Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Take that, you elk you!

I used to like elk a lot more than I do now. 

I've had no beef with them (so to speak) for 20 winters. They haven't bothered me much (we did have a brief battle over just who had rights to my apple trees, but that's done and over with) and so I leave them alone. I don't hunt them or eat them.

Not anymore. No more Ms. Nice Gal.

This winter for the first time a crowd of cow elk decided to hop over the 5' tall horse panel fencing that surrounds my compound and help themselves to the horse hay. Once they start that kind of a thing, they won't stop if there's any chance of even one more mouthful of the fruits of somebody else's labor. 

The culprits scouting out the crime scene
(photo taken in low light before sunrise, that's why so blurry)
(Oh, and the bent horse fence is from a tree falling on it, not from elk)
I don't have a hay barn. Ever since I got my first horse back in the mid-1970s I've lusted for a big barn with lots of hay storage, a barn I could park a truck in or a flatbed trailer if I wanted to get it out of the rain or snow. A place for horses to get out of extreme weather if they wanted.  Other gals might look longingly at ads for Manolo Blahnik strappy torture heels, but me, I lust for a barn. 

I guess I've been lucky all these years. The elk have never bothered the hay before. Sometimes I'd stack it and leave it without the tarp. I got spoiled, I guess.

Not any more, that's for sure. 

After the first raid on the hay, I became diligent about covering it at night.  But the elk just rooted under the bottom edges of the tarp even though I had liberally bungee corded it down.

Then I leaned wood pallets over the sides of the stack. The elk just knocked the pallets over or pushed them aside, whatever was easiest. In the process, they stomped on the pallets and broke a bunch of slats. The stack was at the end of the horse trailer, under the bull nose. Those blankety-blank elk had no problem walking underneath to get at the hay from that side, too.

The pallet in the lower right was tossed there by the elk.
When the toll on the hay got too high, I decided to get serious. I use the area under the bull nose to store things that I don't want getting wet (no barn for that, right?). I decided to block that space in, to give up on unloading the hay from the pickup (no sacrifice there), and instead to back the truck with the hay into the space between the horse trailer and the big utility truck that I've been meaning to get rid of for some time but never have since it's full of junk stuff I need to go through before rehoming.

Which I did. Back the truck up, I mean - certainly not go through the boxes and boxes in the truck. Why rush it? The boxes have been in there for 20 years, they can wait a little longer. So the next step was to block off access to the back of the pickup, to the underneath of the bull nose, and, well, to everywhere I could think of that an elk could sneak through.

It took me half a day to get it all set up, but last night the elk were unable to get into the hay. YAY! It's a trial for me to get to the hay, too, but oh well. 

The pickup backed in and blocked in.
Installment being inspected by Joe.

Pallets around the bull nose, tarp inside to discourage elk from reaching over

Entry to the fortress, blocked off at night of course.
Yes, yes, I know it's a hokey job. But it's temporary, okay? Any day now I'll get a barn.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A beautiful day

Life is about contrast. The light can't be appreciated if there is no dark. It's true in music, it's true in all art, it's true in life.

Joe in the snow  December 2015 Lif Strand
This morning we woke up to 3" of snow, a welcome sight in a dry year. We - my dog Joe and I - just had to go walking in the white stuff after feeding the horses. The sun broke through the clouds and made sparkles on the snow. The blue, blue sky was suddenly clear. Coyote and jackrabbit footprints broke the pristine surface. Birds scattered little plumes of white, fluffing their feathers as if they were enjoying a bath in a warm summer pool.

Joe was cheerful, even slightly goofy, as he can get when he's not "on duty" as a livestock guardian dog. He really enjoys our walks. He lags behind me, his attention diverted by some interesting smell, then barrels on by to get in front, because he seems to think that's where he should always be. He's always on the lookout, of course. He's never really off duty, not in his mind. But he allows a little fun to come into the job when we walk.

