Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eight years ago today,

I was flying over the East Coast, my soul sinking at the sight of brown. Such a deadening color.

I had left Ireland some hours before and had watched their green coast line disappear behind me, somehow fooling myself into believing that the world I was re-entering was going to be as beautiful, as open, and as exciting. I was flying back to Utah. It was not as beautiful, open, or exciting.

I had gone to Ireland as an apprentice in the Communicating for Agriculture Exchange Program (they're now the Communicating for America program - they really shook things up with their name change). The program was such an incredible opportunity. They took care of matching you up with some possible apprentice opportunities (my choice was horse stables in England or Ireland - I ended up choosing Ireland from four choices they gave me, the other three were in England) and handled the working visa paperwork, you took care of the rest. Your employer gave you room and board and a small stipend in exchange for you working your ass off for them. It was a sweet deal for a college-age American who was horse-crazy. If we're ever in a position to host an intern from another country through this program, we're doing it.

(sorry for the blurriness of the photos that follow - they are pictures of pictures. haven't figured scanning out yet)

I landed a position with Carrickmines Equestrian Centre near Dublin. They were very generous. I worked for five days a week, from dawn to dark (except for in the winter when I worked from dark to dark), got one free riding lesson a day, a 100 pound stipend per week, and a flat to share with other stable hands - I was the only American. EU workers came cheaper, I think.

It was a really good deal for me. I got to learn to jump - something that was outside of my means in America - and I got to travel anywhere within a few hours distance (most of Ireland) on the weekends.

This one's for my sister-in-law - we were discussing Irish hot chocolate the other day. It's an experience.

I met a lot of people there who changed my life - the way I looked at America, the world, myself, others. It was an enlightening, if sometimes painful, experience. Tony and Hillary, a very kind - and fun - couple who played polocrosse at the stable, were very influential. I remember that when I first met Tony, it was two days before I could understand a word he said. He was from the west coast of Ireland. By the time I left, six months later, I could tell you where someone was from in Ireland, and even parts of Wales, by their accent.

Then there was Simone. Simone Fottrell. Or Simone Fotrell. Or Simone Fottrel. I'm sure it's the first spelling, but I've got to cover all my bases. I lost track of her and can't find her information. Simone Fottrell. Maybe she'll get bored and google her name, my blog will pop up, and we can reunite. Simone Fottrell. Like a made for tv movie about friendship. A very sappy movie. Simone Fottrell. Maybe someone from Carrickmines will follow the link back to my blog and know somebody who knows her and let her know she's being looked for. Simone Fottrell. How many times does the name have to appear for it to come up first in a google search, hmmm??? Simone. Fottrell.

Anyway, Simone was the best friend I had over there. She worked for a wealthy young jumper (named Sarah also) as her stable manager. They rented a small side-stable at Carrickmines. Simone was a great jumper in her own right, a good horse trainer, a great riding instructor, and she really cared for those animals. She was the one who dragged my prissy LDS behind into Irish culture, pell mell, no holds barred. Well, some holds barred - I never drank. But I did go to pubs and dance clubs with her and a group of girlfriends. We both got something out of it. She got a loyal 'designated driver' (which in Ireland means a member of the group who doesn't drink so that they can keep all the rest of the girls in the group who are getting drunk off their trees from going off with random men) and I got to learn to let loose and have fun. I also got to meet some great Irish jumpers, get some kick-ass jumping lessons, meet some really fun guys.

So, Simone, if you read this - contact me. Pretty please.

When I left Carrickmines and flew back into the States, I knew I wouldn't be going abroad again for a very long time. It's been eight years and with finances tight and young children, I really don't know when I'll get the chance to travel again. And travelling, while fun, is just not the same as *living* there and working there.

Maybe that's why every year at this time, I remember the brown coast coming into view and I get sad.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We have a beautiful view.

We really do.

About two weeks ago I looked out our front window and saw this.

