Saturday, January 29, 2011


There are those who have lived in this long and lovely valley who will not call this paradise today.  Rain is turning snow to slush, soon to become another inch of dangerous ice.  But it is still a stunning view of mountains laced with snow around tall fir and pine, larch and cedar.  I have yet to see an ugly day, but I'm just a dumb tourist.

I was in my PJ's this morning, cutting up 1/4" plywood for various purposes, substitute canvasses for paintings.  It's a lot cheaper than artist's canvass.  I could tell that the knock on the cabin door was the Boss's wife.  She pushed open the door and had her arms full of old bathtowels. 

"We had a baby last night, and I need to keep her warm until she gets colostrum from her mother.  Would you warm these up in your dryer for her?"  After I hugged her in congratulations, I pulled put her towels in the dryer and said I would being them out to the barn in five or ten minutes.  Meanwhile I went looking for more warm stuff for the new little girl/heiffer.

I found two bathsheet towels, one beige (matches her fur) and one red (doesn't match anything).  Then two throw rugs in blue (do not match anything either).  Then I remembered the 110-year old Scottish wool blanket that my grandparents brought to the country just before the turn of the 20th century.  This tough old wool is a wonderful peach/apricot color, with a new binding I put on it.  It has had no serious call for its warmth since my children were busy puking and pooping on it a half century ago.  What better use for a vintage, indestructible blanket than to warm the new little girl!

I warmed it all up in the dryer and took it out to where she lay on some straw in a manger.  The Boss's wife protested, then laughed at me (you can laugh, too).  I assurred her that nothing could damage this old wool.
We put the blanket down, then towels and rugs, all warm.  She was shivvering a bit after drinking her morning miracle cocktail.  The Boss told me once that you can feed a new calf normal milk and it will die.  Yes, DIE!  The colostrum is miracle food and causes them to progress and thrive the first couple of days, with no ill effects.  The stuff is deep golden, darker and more intense than the richest cream in the world, that from Jersey cows. 

I petted her head a lot, and rubbed her fur with the towels to get her dry and warm.  After she had her bottle (over a quart), she lay down, shivvering again.  They do that.  Sometimes they actually look like they are going to die.  But they are fine.  It's not a simple job for them to get all the internal stuff up and running.  Before too long she started to doze off. 

I was afraid to move and wake her, but the baby who was born on January 3, was jealous and was chewing on my blue jean-covered rear end through the fence to get attention. 

"I didn't get an antique Scottish wool blanket," she pouted.

"Yes, but YOU were in on the porch by the fire," I countered.

She curled up after licking the nose of her new friend, and went to sleep without further complaint.

I sang a song to the new one, to quiet both of them.  It's an old song mothers would sing to babies in the seafaring isles of Great Britain.  Mothers, if you are not singing this beautiful old tune to your babies, they will surely grow up to be cold hearted stock brokers.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
Blow him again to me,
While my little one,
While my pretty one,

You may be thinking that it's not an appropriate lullabye for a young heiffer, but they both liked it and drifted off to sleep and dream of ancestral Jersey grasslands.

Sweet dreams to all of you, too.

Monday, January 10, 2011


This morning the view out all the cabin windows is snow and ice crystals glittering in bright and cold sunlight from a cloudless sky.  It's the time to run around madly, in the futile exercise of capturing the miracle of creation in this gorgeous part of the northwest U.S.  I have tried, but with a disposable camera.  I know a digital would be better, but like VCR's, these cameras are smarter than I, and it isn't worth the headache.  It's impossible not to look at all the reflecting ice crystals and not say "Thank you".  Great gifts must be acknowledged.  Otherwise we're just taking up valuable space, with no redeeming value.

Out the bedroom window, through which some of the girls, the jersey milk cows, often look to see what I'm up to, there is a leafless old apple tree.  The dark burnt-orange color apples still cling to the tree, though frozen many times over by now.  It looks like a forgotten Christmas tree, covered with funny colored ornaments.

The ice in the parking lot of the church yesterday had to be 2" thick, enough that the weight of the trucks didn't crack it.  It's hanging in there for the duration.  Even ice cleats on your shoes wouldn't stop you from skating unwillingly in any direction.  If you remember Tim Conway's funny old man walk, that's what we all look like. 

The Boss's wife and I picked up our mail, her SUV's rear end threatening to pass us even at the slowest speed.  Coming across an old, one-lane bridge from the dinky town, we thought we saw something floating in the river below.

As we drew closer, it became evident that two men wearing camo, in a camo colored canoe were paddling toward something splashing in the water.  We slowed down to watch; one of the men waved.  Everyone waves here, whether they know you or not.  The splashing in the water was a wounded and half drowned mallard duck.  So I am about to learn about duck-hunting season.

