Windbreaks and a Give Away

This was last September. After this we had a beautiful fall… except that all my tomatoes froze.

Windbreaks are very important in our part of the country. We live on a bench where the wind can be relentless. Small buildings need to be anchored to the ground, or they blow away. Sometimes our house sounds like a wooden ship in high seas. Personally, I love it. Must be the Viking in me. My husband hates it.

Ranch animals spend the winters out in the open, and when the wind blows they take refuge behind a windbreak, be it natural or manmade. We have windbreaks in all of our pastures.

The picture below is of my horses and ponies during a January storm, taking advantage of the shelter.

They also enjoy the windbreak during the summer. I think of it as their bedroom.

It really is the new calves’ bedroom. When the weather turns, all the moms and babies bed down in the straw behind the windbreak and everyone is toasty warm.

But sometimes, the wind is too much. During our last storm, part of the calve pen windbreak went down. The railroad ties had deteriorated to the point that they broke off, which led to a full and rich Monday for my husband and me.

The first order of business is to assess damage. Yep. There’s a problem here.





Next we have to fetch new ties from the laydown yard, then use the auger to drill new holes. My job is to make sure the auger is straight and that it doesn’t wander while it’s going down.


After that, we take turns cleaning the dirt out of the hole. The auger only lifts out so much. The rest has to be removed by hand. If it’s dry, we have to pour water down the hole so that we can get a “grip” on the soil with the posthole digger.

Then the new tie is set in place. We use a level on two sides as we fill the hole and tamp in dirt to make sure it’s true. On a good day, we don’t have to go back to the house to get the level that we forgot.

After that, it’s a matter of re-attaching the boards to the new post, and then the windbreak is ready for another season of keeping the livestock safe and warm.


Do you want to know how happy I am that the windbreak blew down in August instead of February?

I’m having a give away today for a $15 Amazon gift card. To enter tell me about a your most recent unexpected repair. The winner, chosen by random drawing, will be announced on Saturday. Good luck everyone!

A Sydney Duck Doesn’t Quack

Question: What is a Sydney Duck?

Answer: Someone you wanted to avoid if you lived in San Francisco in the late 1840s.

In 1848, word of the California gold discoveries reached Sydney, Australia, and merchants there, recognizing an opportunity, began loading ships with goods to sell to the booming California population. A voyage took three to four months, which was considered a reasonable length of time to provide a return on their investment—particularly if the stories they heard were true.

The stories were true and by mid-1849 the rush from Sydney to the gold fields of California, to search for gold rather than sell goods, began. By the end of 1849, forty-eight ships had left Sydney for California. The people who traveled to California gold country tended to be older and Irish, and, of course, some were ex-convicts of the Australian penal colonies.

Gold mining, it turned out, was harder work than expected, and many of the Australian immigrants ended up becoming service people or tradesmen, such as dressmakers, washer women, shipwrights, longshoremen, sailors, bartenders or saloon keepers. Others became, or reverted to being, criminals.

Many Australians settled in Sydney Town, at the foot of Telegraph Hill, and the more criminally oriented residents formed a gang known as the Sydney Ducks. The Sydney Ducks specialized in arson and were allegedly responsible for several devastating fires between 1849 and 1851. They would light fires, then loot stores and warehouses while everyone was busy fighting the fire. They organized protection rackets in which business owners paid to not have their store burned or looted. They also engaged in robberies, murder and general mayhem, to the point that law enforcement officials refused to enter Sydney Town. The law-abiding Australian residents resented being linked to The Sydney Ducks by virtue of nationality, but there wasn’t much they—or anyone, it seemed—could do about the lawlessness. The fact that many of the city officials were either corrupt or incompetent did not help matters.

In 1851, that changed. In June of that year, the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance was formed with the specific intention of ending the Sydney Ducks’ reign of terror. The first “victim” of the vigilante committee was a man caught stealing a safe. He was chased down, caught, tried and hung within five hours. The vigilantes continued to conduct secret trials, followed by lynchings, or in some cases, deportations.

