It’s been so long since we had a vacation that Andy’s own company had to tell him that, even though he’s CEO, he can accrue no more vacation until he uses some. But with business at a critical juncture, taking off to the Caribbean or trekking in Tibet just couldn’t happen. The solution: a week at the ranch in Sonoma. Especially since just recently, we completed the living loft above the barn, making this the first habitable building on our land. That is if you don’t really count the tent cabin with the Incinolet (“Turns your waste into harmless ash!”) and the outdoor shower.

Although, we’re about five minutes outside the square of downtown Sonoma, so near has never seemed so far.
First of all, we’re just about completely unplugged. We’d made a conscious decision to have no TVs in Sonoma, at least until we live here permanently. And, with the barn tucked into a mountain that stands between the us and the town of Sonoma, cell phone and Wi-Fi access are pretty tricky. I can run a half mile up to the top of our hill and get sporadic cell access. Just like the pioneers! And over at the tent cabin, Andy can use his cell card to get an occasional Internet connection. I’ve heard that Internet cafes are all over the most remote towns in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, but the only one I knew of in Sonoma seems to have gone out of business. I finally located a free Wi-Fi spot at the Barking Dog Coffee Shop, so I’m plugging in once every two days when I can get to town.

How are we surviving without any electronic connections? Seems like we’ve never been busier. And that’s just tending to a George Bush style of ranch – defined as out in the country but without any real livestock and therefore not any kind of ranch a real cowboy would recognize.

But we’ve never let things like that hold us back. We do have two terriers and, in the absence of sheep, cattle, goats or horses, they were livestock that had to be tended to. Andy wrestled them down this morning, shaved their bums with clippers, trimmed their toenails and stripped out their dead fur with a curry comb. We stopped short of branding, but only because we haven’t had our favorite graphic designer come up with a brand for us yet.

Now we’re on to tackling some of the more dangerous ranch chores. Like cleaning the grill that was last used for a Cinco De Mayo wedding – last year. I went up to inspect it and backed off as it smelled like something had crawled under the grill cover and died. I’m hoping we just left a piece of meat on it for a year. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. When the temperature dips below 85 degrees, I’ll have to go back up there with the trailer to haul it down to the barn for a thorough cleaning.

The rest of our days so far have involved taking inventory of the grapes, olives, orchard and other plantings that have finally matured enough to be doing something. Looks as if this could be the year for an actual grape crop, which is easy enough to sell. But I’m hoping I have lots of friends who are mad about olives as, by the look of the trees, I’m going to be hauling a few tons to the local olive press and still have barrels left over for brining.

The last chore has been inventorying our local wildlife. Unfortunately, the coyotes, foxes, bobcat and mountain lion who used to keep us huddled in our tent cabin as soon as it got dark, seem to have moved on due to the construction on the barn. We’re hoping they come back as our local naturalist keeps assuring us they will once power tools are out of the equation. Furry varmints will be more welcome now that we have solid walls between us and them. Although for now, it feels wild enough when I take the dogs out for their midnight walk. Shining a flashlight up the hill, I’m always met with dozens of red shining eyes peering out at me. Luckily, they just seem to be deer. Unluckily, they seem to be trying to find a way to push through the protective netting and eat our olives. I guess we’ve got enough to spare. I’ve also noticed that our pond, which is full of a deafening chorus of frogs, suddenly goes silent at various times during the night. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to investigate, but I’m assuming that’s because some large animal has stooped to drink from the pond. Since the pond is on the way to the Mountain Lion’s den, I haven’t yet thought it was a good idea to go out in pajamas with a flashlight to test my theory.

Next on the agenda: clearing brush, limbing trees, building beds and planting an organic garden. And we’ve just started our week.

Note on picture: This is a sunflower related plant called Mule Ears. The woman who’s helping us landscape dismisses them as weeds, but a knowledgeable friend from my Flickr group says they shouldn’t be called “weeds” to their faces. Since they outnumber us and are multiplying, that is probably wise counsel. Anyway, I’m deciding that I like them and I’ll call them flowers.

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