their owners. No surprise that dog fighting (an illegal sport) is also associated with criminals. Sad and horrible as it is, some folks get status from their dog winning fights and some gangs even use dog fights to settle their problems.

2) Pit Bulls are imposing looking. They're a good-sized stocky dog. They look strong, they look scary and dangerous. Pit Bulls which are capable of pulling enormous weight compared to their size. One of the legal and non-harmful sports that they excel in is weight pulling. They're also strong enough to go around carrying the massive - and stupid - chains and bling that some folks want to decorate them with. Note that in the "bad old days" when Dobermans were the dog of choice, they were usually decorated with light but spikey collars. Pits are strong and hefty enough to carry huge chains that make them look tough. They become as much a fashion statement as a deterrent.

3) Pit Bulls are protective. Now protective doesn't mean "vicious" or "aggressive." It means that they'll defend their family and their space in the same way that any good dog will do. But lets face it, if you're a criminal, or even if you just live in a dangerous neighborhood, you want a dog that will defend you. And a chihuahua, while fierce (and much more likely to attack than a pit bull) just can't do the job nearly as well - unless your anticipating an invasion of Lilliputians - in which case you're better off with a cat anyway.

4) Pit Bulls are thought of as dangerous. The more they get a rep as vicious dogs, the more likely someone who wants a reputation as powerful and dangerous is going to want one. The more the news stations push Pit Bulls as scary, the more your local gangsta wants one.  The more you cringe in fear of people who walk along the street with a Pit Bull, the more likely somebody else might want one. If you're scared of them, they feel protected. That's right, if you're one of those people who thinks Pits are evil, it just as much YOUR FAULT that gangbangers want to have one.

In short, the modern stereotype of the Pit Bull is everything a gangsta-type wants. Power, dominance, strength, virility, protection, danger. How could the Pit Bull NOT be the perfect gangsta dog?

Now that we've looked at the modern and horribly skewed vision of the American Pit Bull, lets take a moment and discover the History of the Breed

The Pit Bull Problem: Selling Fear - Why the News Loves Vicious Pit Bulls

Since we're planning on a large breed dog rescue, with an emphasis on Pit Bulls, I have to address the Pit Bull Problem. You've seen it sweeping the nation, no doubt. Every time I turn around there's another newspaper article about some vicious Pit that attacked someone.

Never mind that I know that they're one of the most loving, gentle, intelligent and wonderful breeds on the planet.

Twenty years ago, the nation was terrified of Dobermans. TV and news articles told us that these dogs were favored by drug dealers and even suggested (completely false) that Dobies had some sort of psycho-gene and were liable to freak out and kill their owners. Today Pit Bulls are the "dog to hate."

Here's a sorry truth: Warm fuzzies don't sell newspapers.

Turn on the news. Any channel, any time. Most likely you'll hear about who murdered who, whose child got kidnapped, where drug dealers are hanging out, what child-molesters are doing to your kid on the internet, a local fire, the crummy economy and so on.

Newspapers (and TV News) are in the business of selling FEAR.

Back in the "good-old-days" newspapers might have been about digging up the truth and educating the public. Maybe. But their real business is staying in business. Making money. And fear is their best method of catching your attention and keeping it.

So if they can latch on to a story about an evil "Pit Bull" who mauled a small child, they'll do that. And they'll sensationalize it. And they'll do whatever they can to keep you reading or watching.

The fact is that many so-called Pit Bull attacks aren't perpetrated by Pit Bulls. Find the Pit Bull features 24 photos of dogs commonly confused with Pit Bulls. Only one of the 25 pictures is actually that of a real American Pit Bull Terrier. Try your luck at figuring which it is.

In reality, most newspapers and TV stations don't even attempt to confirm whether or not the dog in question is actually a Pit Bull or even a Pit Bull mix. After all, "Possible Pit Bull Breed Mauls Small Child" not only takes up more space, but it doesn't sound nearly as edgy.  If it looks anything like a Pit, they'll call it a Pit whether it is or not.

One case in point was the fatal attack on a woman by a pair of Presa Canarios. The dogs were being housed by the lawyer of a pair of criminals who were planning on breeding them and selling them to gang members. I don't want to dis any other breed, but Presas are admittedly more dominant and prone to aggression than Pits. Moreover these two dogs were specifically trained to be aggressive guard/attack dogs. But naturally, when the stories came out, the title of the news articles were about Pit Bulls.

Because the words, "Pit Bull" sound scary. They're meant to. Because the newspapers have created stereotypes and played their word games well.

Obviously SOME of what the news stations push is the fact that Pit Bulls tend (in the past decade or so anyway) to attract a criminal element. And there's some truth to that. So next I'll talk about Why Gangstas Like Pits

Sunday, September 26, 2010

No Reservations about Medium Raw

One of my favorite TV shows is Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, so when I saw his book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook on the shelf, I just had to read it.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who CookIt's funny, irreverent, thoughtful and utterly fascinating. And it "does not suck." Behind-the-scenes views of the chef scene and the cooking world are rendered with a snarky and vivid light. He addresses his career, food purity, addiction and recovery, his disgust with the Food Network and his admiration for his culinary heroes with gut-wrenching honesty and passion. If this is medium raw, I wonder how raw "really raw" could be.

As a dedicated foodie, I'm thrilled at the glimpses I get into Top Chef, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, the Food Network folks, and into some of the most exalted kitchens in America and Europe. I'm both jealous of his access and glad he's taken me there, to see and smell and taste in places I could never go.

Perhaps my favorite chapter is "Lower Education," in which he shamelessly wages psychological warfare to inoculate his daughter against fast food. I can barely contain my giggles as he and his wife whisper outside the little girl's door:

    We're talking about Ronald McDonald again. Bringing up the possibility of his being implicated in the disappearance of yet another small child.
    "Not another one?!" gasps my wife with feigned incredulity.
    "I'm afraid so," I say with concern. "Stepped inside to get some fries and a Happy Meal and hasn't been seen since..."

"Meat" was another excellent chapter, where he addresses the great American hamburger and his outright fury at the fact that our food supply has been tainted by slaughter houses that "process fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria." Ammonia? Now granted I sort-of knew this stuff but...its the kind of thing that makes me shudder and shut my ears until I can locate a local free-range ranch to buy my meat from.

"My Aim Is True" introduces the reader to a man who scales and cleans and fillets the fish for one of the top restaurant's in the country, but can't afford to eat at the place he works. Justo is inspiring, an ode to dedication and work ethic. I am humbled both by his seemingly magical power of organization and by the simple joy he takes in doing his job to perfection; without much money, without much recognition outside of his own restaurant except the knowledge that he's making his chefs look good.

And the food...oh gods can Bourdain talk about food! You can taste the sweet flavor of sizzling buttery fat, feel the heat of chiles and spice, smell the sharpness of lemongrass and salty sea brine, feel the crunch of gristle and bones as they emanate from his writing.

Fans of No Reservations will be gladdened (and enthralled) to know that Anthony Bourdain writes much like he speaks. His voice is lilting and expressive. The gravely strains of tobacco and vodka mixed with the soft tones of buerre blanc. A voice that is poetic, stopping just on the good side of singsong. Cynical and hopeful. Seamy and transcendent.

Medium Raw is a tasty read and I'm hungry for Bourdain's next book.