Joe deciding what to do about the neighbor's cows that have strayed onto his property
December 2015 Lif Strand  
Joe had surgery just a few days ago.  The vet removed two lumps on Monday and yesterday morning she called with the biopsy results: one lump was a perianal adenoma mass, removed with good margins. Joe is over ten years old. I never got him neutered even though I never bred him. However, hormones aggravate this type of cancer, so Joe was neutered when she removed the tumor. 95% of the time that's all it takes to ensure that kind of cancer doesn't come back.

However the other lump was a mastocytoma (mast cell tumor). It wouldn't have been discovered till much later if I hadn't seen the growth on his tail and brought him in.  The tumor was on a testicle, not visible but the vet discovered it when she examined him the week before. That's the good news, because it means there's a chance we caught it early even though it's a fast growing tumor. The bad news is that it's a mast cell tumor. It's not going away on its own.

So now the hard part comes. Without treatment the vet said Joe would have weeks to a few months to live and it wouldn't be pretty. With treatment there's a chance that Joe would not only get a longer life, but that it would be a better quality life. It's expensive, the drug. Of course it is. But it isn't chemotherapy, the side effects are usually not a big problem to deal with and it's quite effective in many cases.  No way to know if it will be in Joe's case of course, but....

But none of that is the hard part.

The hard part is knowing that Joe is a short-timer. My logical brain points out that he's a senior citizen now. He's got other health issues and his age alone means his time is limited.

My heart says no, no, no, never leave me Joe.

Joe on alert December 2015 Lif Strand
Joe, of course, knows nothing about biopsies and diagnoses and prognoses. He lives in the now.

We humans are the ones tortured by knowing what the future could bring. Joe is happy to do his job, to eat a meal, to go for a walk, to rest his head on my arm when I'm typing so maybe I will get up and get him a treat. But I wrestle with fear of what is to come.

When it gets bad it will be hard to remember the good times. But today is not then.

I owe it to Joe to not mess up his now with my fear of the future. My job isn't to deny what will come - that's just not possible for me anyway - but to allow the contrast between that knowing and the pleasure of what I still have today make this beautiful day all the more beautiful.

Friday, November 27, 2015

JK Rowling and music

I saw a clever meme today that said basically you can tell more about a person by their choice of music than you can by their race, religion or sexual preferences. That sounds pretty right on to me.

I just finished reading JK Rowling's latest book, Career of Evil (Ms Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith).  She quotes Blue Öyster Cult throughout the book in chapter headings and, well, elsewhere in the book - and that's all I'm saying about that. You'll get no spoilers from me. At any rate, I figure that Ms Rowling must like the band.

I closed the book and thought about it a moment. I could't recall a single BÖC tune, even though Ms. Rowling provided a list of song references and permissions at the end that should have prompted even my faulty memory.

If you know anything about me, you know that my musical preferences run towards the instrumental, specifically that of the genius guitarist, Jimmy Page. I don't dislike lyrics, but lyric-heavy at the expense of musical development just doesn't make it for me. Over the years I've gotten more and more picky about it. Back in the day I listened to my share of Arlo Guthry and Bob Dylan, but what really called to my soul was the melodies, the riffs, the rhythms of the instruments - with voice as instrument, not as conveyor of language. 

Real music. Not poetry set to a tune.

So over time I indulged myself more and more until now days and weeks can go by with nothing but music that features Jimmy Page coming out of the speakers. Obviously this means I haven't even thought about, much less listened to, BÖC in years. I liked the book. I figured if JK Rowling likes the band that much I should give them a listen. I tried half a dozen songs on for size this evening.

Oh boy. I won't be listening to BÖC for another 40 years or so. Maybe I'll like them better then. Enough said.

So about that meme. What does Ms. Rowling's musical choice for the novel tell me about her?

Well, BÖC is an American band, for one thing, and that means Ms. Rowling is not stuck on British music. That's nice but not earth shattering. No, what jumps out at me after listening to the band and thinking about her inclusion of their work in the book is that JK Rowling likes Blue Öyster Cult for their lyrics, not their music. 

But you probably figured that out before I did. 

Still, its nice to know this new truth about JK Rowling.  It's not earth shattering but it tells me something important about her that I didn't know before: I probably wouldn't want to be stuck in a car with her on a long trip if we had to listen to her playlist.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

About Cows

by Lif Strand (c) 1996, 2015

Until I made personal acquaintance with one, I never had anything against cows. I mean, aside from the nasty smell of dairy farms and feed lots - the memory of which I tend to push to the back of my head (especially when in grocery stores) - what’s to dislike about cows?

