Saturday, January 27, 2007

Heide comes to the farm!

Last month I placed an ad in a local paper searching for someone to help with barn chores six to eight hours a week. I must have received 50 calls but I only interviewed two people face-to-face. The second person got the job. Heide, yes, spelled with an “e” at the end, is a recently divorced single mother of four boys ages 4-13. She is strong, has a good sense of humor, a solid work ethic, and balances taking initiative with making suggestions for what the barn needs. She’s a crack shot with the pellet gun and has significantly reduced our pigeon population. In addition to cleaning stalls twice weekly and straightening the barn, she tops up water tanks, stacks square hay bales, fills feed bins readying them for feeding and, when there’s time, she’s begun stripping out old wooden planks on the side of the barn where we’re going to put in four new stalls in the spring. Heide told me she wanted the job because she loves being outdoors and that shoveling horse poop helps her to focus on what’s important and the flexible schedule would allow her to be home with her boys when they are not in school.

We have assembled and placed eight of the 11 cabinets we will have in the kitchen. The photos of these base units are not that exciting, but the fact that we are progressing is! While Ian worked on consulting projects, Heide and I spent two afternoons assembling IKEA cabinets and we got darn good at this! The next steps are bolting the units to the wall and then cutting countertop bases from plywood and cement board. The countertops will be ceramic tile, as will the walls in the cooking portion of the kitchen. We won’t begin these steps until we return from the horse show in Arizona. We’re looking to head to Scottsdale somewhere in the February 8-10 window, weather permitting. Heide will look after the horses daily and keep an eye on the house while we are gone with Donna as her back up.

Ian and I bought six 1800-pound round bales of hay from a local farmer to feed the seven horses that live outdoors (they have a run-in shed for protection). At $35 a round bale this is a less expensive way to feed hay then square bales, which weigh about 50 pounds each, cost $2.50 per and the seven can easily eat five bales daily. There’s also a round bale placed in the pasture for the three mares that come in at night. Knowing this hay is available to them all day I feed less hay inside at night. In the winter healthy horses generate heat from foraging, which they can do naturally almost ‘round the clock, and having access to temperate water. Each horse drinks 10-15 gallons a day. All three of our 100-gallon stock tanks have heaters to keep them from freezing and the barn mares have heated 5-gallon water buckets in their stalls. Of course all 10 have heavy, rug-like winter coats and even the hard-to-keep Thoroughbreds have put on weight and are looking very healthy.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Today we bought a corn stove!

A corn stove is a type of pellet stove, which is a type of biofuel stove. “Biofuel” is any fuel that is derived from biomass — recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, such as manure from cows. It is a renewable energy source, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal, and nuclear fuels.

The shelled dry kernel of corn, also called a corn pellet, creates as much heat as a wood pellet but generates more ash. Corn pellet stoves and wood pellet stoves look the same from the outside. In fact, the brand we bought, Pelpro, burns both corn and wood pellets. Since these stoves are highly efficient, they don't need a chimney; instead they can be vented outdoors by a four-inch pipe through an outside wall and so can be located in any room in the home. You can see a photo of the one we bought here:

I know, I know, more than you ever wanted to know about corn stoves! I am very pleased to get away from or at least greatly reduce our personal reliance on propane. We filled our 500 gallon propane tank at the beginning of December for $730 and now the gauge reads 10% only six weeks later. And to date this has been an unseasonably warm Minnesota winter! One ton of dried corn pellets, bought in bulk from the local feed mill, costs $142. There are about 30 bushels in a ton and we will use about one bushel a day to heat the house. Yeah, I already like those numbers!

We’ll need to shuffle things around in the living room area (like the bed, dresser and couch) to accommodate the stove, but we’re happy to do that. We’ve wanted a corn stove since we learned about them shortly after we bought the farm. We had to special order the 4-inch vent pipe, which will be ready for pick up tomorrow, and then Ian will install the stove. We’ll get a pick-up load of corn from the feed mill tomorrow too, so we should be up and running tomorrow afternoon. It will be nice to turn the propane thermostat down. We cannot be completely propane free as we will use it for cooking in the new kitchen and it heats our water heater, but we can reduce how much we use.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

He's baaaaaaack!

After 15 days on the road, Ian’s back home and none the worse for wear! Lady and I met him at the airport around eight last night. He came bearing gifts too! The highlights included pure butter shortbread cookies, our favorite mint shower gel from Boots (a pharmacy in the UK), a bottle of Chanel No. 5, (my favorite – and I was out) and a bottle of my favorite Champagne, Verve Clicquot Ponsardin, which came in its own orange neoprene bottle jacket to keep it cold! All that aside, the best thing Ian could ever bring home to me is himself, as he did, safe and sound.

