Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Finding a puppy..

 It has been several months now since our established pack of four dogs got diminished down to the lone survivor, our now geriatric, German Shepherd dog, Heidi. In this passing of time I have focused on her, the attention that I had previously shared with all of the others. I have missed them terribly and still see their shadows everywhere as I go about my daily life on the farm, but have in many ways I have enjoyed sharing the solemnity with this aging shepherd. She will be gone soon and another great spirit will be moving on, but before she goes I have now found myself thinking it might be a good idea to give her the chance to help another puppy learn Farm Life 101. Well, no, that’s not it exactly. That’s my rationalization. I have now come to realize that I am ready for, and want, a new puppy.
There are few things as engaging, and universal as taking in the smell of a puppy’s pink belly, and enjoying the warm and fuzzy feeling one gets when just being in the presence of a puppy. Their absolute unbridled enthusiasm for everything, whether it’s eating, sleeping, licking your face, biting a leaf that blew by,  or romping with litter mates, is compounded by their big sweet eyes,  and short legs that carry them around with comic uncoordinated bursts of energy,  until they can go no more, and then they sleep, again. Every body loves a puppy, and finding one sounds easy, but in reality it is not. It is finding the right one, that is the difficult part.
The emotional ties that one will be forming with a potential companion dog is something that must be considered. There must be compatibility.  It will be a relatively long term relationship that one should seriously think about before jumping in, complete with love, laughter, occasional anger, expectations, mistakes, and all of the responsibility for the care and welfare for an animal that did not necessarily choose you. 
In buying a puppy, there is so much you don’t really know but can only guess, based on the breed type and the little bit of time you get to judge a puppy’s personality before buying it. You are committing to this relationship, and trying to buy yourself a best friend,  based on really very little info. This is a bit daunting to me, but I feel I must try. Life without dogs around is not a place for me.
 The roles and jobs of what a dog means on a farm, besides being cute and cuddly and your best friend, is another thing. In general, the first requirement is that the dog be a sentry, an early warning, barker at many things, people, animals, and happenings that should be taken note of. The dog must of course be able to use enough judgement not to overdo the barking and become a nuisance. Many fail in this area, and some fail to bark at all unless it’s really a BIG thing.
Our dogs in the past packs have learned a vocabulary of the things to alert us to. There was the “snake in yard” barks, “there is a UPS guy driving down the drive”, “a horse is kicking their stall door”, and on and on, each dog having a specific bark for what they meant to say and each bark was identifiable without seeing which dog it was sounding an alarm.
The role of the approaching stranger barker on our farm has traditionally fallen to a Labrador, but our terriers, though small, have earned themselves over the years, to be quite able in this area too. Thinking through how difficult it is to live with a young Lab through their chewing years and not being ready for that challenge yet, I was thinking smaller for now. So with that in mind, my first search was narrowed to be for that of another terrier, another Yorkie to try to fill Marley’s paw prints. That, was going to be a tallish order as Marley had filled many roles very well in her time here on our farm, and the best was how she filled our hearts. She earned many a well deserved dog bone in heaven.
Once resolved on my plan, I began with a few inquiries on a pet classified site on line I stumbled across, and pretty quickly got some promising responses. I thought this was going to be easy. It was, way too easy. After a few rounds of gathering more info and asking more questions, the replying parties started asking more than they answered. Responses began having serious broken english, grammatical errors, and the focus turned from the puppy to how much information the invisible entity on the other end of cyber world could get out of me. Scamming seems to know no boundaries, and puppy hunting seems to have many who will try it. Disappointed, I had to get a bit more serious in my methodology of avoiding being scammed to find the right pup, or just give up. 
I somehow got to YouTube, via another ad that had a video of cute Yorkie puppies, which led me to lots and lots of hilarious videos of these fuzz bundles playing and being tough and such. This furthered my wavering resolve and I went to a pet store to get some magazines with classified ads in them, figuring that maybe there might be less scamming when one actually has to pay for an ad to be seen. I found a few folks who had Yorkies, who were fairly close by, and who were certified breeders with the AKC. I was able to download names, information on them and their puppies, so now armed with info on real people and real dogs, and I began making calls.
The first lady I spoke with only had a male left, and we talked at length about him and his pedigree, coat type, show potential, pricing, and all, even though I had told her my search was for a female. We had a good chat and I got a bit more educated about the breed in general. In keeping a semi-open mind to the plumbing problem I asked her to send me an email picture of the boy, as it sounded like she was a knowledgeable and capable breeder and looking never hurts. 
After that I called another lady who did have one female left. Through my previous conversation with the first lady, I pretty quickly picked up that this person was more of an amateur breeder, and the puppy was probably not show quality, and therefor priced lower, which is a good thing. The puppy sounded cute, as all do of course, and so I asked her too, to send me an email photo.
A bit later I checked my email and the girl’s picture came first. She was absolutely adorable, and somehow reminded me of Jack when he was a puppy, with ears that were a little big, and soft eyes that could melt steel. She looked to be the one.

