Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stubborn Animals and Old Friends

Over the weekend, Pressley came out to work with the animals. Rich had set up a small obstacle course similar to the one that they will be encountering at the fair. We have made sure that Leezza and Mango had frequent experiences walking in and around various obstacles. We have walked them through the barn and attached wood shop, dodging tractors and power tools. During one of our recent parties in the barn, they even walked through the crowd in the barn, circling around the tables.

Throughout all of this training it seemed as if Mango would be the one Pressley would be showing at the fair because she was the most cooperative. After he session this weekend we might have to reverse that decision. Mango was reluctant to walk over the low set bar or across the ramp. In fact, when Pressley tried to show her who was the boss and tugged at her rope, Mango kushed and refused to get up. When Rich tried to lift her hind quarters, Mango went limp. Impossible to move!

Leezza, however, followed me obediently around the course and stepped daintily over the bar and walked across the training board that was flat on the ground. She even walked up the ramp...once.
When Pressley took over Leezza's lead, she even got her to climb to the top of the little rock pile behind the barn. I had to sweet talk and coax Mango to stand up and walk with me back into her pasture.
Tonight Rich and I took both girls out again on the lead and walked them around the yard. At first Mango was not going to leave the pasture. Then, when she saw her friend, Leezza, walking out of the gate and into the yard, Mango decided to follow. During this evening's session, Rich and I got both girls to step over the bar. Neither would go up the ramp. I considered this to be a good session anyway since Mango didn't kush and refuse to cooperate. I think we've learned that with alpacas, pulling them and trying to force them to cooperate won't achieve our goal. They seem to react much better to sweet talk and praise.
Recently, I made a flower gathering trug (basket) for a new friend, Rosalie. She is a gardening enthusiast and had been wanting a shallow basket for bringing in her cut flowers. She kindly took a lovely picture of the flower-filled trug and sent it to me to post. In addition to being a good gardener she is obviously a very good photographer.
 Recently I reconnected through Facebook with an old friend that I hadn't seen for eighteen years. Since Donna lives across the continent for most of each year, only returning to our neck of the woods for the summers, we have been communicating through Facebook messages. It has been great to catch up with her and hear what her kids and grandkids have been up to. Today, since she is back east, we had a chance to meet for a leisurely lunch. It was so good to be able to talk face to face and we fell into an easy conversational mood just like old times when we were raising our kids. It made me realize how precious old friendships are and I intend to keep in touch. I will make it a point to meet up with her at least once each year when she comes back here. Facebook can be a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nikko Arrives!

Our big girls, Firenze and Took, came home this evening. What a relief to have them back home. Mango and Leezza welcomed them and all four hit the hay bin right away. It was good to see them hanging out together again.

Firenze assumed her place as queen of the herd, heading straight for the first feed bin and pushing the others out of her way! Mango sniffed at her momma, Took, who gently pushed the young lady away from her swollen milk bag. Even though she is fully weaned, Mango still has the memory. It's clear that once the new cria is born Mango will have to be kept in a separate pasture from Took and the baby.

Before he left, I asked Joseph about the little premature cria that was struggling to live the other day. Sadly, she died in the night. We will need to keep a close eye on our two mamas as they near their due date. We want them to be delivered of two healthy crias.

Our newest addition to the herd arrived in the same van (yes, a regular sized van with seats removed) with the mamas. Nikko is an adorable white, year-old, male. He is very curious and will come right up to us, pressing his nose against ours. This is one of the qualities that first attracted us to this handsome little guy along with his gentle nature. He has a round little head with the cutest white puff on top. We are looking forward to getting to know him better.

Mango seems to like Nikko a lot. It's necessary to keep him in a separate pasture since he is approaching maturity. He's not really happy about it because he has been used to being in a pasture with several adult males. Of all the girls, Mango is the one who keeps going to the fence to check him out. She even chose to graze near him instead of eating with the other females. It's good that she likes him since one of these days he will be her "boyfriend."