While Ian spent a good portion of his day flying transatlantic I made fresh bread and corn beef with cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions, which we sampled when we got home. Neighbor Donna donated two pieces of homemade peach crumble for our dessert.

Now Ian is here as a permanent legal alien. This status is good for life. Even if we decide to relocate abroad again, all he needs to do to keep this status intact is to travel to the U.S. once a year.

We’ll see what fun these next weeks have in store as we settle into what’s “normal” for us and as we get ready to attend (and show at) the 52nd Annual Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in Arizona February 16-25.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy New Year! Here, there and everywhere

Ian has been traveling since Christmas Day. He needed to go to Madrid for an appointment regarding his US visa (green card), which allows him to reside and work here fulltime. Ian had to undergo a physical exam at a Madrid clinic approved by the U.S. Embassy. He had to have his vaccinations updated. He had to get a police report stating he had no police record in Spain. What’s amazing about this is that when you read the information given to you about this process, it gives the impression that this can all be done in a day! HA! And he's doing some of it in Spanish too. As I said, Ian left Minneapolis on Christmas Day, changed planes in London, then to Barcelona where he spent one night with Michael and Natalia, then took the train and arrived Madrid on the 28th for his medical appoint and was busy for the next two days running hither and yon throughout the Spanish capitol. We are very grateful that throughout his trip he has been able to stay with family, at our Spanish house or in a hotel chain where he can cash in points! After busy days in Madrid, he took the train to the coast and stayed in our beach house in Riumar for the New Year’s weekend. We celebrated New Year’s Eve together on Spanish time with a phone call, even though 2007 would not greet me in Minnesota for another seven hours.

While in Riumar, Ian sold our trailer to the man who did the renovation work on the houses. He tidied up our Camel Trophy Land Rover that had been parked there and readied it for travel. On January 2nd he drove the Land Rover five hours to Madrid and was there for his 9 a.m. appointment at the consulate on the third. All the papers were reviewed and he was told his visa would be issued … good … although it and his passport would be mailed from Madrid to his Spanish address in Barcelona! What?? Yup, thanks to changes made by Homeland Security nothing could be done to change this “security” procedure.

The reason Ian was driving the Land Rover is because it was going to be sold to one of two interested buyers; one in Lisbon, Portugal, the other in Peterborough, England. Lisbon is much closer and on the Iberian Peninsula, but that guy did not get it together by the Thursday morning deadline. So, Ian headed north through Bilbao, up through Bordeaux, France, through Paris in the wee hours and up to Calais where using his Canadian passport he took the car ferry to Dover and made his way northwest from the coast to Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. He arrived there Friday after almost 24 driving hours. Unfortunately, the man who writes the check at the Nene Overland car dealership was taken to hospital a few hours before Ian arrived, so we won’t get a payment for the Land Rover until early next week. Ian’s fine with that (and the man is OK healthwise too), as this is where Ian purchased it.

While on the road good news came from Barcelona, Ian’s passport and visa had arrived by special courier.

Road weary, Ian took the train from Peterborough into Stansted and checked into the airport hotel – one of our favorites, with its tower bar and athletic bartenders that use mountain-climbing pulleys to retrieve bottles from various shelves that go up a few stories above their heads. He slept well last night and caught an EasyJet flight back to Barcelona today. He will stop through Michael & Natalia’s this evening where he’ll collect his UK passport and sealed US visa packet and in a rental car will head down the coast to spend two nights at our house in Riumar. He flies back from Barcelona into London Gatwick on Monday and has a Tuesday morning flight home. Barring any delays along the way, I will meet him at the airport at 7:30 p.m.

When Ian comes through Newark, his first port of entry into the U.S., he will meet with someone from U.S. Immigration, have his identity confirmed and the visa will be affixed in his passport. I’m not sure if there’s a time limit on it or not, but making this hurdle is the most important. Having a visa allows Ian to live here, have a social security number, work and pay taxes. He will have legal immigrant status, but not be a U.S. citizen, which would allow him to vote, have a passport and hold political office (except for President, you’ve got to be born here for that). The visa and related fees (medical, record searches) were near $1500. That does not account for all the airfare, train fare, hotel fare (although we did well there), food and just plain body wear and tear!

It will be very good to see the Auld Macdonald.

Well, I’d better end here, as a local farmer’s coming to deliver hay for the horses and I need to run into town to buy chicken feed later too. Thankfully, the Minnesota winter weather has been unbelievably mild so running errands and doing chores aren’t hardships.