From a Pig Sty to a Castle: Le Road Trip Francais

“And could we get a SAT NAV, please?”
“Sorrrrrry. Only available if you upgrade to a vehicle with a SAT NAV. You can go buy your own at a big Tesco.”
“Oh, well, do you have any maps?”
“No. Sorrrrry.”
“OK. We’ll figure it out.”

And thus began our own little Tour de France, you know, without bicycles and involving quite a bit more junk food.

Although Susan and I didn’t have the easiest time prying the car keys from the hands of the frigid anti-American rental agency, once we got on the road, we were happily rolling through the lovely English countryside, southbound to Dover.


We arrived eight hours later and were somehow both surprised that Dover really did have the white cliffs Vera Lynn sang about in the 1940’s:


After almost two hours on the ferry, we arrived in France, refreshed and excited! We drove three hours into Paris, where we parked our car in the smallest space of an underground dungeon-converted-parking garage and toasted to our successful driving on the right side of the car and effortlessly switching from driving on the left to driving on the right side of the road with a glass of vin rogue. Cheers to epic adaptability!

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The next morning, we met up with one of Susan’s friends, an ex-pat with a habit of finding and helping struggling American students in Parisian public transit hubs. We walked along the canal, ate delicious food and stopped in at a bakery for coffee and dessert.


With bellies full of Parisian delights, we got in our car (again) and were off to GroinGroin, a sanctuary for pigs, just outside of Le Mans, France. We stayed at Groin Groin for the week, learning about pig husbandry by day and enjoying delicious (and cheap) French wine by night.

Groin Groin is home to 20 Vietnamese Pot-bellied pigs, 2 Kunekune pigs and 3 Large White pigs in addition to 1 goat, 1 donkey, 3 chickens, 1 turkey, 10 horses, 2 dogs, and 4 cats.  I loved them all.

Every morning, we fed the pigs and let the chickens and turkey out of their “château.” Not speaking any French, aside from the few words I’ve heard via various pop culture outlets, I didn’t know how to say “chicken roost,” so I called it “Château du Poulette” and the name stuck.


We learned how to trim teeth and feet and give injections and oral medications. Trimming tusks is not a job for the faint of heart! One person holds the pig on it’s back with all of their strength and tries really hard not to drip sweat on the person who is sawing off the pig’s tusks with a wire. These pigs are strong! There may have been a moment in which the pig (on his back) lifted me ever so slightly off the ground and I screamed (just a little scream) as I felt myself plunging toward the one unsawed off tusk (images of the hogs attacking Old Yeller came to mind). Luckily for me and the two other people clustered around, I regained my composure and maintained positive control of the pig, who was squealing as loud as a fire engine about 20 inches away from my ear.

After my experience sawing off pig teeth, let’s just say, I find the “fire and brimstone” image of hell somewhat lacking. Holding down an angry hog in a hot confined space while he is squealing as loud as he can in your face – now, we’re talking!

This face may look cute, but it’s really saying, “Do NOT underestimate me!”


Our last night at the sanctuary, we got to feed the pigs day old baguettes and croissants that were donated from a local bakery. True confession: I may have eaten one of the pains au chocolat myself, and day old or not, it was fantastic!


just a bite

Our time at the pig sanctuary was wonderful! It really must be home to the happiest little pigs on earth!

Julia2 Julia rosie kune kune

Susan and I joked about trying to take some of the animals back with us. We were wondering if we could get away with hiding a pig and some cats in the trunk and just claim “nothing to declare” when we went through customs. We abandoned this plan when I insisted that if we bring anyone back, it’s going to be my pal, the donkey!

me and donkey

At the end of the week, we bid our little piggies au revoir and drove to Vendée, France to stay the night with family friends who live in a castle there. After staying at Château Clemenceau, I understood with a new appreciation the hilarity behind my choice of words for “Château du Poulette.castle castle2

me and castle

The castle was lovely! We walked in the gardens and ate fresh figs. The two youngest Clemenceau children gave us an in-depth tour of grounds, from their grand tree house to the enormous cedar tree marking the end of the estate. tree house

cedar treeWe chatted with more ex-pats, happily living in France. We drank more great wine and ate more delicious food and slept under the roof of a building that has been standing in its current state since the 16th century, but can be traced back to the days of the Roman Empire.

The next day, we started our trip back to Scotland. Six hours of driving to the ferry, two hours on the ferry and eight hours back to Edinburgh. We intended to detour to Stonehenge and see the stones under the light of the Super Moon, but apparently you have to book tickets in advance and they don’t let people wander around famous ancient pagan monuments at night. So, we drove through the night and pulled off to take a nap after Susan saw an alligator on the side of the road and I saw an Indian War Chief standing by a road sign sometime after 3 am. You just shouldn’t be driving if you’re hallucinating non-native peoples and animals.

We made it home safe and sound, where I was enthusiastically greeted by a beagle who was either very happy to see me, or very happy that I still smelled vaguely of pigs. This was my last extra mural studies placement for my first year of vet school and I can’t think of a better way for the year to have come to a close!

road trip

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WARNING: Calves in Pictures are Larger than they Appear

This post is dedicated to my fellow vet students, or anyone who has ever had their butt kicked by a baby animal….

There is a special kind of wound to your pride when you are kicked around, bruised and battered by an animal whose umbilical cord is still hanging off it’s navel. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s go ahead and check, “get beat up by infant cow” off my bucket list.

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Here’s the thing about newborn calves: they are like really big, super awkward lambs. If you remember, I worked with lambs for the first time in April. Even though I proved to be positively no help around a farm at lambing time and I killed half a dozen of them, I gained a real appreciation for the art of sheep farming.