Eventually the Sydney Ducks had enough and faded away. There was a new gold rush going on—this one in Australia—and many of the surviving members of the Sydney Ducks returned home. By the 1880’s, Sydney Town had acquired a new name and another fierce reputation—it was now called The Barbary Coast.

Keeping Cool in the Old West

I lived in Nevada desert without benefit of air conditioning for 22 years. We lived on a generator and since we didn’t run the gen during the heat of the day, there was no way to cool down the house. We lived in the northern part of the state, so the hot, hot weather only lasted for three to four months and then it was time to get ready for the cold, cold months. I loved that house, and our isolation, but summer months could be trying.

To deal with the heat, we’d shut down the house by pulling blinds and keeping windows and doors shut after 10 a.m. We opened the house back up at 9 or 10 p.m. to let the cool(er) air blow through. Most importantly, we slept in the basement instead of our actual bedroom for at least two months every summer.  I lived in loose fitting dresses. My husband, who hated shorts, wore shorts. Once the sun started to go down, we escaped the now super hot house and hung out in the shade of our favorite tree. And we drank a lot of water.

So how did people with no electricity for AC units and swamp coolers keep cool(er) in the Old West?

In the Southwest, Native Americans taught settlers to build homes with shady breezeways to keep air circulating. Wind and moving air was the one thing that could ease stifling heat. Some people soaked blankets with water and hung them over windows to create a swamp cooler effect when the wind blew.

Many houses were made with thick walls to keep out the heat–adobe houses  in the southwest, and sod houses on the Great Plains. Also, people understood the benefit of cool earth. I’ve read of people that had “caves” or earthen places to escape to. I think I would have sat in the cellar, if I’d had one.

During the height of the summer, people slept outside if possible. If it was impracticable, or too dangerous to sleep outside, they would damped their bed sheets with water to cool them before going to sleep.

According to True West magazine, one shouldn’t believe all the pictures showing people in dark heavy clothing during the summer months. People wore lighter colors and looser clothing to deal with the heat when necessary.

And, of course, people tended to work in the morning and evening to avoid the super hot part of the day. They sought out shade and drank a lot of water.

Have you heard of any ways that people kept cool back before AC and electricity? If so, please share. I’m going fishing tomorrow (waving at Laura Drake) but will check in as soon as possible. I’m hoping to learn some stuff.



Growing Things Underground

I would like to introduce you to my Christmas cactus. She’s huge and she blooms year round and she has an interesting history. You may not know this, but I was once an underground worker. I worked in two different mines. One, the Star Morning, was the deepest mine in the United States, and I believe it still holds the record even though it has been out of production for decades. The other was the historic Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, Idaho. That is where my cactus and I first met in 1981.


Plants grow very well underground, as long as they have light and water. Incandescent light works just fine, and the lights rarely go out in a mine. One limiting factor is the temperature. The deeper you go in a mine, the hotter it gets. I worked close to 7,000 feet below the surface in the Star. The rock was warm to the touch, and the water coming out of the cracks was also warm. (We had a cooling system that made it possible to work, but it was still warmish.) The upper levels of a mine, however, are cooler and since plants love moist environments with a constant temperature, it wasn’t unusual to see sprouted orange trees here and there, although they didn’t last long due to the working environment.

There were places, however, where it was safe for a plant to grow, and one of those was the hoistroom, where the spools of cable that raise and lower the cages (elevators) were located (the Bunker Hill had an inclined shaft, so they transported men and ore in a slightly different way, but the theory is the same). I visited the hoistroom of the Bunker Hill shortly after I was hired, and there, on a table near the operator’s station, was a blooming Christmas cactus. Being a unapologetic plant thief, I pinched off a small start. It was the beginning of a long relationship.

The hoistroom cactus wasn’t the only thing grown in the Bunker Hill in the 1970s.  Thousands of trees were grown in underground greenhouses on the levels of the mine where the temperature was between 75-90 degrees. The humidity was favorable and there were no plant diseases present. All that was needed was fertilizer and light.

