The Joy of Horses

One of the most satisfying activities we engage in here at the Hermits’ Rest is to go look at the shared Wild Hermits property on horseback. Sara, who co-owns the property with us, knows it backwards and forwards, and always has something to show me. Plus, we see things from the perspective of our horses, Apache and Spice, who always have a surprise for us.

Yep, it’s pretty out here.

Yesterday was the perfect day for a ride. It was neither cold nor hot, the sun was behind clouds but it wasn’t dismal, and it wasn’t too windy. The ground had finally dried out enough that we felt okay venturing forth; it’s taken a long time to get over the big rain event, and we still hesitate to go out to the “bottom,” where it’s still spongey. And all the trees are changing color. 

Spice points out that the sun did come out, once we finished the ride. Here, she is asking to be brushed.

Since it’s still a bit damp, Sara, the horses, and I just walked to one of the pastures, I believe it’s the one she calls the trap (they have names for all the pastures that I can’t keep track of very well, not being a cattle rancher, I guess). 

Apache and I smile for the camera. I have riding helmet hair.

The horses kept stopping and sniffing the air. Even Spice, who usually is the pacemaker, kept stopping. We kept looking to see if there was anything weird going on, but the only thing we smelled was the unusual but sort of pleasant smell of the fermented hay the cattle owners had given the cows in the next pasture. Sara said it reminded her of her childhood on the dairy farm in Illinois.

When we got to the end of the race (the skinny passageway to the distant fields), we had to stop and take a breath. At the end of the passage is a very large post oak tree. This time of year, all its leaves are a golden brown, but have not fallen yet. When you look at the tree, you see nothing around it but fences and other trees. What a great feeling. 

Not the tree we saw, but another majestic ranch tree.

We couldn’t get a photo, because we don’t take the good phones out on our rides (it sure would hurt to fall off a horse and land on your phone, plus that can’t be good for a phone). That’s why you have a substitute photo of a cedar elm.

Trees are great fun for horse exercise, too, as we can do circles and figure eights around them. I even trotted in a circle. I am not big on trotting, since I came rather late to my equestrian career. Apache enjoyed it, though, and so did I. We are in no hurry and have no show plans. Just fun. I’ll keep moving toward more adventurous stuff.

When we returned from the ride, having let the horses sniff every downed branch and check out every bunny that hopped by, Sara got a text from the friend who leases the pastures on the other side of the road. She’d seen a juvenile wild cat headed to the next ranch. Well, that may explain why the horses were hesitant to just head on out. The cat probably came from our area, or at least its scent did!

Harvey is on the alert for cats on the prowl.

We are watching our little pets carefully. I don’t want to lose Vlassic the dachshund, and Sara doesn’t want to lose her cattle dog puppy!

How Are the New Dogs?

A couple of people have asked me how Carlton and Vlassic, the two dogs we most recently brought into our ranch community, are doing. As I work on my next family history post, I’ll take a break to talk about these two sweethearts.

As people keep saying, he’s SO white!

Carlton the Dog Man

Carlton was the little, sad dog I got from the Cameron dog pound, A Touch of Love. He had been chained up outside since separating from his mother at just 6 weeks. I thought he’d make a great small dog to take back and forth to Austin with me. I wrote a long post on his genetics a few months ago.

Carlton is now a great, cheerful, medium-to-large dog who stays at the ranch with his three other ranch dog buddies. He is still one of the most beautiful dogs I’ve ever seen, and he is full of love and happiness. He will be a year old the first of the year, so we hope he has mostly stopped growing. It’s nice that he is about the same height as Brody the cattle dog and Harvey the chunky Rottweiler-ish mutt.

They bought this massage chair just for me!

He does not look much like we thought he would. He is slim and muscular, with very long legs. He runs like the wind, as long as he knows where he is going. We’ve had his eyes looked at again, and he seems to have a cataract in one eye that’s slowly growing, but he sees much better than we’d feared he would. 

He is as soft as he is lovely.