Don't EVEN Tell Me Its Working - On Our Land Day 15

Since I was foolish enough to volunteer to call the TV company, I drag my butt out of bed and head toward the car at 8am. I figure it'll just be a quick call once I get into cell range (silly me) so I take Zen with me and don't bother grabbing my purse.

Zen loves the ride, of course, though there are no cows for him to say hello to today. As we get to the bottom of our dirt road I realize that I'd left before we turned the generator on, and if they re-set the TV box, it needs to have power.  Fortunately, back home, Quantum gets my mental message.

Pulling over on the side of the road near the train trestle, I growl my way through the voice menu (why on earth use a voice menu if the darn things don't understand English) and finally get through to a human. It takes me several transfers and nearly an hour to get my message across. Finally a very nice young Southern lady says that she'll escalate the situation and that someone should call me from my local office within their 20 minute response window. This girl needs a raise. She instantly elevates my mood, jokes with me, actually gets that I live in the middle of nowhere and handles the situation.

By this time I am jonesing for a cup of coffee, since I'd left before we started the hot water. I also need a bathroom desperately. I look around the car and find slightly over a dollar in change. Hopefully that'll be enough. I get to the 7-11, use their bathroom, fix up some coffee and as I'm trying to pay, I get a call from the TV folks. But it's not some guy from the local office, its some other chick, calling to find out what I want. "I want to speak to the local office." I guess they pre-call to see if the local office really needs to bother or something. Well, that's my 20 minute window blown to heck. Now it'll be another 20 minute window for the local office to actually call.

Zen and I pull out of the tiny 7-11 parking lot to make room for other customers and go to the grocery parking lot across the street. I was slightly short on money for the coffee, but the clerk was kind enough to let me slide. However now my nose is full of the scent of breakfast taquitos, which I couldn't afford. Nor did I grab the key for the apartment, in case my stomach gets grumbly again, which it is threatening to do.

Fortunately I did grab the novel I'm reading, so I sip my coffee and alternate between trying to read, growling at the non-ringing phone and watching the early-morning store customers. By the time I'm out of coffee and wishing I could have another cup, the local office guy still hasn't called. I give Zen some water (fortunately I had bottles in the truck from the other day) and read some more. At last the phone rings. I answer it. Dead air. I look at the number - its local! - dial it back and get voice mail. (Why do we call it dialing anymore? I haven't had a phone with an actual dial on it in 20 years. But I haven't heard a word to replace it yet, beyond "punch in.") I wait a few minutes and decide to call the main number back. As I'm on the phone with their menu, I get another call from the local guy. I try answering that, but the call drops again. I call the guy back and once again reach voicemail.

A few minutes later, Chris the local guy finally reaches me. He tells me he's having trouble with his phone this morning. As I begin to explain my problem the phone goes dead again. Or maybe he hung up? I wait several minutes and he doesn't call back.

By now I am getting disgusted, plus I'm concerned that Quantum will be wondering where I am. It's more than 2 hours since I left the house. I wonder if he'll drive out to calling range and try to contact me. Unbeknownst to me, somewhere around this time, back at home, the TV flickers to life. Quantum had found my left-behind purse and was starting to get concerned, knowing I wouldn't be driving around town without it. But now he thinks (rightly or not, who can tell?) that someone I talked to reset the TV and figures everything's good.

I start driving towards home. Near the trestle I stop and try Chris the local guy again. Voice mail. I call the main number, make my tedious way through the menu once again and get another woman. The good news is that like the lady I'd spoken to earlier, she's intelligent, understanding and speaks English.

She re-escalates the process. "I'm not even sure how much more cell phone minutes I have left," I tell her, "and the battery is close to dead." In the far distance I notice what look like a pair of elk bounding through the field. She says that once again they have a 20 minute window to get back to me. "Probably at least by 30 minutes." I read some more, pet the puppy, who is being wonderfully supportive and loving, and is the only reason I'm not screaming or in tears by now.

20 minutes after I hang up with her, still no call. I wait an extra 10 minutes more and give up. It's 11:46, and I'm tired of this.

As I reach the door to the trailer I hear music. "Don't EVEN tell me that blasted thing is working!" Of course it is. By now my bladder is screaming again. I dump my book on the table, toss the puppy's leash at Quantum and race for the bathroom.

The door is hanging open, and with Quantum dealing with the puppy, Squeaky takes the opportunity to slip out the door. Quantum ties down the puppy and runs out after the little sneak. Out of the bathroom, I slam my knee into one of the knobs on the cabinets that line our hallway. The bruise is going to be nasty. Squeaks runs under the trailer and makes us crazy for 20 minutes. I'm crawling under one end, Quantum under the other. CK standing guard where he can see both sides of the trailer at once. We locate the little bugger near the rear wheel, and I send CK for something to make a treat noise. Just then the little monster comes up the steps and asks CK to let him in.

The rest of the day is relaxing and productive, with Quantum working on the corral and me creating an amazing carrot recipe that I'm going to put into my cookbook.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Civilization at Last...or Not - On Our Land Day 14

Despite the insanity of the past two nights, I have to get up at the crack of dawn. The TV guy is supposed to be coming today, which means I have to crawl out of bed and drive into town to contact him regarding our 8am-12pm appointment. Since obviously he still hasn't emailed us.

As soon as we pushed open the door, the damn thing completely collapsed. "Ah ha!" Quantum said, "now do you believe that it wasn't fixable?"

On the way into town I see something flash into the road. It looks like a small rottweiler. As it gets to the middle of the road, I realize it's a bobcat (or maybe a lynx?). The critter is huge. Easily larger than my 55lb or so puppy. It's fur is dark and mottled, perhaps spotted, but in the morning sunlight and shade it looks almost like stripes. I lose sight of it for a moment as it makes it to the other side of the road, and then it comes in sight again, right behind a bunny, tail flashing white as it tries to escape. I'm in awe.

I call the Direct TV folks again. For some reason they have very little note of our very specific needs regarding the driver. I grab some coffee, read a little, then decide to head up to the apartment for a shower. Just as I begin to do that, the guy calls me. I head back and meet him and he follows me out to the house.

On the way home, I pass some vultures hovering over the corpse of a bunny on the road. I guess the bobcat got his meal and left the rest for the birds.

The driver is surprised that I think the road's so impassable (in summer?) but once we drop off his truck and I ferry him up to our property and over the numerous ditches, he begins to understand.

Looking around our land, the way someone else might see it, Quantum notes our piles of possessions laid out on tarps, our tired looking little trailers our shanty-camp propane stove surrounded by the accoutrements of cooking. We seriously look like hobos or redneck trash. "It takes a lot of money to look this poor," he quips.

Three hours later the TVs still don't work. I head back to town, having never gotten a chance to do the running around I needed to take care of, and call the Direct TV people. Of course I get some chick who barely speaks English and who can't be made to understand that "no the technician didn't do anything wrong" and "no, he couldn't finish the installation while he was here because he couldn't get cell reception," and "no, I can't push button X while you're on line with me because I'm 20 minutes away from my house," "no, the technician can't come back to my house because he can't get up my driveway." Finally I get a supervisor and we mangage to work things out. He'll reauthorize the boxes. When I go home I can try these various steps and cross my fingers.

