Thursday, December 27, 2012

dawn to dark

today started early with mike up and out of the house before the sun broke...but that is his story and i will allow him to tell of it. 
my chores were of the domestic type:
-admiring the creaminess and sweetness of the homemade yogurt i had put up last night
-brewing a strong pot of coffee and fixing cups for both myself and mike
-kvetching about the brand new couch and how it wasn't at all like i imagined
-contemplating why they don't sell coffee cake strudel yogurt at trader joes (it is darn tasty, let me tell you)
-more kvetching
-dish washing
-refrigerator cleaning
-net surfing
-polling my friends and complete strangers about my couch issue
-et cetera, et cetera, et cetera

and then it was already 9
so i could start making phone calls about the couch
only joking
sort of
i did call the furniture store and tell them i was coming in with the cushions
and back up
mr. larsen
who, unbeknownst to him (mr. larsen), was just as terribly unhappy as i

check that off my list
then i went to work trying to find barley seed
mike has a plan, and it is his plan, so i will let him tell you that story too
i was just looking for the stuff, because i like to chat on the phone and ask important questions like

"where exactly does this seed come from?"
"is it organic"
"will monsanto own me after i plant an acre or two?"
it isn't obvious i am a bit of a farm rube at all--wink, wink, nod, nod
it is a wonder they would sell it to me at all
again, i brought back up

last thing before heading out
made a list

when you live 30 minutes from a major...and when i say major, i really mean minor, but bigger than nothing, which is what our town make a list.  otherwise, you are just makin' due
list done
mike came in from his morning chores a little worn and slightly muddy, whilst i was just as fresh as a daisy with a bit of rouge. off we went to town with purpose.
after shopping for essentials like seed, socks, gas cans and an onion, we stopped at a nice little restaurant for a quick lunch. while enjoying our kobe beef burgers we perused the local ag source catalog, discussed the grading of olive oil, and naturally, what i was making for dinner.
which is really the purpose of this post
and i am getting to it
i promise

by the time we made it back home, daylight was on the down-swing and  mike figured he had about 3 hours left to do 6 hours of work.
me too
because one of the things i had to do
was chat up our caretaker

just last week--yes right before christmas---i had written her to tell her we wouldn't be needing her services any longer.  it is all good.  she is a good person whom has done a fine job, but we have plans...and it just wasn't the right fit.
we had picked up a gift certificate to a local restaurant as a year-end thank you for her work, and i wanted to hand deliver it to her. 

but first
i had to get dinner started

several weeks ago, the last time we were at the ranch, i realized, upon pulling into our tiny little town, that i didn't have a pot to cook in. i had a car full of things like langostino, linguine, crusty bread, ripe tomatoes, wine. my menu was planned, grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup for night 1 and pasta with langostino, white wine, butter for night 2.  all very good and well, but no pot.
i stopped at the local thrift shop and found the only pot in the place...a wok... joyce chen standard issue.  it would have to do...and it did
but this time i thought ahead
i had packed a few things from our fridge at home
and grabbed one of my le cruset dutch ovens along with them

i love a wok for stir fry, but not so much for a slow braise on a cold december eve--which is why i needed that onion
so before setting off to visit with our caretaker, i put a bit of olive oil (just a little) in the dutch oven, with a rasher of thick cut bacon sliced into batons, 2 cloves of garlic, i crushed but kept whole, and a roughly chopped medium-ish onion.  i let it go until the onions just started to brown a bit, then i added about a cup of white wine, a pinot grigio, i think.  
it was meant to just stop the browning, but it smelled so good, i just kept ended up being a cup or a bit more...maybe a cup and a half.
i dropped in a bunch of kale, that i had washed--not dried, but chopped and removed the stem from the end.  a small..14 oz or so can of diced tomatoes with the juice, a 14oz (or thereabouts) can of great northern beans (drained and rinsed), and about a cup and a half of chicken stock.  
i turned the whole thing down to as low as the gas burner would go
popped the top on it
put on the muck boots
grabbed the walking stick
whistled the dog
and began the hearty walk from our upper ranch homestead, to the lower ranch domicile of the caretaker

we stopped only once to assess the evidence of furious foraging, left by wild hogs in search of acorns.  it is astounding--  they arrive just after dark and stay the night--eating their fill of the fallen acorns.  which as the adage proclaims, really don't fall far from the tree. in an otherwise green field, what from  distance looks to be shadow, is tusselled earth, effort-fully tilled.  with all those acorn in their bellies, i imagine those swine are a tasty eat. 
what in the city would be a quick, i know you are busy, just want to hand you this, 5 minute stop and drop...took an hour...maybe a bit more, perhaps a smidge less.  we talked about her plans, our plans, the lay of the land, water lines, sewage valves, well pumps, storage tanks--you know, the usual.  
as the weather was beginning to turn, and dark looming, i made my excuses and began the uphill walk back to our place.  as part of our conversation, it was revealed that the path i would be walking, with scout at my side, was a sometime favorite for coyotes.  with the sun setting, i was a bit nervous, as the dog by my side is yet a puppy, and easy bait for a hungry coyote.  so, as we began to walk the sheltered bit of the uphill path, i scooped her up and readied the walking stick on my strong side. just in case.  little scout either sensed my fear, or feared my heavy breathing, as she went from a squirm to a calm that made her easy to carry.
i just love that little dog

back home and dinner was smelling great.  we were just in time, as the greens were soft, and most of the liquid had evaporated. ready for the next step.  
i turned the burner off and lifted the top off the pot. i had a pork tenderloin in the fridge and i pulled it out when we got back from our visit. i dried it with paper towels, then nestled it right in the pot. covered again, and popped into a 350 oven. after about 35 minutes, i turned the pork, and buried it in the kale, beans and sauce and popped it back in for about an additional 30.
by now it was dark
dark, dark
without light pollution to haze the sky
it seems black
and even the most industrious husband
can't do planting chores in that light

which is how it came to be
that mike came in for dinner
with a full ranch man's day under his belt
after dark
for a hot and hearty supper


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Survey says...

