Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Birthday Blizzard

On December 20th not only was it my birthday but we got between 14 and 16 inches of snow; pretty major for our part of Connecticut. My mother has always loved to tell me stories of my birth (each one is special if you're a parent). What I remembered this year was that it snowed the day I was born also. It's not that extraordinary for it to snow in December, but when you're born in New Orleans, it becomes more of an event. So it was only fitting that we got snow, however Tyler did comment as he was shoveling the cars out that I could have asked for a little less.

The snow came all the way up to our dog Chardonnay's belly. Snow was invented for Golden Retrievers; if it's wet and cold, they are in their element. If it smells like crap, well that's a doggie bonus. Chickens are another story. We (read "Jay") shoveled a path around their coop, but it was too much to clear out their whole area. The chickens found that if they dared to fly, they would land in the soft fluffy stuff and stay there, completely immobilized. Ever the opportunist, I took pictures of their plight before rescuing them. The chickens have had to remain confined in their fenced-in area until a few days ago when the snow melted. The chickens celebrated their freedom by scratching up the yard and basically running acluck.

In my last blog, I mentioned how hard it had been to integrate our Jersey pullet, Thelma, into the rest of the flock. The snow did the trick. With the snow surrounding the chickens, they were too freaked out to consider picking on the youngster. Thelma is now one of the girls. They still chase her from time to time, but it's not constant harassment like before. Good thing, because now Thelma is larger than the Hamburg hens. Soon, she'll be bigger than the Americaunas and Shanaynay, our horny little rooster. It'll be interesting the first time Shanaynay tries to breed Thelma; probably similar to when the neutered European Burmese cat tried to breed our 16-pound Maine Coon girl. He couldn't quite reach, but they both enjoyed the attempt.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chicken Update

I've been trying to integrate the new Jersey Girls, Thelma and Louise (modeled by granddaughter Amanda to the right), in with the rest of the flock. They were isolated for at least 30 days in a cage in our basement to make sure they were healthy and to give them a chance to catch up in size with the other hens. Being Jersey Giants, the chicks are much larger than other breeds and even though they were 4 months younger than the others, they were almost as large as the smaller Hamburg hens already. We started gradually, as recommended, by placing the chicks in the fenced-in garden while the older chickens were out free ranging in the yard. Chickens don't accept outsiders very easily and can kill each other. I stood outside with them several times, ready to intervene whenever a hen (usually Fenix) went after the younger chicks. Ideally, you would have two adjoining yards, separated by a fence for a couple of weeks so they could get accustomed to the sight of the new ones but not able to hurt them. We don't have the set up for this, so we did supervised visits. This worked okay and I noticed that although the others may chase the Jersey girls, they didn't pursue them enough to actually hurt them. Chickens have really short attention spans so the thought process demonstrated was along the lines of, "Hey! There's the new chick! Get her! Wait! Where is everyone else going? Is there more food over there? Wait for me!"

After about a week of supervised visits, I moved the youngsters into the coop at night. Chickens are completely blind in the dark and won't move because they can't see where they're going. They also don't have a good sense of smell so introducing new chicks at night when they couldn't be seen made sense.

Normally, I keep the chickens enclosed in their yard surrounded by electric netting to keep the predators out. I let them out in the afternoon so they have a couple of hours of free-range time in the yard before it gets dark. When it starts to get dark, they instinctively go home to roost in the coop so they are positioned in a safe place before night falls and they can't see how to get anywhere. This way, I don't have to try to herd them up to get them back in the coop.

This had been going well with the new girls even though they kept to themselves in the yard so they wouldn't get picked on. You've heard of the term, "pecking order"? They knew to get back in the coop with the others, however last week, only one Jersey girl made it back to the coop. Apparently, a predator (we suspect the fox we saw last month) came upon the Jersey girls off by themselves and picked one off. She never would have voluntarily wandered far from her sister. They were a team, anxious if they became separated. I looked all over; no sign of feathers, nothing. Of all the chickens, why a Jersey girl? The Jersey Giant is my favorite because they are the friendliest of our hens and like to be held. I've had the chickens outside since July, free-ranging most afternoons, sometimes all day. This was my first loss. The whole family feels sorry for the remaining Jersey, Thelma. Getting another one to keep her company isn't that easy as they would have to go through the same introduction period.

We're now overprotective of Thelma, realizing that if losing one was this devastating for us, losing the other would be tragic. Right now, the plan is to add more fencing to expand their area and not add anymore new chicks until spring. With about two hundred neat-looking chicken breeds to choose from, it's hard to not want one of each. Just four more, I promise…..

On a more positive note, the chickens are now laying eggs more regularly. Hitting puberty and having the days get shorter at the same time seemed to adversely affect their egg laying. We got our first green Americauna egg on Halloween and finally got our first white Hamburg egg last week. In November it seemed like only Foster was laying and that was once every 4 days or so. With the Hamburgs now laying, the others are either more inspired or have finally come of age. Yesterday, we got a record 5 eggs, 3 green and 2 white. Last night, we had breakfast for supper; pancakes, turkey bacon, and scrambled eggs.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“Jane, You Ignorant Slut” - SNL

Okay. I shouldn't have to explain sarcasm or my jokes, even if they aren't that funny, but apparently I do. In my last blog, I referred to the t-shirts sported by many exhibitors at cat shows as "slutty garments". The phrase on the t-shirt states "Sleeps with Cats". The intent of having this stated on a shirt is to get attention (and sell shirts) because of what it insinuates. The human meaning of "sleeping with" is a phrase also commonly used in human relationships. For example: Tiger Woods has reportedly slept with many women. One could say that Tiger is a slut. If I wore a Nike golf shirt, I could now refer to that as a "slutty garment" given the recent news events.

