Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

A Day In San Francisco.

Posted on | October 11, 2018 | No Comments

We beat the traffic in San Francisco and parked at Union Square. Even the homeless people were still asleep and none of the shops on the square were open.   So we made our way to Mr Holme’s Bakehouse and by the time we had navigated our first San Francisco “hills,” we were ready for specialty croissants and donuts.  Plus a pic with the famous sign.  I don’t think Little gets it, do you?

Then we entered Chinatown through the Dragon Gate.  When I lived in Chicago I experienced several ethnic enclaves throughout the city.  But Chinatown was not just its own little world, it was its own universe.  We browsed Grant Ave and Stockton Street, saw the Old Telephone Exchange, Sing Chong and Sing Fat, Waverly Place and the Tin How Temple, and the Old St Mary’s Church.  Everyone’s favorite place, though, was the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where we got to taste freshly made fortune cookies.  Turns out fresh fortune cookies do not taste like stale cardboard.  Who knew?


After Chinatown we made our way through Little Italy, past Washington Square Park, and then took the Filbert St steps up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.  We did not see any wild parrots on Telegraph Hill even though I looked really hard.  Of course, my vision may have been a bit blurry after all that huffing and puffing up the Filbert St stairs.  The views from Coit Tower were worth the climb, though.  Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge had just emerged from the morning fog and we got some perspective on the hills of the city that we’d been climbing all morning.



Like every tourist to San Francisco we walked along the Embarcadero to Pier 39 to see a small group of sea lions barking at each other in the sun.  I’m not gonna lie—I was underwhelmed.  I may have confused the large colonies of sea lions seen in National Geographic specials with the reality of a little pile of slumbering fatties.  One might even have been dead.  Hard to tell.  Plus the area around Pier 49 was so touristy it reminded me of Myrtle Beach during spring break.  And the Musee Mechanique, a vintage arcade which I thought would be hours of fun for the kiddos, was kinda creepy.  Creepier than the Fortune teller ZOLDAR in Big.  Creepier by a long shot.

We consoled ourselves with a meal at Jack in the Box.  Because like In-N-Out Burgers and Carl’s, Jr  this was a fast food chain that we do not have on the east coast so it’s a novelty for us.  And while we could dump a lot of cash at some of the famous upscale seafood eateries on Fisherman’s Wharf we would have ended up with empty wallets and hungry kids asking us to stop for a burger on the way out of town. It’s a family vacation, not date night.  Why fight it?

By now we were a long way and many hills away from our parking garage at Union Square.  So we looked at Lombard Crooked St but we did not climb the stairs beside it.

We made a stop at The Beat Museum for Pretty to peruse the artifacts of a hippier time.  I browsed their used book section while The Other Half and the boys stood in the doorway staring at a man, dragging a tattered suitcase and screaming obscenities, having a mental breakdown on the street.  They were the only ones watching as the other San Francisco citizens strolled on by, going about their business as usual.  Minding your own business is not something country people understand as well as city people.

Thanks to our horrifically early start we made it over the Golden Gate bridge and out of the city before evening traffic.  Unfortunately, the fog had rolled back in so instead of seeing sweeping vistas from the bridge we only saw the bumper of the vehicle in front of us.  Which would be disappointing but I just consider it a good reason to have to visit San Francisco again.  🙂  On the other side of the bridge, we made straight for Muir Woods and the Redwoods of California. Although the Sequoias are the biggest trees on Earth, the Redwoods are the tallest trees.  I’d show you pictures of the trails through Muir Woods but here’s where we’ve had some mechanical failure.

Pretty captured pictures of our trek through the forest.  But since our return the screen on her fancy camera has cracked making it very difficult to download any pictures off the camera because it has touchscreen controls. As much as I would like those photos they are also a huge pain to work with on the blog.  The fancy lenses and scopes and apertures and blah, blah, blah of her camera makes her photos much higher megabytes or kilowatts or nanometers or blah, blah, blah.  So the image is better but it has to be “scaled down” in order to be posted on the blog.  And scaling the pictures down involves downloading all sorts of software to the laptop which can only be downloaded by typing code in the computer’s terminal.  Because I have Ubuntu because my IT person says using Ubuntu and open source software is the only way to rid of the earth of the evil capitalist pigs trying to own the internet and evade the virus-ridden cyberwars and I would disagree but I don’t really understand what he’s talking about so I just go along and so now I don’t have any of the user friendly photo programs that the rest of the serfdom have on their computers which makes me progressive and vaccinated but ultimately, feeling the need to be drunk before trying to do something simple like scale down a photo.  If I could even get the photo off the camera.