My appreciation for cattle husbandry also grew over my time on the dairy farm, but came at the cost of numerous bruises, nettle burns, and a rash of light scratches on the delicate skin inside my forearms. Calves have heavily keratinized filiform papillae covering their tongue (or in human speak, “rough, stabby thingys”) which can really do some damage to those of us with sensitive skin…apparently.

These bovine babies and I got along…eventually…after a clearing up a few misunderstandings.

My first day, I worked with The Calf Whisperer in the morning, learning which calves to feed what, and was left to my own devices for the afternoon shift. Overall, it went well. Until, that is, it was time to feed the “calves in the field.” These calves are pretty much micro-cows. They are fully weaned. They don’t come up to you to suck your fingers or nuzzle you. And when you are nose to nose with one, you realize they are seriously big.

When I jumped off the quad bike with a bag of feed in hand, the field of calves rushed me like a pack of rugby players going after a post-game pint.

As a general rule, calves are not scarey. They don’t even have that many teeth. Still, I was aware that being knocked off my feet could result in some painful trampling, and tensed up slightly.


I wanted to sound stern. It worked. Even though I was wearing pink wellies, I commanded respect!

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I emptied two of the three bags into the troughs. As I was emptying the third bag, the calves were in a South African Shark Style feeding frenzy.

I turned around in time to see a young bullock trotting right at me. In my desire to alter his course to something that was less threatening to my MCL, I tried my stern “BACK OFF,”  but this time, I punctuated my words with a flap of the empty feed bag.

The bullock turned to face me directly and lowered his head. It really is quite a threatening posture…for a cow.

I waved the bag again, and it dawned on me; I was waving a white and orange feed bag in the same style matadors wave their red capes. I wondered if I was, in fact, challenging and enraging my young 200 kg friend.

Thoughts of awkward explanations filled my mind. How would I tell everyone that I was kicked out of vet school for being beat up by a juvenile dairy cow?! I stuffed the bag behind me and  making eye contact, growled at him, “BACK! AWAY! MY! FRIEND!” as I made my way back to the quad with as much dignity as I could muster under the circumstances.

Later in the week, I had mastered feeding all of the baby animals without fearing for my life and was presented with a new challenge: castration.

Young male calves are castrated by the application of a small rubber ring. There are two important aspects to castrating bullocks:

1. Both testicles need to be in the scrotum below the ring for it to work (this should be obvious)

2. Well, see point 1. That was really the whole idea of it.

I don’t care how awkward your job is. I can guarantee it is not massage a baby bull’s testicles to keep them from being sucked up and out of the scrotum awkward. And just as I felt the need to maintain a constant dialogue with mama ewe when I had my hand in her vagina, I couldn’t feel up a bull’s ball sack without saying something:

“Hey buddy, you got 2 of them in there? That’s a good boy. Ok hold still, don’t suck them up…don’t….awwwww c’mon man, you can’t keep one, I need both balls here, let’s make this quick, trust me, you’ll want it over as soon as possible.”

At one point, with a particularly difficult calf, I paused, my hand still gently holding his testicles, flipped my hair out of my eyes, and said to my instructor, “I think he might actually be enjoying this. He’s keeping a ball up on purpose!”

Yes. I realize that scenario is highly unlikely, neither the calf nor I were enjoying ourselves at that particular manure and milk covered moment.

I cupped his scrotum again, this time feeling both balls. This was it! In one swift movement, I opened the ring applicator, shoved it up between his legs and released *BAM*

D asked me if I got him.

Um no….actually, I just castrated my thumb….

Sure enough, there was a rubber ring around my thumb.

I’m sorry, I don’t know how I did that.

Good one, young bullock. Good one.

All and all, I wasn’t a total failure for the week, I actually have a knack for getting new calves to drink their milk. Spike was my tough little dairy bull. His first day, he was absolutely terrified of the bottle and didn’t drink much, which left me all the more motivated to feed him the next morning.

Since the heifers born on the same day as Spike were happily drinking from their milk bucketss on the second day, I hung one over his door too. Big mistake. Spike was afraid of the milk bucket. I reached over and tried to get him to suck my fingers. Big mistake. Spike was afraid of my hand reaching over the door. I opened the door and sat down with the bottle. Spike was afraid of the bottle.

I scratched the side of his face and talked to him. Eventually, Spike stopped being so afraid. I got him to suck my fingers and then tricked him into drinking from the bottle. He was still scared, but not paralyzed with fear. 2014-06-25 08.11.45By dinner, I was able to get him to drink from his feeder, as long as the door was open and I was standing with him….and we went through the whole touching/desensitizing process again.

The next day at breakfast, Spike still needed me to open his door and lead him to his feeder, but he drank all of his milk!

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Climbing the steep learning curve of working with dairy cows wasn’t easy, but castration faux pas and feed stampede aside, I wouldn’t say I’m totally hopeless. I might end up being a country vet after all…

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Tractor Driving and Lactation.

I drove a tractor today.


I DROVE A TRACTOR TODAY. Unsupervised. By myself. I drove a red chug-a-lug bona fide tractor today!

This should come as a surprise to you. I’m not exactly what you may consider a “tractor driving kinda girl.” But, after a crash course in which gears go forwards and which ones move back after you start the thing (why there are so many levers, I couldn’t tell you), I was happily putting along at a pace at which your grandmother could walk beside me, loudly singing “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” without even feeling winded.

It’s the end of my first full day of work on my dairy farm in Doddington, England.  And, like my past EMS experiences, I’m happily climbing a very steep learning curve.