The double meaning to the statement "Sleeps with Cats" is also to give the wearer the chance to proclaim her love of having cats surround her at all times, even in bed. We cat ladies are a diverse group from many walks of life, but have an undeserved public image of being frumpy, frazzled, middle-aged women who hoard cats….not exactly what you'd think of as slutty. Like I said, I shouldn't have to explain it…..maybe I'll be more careful from now on, but probably not.

Monday, December 7, 2009

As some of you know, our black cat, Creole, was diagnosed with kidney disease almost 2 years ago. Yesterday our vet came to the house and humanely put her to rest in my lap, sitting in her favorite rocking chair. Creole was 15 years old and had diminished from a fat 12 pound kitty to less than 5 pounds in the past couple of years. She will always be remembered as the kitten who slept on my very pregnant tummy, who played chase with Tyler when he got old enough to walk, who hung out under Kelsey’s chair in the hopes that she’d “accidentally” drop food for her, who was feisty and defiant when it came to getting her off the counter, who tolerated many moves and transitions in our lives, who answered when you called her, who comforted my mother when she learned Granddaddy had died, who put up with litters of Maine Coon kittens stalking her black snake of a tail, who would still steal food off an unprotected dinner plate up until last week, and who would always get up from her bed in the bay window to sit in whomever’s lap that had just occupied the rocking chair in front of the television. Creole’s passing is like the passing of an era in my life. We have good memories, but will miss her for a long time.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Sleeps with Cats or Waste Management 102

If you've gone to a cat show, you may have seen this statement, "Sleeps with Cats" in rhinestone on a black t-shirt, sported by several cat ladies. Some of the cat ladies look pretty good modeling the shirt. By the way, if you've never gone to a cat show and would like to, check out the show calendar schedule for a show near you on TICA or CFA. I don't own one of these slutty garments for two reasons: One, too many are already wearing one and black is not a good color to wear around cats if one doesn't want to spend the day rolling the hair off. Two, sleeping with cats is usually an oxymoron.

As someone who loves all animals and breeds the Maine Coon cat, you might expect my bed to be inhabited by hairy creatures. Jay doesn't count; he really isn't that hairy. However, our bedroom is also the kitten nursery until I can get a teenager to move out and give up his room. As many queens (breeding female cats) tend to go into labor in the middle of the night and newborn kittens need a watchful eye, our bedroom makes the most sense as the room for moms and babies. I'm a light sleeper and when a queen is close to her due date, I wake up several times during the night at the slightest noise. That's usually a good thing. After the kittens have arrived, my light sleeping is more of a handicap to a good night's sleep.

Last night was typical. Kinsey's litter of four kittens were recently moved from their birthing cage to our master bathroom as they were getting too big and needed to move to the next stage in their development; solid food and litter box training. I put a plastic gate in the bathroom door, like those to sequester dogs or toddlers, to keep the kittens in the bathroom. The mother can then jump over the gate for a mommy break in our bedroom and the humans step over it. Last week, I had more kittens and moms to deal with; Amy and Ally's combined litters of 8 were in the bathroom. Kinsey had to jump over the gate to the bathroom in order to use the litter box as her kittens were still in the birthing cage. Having moved the older litter of eight and their mothers downstairs, Kinsey and litter of four were a sigh of relief.

But the problem isn't the kittens when you're trying to get to sleep. The problem is the litter box and the adult cat (in this case Kinsey) who decides to empty her bowels right as you are drifting off to sleep. A few of my queens are smart enough to realize that when I'm brushing and flossing, it's human bedtime. These more considerate girls will make the big stinky at that time. Not that I like to smell crap when I'm flossing my teeth, but at least I'm still awake and can conveniently scoop the offending poo, spray the Febreeze and limit the odor invasion. Kitten poop doesn't pack the stench that mom's does, so their assault to my senses are minimal.

When I am awakened by the sound of a cat incessantly scratching her way to China through her plastic litter box, I know what's coming. The longer the dig, the greater the load. A cat will scratch, and scratch, and scratch, and scratch….probably for 3 minutes before deciding she's ready to go. When one is half asleep, the scratching goes on for a good 30 minutes I swear. Sometimes, I'll be proactive and get up, waiting with the pooper scooper for her to finish. Sometimes I try to sleep through it and hope that this one won't stink. Then comes the cover up. Another 30 minutes of scratching, trying to pull the paint off the wall, the sides of the litter box, the toilet paper, whatever is close by, into the box. The scratching never seems to end. When I hear the cat finally jump out, I sigh with relief. If only that were the end. The scratching instinct continues, however, to the food dish (which apparently smells like crap to a cat who has just pooped). The whole pooping process, from digging the hole to vainly trying to cover up the stench, takes hours it seems. That's an exaggeration, but I probably lose that much sleep over it.

A cat's instinct is to cover up any odors which may attract predators, from kitten afterbirth to poop. However, that instinct hasn't taught most of them how to EFFECTIVELY hide the source of the smell. After all that incessant, mind-numbing scratching, I still see poop! Most of it is untouched by cat litter, the odoriferous septic smell wafting unhampered into my nostrils. They completely miss the point.

After Kinsey's production, I stayed in bed, convinced I honestly didn't smell anything. She had already gone a couple of times that day so she probably didn't have a major load to leave. Jay apparently was offended though and noisily disposed of the poop, sighing in exasperation several times for my benefit and throwing in an "oh my God!" when he pulled out the litter box. I stayed in bed. At least that was over; now we could go to sleep. We were Just dozing off again when Kinsey decided to join us, using us both as spring boards and knocking the wind out of me when she pounced on the bed. I kicked her off and she stayed down for a while. Unfortunately, the aroma of her recent movement still followed her. I just hoped that she hadn't stepped in anything that I would find on my bed in the morning.