The river current wasn't helping them.  Neither was the fact that their maneuvering of the canoe was inept to put it politely.  The one with the paddle reached it out toward the duck.... in hopes it would grab on, no doubt.  The duck declined and continue to flounder.  Mr. Paddle pushed the duck under the water briefly, as the canoe washed out of reach of it.  The duck bounced up again.  Mr. Paddle worked to get them back upstream within reach. 

In ads and photos we always see a faithful laborador retriever bringing the duck back to his master.  Not in a frozen river.  Not if you want your dog to live out the day.  There are places where there is ice, covered with snow, on the river which slowly moves below that surface.  No one and nothing survives that cold if plunged in.

Not only is there no trusty dog, these amateurs don't have a net, or anything for scooping up the now drowned duck.  They got as far at Cabelas as the cute clothes and camo canoe, but basic equipment didn't occur to them.  My companion and I were by now rudely laughing at the men all dressed up, risking their lives to retrieve a drowned duck.  The whole thing was a comedy skit from the Carol Burnett show.

As we slowly drove off the bridge, we noticed a third member of the party, also recently out of Cabelas.  She had a gun stock resting on her hip, as she watched the comedians in the canoe.  She wasn't laughing, but should have been.  Maybe it was her poor shot that brought down the duck. 

The guns, ammo, canoe, and camo gear must have included the group in Cabela's nightly prayers of thanksgiving. 

How much does a duck cost at the local meat market?

Thursday, January 6, 2011


The Boss didn't say that, but I can tell.  It's the look on their faces, you know.  I've been crying off and on for three days.

I had a fantasy of Chuck, my pet bull, fathering a dynasty of gorgeous Jersey cattle.  He grows and grows, bigger, and stronger all the time.  When I pet him through a barbed wire fence, it seems that one day he will nudge the fence over and be in my lap.  It's getting dicy.

Well, when I mentioned one day that if they had to sell him, I would buy him, and let him have a pasture to dance in forevermore.  They finally quit chuckling, and The Boss introduced me to reality.

"He will grow to half a ton.  He would break the pelvis of a female, especially the young heiffers, and they would have to be killed.  When he gets too big, he has to be sold to someone, and he may end up at MacDonalds."

Well, I stood there, and my eyes started leaking, and my face scrunched up (it's a lot worse looking at my age).  The Boss said,  "Aw Jeez, ya aren't gonna cry, are ya?"

This is one of those statements that the fairy godmother teaches them at night just before puberty.  They are told to practice it until they get it just right, and then use it whenever the storm clouds appear on a female face.  I could make a long list of fairy godmother instructions to kids, but another time perhaps.

I looked back at him, turning red and ugly, and answered in his language, "YOU BETCHA!"  And I turned and walked back to my cabin, so as to spare him the agony of watching a female leak from the eyes.  I think it was very thoughtful of me. 

Meanwhile, the new baby Blessing is in a big pile of hay, in an open barn area, growing acclimated.  I visit her, and so does Buster the border collie.  She loves Buster.  She even likes KitKat.  If it has fur, it must be a relative, and she smiles.  By the way, the word really is "acclimated" NOT "acclimatized"  That latter abomination was coined by one of our more useless presidents; unfortunately it stuck.  Ugh!

When the time comes for Chuck to end his joyous life, I will cry some more.  I don't think our Creator makes very many animals that happy just to be alive.  I will try not to do it in front of the professionals. 

I'm also all through with MacDonald's Big Mac's.  If YOU eat at McD's, give a silent toast to the happy bull, Chuck.  Hamburger does not come from a package in the supermarket.  It comes from God's favorite, most wonderful creatures. 

Have you ever noticed that He gives the longest eyelashes to His favorites? 

Monday, January 3, 2011


I put layers on this morning and went out to the woodshed to toss some firewood into the sled .  The Boss yelled over, "Go see what's on the porch!" 
"What? Tell me," I said.
"Nope, go look,"  he said.
"You're such a brat," I told him.
"Thank you,"  he tossed over his shoulder, on his way out to break ice on a large ice bucket for last spring's crop of young jerseys.  They all have winter coats, fuzzy and adoreable.

So I went to their back porch and saw nothing but a collection of tastefully arranged garbage bags ready for the dump.  I walked back over to the barn and told him so.  He looked at me, and "Come on, silly woman," and led me to the room they process milk in.  It's enclosed and has a stove, washer, dryer, sink, and work tables.  It's a room to me.  To him, it's a porch.  OK.  Language barrier.  I followed him in the door, he pointed toward the floor, but all I saw was a pile of towels.  Then an amber colored towel moved, raised its head and looked at me with huge brown eyes under mile-long eyelashes.  She blinked.  You could tell this was a she. 

