Darkest Day

This last Saturday we celebrated the passing of the darkest day. Now, as Stuart would say, “the days get longer, and the cold gets stronger.” But at least we are heading in the right direction- towards spring!

Now, I should say “they” had a party, not “we.” We scheduled it, but then it turned out I had to go down to Cristchurch for the weekend. So Tam called up Emily to act as co-host, and the party went ahead without me. Apparently about 20-30 people came. Meanwhile I was trying not to slip into a coma while sitting through the alpaca association AGM.

The terrible weather of the last few weeks has taken a break this week, and allowed me to start getting some serious work done around the farm. This is a good thing. Jake has decided to move in to the house for the winter, no real surprise. He is a major lap cat. It is fascinating watching the social dynamic work out between Jake and the other 4 cats (growling, occasional chases and spats).

We have also gained 2 more horses. The plan was for one pony, but another came along at the last minute. These are animals that Yvonne bought on the cheap, and will put work into to increase their value, then sell them on for a profit. It is amazing how just an hour of work a day is very quickly improving their obedience and confidence.

Power of language

In a repeat of the last post- we are still getting lots of nasty winter weather. Tuesday and Wednesday were quite nice this week. Cool, but fine, still and sunny. Now the rain, hail, and howling southerly have come back. The alpaca are not very pleased about this whole situation, but they endure. At least they look happy when I bring them out some hay. Digesting hay produces lots of extra heat (due to the fermenation in the rumen), so it is a great food source on cold winter days. I prefer hot chocolate.

What brought up this whole comment about language was reading the weather report from the Met Service today. They have a sense of humor. Or at least of reality. In the past I have been amused at predictions of “stroppy” winds. Today Wellington has the weather prediction of “bleak and showery. strong cold southerlies.” Boy, they got that right!

In other news- at 7 AM this morning I met a horse transporter with Yvonne down at the front, and helped unload a bay mare and a grey gelding pony. Yvonne is planning to put some work into them, then sell them on. There was only supposed to be the pony coming, but apparently plans changed suddenly last night (somebody lost their grazing, and couldn’t afford to move/keep the horse). Never a dull moment!

Jake is doing much better. The limp is mostly gone. He has also decided he has become a house cat (the weather may play a role in that decision). He does not head back to the bedrooms much, he only eats from “his” bowl outside in the mud-room, and he goes to the toilet outside. The other cats are learning to deal with him, even Amaya and Azami. That is good.

Winter, anyone?

So, I think it is safe to say winter is officially here. Last week was lovely. Clear blue skies, temperatures in the mid-teens (C) each day, very little wind. I took the opportunity and did lots of gorse-burning around the farm. But by late in the week we were getting warnings from the Met service about a big low brewing out in the Tasman Sea. Sunday it arrived. Wind and rain, howling in. Monday the low passed over and the northly wind turned into a really cold southerly. Over the next 48 hours it blew all the heat away from the country. Brrrrrr. Down south they had some pretty serious snow (half a meter near sea level), which was really unusual for this early in winter.

When we get the fire going it warms the house up nicely. The problem is that many evenings we are out, so I don’t bother to start a fire. The house slowly gets colder and colder. This morning we set a new record- when we got up it was 5C (40F) in the bedroom! Aaaaah! Hard to get out of bed under those conditions. As I may not start a fire until Friday, I can only hope the sun comes out today and warms the house up a bit, I know the cats would appreciate it, too!

Speaking of cats, Jake has a hurt leg and paw. Probaby got into a fight with another cat, as there were multiple bit marks on his right foreleg. His paw got quite swollen. We brought him indoors, and let him sleep on the couch in a nest of sheep and alpaca fur, which he was quite content to do. Three days later and the swelling has mostly receeded, and he has his apetite back. He is still favoring the leg, though, so we will give him time to heal fully.

Amaya and Azami are dealing better with Jake now, probably because after the trauma of the dogs, Jake doesn’t seem so bad.

Speaking of the dog, Casey is off to a new foster home. They will try to work on the separation anxiety. Casey was a really lovely dog otherwise. She was quite cat safe (when we were home we had her walking around with the cats, un-muzzeled), and Slow Top was cool with her. Azami was getting better about the dog. Amaya and Rasputin were still highly dubious about the invading canine. Though she was technically not allowed on the couch, she really loved it. One day I caught her asleep there. Luxury!