Mango and Nikko
Nikko and Mango (on the barn side)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Emotional Roller Coaster

Late Sunday afternoon, when my "to do" list was all caught up, I was lolling in the air chair on the back deck reflecting on the view and thinking about how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful, serene place.
This is the air chair that I got for Rich for Father's Day
The view to the left

The view to the right

I wasn't even feeling guilty that Rich was still working, finishing up the "pasture duty."

The mood changed later in the evening when we got a call from Joseph at Amy J's Homestead where our two older girls, Took and Firenze, were staying temporarily for rebreeding since the vet hadn't found anything conclusive on an earlier ultrasound. Even though the ultrasound was inconclusive Joseph and I were convinced that Took was pregnant since she was steadily gaining weight and was not interested in the males that they had put in the pen with her. Joseph told us that Firenze appeared to be in labor! She was the one we were convinced wasn't pregnant because she was so thin and hadn't gained much weight. Wow, what a surprise! I excitedly told him that I would be out to their farm early the next morning to sit and wait until the cria was born. I packed a lunch and assembled a "busy" bag, with my knitting, sunscreen, ibuprofen, eye drops (OK, maybe a bit overboard) and a book. I went to bed happily expecting to see the newest addition to our herd before the next sunset.

On Monday morning, shortly before I was ready to walk out the door, Amy herself called me with a different sort of news. She had been out to the barn several times during the night to feed a prematurely born cria and noted that our Firenze seemed to be in distress.  Amy described how although Firenze seemed to be bright eyed and alert, she was shifting from side to side and making sounds like she does when she is unhappy about the situation. She also did not rise and move away when Amy approached her and, in fact, allowed Amy to poke and prod and otherwise examine her belly which seemed greatly distended. Amy did a brief internal exam and there was nothing in the birth canal. The worse case scenario was either a tumor or a deceased fetus. Either one could have a bad outcome.

I grabbed my gear, texted Rich and headed for Amy J's. There I found Firenze laying in the middle of the barn with her hind quarters tilted sideways instead of tucked under in a proper kush. 
The vet had been called but wouldn't be able to get out there until after 2 p.m. So I settled into a lawn chair and pulled out my knitting to wait and watch. Firenze spent the next few hours shifting from side to side in this basic position. She was alert but still not eating and when palpated, her sides seemed ready to burst. Our Took hovered in the background occasionally sniffing Firenze's nose. It seemed as if Took was wondering why her pasture mate was acting so strange. 

Also in the barn with our girls, was Amy's new mama, Ovation. Her little cria, the one born two months prematurely, was listlessly huddled in the corner. This tiny little girl weighed in at just 11 pounds when the average full-term cria should be 18-20 lbs. She looked like a long-necked chihuahua on stilts.

The poor little thing could barely stand up and when she did it took a herculean effort just to hold her head up. I held her, gently rubbing her throat as Amy bottle fed her. After eating, Sweetpea, as I began to call her, walked a few feet and eliminated. I followed along behind, gently rubbing her back as she attempted to navigate around the barn searching for the corner where she felt safe. After a few minutes she found the corner and collapsed. We repeated this behavior about two hours later and each time she ended up huddling in the corner even more exhausted.

Meanwhile, I waited and knitted. Amy kindly shared her lunch with me and we had a lovely conversation about education since she is a fellow educator. Then I knitted some more. I did get several inches of a   "froot loop" sock done for my granddaughter, Olivia.

 Rich arrived with an anxious look shortly before the vet arrived to find that Firenze was up, walking around and nibbling from the hay bin. She looked so much better than I found her when I got there four hours earlier. I attribute the improvement in her condition to the fact that, shortly after lunchtime, Firenze arose, went to the corner and eliminated. I won't get graphic here but what she deposited was not anything near normal and was accompanied by an extensive amount of air. When the vet arrived she was contentedly munching hay with her barn mates. 

Little Sweetpea, however, was shivering in the corner even worse than before. The vet administered a shot to her neck of something that opened her airways and she did begin to breathe easier. She still didn't get up.
Her condition didn't look good when we finally left at four.

