Sunday, January 30, 2011

The 3 Amigos go exploring

I let the boys out to check out their new pasture today. Do you think we have room for three alpacas around here?


Yeah, it's a pretty big pasture (and that's just half of it).



The girls from our 4H club named them. Sebastian is the leader, and he headed out to explore the limits of his new kingdom.


While Red and Fredrico headed down to do some grazing by the trees. 

After he'd checked out the whole place Sebastian came back and got the other two, and took them on a tour of what he'd found, and they all wandered all over the pasture (with Navi barking at them from the house the whole way). When it started getting dark I went out and called them in with a grain bucket, and gave them some treats once they were back in the paddock. I locked them in for the night so they would be safe and dry.

Super nice Alpacas!

_

Alpaca Headshots




I went out this morning to give them some more hay, and a bit of grain to help start putting some weight back on them. They came right up to me and wanted to sniff noses, and don't mind being touched at all, so I gave them scratches on the neck. It's hard to get through all that dirty wool, and the wool is full of blackberry thorns. But they are very friendly, obviously they had a lot of attention before their last home fell apart. They didn't even fight and spit over the grain, which would be typical, they just took turns gobbling it up.

_

Saturday, January 29, 2011

'Packys

Trent, Jamie, and Sharon helping the alpacas settle in to their new digs.

Well, the alpacas have arrived. They are actually very nice. They need some time to rest and recover. They badly need to be sheared but that can't happen until spring, so they'll just have to tough it out. Right now they have shelter, hay, fresh water, and we'll get them started on some food to put the pounds back on. They were easy to catch and handle, and allowed quite a bit of body handling. I'm certain these guys will find themselves in good 4H homes before too long.

_

Around the yard - new visitors coming

First off, the latest on the neighbor's farm. It was up for sale earlier this winter, and closed in early December for $158k, which was a lot less than they were asking (I think they started at $215). It has 11 acres, a destroyed mobile home (literally just a heap of rubbish), an old mobile home people were living in, and a big old completely un-charming, falling-apart barn. Also beautiful pastures (or will be if they are cared for), and tall trees.


 I don't envy the folks who took this project on. The barn was full of garbage when we walked through it when it first went up for sale, and is in sad shape inside. But the folks who bought it have been working on it, hauling away trailer loads of debris. You can see where there are piles of stuff outside the barn now. I don't know if they are cleaning it up to try and save what's still good, or just slowly taking it apart. The other day I saw a backhoe show up and thought that was the end of the barn but the backhoe went away and the barn is still there. I am hoping they are going to keep it as a horse property, but if it gets split up and developed that's ok too. The minimum lot size out here is 5 acres (ours is 3, but they've changed the rules since then), so the worst we would have is two new neighbors on that side.



My garden looks like a mess, but I can see things actually getting more organized. I'm going to hoe the weeds under and clean the coop this weekend and put the chicken poo on the beds, so it has time to 'cool off' before planting time. Then I'll lay straw on top of that, and I have all the old straw out of the shelter area where the sheep and pig was last year, which should be good compost too as it breaks down. I also have lots of shredded bark to re-do the paths. I see a lot of shoveling in my future!


The shelter has been reconfigured yet again to separate it from the garden, because a friend called me up and asked if I could take three alpacas. She organizes llama rescue, and got a call that three 'packys had been abandoned when their house was foreclosed on. Since she's full up, but I have two acres and no animals, I couldn't say no. So one of the other 4H families came over and helped me remodel the shelter (moving around boards that were already there) and we have a shelter and paddock ready for livestock again. This morning I spread clean straw, and hung a hay feeder. Someone else brought hay, and another 4H family has a trailer and will go help pick them up. 4H people are the best - they hear about animals in need and they just say 'how can I help'!


(It's built on hill, which is why it has that 'everything is askew' look -  it's actually all quite plumb)

This should be a nice cozy retreat from the weather. They should be in their new home this afternoon.

_

Family Portrait

Dog family, of course. One of these days we'll have to get the people in there too! The cats don't want to participate at all - typical!


