29 November 2006

Guess where we are going today?

Absolutely nowhere.

The temperature has not gone above -25 for the past 24 hours, the truck absolutely refuses to start, and AMA is taking anywhere from 8 -24 hours to respond to calls if you're not stranded in a ditch.

Believe me, I'm glad I'm not stranded in a ditch in this weather. Let the tow trucks go help those poor souls - we are inside, safe and warm.

And we're not in the shed!

We are on power conserve mode, waiting for the sun to come up and give us some more juice - the generator still runs on gasoline, and I emptied the last jerry can yesterday night. I also emailed the natural gas company to find out about getting that changed over ... once we have it hooked up to the pipeline, we don't have to babysit it anywhere near as much.

We do have a nice stack of firewood, courtesy of Union Guy, and have had a hot fire going steadily. We have a natural gas stove that requires no electricity at all, so we can always cook (although I've been keeping a kettle on the fire - might as well use the heat for multiple purposes) and we've got water in jugs (if the power is completely out, the well pump won't run, and so we're stuck without running water).

I bundled up in all my gear this morning and fed the dogs, sheep, cats and chickens ... believe it or not, everyone's fine. Jack the ram looks a bit chilly - he's covered in a layer of frost but I think he's actually okay underneath. Everyone was huddled together to keep warm, and the dogs are out being their usual goofy selves this morning. Mackenzie hasn't managed to escape his 'training pen' (although I can see he's been trying) and the three Icelandics are none the worse for wear - I suspect they are doing their job and teaching him to respect his sheep.

Now it's time to log in and do some work - thankfully, I am able to do most of what I do remotely if need be ... and today, that's what needs be!

26 November 2006

Not so quiet now...

I had an email from my aunt telling me it was past time I updated the blog, since it couldn't possibly stay quiet this long - boy, was she right.

This has been a nutty weekend. Thursday night it snowed like mad and the roads were terrible, so I worked remotely on Friday to avoid the morning commute. Of course, I had an appointment booked that day to get new tires installed but ... that was in town, and I was in the country!

Friday The Boy had no school - it was a day off for the teachers who had been staying late for parent-teacher interviews last week. (The Boy got honours again, and is apparently causing no troubles for his teacher in class .. yay Boy!) We needed to do some errands in town, though, so later in the day after the graders had been out, we ventured into the city and spent the night at Union Guy's place. We did our errands, and Saturday afternoon we went to start up the truck: no go. It was not going to turn over in the cold. We tried boosting it from Union Guy's car ... still no luck. So, I plugged it in for awhile and went back inside to wait. Union Guy went out later to try boosting it again and a small mistake in placing the jumper cables led to an arc spark and a hole in the radiator. Coolant is leaking, the truck still won't start, and now it has to be towed to a rad shop on Monday. (sigh) The Boy is late for the birthday party he's supposed to be at (the primary reason we went to town was to get a present for the birthday boy), it's -25C, and the truck is dead. Well, Union Guy has a truck and a car, so I got the truck keys and off we went.

The highway was fine, but there was blowing snow on the back country roads. I slowed down, trying to see where I was going, and all of a sudden there was a huge semi right in front of me. I'm not yet adapted to non-ABS braking and so went into a big skid and spun around into the ditch. The good news is that we missed the signpost (that was also in the ditch) by about 2" ... and a nice man came by to tug us out (Union Guy's truck was packed for an off road camping trip and the tow strap was right where I expected it to be). On we went to the birthday party ... with a small detour into a snowbank that required a bit of shovelling and a push from a helpful neighbour. Finally, I delivered Boy and present (he was offered a lift home later in the evening so he'd have some time to play) and I went directly home, fearing what might happen if I risked any more time on the roads!

The light hadn't completely faded by the time I arrived, so I took hay out to the sheep and checked on everyone. One sheep was not in the crowd at the fenceline feeder: P-nut, the senior sheep we took in for her "retirement". I could see her in the sheep shelter where she liked to sleep, but I knew something was wrong - she always came for food. I got a flashlight and headed out to the shelter: she must have passed on just a few minutes before I got there - she wasn't cold or stiff yet, so I think she had just died, peacefully, in her sleep.

McKenzie has been going through the usual guardian dog puppyhood trials of believing that the sheep are his "packmates" and not realizing that they cannot play the way other puppies can play. He started off harassing P-nut, who was slow and unable to forcefully let him know that his enthusiasm was more than she could bear (no doubt the strain of his playful attention hastened her demise). She lost a lot of fleece of one side and had her ear bitten up before we realized what was going on ... McKenzie was chastised, but the temptation to play proved too great. I made P-nut a wool coat to make up for the missing fleece and put her in an isolated pen so she'd be free from harassment. The next day, McKenzie found other 'playmates' and took out a substantial amount of fleece from two other sheep, leaving scratches and wounds on the skin where the wool was pulled. This is a serious problem, so I picked up a muzzle and McKenzie had to wear that except when I was outside with him (which wasn't often). He could eat and drink with it on, but nipping and chewing were seriously inhibited, so the muzzle allowed the sheep to be protected while allowing the puppy to stay with his sheep.