Last night I had my Civil Defense orientation. Quite interesting. I found out about the power of names. Back 15 years ago Civil Defense had 3500 Volunteers in the Wellington region. Then they changed their name to “Emergency Management.” Nobody knew what that was about, and within a year the volunteer staff had dropped to 350. They are now down to 150-200, and are trying to fight back up. They figure they will need at least 500 to staff the CD centers around the city in the case of a major emergency. Right now I think I am the only person for my center. The commitment is about 2 hour a month of training, which is fine by me. I will get training first aid, raido operations, and all sorts of other useful skills.

The Week Continues

So I think I got as far as Tuesday. Tuesday night, we left the game early to come home and meet Andy, who was coming up from Dunedin. Why ? Well in part, he had some alpacas to deliver over the Hill, and in part, he was driving up to Auckland to pick up a pair of guanacos. They were from a petting zoo, “surplus to requirements”, and Stephen and I had actually been watching them on TradeMe. We thought and thought, but we just couldn’t justify buying a pair of guanacos. Then we got a call from Andy, who needed a place to crash because he’d just bought this pair of guanacos off TradeMe… Hee !

Andy actually beat us to the house by about two minutes — the hitch was that coming up the driveway, he’d swerved to avoid hitting what he thought was one of our cats (but which was probably in actuality one of the massive local hares), and put the two left wheels of his van into the drain (that taking the form of a narrow ditch that runs along the side of the driveway). We unloaded the alpacas in the dark and got them situated in the yards, then Stephen and Andy tried getting the van unstuck by putting some fenceposts into the ditch downhill of the trapped wheels, the theory being that Andy could back the van up onto the fenceposts, and thence back onto the driveway. The first part sort of worked, but fearing for the clutch on the van, they took the better part of valor and left it where it was for the night (our car we parked on the grass down under the elms).

Wednesday, our neighbor Stewart brought his tractor over and pulled the van out so Andy could get on his way to Auckland. It’s handy having friends with tractors.

At work, it was the last day of New Zealand Music Month, and the waiata group I’d joined had a lunchtime performance on the mezzanine of the library. “Waiata” is Maori for “song” or “singing”, and we’d been having little coffee break get togethers to learn some songs, the Council group together with the Library group. Ostensibly, we would perform some of them whenever the Council needed us to, for instance at powhiris (formal greetings) for official visitors, or at new employee orientations, etc. One of the library women thought it would be appropriate to do a short performance for NZ Music Month, and so we did. It was fun. I love the way they all harmonize so freely. One of the guys is a professionally trained opera singer, and has a beautiful voice, and for the performance we had a couple other guys playing traditional instruments, conch shells and carved flutes and the like (one had the coolest full-face moko).

Wednesday evening, A&S was cancelled, so we had a nice quiet evening at home.

Thursday was dance class, and getting home to help Andy unload the guanacos. They’re a breeding pair & while the male is tame enough to eat out of your hand, the female is pretty much wild. We got them situated in the dark, with the male in the dog run and the female in the yard just outside it.

Friday morning, oops ! The female had jumped the fence in the night and was nowhere to be found — at least, not in the pre-dawn pitch black. I kept an eye out for her as I drove to the train station, and we made plans for how the search would progress once it was light out. Luckily, she’d only just gone into the adjacent glen paddock. Letting our female alpacas in with her seemed to calm her a bit, although the male has been wearing out a track along the inside of the dog run fence. Andy took the three females he’d brought with him over to their destination in the Wairarapa.

It’s Saturday now, and I’m flobbing at home while Stephen is off gaming and Andy is at a dog show in Porirua (his neighbors from down south are up showing their samoyeds). Tonight, we’re off to dinner at Andy’s friend’s place.

This weekend — which is a long weekend for Queen’s Birthday — should be a bit more settled than last weekend. Fingers crossed !

Why yes, a glass of wine and a spa bath *would* be lovely right now.

It’s been a week !

Tuesday — LAST Tuesday, that is — Prince went to his new home in Auckland. Just when we were really starting to make progress ! Ah well, his new owner should be able to take him on from here. I’d really love to hear how he gets on; we were quite fond of him. The same afternoon, Jacqui dropped off a new dog, “Casey”, who has an owner waiting for her in Christchurch.