A few minutes after being rejected, Kinsey decided to take a different approach to our bed. She landed on my nightstand, knocking off my Kleenex box as she prepared to launch herself on my pillow. That's it. I had gone to bed early; it was now an hour later and I was still awake. I picked up a purring kitty and deposited her in the bathroom with her kittens and shut the door. Why didn't I think of that earlier?

Monday, November 16, 2009

My First Litter from Hell

I was lucky when I started breeding Maine Coons. Sure, I had the usual issues of finding a suitable stud to breed to Sassy and then her daughters, making my way into the show halls, learning as much as I could about showing and feline health. But I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t have a single kitten fatality for the first three years of kitten mid-wifery. I had a friend in my cat club, Susan, who started the same time as I did. Susan’s breed of choice was silver shaded Exotics, the short-haired version of the Persian. For as long as I stayed in touch with Susan, she never had a viable litter during those few years. I felt guilty over my cats’ breeding success whenever I spoke with Susan. That all changed when I brought in an adult female, a pretty but shy little silver tabby girl named Isadora or “Izzy” from a Maine Coon breeder in Massachusetts.

Izzy got off to a bad start when I stupidly assumed she’d follow the habits of my other females and deliver between 66 and 68 days of gestation. I kept her my bedroom at night, but allowed her to roam during the day. On day 62, December 12, 2004, Izzy gave birth in Kelsey’s room in the afternoon. I found her with blood soaking into the carpet, surrounded by 7 kittens. They were cold and crying. I yelled for backup and the whole family kicked in. We moved Izzy and her litter into our bedroom and we each took a kitten to rub dry. Jay took the non-moving one and tried to revive him, but to no avail. My first fatality. I still feel guilty for not being there when he arrived; maybe it would have made a difference if he were warmed immediately. Or maybe he was stillborn. Seven is a large litter, especially for a first-time mom.

Izzy seemed to settle in nicely to the tent I have for a kitten nursery. The tent zips up in front. When the kittens were 2 days old, Izzy wanted to move them. Suddenly she was frantic. I put a blanket over the tent for privacy to try to calm her and kept the front zipped, hoping she’d calm down. When I check on her a few minutes later, she was clawing at the tent, holding a kitten’s paw in her mouth, still trying to get out. I had to pry her jaws apart to get the kitten away from her. Trying to keep Izzy happy, I moved the litter into a basket in my bathroom and she calmed down almost immediately. Then I saw the blood on my hand. I examined the kitten I’d taken from her mouth and panicked. By picking her kitten up with such a strong grip by the foot, Izzy had skinned him; the flesh was exposed from his wrist down to his paw, shreds of the remaining skin and fur still hanging onto some of his toes.

Little Eddy - note the red bandage
My vet, Karen Brown of Stonington Veterinary Hospital, showed me how to change the kitten’s bandage every day, giving me a supply of gauze and antiseptic gel. The theme for this litter was Christmas names and this little brown boy was called St. Nicholas originally. As I stood there while Karen tended to the little guy and his mangled foot, he became Edward Scissorhand. I took little Eddy home with his front leg bandaged all the way up to his shoulder and then the real hell started with Izzy and her kittens.

Izzy seemed content with her kittens now in the bathroom and didn’t try to move them again. However, when one cried, she would jump up from nursing them, anxious to see what was wrong. Sometimes she’d lay on them, then freak when she heard a kitten cry and jump up again, never seeming to understand that if she laid down carefully and stayed there the kittens would be quiet. If she was nursing and I walked in, she’d rush to the door, hoping to get out of the room. I likened her to a 13-year-old human mother, not mature enough to want to stay with her babies, ready to go on with her life as it was before. The day after Eddy’s accident, Izzy killed one of her kittens. I found it with two puncture wounds in its chest from her teeth and flattened by her weight. My vet and I theorized that she became frustrated with the crying and bit it to make the crying stop. This is not something normally seen in cats, but isn’t that uncommon in some breeds of dogs. By this time, we determined that Izzy may be suffering from severe post-partum depression and unfit to leave alone with her kittens.

The kittens stayed behind a closed bathroom door and Izzy had to stay in our bedroom. She seemed to want to be with her kittens desperately, but it was now supervised visits to nurse only. She would wake me up in the middle of the night for that feeding and I would escort Izzy in, sitting on the bathroom floor with my head leaning against the bathtub while she nursed them from 2 until 3 am. I supplemented the kittens with a bottle, especially Eddy and one of the little girls, Noelle. Noelle at times seemed to be fading, then she’d rally. Finally at 6 weeks, she gave up the fight and we lost another one.

Eddy’s paw developed a major infection, swelling all the way up his leg and the pus finding an exit in his chest. The chest wound had to be reopened regularly to allow the infection to drain. Every night, Jay and I would unwrap the little guy’s leg, listening to him cry as his raw flesh was exposed to the air. Sometimes the gauze would be stuck to him and we’d have to run his foot under water to get the gauze off without removing any new skin. One such time, it was so heart-wrenching when Eddy looked at me and cried I got nauseous. This was four years ago but I still remember how ecstatic I was when little Eddy finally got his weight over 6 ounces. He was way behind his litter mates in size, but still gamely scrambled for the milk bar, dragging his bad arm behind him. Over and over, I told Eddy, “You will NOT die on me.” I was emotionally vested in this kitten. Writing about him even now gets me choked up with the memories.

Over the Christmas holiday, we took Izzy and her kittens with us to my sister’s house in Harrisburg, PA. I still supplemented with a bottle and weighed them all daily, but Izzy had since visibly gotten past her post-partum hormonal issues and settled down to a trust-worthy mother. It’s funny, but when the kittens were about a week old, Izzy suddenly became a rational cat again; I swear I could see the change in her face.

