Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Do you Have a Minute?

Maybe a few minutes, actually. I have a story to share, and it's a long one, with lots of pictures, and best of all... for one family, a happy ending.

This story begins with hot, dry days, with a wind blowing off of the dessert, through mountain passes, to the Pacific Ocean. This is the kind of wind that plays with fire, making embers and sparks jump and leap, sending up new flames, with billowing smoke, and all of it moves as fast as the wind itself. We were all watching reports of such wind, and fires, blowing and burning in Ventura, then Los Angeles. And then, much closer to home, we saw a dark plume of wind-driven smoke traveling from the east, moving toward the ocean. Fire. When I confirmed that it was near a friend's home, I started texting them. I wanted to be sure they'd seen reports, knew what was going on. Even a fire that is "far away," if it's east of your location when the Santa Ana winds are blowing, then it is too close for comfort. The more I thought about their situation, the more anxious I became, and in my messages I offered, We could house your critters if you have to evacuate.

The Lilac Fire started small, but it grew fast, and vicious. And our friends, their pets, their home were in its path. Having been in their situation, I knew the fear, and the logistical load of getting everyone safe, especially scared pets, or big livestock. This offer to help them, felt like an easy choice to make... and while they suffered the angst and worry of what was coming for their home, we spent some days lending a hand, and enjoying some sweet, funny, dear pets. It's real nice to tell this story from today, because in the beginning it was sad, and scary, but spoiler alert... now we know everything turned out well for our friends, their home, and their little farm.

Thursday night Bobbie came to the Bird House with Mabel, and Sammy the bunny, and two hens, Oink and Dot. We kept Mabel and Oink in their respective crates, and moved Dot into my old portable chicken cage, and we even had a bunny cage for Sammy. The wind was blowing fiercely. With flashlights in hand, and determined resolve, we made sure all of the animals were safe and secure that first night.

It was a relief to greet our guests the next day.

Here she is! Mabel, the mini-pig.

Sammy lived on our porch, and he stayed about as calm and cool as any bunny could.

Oink the chicken... she discovered our spoon tomatoes, and I think that made all the difference.

Pretty Dot... we hope she remembers this adventure as a few odd days at camp.

Cairo. Now, Cairo was just stunned. There's no other way to describe his bewildered expressions, and skittish antics. He watched Sammy bunny warily, and kept a wide space between himself and the flopsy fur boop.

Also in shock... all of our chickens and both goats. Evidently, none of our critters can tell the difference between a little pig and a big bad wolf, and so they huddled in corners, with raised hackles and mournful expressions. (Are hackles only a dog thing? Our goats express both glee, and terror, with a ridge of raised hairs along the tops of their necks.)

Meanwhile, Mabel cruised the entire yard, merrily, with all of the confidence and self-possessed equanimity of an Instagram celebrity (mae-mae_minipig).




Friend was unfazed, and came around to see the new campers.

I was just getting my head around making salads for Mabel, and keeping an eye on the sky and horizon for signs of new fires, when Maria brought me the Advent book, day 8. She's 100% flexible and understanding, and looking around at all we were managing, said brightly, "I had no idea we'd be doing this, now. We can do pie any time." I smiled, gratefully, and asked her to bring a pie crust out of our freezer. We might not ever get to it, but we stood a better chance of baking a pie if the crust were ready.

Nothing much else, besides the usual laundry and school studies, were on our calendar, so these guests of ours had our full attention. We wanted them to feel welcome and happy. And we wanted our friends to have at least one part of their lives to give them some peace of mind... and to that end, I enjoyed sending them new pictures, so they could see all was well for Oink, Dot, Sammy, and Mabel.



Evacuating is terribly stressful... you leave your home behind, taking as much with you as necessary or even possible, and still you have to go to work, and manage your affairs, while your home, and memories, stand in peril. Bobbie and Jesse had Leo and Bosco, their dogs, with them, and jobs to go to, and their son had his finals to complete. Everything we were doing felt easy, in comparison with what our friends were coping with. Bobbie took a break and came to see her pets, and to finally meet those goats!

And would you believe? We baked a pie!

The next day our Advent book had another lovely suggestion, and the calming winds put everyone in easier moods. And... word was getting out, about a certain little, pink, celebrity pig in our midst. We were getting calls and texts... Can we meet Mabel??

Mabel is so well socialized and smart. She knows some commands, like turn and reverse and stop. She'll do just about anything for a Cheerio... almost anything. Like any smart animal, she also has a mind of her own.

When she discovered this back section of the yard, she never wanted to leave. Can you see our scaredy goats and nervous hens? They're all cowering from the little, pink pig rooting through the leaf pile. It took a lot of Cheerios to coax her out of there!

