Friday, July 29, 2011

Goodbye (for now) to Ranch Camp

Today is the last day of Ranch Camp.

Fifty-six teenage campers are packing to go home, most of them worn out from a full week of swimming, kayaking, helping in the barn and gardens, blistering heat, and what might well be the very best "End-of-Camp Dance" party ever last night.

Even more worn out are Marci (Camp Director), Robert (Camp Manager), Keith (Camp Chef), and the counselors and CITs who made it all possible.  It's always tough to pull together enough good staff to make it through the summer, but we were blessed to do it.

They're all looking forward to some R&R before moving on from Ranch Camp 2011.  But they're also kind of sad now that it's all done. 

But, as Marci said, "I've really missed our Ranchers during camp."

Not that they weren't around.  The Ranchers helped out at camp, and in addition kept on working their jobs while camp was going on, but there's no getting around the fact that their normal routines were seriously disrupted for the seven weeks that Ranch Camp took over the Ranch.

We'll talk about that as we debrief from camp next week, but for now we're just saying Thank you Marci and Robert, and Counselors, Wranglers, Lifeguards, Ranchers, Cooks, CITs, and all the Down Home Staff staff for a job well done!

You are all treasures and the people who make Down Home Ranch what it is.

It's been amazing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pigs....the end

Mr. Pat came back from the slaughterhouse in Smithville today with news that our three pigs weighed in at about 200 lbs. each, and were declared by the locker house personnel as being among the very finest pigs they'd ever processed, "Absolutely perfect," according to Pat.

I should hope so.  For the past six months, whenever we'd gone out to eat, with whomever, Jerry would at meal's end ask for the largest takeout container available.  Then he would proceed to scrape everybody's leavings of anything, bread, chips, salsa, leftover butter, and cram it all into the container.

Our party knew what he was doing, but the wait people sometimes looked a little distressed, whether over the general lack of decorum, or out of pity for our own obviously desperate straights.

Regardless, I can attest that our pigs enjoyed the finest cuisine from the finest restaurants in Central Texas during their short but merry lives.

And to think their favorite of all was unbaked Sysco biscuit dough!

Enough said about pigs for a while.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pigs...con't. (and more)

Well, today has been a day that could probably only happen at Down Home Ranch.

It began with an early morning swim in the pool, which I try to get in as often as I can.  Granddaughter Rachel had permission from Ranch Camp, being a serious competitive swimmer, to swim from 5:30 to 6:30 in the morning, her normal routine, although our pool at 52' is considerably shorter than the pools she normally swims in at UT and Circle C.

I got there a little after six, and Rachel was churning the water like an outboard.  I got in the water and did my usual granny breast-crawl-back stroke back and forth while Rachel whizzed past coming and going.

I got home about 6:45, made myself a smoothie and remembered just as the phone rang that I had an early morning appointment with a friend and neighbor, who is instructing me in the art of cart driving, with Sally, our Austrian Haflinger.  I threw on some jeans and a shirt, jammed on a straw hat, and headed for the barn.

Debbie awaited me, having already extracted Sally from her stall, and we commenced to walk the half-mile to the spur to get the cart and harness and hitch the old gal up.

Though Sally has been living the easy life for the past six months or so, she stood like a statue waiting for the harness.  Good Sally!
Travis and I driving Sally last summer
Debbie instructed me in the intricacies of about 5,000 pieces of leather, rings, bits, blinders, cruppers, and other bits of leather and metal that have not yet been engraved in my memory banks and we finally got Sally hitched up.  Annette showed up and helped us lift the cart down off the concrete apron of the Spur barn, and off we went.

Sally is a most forgiving equine.  I know that "Gee" is right and "Haw" is left, but we always say those words "Gee and Haw," which to my literal mind reads left to right, exactly opposite.  Despite the botched commands, Sally responded beautifully to whatever I was doing with the reins, rather than heeding what I said.

We're getting ready for the Swim Fest, so the rest of the morning was given over to writing copy for the web site and the donation pages, along with dealing with a few crises that popped up here and there.  I planned a trip into Elgin to HEB to pick up a few things for Rachel, and thought maybe I'd get out by 2:00 at the latest.

