Archive | January 2016

Remembering Princess


I met Princess in August of 2006 when she came into the vet clinic where I worked as a tech.  Her elderly owner complained that Princess had no energy, no appetite, scratched incessantly, could not keep her balance and seemed hopelessly ill.  She insisted on having Princess put to sleep.  The little dog was an American Eskimo or Spitz Dog, aged about 10 years.

Another tech had done the intake and brought her out back in the clinic to be euthanized.  It was obvious the dog was weak.  Her gait was wobbly and she could not go far without collapsing and panting for breath.  Something told me to pay attention to this animal, she needed help fast.

After taking a good look at her, I could see she was anemic by the color of her gums (nearly white instead of a healthy pink.)  A look at her skin under that thick white coat revealed the likely cause. She was coated in dried blood particles, the droppings of hundreds of fleas. The poor thing had the worst flea infestation I had ever seen in an animal.  And I’ve witnessed some pretty serious flea problems.

I was determined to give this little dog a chance.  Before anyone could administer the sedative shot prior to euthanasia, I told my boss I wanted to adopt the dog.  A quick call to the owner sealed the deal, Princess was mine.

First, I put her in a kennel on a white towel and gave her a Capstar pill.  Capstar kills all the fleas on an animal’s body within a couple hours.  Princess lay down to rest in the cage.  I went back to check on her in an hour.  When she stood, she left behind an outline of her body made entirely of dead fleas.  It was amazing!

During my lunchtime, I gave Princess a bath.  She loved it.  The water pouring off her was blood red.  It looked like she was bleeding, but it was just all the dissolved flea excrement rinsing away.  That evening I brought her home.  What a surprise for my husband and our two German Shepherds!


Morning walk with Princess on her first full day at the farm

I had some concerns about how an aging, unknown dog would blend into our household.  What I knew of her bio was that she had lived with the old woman her whole life, an only pet who stayed in the house except to potty, was never even given walks outside.

Now she had come to a farm where dogs spend most of the day loose outdoors.  We had several house cats and free roaming chickens and a bunch of angora rabbits.  No need to worry.  Within minutes it was as though she had always lived with us.  The two big dogs loved her and she liked them.  She ignored the cats, rabbits and chickens.  p4

At first she panted like a steam engine with the slightest exertion, a result, no doubt, of her exercise-free prior lifestyle and the anemia.  Slowly, she regained her blood volume and developed farm dog stamina.  She went everywhere, following the big dogs. There was a frequent smile on her face, as in the top photo. Princess loved her life with us.p5

Her hearing was not great when I got her, and it rapidly declined until she was nearly deaf.  We learned to communicate with her using hand signals.  My husband nicknamed her Pita (for Pain In The A**) because she would frequently get in his way due to her inability to hear him approaching.  One day he even had to stop the tractor and get off to move her.  She could not hear the approach of the loud vehicle as it came to a stop right above her. It was funny, in a scary way.

p2Princess wasn’t fazed by hearing loss.  She romped with abandon. Her favorite time was maple syrup season.  She was a snow dog and adored everything about being outside in the cold.  The last two years of her life I suspect were her best.  She lived at full speed right up until her hips began to fail and she finally became completely incontinent.  She was laid to rest in the pet cemetery at our farm along side our other dear departed.



Apricot Jam

ab1.jpgOf all the flavors of jam I have tried (a lot!) my favorite has to be apricot.  I could eat it on warm toast all day.  If I did, my body shape would resemble an apricot, all that holds me back.

Buying apricot jam can get expensive, perhaps because apricots are a costly fruit.  I have not seen fresh apricots recently offered in season for less than $3 a pound here in central Maine.  The price may be due to our location.  In sunny, warm places where apricots grow they are probably cheap, although the price of the jam does not reflect that.

