Category Archives: photography

Moving Time

Due to being “let go” by my company 2 weeks before Christmas in 2023, I am currently financially “pinched” and this means a few things have to be sacrificed until I get my groove back.

One of these things is a self-hosted website. In the meantime, I will be here harmoniouscrow.com adding to the Gaming Adventure and ranting about whatever gets my goat. As they say. Come join me!

A Plague Tale – Innocence

My next game in the Gaming Adventure (and now so very close to 700 games altogether.. SHUSH! Don’t judge me! Blame Steam Summer Sale and GOG and their ridiculous discounts!) is the tragic and beautiful, A Plague Tale – Innocence. Some may say it should have been played in the “P” part of the adventure, but I’m going by GOG’s list, as it shows all my games from various launchers/sites in one place, and it said that it was next. So here we are, and here we go…

First impression is that the game is GORGEOUS – the colours and textures are detailed and beautiful, and you immediately feel like this is going to be a game where the story is made even better by the amazing scenery and character design. The story, even if this had NOT been as beautiful as this game is, would still have kept me playing.

You start out in a beautiful moment, father and daughter (and beloved dog!) having a lovely evening stroll in a French forest in the 1300’s – Idyllic, peaceful, filled with Autumn colours and bird song. Here, you meet Amicia De Rune, and her noble father, and her gorgeous hunting dog, Leon. Father and daughter discuss her mother, and her little brother, Hugo, who is, apparently, chronically ill with a mysterious disease. Amicia doesn’t see her mother very often as she is dedicated totally to looking after Hugo, who Amicia also doesn’t see very often or know very well. Amicia is daddy’s girl, and is wanting to prove herself to her father, and impress him. She does this in various ways, and you can tell her father dotes on her and clearly knows her better than he knows his son. It’s a lovely scene, and you can thoroughly enjoy it… then some things happen (won’t spoil it) and Leon runs off after something. He is a hunting dog, after all, and a well trained one.

So we walk through the woods, discussing many things including the current war and the Inquisition, your ill brother and absent mother, and your father tests your skills with your (soon to be indispensable) trusty sling. It’s a lovely, gentle intro into the skills you will be using, and advancing, throughout the game. Amicia is innocent and, while a little sad and a touch jealous that she never gets to see her mother because she is always taking care of Hugo, kind and sweet.

That’s when things turn a little dark… not going to spoil the story, but some things happen and it’s downhill and pretty much running and hiding from there on out!

You start out very strained in your relationship with your little brother, Hugo, but through the misery, heartbreak, and sheer terror that you go through together, and the understanding that develops, you end up being incredibly close and loyal to one another. It’s quite touching at times. Hugo also starts out very innocent and gentle, but you are both changed tremendously by the things you see, have to do, and the people you discover along the journey. There are some incredible characters with their own deep stories, and these characters are not 2-dimensional in the least.

Yes, the story is linear – you don’t get to choose where you go or when you go there, but even that does not detract from the game or the story. Some places you revisit, and they are forever changed. Some of the people you lose along the way for various reasons, and each time it tears a little more at the heart. By the end of the story, after you accomplish your goals and help some of your companions accomplish theirs, you are emotionally exhausted, but tentatively triumphant. It’s bittersweet, and the ending is not quite what you expect.

As mentioned, the story is very dark, and quite gruesome in some places, and there are rats…. lots and lots of rats. So if you have a phobia, I would not recommend the game. As for the story, and the period it’s set in, it’s a dark, tragic time filled with violence and atrocity. Be warned. You will be changed as much as these children are.

Even the NPCs and guards and soldiers and everyone else you come across are very interesting and their dialogue makes sense in their position/location. I had many moments where my heart was pounding in my chest – and sometimes these were the _sneaky_ moments!

The visuals are incredible, and the music is absolutely on par with it. It’s a soundtrack you can get lost in. Each location has its own theme and song, and the action/sneaking music is also superb.

It’s a game to get lost in for a good few hours. This is my second attempt at the game – I don’t remember why I stopped playing the first time – but I remember exactly where I stopped, and when I managed to get passed that point and move along in the story, I was pretty proud of myself. When I reached the end of the game, I was even prouder.

I can heartily recommend this game. I have hundreds of screen shots and I will remember it very fondly.

Au revoir Amicia. Bonne chance Hugo. J’attends vos prochaines aventures avec impatience!

PS – Let the credits roll to the end for a little bonus…

PPS – all images are taken in-game.

We Begin – “35MM”

I initially played this game back in 2018 and only got about 30 minutes into the game before something distracted me and I forgot about it. Cue the Gaming Adventure, and, according to my GOG.com launcher (Which shows all of my 640+ games in alphabetical and numerical order) this was the first game on my list.

The game is not particularly intuitive when it comes to using things, or interacting with people or objects. I randomly found the inventory, and how to switch between your knife, other weapons, and, most importantly, your 35MM camera. That’s the reason I actually got the game way back then – the gorgeous atmospheric landscapes and locations, and your handy camera that was number 1 in your inventory and first in your “weapon wheel” so to speak.

