Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: He was the best dog on the planet.

Obedience classes

Obedience classes
The author of Mark's Work with Ellie Mae

Cotton clouds

Cotton clouds
Another sunrise in Paradise

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

BFF's forever

BFF's forever
Margie and Ellie Mae

Tomatoes are us.

Tomatoes are us.
we take our tomatoes seriously, here at HappyDay Farms

Much love, John-Bryan

Much love, John-Bryan
Eric at 26 on the left, and John-Bryan in January of 1973.


Mother's Day at the coast

Our house

Our house
The snow season approaches...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Thursday, January 18, 2018

To Love and Be Loved...

Your left! Your left! Your left, right, left!
Your left! Your left! Your left, right, left!

OK, obedience class for [fairly] new rescue dog, Ellie Mae, was not quite the “bootcamp” experience I might make it out to be, but there were enough commands being issued and followed, to make one think that push-ups couldn’t be that far off, if compliance were not forthcoming.

Luckily-or otherwise-Ellie Mae was up to the task, as she was not only able to ignore the other eight dogs who were in the building, she went through her paces as though she had seen this movie before. I say “otherwise” because luck really had no part in the process.

I mentioned in the last piece that the first thing our instructor Nancy told us, is that our dogs take their cues from our behavior: If our voices are calm and reassuring, then those characteristics are conveyed to our pets. Additionally, if we “asked” our dogs to sit, while we absorbed Nancy’s words, we were able to further calm them by giving them a little scratchy/scratchy behind the ears.

Behind the ears, down her back, and a belly rub for good measure before heading back up to the ears. Anyone who has ever owned a dog, knows that the ears are the chariots-to-the-soul of any pooch who ever lived. 

I know endorphins come into play, not only for the dog but for the person doing the ear-nuzzling. The soothing effect has a boomerang quality to it: By providing the dog pleasure, the giver accomplishes the same thing for himself. It’s a circular process.

Besides, tick patrol requires that I run my hands over Ellie Mae continuously, anyway, when we are in cruise mode. I have only plucked two off of her so far, and that is a good thing. With the mild weather we have been having, and with the explorative nature of Ellie Mae, she has been covering a lot of ground.

Fortunately, Ellie has [apparently] ceased her escape attempts, it having been three weeks now since she has vamoosed from Stalag 13 in this manner.

Like most good instructors, Nancy did not remain in any one place for too long, checking in with this terrier here, or that miniature over there, not to mention Ellie Mae several times. There were nothing but “thumbs up” all around.

For those of you still perched on the edges of your seats, wondering when I am going to unveil the mystery of how Nancy “trains” our dogs in just four easy-peasy, one-hour-long sessions, I have a first time offer for you.

There is this golden bridge for sale and I can let you have it cheap.

What Nancy did for us last Saturday morning, at her studio in Willits, was provide an appropriate setting, outline some key principles that apply to dog/designated human relationships, and review six specific commands. There are more and we will get to them, but for starters we worked with the following: sit, stand, stay, place, look and heel. Also mentioned were down, come, wait, off and leave it.

As with any school, all the instructor can do is point the pupils and-in this case-their handlers, in the right direction, but the rest is up to the participants. Our homework was to work with our respective pets, in everyday situations, on each of the commands we had covered on Saturday.

Providing a setting with other dogs was a component that I especially valued, simply because I want to be able to take Ellie Mae with us in public, and not have to worry about questionable behavior. I do not worry about her being aggressive; it’s more about her being too forward in her enthusiasm.

Nancy had suggested we get there early and that helped immensely. By the time Ellie found herself in the same arena with eight other dogs, she had had twenty minutes to get accustomed to the idea. Of course, she has had much interaction with both Margie and Emma, so that has been a positive too.

And as far as Ellie Mae and I are concerned, as syrupy as it reads, like Annabel Lee, Ellie Mae wants nothing more than to love and be loved-by me. So as Nancy was covering some basics, I was pawing Ellie Mae’s ears, no pun intended.
She was hyper as we came into the facility; she was nervous as the class began; she began to relax as we reviewed familiar commands (and earned dog treats); finally, she was so chill by the final stretch, that she actually stretched herself out on her designated mat, and crashed.