Then more bad news: when the kittens were about 10 days old, the female, Silver Belle had a swollen foot and I noticed that two of the male kittens had rib cages that weren’t shaped correctly. Pectus. The sternum (front of the chest) actually curved in. When I got them in to see Karen, she confirmed my diagnosis. I could already tell the Pectus Boys had labored breathing and feared that their organs would eventually get so crowded in the compressed rib cage they’d die too. This was the first time I broke down sobbing in my vet’s office. I had been to her office 8 times within two weeks. She was good enough to dismiss most of the charges. I was ready to have the kittens with pectus euthanized, but Karen told me to think about it over the weekend. They held their own and shortly after the Pectus Boys starting walking, gravity pulled their sternums down enough to give them room to grow. Both are normal sized Maine Coons today, living normal healthy lives. Belle’s swollen foot was x-rayed, but the cause remained a mystery. The swelling went down on its own.

Silver Belle all grown up
Four kittens remaining out of seven. One has a deformed foot as he lost a couple of his toes. Two have pectus. The other seemed okay. I eventually decided that Eddy deserved a home where he could be spoiled properly. I couldn’t show or breed him and a very patient woman really wanted a brown tabby male, deformed or not. So I let Eddy go live with Susan and John.
Oscar, one of the Pectus boys, and friend in his new home
When Susan and John got their second kitten from me a year later, I delivered her personally to their home so I could see my Eddy. I even brought a strip of his red bandage I still had. Eddy was renamed Merlin (they had a close relative named Eddie and didn’t want to confuse things). Little Eddy-Merlin grew into an 19-pound handsome, friendly cat where he lives with his people, his 20-pound little sister Feebe, two Great Danes and 3 parrots. It was wonderful closure for me to see him again. His right foot is stunted, but he walks and plays normally.
Merlin, formerly known as Eddy...one tough kitty
Izzy was spayed and found a nice quiet home nearby where she plays fetch with their teenage son. When I went to visit her shortly after she left, she seemed more concerned that I would take her back. Motherhood isn’t for everyone, even cats.

My Litter from Hell challenged me a lot that winter and indoctrinated me into the tragic side of breeding. It was the kind of challenge that persuades many to give up breeding for good. It was probably a good thing I'd had healthy kittens and cats with excellent mothering instincts for the first three years to build up my confidence. I still try to see the positive side of things: the beauty of a healthy litter of newborn kittens who instinctively know how to root around their purring mother's belly; the thunder of 8-week-old kittens chasing each other and any victim that dares to move; the love the owners and my kittens have for one another. Fortunately, that’s still the case most of the time.

NOTE: For more pictures of Dracoonfly kittens after they're all grown up, visit my Pictures Pages.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Increasing chest pressure which was first noticed the last week of September. Higher than normal blood pressure on the first stress test. Then the fearful conclusion following the nuclear stress test; you have a shadow on your heart. It could be a blocked artery. Shock and denial. I'm only 45! I've gained weight but I'm not obese. I work out. I haven't eaten red meat since 1984. My cholesterol level is good. There's no history of heart disease in my family. I'm not a saltaholic or fried food freak. Rationalizations and denial weren't making me feel better.

The abnormal stress test results came in on Friday. I had an appointment with a cardiologist the following Tuesday. By Saturday morning, the pressure was so bad I could barely function. I was trying to push through it and take new photos of the kittens to update my website. That got me out of breath. Fearful that I was a walking time bomb, I called the doctor again. He suggested I go directly to Yale-New Haven Hospital an hour away, rationalizing that if I did need to have something done, I'd end up there anyway.

I stayed calm while the kids freaked out. I had been an emotional mess the day before when I got the results, but was amazed at my level demeanor that day. I did, however, struggle with my own emotions when Kelsey broke down, telling her I needed her to be strong for me. Tyler intervened and pulled her away to another room to talk her down.

As soon as we got to Yale-New Haven, I regretted coming there. Paranoid about the H1N1, everyone coming into the emergency room had to wear a mask. We were also told that Kelsey would have to leave because she's under 18. Most cases of swine flu are in minors so she was considered at risk. Fortunately, one nurse felt sorry for Kelsey when she started crying and argued that it was okay to let her stay because she looked 18 and was obviously upset. So is it a blessing or a curse when your teenage daughter looks older than her age?

Once taken back to the emergency area for monitoring, I asked if I could use the bathroom before all the equipment was hooked up to me. I was told that it was too risky because I had chest pain. "It's too risky to not allow me to pee", I replied. "Is the bathroom up stairs?" Just around the corner. "It's a risk I'm willing to take." So the kids and I waited around for the rest of the afternoon, putting our masks on if a medical person came in our curtained off area. About an hour after Jay got there around 3 pm, I was finally moved into a regular room and the masks came off permanently. My angiogram was scheduled for the next morning.

The last time I stayed at a hospital, it was over 14 years ago. I call that hospital stay "Kelsey Marie". This time, I had to share a room with Rosa, a woman who was also hooked up to a heart monitor and spoke little English. At first, I was fine with all the conversation behind my roommate's curtain because it was Spanish and therefore easy for me to tune out. It was at times loud enough that I couldn't have my own conversations without difficulty. Her phone rang a lot, and the sound of the ringer was obnoxious. After the first night, I had Jay try to turn down the volume on her phone while Rosa was off having tests done. That didn't help. Apparently the volume controls are an empty tease.

I learned from eavesdropping that Rosa was originally from Ecuador. Her grown son seemed to be an aggravation to her, hence the yelling over the phone. She needed a nurse or aid who spoke Spanish to help her with ordering her food from room service or translating the more complicated communication.