Alas, 'twas not to be.  Jerry kept lobbing things back at me via email, and I was still hard at it when he left to meet coaches Matt, Shane, and Bruce at Shadow Glen to begin getting in golf rounds in preparation for Fall Games in Special Olympics with Mark, Michael, and Andrew.  About 3:00 it occurred to me that I hadn't yet got Sally's cart into the barn and out of the sun, so I called Kristin for help.

Other duties as assigned

I told Kristin this came under the heading "other duties as assigned," as she began to haul the cart toward the barn.  I knew there was no way I could lift my half of the cart into the barn, so hailed Dustin, who happened to be passing by in a truck.  Piece of cake for Dustin.

OK, time to get to HEB.  I left the barn (where I office, and it looks like it) and saw Brian and Pat, with the big red stock trailer, over by the pig pen.  Jerry's been talking for several days about the fact that the pigs are about to meet their fate.  They were to "fast" for 24 hours before, a fate I'm sure is worse than...well, their fate.  We'd had a freezer failure a few weeks back, and had about $300 worth of thawed and refrozen pastry and vegetables we'd been stuffing them with.  Plus, they've had leftovers from the best restaurants in Austin.  It could be worse.
Jerry feeds tortillas, a favorite, to the pigs last spring
Anyway, I digress.  I couldn't see what was going on over by the pig pen, but I could hear, and I've heard pigs meeting their fate before and did NOT want to hear it again.

"Coward! Hypocrit!" I excoriated myself as I hurried to my car and turned the sound up as loud as I could.  Unfortunately, Mozart's Requiem  was playing.  I hastily changed the station to KMFA and drove away.

My car was caked in caliche to the point I could hardly see out of the back window, so I got some gas and headed into the car wash.  At least I could see when I got out, so I made my purchases, which included about $40 worth of wild bird and squirrel food (Jerry asks why I feed those "furry-tailed rats") in addition to items for Rachel's health and well-being.  I also got the "small dp's" on my list, after I pondered what that could mean for about half an hour in the parking lot.  Oh yeah!  Small cans of Dr. Pepper for Paige, Rachel's friend who is also volunteering at Ranch Camp this week.

As I was carrying the goods into Benedict House, I saw an assortment of counselors and CITs heading for the Pavilion for Krazyoke Night.  They had orange wigs and huge neon-green hats.  They looked great.  Putting the groceries away I watched the evening news, which was depressing no matter where you are on the political spectrum.

Jerry called to say he'd be later than his 7:00 PM ETA, so I finished up the wash, made the bed, and did a little ironing before putting supper on.  When he staggered in from his afternoon on the golf course in 105 degree heat, I told him about the pigs.

"I told you again and again," he said, "the pigs are going to Smithville tomorrow.  They'll come back in shrink-wrap.  Pat and Brian were just getting them into the trailer to take them over there."

"Oh," I said. 

Later I went out to water the garden and put water and food out for the wild critters.  I've seen a squirrel lounging around the bird bath, looking for all the world like a sorority sister sunning herself by the pool, and yesterday morning I spied the raccoon who's been knocking down the bird feeder.  I poured out a pile of sunflower seeds and bird and dried corn for him, and left him a bowl of water to save him the trouble of climbing the tree and knocking down the bird house.

Jer came home, and we ate.  I'll work a little bit on the scrapbook of Alaska, and go to bed early.

Dangnation, I'm tired!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The other day as I carried a container of slops from Benedict House toward the pig pen I passed by Lori next to the Chicken Hilton and stopped to say hi.

Lori glanced at my offering and muttered, "I hate those pigs."

I laughed and she looked startled and said quickly, "Oh, well, no, I don't really hate them, you know, I didn't mean to say that, it's just that..."

"It's just that they're such pigs!" I said.  "I totally understand."

And I did.  The three pigs we've been raising all live together in a largish pen, their collective and individual goal in life consisting of a fierce determination to hog as much available food for themselves whenever it's around. 

It's not a pretty sight.

I then reminisced about pigs I didn't feel that way about, like Francine, our first pig, who became the Mayor of Ranch Camp.

Francine was a fine pig, well-mannered and loved by all.  She happily joined in all the Ranch Camp activities, loved to have her belly scratched, and enjoyed nothing so much as a cool, sudsy bath with the garden hose and a stiff brush, followed by a rubdown of udder ointment, in the late afternoon.

