Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sunset #1

We were treated to an amazing sunset upon arrival... (did I mention how handy it is handy having a brother with a place on Oahu?) Though I know the spectacular colours are a result of volcanic ash, the sky was stunning to behold.

The other great thing about being back here in Hawaii (well, another great thing... there are many) is I can sip my morning cuppa java without feeling at all guilty (it's locally grown). Of course, the fact I had to fly a gazillion miles to get to the cup of coffee probably counteracts drinking a cup back home... Sigh.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hunter's Moon

One of the great joys of slipping out after dark to do the night feed is that I always know what the moon is up to. Last night it was so bright I didn't need a flashlight and was able to fully enjoy the experience of moving comfortably through the darkness while maneuvering through gates, tossing hay, and milking the goat.
The current American Life in Poetry seems relevant...  
American Life in Poetry: Column 300 
(Reproduced with permission)
This is our 300th column, and we thank you for continuing to support us. I realized a while back that there have been over 850 moons that have gone through their phases since I arrived on the earth, and I haven’t taken the time to look at nearly enough of them. Here Molly Fisk, a California poet, gives us one of those many moons that you and I may have failed to observe.
Hunter's Moon
Early December, dusk, and the sky
slips down the rungs of its blue ladder
into indigo. A late-quarter moon hangs
in the air above the ridge like a broken plate
and shines on us all, on the new deputy
almost asleep in his four-by-four,
lulled by the crackling song of the dispatcher,
on the bartender, slowly wiping a glass
and racking it, one eye checking the game.
It shines down on the fox’s red and grey life,
as he stills, a shadow beside someone’s gate,
listening to winter. Its pale gaze caresses
the lovers, curled together under a quilt,
dreaming alone, and shines on the scattered
ashes of terrible fires, on the owl’s black flight,
on the whelks, on the murmuring kelp,
on the whale that washed up six weeks ago
at the base of the dunes, and it shines
on the backhoe that buried her.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation,Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2000 by Molly Fisk, whose most recent book of poetry is The More Difficult Beauty, Hip Pocket Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from The Place That Inhabits Us, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010, by permission of Molly Fisk and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Poetry Friday

A chilly, chilly ride yesterday, through the winding trails at Elk Lake. Bundled up, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt rather smug that even though there are plenty of places in Canada where late November trail rides are beyond impractical, here the worst I had to deal with was a nip in the wind and some big puddles.

Later, my feet toasting in front of a fire, I came across this poem by Denise Levertov and thought how apt her description of willows really is. Her willows might be in Massachusetts, but ours are likewise tenacious - holding onto their colour late and flushing with it early in spring. They are the trees that never really sleep.

The Willows of Massachusetts
Animal willows of November
in pelt of gold enduring when all else
has let go all ornament
and stands naked in the cold.
Cold shine of sun on swamp water,
cold caress of slant beam on bough,
gray light on brown bark.
Willows -- last to relinquish a leaf,
curious, patient, lion-headed, tense
with energy, watching
the serene cold through a curtain
of tarnished strands.
     --by Denise Levertov (From the collection, The Life Around Us: Selected Poems on Nature)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The cheap thrill of stacked wood

There is nothing quite like the pure pleasure of hauling, splitting, and stacking firewood (except maybe the warm, relaxing pleasure of falling asleep on the couch in front of a blazing fire after a day of hard labour). Slowly but surely the random piles of logs from various topped and felled trees are being chopped up and re-purposed. Thanks are due to the ever-helpful Toryn, who is a master with a chainsaw and good company despite the rain and a very grumpy goat. Yes, even though the main task of the day was doing things with firewood, Toryn was very good-natured about wrestling with a reluctant goat (just guess which one...) who needed to have her back feet trimmed. Between the two of us we managed to get the job done, though not without a bit of kicking and complaining (from Poppy) and grunting (from us). Despite the fact she was restrained in her milk stand, she still managed a hearty kick or two before resigning herself to standing sullenly while I snipped off her too-long toenails. Cloven hoofnails. Tips of her cloven hooves...