You see a few black and white bossies munching on green, grassy hillsides and you've got to smile. And who can resist the big Guernsey doe-eyes? As for the vast range land of the West, dotted with Herefords, Angus, or better yet, longhorns - why that’s practically an icon of our mighty country. 

So, until 1996, I thought cows were pretty much OK. Until then I might have even harbored a thought or two about fresh milk in the morning, home-grown steaks, a few calves out in the back 40. I had never had to deal with cows up close and personal, you see.

Then I met Fraulein.

It was our friend C's fault (initial only, to protect the guilty). Retired from ranching, widowed and bored, he’d been hanging out at the dude ranch where I was employed as head wrangler. This high-end management position entailed about 10 hours a day of scooping manure; feeding and grooming and tacking up the dude string; taking uncoordinated, unfit and complaining dude riders on one hour trail rides; and carrying plate scrapings and coffee grounds from the lodge to the chickens. What C found entertaining in all this escaped me, but he spent a lot of time hanging around, making unhelpful comments and generally getting in the way. 

One of his most unhelpful comments involved the superior qualities of ice cream made from fresh, unpasteurized, unhomonogized milk. This comment marked the beginning of the end of my heretofore pleasant and uneventful relationship with cows.

C’s parents had a milk cow when he and his siblings were growing up. Later, C’s wife also had one. While she was into making cheeses, C’s specialty with fresh, raw milk was butter, making it just the way he used to as a kid. C had fond memories of this butter making, and so - even though he himself did not drink milk, and even though he lived alone and thus consumed little butter - he decided it would be a great idea for him to own a milk cow. He also thought it would be a great idea for me to help him find this cow. Over my protestations of no cow husbandry or dairy experience, I found myself using up one of my rare days off for The Great Cow Hunt on the Rio Grande.

My vote for making a few exploratory phone calls first was quickly vetoed, so we headed east and north with no plan that C was willing to share. While we parked and moseyed up to the Lemitar Livestock Auction building, our first stop, I ventured to ask why C thought there’d be any dairy cows at this auction in the middle of beef country. I was informed that there were quite a few commercial dairy farms south of Albuquerque, their lush pastures irrigated by the muddy Rio Grande. C was sure that there’d not only be Jerseys or Guernseys, but they’d be good milk producing cows that would be in calf as well. It defied any logic I could come up with that any dairyman in his right mind would take such a beast to auction, but we were spared further discussion by the discovery that the one dairy cow at the auction had already been sold. I guess arriving 2 hours late for the auction hadn't been such a good idea, but the rickety old trailer C pulled behind his tiny Toyota pickup weaved whenever he drove faster than 35 mph.  The 125 mile drive from his place to the auction a wee bit longer than we’d planned, and hotter, too, because it turned out the air conditioner was broken. 

Never mind, we were in time for the auction's noon break, so we ate in the air-conditioned lunch room and moved on.

C’s newly revised plan involved driving further north to Belen, where he was sure he would find the dairy he’d sold his wife’s cow to 6 years prior. Barring success with that, he’d just stop at the first dairy farm we came to and pick up a cow. Four or five farms and several sweaty and miserable hours later, this approach did not seem like such a good one. If there’d been doors to slam in our faces, our noses would’ve been pretty flat. I was ready to call the whole thing a bust but C convinced me to stop at one more dairy farm, just north of Socorro. If there was no cow here for C he promised we’d get some dinner and go home. C perked up considerably as we pulled into the yard (coincidentally just across the freeway from the Lemitar Livestock Auction of many hours ago). He now recalled that this dairy was, in fact, the one where he’d sold his wife’s cow.

Although the owner apologized for not remembering that particular cow, he did miraculously agree to sell a cow to us. I was skeptical of the whole deal, especially when I saw what the cowman picked out. Like I said, I don’t have any cow experience, but somewhere in the dusty corridors of my memory I recalled that a milk cow should be broad in the pelvis, have 4 even sized udders and good feet. Josephine (the cowman swore that he knew the names of all 300 of his cows) was presented to C as an excellent choice.