I didn’t really know what to expect with this game – it’s made by a very small indie developer (1 person did pretty much everything except the music and the voices) and originally made all in Russian. The translations are not perfect, but they convey the meaning of the characters and some basic instructions in the beginning, with a few hints scattered throughout the game to attempt to guide you through the quite complex puzzles! There’s also some action, and I have to admit, the scenes in the metro had my heart pumping. The sounds and visuals were quite suspenseful and I was pretty terrified in some parts! The story is tragic, both on a “global” scale and on a character scale. The global tragedy is explained pretty much from the beginning, and it gets elaborated on quite well – simply seen from each character’s point of view, and with a few notes and journal entries and newspapers found in the various places you make your way through.

The more personal stories are heartbreaking and very dark, and they come to fruition at the end of the game in the final scenes. Until then, you only get little tidbits, not quite understanding the full extent of the story.

This is a once-off game – once you know the story and the puzzles, there is not much “replayability” to the game, but I think this is okay, because this is a game and a story that will stick with you for a while.

I definitely don’t want to go down in those tunnels again. Once is more than enough.

So, thank you, “35MM” for showing me a dark, sad, tragic tale in a very new way, and I’ll say “Do svidaniya, moy novyy drug.”

Birthdays and memorials

Yesterday was Gina’s 12th birthday, and tomorrow is Odin’s 8th or 9th birthday, so we decided to celebrate both at the same time yesterday. They both got a little cake with a candle, and lots of freshly grilled steak. They were super stoked. This morning I took Odin for a “birthday” 2-mile walk. He is a happy, tired little Boog.

We will celebrate Azzie’s 9th birthday in April, with more cake, ice cream, and steak!

In memory of our sweet Hazel, and also to commemorate Gina’s 12th birthday (a HUGE milestone for a Bernese Mountain Dog) we planted our live “Christmas” tree. We called him Pepe the Pinon Pine. Long may he thrive and provide shelter to birds and shade to the humans and cats.

Midnight Faces

I had this weird idea a few moments ago, as I lay in bed at 01:45 am: A calendar called “Midnight Faces” which was 12 (and possibly more bonus images) “photos” of kids who had ignored or defied or just not believed the Rule that if you held a silly/ugly face when a clock struck 12 it would stay that way. I thought that hyperrealistic art style of the guy from “Things I have drawn” would work best. Kids like Gertrude Farnsworth. “You are always eight, Gertie. Except when you’re not.”

Or Alexander T. Wallap. “Yes, Lex, The Rule applies even with experimentation. Sorry, kid.”

Laurance Epple. “We push boundaries to learn, yes, but The Rule has strict boundaries that cannot be bent or folded or even bumped. ”

Perhaps some Lore about The Rule, and how to undo it? The history?

I will see if I can contact the artist, and see if he is interested. I don’t want money, just a little credit/internet nod in my direction.

Writing this down so it is seen that it was my idea. Patenting it, so to speak.

Goodbye 2020, hello 2021

What have I been up to? Wow. So much. We can all agree that 2021 has been a hard, harsh year. Here’s hoping 2021 treats us all gently.

Gina turns 12 in February, Odin turns 8 or 9 in March, and Azzie turns 9 in April! *touch wood* They are all healthy and happy, and they will remain that way if I have any say in it. Gina only goes on short toddles down to the local park (barely half a mile) and Azzie joins Odin and I on our shorter walks. Odin and I are still trying to get out on long walks together about 3 or 4 times a week.

I am still working as a virtual medical scribe, but I changed companies a few months ago (the other company I worked for was bought out by a huge global conglomerate and they were making some rather dubious and unhelpful changes to our processes, so I decided to leave) and now working for a nice little company based in the US. I’ve risen quite quickly in the ranks – now mentoring 3 scribes on 3 different doctors, as well as performing QA work on notes from all the other scribes, and working as sole scribe for my beloved Dr. H – who FOLLOWED ME FROM THE OTHER COMPANY TO MY NEW COMPANY! Yes! FOLLOWED ME! He also brought the rest of the clinic with him! This put a lot of brownie points on my cards, so I was astounded and thrilled! The work is tiring, but I like to teach/help people. Still liking my work, too! I get to work from home in my pajamas and avoid all the silliness that goes on out in the world at the moment. The USA is screwed, really. But I am sure you have heard/read the news. I avoid news – especially mainstream media – and I am no longer on ANY social media platforms. I deleted my Instagram account a few days ago after reading/hearing about the new draconian Terms of Service which allows them free reign and access to your accounts, computer and life. I thought it was just the usual dramatic overreaction by people (people like to do that these days – have you noticed?) but I actually read them, and read some breakdowns of them by intelligent people, and, yeah, it’s unbelievable what they think they can get away with. So, sadly, I deleted my account (will only officially be gone in Feb, but it is no longer accessible) and now figuring out other ways to express myself, I guess.