While we were busy upsetting the animals with routine maintenance, we decided to worm all the horses. All went well until we got to Ringo, who decided he was terrified of Toryn. There followed a bit of stampeding through the mud until we reassured him that all was well and he should just stand still and swallow his meds... After that, it was off to the duck pen where we re-clipped everyone's wings. One of our mature mother ducks has gone missing (Mocha). As there are no feathers, bones, or other misplaced duck bits around, I can only conclude she has flown the proverbial coop. Weirdly enough, it was only the other three old mommas whose replacement flight feathers have come in - the other young females and the two drakes were still snipped and trimmed from the last time around. I'll have to monitor the incoming feather growth more closely so we don't lose anyone else.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Diabolical Human Plan

Here's the highly technical drawing (with careful measurements) with which the marvelous machinist, Toryn, will be working when he builds the ultimate anti-self-milking device certain to stop Poppy once and for all.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Goat Buucket Shattered

Here's what's left of my goat bucket and chain combo... found unceremoniously dumped in the corner of the goat paddock.

I have now consulted a machinest friend who, based on drawings created by my superior (?) cerebral cortex and opposable thumbs is going to try to manufacture a custom anti-sucking collar device. At the moment it is taking three days to accumulate, dribble by dribble, a liter of milk. I can hear Poppy's slurps and chortles from here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chapter Eight Hundred and Fifty-Seven in the Great Goat Milk Challenge

Poppy - head bucketed and udder spritzed

Undeterred (hey, we are talking human vs goat – surely we know who should win this battle of wits?), I went to the pet store to procure something nasty-tasting to spritz on Poppy’s udder and teats. Turns out there are a number of products that are guaranteed to stop unwanted licking. The Vet’s Best Bitter Cherry spray seemed to be a good bet – herbal, non-toxic, and recommended for use directly on incisions, etc., I coughed up my $12.99 and headed home to the goat pen. Poppy, still with her bucket on her head, waited for me, her strange slanty eyes glinting with excitement at the prospect of the next round in the battle for control over her nether regions.

After the afternoon milking, I spritzed her thoroughly (to her chagrin) and let her go. That night, another bonanza milking – 1.5 liters! A record! Finally – a solution – the combination of bucket and spray seemed to have done the trick. The next morning, another respectable liter and then – the afternoon milk. A few measly drops. Apparently, if a goat drinks enough milk, it washes away the taste of the Vet’s Best Bitter Apple. It occurred to me that it might not actually taste as bad as advertised on the bottle, so I made the foolish mistake of testing the substance by spraying a bit on the back of my hand having a lick. Rest assured, it DOES taste as bad as advertised on the bottle. Spitting in the dirt and repeatedly wiping my tongue on my sleeve did nothing to get rid of the evil, gag-inducing taste of the spray. And persistent? Definitely, yes. I had to race up to the house to flush my mouth before, finally, the nastiness abated sufficiently so I could finish my chores. Poppy watched my retching and fleeing with amusement, no doubt thinking, “A glass of milk would do wonders make you feel better.”

Said bucketed, spritzed, and grumpy goat continues to be completely inconsistent in terms of her self-sucking habits. Sometimes we get a decent amount of milk, sometimes virtually none. I have been reading about collars with spikes that face backwards, poking the goat when she tries to reach back, inflatable Elizabethan collars, and slightly different designs of neck-turning-restriction devices (same basic idea as the ice cream pail but a bit snugger).