In town I get a brief but blissful shower, then head to the Loaf & Jug. There I meet a very nice guy with a very sweet dog. He wants to, "buy me a soda or something (with my card) and get $5." Its a great line, however he put it. But the store doesn't give cash back (one would think he knows that) and I offer to buy him a sandwich or some dog food. He takes me up on the dog food.

Next stop is "Walsenburg Walmart" a you-name-it junk shop, with shelves and tents stuffed with everything from ferret food to fold up shovels (I think they're called "entrenchment tools" in the army) to low-rent votive candles, an odd assortment of clothing, kitchen tools, and so much more that my brain hurt by the time I'd walked through the main building and two tents.  The place is organized chaos and I don't have the slightest idea what the organization method is. I don't find the belt pouch or oil lamp I'd hoped for. I'll try to see more of the place another day.

On the way back I see the turkeys again. They're on our side of the road. A tom, several hens and a passel of this year's babies. "Go to our land," I encourage them.

When I get there, Quantum and CK have the new door half finished. They manage to fix it (cobbed over with some temporary plywood) just as dark is falling and the moon is coming up. I also managed to finish tonight's split pea soup before dark.

With our day's work accomplished (or at least what we could do before it got dark) we decided to try turning on the TV. CK's worked fine. Ours, of course not. For some reason it isn't activated. Not only that, but I learned that the guy hadn't given us DVRs, but just normal boxes. So much for almost having civilization. Tomorrow I've got to drive out to cell range and scream at them again.

Ah well, at least we have a door.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Poopy Puppy and the Door From Hell - On Our Land Day 13

I should probably start by telling you about the door on our trailer. Since we got this trailer (a 1982 Layton and in pitiful shape) we've been having trouble with the door. The door latch refused to work, so CK installed a new deadbolt on it. At first the deadbolt was so hard to turn that having gone over to the storage unit to do some work on the trailer, I had to call CK and Quantum back at the condo to drive over and let me in. "You have to lift the door," CK told me, "and push it like this." Yeah right. I'm not a weakling, but it was beyond what I could push and lift. Eventually CK reamed out the bolt hole and it was slightly easier.

Since we've been on the road, the door has been disintegrating, getting worse every time it was opened and closed. A couple weeks ago the front panel aluminum popped open and a metal rod poked out of it. I've no idea whether the rod was part of the original locking mechanism or is part of what held the door together. Either way, there was no way of shoving it back into the door, so it stuck 2 feet out, a nasty prong with a rotted piece of wood stuck to the bottom. Every time I took the puppy in and out, I'd have to make sure he didn't get stabbed with it.

Because of this, the door became even harder to lift and close. Challenging when you were outside, next to impossible when you were inside the trailer. Quantum has scars on his hands from getting his fingers caught in the damn thing. Whoever designed this door should be shot.

So due to the rain, and because of the challenge of dealing with the door, I didn't walk the puppy last night before I went to bed. And oddly enough, the puppy didn't remind me of this. He hadn't been well housebroken while we were in Florida because of dealing with the Bitch Downstairs, not to mention the challenge of taking a bucking puppy down a steep flight of stairs. However when he moved into the trailer, he became instantly housebroken and very good at telling us when he needed a walk. Well except for last night.

I climb into bed and the puppy climbs in with me. Zen immediately starts attacking the quilt. Its an old quilt, and he did a good job ripping it up when he was a baby. Maybe he remembers it as his old nemesis. I still hadn't gotten around to finding new stuffing and patching up the tears in some parts. Then out of nowhere he starts peeing all over it. I scream for Quantum to do something, and we spend the next half hour or more getting the dog out of the way, pulling off the quilt, wiping down the mattress and finding a towel to spread over it. We roll the quilt up to take to the laundromat in the morning.

An hour or two before dawn, I need to get up to go to the bathroom, and Zen needs to piddle too. He starts bouncing off the walls and I fight the door open, put him on the chain and stand in the doorway, holding him to do his business. It's still raining, so I don't much feel like going outside. Meanwhile I'm also fending off the cat, who's fascinated with the idea of going out. Despite the ruckus, Zen doesn't appear to do anything. 

I can't get the door closed, so Quantum gets out of bed (understandably cranky at being woken up) and battles it closed. 

I sit in the candlelight, reading, wondering if I'm in the mood to go back to bed, and wait for the rain to slack and the sky to lighten, so I can go outside and make coffee. Suddenly Zen starts wigging out and attacking the rolled up quilt. Before I can do anything about it, he's squatting over the quilt and pooping his brains out. Poor baby has diarrhea. No wonder he was so miserable. It might be the stew I made last night (he had some of the meat from it) since my stomach is flipping around as well.

When morning comes, we send CK out to do the laundry (though we give up on the quilt - it's now not only shredded and peed on, but pooped on as well and now even more shredded, and salvaging it just isn't worth the trouble) and some other chores. Yesterday we'd also contacted the Direct TV people and arranged service, but we needed to talk to the driver so that we can know when he's coming, and meet him in town so he could follow us up to the land. We explain that it's a 20 minute drive for us to get cellphone service, and we don't HAVE an address, so they can't just mapquest it. AND the driver needs a 4WD vehicle. We were told the driver would contact us while we were in town, but of course he didn't.  So today CK is instructed to call them and wait around in town for them to call back. Eventually someone contacts him and says the driver will send us an email.

I soak some beans and decide to make a barley and bean miso stew with zucchini tonight. I also do some shoveling under the tires of the trailer, with the hopes of curing some of the listing to the side. Quantum works on the posts for the corral. The beans are taking forever to cook, and by the time I deem it's right to put the barley on, it's getting dark. This is accomplished with much bickering, as the door is getting worse and worse. Quantum doesn't want me using it, but I have to check on the food. I wait...about three minutes too long to save the barley, which burns badly, with no hope of a save.

There's no more barley, and the beans aren't done. I find some rice and start that and tell CK that he's going to have to come out about every 5 minutes and check on it. He decides he's going to sit outside and watch it in the now very chilly night.

CK comes to the door and insists on me tasting the rice, and pulls the door open. The damn thing sags badly, the metal sliding down off the crappy wooden frame. The rice needs a little while longer (doesn't the man know how to tell if rice is done?) and I tell CK not to open the door again until it's ready.

A while later CK bangs on the window, saying "I think the rice is done." I tell him to shut it down and I'll be out in a minute.

Zen takes that moment to decide he's got diarrhea again, and poops all over the floor. I get that cleaned up, and as I open the door the metal takes another drastic slide and the wood framing at the top rips free.

I grab the zucchini and the sauce I've made and go out to deal with it. The rice isn't just done, it's overdone. It's absolute spluck! (I later find out that instead of just watching the flame height and adding water so it doesn't burn, CK has been stirring the stuff.) It's no longer rice, it's rice porrige. ACK. 

The beans are about perfect, and I saute the zucs and sauce, but there's no salvaging the rice. Despite that, I dish up a plate for CK and take the rest back to the trailer.

Quantum is furious. "You can't be cooking after dark! I told you this would happen!" (During the day, we just use the screen door, which is less problematic.) There is absolutely no hope of salvaging the door now. We can't get the frame back in shape. After much lifting and barking of fingers, Quantum manages to shut it, but a slight breeze comes along and swings it open again.  "If a bear or a cougar comes by tonight, we won't even hear them before they're inside."