So…we’re just going to leave the Muir Woods up to your imagination.  Or you can Google some images from the serfs with Windows photo editor.  Whichever.  In any case, the Redwood forest was surprisingly different than the Sequoias.  The Sequoias we roamed through were growing on the west side of the Sierra Nevadas and although we don’t have Sequoias at home we do have mountains.  The Sequoia forest was similar to our mountain trails—stands of trees interposed with small meadows or rocky outcroppings.  But the Redwoods were a lush forest of green ferns and loamy paths, shafts of sunlight filtering down from above.  Even on a late June afternoon there was dripping water and sections of fog.  It’s actually that famous west coast fog that keeps the Redwoods thriving and it also gives a more literal meaning to the notion of forest bathing.

Maybe it was the hills of San Francisco plus the hour and a half hike in the woods.  Maybe it was the trees lowering our blood pressure and heart rate.  Maybe it was the knowledge that we were as far away from home as we were going to get that summer.  For the first time in 13 days we’d be heading east instead of west. We were all subdued on the winding path away from Stinson Beach and drove on past our planned hotel reservation; I-80 E back toward my nemesis, the Sierra Nevadas mountains.  ‘Cause you can do San Francisco in a day but the Sierra Nevadas are not that easy.

It Will Be Cold Again.

Posted on | October 8, 2018 | No Comments

Life was always happening in the garden and the barn.  The summer heat, the winter wind, the spiders and their webs, the birds and their nests in every nook and cranny.  While everyone else was moving from their temperature controlled house to their temperature controlled car to their temperature controlled office, I was slogging through spring mud or breaking the ice layer in water buckets or dripping sweat onto the tomato plants as I pruned them.  I knew the minute slug season arrived, and tick season, and when the field mice abandoned the field for the greenhouse.

Of course, I always retreated to my air conditioned house.  And we all know about my love affair with the woodstove.  Despite all my outdoor activities, I woke up in the mornings like everyone else–surprised when I peered out the window and discovered it had rained during the night, shocked when I opened the deck door to get the dog her breakfast and found a cold front had moved in and temperatures had dropped.  I took shelter in a brick house that, as all good little piggies know, withstood weather and wildlife very easily.

Enter the RV.

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Big Lessons.

Posted on | October 4, 2018 | 5 Comments

The problem with parenting is that you never really know anything until you’ve lived through it.  Sure, you can read parenting books and you can ask other parents, but until you’re actually trying to convince a living, breathing 2 year to put his poop in the potty you don’t really know, well,…you don’t know sh*t.

That’s why raising the first child is less like parenting and more like a partnership.  A partnership in one of those random, crazy start up companies that you invested in because it seemed like a good idea, the guy was cute, and you had a little bit of money laying around.  What could go wrong?  And the next thing you know, you are sitting in a nursery that cost thousands of dollars in renovations, going on your 17th sleepless night, and it’s just you and your firstborn, weeping hysterically.  Both of you weeping hysterically.  No one’s in charge on those nights.  There is no parenting.

Oh, there were with sleepless nights with the rest of ’em.  But by then I had plans and tricks and strategies and coping mechanisms.  All of which I learned from Big when he was little.  That I learned with Big.  And that’s how it played out for the rest of his childhood–from the right preschool to the easiest road test examiner at the DMV.  I researched all the options, gathered reviews, and then thrust Big out there.  If it didn’t go well then he had an interesting story for his memoirs and his siblings had better odds at getting it right the next time around. Read more

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods.