My photography was limited to my phone anyway, with Instagram – and, while I got some beautiful shots and have good memories there that I am glad I caught, I really need to get back into my _real_ photography with Bertha (my D300) as best I can here in New Mexico. We have, as we always do wherever we live, created our “Bird Bar” in our backyard, and we now have hundreds of birds coming by daily to feast, and many different species, so I have started photographing them! We have some unique/rare birds coming by, including a Greater Roadrunner! She/he (you can’t tell, as the males and females look identical) has a crushed/crumpled left foot, and we don’t know where her/his mate is – we used to see the two of them together, so something bad must have happened, as they mate for life – so we do our best to make sure he/she has lots of food, water, and a very safe place to relax for a bit whenever he/she needs it. Our backyard is a bird sanctuary, basically! We have a bunch of “wonky” birds (no legs, weird beaks, missing eyes, broken/crushed feet, gigantic compared to their brethren, etc) in our Bird Bar, and we are rather proud of that! Speaking of birds, I rescued (yes, right out of a tree) a yellow and green Budgie a few weeks ago – Husband called him Commidus the Elusive (named after a famous/infamous Roman gladiator) as he was clearly a little survivor, living with the Finches and Sparrows for we don’t know how long. He was traumatized (not by us, but probably in his escape/abandonment) and he is slowly coming out of his shell. In order to help him learn how to Budgie (as he could only Sparrow or Finch!) we also got a little female Budgie who was all on her own at PetSmart, looking very miserable and sad. We called her Julia (the Roman version) aka Jules, and she has been instrumental in helping him become a happy, talkative, Budgie-like Budgie 🙂 They are loud and obnoxious and we love them.


Husband is busy getting his degree, and he is doing well! He starts his next series of courses on Monday, after a very short break for the holidays. 


Also, on the morning of 10/10/2020, I went across to the Big House (my mother-in-law’s place) to feed the feral cat colony, as I do every morning, and as I was about to leave, I saw 2 dogs hanging around. One was a golden coloured female Pitbull mix (looked like a Staffie more than the American Pitbull) and the other was a tiny, cream coloured Chihuahua male. The Pittie was clearly in very bad shape… and I burst into tears. I got them both some water in a big bowl and put it along the fence (it is still very warm in October, here) and backed off to my car. Both dogs came to the water (the female was struggling to walk) and drank the bowl almost dry. I didn’t know what to do – it was a Saturday, so nobody was around to watch them and no rescues/vets open) so I drove home… but I sobbed the whole way because of the way the female looked… my heart was utterly overwhelmed with pity and sadness for her, and anger at whoever had abandoned her. I got home… tried to explain to Husband what I had seen.. but I was sobbing so much he could barely understand me, but asked me if I wanted to go back and do something, and I nodded yes, yes, definitely yes. So we drove back and found the Pitbull lying at the gate… clearly in a great deal of pain, and looking like she wanted to give up. The little Chihuahua was close by, guarding her, yapping away. 

Very slowly, Husband went closer and closer to her, and eventually managed to touch her head and stroke her neck… and she initially looked very scared, but she then just relaxed, let out a big sigh, and let him stroke her head and what was left of her ears (they had been chopped off.. BADLY… as the idiots around here like to do with Pitbulls to make them look mean). We called around, mobile vets, rescues, etc… but nobody wanted to help. Thankfully, I had saved the number of Frank – a friend of my mother-in-law’s – who had helped get all the feral cat colony spayed and neutered many years ago, and had helped us with some other dogs we found (and found homes for or found the owners) – and we called him, desperate. He JUMPED to help us. He is an amazing man. We then found out he was a top man at the Humane Society in NM! We didn’t know that – he’s such a down to earth guy. He called his friend (also a top dog at HS) who was called the Dog Whisperer (and had dealt with many Pitbulls – as we had never dealt with them and we were a little nervous, if I’m honest) who came to help. He walked up to Hazel (as we later found out her name was) and she immediately just let him touch her… by that time we had gotten her and the Chihuahua into the nice cool, grassy yard, and they were lying under the trees in the shade, sleeping safely for the first time in a long time, it seemed. The little guy did not leave her side. We later called him Lambert, because he had little “lamby” ears and ended up being SO sweet and gentle. With Frank’s help we got Hazel into a kennel to get her to the emergency vet (the only ones willing to help us) and we drove her there, with Lambert. She had pyometra (her uterus was filled with pus and it was leaking into her body) from being over-bred. She had heartworms (badly – they had scarred her lungs already) and other tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease. She was in a very, very bad way. The vet said she was on death’s door, basically, and probably would have died if we hadn’t brought her in. Frank had discovered she had a microchip by that stage, and found out her name – Hazel – and that she was about 10.5 years old. She had clearly been dumped out in the rural areas and left to die, as when Frank found out the address of her “owners” – they were over 20 miles away… and there was no WAY Hazel could have walked that far in her condition. Not sure if the little guy was her friend and had been dumped too, or if he was just a little stray who found her and decided to protect her. Frank contacted them, and all their other numbers, but nobody responded. The vet also contacted them with the microchip data, and all the other numbers, and they never responded. And we were GLAD about that – because there was no WAY we would let them have her back. No way in hell. So, Hazel underwent emergency surgery for the pyometra and started on antibiotics, etc. She stayed at the vet overnight and we fetched our new dog – because we decided on the spot that we would be adopting her, no doubt about it – the next afternoon.

