Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cow Update

I don't post about them as much now, but I'm still the reluctant owner of cows. 

TBone earned a stay in execution for both of our steers. He's just too small to send to freezer camp this week, as I'd originally planned.  I was deeply disappointed, because feeding and watering livestock in the wintertime is not nearly as much fun as it sounds (yes, I fully understand it does not sound like a good time. Trust me, it's not!).

We got quite a bit of hay (I think around 125ish bales?) and started to hunker in.

It's been a rough month or two because Tbone has also started his escape act again. For several days (of course when J is out of town), he'd get into the pasture to the south of us.  We re-did the barb wire and things have been going well.

Today, we struck a deal with the neighbor to the south. We'll open up the pasture so their llamas and our cows will have free reign of both properties.  We'll be able to water everyone from their barn (and their heated hose and NOT have to haul 25+ gallons of water a day to the pasture... YIPPEE!!!!), and we'll share our hay with the llamas. They plan to rehome the llamas soon, but are contemplating a steer. Having buddies will be good for their steer, so it's a win-win all around.

llamas on our side, cows on theirs
So, this morning J and I opened up the gate in the pasture. The llamas were very quick to go to our side to play. The cows were a little more cautious, but as we backed off, they went to investigate. When they saw us walking back, they ran to our side of the field. I think this PROVES they knew that escape was naughty.

For the rest of the day, the llamas were literally running all over our field, and the cows were grazing around in the other field. I guess the grass really is greener on the other side.

As a side note, as we were walking the fenceline, checking to make sure all was intact, we scared up a beautiful pheasant. I wish I'd gotten a photo of it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Help, I'm stuck!!!

Do you remember the scene from "A Christmas Story" when Flick sticks his tongue to the flagpole and gets stuck?  It was always one of the funniest, yet most awful scenes of the movie.

Today when I picked up the kids from school, S got in the car first. I asked how her day was, and she said emphatically, "It was TERRIBLE!!"

I was really surprised because she generally loves school and always has great days. I asked her why, and she said that Z got stuck on the playground today. What?!

Evidently, they have their last recess at the same time. Z was climbing around on the playground equipment and got his ring finger stuck in a hole on a metal bar. Said metal bar was about 5.5 feet off the ground, and his finger went all the way through (there were holes on either side), but then it wouldn't come out. He was trapped there, standing on a rope with his finger firmly stuck.  A classmate got a recess duty who came right over.  Recess duty couldn't do anything.  The second recess duty came over. She was equally flummoxed.

About this time, the predicament started to get a lot of attention, including S. S is a sensitive type, and was really, really upset. She was on the ground crying over Z being stuck.  About that moment, the bell rang.

The kids scattered and went to class, leaving the two aids with Z.

Z's classmates went inside and told her teachers. Because she couldn't leave the class alone, she brought the whole class out there to the playground, so she could check out the situation.

the hole involved, with a penny for reference
Finally, someone brought out some lotion or soap out and got him all slipped up, and he was finally able to slip his finger free.  Ms V (Z's teacher) knew that S was really upset, so she had him go see her in class so S would know he was free and ok. I thought that was very thoughtful of Ms. V.

Z was pretty stoic and casual about it, and seemed much less traumatized than S. All's well that ends well, though I hope that they do something to fill that hole. I'm a little surprised it's never been a problem before, and while Z was none the worse for wear, the potential for significant injury is big, I think.

Once J got home from work, we took Z back to school so that he could show us exactly how he could get stuck on the playground. I thought they were fairly fail-safe.  Shows how brilliant (?) my kids are.

Z has been pretty casual about the whole thing, though this evening, he admitted that he was afraid that he was going to be stuck there forever.

Helpful Llamas

So, TBone, the escape artist cow, has been up to his tricks again. Our fenceline has field fencing the entire length of the field; however it starts about 18" above the ground, and is probably 20+ years old and in need of new posts. So, we installed some barb wire on our side of the posts. Unfortunately, even this hasn't been enough.

I came out a couple weeks ago and found this scene. Casanova is poking his head under the fence, and TBone is off in the distance, grazing.  This particular section of fence goes all the way to the ground, but the railroad tie posts are old and somewhat rotted, so getting things firmly attached is difficult. Plus, once a steer gets to a certain size, keeping them in a pasture requires a certain level of cooperation from the animal. Cooperation is not something that TBone has ever really had. I'm glad I've never had to take him to parent/teacher conference- he probably wouldn't do well with the "plays well with others" part either.