If I had to identify one essential skill I’ve mastered in my EMS experiences to date, I’d say:

Horses – shoveling sh*t
Lambs – trying not to eat sh*t (both literally as well as trying not to slip and fall on placental remnants in soggy pastures)
Alpacas – peacefully, quietly, herding these gentle, beautiful creatures. I owe you an alpaca post. I know. I’m playing catch up.

Dairy could easily fall into one of the sh*t categories as there is a certain smell I can’t seem to get out of my hair, however, the theme that has dominated my first day here is
“heavy lifting.”

Bringing a full milk churn from Point A to hungry calves at Point B is not a task to be taken lightly. If my Google search served me correctly, these things are standardized after 1930 to hold 10 gallons. That’s around 90 pounds of milk! I believe it. I lifted with my legs and still could only get the thing to hover a few inches above the ground as I awkwardly waddled around with it. I think the only reason I can lift it onto the back of the tractor is because I know that the calves will DIE if they don’t get any MILK. That motherly “rescue the baby instinct” kicks in and I use strength from the stores of my “lifting the proverbial car off my child” reserve to heave a milk churn 15 feet to the back of the tractor.

Oh milk. That brings me to the second big thing I learned today. Milk spills. You can’t cry over it, but you will get sloshed by it, which, in turn, results in a stale, sour milk perfume cloud that surrounds you. After spending the day in my sour milk t-shirt and pants (yes, waterproof pants have lost their watertight integrity and my underthings got milky too!) I have officially decided that I am not keen on the idea of ever lactating. I don’t think there is enough “new baby smell” in the world that would help me get through milk smell. Of course, if I had a baby, I’d want to feed it yadda yadda yadda. But, right now, given the choice to lactate or not to lactate, I’m going to go with “No.”


Don’t lecture me. I know my mom did it for me. But, sitting here, still catching a whiff of my balled up t-shirt in the corner of the room, muscles tired from the heavy lifting, I’m telling you, I don’t want to lactate. Ever. AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.

But, I’m glad cows lactate so much because, even if the smell of it makes my uterus constrict into a small unwelcoming void, milk gives us ice cream and cheese. And that, my friends, is what I look forward to most about my week on the dairy farm. They make ice cream and cheese on location and I’ve been promised tastes!

I’ll write a proper post with adorable pictures of baby cows trying to suck on my fingers and stick their tongues up my nose later. I obviously don’t let them lick anywhere near my face as calves are essentially adorable little transmitters of a bacterial circus, but I’ll snap a few shots of them trying. They are really stinking cute. Even when they have sour milk crusting on their faces.

For now, my friends. I rest.

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Adventures in a Clown Car

“Errr, ummm stay on the left! Your left! The other left! Left! Left! Left!

I shrieked in horror as I realized I’d entered a roundabout going the wrong way.

Upon accepting that it was to late to do anything but continue to drive around it, Katie burst into a fit of nervous giggles, abandoning her cries of, “Go left, left left!” for encouraging advice to just leave the roundabout and get to the left side of the road. Immediately.

I was so confused. My left hand grabbed the gear shift tightly and my right hand knocked the windshield wipers on to full speed. Wipe! Wipe! Wipe! Wipe! Wipe!

Nothing made sense. I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to go. I started on my second lap around the roundabout….still driving the wrong way.

That’s when I saw my escape: an empty lot near where I had entered the roundabout. I pulled off, put the car in neutral and pulled the e-break, letting the engine idle and the windshield wipers continue to scrape against the dry glass. I looked sheepishly at Katie, still trying to be positive and encouraging through the fits of giggles. I took a deep breath.

“Well, I’m sure glad to have gotten that out of my system. Don’t worry, buddy, I got this.”

As I re-entered the roundabout, staying on the proper side this time, an older gentleman with a horrified look on his face waved at us. Katie nodded to let him know that we were ok now, just shaking a few North American habits before our trip up to the Highlands.

Somehow, Katie and I navigated across the city of Edinburgh to pick up 3 more friends and pack them tightly into the back seat of our grey Peugeot (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either, I just called it our Griffin car).

Driving in the city itself was a bit nerve-wracking.  I didn’t have any problems entering roundabouts after the first debacle, but some of the roads are pretty narrow and I was never quite confident in knowing exactly how much room remained between the left side of my car and things like rocks, sidewalks, and parked cars. The defroster seemed to have two settings: “off” and “hurricane gale force winds.” Also, my battle with the windshield wipers was to wage on throughout the weekend. It was like the damn things had a mind of their own and generally preferred to stay in “full speed ahead” mode.

Leaving the city, I needed to turn left onto West Approach Road. I flicked my indicator and got into the left lane. Like a pro. All 5 of our voices chatted at once, excited to be taking a trip, intoxicated with the freedom of having a car for 2 days. Just as I was reaching for my water bottle, I thought in my out loud voice, “This is a really long light, isn’t it?” The girls nodded in agreement, it felt like we had been sitting there for 10 minutes. I looked ahead of the cars in front of me to see the light change green and humbly asked, “Um. Guys? Am I parked!?”

Uproars of laughter informed me that I was, indeed, parked. My car sat idling behind three empty taxi cabs. We’re just going to pretend like that never happened.

Driving up to the Highlands was relatively easy. I managed to get the windshield wipers under control and Katie somehow got the defroster to keep the windows clear without blowing us all away. Scotland is a beautiful country in the rain, with heavy clouds hanging low in the sky.


After lunch in Inverness, we drove out to Loch Ness and toured Urquhart Castle.


Urquhart Castle overlooks the deepest part of Loch Ness. We decided if we saw Nessie, it would be best to not sell her out, even though I always knew I’d publish a photo of her in the interest of my own wealth and fame. Sorry girl.