Francine and I shared a special bond, as she was mutilated by a stray dog within a few days of being given to the Ranch.  This was back in the fall of '94.  She was only six weeks old, when I found her brother dead in their pen, Francine heaving on her side with deep wounds clear through to her lungs.  I was heartbroken.

I picked her up and washed out her wounds with the garden hose.  She seemed close to death.  I went into the house and got a clean towel and wrapped her in it and lay her on some straw in the feed room. 

Bravely, I went out and found a five gallon bucket and began filling it with water, although at that point more water was pouring out of my eyes than from the hose.

Our little piggie was suffering, I figured, and though I'd never taken the life of anything bigger than a scorpion, I was duty-bound to end her misery.

We were expecting about 40 people to show up in a few hours, parents of kids with disabilities, coming to hear about our dreams for Down Home Ranch, which at that point consisted of a tiny mobile home, where we lived with Kelly, and a 100-year old barn, where Blossom the Donkey and, until that moment, two little pigs had lived.

Jerry returned just about that time from town, having gone in early to buy supplies.

Sobbing, I told him of my horrendous discovery, and my plan to put down the little pig, and he said bravely, "You don't have to do that, honey.  Here, I'll handle it."

I handed him the hose and went into the house to repair my face and get busy with the duties of the day. 

Everything went well, and after the last family pulled off the Ranch and I'd put away the folding chairs and tent we'd rented, I went inside to start supper.  Shortly Jerry appeared in the kitchen, and looking a little abashed, made a confession. 

"I didn't put down that little pig," he said.  "She was breathing okay, and didn't seem in that much pain, and when I wet some pig chow and put it to her mouth, she tried to eat it.  She didn't get very far with it, but that little pig wants to live.  I say we take her to see Dr. Graef in the morning."

I found a shoe box and padded it with a towel, and took it out to the barn.  I lifted the piglet and gently settled her on her side in the box, and brought her in and put her on the couch.  She didn't move, but her brown eyes followed me attentively whenever I was in sight.

I made some oatmeal, thinned it out with condensed milk and put it in the blender.  I didn't have an eyedropper on hand, but I had some straws, so I sucked the sweet concoction into a straw, capped it with my finger, and allowed a trickle to run slowly into the pig's tiny mouth.

You'd think I zapped her with a cattle prod!

Even though she couldn't get up, she rooted around frantically for more.  I obliged her with straw after straw of sweet oatmeal until finally she was sated, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.

I fed her twice more during the night, and after dropping Kelly off at school the next morning headed to Dr. Graef's clinic.

Dr. Graef came into the examination room, cocked an eyebrow, and scratched his head as I told my sad tale.  "What's her name?" he asked.

"Francine," I said.  Though we hadn't gotten around to giving her a name yet, I'd been praying all night to St. Francis, so it seemed apt.

"Well, Francine," said Dr. Graef, "let's have a look here."

It was too late to stitch up the gashes in her back, but Dr. Graef treated them and gave her shots of antibiotics, looked at me, shrugged, and said, "Well, let's see where it goes from here."

Francine lay in her box all that day, eating oatmeal every three or four hours.  I tried keeping gauze packing on her back, but nothing would hold it on.

Next morning I awoke to find Francine sitting by our bed next to her box, looking up at me.  I hustled to the kitched and she slowly and painfully ambled after me. 

After I'd fed her I had a bright idea.  I remembered some tiny undershirts for a new grandbaby expected soon that I'd bought, so I got one out of the package, dressed Francine's wounds, slipped a little undershirt on her, packed the gauze on her back and snugly wrapped and tied the shirt flaps over her bandages.

Worked like a charm!  Francine began to explore her surroundings, and was housebroken in about two days.  She quickly learned to eat her oatmeal and other treats with gusto out of a bowl.

Once her wounds were healed, she became an outside pig, always friendly, clean, and ready for a belly rub.  As evening came on each day, Francine went into the barn and began making her bed, tossing the hay and straw around until she got things just right, whereupon she snuggled down, closed her eyes, and commenced to snore.

Pigs are supposed to live a long time, but Francine only lived for seven more years, and then one day she just died, without showing signs of illness or snakebite, or anything we could figure out.

We cried, and buried her, a fine pig indeed.

As for the pigs Lori does (or doesn't) hate?  There are three of them, and I've no doubt they would have made fine pets. 

But though they've had a good life, for pigs, they share a different fate.