She wasn’t exactly pedigreed, the cowman admitted, but it looked to him like she might have some Jersey and some Guernsey in her. He did not point out the thin and flabby udders, nor the small size of her bag, which was quite small compared to those grotesquely distended ones of all the other cows. If milk had ever been in those udders, it was a long time ago. It seemed to me that perhaps these were not good signs. But then Josephine proved to not be pregnant. She was rejected, in spite of her very good feet.

C agreed to the cowman’s second choice, Fraulein, who proved somewhat difficult to catch. I held back comment, wondering how C, with his bum ankle and one lung, was going to handle clever Fraulein in the future. As the temperature had not dropped from the mid 90s all day and I was overheated, short-tempered and hungry, I contented myself with hanging out in the shade of the milking barn while the two men took a great long time to work Fraulein towards an aisle leading to a cattle chute. Of course, I had to sympathize with Fraulein , because I could not imagine that the pregnancy checking process, involving a shoulder length plastic glove for the dairyman and much fecal matter on the part of the cow, was anything Fraulein was looking forward to.

An hour or so later, Fraulein was in the rickety trailer and we were on our way home. C was $75 poorer than he’d have been if he’d purchased Josephine. True, Fraulein anatomy was an improvement over Josephine's, but besides the fact that she was hard to catch there was no calf in her either. This was a minor point that C had tossed aside with a wave of his hand. He had also tossed aside a few questions of mine that I thought were quite pertinent, such as did C have a milking stanchion? (No.) A cow halter? (Why would he need one?) Milking buckets? (Pots from the kitchen worked fine.) What about the fact that Fraulein had never been hand milked before? (No problem). Hmmm.

It was much cooler when we got back to C's place, probably since it hadn’t been daylight for many hours. Miraculously the cow hadn’t suffered any physical damage from the trip even though the trailer had shed a few parts along the way as a consequence of her jumping around so much in the back. She was mightily miserable as we shooed her into a small pen next to C's barn, since she was well overdue for her afternoon milking.

I wondered how C was going to deal with this poor tempered beast in the dark (no electricity in the barn), but this wasn’t going to be a problem for him since since he was planning on heading straight to bed. I looked doubtfully at Fraulein's milk-engorged bag, listened to her groans, and recalled all the stories I’d read as a kid about having to milk that cow on time no matter whether or not Lassie was barking or Fury was whinnying about the danger coming down the road.

And then I made a fatal mistake. I said, brilliantly, I'd milk her myself. After all, I reasoned, how hard could it be? I’d seen it done on TV a zillion times. And I was sure I’d read about it in a book sometime or other.

I won't go into the gory details here. I did relieve some of the cow's discomfort but it wasn't pleasant for either of us. Just let me say that a cow that has only ever lived her life in a commercial dairy has no idea how to be a cow. She’s been milked by milking machine since day one. To put it bluntly, it toughens those teats right up. Fraulein had never had anything as soft as her own calf’s mouth sucking at her much less an inexperienced human hand weakly squeezing and yanking at her swollen and painful teats (only one hand because the other was occupied elsewise).

A cow’s way of expressing displeasure is first indicated by a thrashing tail, said tail generally also holding a quantity of manure like a brush holds paint. Cow manure is similar to paint, too, in that it is mostly liquid and it will color the object that it is applied to. I realized that evening that I much preferred the smell of paint to manure. I furthermore realized that holding a penlight in one’s mouth may lead to unwanted foreign objects entering the mouth. It’s not a memory I like to dwell on.

A cow’s next way of expressing displeasure is the use of her hind feet. You’ve no doubt heard the term cow-kick. A regular kick is one by the hind foot aimed backwards. A cow-kick is one that goes forward, perhaps with a bit of English to the side. It hurts when it connects with a human body part, say a hand that's holding a milk pail. When a cow cow-kicks the milk pail (or in this case, the old coffee percolator I stumbled across in the tack room) it is knocked over, spilling the contents. The loss of the few ounces of milk that had actually accumulated hardly mattered since nobody was going to drink milk that had dead bugs and cobwebs floating in it anyway. It did bother me to discover that milk turns out to be quite sticky when it soaks the knees of your jeans.

