Farming Down Under

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In April we went on a three week trip to Australia to visit Quentin’s sister Deidre and her family. It was an epic trip, which started with a fair amount of drama when Quentin and Ashley didn’t receive their visas in time to travel on our planned date. After stressing for days about what to do, I set off to Sydney alone with Livvi and Myles, while Quent made a last ditch effort to get the visas. After begging and pleading in the pouring rain on the steps of the Australian consulate, they were cleared to fly the next day and thanks to some very helpful airline officials were squeezed onto the last flight before the Easter weekend. Disaster averted, we were all soon reunited at Dee’s house in Sydney and were treated like royalty for the next three weeks.

We didn’t want for anything, except sleep and some peace and quiet. Yes, you guessed it, the kids were a handful!! The combination of jet lag, unfamiliar beds, hectic molar teething and snotty noses did not go down well. They were out of their comfort zones and they made damn sure we knew it! Thankfully Dee is a GP so she made sure that they were appropriately medicated, but the whole thing was pretty intense. Still, it was a fantastic trip and we really got to see the best that New South Wales has to offer. We met many of Dee and Mike’s fabulous friends and we became part of their day to day routine in Bronte. We experienced incredible beaches, enjoyed delicious food and wines, got up close with a koala bear at Taronga zoo, and spotted kangaroos in the wild. We really could not have asked for anything more, but the friendly immigration official could see it in our tired eyes as we checked out of the country…. we would not be back for at least another 7 years before our kids are older and more manageable on the road!

Towards the end of the trip we decided to get out of the city for a few days and to take the kids to a more familiar environment, a farm in Cootamundra owned by Mike’s cousin. Needless to say, they were in their element, especially Myles whose eyes lit up when he saw the tractors heading to the fields to plant canola! Ashley zoomed around on a motorbike and was treated like royalty by our hosts, Charlie and Bec, who said she reminded them of their daughter who is at boarding school. We feasted on a lamb roast, ate steak rolls cooked on an open fire during a paddock picnic and spotted lots of kangaroo on our Sunday morning drive around the farm. Quent spent a morning farming with Charlie and learnt about canola planting and farming sheep on a very large-scale. It was really very interesting comparing their set-up to ours. There are so many differences (such as far less staff, no security issues, dealing with kangaroos, different price dynamic due to small local market and much higher exports), but at the heart of it their love of the land and passing on the baton from generation to generation is exactly the same as ours.

We came home happy and content with where we are, but very conscious of the big challenges that lie ahead for South Africa. For three weeks we lived in a bubble, out of the relentless bad news cycle. But news did get through that our house was ransacked in a robbery the night after we left. They didn’t take much, but they tipped over everything looking for money. Thank God we were not there. Others were not so lucky; there were three bad farm attacks in our area while we were away, two of them fatal. The stats are not comforting. Our families worry constantly about our safety. Nothing about the current situation in our country is comfortable or easy especially for a farmer (“boer”), but still, we remain committed. This is our home. This is where we need to be. We want to be part of the change that gets us to a better place. We just need to figure out how.

The road less travelled

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After all the activity around our auction, we took a few days off to recover and celebrate Quentin’s birthday. The timing was perfect as it was also the start of Ashley’s school holidays so we could really spend some quality time together as a family before the new baby arrives. We love road trips and driving through remote areas of the country. Our trip took us through the heart of the Karoo to Graaff Reinet and then on to a beautiful game farm run by friends of ours near the citrus valley of Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape.

On the way home we stayed at another beautiful game farm just outside Graaff Reinet called Mount Camdeboo, which was a real treat. Our wonderful guide, Les, took us on lovely kid-friendly game drives and we even managed to track one of their resident cheetah on foot. Livia absolutely loved being outdoors and seeing lots of different animals for the first time. On our first evening a big family of giraffe provided lots of entertainment as we sipped our sundowners and the mountains faded into pink silhouette. We were also lucky to see a pair of young rhino brothers who have become inseparable since their mother was poached last year. Ashley was fascinated by their remarkable story of courage and survival. Sadly, they have been de-horned for their own protection.

Our trip home took us through some amazing scenery on a long stretch of dirt road between Patterson and Craddock. We didn’t encounter anybody else on the road for over 100km! It was a bit bumpier than I would have liked, but so worth seeing the spectacular mountain landscape dotted with livestock and game. After a long day on the road we arrived home happy and relaxed and excited to tackle the next challenge of getting the house ready for the arrival of our baby boy at the end of September!

Birthday boy with his girls!

Birthday boy with his girls!

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Pass the parcel!