The first step in our construction phase for the ranch is to get everything surveyed so we can set up a master plan. It is required for accurate layout and for obtaining permits from the county. We had the surveyors out a couple of weeks ago and they recently provided us with the digital files. The problem with it is that all you see is a bunch of elevation lines on the original file and those old 1952 USGS topo maps on the overlay. I need something I can print out and draw on. I've been doing computer graphics for 15 years, I can't work with that!
As everyone knows, Google Maps has decent aerials available for viewing. Unfortunately, you can only really zoom in as big as your computer screen so you are either left trying to paste several screenshots together or settling for a low resolution print. A little research led me to the USGS website, the same place those 1952 topos come from. You may not know this but if you know where to look they offer a better option.

USGS offers high resolution aerial orthoimagery for FREE download that is at least twice the resolution that I was able to get from Google Maps. It is a little tricky to navigate but once you find your location you can download 250mb squares of image data. Our ranch split 4 squares so a gigabite download later I pieced the squares together in photoshop and dropped the digital survey on top. Now I have something I can work with!

Soon we will start planning out the sheds and barns and hog pens and chicken coops and everything else. A pretty exciting time that we have been anticipating for months!
Below is a small version off the map I made from the USGS aerials with the survey laid over the top. Click it to see a larger version.

Monday, December 10, 2012

360 Panorama

Christy and I got new superphones last week. One of the cool features of the camera is the panorama shot. You just stand in one place, click the button and it takes a picture. Then it tells you to rotate left or right and it takes another picture. After you do this about 6 times, the superphone tiles up all of the photos and turns them into one big long panorama. pretty neat!
The above shot is two of these panoramas which i manually tiled together in photoshop to achieve a 360 degree view of the upper ranch from the middle of the circle driveway. I think this kind of technology will really come in handy in showing our progress with the ranch.
Here is a link to the full sized image.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Critter Me This...

A farmer has 18 sheep ... all but 7 die ... how many has he left?Seven. All but seven died. Actually, the farmer still has 18 sheep. Some just smell better than others.
Ok, dumb riddle but it's true. Sheep aren't cheap and Christy will want the best for her cheesemaking. She's still doing the research but ewes in the top milking breeds can cost $200-$1500 each and if 11 are dead that is a quite a hit to the pocketbook. Sheep make tasty cheese, provide luxurious wool and are also delicious... particularly delicious to coyotes and mountain lions. And there are lots of coyotes and lions out at the ranch. My trusty 22-250 hand-loaded with (condor-safe) Barnes Varmint Grenade bullets travelling at over 4000 fps are bad medicine against the coyotes but I can't do anything about the highly protected lions and my gun is useless after dark when most of the problems will occur.
We need something to stay with the flock and protect it at all times, day or night, rain or shine. That something is a beast known as a Livestock Guardian Dog, or LGD. Ideally, our picture perfect setting would dictate that we have the "much cartoon heralded" (and Christy's favorite) Old English Sheepdog out there dropping anvils on Wile E. every time he jumps the fence with his knife and fork. I did research them but it turns out they are more herders than protectors and we already have Scout for that. They are also not as suited to the long hot summers with those long coats. Nope, we need a real LGD... and the Cadillac of LDGs is the Anatolian Shepherd.
Anatolian Shepherds are from the country of Anatolia, now known as Turkey. They have been bred for thousands of years to protect the flocks of the Anatolian Plateau, where summers are hot and winters are cold. They have a short length double coat that helps to regulate their core temp which is perfect for central California. They are also BIG and FAST. Males can be 150lbs+ and stand nearly 3 feet at the shoulder. They have long legs with athletic bodies and an instinct to protect. From my research, I'd say they are about the best there is at protecting a flock of sheep or herd of goats. They are fearless and attentive but have a low prey instinct so are much happier standing watch than running around chasing squirrels or rabbits. They don't herd either and generally just consider themselves part of the flock... Kind of like a male lion, they don't do much of anything until it is time to kick butt.
As you can see in the picture, they dwarf a German Shepherd and while maybe not quite as easily trainable, they will garner the same respect from any two-legged riff raff that might wander through the neighborhood. We don't anticipate needing a guard dog but having this big fella on the lookout for trouble is a nice bonus.
Another plus about Anatolians is that they are relatively long-lived for big dogs. While Great Danes and Mastiffs may be expected to stick around an average of 7 short years, Anatolian Shepherds can live 13-15.
There are also not very many breeders in the United States and the ones I have found are very picky about their stock, in an effort to keep problems like hip dysplasia out of the breed.
Prices run about $1000 for a guaranteed healthy non-breeding animal, a significant investment to be sure but it still could pay for itself in a single birthing season.
What about Scout chasing around trying to herd the sheep he is protecting you ask? I thought the same thing. I sure didn't want her getting the smackdown just for doing her job. It turns out these dogs have been bred to work around herding dogs and as long as they grow up together they should be fine. That's why I think it is important to start with a puppy. It takes an LGD about a year to grow into its job so that is something to consider in the initial Master Plan. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mapping it out