I was so proud I wanted to go racing out into the center of the ring, and point out that fact to everyone there, but I settled for a Kodak moment, instead.

What’s a Kodak moment? It’s an indication that I am still living in the 20th century…

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

One Taquito, Two Taquitos

Man cannot live on roasted vegetables and skinless, boneless organic chicken breasts, alone. There’s just something a little too magical about the sound of hot oil sizzling and popping, to be able to withstand the mystique indefinitely.

Tossing caution to the wind, recently, I peeled and sliced a half-dozen good-sized potatoes, got out my special seven-quart popcorn pan, put a quart of canola oil in to heat up, and pulled off a highly successful double batch of piping hot French fries.
Scorching hot homemade fries with homemade smoked-paprika-flavored catsup. Bring on  the playoffs.

If I may be candid here, it does not require a great deal of culinary competence to be able to dump the raw fries into the hot oil, put the lid on and return to the living room to continue watching the playoff game, while drinking beer. Fifteen minutes later the fries need to be taken out and placed on paper towels over a drying rack, with salt being liberally applied.

Cut de taters, stick ‘em in de oil, and drink beer. Oh, and add salt.

Switching gears, I decided to up the ante yesterday and go after the elusive taquito, usually to be found only within the confines of a certified Mexican food establishment. As a prerequisite for even thinking about having taquitos, is the need for fresh avocados, so that guacamole can be prepared. Check.

First things first. What’s a taquito (tock-ee-toe)? 

First, you take a corn tortilla, heat it up on a griddle so that it is easily bendable (30-45 seconds), and put a small amount of seasoned ground meat or shredded chicken inside. Next, you roll it up tightly and place it in sizzling hot oil so that the oil goes about halfway up the taquito- 


[Editor’s note: Er, avoid sticking your finger(s) in the [sizzling] hot oil.]

Because I have a complete lineup of cast iron frying pans, I used the monster dog to brown two pounds of organic hamburger. I meticulously followed the directions on the taco seasoning packets that I had bought at Geiger’s, so after draining the excess grease, I added the packets and a cup-and-a-half of water. I cooked it down until the water had been reduced.

I have 32 tortillas and a huge skillet of ground meat; I wonder, will I have extra hamburger left over or extra tortillas? Or is there another option?

I took the eight-inch skillet and heated oil up in that, and I used the six-incher to heat up the tortillas, so that they would be malleable. If the tortillas are not hot enough, they just break apart when you ask them to bend in unbendable ways. Once the hamburger was set to go, I removed it from the stove and put it on the counter. 

Gluten-Free Mama had cautioned me, saying, if I possibly could, I should allow for the just-cooked mixture to cool off.

Huh. I wonder what’s up with that… who has time to let it cool?

I was ready for action-I was ready for danger, except that I really wasn’t. Ready for danger, that is. GF Mama had advised me to just jump into it and establish a routine that worked for me. When I asked how many taquitos I should try to cook at a time, she said three was probably about right, but it was up to me.
I popped a tortilla in the small skillet and as soon as it was plenty hot, I scooped it out with my bare fingers, the way I always do. Hey, those of us who "work with" tortillas, don't need no stinkin' tongs. I slapped another corn tortilla into the little frypan, and put the heated tortilla on a clean plate next to the big skillet of ground meat.

I put a couple of heaping tablespoons of the mixture along one side of the tortilla, and spread it out with my fingers-

Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhh! Heck, darn, shoot, bull-ROAR! What did GF Mama say? “…if I possibly could, I should allow for the just-cooked mixture to cool off… “ Funny, now I remember.

I carried the taquito-in-waiting into the other room to consult with GF Mama, herself. She has been pumping these babies out for 35 years, so who am I to not take advantage of her savvy?

She looked at my arrangement, noted there could be just a smidgen more on the one end, but otherwise said it was nothing short of a great success. Back to the counter, where I rolled the mixture up and-

What the hell is smoking? Oh, the tortilla in the six-inch skillet

Dang. I can probably still use it, so all good. I went back to my ready-to-go taquito, and proceeded to plop it into the [sizzling]-


[Editor’s note: Er-“Oh, shut up about the !&% finger, already!”]