That night, we hit Inverness as a force to be reckoned with. Our first stop was a pub called Hootananny. I sipped a G&T while listening to “old people playing old songs.” It was fantastic and if we had stayed there any longer, I might have worked up the courage to try a little jig myself.

After leaving Hootananny, our ears led us to more live music. A small, dark pub with a classic metal rock vibe. After his set, the singer was replaced by a truly talented bagpiper. At the end of her song, the bagpiper did the most awesome thing imaginable: she let us try to play her bagpipes! I feel like I was able to scratch something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know was on my bucket list!

bagpipesNow, I use the phrase “play the bagpipes” loosely here. See, playing bagpipes is hard. Almost impossible. I went first in the group, walking up to the instrument with the confidence of a girl who played saxophone in high school and was on the swim team. I had no reason to doubt my embouchure nor my lung capacity. With all the force I could muster, I produced a pitiful wail from the pipes and handed them back, defeated. Still, at least I blew into the mouthpiece instead of the first pipe like someone did….taking the hilarity of American girls playing bagpipes in Scotland to a whole new level.

In the morning, we drove out to Divach Falls and then to a stone circle, where, after spending time so near the falls, I had to pee. I discretely picked a spot behind a relatively large stone, but my friends were mortified. More by the fact that I was urinating in the presence of a 4,000 year old burial site (*Note, I did not pee ON the stones, I peed in the vicinity of the stones as respectfully as I could.) Jersey Fresh warned me against bad mojo, but no urinary tract infection yet, so I’m guessing the stones have seen enough of human nature in the past 4,000 years to know I meant no disrespect. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

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After lunch, we explored the battlefield of Culloden.

The only way I can describe Culloden is “heavy.” The air is heavy. I felt the same way I did when I visited Gettysburg. It’s as if ground that has seen so much death and destruction never forgets it.

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Leaving Culloden, we detoured out to see one more set of standing stones.

(NOTE: At this point, if you’ve read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, you may be sensing the theme of the trip Jersey Fresh put together…)


Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get sucked into the stones and find myself in 18th century Scotland. But, there’s always next time, right?





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It Just Gets Different

Was it April 28th or April 29th?

I signed all the forms. I had the date carved in stone. Why can’t I remember? Who forgets the day their father died?

I woke up this morning thinking of my Dad, and how today marked 6 years since his passing. Yet, a tiny voice in the back of my head was telling me that I had the day wrong. I feared The Day was yesterday, the 28th, and  I had passed it without stopping to think of him.

I got out of bed and flipped through an old journal and realized I hadn’t missed the anniversary. I inhaled deeply. It was today. I hadn’t forgotten. I hadn’t messed it up.

Not like death anniversaries are the same as other anniversaries. I didn’t need to shave my legs or make dinner reservations. But, I did need to schedule time to be alone and time to not be alone like I do every year on April 29th. I schedule in time to feel sorry and to cry, knowing that tears for my dad come one day a year without fail. Scheduling is important, otherwise the tears come at awkward and inopportune times, like when I am in line at the grocery store or impatiently waiting for Huck to find the perfect spot to drop a deuce.

There are lots of philosophies about healing wounds. I subscribe to the idea of time healing (obviously, with the exception of cases involving gangrene or tetanus). Time has healed all of my past hurts, from broken hearts to broken nails. But, losing my dad isn’t the same type of wound. The best way I can describe it is time changes it, rather than heals it. Every year I miss him differently. There is no more or less. And I’d hesitate to say it is more painful to not have him around now as it was in the past, because when I miss him, when I am reminded that he isn’t here anymore, there is just that. And it’s the same feeling every time, but it’s also very different. Wanting to call him for a pep talk after a particularly rough day is different from wanting to call him and suggest he try Heartwood Whisky (an absolute delight, by the way).

Most times, I can play out a conversation with my Dad in my mind and hear what he would say as clearly as if he was standing next to me, carefully considering my questions and trying not to smirk in his responses as he tried to simultaneously guide me through rough waters and let me face the consequences of the difficult path I had chosen for myself. Dad was great at helping me through trouble without actually doing much to get me out of it. I always knew if I got arrested, I’d be spending the night in prison. He wouldn’t bail me out, but he might try to bring me a sandwich or something.

Still, as much as I can hear his heartfelt guidance during times of trouble and exasperated responses to some of my more trivial life issues, Dad never failed to surprise me once in awhile. I’ve come to realize, what I miss most of all, are all the things I don’t know he would say. I miss the unpredictable and surprising guidance.

I’ve had a lot of questions I wished I could have run past my Dad. Deep meaning of life questions, like, “Can I call a bomb threat into the car dealership that sold me a lemon!?” and, “Do I REALLY have to pay this stupid fine!?” He probably would have answered both questions with a simple, “No.”
Just last week, I wanted to ask my Dad if he really never filed the insurance claim for a car accident I was in back in 2006, as the State of Colorado garnished my state tax return and sent me a bill for the remaining $680 to pay for a dented guard rail on Highway 40. On one hand, it might be their clerical error. I’m pretty sure I took care of everything after the accident. On the other hand, since it was my Dad’s car and I was on his insurance policy, I wouldn’t be surprised if my dad opted out of paying the deductible, tossing  the letter from the Department of Transportation into the trash with a haughty, “Let’s see them come after me for a damn guard rail!” If the latter is the scenario that played out, Dad, we’re going to have a talk when I get to the hereafter…unless there is a 10 year statute of limitations on that crap, then, no worries, CO can keep my tax returns for the next two years with my blessing. Of course, not having a job, they won’t get any money from me either, so I win.