A third way a cow expresses displeasure is by leaving the scene. The rope I had looped over Fraulein's neck and fashioned into a crude halter was for roping and was therefore quite stiff. Thus it simply shook loose when Fraulein tossed her head. Even if it had stayed on, I couldn’t have prevented her from walking off, not without having the end of the rope tied securely to something like a freeway support piller. I only wonder why she didn’t do that first thing.

Did I mention cow drool? Did I neglect to note how cow piss splashes as it hits the ground? Never mind.

Here is the horror of it all: I escaped to the dude ranch and left C to the tender mercies of the cow. But then, after just a week or two, he drove up hauling the damn beast in his rickety trailer. He was donating Fraulein to the ranch, he said. The owner actually fell for it when C explained how the guests would enjoy fresh milk right out of the cow, how kids could learn how to milk, how he could demonstrate butter making. 

“But who will milk the cow every day?” the owner asked.

The two of them turned to me. 

“She can milk the cow,” C said, with a grin. “She’s good at it.”

And that, my friends, is why I don’t like cows.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

So Much To Do...

Photo taken from Beaver Creek Guest Ranch lodge porch little time.

I'm going to take a couple days later this week and spend them at Beaver Creek Guest Ranch
in the White Mountains of Arizona. This is the place I've gone to before to get work done on various fabric art projects and even a couple quilts.

I'm not a domestic type person, as you might have figured out if you've read previous posts here. The quilts I've made at these quilting retreats are for my bed, and I don't need to keep making them, so I am free to focus on wall hangings. That's where my creative juices are stirred.

As with my approach to domestic matters, I'm not much for following rules when it comes to quilting type stuff. If I read directions carefully, it's so I can figure out how to deviate from them. Once I've tried a technique the "right" way, it's my joy to see how I can tweak the process to get something very different.

That means, of course, that there are a few failures along the way.

Unlike with my bread-baking adventures (and the BBQ baking method is working quite well, thank you very much for asking) I can't just toss the failures to the dogs or chickens (or compost) to take care of. But that's OK. Quilters have a tradition of always having a few UFOs (UnFinished Objects) hidden from the light of day. These are projects you realized along the way you didn't love as much as you thought, or that required more technical skills than you had at the time, or that you simply haven't gotten around to dealing with because Life Gets In The Way.

Collect enough UFOs and you earn your quilters' PhD (Projects Half Done). I have a few PhDs now. I should get a raise.

So the other day I decided to clear out my sewing tool box, because I couldn't stuff anything more in it that I wanted to bring. Surely there would be a few items from old project that I didn't need to haul around.

Perhaps that box with false eyelashes didn't have to go with me this time. Thumbtacks: Will I need them? Have I ever used thumbtacks at a quilt retreat? I certainly don't need all those pencils and pens, especially since most of the ink in the pens has dried up (a hazard of living in arid country). Ditto for glue. Empty boxes and baggies with holes in them, five sets of tiny straight pins too small to use for anything (but they have such pretty crystal balls at the ends), hooks and snaps and buttons (sheesh, you'd think I was sewing clothes). Oil pastels. Fancy quilters thingamajigs that I've never taken out of the package. 

And even more.

Satiny fabric and metallic fabric and glittery ribbon.
I like sparkly stuff.
In the end, my tool box had tons more room, even when refilled with stuff I know I'll actually use.  Maybe that balances the extra fabric I decided I should bring in case I get inspired to work on something other than the UFOs I'm determined to finish.

Two days.  That's all I'll be up there.  Wonder if everything I want to bring will fit in the car or should I use the pickup truck...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summertime and the living ain't easy

This morning started out so well. After completing my regular chores I decided to tackle a task I've been putting off for a while. I've got a spot where summer floods have caused enough erosion to expose water line, and I've been avoiding a real fix by having a neighbor come over with a dump truck load of fill. But every summer it rains again and the valley floods again and the fill washes away. This has been going on for several years.