There are those that say the best place for a self-milker is in the stew pot. This seems a tad harsh. I am determined to persist until a solution is found.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Score another for the self-milking goat

A while back I blogged about making an Elizabethan collar to try to stop Poppy-the-thirsty-and-determined from milking herself. At the time a reader asked about the possibility of using a similar device for the udder end of a goat. As it turns out, there are various strategies that people use to protect goat teats. There are special ways to wrap each teat using gauze and tape, for example. This approach is sometimes beefed up by soaking the wrapping material in various noxious-tasting substances. Suggestions we’ve received include alum, bitter apple, and mushed up goat manure. One can also purchase an udder sling like this described on the Hoegger Goat Supply website.
Quality-made, adjustable udder support protects udder, prevents milk leakage, eliminates congestion and caking and discourages self-sucking and kid nursing. Heavy-duty canvas straps and durable 1/8" nylon mesh transfer the weight from udder to goat's back. Available in 3 sizes.
3 Sizes:
Small - (Heart Girth 30"-38")
Medium - (Heart Girth 39"-44")
Large - (Heart Girth 45" and up)

Apparently, though, all of these physical barrier techniques are no match for determined goats. Nimble as they are, it seems thirsty goats are able to remove wraps and such like with their stronger-than-they-look prehensile lips.

Searching the net, it seemed the best success was had by restricting the ability of the goat to turn her neck by using one or another design for a goat throat straight-jacket. One of the suggestions was to get a pail from Wallmart’s paint department, cut a hole in the bottom, and fasten put this over the goat’s head and neck. This made me think that one of the large ice cream pails I’ve got kicking around (which I used this year for tomato plants) might work. I measured Poppy’s neck and amazingly enough discovered it to be almost exactly the same length as a large, commercial ice cream pail. With great difficulty (the plastic is tougher than it looks) I cut a series of slits in the bottom, radiating from a small hole in the middle. These I bent back inside the pail so they would, in theory, give Poppy a poke if she tried to reach around back for a slurp.

What I hadn’t figured on was how hard it would be to slip this ice cream pail contraption over a ticked off goat’s head. Even though I had her confined to the milking stand, she was able to fling her head from side to side vigourously enough that I was seriously worried that she was going to poke her eye with a plastic triangle tip. Fortunately, this struggle took place in complete darkness at the time of the night milking, so I peeled off my shirt and put it over Poppy’s head as a kind of protective shield and lubrication system. She was less than impressed with this idea, but it allowed me to push the bucket over her head and into position without causing any damage to delicate (and surprisingly bulgy) eyeballs. Once it had slipped over her head, I secured the bottom of the pail to her plastic chain collar with some ever-so-handy binder twine.
It looks like this goat is heading for an appointment with the hangman. So far, at least, appearances are deceiving. (Having trouble figuring out what you're looking at here? This is Poppy with her head inside my t-shirt. Her ear is poking out over to the left of the picture, sticking out sideways through the sleeve of the shirt. In order to get her 'dressed' like this, I had to secure her in the milking stand, which is the wooden frame you see behind her cloaked head.)

After ensuring she could both eat and drink with the new device on her head, I turned her loose (after first retrieving my shirt). Sure enough, in the morning we had a full load – just over a liter of fresh, delicious goat milk!

The afternoon milking was likewise bountiful. By the night milking, she had figured out how to work around her new headgear and left us with a scant half cup of milk!

Back to the drawing board… Stay tuned for chapter eight hundred and fifty-seven in the great Goat Milk Challenge.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Few Goat Myths - Busted

1. Goats will eat anything. Definitely not. They are, in fact, quite finicky. They don’t like food that’s touched the ground. They pick through their hay, plucking out the leafy soft bits and leaving mountains of stalks and stems. They spurn green grass in favour of stripping the bark from our cedar hedge. A new bag of goat chow with a slightly different taste will result in five noses turned disdainfully to the sky and a dish full of uneaten kibble. Apparently, though, even the foulest tasting anti-chew sprays will not deter a goat who is determined to have a drink of her own milk.

2. Goats smell bad. Not true. Well, billy goats have a distinctive and quite unpleasant odour. But wethers (neutered goats) and nanny goats don’t smell at all. Like any livestock, as long as their pens are kept clean, their living accommodations don’t smell either.