I also wish I could ask Dad what to do about the drunk man who urinates in my entryway almost every Saturday night. To get access into my apartment building, you have to buzz in. However, the buzzer is located inside a small hallway, allowing privacy for someone to open the outside door and piss in the corner where the buzzer is. The landlords know about this problem and are talking about moving the buzzer to the outside, so you have to buzz into the building from the sidewalk, effectively preventing access to the impromptu latrine. However, in the interim, I need to do something besides spray some bleach water and hold my breath as I walk past the slowly evaporating puddle of urine. It gets more concentrated and pungent every day until it’s completely dried up. I am assuming a full grown man with the bladder of a racehorse is the culprit. Human bodily fluids gross me out (hence why I am studying veterinary medicine), so I can’t bring myself to risk getting chlamydia or something by cleaning it myself. I’m considering buying a bucket and leaving it in the hall with a nice note requesting that the Phantom Pisser please use the bucket and empty it into the street when done. It’s a bit medieval, but “gardyloo” worked well for Edinburgh back in the day. Maybe I’ll put a little jar with potpourri in the corner too, just to be an accommodating hostess. No need to be barbaric, now.I’m also considering keeping the door open by tying it to the rail on the inside of the building, thereby eliminating the element of privacy. If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? If people walking down the sidewalk can see the Phantom Pisser doing his business, will he still urinate in my hallway?

Dad, I wish you were around to help me figure out what to do with the Phantom Pisser. I wish you’d knock me up the head and tell me not to use a dirty word like “pisser.” I wish you’d call the Department of Transportation and tell them to give me back my $21 tax return. But most of all, I wish you could tell me that you’re proud of me and I’m doing alright. I wish you’d nag me a bit to study harder and tell me to buck up or get out when I’m feeling sorry for myself. I wish you’d break down some of my problems to a million tiny little pieces that don’t even matter.On April 29th, I indulge in all of these wishes. And I cry. But it’s almost midnight. It’s almost April 30th and like Cinderella’s carriage turned into a pumpkin, my tears are about to fade and turn into happy reminiscing as I can almost hear my Dad say, “You can sit here and keep crying, or you can go set up a CCTV system in your entryway and catch that bastard with his pants down. Your choice.”


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I Award You No Points. Seriously. No Points.

There is a scene from Billy Madison that always comes to mind when I sit for an exam in vet school:

We’re in the midst of our Animal Husbandry Welfare and Food Safety Exams. If you’ve been following my adventures through the proverbial Vet School Looking Glass, you’ll know that horses and I don’t always get on so well. Usually, they make me look like a complete idiot. However, at the end of the day, I’ve still got my opposable thumbs and I’m not a giant prey animal who poops in my water dish and can die from a tummy ache, so I feel like I come out on top.

Well, today, my valiant equine opponent bested me once again….although, I can’t entirely blame her.

The exam was off to a good start. I was happily answering questions and smiling at my assigned horse Rita over the box. Her demeanor told me she wasn’t altogether against the idea of being my partner in showing off my equestrian panache… However, she wasn’t too keen on the idea, either. My hands trembled slightly applying her head collar, but I led her out of the stall with the confidence of someone who spent all Christmas break hand-walking Thoroughbreds. Rita was not so intimidating.

One of the first tasks I was asked to do for the grader was pick up Rita’s front and hind leg. I took a moment to remember if my hand should run along the inside or the outside of the leg and with confidence, smoothly lifted her front leg in one motion.

“Ummm are you sure you want to face that way?”

I looked up, right into the eyes of the instructor, her eyebrow cocked slightly.

I sheepishly put down the leg and said, “I should be facing her back end.”

The instructor nodded and told me I could give it another go. I turned 180 degrees and facing the horses hindquarters, lifted her leg again, this time with the blood pumping hot and loud in my ears.

I’m not sure if this one mistake cost me my pass on the handling exam or not. It certainly cost me my pride. I tried to find a picture online of a person picking up a horse leg while facing the front of the horse instead of the back of the horse, but I couldn’t find one. I guess I’m the only person on earth to ever do it….like in the history of horses.

Ah, nothing like a hot steamy mug of humility to keep your Tuesday morning in check.

The moral of the story: Parents, if your young daughters beg you for a pony, just get them a freaking pony! On the off chance they decide to go to vet school, they’ll really appreciate having some horse handling skills in their back pocket. Can you guess who asked for a pony when she was young and was told, “no,” over and over again? I’ll give you a hint, she’s all thumbs and absolute crap with horses.


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Just Us Barnyard Rejects Here….

Some people make farm stuff look easy. They hop over a gate effortlessly or toss a pitchfork full of straw across the barn like they are gently lobbing a wiffle ball (linked here as it was brought to my attention that wiffle ball is not an internationally recognized sport).

Anyway, I am not one of the people who makes farm stuff look easy. I actually make things look difficult, dangerous, or nearly impossible. I flop my legs over gates with the grace of a newborn foal and I swing a pitchfork around like a helicopter preparing for takeoff, which is usually followed by a disappointingly weak toss. Is it all in the wrist, like tennis? I don’t get it…

I don’t “zip” around on the quad, I death grip the handlebars and grimace through the full face shield of my helmet and get around slowly, arriving short of breath, my knuckles white.


And I sure as hell don’t scramble around the hillside as surefooted as a mountain goat! Rather, my stride is reminiscent of a zombie from The Walking Dead, hobbling off kilter and succumbing to the merciless force of gravity, now and again.

But, possibly most humiliating of all, I can’t spray paint numbers on sheep:

Exhibit A

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Exhibit B:2014-04-16 11.49.59

Feeling a bit as if general farm life rejects me, is it any wonder I’ve a special bond with the reject baby lambs? Looking at my reflection in their eyes, I think we both know that neither one of us is really cut out to be on a farm, as much as we’d like to think otherwise.