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We’ve just returned from a two-week overseas trip to Venice and Istria in Croatia. It was a big family affair organised by my step-father, Charles in celebration of his 70th birthday. There were 22 of us including kids and babies! I was slightly apprehensive to travel with a 7 month old, but my fears were completely unfounded. It was an absolute joy to have Livia with us, made all the more special by the fact that she could spend some real quality time with her grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and her sister Ashley. The kids had an absolute ball and Livia was happy to be dragged along wherever we went. She explored new food and the joys of gelato; discovered her little boy-cousins Tom, Ollie and Alexander; and seemed to love being passed from one adult to another, especially her granny Sussie, her aunty Hannia and her cousin Sibella. She turned 8 months old towards the end of the trip and since we’ve got home her development curve has just skyrocketed! It’s such a joy to watch.

One of the hardest things for me living on the farm is the fact that my closest family don’t live 5 minutes’ drive away, as they have done for most of my post-university life. It is so important to me that Livia has a good relationship with all of her grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins and that she should feel totally comfortable and relaxed in their company. The kind of family time we just spent together is invaluable to cement these relationships and I’m incredibly grateful for it. Here are some of the photos showing what a trooper she was and how much my precious little girl is loved by everyone. A very big thank you to Charles for bringing us all together in such special places and facilitating some very happy family memories. xx

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Road tripping!

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We’ve just returned from a two-week road trip through some of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, including the Great Karoo, Little Karoo, the Overberg region of the Western Cape and the Cape winelands. We travelled about 3000km through spectacular scenery and stayed in beautiful places. What made the trip really special is that we visited a number of different farms along the way owned by friends and fellow Boran breeders. We were reminded how lucky we are to live in this beautiful country as we travelled into the wide open expanse of the Karoo and wound our way up and down mountain passes into the Cape, stopping along the way to take in the view and enjoy some fabulous home-grown hospitality. And if we didn’t know it already, it’s a fact that South Africans are a very friendly bunch and “boerekos” (traditional farm-style food) really is delicious! We also managed some quality time with family. My dad John, step-mother Barbara and brother Johnny met Livia for the first time when we spent a weekend with them in Struisbaai. The following weekend, the other side of the family congregated for my step-father Charles’ birthday in a very special place in the Overberg called Halfaampieskraal. Livia was a little star in her car seat and grew in front of our eyes from newborn to baby as she hit the 3 month mark. How time is flying! Herewith some of the scenic shots from the journey taken by Quentin.

The Great Karoo between Beaufort West and Prince Albert.

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The spectacular Swartberg Pass.

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Sheep grazing in the rolling hills of the Overberg and the beach at Struisbaai.

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The view from Brenaissance Wine and Stud in Stellenbosch.

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The farm Halfaampieskraal near Bredasdorp in the Overberg.

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Scenes along the Route 62 between Barrydale and Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo.

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Our last night at Grootfontein farm near Colesberg.

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Road trip and rain!

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Quentin and I had an unusual day of work on Friday as we set off on a mission to deliver two of our Boran bulls to a fellow farmer in Barkly East, which is about 4.5 hours south of us in the Eastern Cape. Our route hugged the Lesotho border and passed towns like Hobhouse, Wepener, Zastron, Sterkspruit and Lady Grey. I was keen to go along for the drive because I’ve never visited this part of the country, which is quite remote and not really on any of our main driving routes. My sister’s best friend from school days grew up in Barkly East so I’ve heard a lot about it and the magnificent farm gardens in the area. Unfortunately drought conditions were evident all along the way, but there was an encouraging build-up of clouds as we approached the town.

The bulls were well behaved and by lunch time they were loaded onto another truck en route to their final destination in Matatiele in KwaZulu-Natal. We stopped at the local home industry for a bite to eat and couldn’t believe it when the only other person having lunch was my sister’s friend’s mother! I had never met her before, but as soon as she introduced herself the penny dropped. Their farm is 50km out of town so it really was a huge coincidence to bump into her like that. In typically friendly farmer style she invited us to visit next time we pass through.

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We stayed over in Lady Grey on the way home and took the scenic route over the Witteberg via Joubert’s Pass. It’s supposed to be the 4th highest pass in the country (2236m above sea level) and was built entirely by hand in the early 1900s by a group of farmers looking for a short cut into Lady Grey. It was a spectacular drive through a deserted valley framed by majestic mountains. We came across one farmer herding a stunning group of Nguni cattle – such an unusual sight that we couldn’t resist stopping to take photos. The next day we also stopped to capture some Ankole cattle with their characteristic large horns grazing alongside the road.