Finally we use one of Zen's leashes to tie the door shut. I stuff paper towels into the gaps around the door to keep the wind out. We place a bag full of aluminum cans near the door to act as an alarm in case it gets pulled open and sleep with the gun near at hand.

In the middle of the night I wake up and have to go to the bathroom again. I climb over the puppy, the cat and Quantum, over the pile of boxes where the step-down belongs. (I removed it while replacing the rug in the bedroom and it hasn't been put back yet, so the boxes are there to keep the kitty from crawling into the underside of the trailer.) Just outside the bathroom my foot lands in something wet and squishy. ACK! I shriek for Quantum to get me a flashlight. Yes, I've stepped in more puppy poop!

He crawls out to get me paper towels to wipe and wash my feet. Meanwhile I have to pee desperately, and having landed my left foot in poop, have to figure out how to swivel around and reach the bowl without stepping in or dragging more poop. After I pee, Quantum is desperate to do so also. I still have poop on my foot, and can't move out of his way, so I have to lean back into the shower while he goes. As I do so, the poor excuse for a shower enclosure front gives way and is falling down around me.

We finally get my foot wiped down and I crawl back into bed to wait for morning.

Equinox Rain - On Our Land Day 12

We got up and out relatively early and headed to town to bring more hay to our yaks. They seemed happy to see us even though they weren't out of hay yet. Unfortunately Yonkers ate a string off a hay bale, so I'll be wanting to keep an eye on her.

After that we headed up to the apartment to get some water, and said hi to Rose. She mentioned that one of the women who lives in the apartments there has three dogs. She owns a small place outside town where she keeps them, property she inherited from her mom. There's no electric there and no heat, so she can't live there, but she goes several times a day to take care of them. Rose asked if we'd foster the two larger dogs for the winter (where they can be warm) and she'll let the woman keep the chihuahua at the apartments. Yay! Our First Critter Project rescue dogs! The nice part is that we can foster them and know they'll go back to their beloved owner in spring.

On the way home we saw a flock of turkeys. They looked fat and yummy! Can't wait to get real electric and a freezer!

All day it's been threatening to rain, and when we got back, a bit past noon, we got one or two sprinkles. We got on marking our wood for the corral fence. At about 3:30 we finally got a real rain. Our first Colorado rain nourishing the ground and making our plant friends happy. A perfect gift for Equinox.

Happy Equinox to all!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No Headsets in Hicksville - On Our Land Day 11

I wake up again at some crazy hour of the night and lay in the dark looking at the growing moonlight. This going to sleep at 8:30 at night thing is getting annoying.

As I'm laying there, I suddenly hear the most incredible noise. Coyotes howling. Perhaps foxes, but I don't think so. Their voices rise, strange, eerie and beautiful. Zen listens, but he doesn't return their call. I'm guessing that I hear about five or eight individual voices, probably to our west, and no other calls respond to them.

The sound is chilling, slightly scary. Hearing them on National Geo isn't even close to the power and hauntingness of the real sound. I realize I wouldn't like my cat or puppy out there amongst that. I can't see them moving around in the moonlight, and most likely they aren't anywhere near our trailer. I recall walking out in the woods yesterday. I could have passed them within inches and not known.

In the morning Quantum starts working on the corral while I run into town to buy a new headset. Hopefully that is all we need to get the phone thing up and running. I take Zen with. He enjoys the ride and he's a great co-pilot. Unfortunately there are no headsets in Hicksville. After trying one "everything shop," one alleged computer/internet store, two dollar stores, the grocery and two auto parts stores (the guy at the grocery said they might carry them) I realize that I am out of luck unless I want to go to Trinidad or Pueblo. Since I've already been gone a couple hours, I figure Quantum might worry if I drive all the way there.

On the way home I consider that perhaps headset drivers are the problem.

Also on the way home we find some cows. Zen hasn't yet met cows, and he is fascinated. I slow down to a crawl alongside them and he sniffs like mad. No doubt saying, "what huge weird dogs!"

Back home I spend another hour or two trying our various headsets and looking for drivers for them. At last I locate something that seems to work.

However nobody I know is home to verify that yes they can hear me. Except Quantum's mom, who can't hear him again. Of course sometimes she has trouble hearing him when we call on a regular phone, so who knows. Later I try my mom again. She's home, she hears enough noise to know its me, but she can't hear what I'm saying. When will this phone hell be over?

The Google Voice Disaster Continues - On Our Land Day 10

We wake up bright and early, and now that it's light enough to drive the mess that is our road, Quantum heads towards cell phone range to retrieve the text message from Google - a 20 minute drive each way.

He comes back with the code they've sent us, and we cross our fingers and plug it in. Oh but it can't be that easy. Google seems to have wanted INSTANT verification. We no longer have an account (since I guess it timed out) and we have to set it up all over again. At one point where you have to do the verification thingie and type in whatever word you see on the screen, Quantum calls me over. The word they want us to type in is "loser." Okay now you're just messing with us! We do a screen capture but then the computer cuts out before we have a chance to save it.

Next he tries the generator. The seal is gorgeous and it's no longer leaking. However you seem to need to be a body builder to get the damn thing started, and after an hour of trying, he still can't get it to fire up. We're going to need to find a small engine mechanic to look at it. But the modem is being freaky and we don't have a phone.

Realizing that there's no easy way to do all this from the middle of nowhere, Quantum recalls a little internet cafe (in Hicksville, believe it or not!) and decides to go to town with the laptop and try to work it out there. Besides, he hasn't taken the time to get a shower in a week (feeling that he needed to rush back to work on the corral) and he's feeling the effects. He packs up a towel, shampoo and gets ready to head out.)

One of the perks of having CK mad at me is that I get to spend the day in glorious silence. I dig out my book on gardening and look up some of the information I need to get our garden started - even if it's a minimal winter garden. I do some digging under the tires of our trailer. It's listing to the south, and we realize that a truly strong wind could blow it over. We're going to need to lower the wheels on the north side, and probably also brace it on the south.

Quantum returns. He thinks he's got the Google thing set up okay now. Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. We at least seem to have an account, and maybe even a phone number.

I take the puppy out for a short walk, and as I'm returning the sky darkens and gets misty and the wind picks up. In the distance, the Spanish Peaks are almost invisible. Big storm coming. Quantum and I dash to get the tarps. At least half of our possessions are spread out on a tarp near our trailer and if we don't cover them, much could be ruined. We fight the tarps and the now-heavy wind, trying to batten everything down.

Dark comes and the storm isn't here yet. Then finally about 20 drops of water on the windows and its all over.

I go to sleep while Quantum tries to make some test calls. As I'm dozing off, I hear his mom's voice coming from the computer. She can barely hear him. Out of the load of headphone/microphone sets we've got, not one of them seems to work.

The Trinidad War - On Our Land Day 9

Its Sunday morning and we need sealant for the freaking generator, but we know all the stores will be closed. We also realize we'll need a new Magic Jack to set up on our computer, since CK's refuses to work for us. Quantum's going to check the local truckstop for the sealant, but he figures he'll probably need to go to Trinidad.

"You want me to come with or stay here?" I ask. I'd very much like to go to Trinidad. I'm hoping to find a thrift store and get a pair of jeans, since running around in skirts is ruining my clothes. Yes, I actually do not own a pair of jeans. Quantum says he wants to make it a very quick trip, and I'd be better off staying here and keeping the dog sane.

