Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nature Study: A Lovely Place

 One of the greatest things about The Man of My Dreams is his ability to stumble across absolutely Lovely Places. He spends a lot of time just exploring - under the guise of scouting for elk - and takes us back to his best discoveries. If I ever did find a Lovely Place, I'd never be able to find them again.

One of the greatest things about Two Little Girls is that they can go just about anywhere and find something to play, something to learn, and something to smile about. It doesn't have to be anything most people would write home about - give them a couple of good trees and a handful of wildflowers, and they are happy as can be.

It took all of five minutes for them to set up "house" here: "This is where the bed will be," as the oldest rushes off to gather a handful of grass, creating a makeshift broom with which to sweep the boulder free of pine needles. "Here's the mailbox!" as the smallest finds a giant knot in the tree just at eye level. The giant roots quickly became the stairs, and spaces between trees were the front and back doors. A bit of dripping sap collected from the side of the tree was the honey for the pretend tea we were served.

A walk down the hill provided a handful of wildflowers and a visit with the bees. Have you ever gotten close enough to a bumblebee to see the pollen stuck to it's back legs? When there are so many wildflowers around, there is no need to worry they might sting - they are too preoccupied to care about humans.

Homeschool? You betcha. Nature study doesn't get any more real than that. But better than that, it was time spent together, parents happily listening to kids explore and learn and pretend. It was being grateful for living in such a beautiful place, rejoicing in the perfect simplicity of nature.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Dear Little Rabbits

The Oldest's language arts assignment today was to write a conversation between a mother rabbit and her kits, explaining how their home is different from human homes.

"My dear little rabbits," Mother Rabbit said, "human homes are very different our home. They are made from bricks and stone. Ours are made of dirt. Their doors are covered; ours are not. Our roof is dirt. Theirs are wood.
"My dear little rabbits, now do you see? We are more eco-friendly than they are."

:o) She makes me smile.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cachin' in the Tiny Little Town

Geocaching is such a neat way to spend time at places you might never otherwise stop... even places in your own backyard.

We took a little drive last weekend just around our Tiny Little Town, seeking out geocaches and discovering little gems we didn't know existed, or had never taken the time to really look at.

There was just enough hiking to keep us active without exhausting us (as some caches have done!) and the girls had a great time picking out little treasures to take home.

It'd been almost a year since we'd cached last... we had to brush up on our micro-finding skills a bit before we found some, but we managed.

It's funny to think folks walk right by caches all the time and haven't any idea they're even there.

Monday, June 18, 2012

So What Exactly Does "Drought" Mean?

They're calling this a "Hundred Year Drought." Until we moved up here I don't think I really comprehended how important water actually is. Before, the word "drought" would come up here and there, you would notice lawns getting a little brown, but no one really paid much attention. Not so when you get up into rural, agricultural country.

On a normal year, we would have more than enough water to irrigate our hay pasture without much difficulty. In the spring, we get what they call "free water" which is overflow from the lakes and rivers and creeks as the winter snows melt off. But there was hardly any snow last winter. This year, we've been told, what we saw for water was about 1/3 of what we'd normally see. And it ended about a month earlier than it normally would. We never did manage to get water on over half of our pasture, and when you walk out there you can hear the dry grass crunch beneath your boots.

Now we're on "ordered water" - we have 'shares' of irrigation water that we call to have them send to us when we want to irrigate. On a normal year, we'd have enough to keep our ditches full for about a month after free water runs out - which should take us up to the rainy season. This year, because there just isn't enough water in the creek, we're only going to have water in our ditches for about two weeks. And we've already used a week of that - we have one week left of water before it's just gone. What this means is that our pasture will produce only a small percentage of the hay it would normally produce. This, in turn, means we will have less hay to sell, meaning our income from the pasture will be significantly lower than originally expected. And the likelihood of a rainy season occurring at all seems pretty small.

Add to the lack of water our absurd climatic conditions, and it's just an all around terrible year - especially for our first year spent trying to farm. With the temperatures a solid 10 degrees higher than normal and virtually no rain yet this spring, the soil is dry as a bone. We water, but then the constant wind dries it out before we can get more water on it. Half of the seeds I planted in the garden never sprouted, what plants I grew in the greenhouse are so wind-whipped and dehydrated that they are hardly growing, and even the root vegetables aren't producing roots because there just isn't the moisture for them to do it. Add to that the fact that many of the most noxious weeds up here thrive on dry, barren conditions, and it's no wonder I'm struggling in the garden this year. 


It's amazing all of the things that water affects. The wildlife is moving off in search of water, meaning families like us who depend on game for meat might not be able to find it. Bears are coming down lower because there isn't food or water enough to sustain them in the higher areas they usually stay in. Folks that run cows on pasture that's irrigated with ditch water suddenly have no 'wild water' for their cattle to drink, they have to haul the water out to them. Hay prices are skyrocketing, some farmers selling hay for as high as $12 a bale just so they can make ends meet.  This means folks with animals won't be able to afford to feed them, and folks in the city will see prices of meat, dairy products, and vegetables go up because of the astronomical expense in producing these commodities.