The doctor examined Firenze, took a sample of her deposits and did an ultrasound. Fortunately the internal ultrasound didn't reveal anything out of order. The doctor puzzled over her alert attitude, normal temperature and the fact that she was eating now. He decided to do a quick, external ultrasound and when he did he saw a definite, steady and strong heartbeat from a well-developed cria! Joy! Rich, Amy, Joseph, the vet and I, all practically cheered as we beamed great big smiles at each other. 

Tomorrow, our girls Took and Firenze, will be coming home since the doctor deemed it safe for them to travel. Coming along with them will be Nikko, the newest addition to our little herd and in early August we will have two little ones romping in the pasture. We are thankful that the roller coaster of emotions ended so joyfully.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Best Friends and Blueberries

This morning I went on a little expedition with two of my best friends, Liz and Nancy. We set out at 8:30 a.m., or what Olivia calls the "buttcrack of dawn," and headed south to The Blueberry Patch to purchase some of the most luscious blueberries you have ever seen. We had a short brunch, browsed the little shop and greenhouse,  purchased our berries and were home by noon. I know that Nancy was going to make a batch of jam and although I hadn't planned to I decided to cook up a batch, too.

I prepared a couple of quarts for the freezer and set the rest in the fridge. I'll make another batch tomorrow afternoon after I've taken Rich's truck for an oil change and had lunch with two of my teacher friends, Debbie and the other Linda. This summer has been so busy that I haven't had a chance to "feel" retired yet.
Saturday afternoon, after he had hung the last gate in the new pasture we turned Mango and Leezza loose in the new grass. At first they were a bit hesitant to venture forth; probably because they hadn't seen grass that long since last fall when they arrived. I had read that if the grass gets too long the alpacas get a little skittish because they are afraid that something might be lurking in there to hurt them. But Mango ducked her fuzzy little head down into the grass, sniffed and came up with a mouthful of new grass and what looked to me like a big satisfied smile. Leezza poked her nose down into the pasture and promptly kushed and rolled over onto her side, waving her legs into the air. Heavenly!
Led by Mango, they both romped around the perimeter of the new pasture a couple of times; investigated their new little "condo" and settled into the field for a little munch time before retiring for a nap.

Later that afternoon three of my former students made a special trip out to our "cornfield" home for a visit. Tori, Brianna and Allie, three beautiful young women, are sisters that I have known since they were little tykes. It was a privilege for me to be their seventh grade English teacher and I am so glad that they still want to keep in touch. All three girls are not only beautiful but they are extremely intelligent and talented.
It is always fun for me to see friends interacting with our animal girls and this day was especially amusing. We harnessed up Mango and Leezza and attempted to take them for a walk in the pasture. Mango, who is usually the most eager to walk, was having none of it this day. First she kushed in the barn and refused to move. After a little prodding and rump tapping she got up and walked as far as the alley way into the pasture where she kushed again. Leezza did a little better for Brianna; but she stopped too when she saw Mango kush in the alley. So we were forced to pet and talk to the alpacas where they stood. Tori did snap some lovely pictures for me, though!
Brianna with Leezza at a standstill!
Allie gets eye-to-eye with Mango...and she still wouldn't get up!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fourth of July Week in Review

This past week since the Fourth of July has  slipped by like summer days always do. With the traditional third of July party here at the farm and another on Saturday at my nephew's home an hour away I haven't sat down to write with any regularity. For the record, I have been imaginary blogging constantly. It just hasn't made it to the computer page.

Pressley came out last Saturday and again Tuesday afternoon to work with the girls. The weather has been either raining or so hot and humid that I drip sweat just standing still. Neither is good for working with alpacas since they are high mountain animals. They don't do rain because it soaks into their fleece and weighs them down and too much heat and humidity stresses them. I sympathize because I am not a hot weather being either. On Saturday when Pres came out we put them through a small obstacle course similar to one they will encounter in the fair competition. Both Mango and Leezza are getting better at responding to her commands. After we called it quits, I left Pressley alone with the girls to do whatever she wanted. Rachel, her mother, and I were sitting on the front porch of the weaving studio when I heard my name called from the barn. I rushed back to the barn to investigate and found Pressley inside with her arms around the necks of both animals. She had cornered and captured them alone! She obviously feels more comfortable with them and they with her.