That's a lot of sheep. Judging by the number of marker sheep in the herd, there were at least eight hundred. They spread from one edge of my camera lens to the other.

I took this picture as they were being moved from one of our neighbor's fields to another, right past our house. A few of them decided to come visit my husband's small flock of sheep. The herder had to come push them back onto the field.

This is the herder and two of his working dogs. He was moving constantly to stay warm in that cold and wind.

His sheep camp was set up in one of the fields and he stayed there for almost two weeks moving the sheep from field to field.

There is one large sheep buyer in this area. He buys up thousands upon thousands of lambs from around Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. He rents fields from farmers and puts the sheep out there to glean. He was lucky with these fields - they had new green barley on them. Most of the fields don't have so much food on them. On those fields, he buys the junk sugar beets from our local sugar beet factory, trucks them out, dumps them in the field in rows, and lets the lambs finish on those.

And the sheep industry wonders why people don't like to eat lamb these days. Our lamb is delicious. Our lamb isn't finished on rotting sugar beets.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The weather and a chicken question.

So we've gotten some snow lately.

Not near as much as the Oregonians (Oregonese? Oregonans? Oregonish?) have gotten, not by a long shot.

For example, we can still make it to the bathroom.

It's been a lot, but no more - so far - than usual. *And* it looks to melt within the next few days so that we won't have to pack the next storm on top of this one, which makes getting out of our 1/2 mile (more or less - I really don't have a clue) driveway easier.

Here's one of the kids heading out to chore with her dad. She doesn't leave his side when he's home.

Now for the chicken question.

I have this problem. I've moved the chickens into our shed to protect them from the wind as much as possible. I don't think I've mentioned anywhere on this blog how much wind we get. We get some wind.

So every morning I walk in to water and feed, and every afternoon I walk in to water and gather eggs. And every dad-blame-gum time, I'm tripping over chickens. I don't have that many chickens! Yet every time I walk in, I have chickens run up to me, turn around and act like they're either pooping or laying an egg. Yet they're doing neither. Every dad-blame-gum time.

Can anyone explain this behavior to me? Please?

I'm starting to feel like they think I'm more handsome than I am.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No matter how many times I read this, I still laugh hysterically every time. Tears-rolling-down-my-face-sides-hurting-"You've-got-to-read-this" laughter.

So here you go. You've *got* to read this.

"I had this idea that I was going to rope a deer, put it in a stall, feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then kill it and eat it.

The first step in this adventure was getting a deer. I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not seem to have much fear of me when we are there (a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while I am in the back of the truck not 4 feet away), it should not be difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head (to calm it down) then hog tie it and transport it home.

I filled the cattle feeder then hid down at the end with my rope. The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed well back. They were not having any of it.After about 20 minutes, my deer showed up — 3 of them. I picked out a likely looking one, stepped out from the end of the feeder, and threw my rope. The deer just stood there and stared at me.

I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold. The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation. I took a step towards it…it took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope and then received an education.

The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, they are spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope. That deer EXPLODED.

The second thing I learned is that pound for pound, a deer is a LOT stronger than a cow or a colt.
A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope and with some dignity. A deer– no chance. That thing ran and bucked and twisted and pulled. There was no controlling it and certainly no getting close to it. As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it occurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined. The only up side is that they do not have as much stamina as many other animals.

A brief 10 minutes later, it was tired and not nearly as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I managed to get up. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly blinded by the blood flowing out of the big gash in my head. At that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison. I just wanted to get that devil creature off the end of that rope.

I figured if I just let it go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die slow and painfully somewhere. At the time, there was no love at all between me and that deer. At that moment, I hated the thing, and I would venture a guess that the feeling was mutual.

Despite the gash in my head and the several large knots where I had cleverly arrested the deer’s momentum by bracing my head against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground, I could still think clearly enough to recognize that there was a small chance that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility for the situation we were in, so I didn’t want the deer to have it suffer a slow death, so I managed to get it lined back up in between my truck and the feeder - a little trap I had set before hand…kind of like a squeeze chute. I got it to back in there and I started moving up so I could get my rope back.