The vet said she was strong, and a real survivor, and she said that we would wait one month and check her again before deciding if we would proceed with heartworm treatment. Until that time, she needed to stay calm and relaxed and comfortable to prevent issues with the heartworms, and she was also recovering from surgery, and many infections and nasty bugs on top of that. We decided to keep her separate from our crazy 3, as they were not exactly conducive to “calm” – if you have ever met them, this would be totally apparent. We made her a cozy den at our old house in the nice big yard, with heaters and blankets and a big pink plush piggy toy to keep her company when we were not there. She had a nice big, green, grassy, shady yard to relax in, and she LOVED it. I found her many times sleeping on the grass under the tree while the weather was good. When it got colder (and man did it get cold fast) she happily chilled in her den and we often found her still asleep and relaxed and comfortable when we came over to feed her, give her her medications, and spend time with her. She perked up, got more life in her golden eyes, and more energy. We took her for little walks in the area (only a few minutes each time) and she loved that too. She was gentle, and funny, and so, so sweet. She definitely gave that horrible “pitbull” stereotype a run for its money. She was very interested in the cats, but not in an aggressive way – she probably could have learned to get along with them if she got the chance. We were never really sure how she would deal with other dogs, especially big dogs, as her only dog friend had been Lambert, and he was tiny. She did encounter our neighbour’s dog briefly, through the gate, but she did not growl, snarl, bark, or even get tense… she wagged her tail and perked her ear stubs up, and that was about it. 

So we had 2 good months with her, where she was so happy, and relatively healthy (vet wanted us to wait an additional month before starting the heartworm, and I am glad we did, as we got the extra time with her) and then we started the heartworm treatment. The vet warned us on multiple occasions that heartworm treatment was harsh, and horrible, and very dangerous. It’s like chemotherapy… there’s a fine line between killing the worms effectively, and not killing the dog, basically. She fought hard for 2 weeks. She tried her absolute best. Unfortunately, we lost her to the heartworms (After some horrible emergency visits to the vet with a bloated stomach, difficulty breathing, lethargy, etc) and the treatments. The worms won. (I am crying writing this, as it was so recent it still hurts like hell to think about it)

Thankfully, we were there when she went, peacefully, gently, assisted by our incredible vet, Dr. Anderson, on 12/28/2020. It was me, Husband, and my mother-in-law, and we told her we loved her, and we would see her on the other side one day. We later found out her birthday was 08/08/2010. Some interesting and significant numbers, I think. We try to find comfort in the fact we gave her a loving, caring home in her last days. 


Unfortunately, even though we would happily have offered Lambert a home, he escaped about 20 seconds after we got him home to the big yard (where Hazel would eventually live a few days later) and we tried to get him to come back to us, but he disappeared into thin air… we searched all over for him, but he was gone. We like to think he was her guardian angel, and when he knew she would be safe with us, he went on to help another dog in need. It’s the only thing that makes that horrible ache a little easier to deal with. We were so ready to give him a good life as well. According to the vet, he was about 6 months old, and in good health. 


Hazel was a special, special dog and we will miss her terribly. She made an impression on so many people, and so many people helped us with her care and sent love and good wishes for her – she touched many people in a deep way. 
And that’s about all I can manage to write right now, as I am crying again. 

I will be updating my site a lot more now, as I have no other means of contact with the world since deleting my Instagram.

All the things

It has been a _very_ long time since I last updated and I apologise profusely to the 3 people who read my blog. Thanks, by the way, for hanging on through my silence.

Quite honestly, the REASON I take so long to post is because so much happens between posts that I don’t know where to START! So, I wait and write a few things down and think, Oh, yes, I need to tell them about that!

And then, something else happens, and something else, and another thing…

Before long there are 20 things on my list of things I want to tell you about and I do not know where to start. Do I go with a timeline? Do I go with the biggest/most important news first? Do I tell you the little things and ease you into the big things?

*sigh*

I am going to attempt to give you an update that includes all the things I can remember I wanted to tell you. They will most likely not be in order, but as they come to me.

Let’s start with what happened while my husband was in Oregon, fighting the terrible wildfires. I sorted the yard out: pulled the weeds, raked up the rocks and glass and bottle tops and junk that the previous tenant left behind. (He liked to throw beer bottles around, for fun) I planted grass and nurtured it and watered it and talked to it and did my best to keep the weeds at bay while it grew.