Navi is in mid-bark, Barclay looks like a goofball, and Jack is working on his intense give-me-the-treat stare.

_

Friday, January 28, 2011

Navi goes for a ride!

Navi hates riding in the car, for reasons I don't understand because every other dog I've ever had will camp out in the car at every opportunity in the hopes they will get to go somewhere fun. She sits in the car, miserable, drooling, and looking ill the whole way. So I've done a lot of desensitizing to get her used to the motion of the car, and now she doesn't look sick, but she looks like she suspects she might get sick, and so she is very anxious about the whole thing.

On top of that, she associates the harness with going in the car, so the battle actually begins well before we even get out the door, as I try to get her harnessed up. The only time I took her for a walk without a harness, she slipped her collar and ran amok at the park campground!

Last night I was planning to take them to a friend's house to play with Sake and Sitka, their eskimo friends. But first I had to get her harnessed up. I harnessed Barclay, so she could see him calmly handling it. Then, using lots of treats, I showed her the harness and click and treated her for looking at it, for sniffing it (we've done all this many times before), etc, until I was ready to actually put it on her. She would run up to me, then run away, but she kept coming back, she wanted so badly to do what I was asking, and she kept trying, and I kept rewarding her for it. She really made the effort. She even submissively peed on the floor, she was so nervous! But I can't let that stop her from getting out, or she'll be housebound forever. Finally, with lots of treats and praise, I got the harness on, and leashed them up and took them out to the van.

At the van I opened the side door and Barclay jumped in and got on his seat, but Navi was sniffing around. Sniffing, sniffing, sniffing. And it wasn't because there was anything that interesting to smell, it was because she was nervous, and sniffing is a displacement activity. Since I knew that, I just let her sniff, and when she finally got up the courage to look at the van, she got a click and a treat. She sniffed around some more, but not for as long before she looked at the van again, another click and treat. We kept this up until she got up the guts to go right up and look in the door (at Barclay who was sitting right inside) and finally she put her paws up on the step, and I boosted her in and gave her more treats and lots of praise. Then we drove to our friend's house and she had a great time playing with her eskimo friends and stealing their toys, and we even took her and Sitka over to Lowes for a little practice walking around and seeing strangers (though she barked a lot and was too excited to take treats when offered, which means she was over-threshold - too stimulated for training) so we took them back home after a short walk-around.

 Sitka and Navi, barely sitting still long enough for a picture at Lowes

I am so proud of her because she does all this for me, she wants to please me and do what I want, and it's so hard for her. She's got such a great little heart, and a lot of 'try'!  I hope after a while she'll forget about being a car-sick little puppy and learn to relax and enjoy traveling. We love to travel, and to take our Airstream camping, and she's going to need to relax and enjoy it to come along with us. And of course there's so much for her to see and do, and it's all a short car-ride away.

_

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stickin' to the plan

I am sticking with my weight loss plan, and actually enjoying using the SparkPeople website to track my food and exercise. I get good feedback from it everyday, and it really makes me think about what I'm eating. If I'm thinking of having a snack, I can look at my page and see how I've done so far, and if I have the calories to spend, and I really think about if I want to spend them that way.

I'm also working out walking on the treadmill nearly every evening, and doing strength training every other day. I'm trying to work in other exercise too. Yesterday Dave and I went to the park and he jogged while I rode my bike alongside. The bike was going faster than him though, so eventually I parked it and just walked fast while he jogged the loop. I love riding my bike, I can't wait to get it out again. When I was a kid my bike was always a substitute for having a horse - blasting along with the wind in my hair. I love that feeling - and it's darned good exercise for the legs!

This still feels different from previous attempts to lose weight which were half-hearted at best. I feel very devoted to this, and I feel encouraged and optimistic that it is going to work. I lost 5lb the first two weeks. I stalled last week though when I hurt my back - skipping! I felt so good I went skipping down the hall just to see if I could and pulled something in my back! That'll curb your enthusiasm quick! I'll leave skipping to te children from now on! After a couple days rest I am back to my workout routine and hopeful I'll see some more progress on the scale next Monday.

