Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ode to Shadow

I confess.

I am not a dog person.

Wait! Don't run off to find another blog to read. I'm not a cat person either. I like animals, truly. I love horses. I want my children to have and love animals so they've had everything from rabbits and goats to pigs and kittens. (But sadly, no horses.) I just don't get all oogy-woogy over any of them. Animals I mean. Babies, yes. And baby animals, maybe.

I like dogs. But to really appeal, a dog has to be a good dog. I can't abide dogs that are as dumb as door knobs or denser than a rock. I've met some of those. I don't like loud dogs or disobedient, unruly mutts. I have enough two-legged unruliness to deal with that I don't need a critter testing my nerves too.

I like smart dogs. Trained dogs. Loyal dogs.

So, I don't know how but we have been blessed with the single best dog on the planet Earth. The only dog I have ever loved.

His name is Shadow. The kids named him when we got him. A black border collie. We saw an ad in the paper for a dog in need of a home and went to get him at a vet's office. The vet said he was 5-7 years old based on his dental health. No one knew his history.

That was thirteen years ago.

I don't know if it's possible for my dog to be 18-20 years old. Maybe the vet was a little off.

When we got Shadow he was instantly at home. Like a family member returning to where he longed to be.

I liked him instantly because he was so...smart, obedient and attentive. He rarely barked. He had self-imposed boundaries. He never went on the carpet. He never ventured down the hallway and he never, ever went in the bedrooms. He didn't jump on people or chase chickens or cars. He didn't run the countryside with other dogs.

He has never, ever in thirteen years, been on a piece of furniture. Ever. Holy cow.

He is always great with kids. It took him a bit to adjust to new babies - two arrived after him - but they soon won his heart.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. He only has three legs. But don't tell him. He doesn't know it.

Shadow knew immediately who the Alpha Dog was. He never had to be reminded.


His loyalty to me is humbling. I'm not a dog person. I don't deserve his devotion at all.
But he obeys me, protects me, worries about me...

When I am in my studio he waits outside for me the entire time.

When I sit at the computer, he lays under the desk on my feet.

He must be under the table during dinner.

Of course, he's also very devoted to the kids.

This photo was taken the morning after Neal had returned from living in Hawaii for six months. Neal was handing out gifts. Shadow was waiting for his. He didn't get one. And that was fine with him. He was just very happy Neal was back safe and sound.

One year Shadow had an unfortunate accident and broke his leg. The opposite one from the missing back leg.

It didn't phase him one bit. He would hold his casted leg out sideways and chase squirrels on two legs.

But here's my favorite story about my loyal dog. The dog I don't deserve.

I had a difficult and painful labor when I was pregnant with Samuel. Yes, isn't that the definition of labor? Difficult. Painful. But, I've had seven labors and this one was one of the more unpleasant of them. I was in the bedroom with my attendants. The birth wasn't any fun either with a slight complication afterwards. Can you tell? - I had a homebirth. When the drama was all over and I was tucked into bed nuzzling my new little precious baby my family came in...."Mom, can we please bring Shadow in? He's been camped out in the hallway whimpering and he won't go out. He really wants to come in and check on you." He came in, took a look and a sniff and got a greeting from me. Satisfied that all was well and that my attendants had done a good job under his watch, he went out.

What a dog.

When he was younger he had long silky soft hair.
Over the years it has gotten coarser and thicker it seems.
He prefers to spend his time outside - he is a farm dog after all.

He loves the winter and enjoys the cold.
His coat gets thicker and the weather really reeks havoc on it after a few months.

So his coat is perpetually dirty and haggard looking.

As soon as the weather is warm enough, he gets a shave and a hair cut.

So my dog is somewhere between 16 and 20 years old. Time has taken a toll on this three-legged friend. Arthritis makes it hard to run around much. He prefers to lie around.

His eyesight is poor. Deafness has set in. Also a bit of senility. More than a bit. Maybe because of his diminished abilities he tries harder to do his job of protecting the family. He does things he never did before, like barking a lot. He's nipped at the mail carrier and the meter reader.

But mostly he lays around. Everywhere.

A big furry rug. Faithful but tired.

And he's allowed to come on the new carpet. But since his coat is perpetually dirty, he has a rug.

Shadow - you missed the rug. Get over there.


Good dog, Shadow.

I'm a one dog woman.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blueberry Renovation

We have twenty-one mature blueberry bushes. We estimate that they were planted in the 1960's. They are one of the best features of our property. Over the years we have harvested hundreds of pounds of the health-giving, anti-oxidant loaded, delicious, juicy berry.

There are a number of varieties planted, from early to late with some sour and others sweet. In a good year we will be picking from July through October.