I kept my fingers crossed that Rosa would be able to leave on Saturday if I couldn't. My hopes fell when the nurse told Rosa she could leave but she could stay if she wanted. What insurance covers using the hospital as a hotel? Rosa wanted to stay.

My coronary angiogram showed no blockages in my heart at all. That's great! My heart IS healthy after all. However, they wanted to rule out possible blood clots in my lungs. That would involve injecting more radioactive dye which would be safer to do after my kidneys had time to clean things out. Another night for me too. At least I got to remove the heart monitor that had been attached to six electrodes and wires coming out of the front of my top. I looked like a robot and felt weird sleeping with the monitor box like it was some sort of teddy bear.

Rosa and I were going to be roommates another night. Our interactions thus far had been minimal. I was in the bed closest to the door and the bathroom, Rosa had the window. We would exchange greetings only when she had to schlep past my bed to go to the bathroom, one of her hands securing her modesty by holding her johnnie together in the back. I felt good that I'd thought ahead enough to pack pajamas, clean underwear and basic toiletries. I asked a few times to be moved into a private room, but was told those were for the contagious patients and they had no spare rooms. I tried to tell myself it could be worse.....my roommate could have been some old complaining lady who tried to talk to me all the time. I tried to accept it, but the resentment was building.

Jay decided to spend the next night in the hospital so he wouldn't have to do so much driving. The kids visited Sunday and seemed relieved when I told them they could leave, giving them a list of animal care chores to do and nagging Kelsey to get herself up in the morning for school. That evening, I was lying in bed either reading or watching TV and Jay sat beside me studying. Rosa was on the phone for two hours straight, full of animated loud conversation. I turned up the volume on the TV, holding the remote with the speaker built in next to my ear to hear. At 9 pm, Rosa's nurse came in and I thanked her, hinting quietly that maybe she could get her patient off the phone. Finally some quiet. Then Rosa started watching her TV. She was obviously feeling better than she had the first night when she fell asleep early. The problem with her watching TV was that apparently the movie was an action film. Every time something happened, Rose reacted audibly with an "oh!" or gasping. It almost sounded like she was having sex over there. Which, by the way, I wondered about at one point earlier when her husband was visiting and I heard a lot of kissing and bed creaking. How sick is this woman, my new Nemesis?

I asked for a sleeping pill and a percocet to relieve the ache in my leg from the invasion of my femoral artery earlier that day and help me sleep. My aggravation level was high at this point but I tried to go to sleep. Rosa's phone rang at 11 pm. I had been told that calls wouldn't be put through after 10. She obviously still wanted to talk and I was not happy. I unplugged my IV from the wall socket and rolling the IV stand with me, walked to the front nurse station to complain. That worked. Rosa got off the phone and fell asleep quickly. I was awakened again at 1 am by the alarm going off on my IV indicating that it was empty.

Next morning, I'm tired and desperately want a shower. Because of the whole angiogram, major hole in a major artery thing, I was instructed to wait 24 hours before showering to allow it to heal. After the shower, my mood improved considerably although Jay joked that I must be feeling better because I was complaining so much. I had a CT scan done and while we were in the room waiting for results and clearance to be discharged, we learned more about Rosa.

A translator and a social worker were talking to her. Through the translator we found that Rosa had only completed her education through the 8th grade, her grown children were okay except for her oldest son. He and she had an argument that turned violent, the police were called, and she suffered chest pain from the stress, bringing her to our shared world. My resentment turned to sympathy.

Interestingly enough, once Rosa overheard that I was leaving, she came over to talk to us. I'm sure she was happy to see me leave but as it turned out she works as a housekeeper. She wanted to know if we needed her services. She didn't seem to understand that we lived an hour away and insisted upon giving us her phone number.

I've left Rosa and the hospital experience behind, grateful to come home to cat litter, hair on the furniture and chickens. My veins are recovering from their abuse and I'm still finding sticky residue from the electrodes on my torso. I don't know what's wrong with me, only that it's not likely to kill me any time soon. More tests to come. Next stop, an endoscopy.

I know this is not a great story, no cute photos of me with wires attached my body, no near death experiences or miracles. But I wanted to write this for myself since judging by the lack of comments, I'm not sure anyone other than Howard really reads these anyway. (hint, hint)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

First Egg!

On Halloween morning, I awoke up to the distinctive sound of a kitten being born; a kind of bluuurp sound of something wet exiting its mother. Upon getting up and checking the birthing cage, I found that Kinsey had just given birth to her second kitten; the first was already dry. Kinsey, the whacked out adventurer, didn't need my assistance with birthing. One hour later, there were four little ones and a purring mother who was very pleased with herself and rightfully so.

Not to be outdone, the chickens decided to make this a momentous day also. That afternoon, I found our first egg, a perfectly formed light green egg. The color indicates that it was laid by an Americauna (also known as Easter Eggers). I credit the egg to Fae, as she's the largest and has the best egg laying hips so far. Yes, that's right, egg laying hips. A hen's "spread" is an indication of her egg producing abilities and readiness. No correlations to humans necessary.

Jay boiled the egg the next morning along with some others for breakfast so we could have an egg tasting. It was, without a doubt, the best boiled egg we've ever eaten. We got a ration of grief from Kelsey who was convinced that we'd be eating a fertilized egg with a baby chick in it. Luckily, the father of her current beau Nate, works at a chicken research facility and convinced her it was okay if the egg was collected within 2 days of being laid.