A friend who is also on this journey asked if I'd like to join her for a 5K walk, so I said yes.So in March I'll be doing my first 5K walk - it's only 3 miles, I walk half that on the treadmill every night. Should be interesting.

_

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Navi needs to relax!

Yesterday when I came home for lunch, Navi absolutely could NOT sit still. She was a constant blur of activity, going from begging to looking out the window to playing with toys and back to begging - around and around and around the living room. Every few seconds she was back with her paws on me, and I'd gently push her back to the ground, and she'd do the circuit and come back again. So after lunch I took them all out in the rain for a run around the field. She ran and dug holes and played hard. Then I rinsed her off with the hose and brought everyone back in, where she raced around and dried herself off on the furniture while I chased her around with a towel!

After all that she STILL wasn't settling down. I grabbed my favorite training book, and it recommended starting a session with getting connected with your dog, doing something like a massage. Barclay never cared for it, but I thought, what the heck, let's try it.

So I sat on the floor and she was SO EXCITED she literally jumped on me, licking all over, almost lick-nibbling at my nose, just going nuts. I started petting her, but she couldn't sit still for that, and she ran off to do something else, but after a minute she came back and let me pet her some more, then she ran away again. She kept doing this, but I quickly noticed her time away was getting shorter, and the time she stayed with me was getting longer. I kept petting her, and running my hands over her legs, giving her a shoulder rub, things I don't normally do when just petting. She was really enjoying it, and soon she chose to stay there with me and get petted.

As she was starting to enjoy the petting, the frantic look on her face started to go away. She started to relax. Her tongue wasn't hanging out as far, her mouth wasn't pulled as far back, her eyes started to soften. She started to make eye contact more. It really was an amazing transformation.

Once she was totally back in her head, we did a little work with treats and some self-control exercises - Doggie Zen, and Leave It. Very short work, then some more petting, and then she was able to settle down and relax. What an amazing difference some one-on-one time can make :)


_

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chickens in the garden

Last year I planted winter crops, and they got killed by a hard frost we got early in the winter, and in the rain and cold and frost I just didn't have the umph to go out and clean everything up like I should have. I did clean up a bit and fill the compost bins, but there were still some old squash and whatnot laying around, and of course all the frost killed winter veg. So today I took the cleanup crew out there.


Something has been digging up my carrots and eating them (bunnies?) and there's nothing really left out there except the sage, and a little sprig of rosemary that refuses to grow into a bush. So I let the girls have at it. I'm going to clean up all the weeds and lay down some fresh chicken poo from the coop, then cover that up and let it sit so the garden will be ready to plant in May.


Beautiful, my fat and friendly old hen, enjoys the selection of greens and bugs available :)


While the roo watches for hawks, the girls are all 'tails up' looking for goodies. Keep scratchin', girls!

_

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lost Dog

Yesterday afternoon I was in the kitchen, and I glanced out the window and saw a black dog coming up from the neighbor's driveway (this is down across the street, about 300 ft away). I knew that neighbor has yellow labs, so it wasn't his dog. As I watched the dog got up on the street and started zig-zagging around, and as cars drove by he'd hopefully run towards them. Clearly this dog was lost and didn't know what to do. Sometimes you see dogs that confidently go exploring, and their owners seem to have no problem with that (country folks!) but this wasn't one of those.

I grabbed a coat and shoes and hurried down to the road as he was heading towards where the main road for our neighborhood meets the busy street at the bottom of the hill (where he was). I called and clapped and whistled, and the dog looked at me and kept going with a determined look. I hurried down there but by the time I got to the road he was gone. I called Dave and told him about it. I went online and looked for lost dog reports but couldn't find any.