He goes toward the truck and CK comes out to find out what's up. They talk, and two minutes later I notice CK going into his trailer and returning with pants on (he usually wears shorts - I think they're actually underwear! - unless he's going out.

Now I'm furious. "What the hell?" I tell Quantum. "You won't let me go to town with you, but you're taking that scumbag?" "I didn't know you wanted to go." "Of course I wanted to go. But I let you make the decision."

Eventually I end up going into town with Quantum. We don't make it to Trinidad, and that's fine. I suggest the Dollar Store (which is amazingly open) and although they don't sell either a Magic Jack or the sealant, a customer tells Quantum that Google has a free version of that which you can just download. Excellent. The truck stop actually does sell the sealant, so we head home.

Quantum patches up the generator, and we wait for the stuff to dry. Meanwhile this is going to be another day where we can't build the damn corral. I so much appreciate T & R taking care of the yaks, but we can't be leaning on them forever with this.

While we wait, we try to figure out this Google Voice thing. Meanwhile our modem keeps heating up and cutting out on us. (The satellite guy says it will do this if we don't have clean current (which we won't have with such long extension cords to power everything.) It's late by the time Quantum finally figures out how to create an account, and jump through the necessary hoops. But here's the kicker. They want phone verification to start up our account. They want to either call us or send us a text message to prove that we're real live people. Now the entire idea of setting up the account is because we don't HAVE a phone. If you're in the city and you have all that stuff this would be a breeze. And if we had it, we wouldn't need this. Quantum decides to let them send us a text message and in the morning he'll go retrieve it.

Potatoes from Hell and Eavesdroppers - On Our Land Day 8

Its not even full moon yet, but I wake in the middle of the night to find that the moon is shining so brightly (and there aren't any other lights to dim it) that I can just about see clearly. Amazing. I finally ignore it enough to sleep again.

CK and I run into town this morning for the rest of the lumber we need for the yak corral. The place in Trinidad didn't sell pressure treat. Ouch and the stuff isn't cheap either.

By the time we get back, Quantum has marked out some spacers he says he needs to use for the corrals. He starts cutting them, and immediately CK notices that the generator is leaking gasoline from some seal. I go online and start researching what kind of products will hold with gas - I know silicone won't do the job.

I take Zen for a walk into the woods. When the realtor lady was here she'd taken us up to an area that the former owner had excavated and marked out for a house site. We've tried finding it for several days now, and we can't locate it again. However I do find an elk's antler in the woods. Odd because all I find is the one antler - no skull, no bones, no second antler. Its too early in the year for them to be dropping their antlers now, and I know that its rare for antlers to survive more than a few months - the keratin in them is a yummy treat for the little critters.

We also try to get CK's Magic Jack working so we can make some phone calls. Having to drive all the heck the way to town just to get a cell signal is becoming annoying.  No luck with the Magic Jack. Research turns up that the thing is notorious for liking one computer only.

CK, meanwhile is losing his mind because the peace and quiet is getting to him. He's one of those people who hates silence and needs to be surrounded by noise - the TV, people to talk to and so on. He lurks over to our trailer to say that we need to entertain him.

In contrast, Quantum and I are very good at companionable silence. We can sit across the table from each other for hours without speaking and be happy with that. Quantum suggests that if CK really wants company, he can play Dungeons and Dragons with us. The two of us love the game. CK hates it passionately. He cringes and goes away.

A while later he makes a big project of cleaning out the wok, which we used for food that day. Ohmigosh! CK washed a dish. We should bow down to the gods in gratitude.

Shortly thereafter he's back in our trailer trying to help Quantum set up the Magic Jack. Still no luck. Meanwhile I need to use the bathroom, and since there's no bathroom door, wait as long as I can and then, unable to wait longer, I kick CK out of our trailer again. He seems insulted.

For three days in a row now, Quantum has been making baked potatoes. He wanted to do it his particular way, and when he's "that way" about it, I just let him do his thing and get out of the way. However the same potatoes have absolutely refused to cook, in all this time, and since we need to use them before they go bad, I decide I'm cooking them. They're hard as rocks and I do my best to gouge out their centers (which are now turning blackish in areas) and try to steam them.

I go out to grab the steamer pot. I find CK sitting in a chair under the windows of our trailer. Why he couldn't sit in a chair near his own trailer is beyond me, and it feels like we're being eavesdropped on. Not only that, I find that 2 ft. away from the wok which he made such a big deal of cleaning, is my steamer pot, left uncleaned - and it's that pot I need to cook dinner in.

I'm not proud of it, but I absolutely lace into him. He couldn't bother to clean more than one pot - in my mind, making a lie of his alleged usefulness - and on top of that, I feel like we're not allowed the slightest shred of privacy. Words fly. At point he says something to the effect of, "to you I'm just a servant." I go back in the trailer with my now clean steamer muttering that he shouldn't aggrandize himself with the idea of being a servant - servants are actually USEFUL.

An hour later the potatoes are still hard as rocks. I give up on them and make ramen noodles.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Internet At Last - On Our Land Day 7

I wake up at the despicable hour of 3 something and can't seem to get back to sleep. Every night I've been getting to bed earlier and then waking up earlier, and it's starting to get annoying. We forgot to boil water last night so I can't even make a cup of coffee unless I'm willing to brave the cold and dark outside.

Quantum has to be in town by 7am to make a phone call to the satellite guy. I read by candlelight and try to stay awake. 5am comes, at which point Quantum said he wanted me to wake him. Of course it's "give me a half hour," "give me 20 minutes," and so on. I finally crawl back into bed and wake up with the sun streaming in just a short while before Quantum returns from town with coffee.

He goes out again shortly after to actually meet the guy and lead him up here (the first was a wake-up call). Scott the cable guy shows up in his pickup. He's a biker-looking dude from the Bronx but he's been in CO for several years. He tells us that the cat tracks we've seen are probably bobcat (they actually have bigger feet than mountain lions) and that we need to be careful because coyotes will try to attack Zen as a pack, and that the few ant hills we've seen are in fact fire ants. This last is especially bad news. I was really hoping to leave those evil bastards back in FL.

Eventually the satellite dish gets put in. Somehow they stuck the ugly thing right outside the bedroom window of the trailer (not where I'd planned on it going!) but too late now.

And finally we're reconnected to the world! Internet at last! But no TV? We'd told him we wanted TV. That seems to be a seperate service and he didn't bring along the right dish for that. *Sigh* Oh well.

After they leave CK goes into town for water (hauled from our apartment) and Quantum and I hang out on the laptop, getting our first gasp of news and such in weeks.

We also debate the plan for digging a garden, and consider what we can grow before the snow falls, and how to build mini greenhouses for the beds.

I want to set up the Magic Jack now that we have internet, so I can call Mom and other family, but that'll have to wait for tomorrow.

The Charcoal Fiasco - On Our Land Day 6

Quantum heads out pretty early to get lumber in Trinidad. I start the day with another round of the Cactus War, hunting them down, digging them up and transplanting them to the crevasse. I've still got prickles in my gloves from yesterday, and even though I've now figured out that my kitchen tongs are a decent tool for transplanting the things, my fingers are still stabbed.

CK drills holes for the fence posts, which he accomplishes in record time. The new auger is a great tool.