Then the boy’s picture came and he was just as she had described, a chunky, all male, bruiser type, and he had cute written all over him, and high quality. I now had to give my male or female issue some thought with this photo. Both were cute, close by, priced a bit differently on their potential breeding value (which I didn’t care about), and so both, about equally qualified with potential as pups for our farm world.
I reread the information sheets on the pups and decided that a tipping point might should be towards the older of the pups, the elder might have a better chance at learning how to navigate the farm best. The male was twelve weeks I saw, then I noted the female’s birth date. It was 11/11/11, the very date on which my father died this fall. My head reeled a bit in the coincidence of this and my heart was swayed. It was going towards the female.
Will she be the better of the two dogs?  And better at what? I will never know, because I will only get to live with one of them. My hunch says go with the female. We shall see.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sand Angels

The arena where I ride my horses is the natural sand that was already here on our property when we moved here, and I only had to get a fellow with a bulldozer to shape it  up and crown it so that it is level and drains well. This top soil of sand is huge reason we chose this land and it has made a nice inexpensive footing for many years now. Today as I was warming up my mare Kitty, we were walking around and I was looking at this sand and reading the clues left by footprints of critters who had been there recently. There were Joline’s hoof prints, (she lives in this paddock and waddles around on the sand and occasionally rolls in it),  but there were also those of the fox who lives close by. Canadian Geese web prints were closer to the barn, as were some from the calico cat that stays around the barn during the winter months. 
These tracks will be erased with the rain coming tonight and slate will be clean again, but I find its an amusing way to spend the time letting the horse get its muscles warmed up and its brain tuned into what we are going to work on for the day. Once warmed up and somewhat on the same page with my horse, I pick the reins and begin making our own tracks in the sand. Today I came extremely close to adding a nice big imprint of my own to add to the others, and I am really glad to say that I didn’t. 
I have been sidelined for several months and off the horses for months until recently. It was last week that I ventured up onto the saddle again, first on Kitty and then on Sunset. It was so good to be back in the saddle again. It just felt great. I did not do too much as I was a bit hesitant to push my luck in getting bucked off of an unworked horse and I could tell that my cardio condition was pitiful as I gulped in air after trotting once around, but it was so good to aboard. 
There is something about settling back into a familiar saddle on a horse one has ridden many times that feels so real, so comfortable, and it never fails to make me wonder why I am not there all of the time .Every horse has a different back and barrel shape to sit on, and so even though I might use the same saddle, they are all unique and identifiable without looking at them. Finding the one that really fits your legs and seat is like having a baseball glove that is worn and shaped to perfection. Both Kitty and Sunset are easy for me, not too big and not too round, easy chairs on hooves.
In reality I can not be on a horse twenty four -seven, and really wouldn’t want to be, but, once I have picked up my stirrups and gathered the reins, and told the horse to walk on, the feeling is sublime.  I can feel my blood pressure drop immediately and my focus on the horse and our shared communication becomes the zen moment of the day for me. 
So today, the weather had taken a break from being cold and blustery and was a lovely shining blue from the kitchen window, when I glanced out at the day. I could hear the Purple Martins happily chirping away on their house pole and I saw them flitting in and out of the gourds. I had been very worried that their arrival had been premature and that the past many days of being almost near freezing as a high temp, had been their downfall. I had heard very little music from them and I had not seen them flying around to catch the bugs they catch on the wing. Today, though with the warmth of the sunshine, once again, they were happy, and so was I. Tea downed, it was off to the barn to feed the beasts. 
Once most of the hay had been cleaned up it was time to ride the two hay burners. I tacked up Kitty and headed to the arena, where I began my warmup, and track and clue observing. I was thinking to myself how nice it was to have an older mare like Kitty, and her younger buddy, Sunset, that I could have laid off for months and hop on and not have to re-break them. I was wrong. I had forgotten about spring break. That’s what my friend Cherry calls it when a perfectly well mannered, educated horse turns into an untrained, boisterous, rambunctious, death weapon under saddle. This tends to happen on days like this in early spring after days of misery. The sun is up, the sky is blue, and the silly horses just feel good, too good.
After I had finished our warm up, I picked up the reins and asked for a little trot work. I should have known better when Kitty volunteered to canter. Okay, I thought, wrong lead but balanced and nice, so I let her continue. Then we got to the corner and suddenly counter canter wasn’t as much fun and so Kitty tried to change leads and got all discombobulated. I was letting her sort out where her legs were, when all of a sudden she got her self on the correct lead and I felt a sinking feeling as I felt the welling of power gathering underneath me and it was not a good feeling.
Kitty has been ridden by two people in her life, me and my instructor, Jeff. In all of her fifteen years with me, she has bucked once and that was to avoid stepping onto a huge cottonmouth snake. I stayed on then and never since then has she given it thought, until today. I have seen what she can do in the pasture and I felt some airs above the ground were on the way and hoisted in some rein length, but was too late. Kitty went well up into the stratosphere, came down, went up, and was on the way down when I realized the next up was going to be without me aboard and there was a nice piece of unmarked sand below with my name on it. I was getting really close to becoming a snow angel. 