A couple hours later Dave and I were heading into town, and about a mile from the house I saw a black speck on the road far ahead, so we went that way and sure enough, it was the dog. Now I got a better look, she was a black/blue heeler. She had two collars, but no visible tags. I got out of the car and tried to go to her, but she was scared. Her tail was between her legs, and she looked at me like she wanted to come, but it was just too scary. I couldn't get within 15 feet of her and she'd turn and run. We spent a bit of time trying to get closer to her. Unfortunately we had no food with us, and no leash to put her on if we did get close, and we were far enough from home that if we'd gone back to get food and a leash I doubt we'd be lucky enough to find her again. Finally we had to give up and continue on. She continued trotting down the street, a black dog heading off into the black, rainy night.

I hope she spent the night safe in someone's yard. Unless she decided to trust someone, I don't think anyone is going to catch her unless she corners herself in a fenced area or get's too tired to run. Poor dog. I thought about her all night. I would be devastated if I lost one of my dogs. I think they are all friendly enough they would go to a stranger if one tried to help them. I sure hope so. I would hate to know someone was so close to rescuing them, but just couldn't get near.

_

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Chicken Eater


Well, there's the neighborhood hawk, hanging out on one of the fenceposts just a short distance from the chicken coop. I think this is a juvenile, because his tail is banded, not red. I would have chased him away, but he looked pretty cold out there, sitting in the rain, watching for field mice. The chickens were safe because they'd already seen him and gone inside their coop. He's probably about 50 ft from the bottom fence of the chicken yard. I saw him from the kitchen window and got this nice shot of him. After about half an hour he swooped out to the pasture but came back to the post a few minutes later empty handed. It's got to be tough to be a hawk this time of year. I have a great fondness for all birds, they are just doing their thing, being birds, and hawks are so beautiful, I wish he wouldn't eat the chickens, but I can't hold it against him either.

_

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Day? Not yet...

The weather people have been talking about a snow storm coming all week. They were calling for 12 inches (which would be pretty unusual) but the latest report sounds like we'll just get a dusting. Since there's currently no sign of snow - or even rain - I took the opportunity to spend a bit of time photographing the pooches having their daily play session.


First off, a kestrel came and landed in the tree right by the yard where we were playing. This is the best shot I could get of him. They are lovely birds, and I've seen them munching on big grasshoppers and the like. Although they are predators, they are much too small to bother the chickens!

While I was at the bottom of the hill photographing the kestrel, the dog started getting rowdy, and since they were on top of the hill, I had a nice doggie-eye-level view to photograph their antics - without having to lay down on the grass :)


It all started with a game of 'who's got the tennis ball'


And the chase was on!


Soon the ball was forgotten




Today was pick on Jack day! Sometimes it's pick on Navi day, so it's all fair.


It's hard to keep up with all the action, so I put the camera on 'Sport' mode and just let it click away.  

Sometimes I got this.

And then I got lucky and got this!

But it was all in good fun, and when they were done they shook it off.

Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of a lonely coyote howling, echoing around our little hollow. All the dogs stopped playing and stood still to listen. It didn't sound very far away to me! That's when I decided it was time to come back inside for a bit!

That was our fun pre-snow day. Now we just have to wait and see if we get any of the white stuff tomorrow.

_

Friday, January 07, 2011

SparkPeople

Probably my main goal for this year is to get my weight under control and get back in shape. I am exercising every day, and trying to eat right. Eating right is the hardest part, because I do a poor job of watching my portions, and guesstimating how many calories are in something. I went looking for help online, particularly for something to help me do a food journal, and I found SparkPeople.

SparkPeople is a free site dedicated to helping people lose weight. There is an excellent Daily Food Plan section, where they suggest a plan, and let you edit it and change it, and at the end of the day they give you a breakdown of how you did - did you eat enough carbs, enough protein, too much fat? All laid out in nice little pie charts. I logged all my food yesterday before dinner, and I was feeling guilty because I had snacked on a piece of bread with cream cheese and nutella. Not a great choice for snacking, but when I logged it and looked at my breakdown, it wasn't exactly the end of the world either - in fact I ended the day right in the range I should have been for calories, but could have done better on the amount of fats (too much cheese). So it actually made me feel better, and get back on track instead of descending into one of those negative self-hate spirals that so often sabotages my diet plans!