We have been a little quiet on the blog these last few weeks but things have been rolling along behind the scenes. We just hired a surveyor to map out the entire property so that we can start laying out the "Master Plan" and have been talking with our friend Turko Semmes of Semmes & Co. Builders. We met Turko while we were looking at properties when he showed up to ride along with our realtor as sort of an expert witness on what to stay away from with regard to rural properties. In the end, we dumped the realtor and kept Turko and are happy he is helping us. His company specializes in designing custom "green" structures leaning on layout and passive solar systems to aid in efficiency. As many of you know, our ideal is to have this project of ours be entirely self-sufficient.
The Master Plan is to rough out exactly what we want to do with the ranch in such a way that won't have to redo anything later. The first part of that is the survey and the roads. With our best quote and a solid recommendation from Turko, we hired Dakos Land Surveys to map out the property lines and provide a detailed topo map of the entire ranch. With this information we will be able to plan out the best options for layout and access. The survey will show all of the details of the topography including the location and species of every tree on a series of 3' square maps so I am pretty excited to see the results.
Once we have the survey, we can begin to plan out the buildings we need and their locations on the farm. Turko advised that if we can get it all figured out ahead of time we can just pull one permit for the driveway and lay all of the pavement at once instead of having to get the county involved every time we take another step. Smart! Cal Fire will also have to be involved in the road system as they have very specific requirements and we are in a high fire risk area. Plus, I can't get the Harley up the steep dirt driveway so it needs to be addressed asap!
Since we plan to build a dairy early on we will also be sending our ideas to the county dairy inspector. They are rather particular about how things need to be done so it is important to try to work with them instead of against them.
While Christy is bending Turko's ear about how to get a commercial stove into the 1100sf ranch house I have been working on the important stuff... researching critters. I have a couple picked out and will tell you about them soon!

Thursday, November 8, 2012


We arrived at the ranch separately, Mike and I. He directly from pasadena, me from santa barbara  By the time I had arrived, it was dark, I was tired, and we both were hungry.  As soon as the election results were confirmed, we--and the three dogs---nodded off to sleep.
Up at dawn, as our ranch routine requires,we had a few hours of chores before breakfast.  Even without a barn full of animals, we have endless opportunity for chores.  Mike and I each had a list of things we wanted to accomplish today. Our house is nearly empty.  I lugged up two favorite apple red leather library chairs that never really found their place in our condo, in the back of my car.  I have big plans for them, and hope they lend positively to the "vibe" of the place.  Our living space is small, there isn't much room for superfluous fixtures.  Proportion and purpose have become my new mantra.
On my shopping list today....a bucket, a salt block, eye cream and a couch.  By 8am, I had measured out the front room, fashioned a sketch of furniture placement, dreamed of paint color choices, and finalized where the tv should hang, and danced a jig when I confirmed my estimate that the wall to the kitchen was indeed 7 feet long. I was ready for breakfast.
Mike and I headed into town. I wanted to give the local another try, as our breakfast had been interrupted several weeks earlier, cutting short "story-time" and local color. The idea was to confer over our individual shopping lists and plan our schedule. We drank strong coffee while the owner-slash-waitress-slash-cook chatted us up, giving us the location of a little known furniture store, she thought we might like. I found her encouragement quite generous, considering she admitted, that she didn't quite like "our taste". She was either a clean line modernist or a boca raton golden girl. I couldn't quite grasp her style. I nodded, mike ignored. At any rate, we put the shop on our list
As we drove south of town, our plan was to head to the southern most stop and then work our way back north.  On our drive, I offhandedly remarked that I had been thinking a lot about a truck...and was wondering if Mike had any strong opinions.  I know we need a heavy duty truck, one that can pull horse trailers and yank tree stumps.  But I also know that we need a cheap utility carry lumber, move dirt, haul hay, tool around the ranch.  I thought we should look for that truck in earnest, while the dream truck stood on hold for a bit.  Thankfully, Mike agreed.  Just as we were having the conversation, we passed a used car lot.  Stopping in, we quickly realized what we didn't want.
Back in the car and heading towards the recommended furniture store, we conspired to scour craigslist upon our return to the ranch.  A wrong turn off the freeway, landed us smack dab in front of a fleet auction vehicle lot.  A tiny place with a dozen vehicles lined up on the frontage road.  We agreed to stop in for a quick look, no pressure, no rush.  
My expertise surrounding car buying, car maintenance and car features begin and end with color.  When words like towing capacity, v8, long-bed, short-bed start flying around, my mind wanders.  I think of things like, wouldn't this be cute with a chintz fabric upholstery? How many drink cups? Do you smell smoke? The little details of things like safety have to be worked out by someone else.  Which is where Mike comes in.  He cares about those things. Thankfully.
We both took a liking to a yellow truck that had been reduced for quick-sale like an overripe banana.  It had been on the lot for too long (30 days), its twin sold ages ago.  The likelihood of selling a second bright yellow truck in the same small town, apparently was low.  Geeze....when I was in college, I took a class on Russian politics and culture. At the time, we read, they had 1 kind of car and it came in two or white...that was your choice.  With perspective such as that, it seems slightly spoiled to dismiss bright yellow.  Besides, it has a lift-gate...a truck and a toy!  
That lift gate sure could come in handy...
let's say you are really tired, but there is just one more bale of hay in the very front of the bed....why not ride the lift gate up?  All that pesky climbing and crawling is for the proletariat.