Once he's done I figure it's high time we water the cacti, and I hand CK a pail, grab a kitchen pot and we head down to the stream.

The stream is a shallow shaded bed with patches of clover growing alongside. Two rivulets flow from the spring on the western side of our land. I haven't yet taken the time to go upstream and see the spring font yet this year, though we checked it out last year. I dip my pot in and fill CK's bucket and then my pot. CK is getting whiny about the fact that he can't find a level place to put the pail. With CK there's ALWAYS a problem. "Sheesh, just HOLD it then!"

I scoop up the water. Water-striders skitter away from me. I scoop up quite a bit of algae and what I guess is a dragonfly nymph. It occurs to me that if we're going to run a pump down here, it'll need a good filter. Bucket and stew pot full, I direct CK back up the hill. "I can see this going badly," CK complains.

Its quite a trek to the cacti, but when we finally get there, they seem happy to be watered.

Quantum gets back, he and CK unload the lumber and the rest of the day is peaceful. Till dinner time at least.

I'm making chili, and since we now have the propane stove going, we're going to try and use that. So that I don't burn the chili, I want the flames low. However too low and they'll be put out by the wind. CK and I argue about this. Sure enough, at some point while Quantum is working on building a set of steps and while CK is doing gods-know-what pretending to look busy, and I'm in our trailer chopping more ingredients and trying to work up the courage to put my shoes on again (my feet have several blisters from getting used to new shoes and cacti) to check the chili, the freaking pot burns on the bottom. I scrape out everything except the burned stuff and manage to save the chili.

I tell CK that I NEED the burner lower. He whines at me and says, "well what do you want me to do about it?" "Start the grill,"I say, limping back to the trailer, "this propane crap isn't working." This is one of those times when I should have just dealt with it myself. Fifteen minutes I look over and CK has put a GIANT pile of charcoal on the grill.

Now this is the sort of thing I have issues about. I'm the child of a WW2 immigrant, and I grew up on tales of starvation, frugality and my Babcia (grandmother) going to lengths just to feed her kids. Our family, though wealthy by the standards of Biafra, was also not well off, and I always felt that I had to scrimp. As children, we were always very careful to portion food fairly. Who knows, maybe it's a past-life issue for me too. When Mom left Dad, we had to be even more careful. I've probably qualified for food stamps for most of my adult life, but never tried to get them, since I figured others needed them more. There was even one winter where me and my ex ate from a single pot of beans for an entire week, and for some time were worried where the next pot of beans was coming from.

So I'm very frugal. I hate waste. I despise when leftovers go bad. I can't stand misusing any resources. It makes me outright crazy.

Contrast this to CK. He's a glutton. He weighs nearly 400 lbs. Until now when we've moved he ate about 6 meals a day, all of which were huge. I've had fights with him about this in the past. Particularly when I make dinner for the three of us and he takes 3/4 of it for himself, not even imagining that he should leave a fair portion for the other people in the house.

Another story. About 20 years ago my ex and I applied for a job as caretakers of an estate. 15 minutes into the interview, I knew there was no way I was taking this job. The wife nattered on about the duties of the "Caretaker Couple," as if these people were each some half-entity without lives or minds. Their idea was that my ex would tend the many gardens and I'd be chef and maid. But what really sealed the deal was that as they were interviewing us, the husband (incidentally, both partners were obese, though not nearly so much as CK) pulled out two 50 lb. bags of charcoal and threw them on the grill. To cook TWO steaks. Two. Okay granted they were thick steaks. But 100 lbs. of charcoal to cook two of them? I went home saying, "I don't CARE if they offer us the job, I don't care if we need it. I will NOT work for those pigs."

So back to today. I'd already yelled at CK the other day for wasting charcoal. One night we'd grilled some stuff, and along the way we'd needed to add more charcoal. Well that's a normal thing. Charcoal has a certain burn-life. If you need to cook something longer than the darn charcoal will burn for, you need to add more charcoal. But the next day, when I asked him to light a fire, CK pours half the bag on the pile. I asked him WTF and he says, "well yesterday we had to add more." I explained that once this stuff burns down we'll STILL have to add more if there's more cooking to do, and I'd thought it was settled.

So I look over and once again CK has a huge pile of charcoal burning. So huge that the grill grate won't even fit on the prongs that are supposed to hold it. I'm furious. I tear over, grab my tongs and start pulling charcoal off the pile. I fling it into the dirt and bury it. Hopefully that will stop it from burning and I can rescue it later. I curse and rant. After all, he isn't financing our move. He didn't buy the charcoal. What the heck does he care if he wastes?

Okay, I realize it's at least in part MY issue. That doesn't make me less ticked when I see blatant waste.

The Cactus War and Ambushing Cops - On Our Land Day 5

Although yesterday's brush with the cactus doesn't seem to have left Zen with any long term problems, I've decided to go to war. There's absolutely no reason for our puppy to be stepping on them, or us either. I spend the morning digging up the spiny little bastards and transplanting them to a nearby crevasse in the land. They're prickly pear, so as a potential food source, I don't want to kill them outright.

Prickly is the word, too. I'm wearing suede work gloves and that doesn't seem to do a thing to keep out the spines. In no time I've got four or twenty of them in my fingers.

I give CK a bunch of stakes and tell him to go mark cacti for me. As with pretty much any time I ask CK to do anything, this becomes fodder for an argument. He whines that didn't I ask him yesterday to take some photos of the land? (Obviously this is a much more important job to him, since it entails virtually zero effort.) I then tell him to focus first on the areas where we walk. No, he goes wandering off, marking cacti willy nilly and everywhere, but none in the area we're actually using. "Well, what did you want me to do? A military style search grid?" Yes, that was exactly what I wanted him to do.

Quantum needs to go to Trinidad tomorrow for lumber for the yak fence. For that he needs the pickup, which still has expired tags. I go with him to town, because I want some more library books - mostly plant identification ones - and to get a set of tweezers to pull the damn spines out of my fingers.

Quantum drops me off at the library and a dozen or so books bounce off the shelves into my pile. One of the librarians is especially friendly and tells me how to work the system. You can renew books for an extra three weeks. "And after that, you can give it to us and we'll check it in and you can take it out again." I think I'm in love!

An hour later Quantum picks me up, helps me lug my pile into the truck and reports that he still hasn't been able to find a cop to verify the vin number on the truck. There must be about six cops in our town, and I can't imagine what they have to do. It's not the sort of place where crime sprees happen.

We wait outside the police station and after another half hour or so we spy a cop coming out of the station. Attack! We chase  him down and get him to sign off on our paperwork. Quantum says the only way to get a cop in this town is to ambush them. After that getting the rest of the paperwork done is straightforward, and we're finally legal with plates. It's pretty near sunset when we get back home.  So far just going to town seems to be a most-of-the-day affair.

Cacti, Puppies and Augers - On Our Land Day 4

Eventually I should probably stop numbering the days, but hey, it took us 19 days (not counting the weeks and months before the move) to get here, so I suppose I can go at least a month before I stop my numbering. I'm pretty amazed that this is only Day 4. It feels like its been much longer.