SparkPeople also has an exercise plan section, where they suggest what exercises to do on what days. I'm going to use that for the first time tonight, but I have been walking on the treadmill every morning and I was able to log that as well. It seems like a very flexible system. And there are tons of other features to inspire and motivate and keep me on track.

With this new motivation, I took the big step of stepping on the scale. The number was about 30 higher than I was expecting. But instead of going off in the corner and crying, for the first time ever I felt more inclined to say 'fine, let's do this'! I'm ready to take it on - and take it off. I've had enough. I want to spend my summers out hiking and bicycling, my winters out snowshoeing, I want to ride horses, I want to be in shape and have balance and stamina and feel good and not feel tired all the time. I'm ready to do this. I'm doing it.

_

Red Dead Redemption

I wanted this game from the first time I heard about it, and now that we've got it, I am completely hooked, addicted, and can't wait to get my hands back on it from the moment I put it down (which is usually when Dave says 'it's 1AM and we have to work tomorrow - come to bed!')


It's a cowboy game, and I'll admit, my favorite part is that you get to ride horses - a lot! It's by the people who made Grand Theft Auto, and we really enjoyed those games, running around in a free world, doing whatever struck your interest. This one is the same. There are missions to do, usually presented by someone coming up and asking you to do something. It feels very natural. I've been rounding up cattle, chasing down rustlers, and breaking wild horses - too much fun! Your faithful steed (once he trusts you) comes when you whistle :) But you have to be careful not to get horse-jacked while out wandering around in the wilderness!

The AI that controls the horses has led to a couple funny situations. In one mission, I was on a posse and dismounted and snuck up with the rest of the posse to peek over the rocks and see what the bad guys were doing, and at the bottom of the screen I see these two horse ears - I look behind me and there's my faithful horse, following right along! On another mission I retrieved a lady's stolen wagon, and brought it back to her, whistling for my horse to follow. When I got it back to her and got out of the wagon, she was about to give me my reward when my horse tried to go between the wagon and the horse pulling it and knocked it over, and so the lady instead ran off into the desert crying about how her wagon was destroyed! I love it when a game is so open that situations you would never expect happen!

Along with wandering around in the free form world, missions occasionally break into cinematic cut-scenes so pretty you'd think you were watching a movie. The graphics outside of the cut scenes are just as nice, it really feels like you're controlling a movie (if this was a movie I'd probably give it an R for violence and language). Having been raised with video games from the time of PONG, it makes me wonder how much more realistic can they get?! This game is just immersive, to the point you feel like you're living in a spaghetti western. You can play your character good and accumulate honor, or play him bad and end up with a bounty on your head, and the game is going to have different challenges depending on which way you play, so I can already see this game is going to keep me entertained for quite a long time. What more could a geek girl want? :)

When Dave plays games he always tries all the unexpected things and does stuff the game designers never intended. It will be great fun to see what he does with this one!


_


 

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Heritage Chicken for dinner

Well, last night I roasted that roo - low and slow, so as to make it as tender and juicy as possible. You know what? We didn't like it. Didn't really like it at all. Although I was prepared for it to be tougher, because I had been warned that the grocery store chicken is considered soft and spongy to people who are used to eating heritage birds, it was really tough. And I had been warned the flavor is a lot stronger. Well, it is strong, and different. It smelled great while cooking, but we ended up putting the leftovers in the freezer for stock. I think it will make great stock.

I'm glad I did this now, before I put in my chick order for the year. I'm just going to get Buff Orpington pullets (girls) to raise for egg layers to keep and to sell. I might also get some of the grocery store type chickens - Cornish Cross, and try raising them up. I don't approve of the concept of chickens that grow to full size in 8 weeks, but that is what we've been conditioned to enjoy for the last 40+ years, so I guess if I want to raise my own meat that is what we will have to get. The good part is that they are ready to butcher in only 8 weeks.

_