Casey is quite different. For a start, she’s got all her fur ! She’s at a better weight, and she doesn’t have Prince’s myriad little knicks and scars. She’s not as leggy as Prince, but her tail is really long — I had to take a look at everyone else’s tails at the dog walk on Sunday, to see if I was imagining it, but I think she had the longest tail there — and her ears don’t stand all the way up. She’s much more coordinated on the stairs, and when she flobs on the sheepskin, she doesn’t fling herself down with quite the THUD that Prince did, and she manages to get all of herself neatly on it, with her head on the floor-pillow (Prince was always sort of half-on, half-off, and as often as not it was his back half on the pillow). Prince would fling himself down anywhere; Casey goes for the sheepskin. Or else the beanbag. You could look at it as if she’s spoiled or delicate, or you could look at it as an easy way to get her to lie down where you want her to. :^)

She’s afraid of the alpacas. She’s fine with horses and traffic, was initally nervous of the ceiling fan, but is fine with it now.

As far as the cats go, if they’re not moving, she’s not interested, which is a good sight better than Prince was even when he left us. She’ll go after them if they run, though, but in the last week she’s gotten better even about that. And the cats are likewise getting much more relaxed around her. Well maybe not *relaxed* exactly, but they’ll mostly go about their business. Slow Top has even come in to lie in front of the fire not three feet from her (he likes the fire, does Slow).

Regarding toys — Casey knows how to play ! Prince didn’t, really (and how sad is that ?!). If you threw a ball or a stick, he’d just stand there, waiting for you to do something that might have something to do with him, like call him over or pet him or something. He *loved* the bounce-and-squeak Irene sent (hi Irene !!), but he didn’t “play” with it, really, so much as kill it repeatedly and then try to eat it (which was a hoot to watch, if a little bit alarming; and no, we didn’t let him eat it). Casey, by contrast, will pick up the toy (we got her a caterpillar — why is it so many dog toys come in feline-patterned fake fur, I wonder ?) gallop around the house with it, throw it down onto the beanbag, mouth it a half-dozen times, pick it up, spin around, throw it on the floor and pounce on it, repeat from the top.

The only hitch with Casey: she’s got what they call “separation anxiety”, which in her case takes the form of barking (intermittently, but thank goodness we don’t have close neighbors !) and occasionally piddling on the carpet when we leave the house for any length of time. There are two different schools of thought on this. The first is that most of these dogs have always been kept in the company of other dogs, with lots of people around as well — they’re not used to being alone.

The sort of “natural dogsmanship” theory, on the other hand, is that when introduced to a new pack (me and Stephen), the dog is going to try and figure out who is alpha. If we are not convincing alphas, then she’ll feel it’s her responsibility to take the lead. She therefore feels responsible for us, and when we go away, it’s as if children you’re in charge of wander off on their own into the city, and you can’t follow them to look after them. She’s worried about “her charges” (us). Interesting way of looking at things, no ?

So anyway, Tuesday, we get the new foster dog, Casey. We pretty much immediately have to toss her in the car again and take her over to Sean’s place for gaming. Sean, mind you, has two young daughters, something like three and five, I think. We’d gotten premission to bring Prince over to “kid test” him, but we ended up bringing Casey instead. She performed with flying colors, I must say, and won herself a young fan club. She tolerated quite alot, and when things got a little too much for her, she just got up and walked away. Perfect.

The rest of the work week was “normal” — we bailed on A&S to get some time with the new dog, Thursday was dance class, Friday was the Ars Magica game (Casey flobbed on the floor).

Then The Weekend struck.

Saturday, we tossed Casey in the back of the car (she and Prince both travel well) and drove up to Otaki for the small-farmer’s field days. Chatted with various alpaca people, and achieved all our shopping Victory Conditions (alpaca nuts and fencing staples) and then some (also scored new mats for the catboxes, 50 root-trainer sized natives to plant in the shelter belt and bush block, and the massive “Flora” two-books-plus-CD set for less than a third retail).