Classic Vlassic

Vlassic just showed up out of nowhere in August, right as we were realizing Carlton did not have the personality of an indoor Austin dog. We took him home from the neighbors’ house, intending to find him a home. Well, we found him our home!

Where is my human to sleep on?

This little dachshund-mix charmer melts hearts everywhere he goes. and has turned into a great little commuter. He goes back and forth with me to Austin, where he’s brought out the “real dog” in his friend Pickle. They run and play, and it makes us so happy to see Pickle not acting like a grumpy old lady all the time.

The vet said he was about a year old when we got him, so we have assigned him a birthday of when he showed up. 

I’m trying to get my smell all over the new couch, says Harvey.

Sleeping at our house

With all these dogs, sleeping might be a challenge. We do not have crates for them all! So what do we do?

  • Alfred the Anatolian Shepherd sleeps outside. He guards the ranch.
  • Brody the cattle dog mostly sleeps on the couch in the bedroom, but joins us some of the time.
  • Carlton has a dog bed he likes in the bedroom, unless it is really cold. He usually gets in bed at sunrise for snuggle time.
  • Harvey sleeps in the bed and growls grumpily if anyone moves and disturbs his beauty rest. He is quite an immovable object.
  • Vlassic sleeps directly glued to a human being all night, preferably completely under the covers. It’s a good thing he doesn’t stink. 

Amazingly, Lee and I sleep fine.

I finally don’t hate the way the living area at the ranch looks. Come see us!

PS

We replaced our stinky dog couch with one less likely to get ruined by the dogs. We also got a new rug, table, and lamp. Don’t worry, the dogs have already messed up the rug. But, that’s life with five dogs on a ranch.

Chia Pets and Chiro

I have a lot more genealogy stuff, but let’s take a break for some ranch slice of life fun.

Spice stands patiently while getting her hooves trimmed.

Fiona and the horses were glad to see their farrier friend Trixie back after dealing with an injury. She is so good with them, and they love being adjusted by her, too.

Quite a frizzy mane you have there, horse.

While we waited for her to arrive, Mandi and I groomed them all for the first time since all the rain started. Apache had a huge knot in his mane that took quite some time to remove and left him with a frizzy hairdo. Spice had something similar on her forelock. Fiona was just filthy.

We took a little walk to where the grass was very much greener. As they chomped at delicious blades, I looked down the row of hay bales.

That green tinge is not a trick of light. The hay has grass growing out of it.

I realized it had rained so much that the hay was sprouting. It looked like a very big chia pet! This weather is so weird lately.

Apache is zoned out.

When Trixie arrived, she got to work. I’m happy Apache’s feet are better. He also really enjoyed getting chiropracted. His lip trembled, his eyes shut, and he sighed with happiness.

Spice has more pain, so some stuff bothered her, but she obviously felt better.

Mischief? I’m just checking that everything is okay in here.

Fiona’s feet looked great, so she just wandered around and got into mischief when she wasn’t leaning on me.

Big Red has big red eyes.

We were joined by one of our two remaining roosters, Big Red. He’s really friendly and loves sunflower seeds (and Mandi, who feeds them to him).

The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends

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A loggerhead shrike nest in a bur oak tree in Old Settlers Park, near baseball fields.

My time with the Master Naturalists ended on a high note with a post-conference outing to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. The idea was to observe how a declining species, the loggerhead shrike, has adapted to using the park as a habitat, and is thriving.

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Bur oak acorn. Huge and tasty.

Before the outing, I’d attended a session led by Jim Giocomo on “The Geography of Grassland Birds: How International Bird Conservation Efforts are Linked.” He talked about how agencies and Master Naturalists can help provide these birds with more appropriate habitat, track their locations, etc.

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Jim Giacomo (center) and some of the other experts he brought to our field trip in Round Rock.

In that talk, he mentioned his own work with the loggerhead shrikes (the only songbird that is a predator), which conveniently nest right near his house and showed us some great footage of baby shrikes. In one film, the parent birds keep trying to stuff a dragonfly in the mouths of the babies, but it keeps getting stuck. It was hilarious.