A University of Idaho forestry graduate student, Ed Pommerening, was the brainchild behind the operation,  and in the first year of operation, 4000 lodgepole pine, scotch pine and ponderosa pine were grown. Within five months, the trees were five inches high–70% larger than trees of the same age grown in conventional surface greenhouses. After the first successful year, the capacity increased to 13,000 trees. And after that…I do not know. The mine closed in 1981, shortly after I went to work there, and I assume the greenhouse closed with the mine.

But my cactus and I keep on keeping on. We’ve shared a lot of history and she’s the only plant I’ve had for my entire married life. She and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary this September.


Hand Work and a Give Away!

Hi everyone! I’m going to be on the road today, traveling in the first time in forever, on my way to meet my new granddaughter. I’m excited beyond words.

It’s very possible that due to travel, etc, I may not be able to answer comments in a timely fashion, so I am doing a give away, which I will explain at the end of the post.

I love handwork and I have to have something to do while I watch television or I go a little nuts. Guess what? Handwork and new grandbabies go hand in hand, so I thought I’d show you my work in progress and a few things I’ve made that I’ll be taking along with me for the visit.

First of all, I am not a quilter. I love sewing, but piecing is difficult for me. I’ve accepted that I’m not a quilter and moved on; however, I’ve made an exception for my little granddaughter, because she really needs this kitty quilt when she’s a little older. These blocks are fresh off the embroidery hoop after hand embroidering the faces. Embroidery is also not my thing, but this was kind of fun.


I plan on hand quilting it, learning as I go. I figure grandbabies are probably pretty forgiving of newbie errors, right?

I smocked several items when my daughter was a baby and toddler, using the gathered dot method. I pulled out one of the patterns I’d used for her and smocked this little dress and bonnet. I love to smock. I almost bought a smocking machine on eBay, then decided that I wouldn’t use it enough, so I’m sticking with the dots.

And I tried my hand at knitting. I enjoy knitting, but I’m by no means a master. I found my first stabs at intarsia knitting to be challenging, so hats off to those who can do it! Intarsia is done with the different colors wound onto bobbins and dropped and added as needed. Imagine, if you will, the half-finished penguin sweater with probably 10 bobbins hanging from the back, in the mouth of my Aussie puppy who is racing around the room with her new prize. It was an adventure getting it back onto the needles.

Having learned my lesson about intarsia, I knit this sweater first with no pattern on it, then used duplicate stitches to embroider the flamingo and foliage after I was done. Much easier!

And now the give away. I’m offering a $15 Amazon gift certificate to one lucky responder. To be eligible, tell me what you like to do in your free time. It doesn’t have to be handwork. 🙂 The randomly chosen winner will be announced on Saturday.

Best wishes,



Camels in the Old West

Having lived in Nevada for almost half of my life, I was very aware of the brief role camels played in Virginia City and Austin during the mining days, hauling salt and ore. What I hadn’t known was that camel-power had been experimented with many times over the course of US history. So I offer to you, a brief Camel’s in the west timeline.

First of all, camels are native to North American and spread to Asia via the Siberian Land Bridge during the ice age. Camels died out in North America, but thrived in the Old World where they were domesticated.

Camels have a metabolism and specialized body-cooling system that allows them to go days without water, and they eat vegetation that other animals pass up. They can haul large loads. A mule can pack 300 pounds, but a dromedary camel (one hump) can haul 600 pounds. They can lose 40% of their bodyweight without upsetting the fluid balance in their blood, and they can drink 25 gallons of water in one visit to the trough.

Camels first came (back) to North America is 1701 when a sea captain brought a pair to Salem, Massachusetts and displayed them as a curiosity.

In 1836, US Army Major George George H. Crossman suggested to Congress that they explore the use of camels in desert environments. In the late 1840s Major Henry Wayne believed that camels were better suited to the conditions of the American Southwest than horses and mules, due to their ability to go without water and to forage where other animals could not. He made a formal request to the War Department to import camels for the purpose of developing a camel cavalry.