I borrowed some dog kennel panels from my neighbor to fix the section of fence that Tbone had burrowed under, as J was in Germany, and major fence repairs are more his thing than mine.

I was trying to wire them into place when I made the discovery that llamas can be very curious, and attempt to be helpful. Of course, llamas are about as helpful as toddlers during brain surgery, but it made for a very entertaining time. Here, one of the llamas is whispering sweet nothings in my ear as I worked.

Are you sure you're bending that wire properly?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

First Day of School 2013-2014

I know I'm a little late getting this posted, but better late than never, right? My kids leave to school at three different times, so getting a photo of all four of them at the same time was an impossibility.

This year, I have kids at three different schools, so one more than last year. Last year I only had two schools to deal with, but Z was in kindergarten. Personally, I believe that kindergarten is the biggest trick perpetuated by parents. Everyone THINKS that kindergarten means there will be a lot more freedom to the parent in charge of getting kids to/from school. LIES!!!!!!  It actually ties you down more because you have to make sure that you're around to get them to and from school. Want to drive off to something 45 minutes away? Not possible.

This year, however, heralds unprecedented freedom for me. Two exciting things changed this year. First, and most exciting, is that Z is now in first grade. That means that once I get S & Z to school, I am free (sort of) to my own devices until 3:25 pm.  Second: K is now in high school (eeeeeek!!!!), and conveniently enough, the IB high school just happens to be our neighborhood school. Even better, we are far enough away that she qualifies for the bus! This means that transportation isn't my responsibility this year. No Jazz Band rehearsals. No carpools for her.
Note the lack of pine trees for background.

Speaking of carpools, my junior high carpool for M has FIVE parents in it this year, so no more rotating Fridays to keep track of. I make two carpool trips a week, and that's it.

So far this year, the only challenging thing has been whether or not I can access my car and/or the road when taking the little kids to school. Road construction is still ongoing, and more often than not, the road is closed, which means a couple mile detour to the school that is 5 blocks away. Even more exciting, now that curb and gutter is done, I've found my car blocked in the driveway by misc. street workers. I've had to make it my policy to take the kids to school 15-20 minutes early to school. That way, if I come out and the cement truck is pouring cement and blocking my car in (like it did yesterday), it's no big deal to just walk the kids to school.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Monarch Caterpillars

When the little kids were in preschool, we were asked to keep an eye out for monarch butterfly caterpillars. They school thought it was a fun activity to keep them in class, and then release the butterfly when it emerged from it's cocoon. Thus begun an obsession for me. I also thought that would be a fantastic thing to watch, so I took up the cause with passion.

I spent 5+ hours a week, closely inspecting every milkweed plant I came across, looking for monarch caterpillars. You'd think I would've found one easily, but I went FOUR YEARS and never saw one. I didn't look for them much unless it was August or September, but every August, I'd start watching for them, and give up when the frost hit in October.

After the kids graduated preschool, I didn't look as carefully, but I couldn't walk past a milkweed plant without glancing at the leaves to see if they appeared to be nibbled on or not.

My good friend Jackie remembered this quirk. She called me yesterday to tell me that while camping, she'd found NINE of the beauties, and did I want a couple? OF COURSE!!! She came by yesterday and dropped off three. I was almost beside myself with giddiness.

When I woke up this morning, I saw that the milkweed leaves looked a little wilty, so I knew I needed more. Because of my longstanding obsession, I knew just where to find a bunch, so I headed off to the nearby walking trail to grab some leaves and hurry home before the little kids woke up and M had left for school.

I got to the clump of milkweed leaves and as I got closer, I couldn't believe my luck! Sitting there on a leaf was a caterpillar!!!  I carefully plucked it's leaf, as well as a few others. Then..... OH MY GOODNESS! ANOTHER caterpillar! I was shocked that as soon as I quit looking, I found two.  I grabbed them both and took them home.

One of the caterpillars has already started to spin it's cocoon. I can't wait to watch the whole process.

Friday, August 30, 2013

18th Anniversary Trip- King's Peak

The last few years, J and I have chosen to have a little trip to celebrate our anniversary instead of buying each other gifts.  Last autumn, we had friends who suggest a group backpacking trip to King's Peak, the highest peak in Utah, located at 13,527' (4,123 m) above sea level. J IMMEDIATELY jumped on board. He began haunting Recreation Outlet and bought us all kinds of fun backpacking toys. We each got new backpacks, sleeping bags (that zip together!), sleeping pads, pillows, tent, backpacking stoves, water purification kits, etc. etc. The tent was purchased in January, and he had to set it up in the basement. 