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Tania’s Halloween costume was “nerdy birder.”

Jim’s luck in finding birds to observe over entire breeding seasons has given him lots of insights, so it was really fun to go with him and fellow biologist Tania Homayoun out in the field to see what he sees.

Continue reading “The Loggerhead Shrike and Friends”

A Grand Welcome Home

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Sandhill cranes, just passing through. Loudly.

We returned to the ranch over the weekend, with zero seconds of downtime, but we jumped right into the swing of things and enjoyed visitors, both human and otherwise.

Flying Friends

The most glorious visitors were just passing through. Many flocks of sandhill cranes flew over. We also saw a few snow geese. I just love the sounds of the cranes!

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One of my favorite neighbors.

While I was taking crane pictures, two blue herons squawked, so I got nice close photos of them. Of course, they are blurry iPhone pictures, but some day I’ll get a new battery and learn to use the good camera again!

There have also been a lot of visiting starlings, which we don’t usually have. One thing I’ve noticed about them is that they make lots and lots of noise when they are all lined up on the electric wires, but when they take off as a flock to rearrange themselves, they are totally silent. It’s really eerie when you are standing around in the field listening, and suddenly all you hear are the coyotes.

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These are so delicate.

Most of the dragonflies are gone, but we did see a lovely bluet by the small meadow pond. These sure are pretty. They curve their bodies where you see the stripes.

turtle
Why won’t the turtle play with me? (You can sort of see it in the grass.)

More “Friends”

Because it’s rained so much (have I mentioned that? Lots of flooding while we were gone), animals seem to be wandering around. Yesterday, Carlton the dog found an extra large pond turtle in the middle of the pasture. He was most dismayed that it would not come out and play, so he stood there for 15 minutes and barked at it, poking it with his nose a lot. Treats had to be used to save that poor turtle from the torture.

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This dirty part of the porch is where we harmless snakes like to hang out. I want to date this electric cord.

And later yesterday, I once again spotted a large snake on the front porch, in the icky dirty part, of course. I was pretty convinced it was a water mocassin, but the folks at iNaturalist talked me down, and asssured me it was a water snake trying to look like a poisonous one. I am pretty sure this is the same snake I’ve seen over by the pond. It hisses. We kept the dogs away, and it slowly meandered off.

Our house guest was not thrilled that we didn’t kill it. I repeated a number of times, “I don’t kill snakes.” I do understand many people aren’t good with them. My dad sure wasn’t! He’d kill them 3 or 4 times!

scorpion
It’s a scorpion, all right. Small.

In the early evening, we found our first scorpion at the ranch. It was pre-dead, so we didn’t have to do anything to it. We used to see lots more in our house in the karst area of Williamson County

Not Friends at All

We apparently have a visitor over to the chicken coop who is not our friend. It has killed at least 4 of the chickens (at least two roosters, who were probably trying to defend the flock). It gets them IN the chicken coop. Yet another reason for them not to lay eggs in there!

The Neighbor is sure it’s an owl. I think it might be a bobcat, since both hunt at night. A cat could get in there easily from the tree, then scale the fence to get out.

sheep
Leave us ALONE! We just want to eat grass. And escape from these non-sheepproof fences.

Something also went after the four new sheep the Neighbor brought in, and one of them lost a LOT of wool and some flesh, but seems OK. We are hoping the culprit is not the cabin occupant’s dog, who went after the sheep when he first saw them, so they don’t want to leave the pen to eat in the pasture.

Nice of all these creatures to wait until I got home to show up, isn’t it?

 

Things I Love about the Eastern US

azalea
Good old azaleas. They didn’t all blow away. These are relentlessly cheerful! Along with camellias, these are plants I miss a lot in Texas. We have the wrong soil.

I’m spending time in High Point, North Carolina, where my step-mother, step-sister, and other family live. Mostly my husband and I are visiting, but I did get to walk around the woods that surround the facility where my step-mom lives, Pennybyrn at Maryfield.