Hot oil and finger tips are not compatible, but it took me three-count them-three times before I remembered what GF Mama had said, “You’ll want to uses the tongs to hold the taquito together, so that it doesn’t just flop open.”

Huh. Tongs. Finger in sizzling oil. Tongs. Let me try something  here…

Voila! That Gluten-Free Mama thinks of everything. As soon as my little pea-brain figured out that God, in his infinite wisdom, had created tongs for exactly this situation, I was twirling those dudes around like pearl-handled six-shooters. 

I stopped it though, when the hamburger kept flying out through the air to an eagerly awaiting Ellie Mae.

At the end I had two mis-fires, just disasters from the word go, but otherwise I ended up with 29 stellar taquitos, with fresh guacamole. 

Wait a sec. 32-2=30. Why are there only 29?

Huh. And why is GF Mama licking her finger tips?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Stepford Dogs

You can brag about your high-achieving kid from now until forever, but I’m here to tell you that I have a little something/something to brag about myself. Ellie Mae, our new-to-us rescue dog, didn’t just rock her debut in Dog Obedience Class-101, she knocked it out of the stadium.

Plopped down amidst a sea of canine participants (nine, including herself), Ellie Mae not only kept it together, she was a star. Whereas both Gluten-Free Mama and I have concluded Ellie Mae is quite bright, we weren’t worried about aptitude, so much as attitude. 
Ellie Mae, sitting on her mat like a boss.
Simply put, would she be too hyper to be able to function amidst a pack of other dogs? Ellie not only kept it mellow, she followed my directions flawlessly, just as GF Mama and I had made sure we stuck to the directions given to us by Nancy, the instructor of the sixty-minute class.

We were told to forego Ellie’s breakfast, something I did not understand until it came to using the dog treats I had been instructed to bring along. A hungry dog is an eager pupil. Even at that, I was not sure how my girl would respond to having her breakfast withheld.

Ellie Mae was underweight when we adopted her, and got into her two meals a day like a meditation. She just got so amped up, it made me wonder how often she had to wait for her breakfast in the past. I began by feeding her the same amount of food as I do Large Marge, who is also female and weighs almost the same. 

Though she didn’t quite “pull a Dozer” and plow through her food like Sherman marched through Georgia, she also did not match Margie’s (and Emma’s for that matter) dainty approach to eating. For the first week or so, Ellie was restless, always on the prowl, and it seemed she never settled down. 

After a week, I upped the amount of food I gave her at each meal, considerably. I had been mixing a recommended kibble with a splash-down of chicken broth (to help soften the kibble) and a portion of grain-free, organic canned food. All I did was increase the amount of each of these components. I also weighed Ellie Mae when we first got her: 42 pounds.

Immediately, she responded to the increased food by stopping the prowling, or at least most of it, and after a week, she had gained a pound. After a month those outlined ribs had disappeared and she had started to mellow out. She gained one pound per week during this stretch.

Nonetheless, the time has come for me to be frank, here, and reveal a small fragment of Ellie Mae’s inner dogness. You see, my girl shares one of those same characteristics that I possess: She has a manic side to her. Like Markie, my own version of mania-on-the-wide, Ellie Mae is fairly mellow about ninety percent of the time, but a little shaky the other ten percent.

I am tolerant of this characteristic to a fault, primarily because I know it takes six months to a year for a dog to fully adjust to a new environment, and we have only had Ellie Mae for a little over seven weeks. The growth she has made is so dramatic, that it’s inconceivable that she would not continue to settle into her new home without issue.
An uneasy truce exists...

Therefore, if a cat sashays past her, and I am not paying attention, Ellie Mae will go into her act. All that involves is the spinning-wheels syndrome, paws flailing uselessly on the wood floors, during which time any cat worth its salt, would be long gone. Ultimately, cats have so many more advantages over dogs, it’s ludicrously unfair.

The racket is obnoxious, it’s short-lived and it produces nothing but a ruckus, but it also does no harm. Never in the history of the game has a dog ever been able to compete on even footing with a cat, so we just let it play out. Each time I have an admittedly one-sided dialogue with Ellie Mae about the inappropriateness of chasing cats, and she agrees I am correct. 