Some months ago I decided to get going on a permanent fix. I placed old tires in the gully, overlapping them on their sides. My plan was to anchor them with t-posts and fill them with rocks, the manual labor for which was not much fun.  After moving the tires I decided I had achieved enough for a while.

Well, now that summer is here the monsoon rains can't be too long in coming. The floods can carry stuff for miles and miles so if I don't get those t-posts in the tires will be gone. The tires aren't worth anything so they'd be no great loss to me -- there are plenty more where they came from -- but they would be litter for someone else. And besides, that would be more work for me.

Last night I woke up in the wee hours worrying about all the stuff I hadn't done that needed doing before the rains start. Top of that list was the erosion problem. I decided I'd do something about it today, and I promptly fell back to sleep.

This morning I remembered my decision and went at it. As you can see from the photo, the project is still in process.

I've just put arnica salve on my left foot where I dropped a t-post on it. I don't know why that's the foot that hurts so much because I dropped two t-posts on my right foot. But hey, the posts only fell a couple of feet - it could have been worse.

My back hurts, too. I got one post in. I guess if I was a buff young cowboy I'd have gotten them all in, but I'm practically an old lady, fer cryin' out loud. I'm proud I can lift the damn post-hole driver at all, much less pound in a post. One at a time is good enough progress for me.

The big question is: will I sleep better tonight or will I be forced to promise myself to pound in another post tomorrow, too? I hope not. I've got weeks and weeks till the rains start and finishing the job now would be so counter to the whole mañana ethic of my life.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A dream of a recipe

I should start out by saying that I am not a Johnny Cash fan.  Partly it's because I can't stand most country
Young Johnny Cash in studio
music (there are a few exceptions - but I even avoid those) and partly because with his nasal voice and his dreary stereotypical subject matter, he epitomizes everything about country music that I can't stand.

So this morning I woke from a bad dream that had Johnny Cash as the focus.  

I dreamed that I was required to transcribe a Johnny Cash music video as it was being recorded in a studio by Mr. Cash.  Although there would be no audience, the recording would be a straight run-through with no interruptions and no retakes.  I talked with the man but briefly, and only in preparation for the work.  There was a lot of pressure on me to get it right.  

And then the very first song that he did was a recipe for Chinese chicken salad.

Needless to say, I woke up before getting into that nightmare of a dream. 

Maybe not so coincidentally I came across an interesting recipe for Asian chicken salad recently that I'm eager to try.  I'll share it here.  I may omit the habanero sauce.  The jury's out as to the hot pepper sesame oil.  Plain sesame would be just fine, seems to me.

Asian Chicken Salad
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 head large cabbage, chopped into very thin strips
  • 2 tbsp  cilantro
  • 1 tbsp  sesame Seeds
  • 4 cups cooked shredded chicken
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 / 4 cup white wine Vinegar
  • 2 tsp  ginger (ground)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp  hot pepper sesame oil
  • 1 tsp habanero pepper sauce
  • 1 / 4 tsp salt blend
  • 5 whole chopped green onions, green and white parts

In a small bowl or jar with a lid, add soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, olive oil, hoisin sauce, hot pepper sesame oil, pepper sauce, salt and chopped green onions. Secure the lid and shake vigorously.

In a large plastic bag or large bowl, combine chopped cabbage, shredded carrots, cilantro, sesame seeds and shredded chicken. 

Add enough prepared dressing to coat and toss until well incorporated. Adjust amount of dressing as needed.
Makes 9 servings @ 1.5 cup.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bread report: Tangy and tasty

I baked the sourdough bread I started two days ago on the wood stove this morning. Grill baking will wait till I can get a small propane tank filled. This dough was from a different recipe for grill baking: the baking temperature is a lot hotter and the dough a lot stickier. But it had risen nicely by this morning and I had high hopes for good bread no matter what.

When I took the bread off the wood stove I let it cool in the pan a bit before flipping it out onto the rack. But oops, the top was still unbaked dough. It stuck to the rack when I picked up the loaf (hence that crustless space in the center).  Stuck to my fingers too. I put the loaf back on the stove, upside down this time, and baked it further. 