Green

I had grass! It was beautiful and soft and green and I was super proud. Then the crazy wind storms came, and the monsoon rains (yes, monsoon rains in the desert) and the weeds and I fought a battle royale on a daily basis. We spent a lot of time inside.

Snoozing Odin, out of the wind and rain

After that, it got hot. Stupidly hot. I’m from Africa, we know hot… but this heat here in the New Mexico desert is diabolical. It was also humid for a few months, and the mosquitoes reigned supreme, despite my best efforts. I was COVERED in bites every single day even after dousing myself in mosquito repellent from the moment I woke. I’m allergic to mosquito bites so I now have many more nasty scars to add to my collection.

Mosquitoes… we hatess themsss

I did, however, get a SUPER tan! I also lost a lot of weight and not just because I shaved my 30-inch hair off – down to the scalp – but also because I was outside every day working in the yard and sweating profusely. I used the dog clippers on my head – it was that hot and I was that desperate.

Speaking of the dogs – I discovered a few new places to walk and we attempted to get into a routine of walking early in the mornings at least every second day. One place we found was NMSU, the agricultural section – lots of farms, cows, sheep and goats. The dogs love it. It’s also very shady and there are NO THORNS!

The other place was the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. It’s wild and strange but beautiful, nonetheless. We only walked the one path we found – about a 25 to 30-minute walk and just under a mile – as the other path was always under water after all the rain. We recently started walking the other path and it’s FAR longer (nearly 2 miles) and takes us almost an hour to walk. The dogs LOVE it too! We met our first rattlesnake last year and we politely and respectfully turned around and went back the way we came after I realised it wasn’t moving from its spot in the middle of the path. Just to be safe, we got the dogs vaccinated against rattlesnake venom. We also clipped the dogs earlier in the year before husband left for Oregon, just as it started getting hot. They all got puppy cuts – well, the girls did. Odin we just brushed well and I clipped down a little bit.

I applied all over town at every conceivable place I could think of. I got rejected for either NOT being a student or being overqualified until I tweaked my resume a bit and excluded all my I.T. work. I then worked, briefly, for a budget hotel chain. The pay was crap, the work was EXHAUSTING and seemingly pointless (to me) as you just repeated the same thing every day, but it was a job and I stuck with it as long as I could. I continued my search though, while I worked there. I got a job, eventually, at a father-and-son-owned health food store as a cashier. Through them, and the experience I gained with them, I also got a call back from Walmart and I began working there as well. I enjoyed the work at the small store, even if it was a bit boring sometimes – it was a nice quiet pace and I learned a great deal. Walmart was crazy – busy, loud, frenetic, but excellent money. Mind-numbing and exhausting at the same time.

I worked at both for a few months and then, on a whim – I really wanted to be back home with my dogs and my husband as I was working late night shifts and long hours and I missed them – I applied to a few positions back in the Medical Transcription field. I got two or three responses and wrote their entrance tests and aced all three (according to the recruiters who responded with a firm offer) but the first one offered freelance inconsistent work (I’ve been there, done that, and I didn’t want to be left in that predicament again) even if it was well-paid. The second, and the one I actually responded to with a view to beginning a career with them, offered shift work (afternoons/evenings) but also had many convoluted and specific tech requirements. On paper, my computer and I were a perfectly reasonable match, but the three weeks it took to try and get it working was ridiculous and I had to tell them thanks, but no thanks. I spent those weeks at home, unable to work, as they needed me “available” during office hours in case the tech people wanted to ask me to do something to tweak a setting, etc. I responded to the other offer I got from the third company and that’s who I am working for now! I went through their intense and rigorous training program and did well, and now I am waiting on the next step – being assigned my own doctor! While I wait, I am doing more training and BEING PAID FOR IT. It’s intense and detailed work and while I do enjoy the meticulous attention to detail needed, and the chance to work in the medical field again (I’ve always loved it!) it is mentally exhausting sometimes. Also, I’m a perfectionist, so I beat myself up over the slightest error even when my trainer tells me I’m doing great work. But I’m getting there and enjoying it, and just counting the days until payday.

My husband has finally transferred from Oregon to here, so we are now truly “settled” in one place for a while. Now, we just need to get all our “stuff” down here – from Oregon storage and also my stuff from back home that I’ve been trying to get here since I left in 2011!