As I mentioned, there has been growth in all areas of Ellie’s life, and her relationship with our three cats is no different. As long as there is progress, and Ellie Mae is learning, I am satisfied. That was the whole purpose of enrolling her in obedience classes.

I did not know how many other dogs would be at the Willits studio, but it didn’t matter: the more the merrier. A huge part of the class was the socialization process; Ellie needed to be able to function with other dogs in the immediate vicinity, and she needed to be able to do it silently.

Needless to say, most of the dogs had something to say, some more than others. Ellie Mae did not bark and she did not howl, but she did have a little song she sang a few times which sounded like a cross between a howl and a whine. It was not particularly loud and I doubt it was that noticeable.
This photo says it all, loudly. 
I had given much thought to the no-breakfast thing, and ultimately compromised by feeding her a small breakfast around 1:30 in the morning, more than eight hours before the class, but still not as long as the original sixteen-hour abstinence would have been. The plan worked to perfection.

At first the dog treats I provided (duck, grain-free and organic) held little interest, in the hubbub that existed before the class began. Nancy had told us to come early, and allow the dogs to get used to the environment, which we had done.

After she got acclimated, the dog treats were eagerly sought. Nancy got everyone situated, each dog on a mat or something brought from home, and she began to give us foundational principles for working with dogs. Though I was familiar with much of it, I found it quite valuable to have the information presented as a unit.

A basic premise presented to us, and one that I have always found to be most accurate, is that the dog takes its cue from your tone of voice. You can say to a dog, “You are a bad dog, and I’m taking you to the shelter,” but say it in a warm and loving tone of voice, and your dog will be none the wiser.
Yes, well I did appreciate a well-crafted meal...

When the bond is strong enough, your dog needs no dog treat to learn obedience: all she needs is your approval. Seeking that approval, she will try her best to follow directions. Nonetheless, as motivation goes, the tidbit serves the purpose of getting your dog to follow specific directions, so as to be able to associate a sound with an action, something I will elaborate on in my next post.

For today I will leave you with the thought that the class was everything I hoped it would be, and that I look forward to the second class next Saturday. And oh yeah, we have homework. 

I know, you thought Nancy had a magic wand she waved over the dogs, and they all became Stepford Dogs, willing to do anything at any time to please, but such is not the case. Nancy provided guidance for instilling a half-dozen specific commands, but the rest is up to us. By following through on the basic commands already presented, we prepare our dogs for the next steps.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Blue-Collar Dog

If a dog can be aloof, arrogant and cantankerous, and still “steal your heart away,” imagine what might happen if you adopted a three-year-old rescue dog, and she turned out to be sociable, blue-collar and agreeable. 

In the history of the universe, there could not be a case of two more opposite personalities than those of the recently departed Dozer the bulldog, and Ellie Mae, the mixed-breed rescue dog we adopted from the Humane Society of Inland Mendocino County, only seven weeks ago.
Comfort zone

The things we tolerated from the Doze still amaze me, though I never gave it a thought while he was still with us. For example, he was fanatical about his ball; he toyed with it incessantly. Over the years there were many, because even though they were indestructible, they would get lost.

If [and when] the ball should roll under the (fill in the blank) bed, dressers, end tables, or any other of the inaccessible niches within the house, Dozer would just start barking. Until someone came to the rescue, the hubbub would continue, unabated.

To put it into perspective, the first twenty times I presented sweet Ellie Mae with a ball, she had no frame of reference. She sniffed it, nosed it a few inches along the floor, and then proceeded to ignore it. It was evident that ho one ever played ball with her. Tossing it and encouraging her to chase it produced no interest, whatsoever, until the day Large Marge was over.

All of the sudden it was game on because Margie gets it. In fact she will get it twenty times in a row-or until she is exhausted. Unlike Dozer, who would also chase and grab the ball in his quite formidable jaws, Margie will actually return the ball to your feet. Dozer? Never.

Ellie Mae is in the Margie mold, chasing and returning her toy, even if we are still perfecting the logistics. As I have written, Ellie Mae is a quick study.

Other things we put up with from the Doze included the bizarre noises he emitted 24/7, most notably during his twelve-hour nightly sleep. His snoring was loud enough to cause our metal roof to vibrate, two stories above. Ellie Mae is as silent as Toby the cat.