The terror twins, Pepper and Pippi, take the prize for being totally chicken! As long as Mabel was in sight, they would not come down from their roost... not for breakfast, not for oats, not for nuthin'! Frankly, I am glad these two were humbled... they're mean and bossy, and deserve a good scare.

Alex's friend, Max, and his mom, came in the morning to meet Mabel. Then Max and Alex went to check on horses, and to lend a hand there with other volunteers, and the many hundreds of evacuated horses and livestock.

Alex and Max returned with two more visitors.

Paul, Janece and Amira were over. Paul knew just the spot to get Mabel's hair happily raised.

Amira and Mabel saw eye-to-eye, too.

And just in time for dinner, Bex, Spencer and Simon came to meet Mabel, Oink, Dot, and Sammy.

I really wish I had started a guest book for Mabel... a happy keepsake of all the new friends she's made.

Maria has had uncanny timing. By day ten, I was ready for this... for lights, especially. Geoff was taking the day off, and with William, Alex, Max, and Maria, outdoor lights were hung all around our home, even Totoro got festive.


Bobbie would send me texts, thanking me, and making helpful suggestions. The best one was about adding canned pumpkin to Mabel's meals. There may not be much that is as hilarious as Mabel eating her chow, with a bowl of water, and when I added the pumpkin it got ridiculous! There are videos on Instagram (chickenblogger). I recorded every meal for my own amusement, forever.

And this is where we are getting to the happy ending, which is also a little sad, strangely. The only thing we could ask for was for the fire to be put down, for lives and homes to be spared. The losses were real and horrific, and we despaired over every report. But we were feeling connected and delighted with our guests, and it wasn't going to be easy to part with them. We rejoiced for our friends, when we learned the evacuation orders were lifted, that the Lilac Fire was contained, and we took longer, even more dear visits with our furry and feathered and hoofed visitors.

Maria confided, "Mabel is fun, but, Mama, I love Sammy. I don't want Sammy to go."

Can you guess what she's been asking for?

Dear Santa...
She's in love.

Friend returned, again. Our blue bird of happiness seemed to appreciate we needed a little support. Thank you, Friend.


I use the hashtag #littlefarm. Now that we've had an actual pig in our barn, I feel totes legit.

Chickenblogger, and farmer.

In the last decade we have come to know fire season... late summer into October, then November, now December. Any wildfire is bad, but California, with its Santa Ana winds, and history of droughts, with its canyons, and mixed topography is susceptible to fast moving fires with loads of fuel to keep it going, difficult terrain to manage, and for firefighters to cover. We all learn that when there is a Red Flag Warning any spark could become an inferno, and any wild fire will move, jumping across highways, traveling like a raging river up canyons, over ridges, pushed by wind gusts that can be as fast as 50 miles an hour. It means a small fire, in the far distance, can be forcing evacuations with only minutes to prepare. Red Flag Warnings mean the humidity is low, and the Santa Ana winds are blowing dry air from east to west, and any fire that is east of where you are could easily be dangerously close in no time at all.

A Red Flag warning is serious, a Purple Flag warning... well, I'd never heard of such a thing, until last Thursday. It is the highest danger level, it meant single digit humidity and wind blowing at 80-100 miles per hour, with sustained winds of 20-45 miles per hour along the coast, and ninety mph wind gusts.

During "fire season," which has practically become year-round, we take safety steps, and during Red Flag Warnings, we take extra precautions, like not mowing, or grilling. There are things we can do, and there is more we will learn to do, but it's not always in our power to control. Individually, we cannot manage every acre of dry brush, accidents, or any irresponsible acts. We can consider the bigger picture... our environment, changes in climate, how we want to care for our planet and resources with long term conservation and management in mind.

There were some terrible losses in the Lilac Fire, as well as the Ventura and Los Angeles fires. We happened to get lucky, this time, and we will try to do more, to be better prepared for next time. I want to add some thoughts in reaction to negative comments I read regarding the deaths of horses in Bonsal, California. The deaths of those horses was awful, and will hopefully lead to improvements in how livestock and farms are set up, going forward, but if anyone thinks that people were 'indifferent' or in some way 'slacking'... well, those critics are ignorant, and cruel in their remarks. Ranch hands and jockeys had to remove over 500 horses from a wild fire that began and spread in less than an hour's span... that is an impossible thing to accomplish. With wind driven smoke, soot, embers, and flames coming at them, and very limited resources, the people on hand did all they could. Period. We all have a lot to do to keep tragedies like this from playing over, again, and again. Our planet is changing. I hope anyone that is criticizing or pointing fingers, will stop and consider that we are all capable of helping, of taking less, and giving more. I am deeply touched by the kindnesses offered, the bravery displayed, and the generosity shared by Californians during these tragic events.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

This Is Making All The Difference...