After some very aggressive negotiation, where we paid the sticker price, and they gave us the keys, we became the new owners of a well needed truck.  And I think it was fate.
Had we not stopped in for breakfast. Had we not been told of this little furniture shop much further south than we would have normally ventured.  Had we not been discouraged at the used car lot. And. Had we not made a wrong turn off the highway.  We never would have spotted this little outfit with a small fleet of trucks.  And we certainly wouldn't have purchased this outrageous yellow truck.
Bright Yellow Fate.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

establishing the alpha

There has been a little drama on the ranch.  It was only a matter of time.  I come from a big family, so  I'm no stranger to drama, but trying to manage a "he said, she said" situation from a distance and only by text message is a frustration I had yet to experience.  Consider me baptized.
We had been meaning to change the locks on the gates since we took ownership.  Unfortunately, since we are not there, and because all the service people need access, we hadn't made the change.  It didn't seem to be a problem, until I got a request from the previous owner (P.0.) to make a trip to pick up a trailer he had left behind.
The back-story (because there always is one) is that the P.O. and the caretaker are at odds.  When we were looking at the place, the P.O. began to tell us about how disappointed he was in the caretaker.  But, in the same breath, encouraged us to keep her.  To make a complicated story simple...everything the P.O. said (negatively) about the caretaker, the caretaker said (negatively) about him.  Seriously...same story, different antagonist.  Head-spinning.

Because the yaks are on the property and we aren't, we felt it was in the best interest to keep the caretaker.  Basically, we told all parties involved...clean slate..we don't put any weight to what either of you say, we are only interested in the facts.  
If we said it once, we said it 100 times.  And we are....
P.O. sent me an email asking if he could come get his trailer.  I didn't remember seeing a trailer, on our last i simply asked the caretaker...."is there a trailer on the property?"  She said no...everything had been picked up and cleared out. So, I told the P.O. there isn't a trailer.To which he responded...if you don't give me the code to get in the gate, i'm showing up with the sheriff.  Yes, he went from 0 to 50 in half a second. 
When I was in the corporate world, I had to do a lot of counseling to under-performing and sometimes dishonest employees. Occasionally, I had to fire someone.  I had a special outfit for it.  It was a beautiful purple silk suit.  Elegant and powerful.  Part of my routine was to don the suit and establish my firing voice. I would drop my normally booming voice down a few octaves.  Basically, when you saw me coming in a purple suit, with a very calm demeanor, trouble for you was soon to follow.. I employed this same tactic  with P.O. and caretaker.
Mike backed it up with a phone call to the P.O.--man to man-- his message...don't make want to be a hot head, then take it elsewhere, we are not interested.
We successfully moved the drama off the land and onto a personal dispute between the P.O. and some other third-party (whom I don't know). But more importantly, we have established the Alpha. Its name is Larsen.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

vaccines and pregnancy

let me just start by saying this.  if women were pregnancy checked in the manner of yaks, the baby boom would have never happened.  i'm not naive enough to have thought we could get a 500 pound yak to pee on a stick...but i kinda secretly thought there was some sort of blood test involved. nope. not how it works.  i am in awe of a vet that can not only feel for a fetus, but can give a good estimation of how far along a cow may be.  
i have a friend whom  is a dairy farmer.  she tells me that a good vet can get it down to within a few days. simply amazing. wonder if i asked him to reach into my freezer he could tell me how old that crown roast is.  nerdy party tricks, table of one.
we spent the early parts of the morning doing chores, feeding the dogs, and checking for signs of late night predator visitors.  our intention was to have a nice hearty breakfast before meeting up with the local vet.  
when we purchased the ranch, we inherited 3 yaks.  these yaks, while appearing healthy, had not had a vet visit in the 7 years (3 for the baby) on the property.  it is true that yaks are not necessarily susceptible to the common disease of cattle, however they are not immune.  the previous landowners had used the property to run cattle, so the opportunity for common ailments to infect the yaks is there.  mike and i believe that there is no benefit in NOT vaccinating these animals, so we asked our caretaker to arrange for a vet to come for a visit.  
i have read that yaks breed in the late summer months, which is very different than the anecdotal information we had been given.  the gentleman that sold us the yaks told me that Lucky typically calves in january or february. we had imagined that if she or Coop were pregnant, they would be quite far along by now.  
Lucky hasn't been so fortunate in the child rearing arena.  it isn't entirely clear, but we have been able to gather that she almost died a few years ago while calving, but the caretaker was able to pull the twisted and still-born calf and nurse Lucky back to health.  there are stories of a premature still birth in the back pasture, and of what appears to have been a live birth, but subsequent death of a seemingly healthy calf.  she only has Coop, and Coop, at 3, is of breeding age as well.
yaks are meant to have trouble free pregnancies and easy calving.  i confirmed with the original breeder that it was unlikely that Trox and Lucky are related, so it is unknown why she has had such challenging pregnancies.  i know she is just an animal, but i feel for her.  for no reason, other than the bulls and cows live together all year round, i was pretty confident we had two pregnant cows on our hands, and would be looking forward to baby yaks that could possibly share a birthday with me.
cut to the vet's visit
mike and i took our breakfast to go, and brought it back up to the house knowing we would have to eat after we tended to the yaks. high on 3 cups of coffee and an empty stomach, i changed into muck boots and an old sweatshirt (mike changed his socks), grabbed my camera, and jumped on the back of the atv.  we headed to the lower pasture ready for our first real ranch chore.
the vet had not yet arrived, which turned out to be a blessing, as the yaks were not at all interested in cooperating with our plans.  the rev of the atv alerted them that something was awry and they began to run and scatter as if a predator had entered the pen. it took several attempts to move them into the chute and squeeze. but once they were in, they became calm and resigned to their fate.  we have a little footage to share:

