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.