Happy Chinese [Lunar] New Year! The year of the Ox, 4707! Many thanks to my Sitges (Barcelona) friend, Doreen, for reminding me every year by sharing her good wishes!
According to the Chinese Zodiac, "people born in the Year of the Ox (1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009) are patient, speak little, and inspire confidence in others. They tend, however, to be eccentric, and bigoted, and they anger easily. They have fierce tempers and although they speak little, when they do they are quite eloquent. Ox people are mentally and physically alert. Generally easy-going, they can be remarkably stubborn, and they hate to fail or be opposed. They are most compatible with Snake, Rooster, and Rat people."
Me, I'm a Ram or Sheep. "People born in the Year of Ram (1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003) are elegant and highly accomplished in the arts. They seem to be, at first glance, better off than those born in the zodiac's other years. But ram year people are often shy, pessimistic, and puzzled about life. They are usually deeply religious, yet timid by nature. Sometimes clumsy in speech, they are always passionate about what they do and what they believe in. Ram people never have to worry about having the best in life for their abilities make money for them, and they are able to enjoy the creature comforts that they like. Ram people are wise, gentle, and compassionate. They are compatible with Rabbits, Pigs, and Horses."
I don't know about the "often shy" and "puzzled about life" or about the rabbits and pigs, but I am definitely compatible with horses!
It’s that time of year when if you’re going to venture outside, it’s best to do it clothed in a warm car! I’ve heard these weather patterns called Alberta Clippers, because they originate or pass through that Canadian province on their way here, but this morning the local meteorologist called this a Saskatchewan Screamer! Some lucky ABC-TV News reporter was dispatched to International Falls, Minnesota, situated at the Canadian border, fondly referred to as the “Icebox of the Nation,” where he demonstrated that a raw egg cracked open in a pan at 40 degrees below zero freezes solid in five minutes.
We are located 250 miles – about four hours drive – south of International Falls. Our actual temps have been in the 20s below zero and the 5-10 mph winds easily double that below zero reading. I describe it as sharp, biting, stinging when it finds some bare skin. Our back door – the one we use the most – faces south, so when I go out to do chores in the morning I am initially blocked from any north or northwest wind. However, if the wind is blowing, when I head west to the barn and clear the house frame, OMG, the shock of it is like being slapped in the face! It has taken my breath away! When the dogs and I get to the barn, with me carrying four buckets of feed from the house (I am tired of it freezing, so a barrel of it sits in our mud room), sliding the barn door shut behind us and being out of the wind in our horse body heat warmed barn feels nice.
It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to feed breakfast, to top up water buckets (they’re heated but I still must schlep water from the hydrant to each stall) and give each mare a couple of flakes of hay. By that time, Buddy is hopping around deciding which cold paw to keep off the ground. Lady isn’t bother as quickly by the cold. Mind you, Buddy does plenty to keep himself occupied and warm while I do chores. He runs up to and barks at the two barn cats, Zeus and Tonic, both of whom outweigh him my five pounds. Usually they don’t flinch, but if he’s persistent they hop up on a stack of hay out of his reach. Lady loves cats and works very diligently at cementing feline relationships. Both Zeus and Tonic show their affection for her with purring figure 8’s between her front legs. Lady stands quietly, wags her tail and licks them. Buddy also likes to run at the six Pilgrim geese, which move away hissing with every waddle. These are the wimpiest geese I’ve ever met – I have known geese to stake their territory by latching their beak to the offending animal’s butt and giving it a good pinch! Maybe in the warmer weather the Pilgrims will become more assertive. We have quite a few wild birds here, of course, I feed them black oil sunflower seeds year round and I make sure the feeders stay filled in the winter. We have lots of little brown birds – sparrows and the like – and in the summer there are colorful red and yellow finches – our non-migrating winter birds include blue jays and woodpeckers and I was delighted with a red flash from a brilliantly colored cardinal the other day. I’ve positioned feeders on the west and east sides of the house so I can watch the birds from either the kitchen or living room windows. Sometime last week I noticed that some plump pheasant hens are living amongst the piles of chopped wood that we have stacked along the pine trees that line the east of the property. Often the little brown birds alight on the sunflower plants that are outside the south facing living room window where we have our home office. If I’m stealthy, I can snap pics of them. When I saw the hens picking at the sunflower heads, I tried to get a picture but they were too weary and my movement spooked them. I’ve been leaving a handful of seeds near the remnant sunflower plants and was finally able to snap these three sisters. There are more – like 10 – that nest in the woodpile, but these three venture together. The blue jays have been too quick for my Sanyo digital camera, but I’ll keep trying, as they are quite comical bossing each other around, flitting in, out, up and away.
Why is it that Monday morning’s alarm comes so early? I was sleeping so good when I was rudely awoken. I’d actually been up 90 minutes earlier at 4:30 when Lady appeared at bedside and nuzzled me awake. She needed to go outside and just could not wait. This does not happen often so I drug myself to the door and watched as Lady and Buddy bound into the predawn cold. I stood in the mud room, slippered and cuddled in a robe, as they relieved themselves. I worry that if I go back to bed I’ll fall asleep and Buddy will freeze into an apricot-colored popsicle. The two attended to needs quickly and we were all back to our respective beds in minutes.