Maria made something that has been pure holiday magic. Her gift has been giving me a daily smile and inspiration, as we countdown the days until Christmas.

In her secret workshop, Maria created this little book, A Little Pocket Advent Calendar. I love it. I love each handmade page, the glitter, the thought and effort, the ideas, and suggestions. I have been waking up with a bit of that Christmas wonder I remember feeling when I was her age... excited, eager, full of hope, ready to see something special in the day.

We ordered Mexican hot chocolate when we met our friends for breakfast.

She's not insistent on doing exactly what the book suggests. We made cranberry bars, and shared them with friends. We'd still love to host a cookie exchange.

Her beautiful origami! This reminds me of the beautiful ornaments my mother made from Christmas cards. I bet Maria would love to recreate those.

Now this one we really went for! We invited a few friends to come and make flowers with us. Carol and Leo were down for an impromptu playdate, and we made some tissue and napkin blossoms.

These lyrics, "Oh, the weather outside is frightful," are ringing true, but we have nothing at all like snow in California! We are under a Purple Flag Warning in our county, and further north, things are far more dire. We've had our fill of wildfires and evacuations in our lives, and so at the end of the day a little make-believe and home comforts were very much welcome. As real winds blew, we slipped into our pajamas and watched It's A Wonderful Life.


Yes, more home comforts, and simple pleasures. I am looking forward to this evening, and all the days ahead. This time of year can be hectic, and full of urgent demands, but Maria's gift is making a nice difference, every day, and sweetly reminding me that it's a wonderful life.

Monday, December 04, 2017

The New Year Resolution






At the end of 2016, I turned fifty, and a friend dared me to try 50 new things, in the year, as an exercise in growth, a challenge to make adventures, seek new experiences. And, of course, the New Year prompts us to think of resolutions. I decided it would be a new thing to be an art student. I have dabbled, and been wishful, all my life... "Gee, I wish I were an artist. Golly, I'd like to paint pretty things." But I hadn't seriously applied myself, practiced, pushed through the phase where I made truly awful stuff, or endured the dull practice-practice-practice. So, I made a New Year Resolution... be an art student, an amateur. Be humble, ask questions, try different styles, and practice-practice-practice. I made myself buy a sketchbook, and I didn't tear out the bad sketches, or lean too heavily on an eraser. I just kept trying. And... the really hard part is sharing. No. Actually... even a little bit harder than letting people see what I've painted, is looking through Pinterest, or Instagram, or in books and magazines, and seeing beautiful art, skilled works, talent, success. Knowing that, even with all my practice, all my earnest attempts, I am still in a phase of truly awful stuff learning. I am a student, and amateur... to love. Maybe my best talent is in being familiar with my humility, so that I can encourage others to try something new, take a chance, be unskilled and open to discovery. It's not easy, but I feel thankful to have taken the chance, to have begun.





Sharing is hard. And sometimes it feels like my greatest success is not dipping my dirty brush into my tea. I don't have to share, I know. And I'm not sharing all of them... I counted 89 paintings done since the end of December, last year. So, what makes me dare to share? I think it helps me gage my progress, and it forces me to work harder. I know I need practice, to gain more skill, and work at learning. Honestly, I am more convinced that I should stick with chicken wrangling than pursue art. Retreating would be a relief... almost.


When I began all this painting, I stuck to the dare... to paint a variety of subjects in a variety of styles, even pushing myself to tackle "hard" things, like architecture, anatomy, realism. Eventually, I found myself drawn to rat-mouse-people. So, what's with all the rats? I even have a Ratty-Rat" label. I think it's to do with Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, the dearest ratty-rat ever. She inspired a lot of wishful art daydreams, because I wanted to depict her, her sweetness, her appeal, and charms. She was like a little person, with personality. She was enchanting, and I wished so much I could convey everything I loved about her, create adventures and stories she could visit, live in.

And so, it's mostly rats. Rats that could be mousy, and are a bit like dear little people, Borrowers, maybe. Pure fancy, whimsical, hopeful. Ratty-rats by an amateur, for me to love.






Works in progress. I keep sketching and practicing. I still attempt new subjects, like a dog, or a snowy village. I cringe seeing them in photographs, because the flaws seem to blow up, glaring at me, taunting me. I think, oh, that needs work. And the shading is all wrong. How did I miss that spot? But. Never mind. They are works in progress, like me.