In March one spring job is to prune the bushes. It has taken me years to learn how to do it properly.

Last year we did not have a bumper crop of berries as we usually do. It may have been due to the long cold spring that we had, which detrimentally affected a number of orchard crops in our valley, decreasing the fruit production by as much as 50%. (Unfortunately, this year is acting like a repeat. I've already heard that the time-table for the blossoms is set back. We just have to hope we don't have the hard freezes we had last year that killed blossoms. Such is farm life.)

Even so, it was time to do some renovation of our blueberries.

The grass had encroached so closely around the base of the plants that it was choking them. It made mowing difficult. And it looked terrible.

I got the pruning done during two afternoons that were without rain. Probably the only two non-rainy afternoons of the month. Time to employ my boys for the drudge work.

Yesterday the big boys showed up to help with some spring garden work.

This is one good reason to have big boys. They can be very useful.

It was dicey to get sod out without damaging the roots of the bush. I came along behind with a hand trowel to get what was matted inside the base. A couple other big boys helped on this job too, but I forgot to take their picture. Notice our faithful border collie supervising the proceedings. This is always his job. He's a farm dog and he's all about quality control.

Mr. Dirtywrench came along at the end with wheelbarrow loads of composted manure from our pile at the back of the property. Sometime I'll write about our lazy way of composting that is so not like the magazines tell you to do it and yet yields the wonderful black gold anyway.

Mr. D. also gave each bush a dose of organic fish fertilizer.

I LOVE the results!

The bushes look so much better and I can just hear them cheering at the amount of nutrients that they've been given that they will transform into branches hanging heavy with berries.

Anyone for blueberry pie?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Let's have spring already!

9 a.m. this morning


...is this going to end?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Got cream?

Take six beautiful, golden farm eggs, fresh from the chicken coop-

Beat them up with a half cup of sugar.....

Find two pints of REAL cream (left over from wedding cake)

Swirl in vanilla bean and dance over a flame.

Combine the hot cream with the eggs, strain and pour into ramekins....

Bake in a bain marie (water bath) in a 250 degree oven for an hour.

Chill. Read a magazine. Do your nails.

Close your eyes and pretend you're sitting in a little street cafe in Paris.

Creme Brulee

Now you're living!

An afternoon in the kitchen

Four and a half dozen ginger spice cookies


Chocolate cake for a customer birthday order


Creme brulee (for me!)


Soup for supper


And NO dishwasher!!!

Well......no automatic dishwasher anyway.....

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No Kids

It's officially spring.

Bringing with it twittering birds, crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils, and we're hoping, praying, here in the Northwest-


One of the undeniable signs of spring is baby critters of all kinds. Around here we always know it's truly spring when our goats start kidding.

We've had goats so long I can't even pinpoint just when we got our first. I'd say it's been ten years or more of goats.

They first arrived as a 4-H project for our own oldest kid. She was very good at it.

She started us on goat milk and goat cheese and goat yogurt.

After she married and moved away, her younger sister took over the herd.

And in the spring...

.....we always had kids.

Sweet, adorable, playful, squeaky clean, brand new kids.

One year we had two sets of triplets.

But this year, we have no kids.

It feels very odd.

The short explanation is that the buck we had last fall didn't or couldn't do his duty. A month or so after breeding season, he laid down and died. Stuff like that happens on the farm so we were sad but not too phased.

Until spring arrived and it became clear our two does were not pregnant. And that there would be no kids this year.

So there also won't be any goat milk this year.

That's a problem.

We've decided our goat time is over and we're going to get a milk cow. We'll keep our one favorite goat, Lily, to keep the cow company.

But we'll sure miss the kids every spring.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Boys must be boys

There's a major construction project going on at our place.

In this economy, I'm not sure we have the budget for it. It's very elaborate. It involves structures, steps to nowhere, furniture making, pulley systems and bridges. The workers have explained it all to me several times but it's so complicated I couldn't possibly repeat it with any clarity.

It's very intensive work though. The guys are out there first thing in the morning after a bowl of Cheerios.

OSHA would be happy to see the safety precautions they've taken. The hats, gloves and tool belts.

Though they would probably fine them for lack of safety harness and eyewear.

The first phase of the project that they completed was the pulley system- so that they could move mud from one tree to the other thirty feet away. They used garden string and a pulley thingy they found in the junk drawer. It works amazingly well!

The shelter was next. Furniture was made for when the cousins come over.

The construction zone is in the pasture so a bridge was necessary for crossing the irrigation creek that forms every spring.

Hey Pete! Workin' hard or hardly workin'?