I didn't have his level of enthusiasm, but I was impressed with our neat gear. My sleeping bag compacts very small, but is good to 20 degrees. Because J bought the same brand, but the "man" version, it goes to 30 degrees and they zip together.

Starting in May, we started doing a lot of hiking, with going up Adams Canyon being our favorite hike. In July, we started going up the canyon with our backpacks and gear.

campsite night 1
By August, we felt ready. I had some last minute work emergencies, and I was really apprehensive to go off the grid for several days, but I finally took a deep breath and left cell service. Because we left so late due to my work, we decided to camp the first night at the Henry's Fork Trailhead. It was nearly dark by the time we got our camp set up. It was easily set up though, and dinner was quick, easy and delicious.

The next morning, we were off on the trail. It was about 9.5 miles from the trailhead to where we set up camp for the night. It was not a very steep hike, and the views were spectacular. I had a 30 lb pack, and J's weighed 40 lbs. When we got to camp, we were pleasantly tired. 

campsite night 2
We set up camp for the second night, and I even got my bear burrito (i.e. hammock) set up.

waterfall where we got our water

We bought a gravity water filtration system called a platypus. I was thrilled with how quickly and easily it worked. We watched a lot of people pumping their water through the filters, and it looked like a lot more work than our gravity fed system. We didn't get sick either, so that was nice.  We hung out at a nearby waterfall to relax and get water for the evening.

The high uintas as supposed to be bear country. We've been camping there for years and years, but have never seen evidence of bears, even when we were camping along the Bear River.  However, we've always taken precautions and had a bear safe camp.  This time, it was a little tougher to create a safe camp since we didn't have a vehicle or trailer to lock our scented items into.  We used parachute twine and hung our smelly stuff a couple hundred feet from camp between two trees. It took a bit of effort, but we felt like we had done well, even though we didn't think it was necessary.

That night, we were pretty tired, so we settled in to sleep as soon as it was dark.  A couple hours later, we were both startled awake by a loud ROAR, followed by a weird "chuffing" type sound. The horses and dogs at a nearby camp went crazy after hearing that. A little while later, it repeats.  It didn't exactly sound like a bear, but it was a very scary noise. It happened several times throughout the night. Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep at all.  In hindsight, I think it was actually a very strange sounding donkey. If you watch THIS video, and skip to about 40 seconds in, that's the sound we heard, but without the "heeeeeee" intake of breath. So we heard the roar, and the chuffing you hear as well. FREAKY.

When it got light outside, we gave up on sleeping and got up and ate breakfast. We loaded up J's hydration pack with food, water and raingear (it IS the high uintas, and rain/snow can happen at any time) and set off.

The Toilet Bowl from the bottom
Gunsight pass is the main way up the first canyon. It looked intimidating, but ended up being not a bad incline.  The Toilet Bowl is the biggest shortcut up and down, but it's more than 1,000 feet of loose rock and very steep incline. Starting a rockslide is almost inevitable. We agreed that there was NO WAY we were going up the Toilet Bowl. We also thought anyone going down was out of their minds.

We got to the top of gunsight pass, and it started to rain.  Awesome.  We got on our raingear.  We thought about taking a shortcut that's supposed to take about 4 miles off the hike, but because of the rain, and the fact that the shortcut involved scrambling around boulders, we decided to take the long way. Lucky for us, it stopped raining on us soon after, though there was thunder and rain all around us.

maybe this wasn't such a great idea
By this time, we were about 11,000 feet and climbing, and we were noticing the elevation. I seemed more sensitive than J, and was battling shortness of breath and nausea for most of the hike. I also don't do well without a solid 8 hours' sleep, so I was tired and cranky as well.  We got to the base of King's Peak, and this was our view.

climbing to the summit

It ended up being all bouldering and fairly steep for the last 1000 yards.  It was about this point in the hike that I discovered I'm really not crazy about heights, or bouldering when it's steep.  J helpfully pointed out that the rocks would kill me far before the heights would.  Thanks honey.