That may be because Toby has not yet achieved that level of comfort that allows him to start up his purring again, not with Ellie Mae on the bed, anyway.

Along those same lines of tolerance, there are those who maintained that the odor emanating forth from our gluten-intolerant bulldog’s farts, (all bulldogs are gluten-intolerant) habitually, was strong enough to revive the dead.  
Just walking in the rain...
I can’t say one way or the other; I honestly never detected anything amiss, but that may be a similar situation to that of living in the Valley. When we used to travel to visit Gluten-Free Mama’s parents, we had to drive through agricultural parts of California, where the smell of fertilizer in the air was overwhelming. 

When we asked locals how they ever managed to tolerate such a malodorous assault to the nostrils, they would stare at us blankly. “You just get used to it, I guess,” they said.

I guess I just got used to Dozer because I never noticed anything amiss in my olfactory factory. 

Dozer used to go bonkers every time someone came over, and Ellie Mae does the same. It’s a program we go along with because that’s what dogs get paid the big bucks for-to raise a ruckus when visitors arrive. It doesn’t matter if it’s been two weeks or two minutes since a dog has seen someone, if the person goes out the front door, and then returns, the barking will ensue.

If it bugs you, don’t get a dog and don’t visit me.

It’s a ten-second greeting, it’s noisy and obnoxious and everyone hates it. However, hollering at your “watchdog” [to me] says nothing more to the dog than, “You bark! I bark! We all bark! Great success!” so I don’t. Yell at the dog, that is, not bark. Well, in point of fact, I don’t bark either. Not usually, anyway.

Dozer could be the most aloof creature imaginable, eschewing the company of his owners with impunity, should he be in that frame of mind. His dog kisses were bestowed frugally, and then only if the stars were truly aligned.

Ellie Mae went through a short period there, where we had to curb her enthusiasm for bestowing kisses. I think we have reached a happy medium. She has gotten over her anxiety when I exit the building, but she still wants close proximity. I know now to bring her bed and place it just outside the bathroom every morning, while I take my shower, because that’s where she will be when I get out. Dozer?
Go on in-I'm not ready yet...

He had no knowledge of-nor interest in-my ablutions.

When it came to his daily morning walk, if it were raining, Dozer would refuse to step one foot out in it. Or, if he were desperate, only far enough to take care of business. No walking in the rain for Dozer. (Snow was entirely different-Dozer loved the snow.)

Ellie Mae does not notice the rain, nor did the temperature in the twenties last month affect her, like it did me. I had to put socks on under my sandals for that. The other thing is that Ellie Mae is smart enough to see the value of her rain coat, something that The Doze never tolerated for even a second.

What delights me continuously, though, is to see the personality emerge as Ellie Mae adjusts to her new home. The other morning I was working just as I am now, while Ellie Mae was sleeping beside me on her bed, just as she is now, when I removed my headphones for some reason, and heard her pawing at something on the kitchen floor.

Curious behavior for a dog, unless there is a ball involved, so I shined my headlamp in her direction to see what was causing her interest. I could detect nothing, but there she was, playing footsie-er, pawsie-with something that did not register in the headlamp’s spotlight.

Getting up carefully, aware always (almost) of the wires all about me, I sauntered over to get a closer look. In my wildest fantasy I saw her as valiantly battling a scorpion or a Jerusalem cricket (potato bug, finger-bite bug), but I had to settle for it being an ant.

It was a big ant, but that’s all it was. Still, how did she even locate it it in the dark? It’s not like ants bark. And why did she care about an ant? I found the whole incident comical and endearing. She did not hurt the ant-she just kept diverting it so that it went in a circle.

I've traveled in circles myself upon occasion.

Comical and endearing are far more appropriate descriptions of Ellie Mae, than stuck-up and salty, though only those who did not know Dozer would think of him as either. 

Ironically, when I find myself feeling guilty because Ellie Mae is less labor intensive than Dozer, I remind myself there are many forms of labor, and a labor of love must be included amongst them. When it comes to love, there can be no “less” involved because love is the greatest power.