Eventually, in the mid  1850’s Congress provided $30,000 for the purchase of 50 camels, and the hiring of 10 camel drivers. Major Wayne traveled to the eastern Mediterranean via a Navy ship, where he investigated the camel markets of Egypt.  He eventually bought 33 animals, 32 of which survived the sea voyage to Texas. Forty-one more camels arrived in Texas in 1857.

Camels were stronger and had more endurance than horses and mules, and were used for various purposes, such as packing and road building, but horse traders feared that camels would put them out of business. Horses hated camels and anti-camel sentiment grew in Texas. When the Civil War broke out, the Texas camels purchased by the US Military were seized by the confederacy.

Camels that were used for military purposes in western forts were abandoned during the war as the troops moved east to fight the war. The camels scattered and became feral.

After the Civil War, camels were used to haul ore and salt in western mining areas, such as the Comstock in Nevada, and the Silver King in Arizona. The one drawback to camels was that their feet were suited to sand and soft earth, not the rocky paths near mining areas.

In 1875, Nevada made camel traffic illegal on roads due to the fact that camels frightened horses. This ended the use of camels in the mining areas. The animals were either set free or sold to circuses.

In the early1960s, a spoof article in a Nevada newspaper, The Territorial Enterprise, touted the results of a fictitious camel race in Virginia City. The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle reprinted the article believing it was genuine. The next year when the Territorial Enterprise once again mentioned an upcoming camel race, the editor of the Chronicle informed the editor of the Nevada newspaper that they were sending a team to compete. The camel races were born. Director John Huston won the first camel race on a camel borrowed from the San Francisco zoo. The tradition continues to this day.

A New Pup in Town

Greetings everyone!

Today I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our family–Zoey. After our Belgian Malinois passed over the rainbow bridge over a year ago, we decided that we were fine with just one dog, our rescue Aussie, Kimmy. Life was simpler with one dog, right? It was, until last summer when my husband said, out of the blue, “I think it’s time to look for a puppy.” I did not disagree. 🙂 Enter Zoey. She’s really kept us on our toes for the last four months and it’s been a joy watching her grow from lively puppy into a young lady dog. I hope you enjoy the photos.

I don’t know what happened to the Christmas tree.

Do you have a pet? If so, I’d love to hear about him or her.





Jeannie Watt has a Winner

Thank you everyone for the wonderful puzzle captions. It was so hard to pick just one winner, but that winner is Laini with “We have company. Brace yourself.” I know this feeling. 🙂

Laini, please contact me at jeanniewrites @ and I’ll get the Amazon gift card headed your way.


A Day on the Ranch

I love the winter when the cows and horses are on pasture and daily feeding isn’t a thing, unless the snow gets too deep. We’ve had very little snow this year, although February may have something up its sleeve–it did the last time we had a snowless January. But despite being snowless, it’s been cold at night–this is what a stock waterer looks like when it breaks and no one notices until it’s too late.

Anyway, today we moved the cattle off the big winter pasture onto the smaller pasture. It started off cold, 2 degrees F, so I dressed appropriately. Without the mask, the cheeks burn. When its really cold we wear snowmobile goggles, too. 

Of course the cattle were scattered over a large area on the far side of the acreage. Really scattered. So instead of taking the side by side and attempting to herd them, we decided to try the old Pied Piper routine. We loaded a bale of hay in the bucket of the tractor and headed off across the field to see if we could lure them in. My stepfather has no luck doing this, but we decided to give it a go, even though it meant crossing a big field at approximately 5 miles per hour.  The tractor has a heater and the side by side does not.

The cows recalled that the tractor means food, and came to see what was on the menu. It was grass hay, not their preferred rich alfalfa, but they decided it was worth trying to get a bite. We let them have one little taste, then headed for home. Thankfully, they followed.








This is 5X, our lead cow. Where she goes, so goes the herd, and thankfully, she wanted the hay–even if it was substandard. She walked beside my window the entire way back to the ranch.

After we got the animals in, we had to give shots to the heifers, then turn everyone out onto the new pasture.

And here are my parents, taking their daily walk across the field with the horses, now the lone occupants of  160 acres, drifting behind them.

It was a good day on the ranch.