you may have heard.  Coop is not pregnant, which is not a bad thing.  Trox is Coop's father.  while they do not have the same moral stigma associations in the animal world, it still is not a good idea to interbreed.  Lucky is pregnant, but very newly..maybe 30 days.  which means, rather than calving in the winter, she will be calving late spring, early summer.  
the animals were all vaccinated, de-wormed, checked for sores, and given a dose of fly repellent and sent on their way. we were left with decisions.  the vet gave us options for Lucky.  it would be simple to terminate her pregnancy if we weren't interested in increasing our herd.  i felt a bit repulsed by the notion, but also not sure if we do indeed want to grow the herd. it was also suggested that we think about getting rid of Cooper, to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.  again, not sure where we should go with this.  the property is certainly big enough to separate out the herd, but without a real intention for the animals, we are not ready to make those decisions. thankfully we have some time.  good news is all the animals seem really healthy and only need consistent de-worming and maybe a good brushing out.  
my research for the last couple of days has wandered around yak pregnancy, calving and nutrition.  i hope that a little attention to Lucky's nutrition will make a difference in her pregnancy this time around.  i think it is worth a shot.  we picked up 100 lbs of alfalfa pellets as a nice treat, and plan on a good quality forage to start.
i wonder what this little herd of yak has in store for us.  i wonder if 5 years from now, our herd will grow to mostly bottle-fed tamed females that we milk as if cattle. or if it will still be our original three plus an offspring or two. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

reality check

we started the morning early.  with a puppy that has an internal time clock of dawn, mike is usually up getting that first walk completed before i wipe the sleep from my eyes.  the vet was scheduled for 9:30 and our caretaker had moved the yaks to the lower pasture, in an attempt to make moving them into the chute and squeeze (note farm lingo) a bit less daunting.  good idea. 
up early with an empty fridge, we hustled into town for a hearty breakfast and hot cup of joe.  i had seen a little cafe on previous runs through our small town, i couldn't recall the name, but i did remember the tag line...where the locals meet.  i want to eat where the neighbors eat. who doesn't?

on our way to the ranch the previous eve, we noticed something we hadn't seen before.  fields that were irrigated and green all summer, were suddenly dotted with head upon head of sheep and newborn lambs.  
this morning i was hoping to get a few good shots of the lambs playing.  when we pulled astride the pasture, we noticed a newly born lamb trying to get its mama's attention, and grab its first milk. i admit, i was getting a bit upset because it seemed that the mother really wasn't interested, which can happen when the mother is young herself. while i was silently urging the sheep to stop and notice her young, mike spotted the twin.  it wasn't doing well at all, and looked as if it were at its last breath. slowly dying in the cold field.  i flagged down the caretaker, and told him of the concern.  he seemed unfazed, grabbed the dying lamb and tossed it into the truck.  mike appeased me by telling me fairy tales of warm blankets and bottle feeding. 
we drove off a little more jaded, and with ideas of how we plan to do it differently.
the neighborhood cafe is tiny. i mean really tiny. a horseshoe shaped counter with schoolhouse chairs, the place can hold 10 people if you squeeze.  the menu standard, strong coffee in mix-matched mugs, a chatty owner-slash-waitress-slash-cook, who knows everyone, and all the town's secrets. and now she knows us.
unfortunately, we spent so much time lamb-worrying and chit-chatting that we didn't have time for breakfast.  grabbing our meal to go, we rushed back to the ranch to prepare for the vet's visit.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

First things First part II

We saw the place and drove the 4 hours home.  Both of us were relatively quiet, each ruminating in what we thought the next step should be.  The listing agent had made a few comments about the county being very difficult regarding making any changes to the property.  She basically asserted that we probably couldn't do anything with the place.  Yes....this was the listing agent.  

By the time we got home, we had a plan. We would make a list of all the things we wanted to do with the ranch and have our realtor find out if it was possible.  So we made a list as long as my arm....literally.  Pie in the sky.  And sent it off.  What we received from the realtor was a link to the county, saying we should call them.  I know, I know...not really what we are used to...but I went ahead and called the county.  They basically said all of our plans sounded fine.  The area was settled by Native Americans, so there are archaeological reports that have to be done before building, but as long as we aren't making a subdivision, we should be fine. That was a relief.

If I am to be honest about myself, I get very revved up about things, and my first instinct is to jump into it at full speed without really weighing all the options.  That is fine when buying a loom (for example) but maybe not the best approach to uprooting from the city and moving to the country.  So, we decided to take a break from the house. To sit back, wait a while, look at other properties, and see if this is really what we wanted.
Fast forward 4 months.  Mike and I had been looking on line for different properties and our realtor was sending us some places in nearby towns.   Some really great, but way out of our budget, and some of them real clunkers.  At the end of the day, we felt the place for us was these 60 acres in San Miguel.  We booked another trip to look at the ranch.  This time we decided to spend a few days in the area, and make a nice trip out of it.  We enjoyed the quaint town of Paso Robles, with its village square, surrounded by small boutiques and wonderful restaurants.  We drove through the small towns of the area, dropping by the ocean and the mountain lakes each only a half hour's distance from town. At the end of the day, we drove to the ranch, to take a look at it, before we met with our realtor the next morning.  