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Lady Grey itself is quite a sleepy little town and we hardly saw any people on our walk on Saturday morning. We stayed in a lovely B&B called Comfrey Cottage set against a dramatic mountain backdrop. The town ran out of water a few weeks ago, but the guesthouse fortunately has a borehole. I can only imagine how lovely the garden would be in a normal year with its abundance of fruit and nut trees and old roses. They also have a herd of very charming Alpaca sheep which add a lot of character!

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We got home to a cloudy day and a forecast of rain for Sunday. We waited and waited and waited and the heavens finally opened with pouring rain yesterday evening. This morning everything feels fresh and bright and clean. Such a great change from the dust and wind. The veld and animals are rejoicing along with my farmer love who left home this morning up with an unmistakable spring in his step!

Viva the Spice Girls!

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It was freezing cold this weekend, which put a bit of a dampener on our celebration of Spring Day. The Aga stove was fired up full steam hopefully for the last time this winter. The days are noticeably brighter and lighter and the jasmine outside my kitchen door is in full bloom so things can only get better from here! Fortunately, the cold weather didn’t stop us having a very enjoyable weekend, especially on Saturday when I joined three friends from cooking club to participate in the annual Masterchef competition at the Ladybrand church bazaar. It was a first for all of us, but we had a blast and our team, The Spice Girls, walked home with first prize!

The rules of the competition are simple. You need to bring all your own cooking equipment and be ready to face the elements cooking outside. Each team of four people has three hours to conjure a delicious main course dish using a meat cut provided by the judges and ingredients from the pantry. The judges had to score based on innovation, technique, creative use of ingredients, taste, presentation and team spirit. Heidi, Jenny, Vicky and I came well prepared with two Weber braais (gas and charcoal), a two-plate gas stove and every piece of kitchen equipment we could think of, including our pasta roller and ravioli cut-outs. We were only limited by the fact that there was no electricity so everything had to be done by hand. We had great moral support from our husbands, who sat in the morning sun drinking sherry and whisky happily banned from touching the fire or helping us in any way. My sister and nieces popped past for a visit on their way back from the farm to Johannesburg. City-slicker teenager, Sibella was mortified by the old-school “Boere musiek” blaring from the loudspeakers, but Sophia and Ashley were blissfully happy chomping cinnamon sugar pancakes and enjoying the cute home-made treats on sale at the bazaar.

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The look and feel of the Spice Girl tent was very understated compared to the other teams who went all out with coordinated uniforms and brightly decorated stands. We didn’t allow this to distract us from the task at hand though! At 9am the judges revealed that we had to cook with a rack of pork, which was a bit of a surprise as we were sure it would be lamb or beef. After a few minutes of consultation we rushed to the “pantry” to gather our ingredients. There was a reasonable selection of produce, but we had to make do without butter and olive oil and luxuries like parmesan and sage. We decided to risk it anyway and stuck to our plan of making ravioli to showcase some of the skills we’ve learnt over the past year in our cooking club. We made our own ricotta and two types of ravioli to complement the pork, one with roasted butternut, sweet potato and ricotta and the other with spinach and ricotta. We slow-roasted some tomatoes for a sauce. The pork was poached in a fragrant broth of apple, clove and thyme and then marinated in a sweet honey, ginger and mustard sauce before being seared on the gas. Instead of chops, we cut the pork into medallions for more elegant presentation. The crackling was salted and cooked on the braai until crisp and then cut finely and crumbled over the final dish to add texture and flavour.

We had lots of people stopping by to watch the pasta-making and the pork turned out deliciously succulent and full of flavour. The only down-side was the time it took for the judges to make their way to our table, which left the food ice cold! Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much and the Spice Girls went home victorious. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and we really enjoyed ourselves. My preggie belly especially enjoyed the steaming hot cinnamon pancakes our support team fed us through the morning and of course I could not leave without devouring a bowl of bazaar trifle for pudding! The things we do for entertainment in a small town….