It's now been 3 days since the first egg appeared and apparently that's going to be all. No more eggs have been laid. I'm back to listening to Jay tease me about how my chickens are all duds and only good for the stew pot.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chicken Update

What do you do when you're waiting and waiting for that first egg? Everything I'd researched indicated that my Americaunas at least would start to lay mid-October, the Hamburgs take longer to mature. I check the nesting boxes at least 3 times a day, looking for more than the plastic Easter egg I left there for inspiration. I've shown them the calendar, nagged them to earn their keep, etc. But no eggs yet. I know that with the days getting shorter, hens typically slow down their egg production, but I hope I don't have to wait until spring. I just purchased a solar shed light to install in the coop to give them more daylight, so maybe that'll help.

The Americauna pullets - no Easter eggs yet

Meanwhile, I ordered more chicks! Read on for more about them. Just two this time, but I wanted to get some that were a little older. My thought process is that with impending winter, I think it'd be easier to get new birds outside sooner than in January. I'm trying to put off more new chicks until spring as you have to wait until the new ones are fully feathered and are the same approximate size of the existing flock in order to integrate them successfully. Chickens don't naturally get along with strange birds, so one must be careful.

Silver Spangled Hamburg pullet and our crowing cockeral "Shanaynay"
When Shanaynay first started to crow, it was cute. Not even a full "cockadoodledoo", but more of a sarcastic "cockadoo", once a day. He crows more often now, but I try to keep it in perspective. We don't have neighbors close by and even if they did complain, we put up with the incessant barking of their standard poodles for years (the dogs finally died). There are neighbors a little further away who also have a rooster, so who's to know where the crowing is coming from? Compared to the larger breeds of roosters, Shanaynay's crow is not deafening. And since Hamburgs are such shy, flighty birds, he's not aggressive at all. Roosters are commonly known to flog or attack anything they deem as a threat to their flock. If Shanaynay feels we are a threat, such as when we hold one of the hens or are standing too close, he crows. And we do appreciate the fact that Shanaynay is one handsome little dude.

I mentioned the two new chicks. One of the other advantages to getting older chicks is that you can be more certain that they are in fact girls. These two are 6-week-old Jersey Giants from breeder Maria Hall in Indiana (chickens are shipped through the good old US Post Office).

Once I discovered the Jersey Giant breed to be the largest of the chickens, I knew I had to have one, rationalizing that if I have big cats, I'm supposed to have big chickens too. A fully mature Giant hen can get to be 12 pounds, although they take longer to reach their full size than normal sized hens. My two are considered to be blue. They also come in black and splash. Their color looks alot like the new blue smoke tortie kitten I have, Gargoyle. I named the new girls Thelma and Louise. Louise is shown here

Now I have two new chicks to distract me while I continue to wait for the first egg.

Feline twin, Gargoyle, a blue smoke tortie
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Off Track

I first moved to Connecticut from North Carolina in the summer of 2000. Since I used to run for exercise (before my knees protested too loudly), I found a track to continue the practice. The track at Pequonnock Plains Park in Groton is a half-mile lap with a large open field in the middle, kept alive all year with organized soccer, lacrosse and football games and random Frisbee throwers, touch footballers, personal trainers, dog walkers and kite fliers in between the games. A restroom is open during the warmer months and a play scape was added this past year. The town does a wonderful job of maintaining the park.

I have used the track on a fairly regular basis during the warmer months to run and now walk. During these 9 years, I have observed the other "regulars" who frequent the track. Some no longer walk there, but have left their images in my memory.

I have a tendency to assign names to those whose names I don't know, particularly if they have a distinctive look. For instance, when I first started going to the track, there was a large man with his head shaved bald who lived near the park. He walked his Shitzu and talked to everyone. When his garden grew, he gave me tomatoes. I assigned him the name of Mr. Clean Shitzu. I actually asked him his name at one point, but only remember the moniker I gave him.

There were also couples who stood out. An older couple who dressed with frumpy hats and always walked around the track in the opposite direction of everyone else. The unwritten rule is to walk counter-clockwise, but the Wrong Way Wootens went their own way, forcing you to acknowledge them every time you passed on the track. Another couple was two very large and rotund men. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. They almost looked like brothers with very similar builds, easily over 300 pounds each. They were very friendly to any other walkers but after a while I started to wonder about them. You know what I mean. Were they friends or domestic partners? I was passing them one day while they were walking and talking to a woman and I realized I wasn't the only one with that question. I overheard them laughing and explaining to the woman that no, they were both married, one had 3 children, etc. Funny how we rarely question two women who walk together, but the men are regarded differently.

Most of the people are walkers, some are runners. Then there are the Stroller Derby Moms. Sometimes it's just a group of friends who chat happily while walking with their babies in strollers. Occasionally I see the paid personal trainer stroller derby leader with her jogging stroller and the determined mothers gamely trying to keep up with the super mom ideal of looking like they've never given birth. They nearly run me over with their over sized wheels and long strides, almost mocking me to try to keep up. Some of these new mothers with their flat stomachs and firm bodies just make me want to.....well, I'm jealous, what can I say? I'm still trying to get rid of my baby fat too, but my baby is 14-years-old so the excuse has faded.

Then there are the others, the stroke survivors who can take a full hour to make one lap and I feel guilty for passing them so many times while they face more struggles than I could imagine. I wonder if they watch the others pass by and resent us for having our health in the same way that I resent the fit new moms. Back to earth.

Like I mentioned before, the town does a wonderful job of keeping the park in good shape. There's a regular employee who makes the rounds of the bathrooms and the trash, a tall slender man I've named Jerry Captooth. He just looks like a Jerry to me and the fake teeth really stand out when he smiles. They resurface the track and treat the field in-between sports to get it ready for the sport of the season with lawn fertilizer, white lines and goal posts or nets.