She was pretty proud of herself!

Then on Tuesday her grandma, Cheryl, brought her out to work with the girls. That was undoubtedly the most unbearably hot and humid day of the summer so we cut our workout short and Pressley collected feed data and snapped pictures of the pasture and barn for her 4-H project while Cheryl, an old friend of mine, and I sat inside the air conditioned studio for a friendly chat.

I did carve out time over the holiday to make a batch of jam. My saintly, wonderful mother-in-law, Delores gave me some cherries from the trees at her girlhood home. They were  pitted and prepped for the freezer which task alone makes her saintly, if she hadn't already successfully raised five sons! I whipped up a batch of cherry-almond-bourbon jam. That very same evening, Rich brought back some ice-cream from the  local soft-serve stand so that he could concoct sundaes. Heavenly!

I take pictures of all of my batches of jams, not necessarily because I am overly proud of my jam making skills, but because of the beautiful, gem-like quality of a jar of fresh berry jam. Well, OK. Maybe I am proud of the jam. It is something that also makes me smile when I see it, partly because the bulk of my jam this year was created with my beautiful granddaughter. That's enough to make any grandma smile!

Two days ago, on Wednesday afternoon, a series of rather violent storms blew through  the area causing some extreme wind damage to trees and crops in the area. The storm brought with it at least 3" of rain here (according to our rain gauge) and blew off a shutter from the west side of the house. North of here, about 20 miles, where Rich works a tornado blasted the town where he works, blowing out two, forty-foot sections of the warehouse. Corn crops in the area were flattened, large trees were blown right out of the ground or snapped off, and many areas are still under water.

Yesterday, my girlfriends, the WINOS (see an earlier post for an explanation) and I made our annual pilgrimage up to Marble Head and Port Clinton on Lake Erie. We always have lunch and a great time shopping and discussing literature, among other things! We made a stop at one of my favorite yarn shops, Just For Ewe, where they have some of the most beautiful and unusual yarns. Christi Schirtzinger Soski also offers classes in spinning, dyeing, weaving, felting and knitting. You can even book an all day class with a bunch of like minded girlfriends and sleep over in one of their air-conditioned cabins.

It's been a full week and the upcoming week promises to be just at busy. A couple of my friends and I have scheduled a trip to The Blueberry Patch later in the week which means blueberry jam making next!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gettysburg Trip, Part II

After the luminary at the cemetery we walked back to our B&B and popped open a bottle of the wine that we had purchased at the Adams County Winery on our way into town that afternoon. As we sat out on the front porch watching the crowd go by a young couple who were staying in the suite next to ours stopped to talk. They were into living history and were dressed for the part, and I must say made an authentically adorable couple. They graciously allowed me to snap a picture for my blog.

The second day of our trip to Gettysburg didn't go exactly as we had planned it. Rich and I got up early as usual. He took his morning constitutional to downtown Gettysburg to pick up coffee at the Ragged Edge. While he was gone I got myself together and when he returned with my coffee I just had to finish off my hair and we went across the parking lot of the Dobbin House to get our breakfast.

We had aimed to be done with breakfast and drive over to the visitor center by 9a.m., which we did. However, here's where the plan deviated from expected. ALL of the near parking lots were filled; the drive ways were jammed with cars trying to find parking and the attendants were directing everyone to the far lots where we would be shuttled back to the visitor center. We got out of the lot and onto the main road where we were at a standstill in traffic when we started discussing plan B. Rich and I didn't have a plan B but since we had seen the visitor's center many, many times before we both agreed that we did not want to fight the crowd. Suddenly, Rich turned down a side street and muttered," Amish country."

