Friday, December 15, 2006

The traveling Auld Macdonald

Ian’s traveling this Christmas to Spain, France and the UK, primarily, because he’s got to go to an appointment in Madrid regarding his US visa. Since we started this process before we left Spain, all appointments must be conducted there. Part of this appointment requires him to undergo a physical exam at an approved clinic in Madrid, which must be done before meeting with the paper pushers. Being’s its holiday time Ian has that appointment on the 28th, will spend New Year’s at our place in Riumar and return to Madrid on the 2nd for a morning appointment at the embassy on the 3rd. The real kicker is to get all of this done he will leave here on Christmas morning! I contemplated going along, but we’ve got lots of irons in the fire here and I’m fine to stay behind and look after the animals. My mother is also recovering from surgery on a hip replacement and is still in hospital recovering. I’d feel better being closer as she recuperates.

We’re selling our Land Rover to a reseller in England, so when Ian’s in Riumar, where the LR is parked, he will get it ready for the trip from Catalunya, up through France, crossing by car ferry at Calais into Dover and up to North Hamptonshire. While in Spain he’ll get to see Michael and Natalia in Barcelona for a night or two.

I envy the drive through France and am hoping Ian stops to shop for Christmas chocolates called papillottes. He flies home from London Gatwick on Tuesday, January 9.

My son Richard is going to spend Christmas and possibly New Year’s with me at the farm. That should be fun. I don’t mind being here without Ian, as this visa stuff needs to be done and it’s not like I’m alone! LOL It will be good to welcome the Auld Macdonald home though.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Slippery straw

Yesterday, Ian and I helped with a live nativity scene at my cousin Brenda’s church in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis. I hauled about 40 bales of straw piled and strapped in the bed of our blue Chev truck, while Ian took the trailer over to collect 2 llamas and 2 sheep and their 2 owners. Straw piled high, I began my trek to the church around 11 a.m. and hadn’t gotten five miles from home on highway 65 headed south when a bale or two wiggled loose and toppled three onto the road. I saw this happen in my rearview mirror, pulled over immediately, hopped out and dragged bales off the road. Three cars stopped and helped too. I telephoned Ian, who had not left yet, and he came towing the trailer and re-stacked the straw and took a layer of bales off and stacked them in the trailer. Off I went down the road and arrived without further incident at the church around 1p.m.

While the nativity crèche was being built from the straw I went into Minneapolis and visited my Mom and younger brother Matthew. They followed me back to the church, where the parking lot had been transformed into areas that were ready to depict verses from the Christmas story. Brenda had been asking the church’s board members to do this for several years and this is the first year they said yes. It was lovely to see how teamwork was bringing it all together.

Ian went to Harris, MN to collect Robin and Gigi and their sheep and llamas. They arrived at the church in plenty of time to take their places before the drive thru parade of onlookers began at 4. The cast of angels, shepherds, wise men, Marys and Josephs rotated into the warm narthex for hot chocolate and cider, as the temps dipped into single digits. As cars exited the scene they passed a cozy bonfire kept burning by industrious young people. It looked to be a heartwarming success.

While the nativity was open to car traffic Ian and I took advantage of being close to a Fleet Farm store and went to shop, buying among other things 5-gallon heated water buckets for the horses that overnight in the barn and a smaller heated water dish for our chickens.

When the show was over and while the sheep and llamas were being reloaded, Ian re-stacked straw bales and tied them extra tight using bale straps we’d bought at the farm store. It looked to be a snug package on the back of the truck and we were off once again. I was heading north toward home and Ian headed northeast. I got about halfway home when, I think, a bale broke in the stack and as many as six bales tumbled onto highway 65, only this time in the dark! I pulled over immediately, put on the flashers and watched horrified as drivers dodged or hit the bales. THANKFULLY no one was hurt and the light bales were bumped or blown onto the median in less than a minute. I telephoned Ian, who was a good 30-minutes away, dropping off the animals. I limped to a side road not dropping any more bales and waited. Soon a county sheriff's deputy pulled up. Deputy Franklin asked if I was OK and asked what had happened. I told him about the live nativity, that I was about halfway home, that Ian was coming with the trailer and could put bales in there. He took my license and insurance info telling me that one of the cars that hit a bale had caught on fire and was at a gas station just down the road. Its front grill was melted and it was being towed. The deputy let me know that no one was injured but that there would probably be a claim to my insurance company. He looked at the straps and said it was apparent that the bales had been tied down very well and that this was truly an accident. He did not ticket me, but asked that I wait where I was until Ian arrived. So, there I sat listening to a book on tape or talking to Donna on my cellphone until Ian arrived with a warm hug. We stacked the bales in the empty trailer and headed home. I emailed my insurance agent and we’ll see what happens regarding any claim.

Yesterday was a long day and our bed felt particularly good last night. This morning we awoke to a covering of snow! Everything is white and looks clean.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Turkey, travel and tragedy

Ian and I spent a lovely Thanksgiving Day with our friends Beth and Tom and their daughters who live in Minnetonka. Beth and I met in 1993 when we worked at Public Radio International. Now she’s reinvented herself into a registered nurse and I’m a horse farmer! LOL Because we were going to begin our drive to Kansas City, Missouri after our turkey dinner we arrived towing our 3-horse living quarters trailer behind our one-ton truck. We swung through Minneapolis and picked up my son Richard. Our dog Lady comes with us to the shows, so she snuggled up to my son in the back seat. We had a lovely time at Beth’s, where we always meet interesting people. This time it was a politically involved and savvy family and we discussed all the over dinner taboos, like politics and religion. My cousin Brenda and her family live down the street from Beth’s so they came over and joined us for dessert and conversation. We gave tours of the living quarters and assured the neighbors that we were not hauling horses as well!

After dinner, we took Richard home and jumped on 35W headed south toward Missouri. It is an eight-hour drive and we got as far as Ames, Iowa that night and parked ourselves at a well-lit truck stop. The trailer is self-sufficient with its own heat, water pump, toilet, frig, stove, well-stocked kitchen and cozy queen-sized bed. We snuggled in and slept until about seven when the neighboring diesel trucks began pulling back onto the highway.

We arrive in Kansas City, MO around 1:30 Friday afternoon. Our trainer Tony and his family, who were hauling the three horses to be shown that weekend, were about four hours behind us. We checked in with the show office and prepared the box stalls with wood shaving bedding and water buckets.

Just before we arrive on the show grounds we received some tragic news. Our four-month-old American Saddlebred/American Paint cross weanling colt was dead. Our neighbor Donna who has had horses all her life and who watches our animals when we are traveling, called sobbing that sometime during the night Thursday Chocolate had caught his head in his stall gate and broken his neck. He was such a sweetheart of a horse and we three are heartbroken. The only consolation is that he died quickly. He was laid to rest in a peaceful spot. We close our eyes and see him galloping, kicking and bucking across Heaven’s hills playing with all the horses that waited to welcome him home. Amen.

Setting our sadness aside, we focused on the business at hand of participating in our last show of the 2006 season. The American Royal Arabian Horse Show is held in beautiful facilities that were built in what was once the country’s busiest stockyards. We and another client showed under the Genesis Training Center banner, and we did well. The three horses shown got either first or second place, which allowed the horse and handler to show in the championship class where we took either champion or reserve champion ribbons. Tony showed our horse Lookin For Trouble on Saturday and they got a blue ribbon followed by a reserve champion ribbon. I showed Trouble on Sunday as his amateur owner and won a blue ribbon and grand champion gelding for the show! My first grand championship and when I came out of the ring, Tony was there to greet me with a high-five and while he took Trouble back to his stall, Ian gave me a big hug!

On Saturday evening Trouble was entered in his first liberty class. This is a real crowd pleaser as the horses come in the ring one at a time and run around the ring without halter (at liberty) for two minutes to music. I chose Travis Tritt singing “T-R-O-U-B-L-E.” Trouble looked beautiful and Ian and Tony worked in tandem to keep him moving around the ring. When the music stops and time is called, the handlers have two minutes to catch their horse. Trouble had other ideas. With a full house watching, he ran full speed from one end of the arena to the other dodging or ignoring all efforts to get him back under control. The little bugger! Finally he snorted to a halt and Tony slipped his halter back on. The crowd cheered and they were on to the next entrant. Needless to add, we did not win that class. LOL Tony said a lot of his behavior could be attributed to the fact that this was his first at liberty class and that he’s still a youngster.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Meet Jay & Missy

As if we don’t already have plenty of horses, we bought two more! First came Jay, a two-year-old purebred Arabian gelding. More than 15 hands tall at the withers, Jay is taller than Lookin For Trouble, who is three months older. There are 4 inches in each “hand” measurement and withers are shoulders. Jay joins the other two year olds Cairo and Whisper in the boys pasture. We are in the process of getting Jay his purebred papers, which means we will be able to show him at Arabian shows as we do with Trouble. Jay will be three years old in May and looks sturdy enough to begin under saddle. We plan to take him to a farm in Wisconsin in the coming weeks to have his readiness assessed. Jay’s sire is a beautiful stallion named Legacy of Fame ( and his pretty dam (mother), Sax Fifth Avenue, is also with us on the Auld Macdonald Farm. We are leasing Sax from her owner for two years and will breed her in the Spring 2007 to Famous Echo, an American Saddlebred bay pinto-colored stallion for a tall spotted National Show Horse foal similar to Kiss in early 2008.

Our second acquisition, Yukon Miss (“Missy”), is a 12-year-old registered Thoroughbred mare that we bought site unseen. Donna, who works the monthly horse auction near Pine City, Minnesota, saw her last Saturday afternoon and telephoned us while we were at the U.S. National Arabian horse show in Louisville. Missy had been bought by a killer buyer and was on her way to the glue factory. She is 17 hands tall and about 200 pounds underweight. Thoroughbreds are notorious for being hard to keep at optimum weight. I think this is because of the breed’s nervous nature coupled with the fact they are built on the lean side for speed and spend often too many hours in stalls as racing youngsters. Missy is a black bay with no white markings and like Sax she will be a perfect broodmare.