I know I am getting old; I’ve misplaced my heart, again.
Snorring? Purring? To-may-toe? to-mah-toe?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Leaky Lifeboats

My leaky lifeboat
I woke up the other day and realized I was 65 years old. I mean, I already knew that, objectively, having blown out the candles the prescribed number of times accordingly, but subjectively, I’m not sure I could say the same. Instead of viewing my life from the beginning onward, as one does with the celebration of birthdays, I am now viewing my life from backwards, as in how much time do I have left?

You've done that too? Weird.

My father Robert was born in 1922, and moved up to Bell Springs Road at age 55, in 1977. I was born in 1952, and moved up to The Bell for good in 1982. There were thirty years’ difference in age between me and my father.
HeadSod-Buster was born in 1982, thus making it also thirty years’ difference in age between the two of us. Gluten-Free Mama and I had only been on the mountain for eleven weeks, trying to convert a 16 by 20 shell of a cabin, into a home, when the littlest sodbuster burst upon the scene.

He is the real McCoy-mountain-born and reared.

So in many respects, HeadSodBuster and I are living parallel lives to that of my father and me, with me in the role of my father. Does that mean I have nine years left, as Robert was 74 when he woke up one morning, suffered a heart attack and died within an hour?

You tell me and we’ll both know.

Meanwhile, I am in a unique position because I cannot help but compare myself to Robert, at EVERY STEP of the journey. Am I perceived by my sons, in like manner to that way that I was aware of and took note of Robert? Or more likely, what are the differences?
Robert at fifty, down in Baja.

I try to remember the specific things I had to do for Himself in the later years, most of which concerned his little cannabis patch. He never grew more than 20 or 25 plants, heavily concealed amidst the manzanita, and I helped him transport soil/amendments, and I helped him sex the plants, weeding out the unwanted males.

I also remember one year having a male “get away” from us, either through error, or more likely, through hermaphroditing. His entire crop, meager as it was, had seeds throughout it, rendering it practically worthless. 

In the greater scheme it was not catastrophic since the cannabis was nothing but an auxiliary source of income, used for special projects or the occasional run over to Reno, for some R & R. Primarily that consisted of playing blackjack and the ponies, albeit not at the same time. 

Nonetheless, I felt horrible, knowing that if I had been more attentive and spent more time on-site, I would have been able to catch the miscreant, and remove him from the venue before damage could be done. Indirectly, I had become responsible for my father’s economic wellbeing, or at least that part of his wellbeing that allowed him some pleasure.

Parallel lives? HeadSodBuster and BossLady work countless hours to not only run a farm, but to help with the monumental job of trying to hammer out cannabis regulation. I contribute to the workforce on-farm, and thus earn a modest salary.

Without this income, I would still have my pension from the school district and my newly acquired Social Security, but it would be a squeeze, and that’s without the medical bills. Bottom line is that HeadSodBuster must feel similar unneeded pressure to continue the status quo.

When his grandpa was 65, as I am now, HeadSodBuster would have been five years old, and therefore it would be impossible for him to draw any accurate parallels, his five-year-old eyes till seeing life from stomach-level of the adults in his life.
Helping Dad with footings
As time progresses, though, the scale will start to balance itself out, and I will no longer be able to move and stack the five cords of firewood I require, to make it through winter. I am already hampered by an inability to drive any farther than Ukiah.

That means GF Mama has to rely on others to transport her to Sacramento for her immunotherapy infusions every two weeks. It’s not good; it’s not bad. Rather, it simply is.

As for “making it to 74” or not, I’m in the same leaky lifeboat that everyone else is in-we each have our own, you know. Could be yes, could be no, could be just maybe so. I ain’t worried and I’m not particularly scared, at least not of the ultimate destination.

If I knew I were simply going to wake up dead one day, then hey, that would eliminate the only part of the process that makes me nervous. Again, no one knows when the leaky lifeboat each of us requires to stay alive, will finally take on too much water, and sink.

It does no good to compare one leaky lifeboat to another, over a couple of generations, but I do it just the same. Or differently. Who knows? We may be in this world together, but we cannot share lifeboats. 

My lifeboat might seem tighter than many because I am physically active and eat mostly farm-grown food, but my lifeboat could also hit a rock in white water rapids, capsize and sink. I could make it to 74, or older, or I could keel over after a bodacious bong rip.