In desperation I yelled “NO” at her, and quite amazingly, she stopped, on a dime. She lowered her head and wouldn’t look around to me as she always does when she knows she did something right. We stood there quietly for a few moments to let my beating heart settle, regained my stirrups, and asked for canter again and we finished on a good note thankfully. 
Sunset was in a bit of a similar mode but offered no buck on her outing. She did give consideration to taking me for a real quick ride back to the barn when the young horses in the next field took off, but I had been expecting such and reeled her in before the launch. So I survived to ride another day, and I am mighty grateful to be writing this to say so. What silly beasts they are and I will be back in the saddle again on the next sunny day, and hopefully stay there.

Another day in paradise was just topped off with a kitchen window fly by of a Bald Eagle a few minutes ago. I got a really good look at this gorgeous and enormous bird and, its bright yellow eyes. You just never know what you will see out here, so I try to keep my eyes open for rewards like this.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


There are some days that begin better than others. After having had several very pleasant days in a row of fabulous early spring weather, today looked to be another of  the same with clear to hazy blue skies, chirping birds filling the slightly cool morning air, just another day in paradise. Then, from my kitchen window an unusual shade of green coming from the pool area met my eyes. 

My experiment with water treatment yesterday had obviously not been the right thing to do, and the result was not good. It was not an algae green that glared at me, this was more of a sci-fy, other worldly putrid chartreuse, emerald, meets baby poo, shade that is now way over my head in diagnosing. The pool company will have to resolve this chemical nightmare, again.
Next out the door to head to the barn told yet another uh oh in my view. This time I could see that it was a horse laying down, contrary to a normal place and time. It was my mare Sunset, who normally greets my arrival for feeding time, her favorite activity, with raucous whinnies, sharply perked ears, head high looking over the fence in keen anticipation of food to come. There she was now laying in the mud and shade and I thought a big uh oh but watched further before calling the vet.
Reluctantly she got up and curled her lip up over her nose, a posture indicating a bit of discomfort, and a usual sign of a colic beginning. I fed the rest of the anxious herd, gave her a dose of pain meds, and called my vet. When he arrived he took her vitals, and said from what he had heard, her gut was moving but slow, heart rate and respiration were up indicating stress and discomfort, and so it was time to check the system out from the inside. 
For those who are not horse folks, a great many things can be learned from a manual exam into a horse’s digestive system, but it is not for the faint of heart. It requires donning a long plastic glove, lots of lubricant, hopefully a stock to restrain a sometimes reluctant patient and one that also provides protection from flying hooves, and an attitude that dismisses the fact that you are standing there with your arm all the way into a horse’s rectum and large intestine. 
From this somewhat precarious position, one can tell the general condition of a pregnant mare’s unborn foal,(I have gotten to do this several times now and that part is amazing to feel the movement of a very active but not yet born foal.)  But in either sex of a horse one can tell a great deal about the goings on or not of a digestive tract. In this case the palpation was to see why Sunset was not a happy camper, so with anticipation of her not being so keen to cooperate with our plan, more tranquilizer was injected into her big veins of her neck. Then it was into the stock. 