Another bonus, which is the way we choose to see it, is that Missy comes bred to a registered Thoroughbred stallion named Foolish Lover and should deliver her purebred foal in mid-May 2007. Lisa, the former owner’s contact info was included in Missy’s auction papers so I telephoned her and learned that this foal can also be registered, so Lisa is sending me the necessary forms to do this. She also told me that Missy’s racing career was ended when she did not recover fully after surgery to remove a bone chip in her left front kneecap and that she’s been a broodmare ever since. In fact, her last six foals have been with Foolish Lover and the first two foals are now racers. So in May 2007 we will have Windy’s purebred Arabian foal by RSA Troublesome (who is 3/4 brother to our Trouble) and Missy’s foal. Now won’t that be fun?!


Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Ian and I went to Louisville, Kentucky to watch the final weekend of the U.S. National Arabian Horse Show. We pulled our living quarters trailer so we had somewhere comfy to stay. The drive from here is about 12-13 hours. Our trainer, Tony, had been in Louisville at the show with three other-client horses about 10 days before we arrived on Thursday. His wife Cindy and their two children, Katie and Scott, ages 4 and 8, respectively, rode with us as we drove through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and then crossed the Ohio River into Louisville, Kentucky. The kids are great and were entertained most of the way by watching their portable DVD player. Wished I’d have had that when my two were young. We actually left on Wednesday afternoon as soon as Scott got off the school bus. There was no school in Minnesota on Thursday and Friday due to statewide teachers meetings. We drove to Madison, Wisconsin Wednesday night and parked our truck and trailer on the street across from the Super 8 where Cindy and the kids slept. We were up at 5, Cindy and the kids came knocking at the door at 6, so we hit the road early and made Louisville at 4 that afternoon. We also gained an hour because Kentucky is in the Eastern Time Zone. Tony was happy to see his family and they checked in a nearby Super 8. Tony had been sleeping in his horse trailer’s tack room bundled in many layers of comforters! Kentucky is in The South, but not so far south that camping like that was comfy cozy.

We parked the trailer in the RV section of the Freedom Hall complex and hooked up to electricity for a whopping $45/night. The trailer has a furnace that runs on propane, the trailer carries its own two tanks. The temps in Louisville were in the 30s and 40s, which when the sun shines it not too bad, but at night its cold. The locals were complaining it was already winter. Ha! We’d left Minnesota in the 20s with drizzle and occasional flurries.

Freedom Hall is a huge convention center and for the horse show its exhibit halls had been converted into horse barns. They had taken in truckloads of clay dirt and spread it out over the concrete floor like rolling out cookie dough on a counter. Then with the cushioned dirt floor in place stalls were built with alleyways set up much like exhibitor areas only each square housed a horse. Then each competitor’s barn came in and dressed up their area of stalls with drapes and farm logos, some created living room areas complete with gardens, fountains, couches and televisions.

The Freedom Hall arena held the show classes. There was a separate exhibition arena that was set up just for what I’ll call cowboy-related specialties like reining, cutting and calf roping. We never got to that arena and more’s the pity because in Minnesota we rarely get to see Arabian horses working in these types of classes. Ian and I watched halter classes, which is what I have shown Trouble in this year, and performance classes, meaning a horse and rider versus halter when it is a horse and handler. We watched horses being ridden in Western Pleasure with saddles and bridles trimmed in silver and riders in sparkly shirts, vests with suede chaps, boots, hats and spurs. We enjoyed English Pleasure Park classes where the horses strut like drum majorettes. The most beautiful classes were native costume when the rider and horse are dressed as well-heeled Bedouins.

The Nationals have been held in Louisville for some 20 years and this was the last time. Of course this was our first Nationals, but I could see how it was very emotional for people who had competed in Freedom Hall year after year. Next year Nationals will be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2008 through 2011, Nationals will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Albuquerque will be a 20-hour haul, but Tulsa is just south on 35W about 12 hours. I am hoping we have horses to show in New Mexico next year. To get to Nationals, a horse must qualify by winning first or second in a class at Regionals, which in our case are held in Illinois in August. We didn’t begin showing Lookin For Trouble until August 2006, but he has already qualified to show at the regional show in 2007.

On Saturday morning we took a tour of Churchill Downs racetrack, where the Kentucky Derby is run annually on the first Saturday in May. This was a thrill for me as I’ve been watching the Derby and its Triple Crown sister races The Preakness Stakes and The Belmont since I was a teen. The racetrack was not open but was readying itself for the Breeder’s Cup that beginning running Saturday, November 4.

I took advantage of being in The South and we ate at a diner-type restaurant chain named Waffle House. I remember these fondly from the 1980s when I went on road trips to visit friends in Tennessee. Ian and I ordered my menu favorite of cheesy scrambled eggs served with grits, bacon and raisin toast with apple butter. And like most places in The South, when you order iced tea it comes already sweetened. Yum!

We packed up and began our drive home on Sunday morning and thanks to highway construction near Madison, Wisconsin we got home at 1 in the morning Monday. Lady had spent the long weekend at Donna’s playing with her two pups, which are now both taller than their mother. Sunday evening Donna put Lady inside our house so she was there to greet us when we dragged in.

It was good to go, but good to get home too.


Monday, October 09, 2006


Yesterday, we butchered all 13 geese and 14 chickens (12 cockerels, 2 hens). Our friend Marcia brought her three poultry-butchering cousins from South Dakota (Daryl, Carol, Linda) and we had a very busy day. Donna, who bought 50 of the 100 chicks we picked up from the feed mill on April 20, supplied tables, chairs, tunes and she and Linda did the final cleaning and double wrapping preparing the birds for the chest freezer. Daryl and Carol did the actual butchering – quickly, cleanly, mercifully with a very sharp knife. We did the geese first as they were larger and noisier.

You may remember we lost chickens -- some to puppies and then more during the summer to disease because they were not vaccinated at one day of age – so there were only 24 chickens total that remained alive to butcher and we chose to winter hens, as they are also brown egg layers. We’re relocating them to what was the goose pen in the barn, as it will be much warmer with the horses in the cold winter months. It should be easier to find eggs too.

On Saturday evening Ian and I collected all the chickens we could and put them in the coop. The best time to handle a live chicken is in the evening hours when they are roosting. Ian and I went around the property, flashlight in hand, collecting chickens and putting them in the coop. They had not been going into the coop for some weeks because we had been trying to deduce what and maybe even where was making them sick. Many were in the barn and were easy to relocate; others were in an oak tree and presented a challenge. It must have been funny to view from afar because you’d see the flashlight and then hear disturbed clucking, sometimes mixed with human profanity! Only two missed out and we caught them the next morning using Daryl’s home-fashioned chicken catcher.

Butchering is pretty straightforward – the heads are cut off and its body hangs for a bit to drain. The biggest job is taking off the feathers. Ian built a campfire in the driveway and boiled water in a 30 gallon galvanized trash can. Holding its feet, the freshly butchered bird is dipped in the soapy boiling water for about 60 seconds, just long enough to get the feathers to loosen. The goose feathers and down was tougher to come off and we said more than once we were glad we did them first. Chicken feathers came off in bunches and we did the 14 chickens in a quarter of the time it took us to do 13 geese.

Daryl handled the gutting and setting aside the giblets (e.g., liver, gizzards, neck, heart) from other uneatable things like intestines. Throughout the rainy fall day, Carol entertained us as we worked in the pole shed with her special brand of chicken dancing antics and rewrites of CD lyrics.

Lady and two of her puppies that belong to Donna (Agnes and Bernie), were seen happily gnawing on goose heads and I’m sure buried some for later enjoyment.

Reah came up in the afternoon and visited as we put a wrap on the day. She’s off to London on Tuesday to rejoin her husband and their expatriate lifestyle and may not be back until after the New Year.

I thought it would bother me to butcher my geese, but I realized I bought all the birds with the idea they’d be food one day. Besides, as I said, this was handled mercifully.

Ian and I are not sure whether or not we’ll get more goslings and/or chicks to raise in the spring. I’m not sure whether or not Donna and I can live through the emotional trauma we did of having so many die from various mishaps. I guess we’ll see how we feel after enjoying them roasted, baked, boiled, fried and fricasseed. I’m planning on making cassoulet (a thick French country white bean, poultry, sausage soup) from the geese. I’ve got livers set aside for pâté and sauté.

If someone had told me a year ago I’d be butchering my own homegrown poultry I’d have said they have a screw loose. Never say never. EIEIO!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fall Fest horse show

Fall Fest St. Paul, Minnesota

Yesterday, Ian, Lady and I came home from another horse show. This one was the Medallion Stallion/Auction Stallion and Performance Futurities … its short version name is “Fall Fest.” It’s a big show and there’s lots of solid competition. We took our new horse trailer with living quarters – our Minnesota cabin on wheels – to the MN State Fairgrounds from Wednesday afternoon through Sunday. We fed horses and people too. Three days before the show our neighbor Donna helped me cook sloppy joes, BBQ meatballs and chicken wild rice soup and then can all of it into jars so that we had enough to feed about 80 people for three days in a row. We canned it because we had no way to keep the food cold enough while we were at the show. Canning was a brilliant idea and it worked like a charm. I brought empty, dirty jars back with us to run through the dishwasher so we’ll have jars to reuse when canning food in the future.

Much to my delight my 82-year-old mother came to watch me show Trouble in the halter class for 2-year-old colts/geldings. My son Richard, his friend Jen, my brother Matthew, childhood friend Reah, girlfriend Marcia, and Ralph, our trainer’s father (who is not in the best of health) all came to lend their support. I’m pleased to report that Trouble and I did not disappoint our fans. We won a Top 10 ribbon in a class of 19 horses. I didn’t know this beforehand, but apparently the results at Fall Fest are a strong indication of what happens at the national level shows. How wonderful! Of course we got in this business a bit late and have not qualified for Regionals, which in turn qualifies us to attend U.S. Nationals. The points we are accumulating now will help us in the upcoming show season.

Ian and I are debating whether or not we should drive to Louisville later this month to watch the U.S. Nationals. We have friends from the Genesis Training Center (GTC) that are showing and we’d like to support them. The next show that we will attend is the American Royal in Kansas City, Missouri Saturday and Sunday Thanksgiving weekend. Pulling a trailer it’s a 10-hour drive down 35W. That will be our last show of the season and we’ll turn our sights to the big Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in Arizona February 16-25, 2007. No doubt I will be looking for a break from the snow and cold then! Depending on weather and driving conditions it takes between 22-24 hours to drive from here. Needless to say the horses are bundled up well for that trip. We plan on taking Trouble and Kiss to that show. Kiss will be 9-months-old by then and have been at GTC for three months..