My brood of reject lambs includes:

Snow Cone – found nearly frozen by a creek, dead after warming in the hot box (Unprofessional diagnosis: Watery Mouth Disease)

Twiggy – from the Fathead and Twiggy post, dead after fighting off two bouts of hypothermia in the hot box (Unprofessional diagnosis: Gross lack of a will to live)
I’m now considering calling the “hot box” the “hot box of death…”

Billy Corgan - named for the lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins because he was lost so we took him in and fed him, released him the next morning to see if he would find his mom, but marked his legs with bright orange paint so we could identify him quickly if he was a true reject. He was, so we collected him in again in the evening. I thought the orange paint made him look like he spent all his free time “smashing pumpkins.” I fed him last night and again this morning and he promptly died before lunch. My unprofessional diagnosis: he did it to spite me. Look at the smug look on his face the night before he died:


And that brings me to my last reject lamb, Spartan, the lamb formerly known as Sir Snuggle-luffagus (with all the death and destruction surrounding him, I figured he needed a stronger name).

I hate to tempt fate even writing about Spartan, especially since he started coughing and I gave him a shot of antibiotics today. He took the jab in the neck, like a warrior lamb. After giving him the shot, I expressly forbade him to die. I hope he listens to me.

He is my favourite, and it’s not because he is the only one still alive! He’s special.

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I could have just as easily called him “Hungry” since, every time I walk into the barn and say, “Who’s hungry?” He answers with a resounding, “Meeeeeeee!”

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Yeah, he’s certainly not allowed to die….yet…at least not until he is sold at market for a prime lamb price and sent off to be turned into someone’s Doner Kebab.

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Lambing hasn’t been all death and destruction. Most lambs are doing quite well and most ewes are good little mothers, except the blue 15 Blackface ewe. I found her lamb dead this afternoon. Scooping him up, I looked at her and sneered, “YOU HAD ONE JOB!!!!” I don’t have an unprofessional diagnosis for baby blue 15. In the words of my fellow student lamber, “He’s a perfectly fine lamb, except that he’s dead.”

But that’s the last dead lamb story I’m telling! Because, really, they are much cuter when they are alive….

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I guess it’s ok to be a barnyard reject. I’m in good company.

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Fat-Head and Twiggy

Two lambs came this morning; Fat-Head and Twiggy. Can you guess who was on the shallow side of the placenta?

Fat-Head was stuck for a bit. It took two of us to actually pull him out, one on each front leg. Lambs are supposed to “dive” out of their mums, to put things eloquently. Fat-Head belly flopped into a pool of fluids on the grass, making his grand entrance.

The farmer pulled Twiggy. She was moving out and then had a change of plans and decided it was not quite yet time to join her twin in the cold, windy real world, so she started moving back in. By the looks of things, she was hiding up near her mum’s tonsils before the farmer’s hand got a good hold of her and brought her out blinking into the sunshine.

This morning was a beautiful morning on which to be born. The skies were clear, and the wind although gusty and sharp, was not steadily blowing. Darker clouds are taking over the afternoon as the farm falls into a shadow of grayness. More rain, I’m guessing.

Later in the morning, we welcomed another set of twins onto the farm. I’m still amazed at the ability of a sheep to run around a field with a good chunk of offspring hanging out of her birth canal. I can’t imagine people doing that…running out of the hospital room with a baby’s head up to it’s ear’s poking out, shouting, “I’ve changed my mind, I don’t think I’ll be doing this just now…”

I was holding the ewe, smiling at the new little souls, when one of the lambs sneezed and shook it’s head, splashing amniotic fluid into my mouth. Rule #368: Don’t smile on farms.

I found a relatively clean spot on my arm on which to wipe my face and looked down in slight horror at the dried colostrum that had clumped in my eyebrow. It had been there for awhile. Le yuck.

After the fun fluid-filled morning, I was happy to spend some time mucking out stalls. Give me feces over fluids any day!

Sir Snuggle-luffagus got another bottle this morning. He took it with more enthusiasm than in the past few days. He is getting some milk off his foster mom, but not enough to thrive. He must be sneaking sips while she is sleeping. She’s horrible to him. Poor little reject lamb. I told the farmer that it is my goal to make him the fattest and brightest lamb in the flock. I looked at the other ewes, sizing up my competition, and the farmer shook his head, noting that they all had a bit of a head start. Still, if I can’t outsmart a ewe , I don’t know if I am in the right profession. Game on, mamas; Sir Snuggle-luffagus is going to be the biggest, fattest and brightest lamb in the bunch!

As he was finishing his bottle, Sir Snuggle-luffagus turned and started to nuzzle my neck. I laughed. It was adorable. Unless I get orf on my neck. Then, it was gross, really truly gross, as is Sir Snuggle-luffagus.

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Wee Little Lambies, Day 3

“Eeee-easy, Mama. I know, I’m sorry, you’re ok. Almost done.”

The words mumbled out of my mouth over and over again like a skipping record. The farmer laughed, possibly because of my uninterrupted repetitive monologue with the bleating ewe. Still, I didn’t feel right just poking my hand into her vagina without saying something.

I finally looked up, more out of concern than frustration, and asked, “At this point, is it dangerous for the lamb that I haven’t pulled him out yet? I really don’t want to kill him.”

The farmer smiled and got both front legs out, allowing me to gently pull the slimy gooey black ball of wool and legs into the grass. “Welcome to the world, little one,” I said as I helped clear the goop* from his nose.