 This isn't exactly at the summit, but I liked the photo opportunity here. As you can see, the clouds weren't looking very good, so we decided we needed to really hustle to get down so we weren't caught in the downpour.

We got down from the final summit area, and got looking at the toilet bowl shortcut. It looked awful and scary. However, it looked like it would also take hours off our hike time.  We took a deep breath and decided to take the shortcut.

The toilet bowl. See me in the picture?

It was indeed a much quicker way down. I'm pleased to say that neither of us fell, nor started a rock slide, and we went down at the intended pace.  It still was very difficult going, and about 3/4 of the way down, I decided I'd rather do the Arctic Enema from the Tough Mudder a couple times over rather than do this again. To date, I'd say the Toilet Bowl was one of the most deeply unpleasant things I have ever done.

By the time we got back to camp, it was nearly 5pm, and J and I had decided we'd had enough fun with camping. We weren't 100% sure that the roaring was a donkey, and we didn't want to sleep in the same spot, just in case we were wrong, and there were bears. Even if it WAS a donkey, it was loud enough that we knew we wouldn't get a good night's sleep. We figured we had two options: 1- pack up our stuff, hike a few miles towards trailhead and set up camp again, sleep, and break everything down in the morning or 2- pack everything up and make the 9.5 mile trek back to our car, even though we'd already hiked 11 miles plus that day.  Strangely enough, option 2 sounded less exhausting, because that meant we'd sleep in our own beds that night.

We've come to refer to that hike out to our car as the "death march". We were both utterly spent by the time we got back to the car. I pushed myself far beyond any physical limits I thought I had on that hike. The last 45 minutes or so, we had to hike with our flashlights. We saw a lot of animals in that last bit. By the end, I didn't care if I saw a bear. There was no way I was running. I hated my shoes, my backpack, my hair, my skin, my feet, my pants, the trail, trees, mountains, and hiking. I hated rocks most of all. Considering how much I love rocks, this is saying something.

We finally got to the car, and made the two hour drive home. We didn't get home until after 1:30am. I HAD to take a shower that night- I felt like I was growing sweat crystals on my face. I've never loved a shower so much.  We collapsed in bed and slept like the dead in our silent house.

With a good's night rest and a full belly, we felt much better about the trip, and have great memories of it. We did have a friend suggest we make King's Peak a day trip and go again in September. I'm not quite to THAT in my fond memories. I politely declined.

It's now been two weeks. The blisters have pretty much healed, but my feet still hurt a little. I'm ready to go back packing again soon.

Epic West Coast Trip- Part 5

Our next scheduled stop was in Brentwood, CA, where my good friend Kirsten lives. She was at Girls' Camp when we got there, but Todd and the boys were great hosts.  We dropped our trailer off, and decided to spend the evening in San Francisco. We had a nice dinner at a ramen shop on the way in, and then walked around wharf area. Parking seemed to be pretty outrageous and expensive. We ended up parking at a nearby Target. They offered a parking validation with purchase. After buying drinks and treats for the family, our parking was paid for because of the validating Target did, so we thought that was a nice way to park for "free".

Brentwood was having a huge heat wave, and the temps were well over 105 degrees. Kirsten swore this was an unusual occurrence, but I will always associate her city with blistering heat.The next day, all of the kids swam while the grownups visited. 

We had originally planned to stay a second night, and make the trip from Brentwood to Utah in one marathon trip, but we realized we just couldn't bring ourselves to do it. So, after dinner, we left Brentwood, with intentions to drive up Donner Pass and spend the night at a KOA in Reno.

Going up Donner Pass was really harrowing with the big trailer and our car. It was the one time I kind of wish we'd had our much more powerful diesel truck.

We finally got into Reno at 9:45pm. The KOA office was closed, but we found our reserved spot. I was dismayed to see the trailer next to us was plugged into our power pole. I was surprised because everything is clearly marked. You'd have to be blind and dumb to mess it up.  We knocked on the door of the trailer, but nobody answered. So, I unplugged their trailer, plugged into THEIR tower, and plugged ours in.

We went to bed. I heard the neighbors come home sometime during the night, but not sure of the time.  We woke up at 6:15 am, ate a quick breakfast and got ready to go. I tried to fill a water bottle for Z, but the water seemed to be running out. I assumed that J had already disconnected the water hose and shrugged it off. I noticed that the hose was still connected and thought that was odd that I didn't get much water, but didn't think of it.