Things are going well at the farm. One reason not to go to Louisville is to spend time working on renovating the house and putting more stalls in the barn where some of the rotten wall has been replaced. Oh, don’t get me started on that wall and the building contractor! What an idiot! The bid we accepted said he would replace the entire north wall of the barn, which had been water damaged because a former owner who had the pole barn added on did not put flashing at the joining roofline. Anyway, we accepted the bid, put down 50% and two weeks later (ugh) his team of “Burt & Ernie” got to work. Soon it became apparent that they were only replacing one story of the north wall and not the entire wall as the bid said. We went round and round with the contractor who said he never would have bid a job of that scale so low, blah, blah, blah and basically walked off the job. Burt & Ernie finished the clean up they were doing as the screaming match went on (I was livid) and then after Jimbo left and I went in the house, they came and shook Ian’s hand saying “there are good general contractors and there are bad ones” with their nonverbals communicating that Jim was not one of the good ones. So we got the bottom part of the wall replaced, paying only 50% of what we expected too, which is fine since we only got 50% of what we anticipated, and soon we can build in three more box stalls before the snow flies.

I think we will go to Louisville, maybe for the final weekend. Soon there will be no horse shows and we can catch up on the renovations then. LOL

This coming Sunday Marcia’s cousins are coming here to slaughter 11 of our 13 geese and who knows how many chickens – all expect the three rescue chickens that we promised not to slaughter. We’ll keep the 2 grey Toulouse geese from the original gosling batch that got eaten by puppies. I suppose we’ll lend a hand, although I may bow out to prepare lunch or something. You’re welcome to come and help! I’ll send you home with a chicken or a goose – your choice! EIEIO

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Amber's Mayday

We bought two more horses, which brings us to nine horses total. We are very close to a full house! Amber’s Mayday is a 10-year-old registered American Saddlebred mare. She stands about 16 hands tall (64 inches, 5 feet, 4 inches), is coal black with white socks on her back legs and a small star on her forehead. Mayday (born May 1, 1996) has a two-month-old colt at her side. At the moment, his coat is two tones of chocolate brown and he has four white socks and a star on his forehead. He does not have a name yet.

At the Iowa Gold Star Futurity there is an evening when stallion breedings are auctioned for the next season. We bought four breedings; three to purebred Arabian stallions and one to a purebred American Saddlebred that is a homozygous pinto, meaning all his foals with have pinto marking. Such a stallion sires our 3-month-old colt Kiss. The pairing of an Arabian and an American Saddlebred makes a new breed called National Show Horse, which is what Kiss is. In March or April of 2007 we plan to breed our Quarter horse Nutmeg, Thoroughbred Bentley and Mayday for foals in 2008 (horse gestation is 11 months and 10 days). Kiss’s mother Windy is already bred and will deliver in early May 2007. After Windy foals we plan to breed her again so we will expect four foals in Spring 2008.

In October, Kiss will be weaned and then go to live at Genesis Training Center to begin training with Tony Steiner. It’s possible that our other two-year-old gelding, Cairo, (the first horse we bought back in December 2005) may go there too. Cairo has spent quite a gangly spring and summer and is beginning to fill out and could well go back to the show ring as a halter horse. If he learns his lessons well, Kiss’s first show will be in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2007. Tony is a superb trainer and all around excellent person. I am confident in his abilities to bring the best out in both horse and handler. We are so incredibly lucky to work with him and it all began with buying Cairo at the horse auction last December. Tony was the person who brought Cairo to auction for his former owner. I wrote Tony a letter to learn more about Cairo’s background and that’s how we met.


Des Moines, Iowa

We went to an Arabian horse show in Des Moines, Iowa August 31-September 4 (Labor Day weekend). We were a three truck and horse trailer convoy traveling into Iowa, Minnesota's neighbor to the south. The drive was five hours from when we left the Genesis Training Center and arrived at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The horse barns were quite nice and because it was the Iowa Fall Classic & Gold Star Futurity most of the horse farms in attendance dressed up their row of stalls with colored drapes and facility logos. There was a progressive barn party one evening with lots of good food and plenty of opportunity for networking. I am coming to see horse shows as a wonderful marketing opportunity on many fronts - for the farm, for the owner, handler, trainer, breeder, seller, buyer, and for the horse itself. It’s a wonderful time of coming together as a team to work to get the horse show ready. Showing at halter for a horse is a cross between body building and a beauty contest; there’s plenty of baby oil, Vaseline-like goo, hoof polish, body coating show sheen spray to highlight conformation and definition along with a trunk full of tricks to divert the eye from less than perfect aspects.

As far as I can figure out, the judge’s job is to first eliminate and then to choose which horse, in his opinion, is the best in a given class. There are many different classes; halter (horse in halter with handler on the ground), performance (horse saddled with rider) and showmanship (halter or performance, with the human being judged). Certainly there are politics and possibly relationships that affect outcomes, but being so new to the show circuit Ian and I are happily oblivious to these things. We are having such a good time and are learning a lot from these experiences.

Tony Steiner, who trains both horse and handler, showed our two-year-old purebred Arabian gelding Lookin For Trouble in a halter class for his age group and won a first place blue ribbon and then went on to win overall Grand Champion Gelding for the horse show! We are so proud of Trouble and how he and Tony work as a team. I showed Trouble in a halter class specifically for an “amateur owner to handle” and won a second place red ribbon. I was very pleased and Tony said we beat out horses that were older than Trouble and had been to Nationals previously and placed there. Trouble will only get better as he matures and we will show better together as our working relationship continues to improve. Ian now has his Arabian Horse Association competition card and will begin taking lessons from Tony, so he can join in the fun and feel the pre-show nerves and the elation of hearing your horse’s number called at the end of a class.

When we were in Des Moines, we stayed about 20 minutes drive away from the grounds at a Hilton Garden Inn. We would rather not have to spend the money on hotels and food or make much of a commute at any horse show. We prefer being close enough to do bedtime barn checks, feed, water and clean stalls ourselves. We were lucky enough to find a 1999 4-Star brand 3-horse trailer with living quarters (think RV) for sale by a private party and I will sign the papers for its financing on Monday. It is about 30 feet long with a gooseneck hitch and needs to be pulled by a one-ton truck. The trailer has space for a queen-sized bed, with a built-in dinette, 3-gas burner stovetop, oven, sink, refrigerator, freezer, TV, and stereo with sound system to the outside. There is a full bathroom with toilet and shower and there are cupboards and cubbyholes throughout for lots of storage. Besides being able to carry three horses in the back, there are two tack rooms and space for a generator, so the trailer can function without being plugged in. Needless to say, we are thrilled! We don’t have a truck that can pull it yet, but we’re scouting the car lots to see what we can afford. We may have to trade in our bright yellow Mazda Protégé and become a two-truck family. This trailer will begin paying for itself when we go to the Medallion Stallion Fall Festival show September 28-October 1 held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Trouble and I are showing on Sunday, October 1 in the two-year-old gelding/colt amateur to handle class at 1 p.m. Wish us luck!


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Summer comes to a close

This weekend is Labor Day weekend and in the US this heralds the end of summer and back to school! The weather has been mild and we’ve also had some storms. Some counties have had tornadoes and softball-sized hail, but we’ve missed all that and are glad of it. Hopefully, I’ll get to mow the lawn tomorrow.

The contractors are getting ready to begin repairing the barn. Its north wall will be replaced (the wall that joins the one-story pole shed on its right side) because it rotted when some idiot previous owner, when adding the pole shed, did not put flashing at the adjoining roofline so rain ran down the original barn wall and rotted the wood. We will have that entire wall replaced, the proper flashing added and then we can build three more box stalls in the main barn before the snow flies. We are also having the big outer upper hayloft doors replaced with a solid wall where we will later install a row of five windows. We hope to renovate the 60 x 30 foot hayloft into a guest house/office sometime in 2007. We’re never short of projects around here.

Ian, neighbor Donna and I went to the Minnesota State Fair last Friday. We were there for six hours, walked through all the livestock barns, sampled various things to eat on a stick and spent quite a bit of time on machinery hill, where vendors have tractors and other farm implements on display. We also toured horse trailers – the luxury kind with living/cooking quarters for humans! Donna knows a neighbor who has one for sale and if we’re lucky we may be the proud new owners in a week or so.

Michael and Natalia are visiting from Barcelona. They are staying in Minneapolis at his father’s. Ian and I picked them up at the airport on Saturday. They are here until September 12. They will come to the farm next week for a daytrip. It’s a bit too rustic for overnight visitors. They’re doing well and it’s good to see them. On Saturday, September 9, Michael’s dad and I will host a U.S. wedding reception and BBQ at his home. Last week Ian and I purchased a wedding cake, decorations, party favors and mailed invites. It should be a nice get together. They celebrate their one-year anniversary September 30.

Our vegetable garden is in bloom and some plants are yielding a bounty. This evening Ian ate his first radish of the season while I enjoyed two cherry tomatoes. In bloom tomato plants themselves smell good enough to eat! Donna’s corn on the cob is wonderful and we’ve enjoyed that in the last week. I’ll plant some of that next year.

I picked crab apples from a tree in the pasture and Donna and I spent six hours making jelly. It’s good, and we have it preserved in pretty pint jars. As more stuff ripens, I plan to can more things.

The horses are fine. Kiss is getting bigger by the day. He is just three months and is quite full of himself. He has on an orange halter and leads reasonably well. He had his first vaccinations and was not happy about that in the least. He will be with us until late October when he is weaned and then he will go to the Genesis Training Center where Trouble boards/trains to begin his training to be shown as a halter horse at a big Arabian horse show in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2007.

Ian and I are traveling to Des Moines, Iowa this weekend where I am showing Trouble at a horse show. We are helping Tony and his Genesis Training Center as they bring 14 horses to show this weekend. Ian and I help with feeding, stall cleaning, grooming. It should be lots of fun. Donna is going to feed and watch over the animals here while we’re away. If we get this living quarters horse trailer we can save money on hotel rooms, restaurant eating and we can take Lady the lab too.