Azzie had a strange issue a few months ago where she seemed to lose peripheral vision in her left eye and was bumping into things, standing on things, and falling off the pavement on the left (that’s the side she walks on) and leaning against walls. We had her checked out by two vets, and also took her to an eye specialist in El Paso, but they could find nothing physically wrong… they all suggested an MRI and other imaging, but told us that it would _start_ at around $5000. We were given a few other options, non surgical and not as expensive, but we were told they were just “shots in the dark” as none of the vets had any clue what was causing it and it was all pointing to a neurological issue. We were pretty stressed about it, and worried about our sweet girl, who was miserable, restless, and not her happy self at all. I spoke to my mum and she reminded me about our dogs back home who had had “mini strokes” at various points in their lives and that Azzie’s symptoms sounded very much like those. So, we told the vet we were going to give her time to recover on her own and see how it went. We gave it two weeks to see if there was ANY improvement. Thankfully, there was. I took them for a walk about 5 days after our visit to the specialist, and Azzie was much more responsive and not leaning on the lead like before. She also didn’t fall off the pavement nearly as much if I checked her, gently, with the lead as she started bumbling off to the left. Fast forward to today, and she’s almost 100% better. She is listening, paying attention when I speak to her (before she was totally ignoring me and would just lean as far over to the left as she could before my arm gave out – she’s a VERY strong dog) and hasn’t fallen off the pavement or walked into anything for a while now. Unfortunately, this means she is most likely prone to these strokes – mini or otherwise, they are still worrying – and we’ll have to keep a careful eye on her. I lost my Mishka to a final, massive stroke, but she was 17 years old when it happened. Azzie is only turning 7 next month. Speaking of birthdays! Gina turned 10 years old at the end of February! That’s a MASSIVE feat for our Bernese! We are so happy! And she’s doing well, with minimal joint issues. I started her on the Vet’s Best Aches and Pains and it (After a few days of an upset stomach, of course – she’s always been very sensitive to new stuff) really helped a great deal, especially in the mornings when she would normally be very stiff and creaking. Odin’s nominated birthday followed a day or so later, and he is probably 6 or 7 years old. I’m thinking 7, as he has quite a bit of grey around the muzzle now, compared to when I look back at the photos of him when he arrived in Germany, frail and timid.

Our neighbour, Hank, has a visitor for the summer, and she is lovely. A wild biker woman but kind and friendly, and she’s an animal lover, so she’s okay in our books. She has a gorgeous little terrier mix called Buddy, and he and Odin are quickly becoming friends. Gina, being Gina, is her usual silly, grumbly self, and Azzie is Azzie – confused and wanting to be friends one moment, and then ignoring him the next.

Husband and I have been working very hard on our yard and garden as well. Everything is neat and tidy and we’ve planted an olive tree – named Olly, of course – and we’ve made space for two fruit trees. We’re thinking a peach and a cherry tree. We’ve also potted some BEAUTIFUL flowering plants – a Carolina Jessamine (lovely yellow trumpet flowers), a Pink Jasmine (tiny white and pink flowers), and the Japanese Honeysuckle is starting to come back beautifully after the winter. We also planted flowers in big pots and seeded our herb garden with Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, Sweet Basil, Echinacea, Arugula, Chives, and lots of Mint. We have a lovely English Rosemary plant which we transplanted from pot to garden and we also potted some shallots and garlic, just to see what happened. We’re so excited! We also put grass seed down all over the yard, including re-seeding the empty patches in the already existing grass (which is coming in nicely now) and then a layer of manure on top of it all. Things are looking green out there and we’re hoping the grass finally takes in all the places where it wasn’t before as well. There’s nothing quite like working with your hands in the earth, with living, growing things and watching the butterflies, bees, birds, and bugs come buzzing back into view. We’re trying to keep the birds well fed so that they don’t eat all the grass seeds before they can germinate!

I’m sure there’s more to add, but that’s all I can think of right now.

Hope you enjoyed the update and thanks for reading!

On the Road – Part One

Georgia

I’m finally settled in one place long enough to get an update in, with chores and errands and repairs done.

I’ll catch you up on the day we left Georgia, and the travel and driving and the places we’ve seen since then. I decided to break it up into sections as one post on the whole thing was not only making me feel very overwhelmed, I think it would have been too much writing in one go.

An unseasonably warm and humid October in Georgia had us parking Irma (as named after the Hurricane of epic proportions that we went to fetch her during, and the subsequent heartache and financial craziness she had us going through after that) outside our home on post during the day, and taking her back to the temporary storage at night. The first couple of days we ripped out, tore down, extracted, unscrewed, unbolted, removed and replaced a whole BUNCH of things from Irma’s interior and exterior.

We took stock of what remained, what we could upgrade, what we could live without and what we definitely needed to get.

 

The extra swivel chair by the door got removed; to be replaced with Odin and Gina’s favourite round, soft bed – Azzie sleeps just about anywhere, and we felt Odin would probably sleep on our bed most of the time anyway, but he does love that bed. (It has seen a lot of use since we started travelling, so we know it was a good decision to keep it)

The old microwave (“It totally works!” said the RV dealership… sure it does… but the door doesn’t open… so what’s the point, you conniving arsehats?) was removed, along with the various venting and stabilising bits. We would look for a replacement microwave at some point but could live without it at that point.

 

 

 

The built-in coffee maker was removed. RV dealer swore it worked, but by that stage, we believed nothing they had promised, and we didn’t need it anyway as the husband is a coffee purist and doesn’t drink “filter” coffee.