As we pulled up to the place, we saw the woman who lives across the street picking up her mail.  Mike pulled up, rolled down his window, and struck up a conversation.  An hour later we were driving away, having met a few other neighbors, and made a new friend. The afternoon was still young, so we decided to take a drive further north on the country road. As we moved further out, the properties grew from 60 acre parcels to thousand acre ranches.  Hobby plots to real farming operations.  True beauty that went on mile after mile.  I was getting hooked.
The next morning, we met with our realtor before making the drive out to the ranch.  He invited along a local builder who specializes in eco-friendly building (passive solar, reclaimed materials, etc) along.  We were also told, that the listing agent was showing the place to someone else that morning, so we would have to delay our trip out.  What? The place had been for sale for 2 years, and it just so happens that in the middle of the week, on the same day we were going out there, someone else was looking too?!


When we arrived, there was someone else there.  The seller.  He was delivering some hay and tidying up a few things.  I casually found the opportunity to ask if someone else had been there before us, and he said no. He hadn't seen anyone, including his realtor, and had no idea we were coming by.  I was liking his realtor less and less.  It was great to have the builder with us, because he was able to to a bit of an inspection and make determinations as to the structure of the house.  It so happens the seller is also a builder, so he was able to speak to some of our questions.  The place definitely needs a new roof, the rest of the concerns all cosmetic.  We left that meeting with a good feeling and the idea we would make an offer.

Short story, long...we made an offer.  Because we were coming in quite a bit lower than the asking price, we felt that a cash offer would be our strongest bet. We also went for a short escrow and no contingencies.  We put together the offer and our realtor presented it.  Not surprisingly the listing agent continued her ruse that she had received another offer (from the phantom people who had looked at the place that morning), but did add that our offer seemed stronger.  And then we waited. 48 hours passed, then 72 hours, and the offer sat.  After a week, I called our realtor to ask what was happening.  As a coincidence, he was "just getting ready to give me a call" (insert my sarcasm vibe here)--and that he just received a counter to our offer.  It was $10,000 over asking price.  Not $10,000 over our offer, over asking price.  I lost it.  I began ranting and raving and using explicatives that would put a long shoreman to shame.  I was angry and irritated.  After talking to Mike, I told our realtor that we were OUT. At this rate, we just didn't feel that we could ever come to an agreement on price, and that the seller was wasting our time.

Again, we began looking in earnest at other properties in the area.  Again, we couldn't find anything we liked as well as "the ranch".  We felt it just wasn't meant to be.  Some time later (maybe a week, maybe more) we heard from our realtor.  The sellers wanted to go back into negotiation.  They wanted to sell us the place, but needed a bit more to make it work.  We let that information sit for another week, while we drove back up to Paso Robles and looked at a few more properties.  After finding absolutely nothing we loved, we made another offer on the ranch, and after a few "back and forths" we were under contract.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Website updates

Static websites are not all that difficult to work on. I have been providing them for a quite a few years now for my print customers with the upfront disclaimer of "I can make it look nice but don't ask me to make it actually do anything". Php, eCommerce, databases and other backend programming are not my forte. When we decided to make a website for our new ranch, I knew that it would need to be more robust. We would be adding news and stories and pictures daily so static pages would just not cut it. Time to tackle CMS!
CMS stands for Content Management System. Without going into the details (because I don't know the details), it allows users to write articles and add pictures in a user-friendly environment and they automatically show up where they are supposed to in the website. One of the top CMS platforms is Joomla. I have had a couple of run-ins with Joomla in the past resulting in many headaches but I still thought it was the best option for what we needed to accomplish.
Joomla has been quite the challenge. It may be easy once it is all set up and all you have to do is add articles, but getting to that point is an exercise in frustration. Nothing is easy or intuitive. I have literally spent hours just trying to figure out how to add a module or change a menu item. All you can do is dive in and mess with it to figure it out. I'm not joking when I say that the way I have learned most of what I know about Joomla is by pushing a button and refreshing the page to see what happened.
Now that it is finally starting to come together, I can see the potential. We can do much more with this site than we could ever accomplish with a blog or static presence. So... if you are not yet blown away by this little farm icon  at the top of your tab or bookmark bar, you should be... it took me 5 hours to make it show up there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First things First

It occurs to me that we haven't really talked about the nitty gritty of buying The Ranch.  We had been following the place on a ranch-for-sale website for over a year, and made the 4 hour journey (each way) to look at it in early april. About an hour outside of LA, we stopped for breakfast at a roadside diner, and talked about the possibilities, as if we were teenagers on a first date.  Both giddy and wary of what we would find.

We met our realtor and the listing agent at the listing agent's office.  Sidebar...we didn't know we were meeting the listing agent...our realtor failed to mention it.  We were under the impression that we were meeting a colleague of our agent. Loaded down with my multiple lenses and camera, mike's handheld video camera, our camera phones and a notebook, we jumped into her car and drove the 20 minutes (which seemed like an hour that first time). As we parted with the highway and made our way down the country road, i watched as pavement faded into the background, and green hills alternately laden with vineyards and livestock filled the gap like surround-sound.  When I started to see signs for a u-pick orchard, I couldn't believe my luck. Organically grown fruit and veggies at $1 a pound, in my potential new neighborhood, was almost more than this cucinaphile could take.