Posted on | October 2, 2018 | 1 Comment

So there we were in Bakersfield, CA in the summer of 2017.  Bakersfield wasn’t originally part of our trip.  My original plan was to head north from Phoenix, hit the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, and then the Sequoias.  ‘Cause they’re all lined up neatly from east to west.  Too bad there’s no pass through the southern part of the Sierra Nevadas.  Which kept throwing me off in Google Maps.  How in 2017 was there no road through the mountains?  In 2017??  Honestly, I didn’t realize the Sierra Nevadas were much more than a beer, never mind something that can barely be crossed in the 21st century.

But travel is nothing if not a chance to see things that you weren’t planning on seeing.  So we cruised down Hwy 99 past all of the fruit packaging plants.  We saw the home of Halos and Cuties mandarin oranges as well as Dole packing plants and a Sunmaid Raisins facility with its own storefront.  Although I admit my favorite part was blooming shrubbery in the highway medians.  For mile after mile we flew past flowering pink and white oleanders.

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Cleaning house.

Posted on | September 29, 2018 | 3 Comments

So I’m gonna start at the ending and work my way back to the beginning.  Which is against the rules, I know.  But the rules are kind of fast and loose around here lately.  If you wondered where I was for almost the past year, I was cleaning house.  That seems like a lot of cleaning.  And it was.  Oh, it was.

I’m writing to you from my 32′ RV.  Where I stay now.  Overlooking the pond and garden on a raised gravel lane with my own power pole and water line and, of course, wifi.  I have 2 indoor/outdoor cattens (1/2 kitten and 1/2 cat. You missed their full-on kitten stage) from the animal shelter that hang out on the couch when I’m in here and underneath the rig when I’m not.  They are pleased to join me when I open the door and start passing out cat treats but just as quick to dump me if they see anything interesting going on outside.  They are, after all, cattens.  Capable of dispensing love and indifference in equal quantities.

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There You Are.

Posted on | November 6, 2017 | 4 Comments

I was writing about my summer vacation and I had to download some more photos.  It took a couple days because in order to “download some more photos” I had to track down Pretty (whose schedule is fuller than a rock star), get the pics off her camera and onto to a little card, shove the little card into the laptop a hundred different ways until the computer finally recognized that the card was there, then hunt through the computer files to find where it placed the photos off the little card (Pictures?  Downloads?  Imported?  The Third Dimension?).  When I finally sat down to write some posts about the rest of the vacation photos, I had nothing to say.

She was gone.

I have no idea where other people get their inspiration. Personally, I have a writer inside my head that notices everything.  She makes snarky comments about people’s behavior at the grocery store or oohs and aahhs over puppies at the park or snorts with laughter when overhearing the conversation of the preteens in the backseat of the car.  She almost always has something to say about everything.  And all I generally do is ponder over her comments, edit them for suitability of public viewing (It’s a lot of editing.  A lot.), and put them down on paper.  Even when I am writing a story and not a blog post, it’s usually just a matter of fleshing out an idea or series of thoughts that she tossed out into my mind.  Leaving me to connect the pieces or fill in the blanks.

But she was completely silent.   Nothing. Read more

Old West.

Posted on | August 11, 2017 | 7 Comments

There are a lot of national parks out west.  But the boys can only see so much majestic scenery before they become underwhelmed by it and ask to stay in the car.  And Pretty is a big city freak, wanting busy sidewalks and traffic and coffee shops.  And The Other Half wanted to visit small towns where people wear cowboy hats and drive old trucks.   Basically, I had to cover everything that everybody wanted on this trip.  Including me.

So we rolled up on our stay for the night, the historic San Jose House, in Tombstone, Arizona with a couple frozen Tombstone pizzas in the back of the car.  Because what I wanted was to eat a Tombstone in Tombstone.  Except the San Jose house, Tombstone’s first boarding house built in 1879, did not have an oven in it.  Or even a stove top.  Or microwave.  Historic housing is not my favorite housing.

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Left Behind.

Posted on | July 28, 2017 | No Comments

There is something fascinating about places that stand the test of time.  Remnants of earth’s ancient past, testaments to humankind’s presence.  From the silly to the sacred, the Southwest is filled with these places.