Having had no luck yesterday with the auger, we decide to go to Pueblo. Home Despot (spelling intentional) has an auger we can rent. Or we can go to Harbor Freight and buy one. We're leaning on the side of buying. If we had rented the huge clunky thing in La Veta, it would have cost us $85/day. The one in Pueblo is less expensive, but is going to take a long drive just to get it and bring it back.

Quantum and I set off to the feed store. Having dumped the tires off the roof of the Blazer (spares that had traveled with us from FL) we figure we can fit two more bales of hay on top, to replace some of the hay T has used to feed our yaks. I ask CK to walk the puppy, both because he needs it and because it'll distract him from the fact that Mommy & Daddy are leaving. As we're about to drive off, the puppy makes a lunge towards us, dragging CK behinds him, and lands on a cactus. All three of us grab him and we pull the spines out of his foot with pliers. CK of course wants to use the (DIRTY!) tongs from cooking last night until I scream at him to get a freaking pliers.

Poor baby, his foot looks a little swollen and sore, but I'm confident we got all the spines out. I swab him down with alcohol. Naturally this means we won't be thinking of anything else till we get home.

45 minutes later we show up at T's place and dump the hay for our yak girls. T's there and full of sage advice such as, "that's ranching!" "Never ask what else can go wrong," and other sayings culled from the teachings of Murphy. The yaks are hungry but not starving, and they munch happily away at the new hay. I can't wait to get them up on our land, and no doubt T feels the same. I so much appreciate his help, and don't want to take advantage of it much longer.

Yonkers does a dominance thing, pushing Yazoo away from the hay. Then she decides that the hay inside the fence isn't good enough and wants to nibble at the one outside the fence.

We head up 25 to Pueblo. As we're driving, I remark, "Oooh! Guess what! We're going to pass the World's Largest Pile of Shit!" This is a feature we noted last year on our visit here. Incongruous against the yellow-brown dirt and rock of the terrain is a huge hill of black dirt? rock? actuall poop? we're not sure. One of these days we'll look into precisely what it is and how it came to be there. The funniest part, is that right before you get to it is an exit for Butte Rd. One of these days I'll have to get a picture of the sign with the hill in the background.

Since we don't have a Pueblo phone book, no internet yet, and we didn't even have cell reception till we hit town, we decide to go for an exit we recall as having the Home Depot and lots of other stores. With any luck the Harbor Freight is there too.

There's a Petsmart and we go in to get a lamb-rice sausage for Zen. On the way in we meet a woman with a HUGE mastiff. Only a year and a half old (about Zen's age) he weighs 115 lbs, and will no doubt put on another 30 or so before he's full grown. He's a sweet, adorable beast and gives us several kisses. He's a trained balance therapy dog too. Not something your average Chihuahua could do!

Next we head to Home Depot. They've got the propane line regulator we need. Actually they've got two kinds, and we're not sure which one we need. We decide to buy neither and instead we'll go to Harbor Freight - they should know, since we bought the stoves there.

We get directions to Harbor Freight and also to Big R, a store that specializes in farm and ranching needs. Everything from boots and jeans to guns and ammo, feed, mineral blocks, pvc pipe, you name it. Not the kind of store you find in Orlando! We'd seen an ad and they were supposed to have workboots for as little as $39, but the only ones we find are from about $80 to $160, and none are really the kind we want. (I guess that was last week's sale.) What they also have are live baby chicks. How adorable! Fortunately all they have left are roosters (we only need one rooster), so we don't have to figure out how to get them home and keep them warm till we can build a coop. However they're expecting a new shipment next week. ACK! More work!

While we're in the store we notice a guy walking around with one of the biggest Rotweillers I've ever seen. We strike up a conversation with the guy. Matt is a dog trainer, specializing in training dogs off-leash. We're very impressed. The puppy (again, right about Zen's age) is perfectly obedient. I definitely want this guy's help training Zen, who is presently known for being stubborn and boisterous. At the moment (because the kitty and him are still working out their relationship) we don't even feel comfortable leaving Zen offleash in our trailer!

We tell Matt our plans for an eventual dog rescue/training facility, and he seems interested. We go home wondering if maybe we can let him use our land for training, and maybe even involve him in our rescue setup. It would mean space and potentially advertisement for him, and might get our dreams up and running faster. I'd love to be able to offer rescue dogs who were more valuable than "just any mutt out of the pound" because they'd been obedience trained and maybe even therapy trained. That's been our plan for a while, and maybe being forced to go to Pueblo might make it more of a reality. It occurs to us what a huge amount of land we have. Plenty of space for an agility course, a training area, and eventually kennels.

Enough dreaming, off to Harbor Freight for the auger. Except the darn thing has moved. Quantum flags down a postman and we get new directions.

Quantum describes the manager of the Harbor Freight as the perfect Shaggy if they're going to do another Scooby-Doo movie. They have an auger. One. It's the display model. They won't sell it to us. They'll have more in on thursday.

Today is tuesday. That means two more days without being able to start the fencing for the yaks. Three, since we'll lose a day coming back to get it. And a wasted trip.

I recall that while we were getting directions earlier, a woman told us that there was a Harbor Freight up in Colorado Springs. It's already about 3, but it's either go up there, come back thursday, or do the rental thing. We get them to call the CO Springs store and sure enough they have a bucket load of augers there. Its about a 40 mile journey and we wonder if we'll be able to make it home before dark.

An hour later (and about twice what we'd expected to pay) we've got our auger and are heading home. I'd thought to stop in a brewing supply place for some yeast and hops, but we're getting worried about Zen and his cactus wound, and decide we'd rather just get back.

Sunset is coming as we travel down the road to our land. There are patches where there are no trees, and the sun is blinding. There's no way to navigate those small stretches other than keep your eye on the gravel at the passenger side of the road and pray there's no car coming the other direction. Scary. But potentially safer than trying to navigate our rutted dirt road after dark.

I see a little gray bunny hopping around in the brush alongside the road. He freezes, ears alert, nose snibbling (no, that's not a mis-spelling its a Lemur-ism) the air and watching me with his little black eyes.

CK is out walking Zen again, and it looks like his foot is fine. While we were gone CK took a walk down into one of the gulleys and then cursed himself, realizing he'd have to climb out again. At some point during the day he heard something that he describes as either "the bear or an angry elk." I recall that it should be nearly rutting season and suspect the latter.

La Veta Loca - On Our Land Day 3

It's Monday, which means we can finally go to La Veta to rent an auger and drill holes for the fence posts. In the meanwhile Quantum and I have come up with a brilliant idea for turning what was once a cement-bottomed cattle-watering trough (possibly with a well, though we aren't sure how to re-activate it) into a shed for the yaks to live in. Its a pre-existing structure, so if we stick to the original size, planning-zone Steve can't say much about it.

The day starts much as the two previous, with me up before light, warming my hands over a cup of coffee. This morning there's much cloud cover, and the sunrise looks like a painted desert of burgundies, deep lavenders, salmon and bright highlights.

Quantum and CK work out the locations for the fence posts and then Quantum and I pile into the blazer and head for the hardware store. On the way there, the front passenger side wheel starts making a crazy amount of noise. This happened the other day when I took CK to meet the yaks, but at the time we found a twist of grass around the axle and removed it and the noise stopped.