Wish us luck! EIEIO

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Horsey summer

The Minnesota summer is flying by. Ian and I are enjoying the weather – lots of hot, humid, sunny days – but being in the country we are also very aware of the draught conditions. We drive by cornfields and look at the height and color of the stalks, we watch for the leaf curling, which indicates the plants need rain. We pray for rain and have gotten some recently. Of course, we don’t want just any rain, we need the slow moving systems that drench rather than flood. I mowed our lawn yesterday for the first time in several weeks. I don’t water the lawn, but do keep the flowerbeds and vegetable gardens well hydrated. Soon we will have tomatoes, carrots, beets, radishes, and three types of squash to enjoy. Next year we’ll plant a larger and better variety. Since our kitchen is not ready, it seems wasteful to bring in a huge bounty with no place to prepare it for eating and/or preserving for later enjoyment.

Speaking of the house … things are moving along. We continue to tackle the renovation ourselves and Ian’s made great strides with the kitchen. Its ready to have the ceramic tiles laid and the cabinets will be assembled (from IKEA) and installed, followed by the sink and appliances (double oven, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher). The kitchen is completely wired and the canned lighting is installed and working. The decorative lights over the island and eat-in area will be installed later.

Once the kitchen is done I think the rest of the house will come together quickly. There is so much that goes into a kitchen and we started from bare walls with no insulation or drywall! The next area we’ll tackle is the upstairs, readying the new full bathroom and three bedrooms. Then we’ll relocate our bedroom and office upstairs (the latter is temporary) and replace and level the living room floor (like we did with the kitchen floor) and then install a new staircase. Somewhere along the line and before the snow flies we will install eight new casement windows, two sliding glass doors and two exterior doors.

The barn’s north wall also needs replacing and we’re hoping to have that done in the next several weeks. We’re not crazy enough to do that work ourselves. Once that’s done we will begin installing three new box stalls for the horses, which will give us a total of six in the main barn.

We are up to seven horses now. We have the two-year-old purebred Arabian geldings Cairo and Trouble, the eight-year-old Quarter horse mare Nutmeg, the purebred Arabian mare Windy (Cairo’s dam) and her National Show Horse foal Kiss, the two-year-old part-Arabian stud Whisper (he was born with only one testicle and needs a special castration operation at a vet hospital in October) and our latest acquisition Bentley, an 18-year-old registered Thoroughbred mare. We plan to breed Bentley and Nutmeg in February or March 2007 to purebred Arabians for foals in 2008. Windy is already bred to an Arabian and will deliver in May 2007.

Both Nutmeg and Trouble are at training centers. Nutmeg will return soon with new under-the-saddle manners. Trouble is on the Arabian horse show circuit in halter classes (Arabians are not ready to go under the saddle until they are three years of age). Both Trouble and I have taken lessons from Tony Steiner at his Genesis Training Center. We must have been pretty good students because on Saturday, August 5, we won a blue ribbon at a Class A Arabian horse show! The next day we won a Top 5 ribbon! Amazing! I haven’t shown horses since my teens and then it was always performance classes like Western Pleasure or over the fences in Hunter/Jumper classes. We’re going to a big horse show in late September at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and we may get in another show in Des Moines, Iowa in mid-September. The show season ends in November, but Ian and I want to take Trouble and Kiss to the big Arabian show in Scottsdale, Arizona February 16-25, 2007.

Once he is weaned Kiss will go to Tony’s this November for the express purpose of readying him to show in yearling halter classes beginning with Scottsdale. In November Trouble will be moved to a training center in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin so he can be started under the saddle. During his first 30 days there Trouble will be assessed to determine whether or not he should continue his under-the-saddle training to show as a performance horse in the 2007 show season or if he should continue only showing in halter classes because he may need to mature mentally for another year. Some horses just aren’t ready for the rigors of performance riding until they are four. We will know one way or the other before Christmas 2006. We expect Cairo will join Trouble and his half-brother Kiss at shows in 2007. Cairo has been in a growth spurt this season and looked quite gangly for most of the spring and summer. He’s beginning to pick up weight and may enter training at Tony’s in the spring. Cairo was on the show circuit as a yearling so he should come up to speed pretty quickly, plus now that Ian and I know more of the mechanics and we can begin refreshing his memory here on the Auld Macdonald Farm.


Friday, June 30, 2006

One year anniversary

We have been in the States one year today, and my, how the time has flown. Look at all the things we’ve done! Goodness, gracious!

Ian has been working on the kitchen. He has insulated the exterior wall, added the vapor barrier and readied it for the concrete board. The drywall in the kitchen is green because it is water resistant. Concrete board will be installed where the ceramic wall tile will be put up, which is in the wet areas around the sink (which will be under the south-facing window), the refrigerator and freezer units on the east wall and the dishwasher opposite on the west wall. We will have the gas cooktop in the corner with a vent mounted above it with a restaurant-quality exhaust blower taking smells outdoors.

Once the concrete board is installed on the entire kitchen floor we can begin laying the ceramic tile. On the north-facing wall, which has an archway into the living area, we will have an eat-in area and across from it a square-shaped wine rack built into the wall that will sit above cupboard that will match what is installed in the working kitchen area. We’re planning on putting in ceramic countertops as well, although we’ve not settled on a color. The floor is terracotta colored and the wall ceramic will be small slate squares of various hues. The rest of the kitchen walls will be painted a soft mint green, which should coordinate well with all the other earth tones.

Frankly, when we started this project I hadn’t envisioned doing so much of this ourselves, but it’s actually quite fun and certainly rewarding to see things come together. I guess that’s why DIY (Do It Yourself) programs are so popular; people are tackling these types of things themselves. OK, well, maybe not everyone is as crazy as we are, but you get my meaning.

Of course this is a big holiday weekend and I will have to find out where we can see 4th of July fireworks on Tuesday. The weather has turned very warm and a bit muggy, but we’re having fun on the farm.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kiss, Julia Child and a gaggle

This morning while Windy was busy eating in another part of the paddock Kiss went to the fence and met his half brother Cairo (Windy is also Cairo’s mother), Trouble and Whisper. Usually Windy lays her ears back and puts herself between Kiss and other horses.

The “Julia Child” rosebush, named by the chef herself for its buttery yellow color, has begun to bloom. Yesterday, I planted carrots, beets, and radishes to accompany the raspberry bushes, strawberries and tomatoes. I’ll plant butternut squash, cucumber, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash seeds this afternoon or tomorrow. We have a small herb garden too with sweet basil, rosemary, dill and lavender.

The weeder geese are getting bigger. The gaggle of the two now adult grey Toulouse survivors (see May 14 "Goslings meet bad end" post) and the 11 five-week-old white weeder goslings travel around the property together and are very friendly with lots of honking conversation. Recently a neighborhood dog came into the yard and the gander ran at him wings flapping and bit him in the butt. The dog cowered and left.

When we can we spend time outside making improvements to the farm. Ian’s been removing old barbed wire fence and I’ve been using the brush mower to tame overgrown areas. We’ve cleared away all the undergrowth in the stand of pine trees next to the house and plan to till the area and plant hostas.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An even six pack

Kiss the Wind (Windy) and her month-old colt Xtreme Kiss (Kiss) arrived on the Auld Macdonald Farm this morning. They came from Genesis Training Center and were delivered by trainer Tony Steiner. We put them in the side paddock where Windy is happily enjoying grass and Kiss is running around exercising his long legs. Windy is a purebred Arabian mare and Kiss is a National Show Horse; a new breed that comes from crossbreeding an American Saddlebred and Arabian. These two bring us to six horses.

Windy is pregnant bred to purebred Arabian stallion Troublesome, half brother to our gelding Looking For Trouble. She is due May 9, 2007. Kiss will remain with her until he is four months old. When he is weaned we will begin his halter training.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Quarter horse love

Yesterday afternoon Ian and I went horseback riding. We took turns riding our 8-year-old Quarter horse mare Nutmeg. She is a wonderful horse to ride, although she does not always want to stand as quietly as she should when we want to get on. Of course I can understand her position, but nevertheless!!

Ian rode around the yard and up the road apiece, then I rode from our place to Donna’s and to my delight she decided to saddle up her 3-year-old Quarter horse gelding Beau. The two of us rode for about 45 minutes and really enjoyed ourselves. I’m still becoming accustomed to Nutmeg and as we ride more often the time in the saddle should increase. I am happy to report that I am not saddle sore today! Ian and I may take Beau and Nutmeg out together in the next few days. That should be fun.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Gash, geese, graft and grass

Whisper our two-year-old part Arabian stud colt slid into a coral panel and sliced his right rear leg between hock and fetlock. This happened after normal business hours for the vet (of course!) and she came to us after treating a horse that was going into seizures. Vet Emily cleaned the cut as well as possible while a very sedated and still uncooperative Whisper fought her every step. She had wanted to suture the wound but only got in one before giving up. She gooped the cut with lots of antibiotic ointment and wrapped it with cotton batting and vet wrap. Ian and I administer three injections of antibiotics a day – one in the morning, two at night – plus a painkiller given as an oral paste. The injections continue through Monday and then he goes on oral meds. We wash and re-dress the wound each evening. Last night I was able to wash it quite well and it looks like its healing. Whisper is putting weight on this leg and he does not have any signs of infection (we monitor his temperature too). Poor little guy, I think it will be a month until he can leave his box stall and return to his pasture.

The other day when I was outside with the new baby goslings Donna noted there are 11 rather than 10. I guess the packers were working fast and sent us a bonus. They are growing quickly but are still web-footed packages of peeping yellow fuzz. At night they share an enclosure with the two grey Toulouse geese, which are very adult looking in both sized and feathers. Both sets of geese respond to my saying “hello, geese” with the younger ones following me around the property.

We still have one puppy of Lady’s seven left. Bruiser is getting bigger by the day. He will soon stand taller than his mother and he is only 11 weeks old! He’s a happy one but like most youngsters if left to his own designs he gets in trouble. We're not advertising him but may run another ad later this month. He's well on his way to being housebroken and crate trained. Surely that will make him more valuable.