Did you know that deer bite?

They do! I never in a million years would have thought that a deer would bite somebody, so I was very surprised when I reached up there to grab that rope and the deer grabbed hold of my wrist.

Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse where they just bite you and then let go. A deer bites you and shakes its head –almost like a pit bull. They bite HARD and it hurts.

The proper thing to do when a deer bites you is probably to freeze and draw back slowly. I tried screaming and shaking instead. My method was ineffective. It seems like the deer was biting and shaking for several minutes, but it was likely only several seconds. I, being smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by now) tricked it.

While I kept it busy tearing the bejesus out of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that rope loose. That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the day. Deer will strike at you with their front feet. They rear right up on their back feet and strike right about head and shoulder level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp.

I learned a long time ago that, when an animal — like a horse -strikes at you with their hooves and you can’t get away easily, the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and make an aggressive move towards the animal. This will usually cause them to back down a bit so you can escape. This was not a horse. This was a deer, so obviously, such trickery would not work.
In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy.

I screamed like a woman and tried to turn and run.

The reason I had always been told NOT to try to turn and run from a horse that paws at you is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head. Deer may not be so different from horses after all, besides being twice as strong and 3 times as evil, because the second I turned to run, it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.

Now, when a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not immediately leave. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. What they do instead is paw your back and jump up and down on you while you are laying there crying like a little girl and covering your head.

I finally managed to crawl under the truck and the deer went away.

So now I know why when people go deer hunting they bring a rifle with a scope. It is so that they can be somewhat equal to the prey."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hello? *tap tap*

Didn't mean to duck out on you like that... due to my husband's suddenly changing work schedule, I've been single parenting it for the last two weeks and will be for the foreseeable future. Add to that caring for 20 sheep, 9 goats, a pony and 21 chickens in the snatches of pre-children-awake/naptime/after-children-are-asleep time, and I've had to let this blog drop and go to nearly all scheduled posts on my other blog. There's no way I can take my youngest two out in this biting, freezing wind. My dad tried to tell me I could early last spring. I think he even called me a wimp. Told me it would be good for my kids and went out himself to work in it. He called it a 'bracing' wind. That bracing wind sent him scuttling back in twenty minutes later saying that I should never take my kids out when the temperatures were that low and the wind that strong.

If it makes you feel any better, I let the laundry go before I let this blog go.

I feel more like my feet are back under me now, so you may see me around a bit more regularly.

In the meantime, enjoy these videos of my little cowgirl. Was she ever that little? That was only two years ago. I'm going to be a sobbing mess looking back at these when she's 18.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The "Chocolate Eggers" are laying.

My Cuckoo Marans, the "chocolate eggers" are laying now. Some Maran varieties are said to lay darker eggs than the Cuckoos, but I'm pretty happy with the shade that mine are producing. The color is just a perk, after all - it's the egg I'm after.

This is a photo of a Buff Orpington egg and a Cuckoo Maran egg.

My daughter was very disappointed that these weren't real chocolate eggs.

Friday, November 21, 2008

We're drowning in kittens over here.

Five of Aradia's, three of her daughter's that I have not only successfully saved, but, with the considerable help of Aradia and Ghandi, appear to be on their way to being successful barn cats. (Though Toulouse seems to be pouting a bit about it)

All of the kittens are playing constantly. There is very little cuter than playing babies, whether it's pouncing kittens, gamboling (yes, they really gambol) lambs, king-of-the-mountain kid goats, or discovering and imagining children. This part of the cycle of life is a joy to just sit and soak in.

It's amazing how easy it is for even the smallest kittens to stay away from a pursuing toddler. It's also amazing that sometimes they don't want to stay away.