 

We also removed the hideous, frilly curtains and sidings, and the dangerous (for clumsy people such as myself) hooks and metal tie-backs. I created simple, black-out curtains from our old curtains from Germany, made ribbon tie-ups and velcro fastenings for easy cleaning and removal. It looked quite nice and pretty much matched the rest of the interior (pale blues, beige, and pinks – sounds worse than it is) and matched our aesthetic, so we were happy with them. Plus, they didn’t cost much to make; just some velcro, some hemming tape, and some ribbon. I only had time to replace the bedroom curtains at that stage – the long side windows came next, in New Mexico.

 

 

We went through all our clothes, our gear, the dogs’ gear, our kitchen, and bathroom stuff, and downsized dramatically. The rest got taken away by the military movers and put into storage for 3 months until we could get a storage place at our “end point’ of Oregon; donated what wasn’t going into storage. We tried to sell some larger items (the dining room table, mountain bike, etc) but I was a bit late putting up the adverts, unfortunately, so those items got packed up with the storage stuff.

 

We only got Irma back from the RV repair place in Augusta, in mid-October; because everything that the RV dealership said was working, wasn’t; plus there were so many OTHER issues that we had to get it all fixed to make her livable and up for long distance travel with us.

While Irma was being restored and repaired (which cost a hell of a lot of money) we got a small stash of “South African goodies” from the South African Store in Atlanta; we had a few final hikes in the forests as best we could with Azzie recovering from her ACL tear and getting used to her brace; we spent a lovely weekend early morning at a beautiful pond with our friend and her dogs. We had coffee with friends and a small farewell dinner with only a select chosen few of people that TJ knew from work. The few friends that I had made had left Georgia already, so it was just a gathering for him, really.

We basically spent the last few weeks of being in Georgia, trying to enjoy Georgia. It was warm, humid, and there were still loads of bugs and mozzies – very odd for that time of year – but we made the best of it.

The items we ordered from Amazon, to make our travels in the RV easier, started arriving so we had the fun of unpacking those and waiting for Irma to arrive to pack those away. We also tried out a few meals in the Instant Pot and we LOVED it! So quick and easy and the meat was tender and falling apart, no matter the type or whether it had been frozen or not.

Our housing final inspection day arrived and we were all sorted – house was spotless and Irma was packed in a flat parking lot just down the road so we could start the fridge up (we got so many warnings about operating the fridge on a flat surface that we took it very seriously) and get it cold enough to put our few items from the fridge and freezer in it. The fridge was one of the things fixed by the Augusta RV place, so we at least knew THAT worked.

The generator ran well, kept the AC nice and cool.

The dogs and I walked from the house to the RV; a final walk on the post and in Georgia.

It was bittersweet – I will miss the forests and trails and lakes and ponds, but I won’t miss the bugs and mozzies and humidity.

I let the dogs sniff and piddle wherever they wanted on the way to Irma and we climbed in and waited for husband to get done with the inspector at the house.

Around 13:30 he came back with the Jeep and we had a small, simple lunch and then we hitched up the Jeep for the first time (it was a learning experience, but we’d watched many videos so we had a good idea what to do) checked each other’s work and then got On The Road for real.

Odin was terrified of the movement and the generator noise, but he found his “safe place” in the passenger side footwell with me. He slept there for that first trip and has done so for all trips after that one.

 

The girls got up onto the folded down beds – we put both of them down for extra space and Gina liked the couch and Azzie liked the dinette bed. So we were all comfy and happy.

We waved a sad goodbye to Fort Gordon.

As Augusta, and Georgia, slowly slipped by, we remembered our time there; but we also looked ahead with nervous anticipation to the next chapter in our journey!

The Vees Big Adventure began on October 20th, 2017!

 

Find Your Trail

To Find Your Trail

I am a firm believer in getting your dogs out in the area they are “living” (or even just staying for a short while) and getting to know it well, and finding good trails to follow. When a dog is stuck inside their home (or even if they have access to a yard) and never gets to go anywhere in their neighbourhood, they don’t know where they _are_ and if they ever get loose (and the chances of a dog escaping the confines of their prison – and it is a prison to a dog, as nice as it might be – at every opportunity are very high when they don’t get out at all) they get lost all the more quickly. If a dog knows where his or her home is, what all the landmarks and smells are around it, where the dogs are, where the roads are, they tend to be less panicked and fearful (sometimes it might take a little longer for them to calm down) and can find their way home on their own.

So, now wherever we live, I always get my dogs out into the area as soon as I can. We start small: Just a walk around the block, or around 2 blocks, or in different directions up and down the road we are on until we know the area very well. We then venture a little further, going 20 minutes in one direction and then turning back. We then look for loops and roads that return to ours. Big blocks, medium blocks, lots of small blocks.

Don’t be afraid to  turn around and go back the way you came – dogs don’t care. If you cross the road, it means even MORE new things to sniff!