*Goop is a technical term for mucus

Ah, the miracle of life. It’s nasty. Really. Newborn anything are gross. They are covered in fluids and mucus and blood. They are simultaneously slimy and sticky and there isn’t anything pleasant about the sight and smell of afterbirth (or the sight of farm dogs eating afterbirth). But after a bit of cleaning up and drying off, I’m not sure if there is anything on this planet more adorable than a newborn lamb…with the exception of a two day old lamb, sucking on a baby bottle.

I’m working on a farm in Perth for the next two weeks, helping out with lambing and just about anything else I am competent enough to handle…which as of right now, isn’t much.

The sheep live on a hillside. I ride up to check on them a few times a day in a trailer pulled by an ATV. Sometimes, I share the trailer with sheep or dogs. Most sheep don’t seem to mind making space for me in my mud-coated wellies and rubber pants, but some resent it a great deal. And there you have the source of my aversion to animals with horns…

So far, I’m really enjoying my extra mural studies. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any good at them. In my first few days here, I’ve shown complete ineptitude in several areas:

1.  Pulling a lamb out of a ewe. I think that will get better with practice. There really is no real way to prepare for it. Just imagine pulling a skinny bar of soap through a small rubber ring. It’s not as easy as it looks. On a slightly unrelated note: I don’t think I’m ever going to have kids. Seriously. Yuck.

2. General farm skills: I can’t drive an ATV, I get my legs caught up underneath me when I am climbing over fences and this morning I was outsmarted by a door. What can I say, I grew up in the suburbs.

3. Painting numbers on sheep. This is something farmers do to help reunite lost lambs with their mums. It’s quite practical, actually – a ewe with twins all get a number painted in red and a ewe with a single each get a number in blue. I was in charge of painting numbers on three sets of ewes and their lambs yesterdays. 8, 9, and 10. The farmer looked at my number 8 and quizzically, though not unkindly, asked,

“What number, is that, exactly?”

“Eight,” I replied, “Or infinity. However you want to look at it.”

When his daughter arrived and saw my number “10” painted with a shaky hand on a horned Scottish Blackface ewe (reference my earlier comment about my aversion to animals with horns), she asked, “Wow, are we already up to 50?!”

“Nope. That’s 10,” I said. And with a smile, added, “obviously.”

I am, however, not a total lost cause. I drove a Landrover up a muddy “road” earlier today and only stalled out once. Not bad for shifting gears with my left hand! I also successfully bottle fed a lamb, even though I was told I probably wouldn’t be able to.

The lamb, we’ll just call Sir Snuggle-luffagus (not that I’m naming the lambs or anything, but I’ll have to keep them straight in my stories), was either lost, abandoned or stolen from his mum. Currently, he’s with a ewe who won’t let him near her udder. Lambs gotta eat to grow, so we tube fed him colostrum yesterday and this morning I took him a bottle.

I picked Sir Snuggle-luffagus up and set him on my knee. He squirmed a bit, but being a two-day old, slightly undernourished lamb, hardly put up a fight. I then, tried to talk him into taking the bottle. It took a few squirts of milk and some insistence on my part before he began to suck. But I did not give him much of a choice. I was going to feed this lamb. I was going to be good at something!

As he drank the milk, he eased back into my shoulder until I was cradling him more than holding him upright. I leaned against the side of the pen, watching intently to make sure he didn’t spit out the nipple or start choking on the milk. Sir Snuggle-luffagus fell into a rhythm and closed his eyes. As I watched him, my own eyelids grew heavy and I sank down into the straw.

I was momentary revived as soon as my bum touched down, as apparently, I was sitting in a sizable pile of sheep shit. I didn’t even bother moving, it was unavoidable.

The farmer came in to check on me just as I was dozing off and told me to go ahead and take a break until tea.


With a full belly, Sir Snuggle-luffagus curled up for a nap in the straw.


I ran up to my room and grabbed my book, grateful for a break. Feeling tired and slightly disorientated, I checked the clock, expecting it to be around 2 p.m. It was 9:55 a.m.

A few hours later, we went to check on the sheep again. The rain was coming down hard enough to wash three days of mud, placenta, and dried dung off  my pants.


Fortunately, none of the ewes were lambing, so it was a quick check. When we got back to the barn, the farmer said we’d be taking a ewe and her twins back to the hillside tonight. Then, he reached into a cupboard and pulled out the most amazing thing ever:


We lambie raincoats!

Dear Scotland, I think I love you.



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Tidings of Great Joy!

It’s March. I can safely say all of my Christmas cards have been written, posted and received. I was way ahead of the game this year. One time, I sent my Christmas letters out in June. Do tidings of great joy ever get old? I think not.

So, now I can share an adventure I’ve wanted to write about since December (I didn’t want any Christmas Card spoilers):

It began:

I hiked up the Cairngorm Mountains during an ice storm with gale force winds to bring you joyful tidings this year and I almost died.

I then went on to explain that I didn’t actually almost die, but I did almost fall into a bog….which is true…however, it wasn’t all true…I actually did almost die in the Caringorm Mountains. The story would have just been a bit over the top for holiday greetings, so I kept it light and just made it sound like I only almost fell into a bog.

Far be it from me to be over the top….

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Caringorm Near Death Experience:

As I’m sure you can imagine, it wasn’t hard to find a willing pack of veterinary students to go pet and hand-feed Britain’s only reindeer herd. All I had to do was pull up the website and show them this picture of a baby reindeer:

After we read, “The reindeers’ soft velvet noses mean they are a delight to hand-feed,” we were sold. Six of us ventured from Edinburgh to Aviemore, eager to squeeze and nuzzle some velvet reindeer muzzles.

Upon arrival, we went to the pub across from the train station. Highland whisky and live music made the welcome to Aviemore warm as we prepared for the next day’s reindeer adventure. We were giddy with excitement, warm with laughter, and happy and dry in a bright pub. We had no idea what we were in for.