On the drive home, Z started throwing up. Awesome. Luckily, it was only a couple times, and then he seemed better.  We stopped in Wendover to clean him up, and noticed that one of our other trailer tires wasn't looking very good. Since we were about to enter the west desert, we decided to change it, since we could pick a nice deserted, safe road if we did it then. We made K & M do the changing, and I was impressed with how well they did (when we bought a new tire, we also bought a much nicer jack).

We got home safely!

We started cleaning out the trailer. J got our water line and was rinsing it off when he made a startling discovery. The hose was crammed full of miscellaneous weeds and leaves. The only way they could've gotten in the water line is if someone disconnected the hose from our trailer, stuffed them in there, and then reconnected the hose.  It had to have happened at the KOA, after we went to bed, but before we woke up. I can't officially blame the neighbors who were hooked into our power pole, but they seem the most likely suspect. It seems like such a ridiculous and mean prank to pull on someone. I suspect their little prank is what caused Z to be throwing up on the way home. He was the only one who drank water after the leaves were crammed in there.

The thing that bugs me the most about it is the suspects OWN A CATERING BUSINESS. Well, again, I can't say for sure that they did it, but when we arrived, there was no car in their parking spot. When we left the next morning, there was a vinyl wrapped SUV parked in the spot. I sleep fairly lightly, and the only noise I heard outside was when they came back to their spot in the middle of the night. Their SUV was advertising a catering company/personal chef that operated out of the Truckee area. They advertise themselves as more than a catering company, and more of a chef type thing. As much as I want to publish the name of the company plastered all over their SUV, I will refrain. I'm very angry with the company though, and would never, ever hire them, based on what I think they did to my water supply and I blame them for my 6 year old getting sick. Seems like a very irresponsible thing to do, especially if you're in the food business and know how important it is to have clean water. Hey, maybe the Chef didn't understand that though, and didn't mean any actual harm. It's also entirely possible they lent their vehicle to someone. Or, it could've been a staff member, and not the owners, and I wouldn't want the owners harmed if they were innocent.

Epic West Coast Trip Part 4

We spent a couple days in the Redwood Forest, and I think it was one of my very favorite parts of the trip. Those giant redwood trees are simply awe inspiring. I loved looking at them. The kids got bored after a while, but I think I could wandered around that part of California for months without getting bored.

The kids loved the tide pools around Patrick's Point, and we had a lot of fun look for agates at Agate Beach.

looking for agates in the morning mist

We reluctantly left Patrick's Point and headed for MacKerricher State Park.  It was a very nice state park with great staff and a lot of great beach. They had a LOT of sea lions with babies within an easy walk from our campsite,  which was pretty neat.

That evening, we went to Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, which was interesting. The beach used to be a dump. They ended up cleaning up most of the trash, but the glass remains, as well as some blacktop in places.

Epic West Coast Trip- Part 3

Days 10-13

On the way from Reedsport to Patrick's Point, we were told we simply HAD to visit the West Coast Game Park Safari in Bandon, OR. We were a little hesitant because the prices were pretty steep. But, we had enough people tell us that we bit the bullet and paid the price of admission. You all KNOW I'm a total cheapskate. But, this was some of the best money we've ever spent. We had an absolute ball, and LOVED being able to actually touch and interact with the animals.  Ever held a bear before? We can all say that we have, and we didn't even get attacked by an angry mother.

 We stayed at Patrick's Point State Park, CA.  Getting from Reedsport to Patrick's Point was a bit of an adventure though.  First, the road between the two is very narrow and winding, with lots of elevation change. If we hadn't been towing, it wouldn't have been too big of a deal, but it was a little harrowing.

We finally made it out of that, and into California. It had started raining, which slowed us down. Then, suddenly, the road felt very, very rough, even though it looked smooth. A car passing us pointed at the trailer, so we pulled over and discovered we'd had a trailer tire blown completely out.

We had lost the jack closest to the ruined tire at the last camping spot. Well, it was still there, but not functional. So, we got the car jack, and learned that it was essentially useless. About the time we realized that, a wonderful California Highway Patrolman pulled up. He let us borrow his jack, and we had the tire changed in just a few minutes.   We stopped in the nearest town (which was about a half hour away) and replaced our spare, just in case. We knew we had a lot more driving still to come on the trip.

We finally arrived at Patrick's Point and were very impressed with the spot.

 We found the banana slugs to be endlessly entertaining and interesting.