Hannah, my bull-in-the-china-shop when it comes to cats, has really calmed down with these kittens. When she discovered Aradia's kittens, they were old enough and curious enough to come out and play. I told her if she sat quiet and still, they'd be more likely to trust her and like her. That four year old girl sat there as still as I've ever seen her for over fifteen minutes while the kittens climbed all over her. The poor kid was nearly in tears from legs that were tingly painful from having gone to sleep, but it paid off. Those little kittens will come up to her when they won't come to any of the rest of us.

One of the orphan kittens is a male, three of Aradia's are male. That leaves three females. I'm not ok with three intact females running around. The males are easy - less expensive to fix. The females are cost-prohibitive, especially in this area. Desiree (the orphans' mother) notwithstanding, we don't lose a lot of cats around here. We lose some kittens (Desiree was the only surviving kitten of her mother's last three litters - one litter was lost to owls, one ... well, Aradia didn't pick the best place to have her babies, and D was the only surviving baby in her litter), but we don't lose cats. These kittens are so far doing very well which means that soon I'll be facing the music when it comes to the reproduction issue. How many barn cats (and one house cat - shhh - don't tell my husband) does one farm need?

Here - I found a picture of the stupid place Aradia chose to give birth to her kittens.

Yes. It's an abandoned bird's nest. I climbed up there and tried to get a picture, but this is the best I could get. She wouldn't let me touch them - and I couldn't reach them well anyway. They all fell out of the nest as soon as they could wiggle enough to fall out. Poor things.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rendering Lard

When we had our hog harvested this summer, I had the slaughter facility save the fat for me. I also was able to convince my brother-in-law and cousin to let me have the fat from their hogs that were slaughtered at the same time. So I had fat from three hogs sitting in my freezer. I had to bite the bullet and try to get it rendered before I had my last roosters and my turkeys added to the freezer.

I'd tried rendering fat from our last steer into tallow. Not a success. Not at all. Ask my sister who was visiting me at the time. It was like I was cooking a carcass. I used the traditional, commonly suggested method of rendering the fat in water on the stove. I had so much beef fat that I tried three times with three slightly different methods. Fail, fail, STINKY fail. So I wasn't looking forward to this.

Then I found this post. Glory Hallelujah. It worked. And it worked like a charm. It didn't even *smell*! Not bad, not good, no smell at all. Three hogs took me two full days of constantly adding solid fat and pouring off liquid fat. You're not going to believe me, but I'm going to say it anyway... You *can* get sick of the sight of melting pork fat.

I got fifteen and a half jars of beautiful lard. My planned use for these is making goat milk soap next summer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


My sister brought over some organic apples she'd picked.

My neighbor lent me her Victorio Strainer.

My daughter offered her help.

My son tried to stand up by grabbing onto my sweats and pulling them down. That gets old halfway through the first time. My son got put on my back where he giggled and kicked and encouraged my daughter in her work.

Have you ever seen a Victorio Strainer? Have you ever *used* a Victorio Strainer? This is my new kitchen obsession. For applesauce, you quarter the apple, remove the stem, steam the apple, and put it through the strainer. That's it. What comes out one side is the applesauce. What comes out the end is the skin and seeds. It's brilliant. And a four year old can do it.

Look at that! Four quarts of applesauce. Ready to go.

I'm a relative newbie at canning - haven't done too much of it. I thought I had all the bubbles out, but obviously I didn't. Next time...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You know that rake move in the Charlie Chaplin movies? The one where he steps on the rake and the handle smacks him right in the nose... HARD? I do it better.

Though I think those around me would prefer the silent version more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My first Zero Mile Meal

...and it was an accident!

I marinated one of our pork roasts in a steak sauce that I'd bottled from our plums. We had mashed turnips from the garden, fresh beets, and green onions and grilled onions to put on the meat or mix in with the turnips. If you add in the milk that my husband drank, it became a Two Mile Meal, since we get our cow milk from a wonderful farmer down the road. I didn't realize until we began eating that we had a meal in front of us that was as local as it comes.