That might be kind of fun. Folks could nod knowingly then and quip, “Talk about achieving liftoff on multiple levels…”
45's leaky lifeboat

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Best Gift of All

Nothing embodies the farm mentality more than the custom of exchanging gifts at Christmastime. We are accustomed to looking inward when it comes to acquiring some of the basics, like food, water and a source of heat. Therefore, it is a logical extension to want to do the same when it comes to expressing the Spirit of the Season in the form of exchanging gifts.

With this in mind, I followed up on a promotion featured on Face/Book from ReSnap, an outfit out of The Netherlands, to put into a photo album, the year 2017. There were 100 pages, each with five photos, and the overall effect was dazzling. 

I gazed at pics of Bell Springs Road, HappyDay Farms, the closeups of produce, the coast, the critters, the mountains, the snow, the flowers, the bees, the dogs, the sunrises/sunsets, and all of the quirky photos that I post.

I had this idea that I would print off a book for each of my three sons, and one for Gluten-Free Mama and me, so I ran it up the proverbial flagpole, to see what GF Mama thought. She was quite enamored with the idea, but suggested that if possible, maybe I could substitute a few photos from other sources to make the keepsake more personal.

It took a fair amount of tech savvy to accomplish this, with multiple setbacks, but over a three-week period of time, I customized the album to include photos of the boys growing up, more photos of the farm, especially the produce, and fewer generic pics of flowers. Both GF Mama and I were pleased with the result.

I ordered it online, had it delivered to the feed store down in the ‘Ville, and one of the boys picked it up for me on a routine run to town, so I never had to leave the mountain to accomplish my biggest gift.

No red bow required
So it was more about the gift of time, than it was about the actual cost of the photo albums. And of course, the photographs themselves required time. 

Along the same lines, was the gift delivered to me out in my front yard, in the form of two truckloads of bone-dry, seasoned oak, madrone and manzanita, much of it small enough to easily fit into the old Superior stove that heats our kitchen.

There can be no commodity more treasured during the winter on this mountain, than kitchen firewood delivered to your front door.  Again, it’s one thing to browse the mall and have your selections gift-wrapped; it’s quite another to put your back into your gift-giving. All three boys spent time over two days, chainsawing and hauling, to amass far more than that which was delivered to us.
I love that I can see Ellie Mae behind the steps....

My present to Dancing Girl was the labor I put into helping SmallBoy build a twelve-by-eight deck alongside their little home, here on the mountain, the week before Christmas. I added a set of four wide, gentle steps, each a foot deep and a mere six inches in height, so that getting into and out of their home would not be the challenge that it had been.

When Dancing Girl thanked me again for the thoughtful gift on Christmas morning, all I could say was that her health and welfare-and that of lil Dude due in March-were of the utmost importance to me and Gluten-Free Mama. 

When the boys’ Unc Salsa showed up on New Year’s Eve, for din-din and the 49ers’ win over the Rams, I was able to present to him a gift bag with a quart of cold-pack tomatoes, a couple of catsups, a couple of the smoked paprika catsups, some of the hot salsa and finally some of the hot salsa with the roasted peppers and cilantro. 

I woke up in the middle of the night (probably around midnight), though there has never been a sound at midnight here on the mountain, on NYE, and realized I had forgotten to include some of our marinara sauce. That’s OK; it will give us a good reason to go visit SalsaMan and his sweet wife, HeadBankLady, down in Ukiah.

An elephant-within-an-elephant
The gift of the See’s Chocolates (nuts and chews), the jigsaw puzzles and the little elephant-within-an-elephant, were a few of non-farm items I found under the tree, which I especially enjoyed.

From BossLady we received the best gift of all-that of her presence here on the mountain over the Holidays. It’s hard because all of her family is back East and she has strong ties. However, partly because her mama had been out here for Thanksgiving Day and a couple of weeks beyond, and partly for many other reasons, she opted to chill here on the mountain.

We celebrated Christmas day by providing for ourselves a meal made almost exclusively from that which we produced here on-farm, a most cherished gift. Finally, the boys all gifted their time over the two days, to spend it with their mama, who had requested that as her only present. 