One such time a large piece of machinery that looked like major farm equipment was slowly going back and forth across the field. It had arms extended on either side that appeared to be plugging the soil with holes or fertilizer or something beneficial. This machine was intimidating to me, but apparently not to everyone. As I walked the track, a stray yellow lab mix wandered across the field in front of me. This was the first (and last) time I've ever seen a loose dog at the park with no owner in sight. As I watched, the monstrous machine slowly made its way over. It was large and loud. At the same time time, the dog trotted up and squatted in the path of the machine to poop. About 6 feet away from the dog was a sign which read "Keep off the grass." The dog was totally oblivious to the sign and the oncoming machine, taking his time to make sure he was completely relieved. I looked at the driver of the machine who threw up his arms in frustration, yelling, "Come ON!" Just as the machine closed in on the pooping pooch, he finished his business and trotted off, never even looking at the monstrous machine headed toward his pile of fresh excrement. This would've been a perfect Kodak moment.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Into the Woods

We live on 3 plus acres which are secluded in the woods. Our property backs onto a Ledyard park which provides us with more isolation and a nice trail for hiking. Once the colder weather moves in (which it did in force recently; there was snow in northwestern parts of the state) and the horseflies and mosquitoes are gone, it's a good 45-minute hike through the woods with Chardonnay, our dog. Chardonnay is enthusiastic about these hikes, running ahead then checking back with us, chasing scents and the occasional deer or turkey. Since most of my shoes are slip-ons and I never wear shoes in the house, Chardonnay knows that if I sit down to actually tie a shoe, a hike is forthcoming and she starts her Scooby Doo bark in anticipation.

My favorite times to hike are in the fall when the leaves are still up and in the winter right after a good snowfall. The spring gets iffy when the mud is bad as it then becomes a challenge to keep Chardonnay from wallowing in the black stuff. Failing to keep her out of the mud results in the next challenge of bathing a dog with water from the hose that's so cold it hurts. Doesn't seem to bother Chardonnay as her motivation in life is to be cold and wet (and stinky), but not so much for us humans. The other challenge is to get the ticks that she's collected off of her before she comes back in the house. I often joke that we're going out tick collecting when we hike. Don't forget we live in Connecticut, the origin of Lyme disease (the disease was identified in Lyme, CT). Chardonnay has tested positive for Lyme disease twice, but her human family has so far escaped. Don't worry, she's also on Frontline year round to combat the little parasites.

Do you know what's it called when the wind blows and a swirl of leaves come down like snow?....Leaving (my word, thank you very much).

A few weeks ago a mountain lion was spotted on the park property next to us. My initial response was "Cool!" Then I thought, uh not a good predator to have around chickens. We have electric netting around the chickens, but big cats are probably better jumpers than coyotes and foxes. Nevertheless, Chardonnay and I set out in the woods to look for signs of a mountain lion, armed with the knowledge that big cats are much shyer than other large predators and tend to be afraid of dogs. I don't think I'd go by myself without Chardonnay. She's a Golden wimp, but the wildlife doesn't know that. To them, she's a 75-pound challenge with a big bark who smells like she has a human companion. To date, we have never had a problem with coyotes coming into our yard and I have to believe it's because they smell Chardonnay.

The hike through the park property is one large circle which has a couple of historic landmarks. One is a well and the other is the remains of a cellar foundation. The New England states have stone walls which were built by settlers trying to clear the stones off the fields so they made stone walls to divide property, hold the livestock in, etc. It looks very similar to the stone walls dividing up the sheep farms in England, hence the reason we are "New"….really original guys. When you see the magnitude of what they accomplished hundreds of years ago with no machinery to lift and stack the stones, it's very humbling.

It's part of our routine to look down the well to see if Timmy is down there (Lassie reference) and for Chardonnay to jump on "her rock" and pose for a moment. She'll go for 6 months without going on this trail, but she always remembers we expect her to jump on the rock when we come back to the woods in the fall.

I had played all the what if's in my mind in the event we actually came across a mountain lion. Would Chardonnay chase it up a tree so I could take pictures with my cell phone? My story would be in the newspaper and I could be a local celebrity for a day. Or would it run away so fast that Chardonnay wouldn't even see it (she has missed turkeys, pheasants and deer running ahead on the trail). Or would the lion sneak up behind me, Chardonnay obliviously up ahead chasing a squirrel, and jump me? Would she come to my rescue at the sound of the commotion or keep chasing the squirrel? Would the lion really be intimidated by a human with a large dog or take us both down? Would I have time to dial 911? And if I did, would there be a signal?

Nothing so exciting happened. No signs of a mountain lion were seen by my untrained eye. No kitty paw prints in the mud, no large litter boxes or big cat poop and no reaction to a new scent by the Golden Hunter. Maybe the big cat wondered off to new territory, but it'd still be kind of neat to see it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple Picking

Kelsey at Apple Picking Last Year
Recently Jay and I took his grandchildren Amanda and Benjamin to Holmberg Orchards for our annual apple picking day. Tyler and Kelsey used to go, but now they seemed to have "aged out" on the tradition. When Kelsey stated that she didn't want to go because she hated apple picking, I recalled that all the pictures I have of her last year were of her texting. So I agreed it would be grandchildren only.
Jay and Ben on the tractor ride up the hill
Ben (age 4) and Amanda (age 7) have been asking to go for months so the anticipation is great. I finally had a weekend where I wasn't away at a cat show. Apple picking entails a tractor ride to the top of the orchard and conducting a taste test on the fruit.
Try Before You Buy
One of us tastes an apple and declares whether or not that type was worth picking. If not, the apple is tossed to the ground with a yuck. Although it seemed none of the apples were determined to be a clear winner, we still managed to fill up three bags with apples and one with pears.