The only beets I've ever had have been canned beets that my mom bought from the store. Mushy, tasteless lumps that I had to eat to be excused from the table. Fresh beets are so very different. My husband's always liked beets and I couldn't understood why until now.

I've never eaten turnips before - ever. I really, really liked them. I may even prefer mashed turnips to mashed potatoes. The flavor is more robust. Do you have any good turnip recipes you can pass on to me? I'm planting more turnips next year.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In the kitchen...

Chicken stock is brewing.

I use Trapper Creek's method for chicken stock. I've tried it other ways, but the stock tastes much better made this way. This way also makes a *lot* that I can use throughout the week for soups and rice. Now that we're getting eggs, one of the girls' favorite soups, egg-drop soups is a Zero Mile Meal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two things.

In a rare - and short - break from our fall winds, I gathered some food from our homestead. I found two things:

A beautiful display of fall colors...

and the second installment of "food that looks like naughty body parts".

Sorry it's so blurry. I'm not so good at close-up photography. But even with it being blurry, you can tell two things. He has spindly legs, and he's not an American carrot. (I don't think he's circumcised.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Goat candy.

While chatting with the owner of the local pumpkin patch, I learned that he gives away all of his surplus pumpkins "as soon as the season is over" - November 1. He said that by the time he gets up that morning at 8 am, all of his pumpkins are gone - picked up by locals who want inexpensive supplemental feed for their animals through the winter.

So at 5 am on November first, I nursed my infant and then left my family sleeping while I drove - sleeping - to the pumpkin patch. There was no-one else there, so I backed up to the pile of pumpkins that I wanted and started loading the truck. As I got in my truck and drove away, three trucks with horse trailers pulled in and backed up to the piles. Had I gone to get pumpkins at 6:30, I wouldn't have gotten any.

I know, I know. You expected more, didn't you? That's a lot more than it looks like, I just couldn't balance them well any higher.

When we got home, my girls helped me unload the truck.

I separated them into two piles - good, solid pumpkins that will last and bruised, soft, punctured pumpkins. Any with cracks went straight over the fence to the goats. They loved them. Then my husband's sheep discovered them. Should the animals belonging to the one who got to sleep in profit from my early morning work? ... Somebody had to watch the kids, I guess. And the sheep do love them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Caught him!

Toulouse is the only one of the orphaned kittens still nursing his grandma. And I finally caught it on camera.

I really need to find him a pet home. His sisters are turning into avid little hunters. He's nursing his grandma.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bourbon, sweet bourbon.

So I went with the Bourbon Red turkeys. I ordered them from Porter's Rare Heritage Turkeys. The service was wonderful, the price was very good - I was able to get them (with shipping) for a bit cheaper than I could get them from McMurray Hatchery. I've heard good things about McMurray, but if all other things are about equal (price, service, distance shipped), I'll pick a small business over a large business. I wasn't disappointed.

Because I had an infant this spring, I pushed all of my poultry purchases back about a month in the spring so that I wouldn't have to be hauling the baby out in the cold to take care of them. Since I wanted to avoid mixing chickens and turkeys (blackhead is not a problem in our area, but as a rank beginner, I didn't want to chance it), the turkeys didn't come in until June.

I was very pleased with their health. Only one had a health issue (that you'll see in a later picture) that she had to be put down for. One died because the temperature spiked one day and I should have unplugged both lights instead of just one. I pulled that one up as high as I could, but it was still too warm for them. I've heard how frail they are and I was scared that no light would make them too cold.

Then that night, it was still warm when I went to bed, so I lowered the light down closer but left the other light off. One froze to death that night. I was pretty downhearted.

But after that, things evened out and I lost no more turkeys to poor health.