I finally decided to try my hand at making apricot jam.  Maybe I could save a little money.  To me, homemade jam always tastes better than commercial.  The ingredients are limited to fruit, sugar and pectin unlike what line many store shelves.  Small batches made at home seem more flavorful.  This suggested eating handmade apricot jam would be like tasting heaven.  I could hardly wait to get started!

Chilean apricots are in season now so I picked up three pounds at the supermarket.  Apricots must be thoroughly cleaned for jam since the fuzzy skin is also used.  This recipe has been adapted to my tastes from the one that comes with the pectin.

Apricot Jam

2.5 to 3 lbs fresh apricots to equal 6 cups chopped fruit

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup water

1 box reduced sugar fruit pectin

4.5 cups sugar

Rinse well, pit and chop apricots with skins (do not peel.)  I coarsely chop to pieces 1/4″-1/2″.  Place in large (8 quart) heavy bottomed saucepan with the water.  Sprinkle the fruit with the lemon juice. Thoroughly mix the powdered pectin with 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Stir into the fruit.  Cover, bring to a simmer on low-medium heat and then cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently so it does not burn.  ap1

Uncover and bring heat to high, stirring fruit constantly until the boil can not be stirred down.  Add the remaining sugar.  Return the mix to a boil, stirring, and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and skim any foam with a metal spoon.

Have 7 cups worth of hot, sterilized glass canning jars ready. Ladle the jam into the jars, cover and process in a boiling hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Cool away from drafts and assure the jars have sealed before storing.

Makes about 7 cups.  Yum!ap3

Intrigue at the Bird Feeder


Mr. Cardinal

During the last couple months, an intrigue has developed at the bird feeder.  This romantic tangle involves the resident cardinals. As the temperatures warm globally and here in central Maine, cardinals have moved their winter territory north until they now stay here at the farm year round.  For several seasons a mated pair feed on our sunflower and safflower seeds all winter and nest in the spruce hedge in spring.  The male fills the May air with his lusty songs of love.

Sadly, in November his female flew into one of our picture windows and killed herself.  Otto, the intrepid tracking German shepherd, spotted her poor body and I buried her under a spruce. A dark time for the cardinal.  He visited the feeder on his own.  I wondered where cardinals go to meet chicks.

Three weeks ago, he showed up one morning with a new lady friend.  She is a fine, healthy bird who has shown no tendency to fly into glass.  They seem to still be in the courtship stage.  The male moves toward her and she flits coyly away, only to stop on a branch and preen herself.  They appeared content.


The new lady

The scandal started late last week.  Another female arrived!  She hangs back in a nearby tree, watching as the first female feeds. When that bird flies up into the branches, the other swoops down onto the prime spot under the feeder.  Mr. Cardinal is captivated by both ladies.  I wonder if he is hedging his bets for plate glass roulette by keeping two females?  Or, perhaps the second is another who has lost her mate and just hangs around for the company.


The spare

They will need to sort it out, because as spring arrives, one must move on.  Female cardinals are very territorial, especially at nesting time.  Often, they attack their own reflections repeatedly, thinking a rival is infringing.  In the meantime, it is good to know there are plenty of lady cardinals out there for the lonely heart.

Skating on the Farm Pond

a1.jpgSince I was a kid, the farm pond has made for good skating when conditions are just right.  This is the first year in several when decent ice has formed.  The last few winters snow ruined the ice as fast as the pond froze.a2  We’ve had an open, warm winter so far.  Just recently the temperatures dropped enough to make safe ice.  My skating buddies Holly and Otto joined me on an afternoon when the temperature was just above freezing, the sky deep blue and the sun beaming down.  The weather is so mild it’s like no winter at all!

a5The horses, Vista and Maddie, hang around to see what will happen.  Perhaps some hay or grain or an apple will fall from my pocket while I’m skating.  Horses live in a dreamworld of eternal hope.

a3The ice is white, full of air bubbles.  The surface is fairly smooth, except where cattails protrude making skating obstacles.  Some winters when we have sudden very cold, still weather the whole pond freezes with black ice.  The surface seems made of glass.