It doesn't look too bad and look at those nice holes in the loaf. So far my bread's been kind of evenly grained like store-bought white bread. Eeeeew!  I wanted those holes! So good for catching melted butter when the bread's warm. And yes, so very tasty.

My sourdough starter is nice and strong now, meaning it's very forgiving. Good thing, too, because obviously I need a starter like that!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bread baking adventures - baking on a grill

In another life I was a mad scientist. In this one I'm a modern contrarian.

As those who know me are aware, my idea of fun is to try something new and different without reading the directions. I guess it must be something in my personality, or my astrological chart or some deep-seated neurosis from my childhood.  Be that as it may, reading -- much less following -- directions is so not me.

I decided some years back that because I love sourdough bread, I should make my own. How that developed is a story for another time, but I am now accomplished at baking bread on top of a wood stove (not in a Dutch oven).

That's well and good, but as spring progresses, the days are warming up to the point where I don't particularly want to be building fires in the wood stove, even first thing in the morning. So my most recent adventure is learning how to bake a loaf of bread on an outdoor grill.

Oh no, no, no. Don't you go thinking I'm weird. I Googled it and discovered baking bread on a gas grill is old hat. Lots of people do it (and here I thought I'd come up with something unusual). Besides, this is legitimate research: The other day I got invited to a friend's house to make pizzas in her new outdoor pizza oven. I want one, not so much for pizza (though I'd use it for that, too) but for break baking.

But wow, what an investment in time and labor to build one. Hence the grill. If I learn to use it and like baking bread outdoor enough to keep using it, maybe I can justify building a nice wood-fired oven over in a corner of the yard.

So okay. Research.

Not that I was going to read the directions closely, mind you, but I did skim through a few web pages to get the gist of it. Part of my tendency to skim is because unfortunately much of the info out there for the weird projects I do is useless (poorly written, written by people who've obviously never done it, or the instructions call for equipment I don't have). I figure if the instructions have to be worked around there's no point in reading closely, right? 

And yes, I will have to do some creative work-arounds for baking bread on a grill. For one thing my grill is older. It doesn't have a fancy two-level rack system to keep the bread from getting scorched by the flames, nor does it have a built-in thermometer. For another thing I want to use the heavy enameled cast-iron bread baking bowl I always use, not a stone cloche (really?) or a pizza stone (could I just use a rock?) or doubled cookie sheets (who knows where mine are). 

And for that matter... where is my grill, anyway?

So, earlier today I decided I should be proactive and get the grill out from where it's been stored for several years. I had to use a shovel to dig a hole to lower it so I could pull it out from under... no, no point in going there. Let me simply say I got it out of where it's been stored and tugged it over to my yard next to the house. Opened it up and whoa. Good thing I was being proactive. Lots of dust in there. It would be a good idea to see if the grill would even ignite and hold a flame, and of course doing so would burn off the cobwebs, too.

Then the next question: Which, if any, of my propane tanks actually had gas in it? Hint: None of the small tanks that I can lift. I eyeballed the four-foot tall tank that requires my using a hand cart to move it. I thought about how I'd have to unhook it from what it was hooked up to, and the gymnastics that would entail. I thought about how much easier it would be to get a propane tank filled next time I'm in town. 

See how these things go?

Looks like I will bake this next loaf of bread on the wood stove after all. It's not nearly as warm in the house as I thought. A fire would be nice. Yes it would. Really.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dense Bodies: The Classics Revisited

"The Trojans advanced in a dense body, with Hector at their head..."
~ Homer, The Illiad

The Illiad.  Those Trojans.  Really!!

The Classics.  We were forced to read them as helpless children.  They break all the rules of writing we've been taught.  Run-on sentences?  Please! I have no respect left, what can I say. But honestly, the Illiad can sometimes be a yawner and my attention tends to wander. And this is the kind of thing that happens.

But seriously: if Dwayne Johnson doesn't have a dense body, then who does? Well, OK, there is The Hulk, but isn't The Rock a lot cuter?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Putting it out there

It seems to me that the more you put your wishes out into the world, the more likely they are to come true. Can't hurt, can it? Besides, I figure if Amazon is nice enough to ask what I want, I can let them know.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Warning signs for modern times

Sometimes I feel the need to post warning signs like this on my Facebook page. Or on my forehead.