Still, a more permanent solution was needed: McKenzie, like every other guardian dog, needs to learn that the sheep are to be protected but cannot be played with. On the advice of some great people on a homesteader's bulletin board I frequent, we decided to isolate McKenzie with the tougher sheep: I had noticed that the sheep with horns had no fleece pulled out and no bites on their ears, and I'd seen Brownie (the big brown Icelandic ewe) toss her horns at McKenzie when he got playful. The 'mean sheep' can teach him manners, and the 'meek sheep' will be protected from his playfulness.

Today's job, then, was to split up the newly expanded pasture. Before the snow fell, The Boy and I had put in enough wooden fence posts to extend the 'secure pen' out to the end of the acreage ... but the snow came before we got the cross fencing put up. A couple of weekends ago, despite the snow, Union Guy and I ran enough woven wire to triple the size of the secure pen and enclose the sheep shelter, meaning that the sheep had access to the shelter for the winter but couldn't get too far away (which will be particuarly important come lambing time - I do not want to be hunting for sheep across six acres of snow!). Fortunately we had not taken down the fence posts that divided the old pen from the new larger area, so all we had to do was get the horned sheep on one side of the fence posts and the polled sheep on the other side, then tie the fence wire back in place. This was accomplished with minimal fuss, and I rigged up a tarp in one corner of the enclosure to serve as a windbreak and snow shelter for McKenzie and his sheep (although the Icelandics don't tend to seek shelter very often). So far, all seems to be going well.

On top of all these adventures, we had to take P-Nut to her final resting place: she was pulled to a stand of trees to be returned to the 'circle of life'*, one chicken was found dead (frozen solid, actually) and she was also returned to the circle of life ... the generator refused to start (a trip to the corner store for gas line antifreeze did solve the problem, but it was irritating to say the least) ... and it just seemed like anything that could go wrong was going wrong.

However, we had a great roaring fire going in the fireplace, a huge pot of stew for dinner for the carnivores (pasta with pesto sauce for the resident vegetarian), and our Christmas shopping is nearly done. :)

You know, with all the headaches and heartaches that come with country living I sometimes ask myself if I'm sure this was the right choice. The answer is always a resounding yes. Even on the long, tiring, exhausting days I know I'd rather be here: all I have to do is look out the window at the snow on the pasture, take hay out to the sheep and hear them bleat their welcome to me, toss kitchen scraps in the chicken coop and hear the satisifed clucks in response, pour water for a cup of tea from the kettle heated on the top of the wood stove, or listen to the dogs barking at the coyotes at night and I know ... this is home. This is where we are meant to be.

* Animals that die of natural causes can legally be disposed of 'naturally' (translation for city folk: fed to the coyotes). It may not sound pretty, but it's practical and realistic. We did recite the 23rd Psalm for her ... it seemed appropriate.

06 November 2006

Very, very quiet

I woke up Sunday morning without a voice.

It's been very, very quiet around here.

The Boy and Union Guy both thought this was utterly hilarious - as did my coworkers today. "What, nothing to say? Ohh you can't yell at me!"

01 November 2006

Scary Halloween!

This scary creature trick or treated in our country neighbourhood this year. :)

Country trick or treating is different than in the city - we stopped and chatted with all our neighbours, most of whom we'd only spoken to once or twice in passing before. It was nice to have a chance to stop and say hello and pass on our contact information (in case anyone saw wandering sheep or needed to reach us for any reason). We came home with a bag full of treats and a few of our neighbour's phone numbers in return, including a very nice couple just across the field who said if The Boy should ever need help he can give them a call. They are the grandparents of some kids he knows from school, who live on our road as well (it is a 'family farm' sort of arrangment). It's good to have nice neighbours who will call you if your livestock are out, help you out of a jam, or just wave a friendly hello when you drive past!

We attempted to go visit Gram and Grandpa in their new house (they'd never have recognized that alien as The Boy!) but we hit a patch of slippery snow and ice and ended up in the ditch. Under normal circumstances that would not have been a huge problem, but while the snow itself is frozen and piled up on the ground, the ground itself is not frozen yet. My tire kept digging further and further into muck and grass and a tow truck was required to extricate us from the ditch. Needless to say, we didn't get to do our Halloween surprise ... but at least we had plenty of treats to eat to keep our spirits up (and we were both dressed for the cold).

Suddenly winter!

Suddenly, it's winter.

Fall just seemed to be getting underway when a few flakes started to fall ... and then a few more ... and more ... and more. Before I knew it, the ground was covered. Well, that sometimes happens in the fall, I thought, but then it melts. Not this time. It's well up over my ankles in most places, deeper in the ditches. The grader came by our house on Tuesday, plowing the roads.

The snow sits on the top of the sheep's heads making funny little piles that don't melt but just sit there, looking like odd hats.

Thank goodness I had some hay brought over, or the sheep would have been very hungry.