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A gray squirrell with his meal. The ones here are smaller than our fox squirrels; the ones on Hilton Head were tiny!

I’ve written about it before in the past (on Facebook I guess), since she and my dad lived there since the place opened. It’s one of those places for well-to-do people over a certain age, with homes, apartments, assisted living places, and a wonderful nursing home. There are lots of nice nuns and a lot to do. And the buildings are lovely.

penny
Here are some of the apartments. The woods are off to the right, and there are also multiple ponds.

It’s on a lake that’s off the Deep River, and bordered by some lovely mixed hardwood and pine forest. I enjoyed walking out there today and looking at all the native plants and birds (the landscaping is also nice, but not all native). It was interesting to see what was and wasn’t damaged by Hurricanes Michael and Florence, which both came through recently.

chapel
This little chapel is where I went in and talked to my Dad. He build paths and garden plots for the residents here.

The variety of trees is amazing. Maples, oaks, short- and long-leafed pines, sumac, dogwood, and redbud, to name a few.

And I saw blue birds, blue jays, crows, cardinals, house finches, and more (including geese I heard but did not see).

It’s just so different here from Texas. The trees are SO tall, and the plants so varied. And it smells great, thanks to all those pine needles. One of these days I’ll take another vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

maple
Most of the leaves I saw had multiple holes in them. This red maple isn’t as bad off as some of them.

Sadly, the hurricane blew down most of the autumn leaves, and the remaining leaves were quite tattered. Huge old trees are down all over town. I guess that makes room for new trees and lets the sun in.

While I’m at a place where lives end, I always remember that death makes room for life. Hmm, good thoughts for the current autumn/Halloween season.

Dogs and Toads Don’t Mix

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Not much room for common sense in that brain.

We have been trying to get used to having five dogs here at the Hermits’ Rest. It’s quite a circus when they are all awake and wanting to play or tussle. Luckily, it’s quite calm when they are all zonked out from playing.

Our newest buddy, Vlassic, has really been fitting in well with the pack. He is playful, especially with Carlton and Harvey, but also cuddly in the extreme. Quite the lapdog he is.

He is also very much a dachshund. We’re guessing he may be more than half. And it’s his doxie heritage that got him in trouble this week!

vlassic2
You can tell by the mud on his face that Vlassic likes to put his nose into things!

It’s so cute, but…

Lee was out walking the dogs in the late afternoon, as is his practice. It’s beautiful and not so oppressively hot once the sun is behind the trees. The puppies found one of the toads that lives around here. I do wish I had a photo to ID it, but it’s the usual toad.

Carlton and Vlassic were fascinated, especially Vlassic. He was jumping straight in the air and then poking it, like a doxie going after the vermin it’s bred to go after. Lee was really enjoying the antics of the dogs as they played. Vlassic even play-bowed to the toad, to try to get it to play back.

Then, Lee realized that the black bouncer wasn’t just poking. He was nipping at the toad. Whoops. Toads have secretions to keep animals from doing just that. They are NOT good for puppies.

As Vlassic began to foam at the mouth, Lee rushed the dogs back into the house and proceded to do his version of first aid, which, according to him, consisted of basically water-boarding the pup. The idea was to rinse all the toad secretions off his face and, is possibly, from inside his mouth.

Vlassic was not thrilled. But he did stop foaming. He ate all his dinner and fell asleep.

About 5:30 am, all that food came back up. But, once that was taken care of, he seemed okay.

Poor Lee was so relieved that he hadn’t let our little friend get poisoned to death.

Moral: keep dogs away from toads, even if they look friendly and playful.

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Carlton says he is too smart to eat a toad. Yeah, sure.

Keep Vlassic in your thoughts. Tomorrow he loses his favorite body parts. Doing our part to be good citizens and not create more unwanted pets.

On a Learning Spree, Part 4: My Darned Watch

watch
Well, of course the first thing I did was customize the watch face to my own preferences. I am not an out of the box person.