3. Goats are stubborn. This one kind of depends on what it is you are expecting your goat to do. A well-trained goat is actually pretty amenable to all kinds of things – hopping up on the milking stand, pulling a cart, enjoying a belly rub. An unruly goat whose feet you need to trim is nothing short of insane. An annoyed goat is strong and more like a bulldozer than a cute little animal from Old Macdonald’s Farm. A head butt from an angry goat will land you in the dirt faster than you can say ‘Goatee!’ And if you are a small puppy who does not speak the language of goats, look out! Lying on your back, peeing in submission will not protect you from being catapulted through the air and thudding into the barn wall when an angry goat charges and flings you aside. I tried to explain this to Pippi BEFORE she failed to run away from Casey’s determined charge, but puppies don’t do so well with English, either. Fortunately, no ribs were cracked and, even better, Pippi now has a healthy respect for all things caprine.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fast Eddie the Lurcher: Pippi's Distant Cousin

Fast Eddie, originally uploaded by *Richard Cooper *.
So it turns out that my super-fast wunder-puppy is not a random mixed breed at all. Rather, she is a lurcher - who looks like she could be a full sister to this handsome lurcher, Eddie of West Kirby. Lurchers, turns out, are sight hounds (greyound, whippet, etc.) bred to something else (often terriers and shepherds) and used for hunting rabbits and other small game. Sometimes they are used in tandem with ferrets, who are sent down into the rabbit holes to flush out the bunnies, which are then run down by the speedy lurchers.

One source said that the lurchers were originally bred by the Romany and poachers to get around the law that forbade commoners from owning sight hounds (in an effort to control poaching). Well, the joke's on the Queen because these cool dogs could run down pretty well anything! We've just returned from a spectacularly energetic romp at the dog park where Pippi did, indeed, attempt to run down pretty well every dog in the place. She much prefers to chase, but nobody runs fast enough to get away, so she plays a ludicrous game where she settles into first gear and plays keep away, spinning and whirling and twirling and keeping just out of reach of her pursuer until the other dog drops in its tracks, tongue hanging down to its knees. Pippi then sprints off to find some other poor dog to torment.

Extremely entertaining to watch - must try to capture some of her antics on video!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vel and Dorris Phillips pose with their goat sulky

Another great photo from the archives! I love the hand-painted backdrop!! Dad and I really need to get to work putting our goat cart back together! Then, of course, there's the small matter of teaching the boys what to do once hitched to the front... or, rather, what NOT to do. I can just see the pair of them bolting off, heading straight for a thick patch of blackberries! I'll try to make sure someone is on hand with a camera...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Four boys riding goats, ca. 1918

Oh, wow - our boys (Nosmo and King) are almost big enough for me to hop aboard! And, bonus, our goats have horns to hang onto! This great photo is from the State Library of Queensland's archives.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Warmest Spot in the House

Not long ago my brother (who lives in Hawaii) sent me a photo of his dog snoozing on the cool tiles behind the toilet. The caption was, "Coolest Spot in the House." Around here, Pippi is like a heat-seeking missile when it comes to the lit fire. At the first sound of snap crackling twigs, she makes a beeline for the hearth and there she stays until forcibly removed. As the fire gets hotter or fades, she shifts closer and moves back, keeping herself in some kind of blissed out Goldilocks zone.

I attribute this heat appreciation trait to her whippet ancestry. Whippets have virtually no body fat, thin skin, and hair so short they are virtually bald. When you meet a shivery whippet, it's not because the dog is nervous, it's because it's hypothermic - even in summer. Pippi's other half (standard poodle) has at least blessed her with a bit of hair. This thin, scraggledy coat, though very cute in a disheveled-I'm-an-orphan kind of way, doesn't seem to offer the full insulating qualities of her poodle relatives.

Hence, the Keeper of the Hearth has arrived at Dark Creek Farm.
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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Note the ankle...

Okay, bad planning, I know - deathly silence for weeks and then two posts within minutes. BUT, I was flipping through the photos of the garlic festival when I stumbled across this one. It's actually a small corner of a much larger image, but what's interesting is a) digital cameras are getting pretty darned good - I was able to pull out this corner and blow it up so you could see interesting point b) the tattoo of the garlic on this woman's ankle (I hadn't even noticed it when I was snapping the photo, which is of a colourful vegetable stand...). People take their garlic seriously up in the Slocan Valley!