Ian is working on the ceiling in the kitchen installing water resistant drywall using a drywall lifter we rented in Cambridge. The kitchen walls that we will tile will have cement board installed, the others will have this water resistant stuff hung. The kitchen floor will also have the cement board screwed down and then we can install the mud set for laying the ceramic tiles, which are stacked in the garage. What a luxury to have a working kitchen. I wonder how fast I can give up washing dishes in the bathtub?

We’ve planted roses, calla lilies, sweet basil and rosemary in a plot near the garage. The new tiller machine we bought stretched its belt and we’re waiting for a replacement before we plant our vegetable garden. Week before last I spent the better part of two days mowing the horse pasture and now the horses are eating it more evenly. The lawn needs mowing again so I’ll be doing that in an hour or so. Riding on that John Deere mower is a lot of fun. I refuse to cut the lawn in straight rows – how boring. I go in circles from outer edges toward the middle and it seems to look just fine.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Goslings, chicks, flies and fillies

After four of our original six goslings were killed by our puppies, I ordered 10 more goslings on-line and yesterday the post lady delivered them in a box along with our mail. These are weeder geese and as the name implies they are used in organic farming to weed crops. The grey Toulouse goslings were larger at the same age and always had a grey undertone to their yellow fuzz. These are small, more ducking size, with bright yellow fuzz and pale pink beaks, as adults they will be white.

Soon the chicks, which are just more than a month old, will be moved from their coop in the barn to the coop where the adult chickens roost. They have been let out of their coop during the daylight hours for the last two days and are exploring the barn and some of the area just outside the door. Ian and I spend quite a bit of time rounding them up at night. There was a thunderstorm here in early evening and as we headed to the house just after chicken herding I heard a lonely peep. There at the corner of the barn stood a drenched Buff Orpington chick wondering where its siblings had gone. Ian cornered it against a hay bale and it was popped back into the coop. Once the chicks are relocated to the larger coop and these young goslings are a bit older, I will house the dozen geese in the barn at night.

The flies are beginning to hatch so we outfitted the horses with fly masks. This type covers their ears and eyes in a soft mesh. Ian said they look like funny party hats. They really can see through the mesh and they must be comfy because they’ve not been rubbed off. They close with Velcro so if the mask gets stuck on something the horse can pull free.

Bonnie and the twins have returned home to Donna’s. The smaller filly’s legs are quite twisted and Donna has been researching how to splint the legs, trim the hooves and exercise the tendons to lengthen and straighten in hopes of having an adult horse without arthritis problems.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Xtreme Kiss Makes Six

This morning Ian and I went to see our newest horses. Late last week we bought Cairo’s mother Windy and the foal she was carrying. Windy is an eight-year-old purebred Arabian mare. She is broke to ride and we will use her as a brood mare. She delivered her foal, a stud colt, on Sunday morning. He is a National Show Horse. On-line encyclopedia Wikipedia describes that breed as follows:

The National Show Horse, founded in the 1980s, is a cross between an American Saddlebred and an Arabian or a combination between an American Saddlebred, Arabian, and National Show Horse blood. Both mares and stallions must be registered with their appropriate registries. Although any combination of these three breeds may be used, there must be at least 25% Arabian blood in the horse to be registered.

The horses combine the beauty of the Arabian with the flashiness of the Saddlebred. The resulting horse has the high-set, upright, long and swan-like neck of the Saddlebred. The breed is usually used for saddleseat riding. They are flashy park horses, with high-stepping action and a very elevated front end. A versatile breed, they can also be used for jumping, endurance, dressage, or western riding. They are very friendly, willing to work, energetic and can be any color.

As the photo of Windy and foal shows, he is a tobiano paint pattern that is chestnut and white in color.

His registered name will be Xtreme Kiss, after his mother RJ Kissthe Wind (Windy) and American Saddlebred sire TF Xtreme. I suppose we’ll just call him Kiss. Kiss and Windy will come the farm from the Genesis Training Center at the end of June. Before they arrive Windy will be bred to one of two purebred Arabian stallions we are deciding between. One is a half brother to our horse Trouble. The horse gestation period is 11 months 10 days, which means her next foal would deliver around May 1, 2007.

Today was the cats’ turn at the vet. Tinker and Tiger both had distemper, rabies and feline leukemia vaccinations. They really enjoy each other's company.

Saturday morning the 20th Cairo returned home from one month of training at the Ramblin’ Rose Training Center near Princeton. He is much more gentle and well behaved. He no longer bites and he leads and stands tied quietly.

Last week Donna and I set up an electric fence pasture for Whisper and Cairo is now his pasture mate. They are of similar size and age (two years) and they seem to like one another’s company. On Sunday Ian re-fenced an area of that pasture and cordoned off half of the open poll shed so Cairo and Whisper could share that while Nutmeg and Trouble accessed the other half. Now the four horses stay out all night and there’s no barn stalls to muck out. The joys of summer!

Two goslings returned to the Macdonald Farm last Tuesday afternoon, two days after their four siblings had been mauled and eaten by the puppies. I was so happy to see them I picked them up and cuddled them on my pap talking calmly to them. Geese aren’t into being picked up but they quieted down and seemed to understand that I was glad to see them. Now they are either in the locked and puppy-proof barn or out waddling around with the puppies safely out of sight in the house. There are 10 more goslings coming sometime this week. I plan to out the dozen together as soon as the younger ones are able to go outside. The two puppies are still up for sale and could be in new homes anytime.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Goslings meet bad end

On Friday evening, while Ian and I attended a training session with our two-year-old Arabian gelding Cairo the two remaining puppies killed and ate one of our six grey Toulouse goslings. I was horrified to see them happily chewing up its dead body on the barn floor. They had never bothered them before, but I guess with age and playful (never malicious) curiosity what probably started as a fun chasing game was taken over by instinct. How do you tell puppies this is wrong? “No” just does not seem sufficient. An old farmer’s remedy is to tie the dead carcass around the offending dog’s neck and let it carry around the bird until it rots. Yuck! I was so angry I thought this would be a good punishment, but anger clouds reason and what I wanted to do was communicate that we can all live together here on the farm.

This morning we were too late to catch them kill two more of the six and neither Ian nor I can locate the remaining three. I looked in the tall grass, walked the pasture and some of the neighboring acreage but I could not find a carcass or hear a peep. We have eagles and other birds of prey in this area so they could surely be in the mix. Donna believes eagles carried off one or even two of the small dogs she owned years ago some years ago. Puppies beware!

I wept when I came back to the house because I wouldn’t knowingly bring something to live here for it to be murdered. I’m also at a loss for how to explain this to the puppies so they will change their behavior. Of course these two are still for sale and maybe will go soon. I wish the remaining three goslings would return but I suppose they see that idea as certain death. I thought if they were outside that if the puppies bothered them they could outrun them. Not true. Sad, very sad, I had even picked up a gosling yesterday to show Alexa and Gaby, daughters of longtime girlfriend Beth. All three came for their first visit to the farm Saturday. I may go out and call for the goslings again in case I can still find the remaining three alive.

Whether or not I find the others, Ian and I decided we’d ordered 10 new goslings and will build a secure pen that they can live in during the day should the puppies still be here when they arrive. I got what’s called Weeder Geese, and as the name implies they eat weeds but leave plants. Could be handy when I get the gardens planted.

The horses are fine. Cairo comes back from training on May 19. He is certainly calmer, although he has retained his spunky character. I look forward to seeing him integrate with our other three; Trouble, Nutmeg and Whisper.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Obedience, additions and unexpected turns

Lady and I went to our first dog obedience training class last Saturday. Mitch, the instructor, informed the five owners that the name of the community education class was really people obedience, but he felt that not many people would sign up for that! Mitch worked with each dog to get a feel for its personality and to listen to the owner concerns. For the most part, Lady is well behaved and I want to learn how to get her to obey commands 100% of the time. As an owner I don’t have the challenges that others do and I think its safe to say that none of us in the 9 a.m. class have anywhere near the problems that began to assemble themselves in fits, starts, shouts, whines and barks for the 10 a.m. class. Yikes. One dog was simultaneously being shouted at, yanked and sat on by four adults! I’d be aggressive too.

We added another house cat to our family. Tinker belonged to our neighbors to the east. They are selling their home and mentioned the cat to Donna. Tinker is an orange and white 18-month-old neutered male. He was delivered to us on Sunday, April 30, and spent three days hiding out under the upstairs floorboards. I moved food and water up there and on Thursday he finally showed his furry face. He and Tiger have become fast friends; they chase each other around, roll on the catnip toys and sleep curled in our unmade bed.

While Ian spent last week in Houston working 12-14 hour days, my son Richard spent two days in the farm visiting and helping me with chores. We got the John Deere riding lawn mower out of the garage (it came with the farm) and Donna helped fire it up. I’d never used a riding lawn mower and it is a lot of fun. At one point Richard said, “A good mother would let her son ride the mower.” LOL

Chuck the farrier was here Tuesday morning and trimmed both Whisper and Nutmeg’s hooves. Chuck’s partial to Quarter horses and was very complimentary about Nutmeg’s looks.

Richard and I met my mother in Minneapolis for brunch on Wednesday and then I dropped him off at home. While Ian was in Houston I made good use of the time on my own and set up a new filing system and went through stacks of paper and either filed or tossed. I like to be organized, but it is something that can get away from me if I’m not vigilant. My mother will laugh when she reads this.

We have only two of the original seven puppies left; one female, one male, their tails are not docked and they look more black Lab rather than Rottweiler like their sire. They are seven weeks old. The ad is still running, but if we don’t get buyers for these two it wouldn’t be terrible. That said, I do think these two will go within a week and we’ll be back to just the lovely Lady.

Speaking of the ad, the local newspaper really goofed up! The price for the puppies is $100 cash, but the ad reads $10! Of course, the phone rang off the hook. I finally decided to screen calls and put an outgoing message explaining about the printing mistake.

If we still have these two puppies next week they’ll go in for their next set of shots. Tiger and Tinker are due for shots too. That should be a fun day at the small animal vet.