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Hashing with the Harriers

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We took full advantage of the spring-like weather on Sunday and joined the Maseru branch of the Hash Harriers for a walk in Ladybrand. It was our first time on the Hash, but we thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and exploring the hills around town, a nice change from our usual farm walks. The 6.5km walk was followed by a delicious lunch at the ever-charming Living Life Station Cafe which opened especially for the occasion. The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly, but unfortunately the winter landscape in this part of the country is pretty drab. The lifeless overgrazed veld crunched underfoot and the views of town were scarred by fire damage. The route was carefully marked out with white dots of flour and maize meal and occasional resting points along the way were indicated by three white parallel lines on the ground. The sandstone cliffs around Ladybrand are actively quarried by locals and along the way we saw piles of bricks ready to be sold and a carving which looked like the start of a bird bath. There were also big herds of cattle grazing on communal land and some make-shift cattle kraals hidden in the hills. We walked through a very old community grave yard, which boasted some elaborate grave stones, but it was touching that most of the graves were simply marked with a stone. The home stretch was along the now disused railway line that serviced the town decades ago leading to the Station Cafe. One can see just how long ago it was used by the large trees growing between the tracks! We enjoyed a fabulous lunch in the sun with some very pleasant background music on steel drums beautifully performed by the organiser of the walk’s daughter. We are now thinking of hosting a Hash at Vastrap later in the year to show off some of the beautiful walks on our doorstep!

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Cooking in a Castle

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I had the most wonderful weekend of cooking with good friends from Ladybrand, Maseru and Bloemfontein. The cooking club I belong to, which is called “Happy Cooking”, organised a two day course with a well-known Johannesburg-based teacher, Alexis Kriel, who specialises in vegetarian Indian cooking. Unfortunately I have missed all our cooking club meetings this year, which have included a Spanish day and a master class in meat cutting (for examples of what we did last year see our blog Happy Cooking Club). I wasn’t going to miss out on this weekend though as I knew it would be special. Our friend Adri organised for us to stay at a wonderful guest house called Union House near Fouriesburg and we spent the whole of Saturday cooking in the kitchen of Destiny Castle, which is perched on a cliff with 360 degree views of the Maluti mountains. It was simply spectacular. In Alexis’ words: like being on top of the beanstalk! 

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And the cooking was spectacular too. Alexis has a very particular food philosophy or consciousness, which stems from her years living in a hindu temple in Chastworth. In essence, it is thought that the person who cooks the food and the way in which they interact with it makes a huge difference to how the food is experienced on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Before we started she explained all the different spices we would use. There were some that we had never heard of like asafoetida (hing), which is often used in place of onion or garlic. Then she requested us to use all of our senses whilst cooking so that rather than constantly tasting everything we should touch, smell, listen and observe the food to assess when it is ready. We should also not tamper with or stir the food too much. This was quite a difficult thing for many of us, but it really worked to maintain the integrity and beauty of the final dishes.

DSC_4163We chose to cook her Bollywood menu, which includes deep and pungent Indian flavours based on dishes we know well from restaurants. Although everything was vegetarian, most of the dishes could be easily done with meat too. The first day included: Paneer Tikka Masala (including home made paneer); Mushroom Rogan Josh; Apricot Chutney; Biryani; and a sweet dessert called Dhapa Dhoi.

DSC_4209On the second day we combined all the dishes that she would normally teach in two classes: Cashew Nut Curry; Soy Beef Vindaloo; Pear Chutney with Star Anise; Dried Fruit Pulao; Paneer Makhani; Coconut and Cashew Nut Rice with Mustard Seed and Curry Leaf Tempering; Pistachio Korma with Cauliflower; Green Chutney; and dessert of  Choclat Burfie and Black Tea Cinnamon Truffles. We also begged Alexis to share her secret for perfect rotis, which she graciously did and they were a big hit!

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We cooked in the amazing kitchen in the castle with a roaring log fire in the dining room. Destiny Castle used to run as a guest house, but the owners recently tithed it to the Church and plan to use it as the location for a very high level faith-based leadership academy. It certainly is the right place for quiet thought and contemplation of the complex leadership issues facing our continent.

Needless to say, it all ended in a feast of flavours! The pictures speak for themselves. We drove down the treacherous hill back home sated and satisfied. Everyone agreed that we had experienced something truly unique in a quiet little corner of the Free State.

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A lifetime of love

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In the early 1940s, just over seventy years ago, there was a beautiful young art student named Hannatjie Schabort. She left the farm where she grew up to explore the wider world and develop her talent as an artist. Not long after starting her studies, she befriended a group of first and second year medical students from Wits University. They were a spirited young lot, known as the “Sparrows”, who could often be heard serenading young girls in the early hours of the morning with their violins and guitars. Hannatjie was not taken in by their crooning, but she enjoy playing along and teasing them. One day she shouted from her window: “The next time you come I will throw you a red carnation. The one who catches it I will marry!” In due course she did exactly that, but having done it all in jest she never bothered to find out who caught it.

After graduating she went back to the farm for a gap year leaving behind a trail of disappointed suitors. Half way through 1947 she received a surprise letter from one of the “Sparrows”, Koos van der Wat, asking if he could visit her. Thus started a courtship during which he travelled to the farm every weekend to see her while he was studying for his final medical exams. He was charming, handsome and intelligent, graduating as the top gynaecology student in his year. It did not take long for Hannatjie to fall in love!