My vet began to clean out the “apples”, as the manure balls are called, and remarked that she was slap full of them, and no wonder for her malaise. Other indicators were good that she did not appear to have any twists in the gut that he could feel nor did he feel any gassy places, and no impactions. This was good, but being the conservative vet that he is, he suggested dosing her with an oil treatment to get things moving faster. I am not a fan of playing wait and see on colic situations and I hardily agreed to the plan.
To oil a horse, much like the theory my parents used to have by forcing the disgusting tasting castor oil down their little children’s mouths to keep our systems running, a gallon of mineral oil must somehow get into the horse’s stomach. Since a horse is not easily coerced into drinking this swill themselves, this has to be done by inserting a clear plastic tube into an equine nostril, usually not a very well received invasion, and pushing the tube far enough to the back of the throat, where hopefully, the horse will swallow reflexively, allowing the tube to go into the stomach and not the lungs. Once into the stomach, a funnel is placed on the other end, and warm water and oil are alternately drained into the horse until all of the oil is given. This requires a tall arm to hold the funnel high so that gravity can slowly pull the thick liquid downward, and patience. Then the plan is, to remove the tube, and wait the however many hours it will take for the oil to work its way through the system to hopefully encourage the blockage to move on out to the end point of the digestive workings.
While we had been working on the horse letting the oil slide down the tube, my vet and his assistant, Jill, and I had been speculating on the possible reason for Sunset’s upset tummy situation. First question is always, was there any change of feed, scheduling, or anything unusual that may have happened. There was a solid no to all of that then Jill remembered, it had been a full moon last night. That explained it all. Duh.
There are many people who hold the thing about lunar influence on happenings on earth to be utter hogwash, but not me. There are just too many coincidental events that have happened on this farm, and in my life, from dog fights to foal births and beyond, to take them as being unrelated. There are powers that exist without our having to see them, and so it must be with whatever the pull the moon has on the earth. I am a strong believer in being a bit more cautious on full moons, but I had totally forgotten on this one though, and don’t know what I could have done to avoid Sunset’s situation. It is interesting to ponder. How the lunar influence managed to turn the pool water into a version of primordial green soup, is still at question and hopefully it be cured, and, it’s just a coincidence right?
I found these beauties in front of the barn and have stuffed them into my book down at the barn where I have stuffed many before. I am pitting their good luck with the fading full moon and hopefully they will have the higher power and help my pool return to a pristine blue, and help Sunset pass those remaining, stuck apples. Interesting too is the similarity of the shade of green that these clovers share with my pool. Hmmm..
a ps...wrote that yesterday but couldnt post. good news is that Sunset got her system working and is all clear. The pool remains green....

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To diet or not to diet, that is the question....