Our equine vet was out yesterday. I had her come to geld Whisper, one of two horses we bought on the 22nd at an auction. He’s reportedly two years old and is a non-papered Arabian. Jeske administered the anesthesia, which had him quite drowsy but standing on all fours, then learned only one of his testicles has dropped. This means no castration can be done until the other one drops and, because he is fertile he cannot be put out with the mares. Whisper has been in a separate area since he arrived because Trouble is quite aggressive toward other male horses and would be more so since Whisper is still a stallion (albeit one that has been underfed and has not bred). Basically, we’ll need to wait for the other one to drop before we can castrate him, so his living apart will continue and I’ll have to monitor the situation. That can be tricky! LOL Since Jeske was already here I had him vaccinated. It’s horrid to castrate during the summer fly season, so we’ll wait until the fall before gelding Whisper. In the meantime we’ll work with him, nourish him and keep him as gentle as possible. Stallions can be a handful. We went through some of this bad behavior with Cairo.

Speaking of Cairo, he’s doing quite well at training. I expect he’ll be back home before Memorial Day weekend. He has learned to reduce his biting a lot and is now a much better behaved character. Just think, this time next year we will have three horses to begin under the saddle. There will be a lot of riding next year.

Saturday morning our eight-year-old Quarter horse mare Nutmeg decided that since her stall door had not been properly latched she would trot down the road and visit Donna’s horses Beau and Bentley. Ian and I walked down the road to get Nutmeg and I rode her home bareback. We had saddled her the day after we bought her (the same day as Whisper) but she wasn’t too interested in standing still enough to let someone aboard Nutmeg is a lovely ride and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity. We’re getting our April showers a bit late so it’s been cool and somewhat soggy.

The twin fillies and their mother Bonnie (born April 19) are still in our barn with daily turnouts in their own paddock. They are doing well, but have decidedly crooked legs. Both Donna and I are hoping they straighten out. Jeske the vet had a quick look at them yesterday and suggested the legs be x-rayed to determine where the problems are and if the legs could straighten with time.

Last weekend, I went to a two-day travel writer’s seminar and think I could parlay some of the farm and travel adventures into published ink. I’ve ordered some books to get more detailed info on how to submit query letters and then plan to give it a go. I’ll keep you posted.

On Tuesday, Donna and I built a chicken coop area in the barn. Yesterday we transferred all the 99 chicks from her garage to their new home. We have Buff Orpingtons and Black Sex-links. Both are good for eggs and meat, so we will winter and some will become freezer food. This morning Donna came with a box that had one very lonely chick inside. He had missed being scooped up and was very glad to see his siblings.

The four adult rescue chickens (a.k.a. The Honeymooners) are doing quite well. They have their own coop and are getting quite comfy with being out and about on the farm. Neither the puppies nor Lady bother them. The goslings are growing quickly too. They have their own area in the barn and waddle around the yard quacking, eating grass and fertilizing during most of the daylight hours. The chicks are not old enough to be outside yet, but it should be quite a sight in a month or so. I’m pleased to have all these voracious bug eaters at work.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wednesday, April 26

Nutmeg and Trouble have been out in the larger pasture together since Sunday. Trouble doesn’t like Whisper because he’s still a stallion and Trouble is quite possessive of Nutmeg, so today Ian and I used gate panels and made Whisper a pen so he can be outside too. Bonnie and the twins have their box stall and are put out in a grassy side pen daily for some sunshine with room to romp.

The puppies are learning to move quickly out of harm’s way when a horse comes in or out of the barn. A couple of them thought the horse poop left after a training session on a lunge line was quite tasty. I suppose to the less discerning palate it is with all the molasses-filled sweet feed our horses get.

Lady is weaning them and spends her nights with us in the house rather than in the barn. She does spend lots of playtime with them and they are delightful. They come when called and not surprisingly like to chew, bite, growl and lick; not necessarily in that order. If puppies stayed puppy sized I’d keep them forever, but they don’t and in another month we’ll be advertising them for sale.

I signed Lady and I up for a basic dog training series given by the local community education folks. That should be another nice bonding experience. We begin Saturday morning, May 6.

The more, the merrier

Saturday, April 22, was a BUSY day on the farm. The six goslings went outside for the first time. They ate grass and enjoyed the sunshine.

We have added four adult chickens to our farm. A lady in Minneapolis who nurses them back to health delivered them Saturday morning. Mary searches for suitable homes rescued these chickens from various nasty situations. One of the roosters weighs 25 pounds. His name is Ralph Cramden after the Jackie Gleason character in The Honeymooners TV show. Ralph is quite formidable and he has run me out of the chicken house more than once and they only just arrived!

Ian went into their house the other night and showed Ralph who the boss is by spraying some water on his comb. Worked like a charm! Ian asked me how I can handle a 1000 pound horse that’s behaving badly but I let a rooster run me around. Beats me, but at least now I know what to do with Ralph.

Saturday afternoon we went to a draft horse auction, which was quite interesting. There were lots of Amish people there; both buying and selling. There were a few horses that were not of the enormous varieties. Ian and I bought a Quarter horse mare that we’ve named Nutmeg, that is broke to ride and another two-year-old Arabian stud colt named Whisper. He cost $70 and that price reflects his condition. He has been neglected, but I can see his potential. Now we have four horses, three of them two-year-old Arabian males. As we did with Cairo and Trouble, Whisper will be gelded too.

Chicks and goslings

Today, Thursday, April 20, Donna and I picked up 100 chicks (50 Buff Orpintons, 50 Black Sex-links) and six Toulouse Grey goslings. The chicks are 3 or 4 days old, the goslings are maybe a week. I'm told the chicks grow at an amazing pace. I suspect the geese will get big soon too.

Donna is using the rectangle pen of straw bales in her garage as a pen for the chicks. We made this for the puppies when they and Lady stayed with her when we went to Montreal and Ottawa for Easter weekend. The puppies did learn to squeeze between the bales, but that would be a tough task for the chicks … I think. They are pretty small though! Donna has hung a heat lamp over that area and has turned on her corn stove, so it’s a balmy 75 degrees.

I have the goslings in our living room penned in the same corner we had fashioned for the puppies when they outgrew the wading pool. The puppies are in the barn in a straw-filled corner boxed in by bales to keep them from under horse hooves. Donna and I made a lean-to type doghouse complete with toys and blankets so they are quite cozy.

The goslings are put in the dog carrier at night. Tiger that cat thinks they would be great snacks. He doesn’t bother them during the day and has begun to associate looking at the geese with getting wet. No cat likes that!


Wednesday, April 19. Bonnie, a registered Quarter horse mare that belongs to our neighbor Donna had twin foals this morning. They are both fillies. The smaller is a sorrel and the larger a dun or buckskin (complete with dorsal stripe). The smaller one could not walk very well so Ian carried her to the front pasture while Donna coaxed the other.

Using the pick up truck Donna's daughter Katie sat with the smaller one in the back while Donna walked mother and sister up the dirt road. On the advice of the vet, we brought the three over to our barn so all could bond in a cozy box stall. The smaller one is feeding well and seems stronger on her legs now.

Twins are rare in horses and usually there are problems at birth (sometimes all 3 die). We don't know anything about the sire of the foals because Donna bought her last year without knowing Bonnie was pregnant.

Never a dull moment here on the farm.

Puppy piddle

Monday, April 10. The puppies have outgrown the wading pool they were born in. They are now 12 inches in length (nose to butt) and weigh around 6 or 7 pounds. Tomorrow they are three weeks old. They still nurse but I have supplemented Lady's milk with cooked single grain rice cereal (human baby food) mixed with warm milk and pancake syrup. I make them portions of this three times a day. No teeth yet, but there are plenty of practice growls and barks that sound pretty fierce.

This morning I fashioned a new area for them. I stapled an old shower curtain to the floor, lined it with newspaper put bath towels to one side and used two straw bales as walls. Now Ian and I won't have to get up during the night and put a howling stray puppy or two back in the pool.

It will be 70 degrees and sunny this afternoon so I'm thinking of taking them out on the lawn for a sniff (and a piddle).

Trouble comes to the farm

April 5, 2006. Yesterday the puppies were two weeks old. We introduced them to rice cereal made with warmed milk and maple syrup. Once they got the idea (this lapping up business is different that nursing) they literally got into it. Their mother Lady spent a long time cleaning them afterward. We all slept better last night! Their eyes are now open and they are getting steadier on all fours. Soon they'll try to have the run of the place, I suppose.

Today, Chuck the farrier came and trimmed all the horses' hooves. We bought a new horse from the same farm where Cairo was raised. His registered name is Looking For Trouble or Trouble for short. Like Cairo he is also a two-year-old purebred Arabian, although he was born in January of 2004 and his taller and more mature looking than Cairo. Trouble's color is called black bay – kind of like a Doberman dog, black on top with the brown underside and muzzle. We had him gelded on Monday, April 3.

Cairo was the last of the five horses to be trimmed and he was the naughtiest. Chuck knows how to handle his sass. Cairo finally stood nicely as Chuck worked.

Cairo is going for training at the Rambling Rose horse farm near Princeton for one month. He leaves on Saturday and will return to us sometime near the end of May. He is not old enough to be started under the saddle; Arabians begin one year later than most horses at age three. He and Trouble will be started next year. Cairo needs work on his ground manners, especially not to bite!

10 days old

March 31, 2006. The puppies are 10 days old today, although their eyes are not open yet. They are really chubby. They've gone from looking like well-fed hamsters to guinea pigs and now they look like roly-poly black bear cubs. They're not strong enough to walk on all fours, so they push themselves around the wading pool that they were born in via a funny belly-swimming motion. There are small growls and barks now in and amongst the squeaks and squeals.

Lucky 7

Lady delivered seven puppies Tuesday, March 21. They are a Lab/Rottweiler mix. She began hard labor delivering the first of three females at 1:30 p.m. and the last 3:50 p.m. There was an hour’s break between puppies five and six, but only 10 minutes between six and seven. As anticipated, Lady is a good mommy.

On Saturday morning Lady and puppies went to the vet. Mommy will get a check up and the puppies that look a lot like Lady’s former roommate Paxton, a year-old Rottweiler, had their tails docked and all of the pups had dewclaws removed. Reportedly there is no pain as long as they are five days and younger.

They are chubby handfuls. I’d say the size of well-fed hamster. Their faces are so wrinkly they remind me of a Chinese Shar-Pei. All look like they have the Rottweiler head, most have curly coats, depending on the light two appear to be a dark gray or brown, while others are coal black. One has a pea-size spot of white his chest. Maybe the Rottweiler markings will begin to show in a few days or weeks.