And check this out. The Grand Junction Free Press is writing a series of articles on the water situation in our area, which is now being called a "severe drought". This particular paragraph really caught my attention:
"Meanwhile, water consumption doesn't seem to be going anywhere but up. The state demographer projects that by 2050, Colorado's population could nearly double, to about 10 million people. Where will this water come from? State water planners and groups of stakeholders in each of the state's major river basins (Basin Roundtables) are wrestling with this question right now. Solutions include taking more water from the Colorado River's headwaters to the Front Range, taking more water from agriculture, and increasing conservation — each of which faces different hurdles and has different impacts on state and local economies and quality of life."

So they're saying that, since our population is growing by leaps and bounds, and people are using more and more water, that one of the solutions is to take more water away from agriculture?! So these people will have green lawns and long, hot showers... but what are they going to eat? They aren't going to be able to afford to buy any food, that's for sure.

So that's what "drought" means. It means farmers have to crank up their prices in order to survive the lack of production of their crops, which means city folks should expect to see prices for everything they eat to start going up. (The exception, of course, is corn, which the government has subsidized. So if nothing else, there'll be plenty of GMO corn for everyone to eat until the entire nation is afflicted with cancers and other cell abnormalities because they're consuming as many herbicides and pesticides as they are any sort of nutrition. But I'll save that soapbox for another day.) And yes, it means your lawn will probably be brown this year.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Her First Gymkhana

 Ach! When did my Littlest One get big enough and brave enough to ride in a gymkhana? But alas, she is, and so to the games we went with Bandit, our trusty steed.

At four years old, kids are led through the patterns on a lead line. Essentially, this means I worked twice as hard as the horse, jogging along through the arena with him trotting along, my girl on his back. If you've never tried jogging through soft, fluffy arena dirt wearing jeans and cowboy boots in 90+ degree dry Colorado heat, you really ought to.

She had a blast. Oh man, she spent so much time smiling today it makes my aching calves and sunburned shoulders totally worth it.

Of course, there was that one part where she fell off...

The words "my heart skipped a beat" gained new meaning today. We were trotting back to the gate after the last barrel when Bandit decided we weren't going fast enough for his taste. I could feel him gaining more momentum than I liked, and when I tried to slow him a bit, he did a little crow hop and Littlest One fell right out of the saddle. To see giant draft-pony feet that close to my baby girl, who was lying in the dirt, really did make my heart skip a beat. But this pony is amazing. He knew right where his feet were, and he made sure not to step on her. He stopped, waited for me to rescue her, and behaved himself after that.

I was a little shocked that she didn't even cry. In fact, after I picked her up for a couple of seconds, she walked with us out of the gate. So many people came up and told her how great she did and how brave she was, I think she rather enjoyed it. I'm pretty sure she can't wait to tell her sister that she got bucked off first - there aren't many things a little sister gets to be the first at! A few seconds later, she was back in the saddle. I told her maybe we should walk through the next event, but she said she'd rather trot again. She makes me so proud. For being my little princess, she's one tough kid.

There were no other catastrophes through the rest of the day, and she really had so much fun. I'm glad we have a couple of weeks for me to recuperate from today's workout - sounds like we'll be back at it in early July!


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Gone Shootin'

We went to the shooting range today* - a nice break from four days' worth of farm chores. I shot The Daddy's 270 and decided I really do want a hunting rifle of my own. That thing is monstrous! Crazy to think I have deer and elk tags of my own this year. Here's hopin' I get my chance... with Two Little Girls to raise, my hunting opportunities are limited. (And there's the part about Sit Still and Be Quiet that drives me up the wall.)

Littlest One can officially cock and shoot her BB gun without help, can operate the safety, and can recite and apply basic gun safety rules. She looks so darn tiny holding that gun, but she handles it nicely. She finally figured out how to line up the pin and actually aim, and shot a soda can successfully. Loved the smile it put on her face!

The Oldest shot a .22 for the first time today. She was a little nervous after my comments about the recoil of the 270, but once she gave it a go she decided she liked it. I imagine it won't be long before she's got her Hunter's Safety card and can try her hand at small game.

And The Daddy got a little extra bonus:

Littlest One came to me and said, "Mommy, I saw a really big snake over there!" I asked her what it looked like and she said, "It was all curled up. I don't think it was a garter snake. It was a lot bigger." Upon inspection, it was indeed a rattlesnake, just off the side of the path. Yikes. Daddy obliterated it with his shotgun, and we saved the rattle as a souvenir.

Rattlesnakes are a part of life in the high desert, where we live. It's not the first one we've seen, though thankfully there haven't been too many. With Two Little Girls that love to catch garter snakes, we have to make sure they really do know the difference. I'm glad Littlest One, though she wasn't sure exactly what it was, realized it wasn't a "safe" snake and kept her distance.  We reviewed the "Don't Touch A Snake Unless Someone Is With You" rule, and let her look at and hold the rattle so she'd know what one looked like. There aren't any other poisonous snakes around here, so as long as she learns to look at the tail and recognize a rattle, she'll be fine. It was a good lesson for them both - you never know where one might be hiding, and they are very easily camouflaged. Made them both realize they always need to keep an eye out, wherever they might be playing.