We headed out to the Bird-in-Hand/Lancaster County area. It was a bit of a drive but ended up well worth it. Once there, we stopped at a local meat market since the farmer's market was closed on Monday, and picked up some local cheese. It was getting closer to lunch time when Rich remembered an auction site that we had passed so he backtracked to that farm and pulled in between the buggies, trucks, cars and other vehicles.

I have no pictures since signs were clearly posted requesting that visitors not take photos. This was an authentic Amish event. It was a dinner and fund raising auction for the disabled Amish children. The fascinating part was that the chicken and rib dinners were being grilled and boxed right there under the big tent. There were also industrial sized deep fryers set up and Amish women were turning out fry pies, donuts and other sweet goodies. All around us barefoot Amish children were chattering away in their particular Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. As Rich paid for our chicken dinners I could feel curious eyes watching me. I glanced down and there behind the counter was a rosy cheeked little face steadily peering up at me with a huge smile. I couldn't help smiling back. I had to resist the urge to pick up that little blond pig-tailed doll and hug her.

On the way back to the freeway I glimpsed a sign, Labadie Looms, and urged Rich to turn back and stop at the charming little shop. There I discovered a treasure trove of hand-dyed rovings and yarns and Donna Beaver the owner. She creates some of the most beautiful yarns from locally sourced fibers that I have ever seen. As an experienced spinner and weaver she patiently answered my questions. Although I had promised Rich that I wouldn't buy any more yarn on this trip I have a strong feeling that I will be visiting her website in the future to make a purchase after I have run my own stash down a bit.

The whole day was like an unexpected gift. On the way back to Chambersburg where we planned to spend the night before heading home we learned that the speed limits on Pennsylvania freeways must be just "suggested" speed limits. At one point Rich pulled into the left lane to allow people on the entrance ramp to merge. Traffic was so heavy that he couldn't immediately get back into the right lane and although  he was already going over the posted limit, the couple in the rather run down Jeep Cherokee behind us were rather obviously "chewing us out." When he was finally able to merge right again they sped past us and gave us what must be a "Pennsylvania welcome sign" while continuing to chatter at us. So I just smiled, waved and wished them a nice day. Fortunately our day had been so pleasant that we did not let this little incident ruin it for us. We'll be back again next year because Pennsylvanians are, for the most part, warm hearted and gracious people.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg 150th Commemoration

Rich became interested in the Battle of Gettysburg about twenty years ago and has been a member of the Friends of Gettysburg ever since. He makes at least one pilgrimage every year and sometimes two. To that end he made reservations at our favorite B&B, The Dobbin House-Gettystown Inn, last November for the 150th anniversary of the battle. Sunday evening we attended the commemoration program and I must say it was inspiring. As part of the large crowd we walked across the cemetery on our way to the site of the program and discovered that park rangers and volunteers had placed an American flag on each of the soldiers' graves. As we passed the Ohio section we noticed that there were also Ohio flags placed next to "Old Glory." This made us very proud to be from Ohio.

The United States Military Academy band played for the first half hour before the program. The music was a combination of songs from the North and the South mixed with a hymn or two. Their soloist, whose name I never caught, had a beautiful voice. By the time she was finished there wasn't a dry eye in our section. Country singer, Trace Adkins, sang the national anthem. One of my favorite speakers/authors, presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, gave the keynote address. The theme of the program was, A New Birth of Freedom, and she spoke about the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and the progress of freedom for different groups throughout our history. The most moving part of the program, however, was the "Voices of History"; a series of readings from historical letters and diaries of the period surrounding the battle. To hear the actual words of the soldiers and citizens reminds me of how the war disrupted and changed the lives of people who were living in the area.

We had been given candles on our way into the area and after the program there was a candlelit procession over to the cemetery where all of the graves had luminaries placed upon them. Rich and I were towards the head of the procession and were able to get a view of the Army's Old Guard marching in formation. As we looked back over our shoulder the view was an overwhelming sea of reverent candlelit faces.  In front of us, the cemetery was a sea of luminaries; showing the overwhelming number of soldiers were buried there..