Their eyes will open at around 10 days of age; they will get puppy vaccinations at six weeks and be ready for sale at 10 weeks for between $50 and $75 each. Want one?


Windstorm (March 17)

I've just learned some background information about our horse Cairo. He is a registered purebred Arabian. His father (sire) is Desert Heat and his mother (dam), RJ Kissthe Wind, is still on the farm where he was foaled in April 16, 2004 in Isanti, MN. Cairo traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona in 2005 and was shown in conformation classes.

One thing being registered means is that we can show him at Arabian horse shows and having his official papers will add value if we ever decide to sell him.

You may remember we bought Cairo at a horse auction in December 2005 for $100. We had no information on him, so we named him Cairo. His registered name is Windstorm and he was called Winston. We will continue to call him Cairo, although if we decide to show him we will use his registered name.

Cairo was also gelded today …Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Heading home (March 13 & 14)

We returned to Barcelona but decided to rent a hotel room near the airport for our last night rather than cozy up again on the twin bed.

We went to Michael & Natalia’s for dinner. We bought meat and some side dishes and Michael cooked. This is not something he learned at home. Both Natalia and Michael have learned a lot living on their own. It’s all good, and they have proud sets of parents. We had Fitou wine with dinner and left them a bottle for future enjoyment. It was hard to leave them but I took comfort in the fact that we will see them in late August for three weeks.

Our long journey home began on Monday, March 13, with a 10 am Spain time. I wept as we flew from Barcelona. I love the life we have on the farm and certainly being near my mother and son in Minnesota, in the same time zone as my father in Managua and Ian being on the same continent as his teenagers, but our life in Spain and my life since I went to Europe in 1998 were such life altering times that there are many emotions attached.

Mind you I cried when we landed in Minneapolis, but that was more from relief!

After arriving stateside in New York from Barcelona (7+ hours of flying) we learned that our flight to Chicago O’Hare was cancelled because a major snowstorm closed Chicago. We were routed from JFK to Atlanta and then on standby to Minneapolis. We did make the cut to get on the plane and came home one day early. We had planned to spend one night at the Hilton at O'Hare and come home Tuesday afternoon. We had not slept since we left Barcelona at 10 am Monday. There was a lot of snow near the Minneapolis airport but only an inch or two here at the farm. Ian and I got home at 2:30 a.m. That kind of a day will bring tears to one’s eyes!

Pregnant paws (March 12)

Whenever we travel we are never far out of touch. I checked email at an Internet café just up the street from the Holiday Inn once a day. I mentioned earlier that our neighbor Donna agreed to watch our horse Cairo, dog Lady and cat Tiger while we visited Spain. Donna’s Thoroughbred bred mare Bentley has been Cairo’s stable mate since he came to the Auld Macdonald Farm in December. Donna’s Quarter horses Beau and Bonnie, a gelding and mare respectively, have visited our pasture to eat its long grass. In January Donna learned that Bonnie, a horse she bought at auction in August 2005 was pregnant. So when I read the subject line of Donna’s email – Things are multiplying in Maple Ridge – (Maple Ridge is the township we live in), I thought, “Oh, Bonnie had her foal.” HA.

Donna was writing to tell me that our dog Lady, the one I’d just taken to the vet in February to cure from Lyme disease and Heartworm, was pregnant and due soon! WHAT?? So we got this dog sick and pregnant? Gee whiz.

The sire is Lady’s former roommate, Paxton, who is a year-old 120 pound Rottweiler. Lady is maybe 55 pounds.

I have not dealt with a dog of mine with puppies since I was 14. This should be fun, and who doesn’t love puppies?

Mind you, I read this email in the midst of French-speaking young people who looked at me very curiously when I kept reading aloud, laughing, shaking my head and clasping hands over my mouth! Puppies!

March 10-12 Montpellier Weekend

I’ve only been to Montpellier once and that was only to its train station. Shortly after we met Ian and I rendezvoused there (he was living in Grenoble and I in Barcelona) and we spent a romantic weekend at a friend's village house in Castelnau d’Aude in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

The drive from Barcelona is three hours and sections of the freeway just into France near Fitou are extremely windy. Montpellier is the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It sits on hilly ground six miles inland from the Mediterranean coast. It has a large and long established university. At its center is the Place de la Comédie, which is a pedestrian zone with parking garages underneath. A public tram also serves this area.

We parked underneath the Place de la Comédie and walked three blocks to the Holiday Inn. The room was nice, but it seemed odd to me that it did not have a telephone in the room. I almost never use a telephone in a hotel room, even though I speak enough French (or Spanish) to be understood, I usually opt for the reception or concierge staff. I always related great showers with hotel rooms in France. More often than not they use fixtures manufactured by Grohe, which really are good products.

Like many European cities Montpellier is a city that is best enjoyed by walking. It was a bit chillier than Spain, but nothing that a fleece jacket couldn’t handle. We had breakfast at an open-air café of baguettes, butter, jam, milk, tea and coffee. We wandered through the downtown streets and into a church or two; French church doors are almost always unlocked. We found a farmer’s market set up under a massive and ancient aqueduct. I always loved these markets with everything so very fragrant and colorful.

We drove to Narbonne for lunch, which is served so much earlier than in Spain, At 2 pm when most Spaniards are beginning to sit down, the French restaurateur is washing lunch dishes and thinking about preparing the supper menu. When in France I hanker for the warm goat cheese salad. Being in Languedoc I want to accompany that salad with Fitou, which is a young red wine grown in and around the city of the same name near the Spanish border.

For sentimental reasons and because it is near CDD, a wonderful discount wine depot in Lezignan Corbieres, we also drove to Castelnau d’Aude. At CDD we bought a case of Fitou, two bottles of Blanquette (basically a Champagne but produced in this region) and two rounds of goat cheese coated in ground peppercorns. When we lived in Spain we often made the wine run to CDD and clinked home across the border. It was hard for me to buy so little at such a great place.

To me Castelnau D’Aude is always quite picturesque, no matter the time of year. We drove through and didn’t see a soul. It was a blustery day, but with some fruit trees beginning to bloom there were promises of spring.

In Montpellier we had dinner at L’Entrecote steak house on night and a Chinese restaurant across from the hotel the next. Both were good experiences albeit very different.

On our way back to Spain we decided to turn off at the Fitou exit and see what was there. At first it didn’t look very charming, in fact there was so much new construction I wondered whether or not they had bulldozed the old town. However, we finally saw sign for centre ville (city center) and found the familiar close cut winding streets. We also happened upon an auberge, which are best described as small country hotels with meals although more substantial than a B&B. This one was called Auberge Vidal. It sits atop a steep hill, one that had us spinning car wheels and making more than one attempt to reach its parking lot.

The man who greeted us, who I can only assume was Vidal, was a friendly broken English speaking man who apologized profusely for not having seats in the jam-packed great room and showed us to a quickly set table off a sun drenched patio. Lunch was a largely seafood buffet (the raw oysters were great), several vegetables, including my favorite French green beans, all sloshed down with the vin de maison (house wine), Fitou, of course.

Working visit to Spain March 4-13

Returning to Spain is always lovely. We stayed with my son Michael and his wife Natalia at their apartment in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona. Ian and I slept in their guest bedroom, which has a single bed. Wow, do I love my husband! He is wonderful to snuggle up to. LOL

We rented a car and drove two hours to Riumar, where we own two 3-bedroom side-by-side chalets. The weather was short-sleeve- a treat after Minnesota weather. It seemed like no one was in town. Normally our German neighbors are there and we get to see one of the other year-round residents, but not so this time.

Ian and I specifically came to Spain to help ready the chalets for the summer rental season. Last year we offered guests Internet connection but decided we would not do that this year, so we packed up all of those components. We also set up one bedroom closet in each chalet as a secure maid’s closet. We’ve found that guests rarely unpack completely so the closets go unused. We needed a place that our changeover lady Lisa could access for clean sheets, towels and supplies and the one closet in each chalet seemed the best idea.

Because we wanted to spend as much time as we could with Michael and Natalia in Barcelona we decided we would only be in Riumar just long enough to do this work. We ate twice at our favorite restaurant Casa Nuri, but sadly did not take the time to stroll the beach.

On Saturday Ian and I drove to Sitges and reunited with three women I served with as president of the Barcelona Women’s Network. Two of us have repatriated to the US and two still live in Spain; one in Sitges, one in Sant Cugat. When we met we hugged, which is not very European who tend to check kiss. It felt very nice to express our greetings this way, but admittedly this is much more “American.”

Michael and Natalia suggested a wonderful Argentinean restaurant that specializes in beef. Wow, was it great. Los Asadores is certainly worth the trip. We walked there from their place and really enjoyed our evening together. The food portions were just right – fist size versus the heaping serving we often get in the States. The steaks were prepared rare and came sizzling to the table served in round wooden cutting boards. No A1 or Heinz 57 Steak Sauce and none were needed. I seem to remember we paid around €140.

Because our time was so short we decided to take a mini-vacation and cross the border into France.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bon viatges

We are going to visit Spain from March 5-14! We are flying Minneapolis to Chicago then to New York’s JFK and then Transatlantic to Barcelona. When we come back we will stay overnight at the O'Hare Hilton in Chicago before coming home on the afternoon of the 14th.

In Barcelona we will stay with my oldest son Michael and his wife Natalia. We will also visit Riumar for two or three days to do some repairs to our chalets before the summer rental season. We bought eight twin sheet sets from Target and will leave those for use in the chalets. It will be nice to be there. I am hoping for some warm, sunny days.

Most of all I want our time there to be productive – in getting work done and to visit the people we want to see there.

It is possible we will also need to go to Madrid to move Ian’s immigration papers forward. It will be interesting to see if I can once again note the things that make the two cultures different and what I like about each.

Our neighbor Donna has generously agreed to watch the menagerie while we are gone.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Only love makes the tail wag

Last week Lady was to be spay. I took her to the vet’s office at 8 a.m. Thursday morning. She is around two years old and has not had any vaccinations. I asked that she be given everything to bring her up-to-date (rabies, distemper, etc.) and that she be checked for Heartworm and Lyme Disease; one is transmitted by infected mosquitoes, the latter by the bite of an infected tick. I left Lady in their capable hands thinking I would pick her up around 4:30 that afternoon.