We enjoyed an old-fashioned Christmas, and for once, we could not keep the beverages cold out on the front deck, it was that balmy outside. Whereas some folks might miss the white Christmas effect, what I did not miss was the treacherous footing, and the need to bring in firewood, incessantly.

No, I did not miss that at all. White Christmases are overshadowed by bright Christmases, and this was the brightest in recent memory.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Celebrity Status

There was a mystique associated with owning an English bulldog that defies description. To walk Dozer on the streets of Willits, was to court celebrity status, and with the two braids flowing down from my chin a foot or so, I’m sure we made quite the picture.

Typically, if the highway were jammed the way it used to be in pre-bypass days, I would get horn-honks, shout-outs, and in extreme cases, folks hanging out of the window, hollering and waving. 

Let’s be candid here: I personally would struggle when driving and hanging  out the window of my pickup truck, but the woman I witnessed, did it without hitting any other vehicle, as she veered into the center lane.
Caught in the headlights?

Off the main drag one blisteringly hot August evening, I rounded a corner and nearly collided with one of five middle school-aged boys, doing their best possible imitation of five middle school boys, with attitude. I was supposed to gasp with trepidation, while going speechless in my fright.

“‘Sup, Men!” I boomed, “Are we having fun yet?” That was the first surprise; Dozer was the second. 

The obvious leader didn’t even have time to react to my greeting, before one of the other dudes had dropped to a knee beside the people-friendly Doze, cocked his head at me, and inquired, “Is he friendly?”

“As long as you are not another dog, he is. Loves kids, especially middle schoolers,” I lied. It wasn’t a lie so much as an exaggeration. Dozer loved all people, almost. He just did not like other dogs. Talk about your classic Alpha male.
“He’s just like that one on TV!” one of the others added, the reference being unintentionally ambiguous. The mattress commercial? Adam Sandler’s Meatball? The Front Stoop promotions? The bank commercials? Ice T bringing Spartacus and King Maximus on the “Tonight Show?”

Take your pick.

Bulldog owners are apt to congregate and compare notes, but unless you are willing to hear about “…snorts, farts, shit consistency, crusty eyes, puke, and various forms of gas…” (Brad Pitt talking about his bulldog, Jacques), you had better keep a deaf ear to the conversation.

And best not get me started on facial creases.
My creases cause crises...
When I see photos of bulldogs posted by my friends on social media, I always smile, sadly. I would have loved to have had another bully after the Doze moved on, quite unexpectedly a few months ago, but I was feeling  overwhelmed by all of the critters who were left homeless, from the wildfires our region had experienced around the same time.

Gluten-Free Mama and I needed to do something.

The little female hound dog we eventually adopted is the sweetest, most appreciative four-legged companion I have ever encountered. Ellie Mae displays all of the classic symptoms of a dog in rapture with her Designated Human(s): She wants to jump on us, she wants to follow me wherever I go, she wants to sleep in the bed with Gluten-Free Mama and me, and her tail becomes quite the Lethal Weapon when I come in from operating the wood splitter.

She does not have an ounce of alpha maleness in her body, which is fine because all of the dogs on-farm these days are female. She does have a free-spirited mentality, though, in that she values her independence. I have had a difficult time confining her to our two-acre, fenced-in yard.
"Born free, as free as the wind blows,
born to follow my heart..."

She’s like a middle schooler trying to get uptown at lunch for a Shady Nook extravaganza.

We currently have five “escape-free days” under our metaphorical belts, yesterday’s close call notwithstanding. Because I caught her in the act of trying to dig her way under the fence, and prevented her from accomplishing the deed, it doesn’t really count as an actual escape.

She hears the deer, mostly, but other critters too out in the woods, and she wants to go chase them. I figure it’s nothing more than a case of “bad habits dying hard” and eventually she will forget about the idea of escaping.

I also want her to forget about the idea of ever being hit, cuffed, kicked, yelled at or starved. Those days are gone forever. She has gone from a 42-pound, skinny, rib-enhanced rescue dog, to a 48-pound, sleek and contented doggie, and whereas Ellie Mae is cute, she will never induce women to lean out the window of a moving vehicle to wave.

I think we might all agree we’re better off for that.