For reasons I don’t really understand, my dear spouse decided to get me an Apple Watch a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps that’s because it was 50% off? I didn’t want to waste it, so, I have said goodbye to my trusty Fitbit (it’s going to Anita soon) and started using the watch.

Lee stuck his 50%-off watch on his arm, determined how to use Siri with it, and went on his merry way. Not me. I love to learn about technology and didn’t want my watch to look like everyone else’s.

Since I am on this learning spree, I immediately went off and found the owner’s manual to the Apple Watch, and read every single page of it, adjusting Peach Perfection (the watch’s name) at every opportunity, until I ended up with just what I wanted. See that watch face in the top photo? It’s based on this picture of me and the handsome Apache, to always remind me of the ranch:

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This photo makes a fine mandala, featuring a lot of skin tone, brown, and pink.

That’s cool. (I just looked at the watch. My teeth appeared in the watch face. I just about spewed my lime water. So sorry I have no photo.)

Am I alone in this?

I mentioned my foray into deep watch knowledge to my boss, who’s had an Apple Watch since I’ve known him (three years now?). I’d hoped to use him as my Subject Matter Expert on these fancy appliances. He thought that reading the user guide was a novel concept, and declared me the new expert, since he’s never looked at any instructions. Sigh. He is the BOSS of all the people who WRITE user guides to things! And he doesn’t read them! (I don’t actually think he’s alone in this, since Lee didn’t look either.)

Doesn’t anyone look at the Help for things anymore? I’m a reader, so I read the manual, but there are loads and loads of videos one could watch, too. There’s no reason to allow any little watch detail to bug you! Be curious! I am finding that curiosity is a total hoot.

Some information was hard to find. I had to go back and scour the manual to find out how to change my fitness goals, but it WAS there. Apple is really, really succinct in their help writing style, and sometimes they are a bit light on details, though. So, if any of you know of helpful places to find out MORE information, let me know.

But, geez. I write user guides and training guides, and supervise people who make training videos. We all need jobs! Folks, check out the manuals to your phones, watches, software, and other complicated helpers! (I wish the husband and dogs came with user guides.)

Watches are fun

I was really thrilled to find out that the watch face wasn’t the only thing I could easily change on this thing. I can change out the band anytime I want! Today I am yellow, but I have blue leather, some happy patterns, orange, red, bright stripes, and so on. The wimpy pink band that came with the watch went away fast.

I do have the “big” one, which has taken some getting used to. I have always been a fan of tiny watches for my tiny wrist. See, I can grow.

PS: I’d be happy to be your Apple Watch fitness friend.

 

I Believe We Have a Pack

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Carlton thinks we went out and got him a friend. Note the slobber on his back. That’s from Alfred, the Big Dog.

Who’s that playing with that puppy we only got a few months ago (and by the way, happy 7 month birthday to Carlton!)? Why, that’s Vlassic, so named by Sara the neighbor, because he looks like Anita’s dog, Pickle.

Honest. Not looking for a dog.

We’ve only had the beautiful Carlton for a few months, and we’ve been enjoying him very much. He gets along great with the other dogs, and we’re happy.

But, on Sunday, Sara was meditating in her office, when she saw something on the porch. She thought it was something one of her kids had left outside, but then it moved! It was a very, very black dachshund mix dog. He turned out to be very friendly, very healthy, and obviously a house dog.

Continue reading “I Believe We Have a Pack”

Why, Yes, It IS Hot

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The weather app says it’s hot.

After a period of vaguely okay weather, with some rainy days and nice things like that, it is now extra-July here in the middle of Texas.

Combine that heat with all that Saharan dust, and people are staying indoors in droves. In fact, if I had a Gratitude Journal, my only entry this week would say, “Air Conditioning!” I’ve been dealing with most annoying asthma symptoms all week.

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Be careful out there.

Mandi was trying to paint the inside of the house she’s remodeling this week, but it doesn’t have air conditioning yet. She now has heat exhaustion.

I’m being careful and plan to feed horses and chickens at sunset, and will probably drive over there rather than walk.

Continue reading “Why, Yes, It IS Hot”