About an hour after I left the vet called my cell phone to say that Lady’s pre-op Heartworm and Lyme Disease tests had come back positive! This meant Lady could not undergo surgery because she Heartwork makes her a high-risk under anesthesia. Although easily prevented by a monthly chewable tablet called Heartguard Plus (for dogs and cats), once Heartworms are contracted they must be killed with injections containing small doses of strychnine. She got two injections 24 hours apart and is now on six weeks of rest, meaning she cannot go out of the house without a leash and she must walk not run at all times so as not to overexert her cardiopulmonary system. This is because the strychnine kills the worms that live in her heart and their dead bodies break up and are passed through her lungs as they exit the body.

According to some on-line sites: "Lyme Disease is named after the city in which it was first discovered, Old Lyme, Connecticut. Humans also get Lyme disease; however they do not get it directly from dogs. We get it from being bitten by the same ticks that transmit it to dogs. Preventing exposure to ticks is important for humans and our dogs.

"Many dogs affected with Lyme Disease are taken to a veterinarian because they seem to be experiencing generalized pain and have stopped eating. Affected dogs have been described as if they were "walking on eggshells." Often these animals have high fevers.

"Dogs may also become lame because of the disease. This painful lameness often appears suddenly and may shift from one leg to another. If untreated, it may eventually disappear, only to recur weeks or months later."

This lameness is what Lady is dealing with now. Yesterday she would not/could not move from her rug. She is better today, enough to accompany me for barn chores this morning and to relief herself in her usual spot in the yard. She gets 750 mg of Tetracycline twice daily for 30 days and 325 mg of aspirin as needed for pain.

Lady’s vet bill to treat the Lyme Diease and Heartworm was $400, which was a shocker considering I was expecting $280 for her to be spay and vaccinated. She is scheduled to be spay in late March and will receive all of her vaccinations then.

Tiger that cat needs to go in for a round of vaccinations and will be tested for Heartworm and Lyme Disease. He’s an indoor cat now, but was quite the mighty neighbor hunter in the years before he came to live with us. At least he is already neutered!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Acting his age

Today was a picture postcard crisp Minnesota winter day. Both Ian and I have been working with Cairo, our 20-month-old purebred Arabian stud colt, on his ground manners. He’s very good when being groomed. He stands quietly now when cross-tied and he is calmer about having his hooves picked up for cleaning. Generally, he and his stable mate the Thoroughbred mare Bentley are out in the pasture from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. In the afternoon we bring both in to their cleaned boxed stalls (they are side-by-side in 12 x 14 foot stalls) where they enjoy hay, water and a bucket of oats mixed with whole kernel corn.

This afternoon after grooming Cairo we decided to take him for a bit of a walking lesson in the driveway area in front of the barn. He can be a handful and he likes to test the handler. I would say since we brought Cairo home just before Christmas he has grown another hand (“a hand” equals four inches) to 14 hands and weighs a muscular 800 pounds. As an adult he could be as tall as 15 hands (5 feet even to his withers) and weigh 1000 pounds. Now is the time to instill manners and he’s come a long way since we got him.

Ian has never owned a horse, but has ridden for years and is a confident rider. He is more accustomed to English riding and says Western saddles are like comfy armchairs. Ian handles both Bentley and Cairo and both like to test him. Ian is strong, but the horses are stronger and sometimes they are very single minded. Ian takes direction very well from me and Cairo is learning quickly he cannot act up just because the lead rope has changed hands. Today Cairo pushed, pulled and even reared a bit with Ian, the little devil, but Ian gave him hell and Cairo snapped right back in line to stand and walk calmly on the lead. When a horse is acting up and can be put in its place quickly by nonviolent means (no whips or anything harmful) it’s a nice feeling of accomplishment. When Cairo tries to dominate the situation he is forced to back up several steps in quick succession. Backing up is work for a horse and they will quickly associate the undesirable behavior (e.g., nipping, crowding, rearing, etc.) with having to work. Behavior modification works!

In the weeks to come we will have our farrier, Chuck, (, who doubles as a horse trainer, come and give the three of us some lessons. These lessons and homework coupled with having him gelded in April will make Cairo more of a gentleman (

Speaking of fixing animals, Lady is scheduled to be spay this Thursday. It is day surgery; in at 8, home at 5. She will also be given all her necessary shots and tests. I imagine Friday will be a lay about day for our sweet Labrador.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


On February third a long-time girlfriend’s mother died of pneumonia and complications with Parkinson’s. Janet Mary (nee Carlson) Johnson was 73. I’ve known her daughter Sandy since we met in Moby Dick’s bar in downtown Minneapolis in 1974. I remember visiting Sandy at her parent’s home many times and learning quickly there was always something sticky and sweet to be found in the kitchen’s bread drawer.

Jan and husband Jesse were characters who genuinely loved one another and were partners for the long haul through the rebellious-child parenting years and grandparenting years. I hadn’t seen Jan for years, but Jesse was right when he remarked at the open-casket wake on Thursday evening, “She looks like she’s sleeping.”

Yesterday’s funeral service was a beautiful tribute to Jan. Her Lutheran church in south Minneapolis was filled with people who knew and loved her. Family photos had been edited together onto a DVD along with a musical soundtrack that chronicled her life. Jan was known for her shelves of photo albums, a habit passed on to her daughters.

Jesse and Jan were married for 51 years and right through to laying her to rest Jesse gave her everything she ever wanted and needed. Bless both of them.

My heart ached during the service to see Sandy’s heart so obviously broken. The relationship between a mother and a daughter is a strong, complex bond. I find funerals to be sad and frightening, as I empathize with the bereaved and yet pray that I am not in those front pews anytime soon. Of course I will not be spared, nor will people who love me. However, believing there is something else – another existence - beyond this life takes the sting from those thoughts. Realizing, however, that we will not have our loved one with us in this life is the stuff for keening.

Friends and family are so important and we need to lean on each other in times like these. We should try to get together for occasions other than weddings and funerals.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Chilly drafts

We’ve been at the farm full time for 11 days (since January 26) and we are enjoying ourselves. The house is still a construction site but we have areas that are set up for our comfort -- the rest is a mess. We have our bed with its comfy bedding and oversized pillows, our office desks and chairs, laptops, printer/fax machine, satellite TV with DVD, wireless Internet connection (we do have to conduct paying work after all!), two stadium chairs from our roughing it weekend visits, assorted scatter rugs plus a makeshift kitchen that includes an electric self-cleaning range (stovetop and oven), washing machine, dryer and refrigerator. We are using the existing bathroom, which is our only source of household water. I wash dishes in a dishpan in the bathtub (I haven’t shampooed dishes by accident yet!) and I fill animal water bowls and coffeepots from the sink faucet.

A new well will be dug in the spring, which is good since the current water pressure is so-so; sometimes good, sometimes lousy. We try to time showers to the better pressure times. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the ebb and flow. We have a washer and dryer but the pressure is not good enough to run through the cycles, so we go into Cambridge (10 miles, about 15 minutes) with dirty laundry. This isn’t bad at all and things are done pretty quickly.

The weather is turning colder. It has been balmy compared to Minnesota winters I remember. The day we moved the temperatures were in the mid-40s! In a “normal” Minnesota winter there are usually 30 below-zero nights. During winter 2005, there were only 11; thus far in the 2005-2006 winter there have been only four. The weather predictions are for temps later this week to dip into the teens with stiff winds that should drive the wind chill temps even lower.

As I’ve written already, we are re-insulating this 100-year-old farmhouse and now most exterior walls are done. What we found is that cold air also seeps into the living room area (what will eventually be our master bedroom with en suite) through its tongue-n-groove wood floor. Today, we bought big pink two-inch thick sheets of Styrofoam-like insulation that Ian will custom cut and glue to the basement ceiling. There are areas of the basement that are not much more than crawlspaces and we will need to do something different in those areas. The idea is to find what works knowing that in the spring when we build the addition (a study, living room, dining room, three-season porch and three-car garage) we will have opportunities to make improvements to the existing basement by adding things like drain tile, waterproofing and insulation around the outside below-ground wall. The addition will have its own basement, one that will be finished off and used as a much needed storage area.

Ian has strung all the wiring along the kitchen walls. He also ran a heat duct from the furnace, up through the kitchen and into one of the upstairs bedrooms. Voila, heat! It will be a few mores weeks before the floor and walls are ready for ceramic tiling. However, once the ceramic is set the IKEA kitchen cabinets will be assembled, installed and the whole place will take on a much more finished look. Meanwhile, the sink and its faucet sit alongside the cabinet boxes waiting for that day.

We have our eye on some beautiful moss green marble countertops and backsplashes. We still need to select the gas stovetop and overhead extractor fan. We have decided on a refrigerator, a matching upright freezer and dishwasher and we will buy these when the kitchen nears completion. The refrigerator and range that came with the house (the ones we are using now) will then be donated to the local food shelf.

The living room area, where we work, lounge and sleep, is much warmer since being insulated and covered with the plastic vapor barrier. Yes, there are still drafts but we are identifying them and plugging each one by one. When the insulation and wiring is complete, we will begin hanging drywall.

Lady the lab and Tiger the orange tabby cat are getting along better. Tiger likes the convenience of Lady’s water dish and has been seen taking a drink while Lady nibbles at her chow. Lady is still a bit too enthusiastic for Tiger, and sometimes their interactions remind me of Garfield comics.

The horses Cairo and Bentley are good too. The days have been chillier but they like the sun and are often seen standing quietly sunbathing. Bentley the 17-year-old Thoroughbred mare has recovered fully from her bout with colic. Much to my chagrin, Cairo continues to nip. He finds this a great ongoing game, despite the fact that he gets reprimanded consistently. I’m told gelding Cairo, his own maturing and my continuing to be consistent with behavior modification will result in him not biting. Some days when we have gone back and forth and I am exhausted (thankfully, my heavy barn jacket protects me from his teeth) that no-nipping day seems a long way off. Ah, well, anyone can deal with a well-mannered horse. There are many times when he stands beautifully without incident and I revel.