 

Once you have walked completely around your neighbourhood (as far as you can go safely, of course) and you know it very well, head to Google Maps

I have found MANY wonderful trails and greenbelts by doing this. I’ve discovered secret lakes and ponds, wide open fields in the middle of a city, forest trails that start at the end of my street! Even if you find one and walk there and then discover there’s a fence in the way that you couldn’t see on the map – it’s ok! Follow the fence, or check the map later for places you can see a path emerging from the trees.

You can also start looking further afield: I start in my ‘hood, but I always end up finding places and trails about 5 or 10 minutes drive away. I then look for places to park safely, and hopefully a shady spot if it’s spring/summer (especially here in Georgia) and the entrance to a trail. Also – find OTHER small neighbourhoods and go check those out. Park in a public area (a park, or a playground area) and head off around the ‘hood. Your dogs will LOVE the chance to sniff and piddle on these new hunting grounds. You can even take a drive around the new area first, with windows down, nice and slowly, so you can check it out before you start walking – check for loose dogs, bad fences, chained dogs, “no dogs” signs, glass on the sidewalk, thorny patches etc.

If you’re tired of the street, go check Google Maps for green areas, forests, parks.  These are for daily walks, mostly.

If you have more time on a weekend, research places during the week and head off on a Saturday or Sunday morning, nice and early. We discovered a dam and a lake and a beautiful beach this way! You can also look up the local nature parks and hiking/biking trails – look at alltrails.com (you don’t have to get the pro version to find awesome places to walk, and they all come with comments and helpful information about water access, toilet access, and if dogs are allowed) or look for the State Parks website for your state.

Check out forums for local hikers/mountain bikers and you will find loads of information there too.

When I go walking anywhere new (street or forest or trail or farm) I carry a small backpack with the following necessities: Poop bags. A 2 liter water canteen and large collapsible water bowl for the dogs (winter or summer, they are thirsty fluffs). If it’s hot weather, I will bring a 500 ml bottle of water for myself. Wipes for paws/hands/etc. A small first aid kit. A toy – preferably squeaky, but that’s my dogs’ personal choice. A spare lead. Treats! Very important! I also carry my phone, a torch/headlamp, a tick twister, a whistle, and some para-cord. You never know. Might sound like a lot, but I like to be prepared, and you get used to the weight of it. We stop for a water break and a rest every 1 km when it’s hot, and maybe every 2 km when it’s nice and cold out – I go by the dogs and how they are feeling. Odin will ask for water if he wants it, and Azzie just flops down and won’t go any further if she is too tired or hot and wants water.

 

Do some research before you head out on a trail or forest walk: Know what snakes are in the area, and any predators you might encounter. Be aware and alert at all times, but try not to work yourself up into an anxious state, as this is a real downer to dogs because they spend the walk LOOKING for something to be scared of or react to. Simply be aware of your surroundings, learn what types of places to avoid (fallen trees – snakes love hiding under them) and never do anything too extreme if you are on your own (don’t climb down a ravine, unless you can see an appropriate exit path that you AND your dogs can get up without too much hassle). Be as quiet as you can – that way you can hear anything out of the ordinary, AND you get to enjoy the sounds of nature around you. Dogs also like silence, by the way – but the occasional recall for a treat and a “good dog” when they do, makes a world of difference to them as well. Be respectful – you are walking among living things: not just the trees, but animals call this their home. Don’t destroy things, or pick things that you shouldn’t. Leave tracks, not trash. If you can REACH the spot your dog pooped (especially on or next to the trail you are walking) please pick it up. I normally take my dogs to the dog park first, so they can poop etc, and I can pick up and throw it away and I don’t have to carry poop bags around for the entire walk. Sometimes, though, one or two of my dogs will go a second time if the walk is long enough to warrant it. If I can get to it easily, I will pick it up. If it’s in brambles, or thorn trees, or thick undergrowth (snakes!) then I tend to leave it. I do try, but I’m not getting my hand torn up by thorns, or bitten by a snake, or covered in poison ivy, just to pick up a poop that nobody is going to be going anywhere near anyway. Just being honest.

If you are someone like me who can sometimes get turned around if the trail has many offshoots or crossroads, then use your phone to take a photo at each junction, of the direction you came and the direction you are going. If you don’t want to use your phone, then find a few pieces of wood or sticks/branches, and make a double arrow – pointing the way you came, and the way you went. It’s saved me a few times when I thought I knew where I was, but ended up going in a circle… If there are no sticks around, find a pile of leaves and place those at the entrances to the path you are leaving and the path you are entering. That also works.

Main and final point: Get outside! Find adventure! Your dogs will love it – you bond so much more with your dogs if you walk together, and the longer the walk the better. Tired dogs are happy dogs. Dirty dogs are even happier 😀 Also – don’t be afraid to get dirty, wear good shoes that are appropriate to the ground you will be covering, and sunscreen if it’s hot, and lots of insect repellent. Pack a spare light jacket if you are walking in winter or if it’s undecided whether it will rain or not.