I *was* worried about their wings. See the little guy below? About half of the poults had wings that stuck out like that. I researched it and some people said to wait, that the wings would come back in line, and others said to tape the wings down. I chose to wait because I wanted to see if they'd go down on their own. I don't want to be buying turkeys every year (or keeping some in a gene pool) that need monkeying around with - they need to have healthy, structurally sound wings.

The wings straightened out on their own, every poult.

From the very first day, these poults were so different from my chicks. They stand more upright, so their running as babies is really funny. I'll get a video next year. If you put a turkey poult and a chicken chick in front of me now, I could likely easily tell the difference. There's also that bump on the top of their nose.

This girl was my problem child. See that eye? Her right eye was fine, her left eye was always shut. She was healthy other than that, so I didn't put her down. I didn't knock the shipper for shipping me a bad poult since she'd been put in as an extra, to help with body heat in the box.

I should have put her down as a baby, I guess. The inevitable happened, but not until she was around seven weeks old. The eye finally died completely and I couldn't keep things clean enough. Amazing what we city folks will do to avoid having to kill an animal that we bought as food to begin with. I finally faced the music and put her out of her misery.

These turkey poults were also much more curious and friendly than the chicken poults and seemed more desirous of a parent figure. I loved having them come cheep cheeping up to me as babies. I threw greens in there every day and they demolished those much faster than the chickens did.

Monday we took our turkeys and remaining roosters in to be harvested. In our area, there is only one man who does it. I'm not happy with him for various reasons, so I am looking for another person to slaughter for me. I may do it myself next year when my baby is older, but was not up for it this year with two youngsters and a baby. I would have preferred to wait a few weeks to have them processed, but he is booked up, so I had to take them in this week.

This is one of the big boys on Monday morning. This studly specimen decided about three weeks ago that my hens needed a male presence, so he flew into their pen and refuses to leave. For the first week I threw him back out every day, but he'd come right back in. Then hens actually seemed to enjoy his presence and he wasn't picking on them, so I left him in there. You'd think he would want to free range with the rest of the turkeys, but he didn't.

Look at the face on these birds. Did you know that that entire head can turn bright blue? 'Tis true, I swear it. When they get into dominance fights or get scared, that head goes bright blue. It's a little bit blue in this picture because he's showing off.

I wasn't a big fan of turkeys (except for the eating part) before I got these. I like them much better than the chickens and miss them already. Next year I may keep a few hens and a tom. I miss their chattering to each other, their gobbles, and them running up to me in the morning trying to get my attention. I've always heard how dumb turkeys are, but I've found that that wasn't true with these birds. Maybe it was their breed, maybe their upbringing - nature or nurture? Maybe turkeys, of all breeds, just really aren't that dumb. (As a sidenote, my husband had always heard how dumb sheep were and believed it until he started owning them. Not many animals are truly dumb - just different types of intelligence, I think.)

When I got my birds back, I weighed the carcass. They ranged from 6 pounds (the hens) to 18 pounds (the biggest tom). Most were in the 10-12 pound range, not too bad for heritage breed birds that are only five months old.

I don't think that I'll be getting any meat chickens next year - if I do, they will likely be Cornish crosses for the feed conversion rate. But if I find a good source of grain, I'll likely get some of these Bourbon Reds from Porter's again. The price was right (less expensive than the big McMurray clearing house), the genetics appeared to be better, and their health was very good. We'll see how they taste.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Want to see what Halloween night looked like around here? Head over to my other blog. There be wolves, caped girls, and queens here!


We got our first egg a few weeks back.

I saw it in the coop and sent Hannah in to 'check for eggs'. She had checked every day for the last two weeks, so was as optimistic as only children can be but still quite stunned when there was actually an egg in there.

She wanted to fry it up immediately. Unfortunately, in her excitement she broke the egg on the way to the house, much to the kittens' delight.

The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth eggs fared no better, though they made it incrementally closer to the house. Finally we got an egg into the house, got the water to boil it (by this time, frying was no longer appealing for some reason), and the egg fell onto the floor. The eighth egg got boiled.