Then we zoomed back home to host a Day O Fun. The weather was largely crap, so mostly there was a lot of hanging out indoors. I spent the first several hours hovering defensively around Casey, to make sure she wasn’t overwhelmed by her fan club (four girls, including Sean’s pair). You hear stories all the time along the lines of: Kid pesters dog. Dog tries to warn/avoid kid. Kid continues to pester dog. Repeat a few times. Dog gives up and snaps at kid in self-defense. Dog gets put down for being “vicious”. She’d done really well on Tuesday, and the kids were generally pretty good, but neither I nor their parents had much experience managing child-canine interaction, so I didn’t want to take chances. It was awfully sweet, though — the girls brought Casey a present — a rubber doggy ball on a foot long cord, in a pink gift bag with “Casey” written on it (and mind you Hazel, who’s I think five, “only writes for special occasions”). Awww !

I *think* everyone else enjoyed the party.

The highlight was setting the old horse trailer on fire. With the new shed now keeping the rain off the hay, we wanted to get the scrap metal guys to come and take away the nasty old trailer in the glen paddock. It still had a lot of wooden bits attached to it, however, so they suggested we burn it out and then get them to take away what remained. Luckily, it wasn’t actively pouring rain on us (like it has been the last couple times we’ve tried having a bonfire), but only kind of drizzling. It burned real good. Plus, there was cool stuff like holes in the sides sort of melting and flaking and the fire coming out in great big plumes (did I mention Stephen has spent the last several months stuffing the thing with cut brush ?).

Sunday, I bailed on dance class. Stephen bailed on fighting and went to gaming instead. I puttered around for a few hours until it was time to take Casey up to a gathering of Wellington area greyhound people, who all brought their dogs to walk in a big mob in Queen Elizabeth park. I’d like to say it was fun, but with a new dog I didn’t know very well, it was a bit fraught. She growled at a lot of the other dogs, for a start — assertive, we reckon. Then when we got to the beach, several of the other owners let their dogs off lead to run around on the sand. Casey was *really* excited and *really* wanted to go running with them, but I had no idea after the growling if she’d get into a fight with another loose dog, and she still barely knew her name at that point, FORGET coming when called. My triceps got a good workout clutching the leash. Considering there were a good twenty greyhounds there, about half of which were loose and running singly or in small packs at various times, it went remarkably well. One of the other dogs bit his tongue while racing, and one somersaulted over another’s leash and landed on her butt. No fights or anything, and nobody ran off and disappeared. It was pretty spectacular to watch them racing around in the open though, I must say. Casey calmed down quite a bit by the end, and stopped growling and pulling. I think she may even have made friends with a couple of the other dogs. Kylie was once again my dog-handling inspiration, though I think even she was a little rattled by the chaos (and potential carnage).

So the dog walk, while certainly exciting, was ultimately a bit more stressful than otherwise. Though I would have stayed at done some socializing at the end, I had to race home to go to Emily’s housewarming (she’s got the cutest little place in Strathmore/Miramar). Emily as usual put on a lovely spread of cheeses, dates and crackers, with port, sherry and watermelon (some supplied by guests). There were some familiar faces from the Cinco de Mayo shindig, and some new ones as well, and the conversational topics ranged far and wide. A haunted painting was given away.

So after a weekend like that, Stephen and I were pretty well wrecked. It’s no wonder, really, that Casey decided we needed looking after. Of course, multiple puddles in the conservatory did exactly nothing to help our stress levels. :^P

Monday night, Sybille came over so we could put together a CD of her dance music — she’s doing some restaurant work and the pieces needed a bit of editing.

Tuesday was another game night back at Sean’s. We brought Casey again, and discovered that the girls had been “playing Casey” all week (I can only imagine what that entails…). Iris refused to go to bed except in “the dog bed” (actually a large-ish cat bed). There was a bit of drama, and I’m not sure that Sean and Susan weren’t having second thoughts about the dog thing by the time they finally got the girls to bed. Bless them, though, for their parental perspective. We’d cautioned them that Casey had been a little less than reliable when it came to toiletting recently, and Susan promptly brought out a thick bath towel. Old hands at toilet training, what’s a little more urine ?

We left the game a bit early because our alpaca friend Andy, from Otago, was coming in on the ferry, with plans to use our place as a base for running an assortment of errands around the north island. And I think I’ll leave it there for now. Hoepfully, we can put some pictures in, and Stephen can pick up from here…