One of the two new cows that came in trade from Serenity (she wasn't a bit serene) dropped a calf before dawn.  Fortunately this polite lady dropped her cute little girl (heiffer) in the barn, and not in the zero temperature snow, where she would surely have died.  The Boss found her in the dark, picked her up and brought her into their "back porch" where the  stove would keep the new little girl warm.  They clean her up, whatever the mother didn't get around to.  By the time I saw her, she was like a bovine Bambi, fuzzy and beautiful.

She already likes being petted on her curly forehead.  She is amber color on her head and back, fading out as you move down to honey, then coffee with cream.  Her hoofs are soft, like very old jello forgotten in the fridge.  We have to help her stand up, as things are not working well yet.  Apparently this is common with Jerseys.  She flops her feet around, trying to understand what the purpose of these long appendages might be.  She looks down, puzzled, but keeps trying, waving them around like magic wands.  She gets her mother's milk, but from a bottle.  Mama's job is to produce milk now, and her little girl's job is to eat and grow and be pettedd.

The Boss's wife says that we are lucky that she only weighs around 50-60 lbs.  When they had black angus, the babys would pop out at 150 Lbs, immediately eating from mamma, and chewing on hay.  They came out strong. 

When they bred angus, they would try to breed the girls to a relatively small bull.  If the calf is too large, and the mother has a hard time birthing, she won't get up and take care of the calf.  And a 150 lb. angus is hard to manage.  What they want when breeding is a small father so that the baby calf just sort of squirts out with little drama and inconvenience to mom.

The Boss's wife dragged the rug little girl lay on about 8 feet away from the stove.  If they get overheated, they can get pneumonia.  Little girl didn't seem to mind the ride.

As I sat there by the stove, petting her, she looked up at me.  Since they had not named her yet, I said, "You were born on January 3, 2011.  You are a Blessing, and God loves you best."  They do know their names.  I can call out to Violet and Chuck and they look up, see me, and come over. 

Speaking of Violet (aka Shirley McLaine), cows have a firm pecking order.  It was not so long ago when Violet was the new kid on the pasture, and she was constantly in a bad mood.  Now with Precious and Serenity gone, Violet is the Queen of the cows.  Baby girl Blessing's mother wanted a drink of water from the large bin that is kept melted and drinkable.  Violet nudges her away and won't let her in.  Eventually Blessing's mother will have to get tough, but for now, Shirley McLaine is back and playing Number 1 Bitch. 

Codependent that I am, I went out and swatted Violet/Shirley with a pot holder to get her to move, but it didn't last long.  Blessing's mom is going to have to get down and kiss Violet/Shirley's hooves before she gets accepted. 

Chuck has several of their ladies knocked up, so it's going to be a busy winter. They will be company for Blessing, who will be alone in the barn once she can go outside of the house.  Meanwhile Chuck grows larger with more curls on his forehead.  He dances and spins and leaps when I go out to talk with him.  His head comes through the barbed wire reaching to be petted.  After a minute, I back off, as I'm afraid he will pop the barbed wire one day in his increasing size and strength.  He just wants to play, knock me over and roll me around a little.  It seems mean and selfish to disappoint him.  A more joyous animal I have never seen. 

Some day they will let him breed Blessing.  She couldn't have a better husband.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Everyone thinks they have the best casserole recipe.  I have several I love, but this one I had on New Years day, 2011, beats them all.  It is the unusual dumplings that make it so wonderful. I'm not a bread person (except for Red Lobster biscuits), but these dumplings will blow you away.



2 Lbs steak, cut into 1 inch pieces (we used elk)
1/3 C flour
1/4 C cooking oil
1/8 tsp pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 4-oz. can mushrooms, undrained
1 10 oz can condensed crm of mushroom soup
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/4 C water, divided

Butter Crumb Dumplings ingredients

2 C flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. celery seed
1/3 tsp salt
1 C whole milk
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp instant minced onion
1/4 C cooking oil
1/4 C melted butter
1 C dry bread crumbs

Coat meat with flour, paprika, salt and pepper.  Brown in lg. skillet.  Add 1 C water and a little more salt and pepper, along with onion and mushrooms.  Cover and simmer 30 min or until meat is tender.
Transfer meat to a 13X9 inch baking pan.  Heat soup in skillet with meat drippings.  Gradually add 1-1/4C water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Pour gravy over meat and top with dumplings (below), sprinkling any crumbs over top of casserole.  Lightly sprinkle with paprika. Bake uncovered at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 min.

Butter Crumb Dumplings:  Combine flour, baking powder, celery seed, poultgry seasoning, onion and salt.  Add 1/4 C oil and 1 C milk.  Stir just until moistened.  Combine melted butter with dry bread crumbs.  Drop rounded spoonfulls of dough onto the crumb mixture, rolling to coat really well.

When I make this, I substiture 1/4C vermouth for 1/4C water.  Vegetarians, I would add more mushrooms, could use tofu or glutin instead of meat, even eggplant, pre browned.