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Koos and Hannatjie on their wedding day, 20 March 1948

One day when they were travelling back to Pretoria to register for his medical internship, he asked: “So when are we getting married?” She was confused by this indirect proposal, but nothing more came of it. When he did eventually propose and put a ring on her finger, he confessed that he was the one who caught the carnation. He had kept it in his bible for 6 years before proposing and didn’t tell her because he knew she would simply laugh him off! They were married on 20 March 1948.

This is the story of how my grandparents, Oupa Koos and Ouma Hannatjie, met and fell in love. Last week they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary – a lifetime of love and dedication to each other. My grandmother always revels in telling the story of the carnation and how my grandfather, in his quiet and steadfast way, tricked her into keeping her promise! Written in the stars or not, their union has been a true inspiration to their three children, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. We were extremely fortunate to celebrate another milestone with them last week and look forward to their 90th birthdays later this year. What an amazing example of happiness, faith, grace, style and health they have set for us through their lives.

To top off this momentous year, my grandmother’s career as an artist is coming full circle with a retrospective exhibition of her work from 9 May – 22 June 2013 at the SMAC Art Gallery in Stellenbosch. I can’t wait to be there at the opening! (click here for her past exhibits at the SMAC gallery)

It all started with a red carnation!

It all started with a red carnation!

Oupa Koos in his signature bow tie with his love, ouma Hannatjie.

Oupa Koos in his signature bow tie with the ever-stylish Ouma Hannatjie 65 years later!

Keep Calm and be Patient

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I’ve been everywhere but the farm over the past few weeks, hence my blogging silence. I have no idea what’s happening in the veggie garden, my roses and dahlias are probably in dire need of dead-heading and the dogs and Poepsie cat are feeling sorely neglected. Not to mention my poor husband who is alone at home. After last writing about the beautiful sunflowers (see Mellow Yellow), I spent a week in Joburg for work and then we spent a lovely weekend in the Drakensberg for Ashley’s half-term, which coincided with her birthday. Having taken hundreds of photos of the beautiful mountains there was no time to blog about it, because I dashed back to the farm for a day before flying to Cape Town. A day at home was all I needed to see my garden wilting in the hot and dry weather and my slightly worse-for-wear veggie garden invaded by crawling insects! I tasted a handful of ripe gooseberries and raspberries and packed some green mealies to take to Stellenbosch so that all the effort of planting them would not go to waste. The mealies were gratefully received by my father whose nostalgia for green mealies dates back to when he still lived up north in Gauteng where they are found in abundance, but strangely not in the Cape!

The majestic Simonsberg mountain in Stellenbosch.

The majestic Simonsberg mountain in Stellenbosch.

By now I can hear you thinking, “This girl is permanently on holiday!” And you would be partially right, but there is more to the story than meets the eye. I am sitting here far from home with a purpose. Patiently waiting and trying to keep calm. Waiting to see if our long journey with fertility treatment is going anywhere. I have spent many hours wondering if I should share such a personal matter on my blog, but I decided it would be untruthful not to. It is such a defining feature of my life at the moment and many people already know what we are going through. After unsuccessful treatment in Johannesburg last year the doctor sent us home with no hope. It was a huge shock to discover that age had caught up with me prematurely. It has been an emotional rollercoaster of note, but Quentin has been my pillar of strength and family and friends have supported us every step of the way. I now find myself in Cape Town with a new doctor who has taken a refreshing problem-solving approach to my issues. We are in good hands and for the first time in a long while there is a small glimmer of hope. The journey is still far from over, but I am at peace. By hook or by crook the pitter-patter of little feet will be heard at Vastrap one day! I just need to take a big breath, keep calm and be patient. Miracles do happen.

Mountain walk with Beatrice and the dogs.

In the meantime, I am enjoying spending unexpected time with my dad and his family – Barbara, Beatrice and Johnny. I can totally understand why people would want to come to the Cape for medical treatment. Except for the terrible early morning traffic on the way to my scans, there are few things more soothing than a late-afternoon walk in the beautiful mountains above Stellenbosch with my sister and their team of dogs. I just feel bad cheating on Tumi, Paris, Patch and Coco with Chloe, Nina, Teeger and Impie. Poepsie cat also wouldn’t approve of my affection towards Sophie cat and Katty. Shhh, please don’t tell!!

Walking with Nina, Tiger and Chloe.

Walking with Nina, Teeger and Chloe.