(The size of that zucchini is pretty impressive, too!)
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Garlic Again!

Wow - what happened? First it was summer - then a zillion things happened (including a trip to the world famous Garlic Festival in New Denver, BC) - and now it's time to plant garlic again! Fortunately, while in New Denver I stocked up on several varieties of garlic. Then, seeing my enthusiasm for the pungent jewels, Diane (of Winlaw, BC fame) added more garlic bulbs from her garden to the already considerable stack I was trying to fit into my luggage (along with a rosemary plant). It's probably a good thing there are no sniffer dogs at the Castlegar airport - a whiff of my bags could have permanently damaged tender canine nasal tissues!

With the turning of leaves I feel I should be turning over a new leaf myself in the regular blogging department. I will be better in the weeks to come - really!

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Farm Resident!

Meet Electra - miniature milk goat! She is my birthday present from Dad and Dani, who had to endure a VERY long trip back from Hornby Island with a wailing baby goat! She has bonded with Poppy and is sworn enemies with Casey, who head butts her at every opportunity. The boys remain neutral and mostly stay out of the way.
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

You're Never Too Young.... learn how to change a tire. Around here, visiting relatives are immediately put to work. It baffles me why they keep on coming back! Maybe it has something to do with the rewards at the end of a long work day - like going for a ride along the Lochside Trail. Who wouldn't be grinning?

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pippi and Nikki on a Trail Ride

After many miles of gamboling about on a long, hot trail ride - uphill and downhill, through thick brush and lush forest, Pippi was bagged. Fortunately, we've been working on teaching Ringo to accept having small, squirmy puppies in the saddle and I was able to toss her on board, climb up after her and give her a ride back to the parking lot. Did Ringo turn a hair? Nope. Would I have believed that this would ever be possible on a horse that used to panic at the thought of being tied up/brushed/bridled/looked-at-funny? Never in a million years would it have entered my head that my skittish maniac of a horse would become the best little trail horse west of the Rockies. Jeez... I'm feeling some cowboy poetry coming on!
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Yogi on Horseback

Now here's something you don't see every day... advanced yoga on horseback!

This is what happens when Jane invites her friend Peter out on a casual trail ride. Both Jane and Peter are Bikram Yoga fanatics and much of the chit chat while we were out on the ride involved yoga in one way or another.

I shouldn't have been surprised when, back at the parking lot after a long, lovely ride somehow the topic of yoga on horseback came up. Jane said how cool it would be if someone could do that foot behind the head move on horseback (yeah, yeah - I know the posture has some special name). And then, before I could suggest that this could be the last yoga move Peter ever did anywhere, he started contorting himself into pretzel formation and, yes, his foot wound up wrapped around the back of his neck!! On horseback! Gads! Good thing Dinny is a) dead quiet generally and b) was totally worn out after a long, hot ride.

Kids - don't try this at home!
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Meet the Milk-Stealing Goat

So it turns out that self-sucking goats are not so uncommon. While a self-milking caprine might save us some work, she also robs us of our daily harvest! Poppy seems to have this annoying and persistent habit and we've been having quite the battle to try to prevent her from guzzling away between milkings.

The gizmo in this photo was design-modification #4 of what started out as one of those Elizabethan collars for dogs that are used post-surgery to stop premature plucking out of stitches and licking of wounds. In its original fanned-out configuration, this didn't slow Poppy down at all. Goats, apparently, have much longer necks than dogs. She just reached around and slurped away.

Scissors and duct tape to the rescue!! In the course of making the cone ever more restrictive, we wound up with something that looked like... well, like nothing I've ever seen strapped to animal's head. The new design worked for about 24 hours and then Poppy figured out how to rotate the headgear, and reach around it for another drink. Then she figured out how to rotate it and get her nose stuck in the pointy bit - which, yes, did stop her from milking herself, but also stopped her from eating or drinking.

Back to the drawing board....

