Feeling Hopeless

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It’s been two weeks. Two weeks since our little beagle Hope went missing on the farm. She hasn’t been found. Since the second day she was gone I knew that something terrible had happened to her, I just didn’t know what. People said we should keep on searching and we did. But there has been nothing.

We’ve had to deal with a lot of loss at Vastrap over the past two years. First, Tumi who had an inoperable tumour in her uterus and then her daughter Paris, who died from a snake bite. Felix and Poepsie cat have also both passed. As much as I loved those animals, they were not mine from the start so I was able to manage the grief. But Hope was different. She was one of Coco’s puppies and I helped raise her from the first moments she was born. She was the smallest of the litter and always looked different to the others, with a very dark black coat and a small white triangle on her neck. She had the biggest, softest ears. She was fiercely independent and from the start ran wild on the farm, jumping off the bakkie at will to chase after things. We should have done more to train her or contain her, but she was so happy being free. I don’t know if it helps to have regrets. The reality is that farm life poses all sorts of dangers for dogs that one can’t completely sanitise. Still, the other dogs had relatively full and long lives, but Hopey was not even two yet.

I don’t have adequate words to describe how sad, empty and heartbroken I am feeling. I will miss her very much and so will Coco, her mother and partner in crime. She was so kind to Livia and never minded being sat on or smothered with love. She would often sneak off to curl up on my pillow and always came to me for special cuddles and hugs. Goodbye little one. Vastrap will never forget you. Rest in peace.

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Happiness is…

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We had one of those fabulous farm weekends where the laughter of playing children permeates every inch of the house from early until late. We had a house full of visitors for half-term weekend, including Ashley who we hadn’t seen since September. The weekends always fly by far too quickly, but it’s magical to see how much the kids enjoy their freedom and all the activities the farm has to offer – riding on tractors and combine harvesters, feeding cattle, stroking calves, endless games in the garden, sundowners and more! Of course the parents can have fun too, and we indulged in good food and wine while the conversation flowed seamlessly and people joined in and sneaked off for naps as they pleased. We made a special effort this weekend because it’s probably the last big group of friends we’ll have at Vastrap for a while. Quentin’s busy season on the crop farming side is about to start and I’m planning to take it easy as my expected due date early in the new year approaches. Apart from family visits, I’m hoping to wind down the year quietly.

Our little puppy, Hope was a big hit with all the kids and we exposed her to some new experiences on the farm. She was 12 weeks on Saturday so it’s time for her to toughen up and become a farm dog. She wasn’t so sure about her first ride on the back of the bakkie, but it’s only a matter of time before she’s clamouring to go for a ride, just like her mother! We’ve been waiting for Ashley to visit before doing a proper memorial for our Boerboel Tumi, who passed away unexpectedly a month ago (see Endings and beginnings). We bought a beautiful sandstone angel from Living Life and placed it under a newly planted purple Pride of India that is encircled with a heart. This morning we all got teary eyed as we remembered Tumi and all the things we miss about her. I can see the angel from my kitchen window so it will be a constant reminder of her gentle, loving spirit.

Happily, we’ve had a bit more rain and this afternoon there was a huge hail storm. The veld still needs time to recover and our dams are still low, but it’s been a great start. The garden is looking so colourful and I’m loving the luxury of walking out and picking buckets full of gorgeous flowers. All of these things are a constant reminder of how incredibly lucky and blessed we are.

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R.I.P. Tumi.

Hope with her two mothers.

Little Hope at 12 weeks with her two mothers.

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The gang!

The gang!

29 weeks - counting down to 2 January!

29 weeks – counting down to 2 January 2014!

Goodbye Poppy!

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Today we say goodbye to the last little puppy, Poppy Reid. She is flying back to Cape Town with her new parents Penny and Mark who have been visiting us for the past two days. All of us have become very attached to little Poppy, especially Hope and Coco who spend hours playing together in the garden. Coco is still very attached to her little ones so it must be hard for her when they don’t come home, but at least little Hope is staying with her. We’re going to have our hands full with two beagles, because they really do like chasing after scents and it’s impossible to stop them running off once they’re on a trail. In fact, Coco has been taking puppies on expeditions up the mountain whenever she gets a gap, which usually ends in some kind of rescue mission to retrieve a crying distressed puppy! They are simply not big enough or brave enough to keep up with their mother so it’s been quite stressful keeping them safe. We’ve had an incredible 10 weeks with Coco’s litter, but all good things must come to an end and it’s time for life to return to normal. I am so grateful that all four little ones have gone to amazing people who will take good care of them and keep us updated on their progress. What a rewarding and joyful experience this has been and a little insight to what’s in store when our real deal baby arrives in January! Goodbye little Poppy. Thank you for your love. Be well, be safe and be happy with your new family. We will miss you little one.

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Endings and beginnings

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We had a sad time at Vastrap last week, saying goodbye to our first puppy, Shiloh and our beautiful 8-year old Boerboel, Tumi on the same day. Shiloh went off to his new home in the Eastern Cape and by all accounts has settled in beautifully. Tumi sadly passed onto a higher place. Somewhere I hope she is getting all the rubs and cuddles and love she demanded in her time here on earth. She was a gentle giant, the matriarch of our pack and was incredibly patient with the puppies in her last days. She had ovarian cancer, which spread aggressively and could not be treated once we realised she was sick. Her spirit lives on in her blind daughter Paris, who still seems a bit confused by what has happened (see “How Paris ‘sees’ the world“).