We now have four hens laying, though the rest should start up soon. I didn't expect any to start laying until the first week of November, so the first layer was a very early maturing hen.

Hannah now has a 'job', self-assigned, to gather eggs every afternoon. Now that all the roosters are 'harvested' (oh, how I'll miss their crowing - I enjoyed that), she's not nervous at all out there. They had yet to threaten her, but she was nervous.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kitten update. Again.

The snow took four days to go away. We expected it to disappear by the next day. Our neighbor who has lived here his entire life said that he's never seen anything like it - a full foot of snow in twenty-four hours in early October. He asked real old-timers who were the age he is now when he was born and they echoed that. This snowfall was a real anomaly. Our farmer neighbor with acres of beans drying on the ground didn't appreciate it - set him back quite a bit. Now he's trying to squeeze in bean harvesting and sugar beet harvesting at the same time. He's not happy.

But the snow *is* gone for now. It will be back soon - likely on Halloween night while we're trick-or-treating - but we're enjoying the beautiful fall weather while we can.

Want to see some cute kitten pictures? I've got some cute kitten pictures.

How about this one?

I put the kittens outside at night as soon as they could take it. I put them in a rabbit pen we have that I nestled in the bush that they'd been born in. During the day we came out to feed them. I wanted them to start to associate with the other cats and have a better chance of becoming barn cats.

I called the other cats (Ghandi and Aradia) over when I put out a bowl of goat milk for them. I expected Ghandi and Aradia to hog the milk, but I wanted them to associate with the kittens and maybe, just maybe, the kittens would learn a thing or two from these great mousers.

The adult cats exceeded my expectations. Look at Ghandi, sitting there, so mellow. 'Course he had a reason to be mellow - he'd just come out of my catnip bush. He probably just hadn't hit the hungry phase yet.

He's been great with them. He lets them play with his tail but knocks them down when they cross the line. He's been wonderful for teaching them cat manners.

He finally took his turn when they were done.

Aradia - their grandmother - is the best mouser on our place. Hannah and I once saw her go after two teenaged mice in the grain bin. She caught one in her mouth, ran to the other one, threw the first one in the air, grabbed the second one, caught the first one as it came down, shoved it in her mouth also and walked out of the bin with two heads on one side of her mouth and two tails hanging out the other end. I've never seen anything like it. Desiree, who had just had these kittens, met her mother about twenty feet outside of the grain bin. Aradia dropped one of the mice for her and walked off with the other one.

Aradia's generous that way. I never knew just how *mothering* she was, though. She's taken on these kittens.

Not that they always appreciate it.

But she insists on cleanliness if they're to have the perks.

And the perks from her are worth having. Once, while my camera was misplaced, I walked out to hang laundry and found Aradia standing guard over a mouse that wanted very badly to get away from three curious kittens. She'd brought it to them and was letting them play with it and then eat it. How did I get so lucky? Fantastic cat. They will undoubtedly learn skills from her if they pay attention.

Then there's her mother love. I've snuck around from the garage one day just to get this picture:

A few days later, I heard a funny mewling noise while hanging laundry and looked over to see Toulouse nursing on Aradia.

Why would he be nursing on his grandmother? Because she's in milk because she has these five babies in the shed and, amazingly, she was amenable to letting the orphaned kittens nurse.

When she saw me go in to see her new babies, she ran after me and ordered me out. That's her "you're in my space" look. I left.

Those kittens are much bigger now. I should get new pictures. They're running around - or trying to. They're the equivalent of toddlers just learning to run. My orphan kittens are like annoyed older siblings. I've seen Marie turn around and say "Go away" (accompanied by a stern paw slap) and then look at me as if to say "MooooOOOM, he won't leave me alone!"

I really enjoy having the babies around, but I don't think I enjoy it as much as Ainsley.

Nobody enjoys them quite as much as Ainsley.