We get to La Veta and find a place to pull over and check. Sure enough there's a birdsnest worth of grass stuck there, but we pull it off and the sound still doesn't go away. Reaching the hardware store we find that they do indeed have the auger they told us about, but its HUGE and the two of us won't be able to lift it into the truck. Of course the guy at the hardware store who lifts heavy things is on his day off. There's just no way we're getting this thing on the truck, off the truck back home, use it and then somehow get it back into the truck again. Things that just aren't happening. We'll have to go to Pueblo or Trinidad to find one that we can actually use and haul around.

Nor do they have a hose thingie for the propane stove. In essence the hardware store is freaking useless. I don't even bother asking about fly-strips.

On the way back out of town we see a sign for a Bistro and Brewery. Naturally we must investigate. The place is in the process of getting ready to open for business (as in they haven't yet got all their permits and such, not as in opening "for the day") and the couple gives us a tour. Cute little place that will hopefully serve Mediterranean food. I admire their temerity in starting a restaurant, something I'd love to do, but am not insane enough for.

Just outside of La Veta, Quantum realizes that maybe the horrific wheel noise is caused by low tranny fluid. He turns around finds a gas station, adds fluids (yes the tranny fluid was low) and we set off back home again. The noise is still with us. Cringing at the noise we make it back to Walsenburg and find a tire shop. I get out and one of the workers there gets in with Quantum and they go off test-driving for 20 minutes. But the sound went away just before we parked and doesn't come back.

We finally give up on the now-silent wheel noise and head to the feed store to pick up some hay for the yaks. (T's been feeding them from his own hay stash for the last couple days.) Naturally that guy has an auger of the type we need for sale. And it's $650 and just not worthwhile for 12 post holes we need dug.

By the time all this is done, we're both beat and there isn't much we can get accomplished today. Even dragging the hay out to the yaks feels like too much effort. (Besides we want to take a look at the wheel at home.)  We'll drop off the hay in the morning and head to Pueblo to rent an auger there.

On the way up our road, I look out into a field and there's four elk grazing. They're huge. They're amazing. Two dart off into the woods and they're so big at first Quantum thinks they're horses. An enormous buck crosses the road ahead of us and stands staring at us. His antlers are so wide they take up the entire road, about one-and-a-half car widths.

I've seen elk on TV of course. But nothing prepared me for how enormous, how magnificent they are in person.

Now as I'm typing, there's an owl hooting outside, somewhere down past the stream. It's a lovely mournful sound. I wonder if he's trying to talk to the generator that's powering my laptop, since I don't hear another bird answering him.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Thrilling Day in Town - On Our Land Day 2

The morning starts much as before. Today there are more wispy clouds and a lovely sunrise. This time we found the thermos carafe and made hot water the night before, and I'm able to start the morning with something hot to drink before I go out to brave the chill mountain morning.

We realize that a day getting some chores done in town is in order. We have a list of stuff to pick up, and CK is desperately wanting a shower. He thought he'd tanned, but it's actually all dirt from the blowing wind and sand/silt. I think I've read that the kind of soil is called loess, a sort of sandy silt made from mountains being ground down by glaciers. Of course I've mostly seen that regarding paleolithic/Ice Age sites, so who knows whether it counts here or not.

Quantum and I spend a lazy morning (its Sunday, after all, and we can't count on the stores being open early - if any are even open on Sunday) me reading a novel and him working on the plans for the wind turbine. On occasion we look out the windows at the glorious view. Just about everything we can see from here, with the exception of one far off field belongs to us. Wow.

Shortly before noon CK and I head out, Quantum, spooked by the reports of thefts in the area, opts to stay home.  He predicts we'll be back by 4.  "It couldn't possibly take that long," CK says.

At the dollar store (one of the few stores open) we find they are completely sold out of fly strips. Since we hit Oklahoma, houseflies have been a major problem. I thought I chased them all out of the car back in New Mexico, but they came back with a vengeance here.  By now I've gone on flyswatter rampage and they seem to multiply faster than I kill them. The dollar store has mouse traps, roach spray, rat traps, you name it, but their box of flystrips is an empty shell.

From there we head to the apartment and shower. CK takes a long one, I take a fast efficient one. It feels amazing to be clean. We fill up our water bottles at the sink, then, as promised a few days before, haul the TV (which belonged to the owner of the rental place) over to the TV room for Rose. The owner happens to be in residence at the moment. He turns out to be an ex-shrink who worked with schizophrenics. A really nice guy, almost overly-friendly and cheerful in a focused way that in someone else might come across as just shy of creepy. But it doesn't feel creepy, it feels like he's decent and open and fascinated by people. And Rose obviously likes him, a character reference you can't beat.

We head for the Loaf & Jug to get gas, and realize we forgot to locate a laundromat. Fortunately there's one in town, and it's even open on Sundays. We do our wash there, taking it home to dry, and naturally CK gets caught up in a conversation with someone that he's met a few days ago. CK is the king of networking. At that point I should have just gone back in and used the dryers.

It's a half hour drive home (only 9 miles!) and we get there, just shy of 4, as Quantum predicted.

Home on the Range - On Our Land Day 1

At 5:30am I crawl over the puppy, the cat and Quantum out of the bed, nearly banging my head on the cabinets above the bed. During the night my tossing and turning as well as the dog's has stripped most of the blankets from me, and I've spent the past hour alternating between trying to shiver myself back to sleep and prying the covers from beneath the dog. I light a few candles to read by and wait till it's bright enough to go outside and start the campfire so I can make coffee.

Morning comes with a double sunrise. The sky above the eastern mountains turns pale orange and turquoise, and then the colors fade and the world turns bright. I'd been hoping for something spectacular, and this is a bit of a disappointment. I go out and light the grill and am greeted by a pair of Stellar's jays (the western equivalent of the blue jay) nattering at each other. I sip my instant coffee (we haven't found the real coffee press yet) and contemplate the field with its waving grasses, and the cedars and pines that edge it. Okay, maybe that part wasn't spectacular, but look at this gorgeous land. Then the sun rises slightly further and catches a lone cloud in dark lavender-gray and salmon and the edges tinged with brilliant salmon-gold glory.

I'd taken sunrises for granted in the past, not realizing that the more vivid ones are made so by clouds, and that here the sky is nearly cloudless.

We spend most of the day unpacking boxes from the trucks and trailers and onto a big tarp so that we can work on finding all our stuff. It looks like a redneck yard sale. Quantum just wants to pull everything out. I want to do the same, but I'm trying to keep order - this pile for food, this for kitchen items, that pile for tools, another for clothes, books, computer related stuff.

Midway through the day, two men show up on a balloon-wheeled ATV, a black lab following them. They're from some adjoining land and they just found that someone robbed some of their tools. Naturally, seeing the new tire tracks and whatever commotion we were making, they came to investigate.

Zen of course loved their lab, and to their surprise it was reciprocated. "You must have a female dog," they said, "our dog hates other males." We get that a lot. Zen has a personality that allows him to befriend lots of dogs that "never" get along with others.

B&T, the new neighbors told us about a large cinnamon-colored black bear that had been seen in the area, and about one of the neighbors down the road who they'd tracked lurking around their land and all the way (about 2 miles) down to the guy's place. We talked about the local turkey and elk and whatever neighbors in the middle of nowhere talk about.

Later we finally made the steak for dinner. Zen was of course thrilled with this.  Quantum got out the gun and placed it somewhere nearby in case the bear or the mountain lion wanted to investigate.