We were up bright and early to get back to Carlsbad Caverns and tour the cave.  We passed a herd of Barbary sheep that were already looking for shade.  These sheep are not actually sheep (or goats) and they are not native, only appearing in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.  Most researchers believe they were originally escapees from the McKnight private game ranch in New Mexico that imported the breed from their native North Africa.  And such began the parks’ struggle to restore the decimated native Bighorn sheep (actually sheep) population and remove the Barbary sheep.  The Barbary sheep are winning.  Talk about humans leaving their mark.

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Posted on | July 24, 2017 | No Comments

I noticed it first in Atlanta.  I mean there was hint of it, but I blamed it on the city.  The crowds, the exhaust, the towering skyscrapers.

However, when we were standing in Biloxi, facing the Gulf of Mexico, there was no denying it.

I stood there with my sweat-soaked shirt already stuck to my body at 9am and wondered,

“Where’s the ocean breeze?”

Because there wasn’t one.  Not even enough breeze to stir a single hair on your head.

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Posted on | July 13, 2017 | 2 Comments

A lot of compromises went into this family vacation.  I’ve already mentioned that we were trying Airbnb in the hopes of having more space for the kids than in the average hotel room.  It was costing me some extra money, but it was costing Pretty a whole lot of aggravation.  Since I don’t have a smartphone (and she does) we were using hers to manage the Airbnb app—-messaging hosts for check in information and questions about fridges, pools, washer/dryer, etc.  For the record, I also made her use her Smartphone to search for and play podcasts for me while I was driving.  That’s what Pretty gets for being responsible enough to earn her own money and pay for her own Smartphone and service.  It’s a good lesson to learn:  The more responsible you are, the more responsibilities other people will dump on you.  (Hey, just trying to prepare her for marriage and motherhood.)  But Airbnb wasn’t the only compromise.

I also folded on the no-electronics-in-the-car rule.  I used to insist on audiobooks for the kids during car rides.  Then we tried family discussions using the Book of Questions.  That was….interesting.  But this year I gave in and borrowed a hot spot from the library and let the kids connect their devices to their hearts’ content.  The question “Are we there yet?” was quickly replaced by “Did we lose the wi-fi?”  Because there are places in the wild, wild west where there is no service, but there were actually hours and hours of silence when the kids were completely absorbed in whatever it is that they do online.  And it was lovely.  So now I promise to be a little less judgy about the people handing their toddler a Smartphone in a restaurant.  Although I am really more jealous than judgy.  Because we had to carry coloring books and crayons and help our toddlers with color-by-number or play hangman or tic-tac-toe (and let them win) while waiting for our food.  Why do modern parents get to enjoy adult conversation over dinner with just a little bit of beeping in the background?  So.  Unfair.

There was another compromise, too.

You see, I am a morning person.  Not by choice, of course.  Before I had kids and a farm and a job in EMS I liked to sleep in as much as the next person.  I was normal.  It’s just that I had to get up to feed babies at 4am and sometimes they didn’t want to go back to bed.  I had to get kids up for school at 5:30am and after they got on the bus at 6:10am their siblings were already waking up for the day.  I had roosters crowing at the crack of dawn and goats waiting to be milked soon after.  I now have a job that requires me to be at work by 5:45am and a brain that requires enough time for at least one cup of coffee before I get there.

After more than 15 years of forced early mornings, my internal clock realized that “normal” was over for me.  Done.  Kaput.  And now it considers sleeping in to be getting up at 7:30am.  Which, I know, is weird for some people.  People like the rest of my family.  So when we are on vacation, I am up and about while everyone else is hoping I will go back to bed or drop dead, whichever makes me shut up and turn off the light faster.  Meanwhile I am wondering if we really drove 1,000+ miles across the country so everyone could lay in bed, waiting for it to get to 100 degrees outside (you know, perfect hiking temperatures) before they wake up.  Needless to say these differing philosophies caused some problems last year.

So I tried to give myself some morning activities in places that we visited.  Things I could do to kill time until the lazy sleepy people got up.  Last vacation I spent a lot of early mornings visiting laundromats to do laundry while everyone else slept.  This year I found some better morning choices.  And now that Pretty is older (and a morning coffee drinker) she did a lot of them with me.  In Atlanta we got up and headed to the Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site, which was just a couple miles from where we were staying downtown.

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