I realized just the other day as I once again sat in the big office chair upstairs which  I have been sitting in for weeks now, doing work on the computer, that I used to be able to see a whole lot more of the upholstery beside my legs than I used to, and I mean, a lot. This bit of reality hit me hard, sobered my not so little self up to the fact that if the course doesn’t change, in no time at all, I wouldn’t even be able to get in that nice comfy oversized chair at all. This was no good, a wake up, and a motivation for something to change. I realized the horrible truth. I had contracted a full blown case of the dreaded, “Computer Butt”.
In order to reverse this growing trend, and since getting exercise has been difficult with still if-y  broken ribs, going on a diet came mind but what kind to do was the question. I was certainly not remotely interested in finding my mug, or my rear, on the internet with the Wal-Mart lovelies I have seen posted there. The gauntlet had been tossed and it was game on. 
I have always depended on the usual chores of my life in farm world to avoid catching this spreading problem. Usually my life, and body, is in constant motion, picking up this, or pushing that, and usually heavy things. I walk all over the place, usually ride or work three to four horses, and then lead and feed the rest, fix fences, cut grass, etc etc etc. I ride bikes through the countryside. I tend to keep, busy. This perpetual activity tend to help keep the little bulges from happening in places where one doesn’t think they are so pretty.
Occasionally though, activity levels have not been enough and I have dallied with diets and the temporary use of a change in eating styles such as using the Atkins plan or some program like that. The problem with diets though is that they are basically boring and usually just don’t work on my efficiently slow metabolism. Then, one day, totally out of the blue, I actually created the perfect diet, and it is one that is still my personal favorite. It is the not very well known diet, the Margaret’s Magical Ice Cream Diet.
It began one night when we were enjoying some of the cold stuff, (ice cream, not martinis this time) after dinner with a friend, and the remark was made that my serving, a generous mound, was likely to bring about change in the global climate. Having to quickly defend my having served myself so much, (who can choose between several flavors , so all were sampled), and I started thinking about it, fast. It came to me in a flash and it was brilliant, so I explained it to my accusatory friend as he ate his own share of a not very diminutive portion of ice cream, my plan and, my new diet.
A body functions by its metabolic rate running the show and keeping your core a nice toasty ninety something degrees. There is a base line speed at which it burns fuel/fat in which to maintain this comfort zone and give energy to us in the process.  A person trying to lose weight  usually does it by restricting calorie intake,  and/or they try to trick the body into speeding this process up to burn fat faster by exercise, or by eating certain foods that help, like green tea and such.
So it occurred to me in this flash of genius, that ice cream could absolutely do this and it would be a win win situation. By eating vast amounts of very cold food ones’ metabolic rate would have no choice but to pick up tempo to keep you from freezing and would burn untold numbers of calories. What better food group than ice cream? It would be a diet that everyone could do and stick with and feel good doing it.
To further rationalize, it occurred to me that not only would it speed up sluggish metabolisms, it is chocked full of good things for you. Ice cream is made with milk to give you calcium and protein,  and eggs to give you vitamins, omega acids, and also protein too. How bad could that be for you? The fact about it having sugar was a small point and was easily overpowered by the fact that if you feel happy, your endorphins are high and the body stores less fat. It was a no brainer of a diet plan that once tried, proved to have a few very minor flaws and, sadly had to be abandoned. So it was on to the next ones.
There have been a few other efforts used through the years in the battle of the bulge with varying successes, but this next one sounded very interesting, almost rivaling my Ice Cream Diet .... we were watching one of my favorite shows on the tv, “House”. True to form in the plot, the unsolvable for Dr House in one of his diagnosis', required a risky forced awaking of a patient from a vegetative state to get the answer to a clue.  The guy had been in this state of dormancy for ten years, but by giving the comatose fellow a good wallop of adrenalin, I think, Sleeping Beauty began to awake.
Anyway as the poor guy wakes up he immediately cries out that he is hungry and wants a steak, now. He takes off the hospital gown he has worn for a decade and begins to dress himself. When he goes to hitch his belt he finds that it is too large and has to be pulled tight to latch. The guy laughs and says to the doctor “Ah, the old Coma Diet”.
He had obviously been on a highly effective weight lose program while asleep, painless, with no guilt or cheating. Perhaps not as user friendly as my proposed Ice Cream diet, but in the story at least, it had worked. Think about instead of paying uber dollars to go to a spa to lose weight, you simply check into a hospital and they put you into a coma and limit your food intake until you reach your goal weight. Voila, you are thin. I strongly suggest that further research is needed on this program. I think it has possibilities.
Mean while as for my current state of Computer Butt-itis, I remain undecided on the diet plan of choice and so have begun none of them, but I am mindful of them. What I have done is finally gotten back on my bicycle after months off, and have been reminded of the pleasure that exercise can give, especially on a bike.
The rib thing has caused me no worse pain on the bike than sitting in a chair, and if I crashed I figured that most likely I would break a collar bone or something else, so what the heck. It has been marvelous to feel oxygen back again in my lungs and sluggish blood moving around my system, and fresh air hitting my face. There still is the childhood joy every time I get on and push the peddles and start to roll. 

So diet sm-iet. I will continue to eat and, I will continue to ride, and with any luck and perseverance I will not be a Wal-mart pin up any time soon...