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Poppy Goes to Seed

This spent poppy flower looks more like some kind of sea creature than a land-based lifeform. From the blazing, fire engine red of their blooms to their propensity to self-sow and show up like clockwork each spring, what's there NOT to love about poppies?
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Watch Your Back!

Not the greatest photo, but look closely and you'll see that Dinny is giving free riding lessons to the neighbourhood birds! We're delighted to have Dinny back for the summer and by the way he cheerfully heads out to the field each day, I think he's happy to be be home.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Why, oh Why Can't I Chase Those Ducklings?

For a dog that is half sight-hound and still an impulsive puppy, Pippi shows remarkable restraint when it comes to NOT chasing the ducks. Her whole body quivers with anticipation and she lives in eternal hope that I'll give her the nod, but amazingly, even when the whole flock waddles past her, she stays put.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Miracle of Growth

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

No matter how matter-of-fact I try to be about this whole gardening thing, I cannot help but be amazed by the way things grow! A prime example is this bed of purple sprouting broccoli which, if you recall, started out looking like this (those microscopic green flecks in the foreground):

And now, mere weeks later, a thick forest of green! I was getting a tad worried that there was still no sign of sprouting shoots to pluck, but after looking up the variety I was reminded that it will take 200 days, or so for the plants to start producing the mini-heads that characterize sprouting broccoli. Typical - on the one hand, I'm astonished by the spectacular rapid growth and other other hand, terribly impatient to start harvesting!

Meanwhile, out in the orchard, birds are snacking on my not-quite-ripe cherries (carefully procured netting remains in its package, waiting for time enough to install...), a robin was seen rooting about in my strawberry patch (must net that, too!), and the grass in the orchard is madly spewing clouds of pollen because I haven't had time to build some new goat containment panels that will allow the goats to clean up without decimating the four new fruit trees in the upper part of the orchard! Ack. I feel like it's time to post a new, seasonal to-do list here, except the very thought of how long that list will be is just plain depressing!

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Watch Those Ducklings Grow!

Remember a few short hours ago (or so it seems) when we could fit a dozen ducklings in the water dish? Not any more! We are enjoying the final few days of duckling fuzz before our babies fledge out and their true colours are revealed.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Giant red leaf mustard lettuce

For anyone who thinks lettuce is floppy and bland, try some of this! We scored some seeds labelled 'Giant Red Leaf Mustard Lettuce' at the Seedy Saturday seed exchange earlier this year and I threw some into the salad greens bed. Let me tell you, that was the best loonie I've ever spent! (at least, when it comes to salad greens!) The leaves are HUGE, a fabulous russet and deep, dark green - and the taste! Peppery, hot, tangy - they really spice up a plate of greens. We've had them in salads (they grow fast and were among the first we started harvesting), stir-fries, and sandwiches. This past week or so I've also been snipping off the tips of the flower buds before they have a chance to open and wow, do they add some serious zing to the salad! I must let a couple of plants go to seed so I can collect and save for next year.
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Friday, June 11, 2010

Super Dani!

Here's Dani doing her superhero impression at the Canadian National Futures Vaulting Championships in Chilliwack, BC. Dani's competing in the Women's Canter D division and here, though it looks like she is floating along behind her horse, she is actually partway through her dismount.

This is actually a pretty big deal competition as Chilliwack is simultaneously hosting Canada's first CVI (there are big time international competitors here, too - from all over the USA, one competitor from Australia, and another competing for China - though the latter now lives in the US). Many of the CVI vaulters are vying for scores high enough to qualify for spots at this fall's World Equestrian Games being held in Kentucky.

Lots of fun (well, fun for me as I'm a casual spectator). And, fun for Pippi who is on her first road trip. Today she discovered the joys of zooming around abandoned racetracks. As a dog who is half whippet, this has, so far, been the highlight of her journey!
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Iago Loves My Truck

... almost as much as I do! She knows the sound of the engine and appears from nowhere when we return with the horses (or after procuring a load of hay). She knows the engine will be warm and toasty and this fact makes her very, very happy. I've never seen a cat cuddle with a vehicle with quite the same degree of enthusiasm!
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