Black ice and hoar frost on the edge of the pond

Aquatic animals can be viewed as they go about their slow lives beneath the ice.  I’ve watched the resident painted turtles’ sluggish movements and seen water boatmen and other insects eke out a chilly existence.  In very cold years the pond freezes right to the mud.  The water creatures must burrow into the muck to survive.a7.jpgThe pond is about 1/6 acre with a seasonal inlet that flows when the water table is sufficiently high.  The constant slow movement keeps one small area of open water available for the horses to drink.  If the temperatures drop too low or the snow gets too deep, this inlet also freezes.  Then the horses must walk farther for water to a spring below the pond.

The pond holds myriad memories of years gone by:  my brothers and me learning to skate–falling and hitting my head on the ice so hard I literally saw stars, my husband and me when we were young and childless playing on the ice in the moonlight, my daughter as a little girl bundled with padding and a helmet as she learned to skate.  Now my granddaughter Lia takes her turn finding out about the joys of pond ice.  She will soon tie on the skates and start another generation of ice lovers.a8.jpg

Crock Pot Pea Soup

c2Pease porridge hot,

Pease porridge cold,

Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old.

Whenever I make pea soup the nursery rhyme runs through my head.  I like pease porridge any way at all, although it never gets a chance to age nine days at my house.

c1Crock Pot cooking is the perfect method for making pea soup, the long heating period gently combines the flavors.  This recipe uses the 3.5 Quart size Crock Pot slow cooker.  Pea soup can also be made over direct heat in a heavy bottomed pot.  The cooking time will be shorter.

The latest batch I made was with green split peas, but yellow work just as well and are actually my favorite.

Crock Pot Pea Soup

1 lb dried split peas         large meaty ham bone or 2 cups thickly diced ham

3 stalks celery                   oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, sage, pepper

3 large carrots                   bay leaf, celery salt

1 medium onion               1.5 quarts hot water

1 medium potato

Sort and rinse peas, place in bottom of crock pot.  Dice all the vegetables to a uniform medium size. Place vegetables on top of peas, add the ham and spices to taste.  Pour the water over all.  Do not stir. Cook on high 4-5 hours, low 8-10 hours.  Remove meat from bone, dice and return meat to pot.  Stir well, serve hot, or cold or nine days old.c3



Foster Kitty Update


Mara, not pregnant

The foster cats from the Humane Society have been living with us since the day after Thanksgiving.  Christmas with young kittens was an amusing adventure!  The Christmas tree got undecorated on the bottom several times.  Luckily, the kittens were only a month old and too small to reach very high.a1

Mara, the supposedly pregnant queen who accompanied the two kittens I volunteered to foster turned out to not be pregnant.  She did mother the two babies considerably and cared for them in a way only a cat is able to do.  Since she is not going to have a litter of babies that need fostering, Mara was returned to the shelter yesterday.

That was a bitter sweet day, as my husband and I both liked her. Unfortunately, she was a handful!  Always getting into mischief and upsetting things.  We decided she was just too much for us to take on.  Mara will now be spayed and hopefully soon find a good home with people who will love her and appreciate her overly inquisitive ways.


Kai on the left and Cary

The two kittens we will adopt.  Little Kai and Cary are growing fast.  They are just about eight weeks old.  Both are friendly, loving guys who enjoy snuggling with humans.  They entertain us with kitten antics.  Even our two cats, Chloe and Toby, like to sit and watch the babies play.


Toby wants his share of the loving, too

The little guys busily explore their surroundings, finding new places to sleep and novel obstacles to climb.  Their preferred resting spots are on the stairway curtain and the big basket right beside the woodstove–where is is SO warm.  Of course, their very favorite place to sleep is on me.  Whenever I settle on the couch to do a little knitting or tv watching, both are right there to help play with the yarn and then curl up for a nap.