Warning signs for modern times 2015 Lif Strand

Not for anything you would say, of course.  Honest.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Land That Enchants Me

The land that enchants me (c) 2015 Lif Strand
New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment. I have no doubt of that. I knew it the first time I visited many decades ago, and I knew it when I came here, finally, to stay forever. Like a seed blown far from the flower, I have set roots here in New Mexico, planted my heart and soul firmly in the land.

Rural New Mexico is what I mean. I'm not a city girl. Being out here in the middle of nowhere is not for everyone. Rural New Mexico can be a hard place to survive physically and economically. Rural New Mexico is technologically behind the rest of the world. In many places it is culturally behind the times.

But so what?

Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is worth whatever price needs to be paid. While New Mexico can be a slower, kinder, artsier, red-or-green whimsical kind of place, here in the outback you risk all that enchantment running you over and stomping on you for good measure. But I don't look at the brutal winds, the spiking temperatures, the aridity (and the dust and the pollen) as negatives. I don't think of the lack of economic opportunities, the slow internet, the dicey cellular coverage as true problems. They are simply part of the chiaroscuro of the place.  They contrast with the breathtaking beauty, the wonder, the magic that fuels my soul.  Those other things ground me and provide the extreme contrast that pumps life into life.

Nobody said enchantment was all sweetness and light, anyway.

I have come to learn that susceptibility to any magic is directly proportional to the willingness to dive in and embrace it all: the good, the bad and the ugly. I would say I had dived in, except that I think it's more that the place snatched my heart from me, and laughingly teased me into jumping in to get it back.

I love being enchanted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Artwork of Dede Lifgren

This is the most recent work by my artist sister, Dede Lifgren.  The urn is 5' tall.  Click on the photo to enlarge.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Summer looks so good from a winter point of view. And then comes the heat and the flies and the mud after it rains and I start thinking about how nice it is to sit next to a warm wood stove when its snowing outside. Summer Morning (c) 2014 Lif Strand

It's hard to believe I took this photo just four months ago.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Special Eggs, by Alma Hobbs

Alma Hobbs Special Eggs
Reposted here with permission

When I grew up we had a bunch of chickens. There were white ones, black ones, wild ones , gentle ones. They ranged out 2 or 3 hundred yards, scratching around, hiding their nest in the bear grass and surviving.

Everyday was an Easter egg hunt. The eggs that our hens produced were a lot like people. Our eggs were not like a carton bought at the store, all so equally matched in color and size. The outer shell was every color from white to dark brown, but those eggs were all alike inside. Well, except once in a while one would have two yolks. Other than that if you cracked a white one in the skillet and a dark brown one in the skillet by it, and did away with the shell nobody could tell which egg was which.

Then there were special eggs. Sometimes in the early spring, a hen would lay a tiny egg. That pullet's first egg could be as small as the first joint of my thumb. If the timing was right that tiny egg would be boiled and died for Easter to be the PRIZE egg of the egg hunt. I remember several of those tiny eggs.

The other rare egg was an occasional soft shell egg. The membrane kept the white and yolk contained, but the egg had to be handled carefully, as there was no outer shell.

I see those soft shelled eggs in humans also. Some of them get their feelings hurt, so easily. They seek to create drama. We have to handle them carefully.

But we are all eggs in the basket together. White, Brown, Special, Soft shells, Remove the shells and we are all just big gooey messes.............

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

She's Baaaack!

I haven't been posting to this blog because I've been writing lots elsewhere. Plus I wanted to see about using WordPress instead, though I don't know why. I've never liked WP and I still don't, so I'm staying right here. I'm going to redo my website, and will make it easier to go back and forth from one to the other.

At least, that's my plan.

Meanwhile, a reminder that I've published the posts from my Mage Music blog in book form. If you're interested in learning a little more about the process of creativity, whether via Magick or the sweat of your brow, you might want to get this book. Right now you can get a free Kindle version, so don't wait to order your copy.

(paperback and Kindle) 
Order yours today from Amazon!