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.