In the morning, we arrived at the reindeer center and checked in for our tour right on time. It was misty and cold out, but nothing we didn’t feel prepared to handle in our warm jackets and scarves. Since I knew I wanted pictures for a Christmas card, I decided to wear a skirt and green tights with my red jacket and white hat. It wasn’t the warmest outfit, but all I really cared about was cute pictures, so I dolled up and put on mascara. Plus, it was drizzly and cold, but not that cold.

We drove to the base of the hill where we were introduced to our reindeer guide: the last living decedent of Thor the Norse God. I was so happy I’d put on mascara and lipgloss.

His name was Zak. He was taller than any human I’d ever seen with long blonde hair and rosy cheeks. He was beautiful. He was strong. He was a reindeer herder. And I would have followed him anywhere; it was just a perk he was leading me to pet baby reindeer.

In Zak’s 5 minute briefing giving a general overview of the hike, the weather went from cold and misty to frigid and rainy. The winds began to roar and Zak said something about the weather enriching our experience. I couldn’t really hear him over the deafening gusts, but he smiled and I smiled and then it was time to start walking to see the herd.

The trail wasn’t difficult, but I was happy that I opted for sensible footwear. It’s always easy to crop your feet out of pictures, anyway. As we climbed up the mountain, the wind speed seemed to increase exponentially, pushing us sideways as we fought to stay on the trail.


Zak stopped the group before we crossed a bridge, it was narrow and slick did not deter the 6 of us 20-something year olds (we’re still in our prime!) or the man carrying a baby in a backpack or the grandpa holding his grandson’s hand. Ok, so maybe the bridge wasn’t too scary.

We climbed up another hill as the rain started falling in what could only be described as freezing clumps of watery snow-like soup. There were no snow flakes. It was not snow. It was something else entirely. People in the group started to turn back, but not us, we were intrepid, we were motivated, and let’s face it, with the ratio of women to men at our school, we were all trying to impress Viking Zak!

At the top of the hill, only one obstacle stood between us and the reindeer paddock: a bog. Now, I’d heard of bogs before, specifically the Rattlin’ Bog Down In The Valley-O! But I can’t say I’d ever seen a real bog. A path of wooden 2×4’s and chicken wire lay ahead. In 100 feet, we’d be with the reindeer.

I confidently stepped onto the wooden path. Mistake. I slid, squealed and caught myself just in time to save my dignity and my cute outfit from plunging into the soggy bog. My next step was less confident, more careful.

Entering into the reindeer paddock, we exchanged excited glances and giggles. We’d made it!


I flashed a huge smile at Zak as he pulled out the reindeer food. He smiled back, but was probably too distracted  by the mascara pooling under my eyes to notice the winning smile for which my parents invested so much money and time in the orthodontist’s office. Eh, the why makes no difference, the important thing is, the last decedent of Thor smiled back!


Zak doled out reindeer food and we immediately began chasing the reindeer with our hands cupped together, spilling oats all over the place. It was a bit pathetic. We were practically screaming, “Reindeer, come to me, pick me, choose me, LOVE ME!!!”


Initially, I had taken my gloves off so I could feel the softness of a reindeer snuzzling food out of my hands. Within seconds, my hands were completely numb, so I put the gloves back on.


best reindeer

My wool coat weighed twice as much as it had when we were warm and dry at the reindeer center. My hair was shellacked to the sides of my face. Every bit of mascara had run down my cheeks and my skirt was plastered to my stockings which were heavy and sopping wet. My waterproof shoes had puddles of water inside them that couldn’t get out.

But, I was having a great time feeding the reindeer.

Reindeer BIG SMILE

People in the group began to drop like flies. It was so cold that nothing was making any sense. By the time we remembered to take a group photo, we’d already lost one of our own to the temptations of warmth and shelter.


As you can see from the look on the reindeer’s face in Julie‘s hands, they absolutely loved us!

Our group continued to thin, but I wasn’t about to leave. Being the girl foolishly dressed in a skirt (which, at this point, I argued was practically a kilt and ergo designed to weather the storm) I wasn’t about to go back “early.” Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more face time with the reindeer our 9 quid had bought us. So, I asked Zak how much longer we’d be staying on the hillside and he laughed and said that he would stay as long as we wanted and he just needed a cue from us as to when we were ready to go back. In a harmonious chorus we replied, “We’re ready!”

The walk back felt twice as long. At one point, hiking uphill off trail over dense wet grasses, I realized the wind and rain were creating a treadmill effect. I was walking but not actually making any ground. As a gust of wind nearly knocked me off my feet, I turned to Foxy and screamed at the top of my lungs, “WE COULD DIE!!!!” She replied, “I KNOW!” And we both began laughing hysterically. I have no idea how we made it back up the trail to the parking lot. We fought 96+ mph gusts of wind, ice shards of death and most likely hypothermia the whole way. I laughed the whole time, like an insane sopping wet clown girl. I laughed all the way back to the reindeer center. It wasn’t until I stopped laughing that I realized my teeth were chattering uncontrollably.

At that point, I didn’t want to laugh anymore. I wanted to sit by a fire and drink something hot.

We huddled in a miserable group waiting for the bus. Our chatter died out slowly as we got colder and more miserable and closer to dying from exposure.

Hot coco piled high with whipped cream revived us enough to survive the bus ride back into town where we changed into dry clothes and had lunch before taking the train back to Edinburgh.

Having all survived the trip, I’d say it was definitely worth the cold. We did get to see a baby reindeer, after all. How cool is that!?

baby reindeer

baby reindeer 2

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