Once the alarm rang, I did not pop up as usual. I turned on the bedside radio, tuned to public radio, and lingered a bit in our cozy bed. The best thing we bought last winter was a dual-control electric mattress pad. It adds a depth of warmth to a bed that is well stacked with a quilt and down comforter. About an hour before bed one of us turns on the pad so we slip between warmed sheets.
After a luxurious 15 minutes, I pushed myself up, wandered to the kitchen to heat water for coffee. When we got married a girlfriend gave us a 40 fluid ounce Frieling Stainless-Steel Thermal French Coffee Press as a gift. I love it and use it every day! When we moved from Europe I bought a Black-and-Decker automatic coffeemaker, which looked very stylish, but the machine and I never clicked. It regularly clogged and spilled boiling hot coffee grounds all over the counter. Not a good way to begin any morning. I reverted to the Frieling and it’s a trooper. Thank you, Robyn!
I’m good for maybe one cup of coffee sweetened with a bit of flavored cream, Ian, however, runs on it. He also prefers to rise at a slower pace, so I make the coffee and bring his mug bedside. He can get up, get going and keep his sunny disposition, which he’s demonstrated time and again when we traveled a lot, but if circumstances don’t call for it, he’d rather ease into the day.
The weather prediction is that 40 mph winds are on the way with -30 degree temps to follow on Thursday. This is normal January weather in Minnesota. The house remains toasty with the pellet stove in the main living area and the wall-mounted propane heater in the kitchen. When we need to do things outdoors we dress in layers, leaving as little bare skin uncovered as possible, and we carry on with our day-to-day life. Even with the coming cold, which local folks call “a cold snap,” as long as the horses have hay, warmed water and shelter available to them 24/7 they are fine.
As you’ll see on the right side of the blog page, I’ve added a feature that allows you to become a fan and “follow” this blog.
Yesterday, I resigned from my part-time Postmaster Relief position with the United States Postal Service (USPS) again. My last day will be January 30. I had resigned in November (see Blog entries 11/22 and 11/30), but went back to work to help out the Officer-In-Charge Linda, who was staffing the office while Postmaster Helen was on extended sick leave. It was nice to help out through the holiday season, but once again I feel the pull toward something more personally and professionally fulfilling. I really enjoy the women I worked with and I learned quite a bit about our complex federal mail system. I did pursue full-time/permanent job opportunities within USPS, but a career path did not present itself. No regrets, I am pleased with and proud of my 15 months of service.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty to do day-to-day on the farm, and with no USPS commitments I can travel into the city with Ian as I want/need. There are plenty of friendships that can use some rekindling and renewing and undoubtedly there are professionals to network with and cultivate too. Fun stuff!
It snowed again last night, about three inches. Today, it is picture-postcard beautiful outside, but the wind has picked up and the temperatures have dropped to near or just below zero. Reliably, Chris has plowed us out already. I think last year he only plowed us out four or five times. He’s already done that number since our first snowfall on December 4.
Last night, I laundered our winter coats. They get dirty from the daily wear and also collect a lot of barn grime in the way of hay, feed and other things that find their way into pockets and coat linings. Yesterday when we were at Wal-Mart, I reached into my left-hand coat pocket for a glove and my hand came out gooey. Investigating a bit more I found that a spot had soaked its way through the coat. Ian asked what I was puzzling over just about the time I realized what had caused it. I showed him the wet spot and asked, “What do you suppose broke in my pocket?” He thought for a moment, “An egg!” Yes. The chickens are not laying as many eggs as usual, so rather than six or eight a day we get one or two a week. I had topped up feed and water in their coop, I collected one egg, put it in my pocket while I finished chores and promptly forgot all about it. I probably broke it when I buckled my seatbelt. Ian looked at me smiling and said, “You’re such a farmer!”
Today, Ian’s rerouting and insulating a section of cold water pipe in the downstairs bathroom that tends to freeze when the temps dip. He did the hot water pipes during the Christmas holiday and it’s worked very well. There’s something very sexy about a guy who can do stuff like this. That, coupled with the fact that he likes to do it and is good at it. In another life (and economy) Ian would be very happy buying old houses to renovate and turning them over at a profit. Living in our ongoing renovation project, I am much more focused on the ‘been there, done that’ end of the renovation spectrum!
There is a wind this morning with temps in the high teens and we're under cloudy skies with another snowfall prediction. Ian and I went to bed at 10 and slept well. We both turned off our cellphones to help ensure our undisturbed slumber.
Last year presented its challenges yet we survived quite well. The Universe is conspiring for me and I wait open armed, ready to receive all of the prosperity it sends our way.
Lookin For Trouble, Ian & me (Janet) pictured. I worked in PR for almost 20 years and now work in the Travel & Leisure world. Ian works as a business analyst. We were living in Spain, but in 2005 to be closer to most of our children and to my parents, we decided to move from Catalonia to Minnesota. I am a mother of two sons Richard (1980) in Minneapolis and Michael (1977), who lives/works in Barcelona with his Catalan wife, Natalia. Ian’s children, Alexandra (1989) and Peter (1992), live in Canada. My father is Nicaraguan and lives in Managua. My mother is American from Scotch, Irish, French, British extraction. Ian (1956) is British with good Scottish roots. We enjoy our Arabian horses, listening to public radio news, travel, and cooking programs, plus TV shows like The Amazing Race, Downton Abbey, and Call The Midwife. This blog is about our various life adventures since coming to the US in 2005.