*I realize owning and using guns is a touchy subject. You're welcome to disagree with us. The way I see it is this: I'd rather have my girls know how to safely and properly use a gun than to have no idea and be scared of them. We keep our guns and ammo locked in separate safes and exercise extreme caution when shooting them. And honestly, up here, I think it's best we all be good with a gun - with bears, mountain lions, and other dangerous animals, I want to be able to protect my family and my animals if the need arises. Putting food on the table, of course, is an added bonus. So hate if you will, but I'm pretty sure gun ownership is right for this family.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


 Remember this post, where I wrote about how we weren't going to get a goat this year because we already have enough other things to figure out? Right.

And then we discovered our neighbor, whom from here on out we shall call The Enabler. She's the one who boarded her horse here so my girls could ride him, the one who gave us our monstrous puppy. Yeah well... she raises goats, too.

And so, meet Liberty.


[lib-er-teefreedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.

Liberty is a nine month old Nubian doe. We'll walk her back to the neighbor this fall to have her bred, and in the spring, if all goes well, she'll have a baby and provide us with milk.

However, as we all know, Liberty never comes without a fight.

She's a sweet goat, but she hasn't been handled much in the past couple of months. She's not entirely sure she has any use at all for humans, no one ever told her she is supposed to come running when you're holding a grain bucket, and in general, she is pretty freaked out.

We walked her home on a collar and leash, and put her in a barn stall. We were in there with her, feeding her grain from our hands, petting her and talking to her, when she decided that was enough. And apparently a six inch gap between fence boards is enough for a goat to slide out sideways. Off she went, in a flash, and I found myself chasing her down the driveway, and down the road. It must have been a sight, a goat running down the road with her leash dragging behind her, me running along behind her.

Eventually she took off up a hill on another neighboring property, and I had to give up. Even if I did find her, she wasn't going to let me near her. The girls and walked home, sad and dejected, having owned a goat for only five minutes. We were goat owning failures.

Then I decided to drive down the road a bit, watching up the mountain with my binoculars. And there she was! She was heading back to her herd... she'd just taken the long route. I called the neighbor. Her husband ran out and coaxed the whole herd with a bucket of grain while I sprinted up the hill, dodging cow patties and leaping over irrigation ditches, to herd her toward them. Our silly little goat found herself a hole in the fence, and went along with the rest of the sheep and goats, right into the pen. We were able to catch her again, get her back home, and we reinforced the stall fencing. A lot.

We'd planned to call her Liberty before any of this happened, but now it seems even more fitting. Happily, she's still out there this morning... I was awake half the night worried that our sweet little goat might be off wandering a mountain at night trying to go back to her herd again. Goats are impressive, the way they can squeeze through any opening if they put their mind to it.

I don't imagine it'll be long before the girls and I have her much more tame, assuming we don't lose her any more. It's a good lesson in patience and empathy for my daughters, as much of this life tends to be. But the satisfaction of seeing her eat out of their hands, or her letting them rub her between the ears, and the smile it puts on their faces, is great reward for my trek up and down the neighborhood chasing a silly goat.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bit By the Reading Bug

The reading bug has finally bitten my Oldest One.It happened a couple of years later for her than it did for me, and I was afraid it wasn't ever going to happen, but the time has come: no matter what she is doing, she has a book in front of her. She has mastered holding a book open with her feet while she brushes her hair, she reads while she eats, she reads when she should be sleeping, and I had to tell her the other day not to read while she was walking down the stairs.  She's devouring a book every other day now, and I'm thankful for the library's rows and rows of books to keep her entertained.

I was just like this as a kid, and so it warms my heart to watch her. New worlds are opening up, she's making new friends and meeting new people, the way she sees the world is evolving just a bit, and I love it. 

This morning, I told her this story:

"When I was your age, I read as much as you do. I'd stay up late at night and read with a flashlight when my parents thought I was sleeping. I would read while I ate lunch, I would hole up in my room and read all afternoon. I loved books, especially the Babysitter's Club. I could read one in a day sometimes, and be ready to start the next one. But we didn't ever go to the library when I was little, and my parents weren't going to buy me five or six new books every week, so there were a lot of times when I didn't have anything new to read. I'd read the same book four or five times through just because I had to be reading something. And then, once in awhile, I would go spend the night with Nanny, and she would take me to the book store and buy me a new book. Or, if I was really lucky, we'd go to the big warehouse store and she'd buy me a whole box set of four books. Man, those were special. New books to read weren't always so easy to come by when I was your age."

Oldest One, who always enjoys hearing stories of when I was a kid, looks at me and says, "Wow!..... were they made of papyrus?"