As we drove mile after mile, the listing agent gave us a run down of the area and the other properties that were for sale in the neighborhood. 10 acres here, 40 acres there...but nothing quite as large as The Ranch. 

Oh. Before I get to the actual arrival at the ranch, I want to mention that in my wisdom, I was wearing platform sandals. I looked fabulous, with the appearance of long strong the car.  Walking on the back-acres of uneven land and a minefield of yak "droppings", I looked more like  Lola (of Copacabana fame), in her latter years.

We first drove to the upper ranch, but not the house.  We drove to the back acreage first.  Driving among the grand oaks and rousing the three resident yaks from their afternoon nap.  It felt a teeny weeny bit like a safari. The yaks really wanted nothing to do with us, and moved to a new, more private location, that I, in my get-up, could never follow them to.  Smart yaks.

After falling in love with the upper ranch property, we pulled up to the house.  From the outside, it looked just as it was billed, "charming doll house." Once inside however, my heart sank.  I shouldn't say this...but major yuck. The house was clean, but without detail or charm.  It had been built in the '80s using inexpensive materials and anyone who survived the '80s knows that it wasn't known for darling details.   To further my complaint, the house appeared to have been built backward.  The "front" of the house has a glass door that leads into the kitchen and attaches to the garage on the left.  In the middle of the "rear" of the house is a small foyer with a fancy door with a peep hole.  It leads to the back garden.  I was sure it was a manufactured home and I couldn't be swayed.  

The minute I got home, I looked up the parcel number, and requested a preliminary title report to verify my suspicions.  Apparently I was wrong. Sort of.  The house is a kit home.   As i understand it, the house arrived in pieces...wall by wall and put together much like an old-fashion barn raising.  Not quite a manufactured home, but close.  Either was placed backwards and it is ugly. Ugly aside from the really fancy, very attractive wood stove in the middle of the living room.  That is nice.  The view is nice too.  This house, smaller than our city condo, isn't my dream home, and as I was falling out of love, I felt Mike falling in it. 

I couldn't deny, the upper ranch is beautiful, private and full of potential.  The lower ranch, direct to the country road with a horse training ring, majestic oaks, multiple corrals, fencing and cross fencing, pad to build on and access to a full 800 "public-private" acres is amazing as well.  Top it with the u-pick it being directly across the street.  What is not to love?  

Two words
The House
more to come...

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Bird's Eye View

Here is a little overhead map of our property so you can see how it lays out. We have neighbors all around but none within sight of the house, not even the caretaker who has a 5th wheel down by the pole barn. We are pretty lucky to be right across the street from an established "You-Pick" orchard which will hopefully help with our visibility once we start the cheese dairy and archery range. The neighbor to the north has a small vineyard (not pictured) and there are various horse and cattle properties up and down the main road.

As you can see, the ranch has quite varied topography. The lower pasture will be the main animal area but the yaks and goats will love to browse the grassy hillsides. From the road it looks as though the property is mostly vertical but once you get to the upper ridgeline you can see that the entire top is a flat plateau with fingers branching off toward the road.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Mike has been wanting a new puppy for a very long time.  Me? Not so much...although I had been making rumblings about finally getting an old english sheep dog...a romantic notion inspired by Please Don't Eat the Daisies.  We already have two small dogs which is enough for our small condo and travel schedule. 

Mike, undeterred, began searching in earnest for a miniature bull terrier.  All I could think was ugh.  Weekdays were filled with Mike sending me photos of newborn pups just waiting for good homes. I would pretend that my computer was down.

A glorious day for me was when Mike realized that miniature anything was probably not the best choice for a ranch dog.  It is no secret that I have great ideas about what should go on at the ranch.  What may have been a secret is that I really don't want to do all of the dirty work involved in getting there.  I'm fond of saying, "I'm an excellent pointer".  I stand by that still.  Mike felt like he needed a companion dog, and I agreed.

I just didn't realize he needed it so soon.

A few weeks ago, while sitting in my dairy science management class, I received a text.  Yes, I brought a phone to class...and I checked it often.  So rude, I know...but it happened to be the same week we were closing on the ranch, and I had to be at the ready for any additional information or documentation. Again, I stand by that story.

Back to the text

It was a photo of Mike holding a puppy.  While most people's first reaction would be to ooh and ahh...perhaps giggle a little at the sheer darlingness of the event, my first words were "oh shit"
My darling devoted wife response, hastily sent in a bit of a panic was not loving, nor supportive.  it wasn't "oh shit" but it was close.  Here we were, not yet owning the ranch, with a busy few months ahead of us, 2 dogs already on hand (one of which is elderly and blind) living in a small cluttered condo (with rules about how many pets you are allowed--and the answer is not 3), with a new puppy.

Thankfully, Mike responded no, just a deposit.  I thought to myself...okay good, we'll just ask for the deposit back.  I was not on board.  

Mind you...this puppy Mike was holding, was a sheltie.  I grew up with a sheltie. My childhood dog was legendary.  She was the perfect dog, smart, protective, loving and calm.  I loved her, and have never had a dog live up to her greatness. Seriously, Kelly was the best dog I ever knew.  Mike had in his hands, a little Kelly, and all I could think was "oh shit". nice, right?!
We have this thing..on big things, if one of us says no, then it is no.  I said no.