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The puppies have thrown our whole routine off course so we will have to slowly establish a new equilibrium once we settle back to ‘normal’. The second puppy, Rosebud was collected by her new owners today. She has gone off to Johannesburg with a very chuffed little girl who is going to take good care of her and their other Beagle Josh. The last two, Spike and Poppy will stay with us for another week. Our puppy Hope, is turning into a very spirited little thing. She seems to have no fear and leads the pack in most things mischief! It is so cute seeing the world through their little eyes as they discover things for the first time, like coming face to face with chickens in the garden and the delights of sheep and cow dung… ugh! Hope is yet to integrate herself into the bigger Vastrap pack, but over time I have no doubt she will fill a little corner of the gaping space left by Tumi. A sad ending followed by a new beginning, such is the cycle of life.

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Happy Days!

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This past long weekend was a treat. Having visitors to stay always presents an opportunity to enjoy things that farm life has to offer, like the space, outdoors, instant activities for the kids and of course long lazy breakfasts, lunches and dinners! The cherry on top was that Ashley was also here. She has lost both her front teeth and I just love her new toothless smile! The kids had a ball riding their bikes, skate boarding, playing tennis, riding on the back of the bakkie, feeding cows and horses, herding sheep, collecting chicken eggs, riding horses, making lemonade with a pile of lemons they picked from the tree, playing on the swings at Living Life while the adults enjoyed a lazy lunch and digging holes in the excavator with Quentin. The celebration of Heritage Day in South Africa coincides with Braai Day on 24 September, which makes some kind of braai or barbecue an absolute must. We enjoyed delicious farm lamb chops, boerewors and steak with charred grilled sweetcorn. The farm is still extremely dry, but spring is alive and well in the garden with the wisteria almost past its prime and purple orchids in full bloom. Sadly, outside the areas we water the grass is still dead and brown desperately waiting for the first summer rain.

Our troop of five Beagle puppies are a constant source of entertainment and they have become extremely playful at 7 weeks of age. Their little ears are hilariously long! The first little one, Shiloh, is leaving for his new home in a few days’ time so we are making the absolute most of their last days together. I had a big scare this morning when Shiloh went missing… until  now they’ve never wandered off and have tended to stick in their pack. After looking in all his favourite hiding spots I heard a puppy barking in the mountain above our house. It sounded too far away to be true, but there was no mistaking that it was him. I ran as fast as I could up the rough path behind the house and eventually also heard Coco barking. Low and behold, he had got himself stuck on a rocky outcrop on the lower slope of the mountain! I was so relieved to see them both, but couldn’t believe that he had wandered so far! The poor little thing was quite shattered and cried all the way home, while Coco looked relieved that her baby had not been harmed. After a good sleep he was back in fine form bouncing around the garden. I’ll have to keep a much closer eye on them now that they’re becoming more adventurous so that they can all make it to their new homes safe and sound.

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Celebrating Spring!

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I’ve been very out of touch with the seasons this year. The onset of Spring hasn’t been quite the event it was last year perhaps because we had such a warm winter. But in general, my attention hasn’t been focused out of doors. I spent most of winter worrying about my pregnancy and feeling a little fragile, then there was pregnant Coco to fuss over and after that the puppies. In between, all our energies were focused on our auction which left very little time to think about the garden or go on our usual long walks with the dogs on the farm. I’m still a little ambivalent about the garden, but getting more and more excited for summer and the changes in store for us over the next few months.

The good news is that my pregnancy is progressing well and I’m now more than half way there. My bump is starting to show and I’m feeling her movement more clearly. Packing away our heavy winter clothes and unpacking summer stuff this morning, I was left with only a small pile of things that I’ll be able to fit into by the end of the month when I transition into my third trimester. By the time we meet her in early January, it will be the best time of year in the garden with the Dahlias and roses in full bloom. My biggest conundrum is what to plant in the veggie garden this summer given that I’ll hardly be in a fit state to do daily harvests. But that didn’t stop me from ordering a load of seeds from Living Seeds this week – I just couldn’t resist their amazing selection of heirloom beans and tomatoes, but steered well clear of the zucchini!

On the farm it is extremely dry and conditions will only get worse as temperatures rise. The veld and our wheat crop are thirsty for rain. The willow trees have sprouted green leaves, but the poplars and oaks are still bare. More than anything I love the change in light at this time of year, which brings a special glow to the early mornings and evenings when I’m generally out on the lawn playing with the puppies. Another winter has passed. Welcome back summer!

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Puppy Party!

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We just can’t get enough of these puppies! It’s a full time job taking care of this lot, but I’ve had some wonderful help over the past few days while my sister and my nieces Sibella and Sophia have been visiting. The minute Ashley arrived for her visit last week she insisted that we had to have a puppy party for our cute new babies. I didn’t really know what she had in mind, but I needn’t have worried because the planning began as soon as her cousins were here. The kids awoke with much excitement on Wednesday morning and started to blow up balloons and decorate the TV room. They even drew special cards for each puppy, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any photos of them. While I baked some chocolate-chip biscuits, Sibella attended to the girls’ make-up. As soon as the puppies woke from their mid-morning nap they joined in the fun. Clueless as to what was going on, the rest of us had a great time watching them explore and play. They have completely come to life over the past week and are now fully engaged in boisterous play, which often involves biting each other as hard as possible ending in shrieks of pain! Coco is keeping a wary distance, but reluctantly lies down for a feed every now and again even though she is suffering more and more abuse from their sharp little teeth! Meanwhile I am trying my best to entice them with solid food to help with the weaning process. So far so good. They are looking gorgeous and we love them all to bits. It’s going to be very hard to say goodbye when they leave for their new homes at the end of September.

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