Before you gather the mob...I was definitely up for a new dog, just not before moving to the ranch.  It just all seemed too overwhelming to me.

Mike, took my no, and raised me a logical argument about socialization, training, bonding, blah, blah, blah. And then he waited me out.  

I made the deal.  You feed her, train her, get up all night long for potty breaks, and I'm in.  

11 days ago, Mike brought home an 8 week old sheltie puppy, he named "Scout".  He will train her to be a ranch dog, sheep herding and all.

And I love her.  She is spunky and curious and loves to play.  

Now, to get our other two dogs on board. I'm thinking that if they had a vote, they would have been "out" too.

Getting Civilized

So we were finally able to spend our first official weekend at our new ranch. Even though we were without internet and enjoyed only spotty cell service, we had a great time. The weekend just happened to coincide with the annual neighborhood potluck picnic so we were able to meet many of our Indian Valley neighbors. They may have just been kind to the new "city folk" but most gave us a favorable reception to our ideas about starting up a cheese dairy. Of course, Christy's potluck contribution of eggplant with homemade goat cheese may have added to their confidence. We got all kinds of advice on fencing, equipment and layout.

One thing we quickly discovered was what a pain in the ass it was to have to get out of the car to open the cattle gates every time we came and left the property. There are two sets of gates just to get up to the house, the outer perimeter gate and the inner corral. That's not going to cut it. A little internet research led me to the Mighty Mule website where I found an automatic kit to open the fence from the comfort of the car or 4-wheeler... big city style. They are pretty expensive once you add on all of the do-dads like extra remotes and wireless keypads so we are going to try one and if we are happy with it we will get another. The box says it is a 2-3 hour installation but I already set it up in the living room so it should be as easy and mounting the arms and running the wires.
The next crucial item in getting civilized was acquiring an internet connection. I asked around at the party and everyone seemed to agree on the Hughesnet satellite service. I called them and they said we were lucky enough to be in the coverage area of their newest satellite launched just 2 weeks ago which would give us much faster internet than any other company. After a half hour of trying to explain the address to the salesman, we were finally able to agree on a plan and schedule an install which our caretaker Cathy will be able to oversee.

All we need now is the Directv set up with NFL Sunday Ticket and we will be ready to move in... Oh yeah, Christy will probably want stuff like a bed and plates and furniture too. Women, what can i say?...

Saturday, October 6, 2012


The journey begins...

As many of you know, Mike and I have been looking to move for the past several years. Places that had made the "short-list were"--colorado, north carolina, connecticut and texas.  We really didn't think that we would be able to find something in California, nor were we convinced that we wanted to stay here.  Almost a year and a half ago, I was browsing the internet and stumbled upon a little ranch in the central coast and began to think that maybe the area could be a good match for us.  There is plenty of land and space between neighbors....but within a few hours we could be in  SF or LA.  The area has plenty of culture, lots of great food, and a reason (wine) for people to come visit. 
Mike and I both thought the little ranch would be great, but we weren't really ready to make the jump, so we just watched it with the thought if it were still available when we were ready, then we would take a look at it.  We watched for 18 months.  In April, we decided to go and take a good look at it. We liked it, and began to think in earnest about what our life would be like.  We began researching land management, livestock, homesteading and hobby farming. We've priced farm trucks, back hoes, milk storage tanks and olive trees. We've struggled over the concern of friends we would leave behind, and the fear that remote living may preclude us from making new ones.We are both thankful for the acres of land, so we can have coveted "alone-time"
and we thought

if not now

we are going for it  
 On friday, mike and i closed on a 60 acre ranch in san miguel, california. san miguel is 7 miles north of paso robles just east of the 101.  We do not have an ocean view, or a cute farmhouse with a porch swing (maybe one day)....but we do have rolling land with 100s of oaks, a small 2 bedroom house, a deep well, a pole barn and 3 yaks.  We plan on moving to the new place early in 2013.  

We will slowly grow into our new place, but the pie in the sky vision is to build a little dairy on the property,  bring in sheep and goats, and start a little cooking school . We plan on making cheese, but also offering other classes, much like i currently do.  The area has a lot of wineries, but not much else in terms of activities. I have been asking around  and found that there is a great need and desire for something that is still gourmand oriented, but isn't wine tasting.  The locals have expressed great support.  A longer term goal is to build a barn in the upper ranch and fill it with guestrooms, rather than animal stalls.  We envision a "barn and breakfast' for family, friends & farmstay enthusiasts, hoedowns, movies in the pasture, summer bluegrass, picnics under the pines, and a tree house or two.
Mike has been able to build a nice client base for his business which he can conduct anywhere there is an internet connection, so his work will be uninterrupted.  He has also been teaching group and private archery classes for which he will continue to come to Pasadena and has plans to set up a range on the ranch for local clientele. We are very much looking forward to welcoming you and your family to our new home and to take this journey with us.

We Took The Plunge!

We went and dun it. We have been talking about someday getting a little piece of land for years and our dream has finally come true! 60 acres on the central coast of California is our new home and adventure.We have big plans for this place. Sheep and goat cheese, archery range, B&B (Barn & Breakfast), cooking classes, bluegrass camps, the whole 9 yards!
First order of business is coming up with a name for this little piece of terra firma. Rumor has it the person that comes up with the name we choose will get a free stay when the B&B is complete and a yak or sheep or goat named after them. How's that for incentive?!