Loaded up with fruit, we hiked back down the hill and picked out pumpkins. This is a big deal as Ben is emotionally attached to pumpkins and even slept with last year's choice in his bed. It took two trips to the car to get all our apples, pears and pumpkins loaded up.
Amanda demonstrates the Apple-Corer-Pealer-Slicer
Headed home with 4 bags of fruit and a pumpkin and small gourd for each child, I realized we had a lot of apples to eat. Luckily, this year I was prepared with my new Apple, Corer, Peeler, Slicer tool bought online (thank you Diana for the suggestion). In previous years, I either got stuck preparing all the apples to cook myself or the apples rotted in the fridge before they could all be eaten.

With my toy, everyone wanted to help and we even got two large baggies complete with apple pie ingredients to freeze for later. Apple picking itself took about an hour and we spent about 2 hours slicing our harvest. The kids declared the whole day to be a winner.

The resulting Apple Slinky

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Color Me Beautiful

Most of my Maine Coons have the tabby pattern. Some people, including those in charge of documentaries on Animal Planet, are under the mistaken impression that all tabbies are Maine Coons. The characteric "M" on the forehead is indeed part of the tabby pattern, but it alone does not stand for "Maine Coon Cat". Maine Coons come in most colors and patterns, all except for pointed like you'd see in a Siamese or a Himalayan.

But the Maine Coon absolutely doesn't own the tabby pattern, which is simply the striped pattern over an assortment of colors. A tabby can be a domestic short or long hair (the average, non-pedigreed cat), or it can adorn many other purebred cats. For instance, the cat shown above left is a silver mackeral tabby Oriental.

The kittens shown to the right are American Curls, in blue and brown tabby patterns. For more information on colors and patterns of cats, check out the site What Color is My Cat? by Beth Hicks.

So although the majority of Maine Coons have the tabby pattern, it's kind of nice to be able to get one that's different looking. I have a tortoiseshell female named Amy. A tortie is a solid black cat with red splotches. Each time Amy has been bred, it was always to her favorite beau, Bugger, a traditional brown tabby male. Bugger does not carry the gene for solid, so their offspring will never be solid black or tortie. Their kittens are always tabbies, usually brown and usually just one as Amy (shown to the right) is queen of the singleton litters.

When I finally got the oportunity to breed Amy to a male who carried the gene for solid, I was really excited about the color possibilities. She was bred to Jack, my friends' silver tabby and white stud who carries the gene for solid and dilute. Once you learn how the Punette Square works on color genetics, it's easy to predict. The color for a cat is carried on the X chromosome (remember those from science?). Females have two X's, males have XY. Therefore, only the females can have two colors shown together. Male kitten colors are determined by the mother as they inherit her X. Female kitten colors come from mom and dad combined (her X and his X).

I don't expect everyone to follow or want to follow this, but suffice it to say that Amy and Jack have the potential of having together boys who are brown, silver, blue (blue is the dilute version of brown), blue-silver, red, red-silver, cream (dilute color of red), cream-silver....and those are just the tabbies. The solids could be black, blue, red, black smoke, blue smoke, red smoke, cream and cream smoke.

In the girls, we could get all of the above with the exception of the reds and creams, plus the combination of colors such as the black tortie (like Amy), blue tortie, smoke tortie, blue smoke tortie and all of those colors but with stripes, called torbies (tortie and tabby together). Statistically, half of the kittens should be with white since Jack has white.

Since Amy has a history of having just one kitten per litter, I was happy when she started carrying larger than normal. I was hoping she'd have a silver torbie with white or a tortie and white....something really flashy to keep. We breeders love to think of all the wonderful colors we can get. Then we try to cut and paste the best of each parent to create the perfect cat; his ears, her muzzle, his personality and boning....it never works out that way, but we can't stop fantasizing.

What did Amy end up having? Well, at least she didn't have a brown tabby. Instead she had a red boy, a blue tabby girl, and a blue torbie girl. No white, no solids, no flashy girl. Luckily Amy's litter of 3 arrived one day after Ally's litter of 7. Amy was happy to help Ally out when I put the two litters together. Of course, the most important thing about this is not the lack of color I desired, but that the kittens were a good birth weight and healthy. All ten are thriving, squeaking, squirming little miniature cats and that is a beautiful thing.

Ally and Amy with their rainbow of ten

Friday, September 11, 2009

UPS Emails

The following is a series of email exchanges between one of our kittens "UPS" and his future feline housemates, Baxter and Bowdoin. UPS was mentioned in a previous blog which featured the service dog he now lives with, Logan.

It is this kind of obsessive attitude that convinces me that not only are my kittens going to the best homes possible, but that there are crazier animal lovers than I am.

I've color-coded the text so it's easier to tell who's who and included all sorts of adorable photos.

Sent: Sunday, June 07, 2009 7:29 PM
Subject: From Baxter and Bowdoin

Dear UPS,

Thought we'd send you a picture of our new cat tree on the screenporch. We love it, it overlooks the bird feeder. There's space for one more - you! Can't wait to meet you and have you join the BT (brown tabby) Boys!

Baxter and Bowdoin(Fred and Diva too)

On Sun, Jun 7, 2009 at 9:53 PM, UPS> wrote:

Dear Baxter and Bowdoin,

It looks like a fun place to hang out! I hope that our parents don't get all us brown tabbies confused and start calling us "Baxbowups."

Of course, I'll be the more handsome one so I hope you two can adjust to being the side-kicks. :-)


Sent: Monday, June 08, 2009 9:05 PM
Subject: Re: From Baxter and Bowdoin

Dear UPS,

You have quite the attitude for such a young one! We'll have to put you in your place before you get too big for us to do so! After all, what are brothers for? ;-) Hey, that's right, you wouldn't know as you have all sisters!

Don't worry, mom will be able to tell us all apart. When Fred's real brother Nile was around people would say they look so much alike, how can you tell them apart? Mom thought that was funny because they looked very different to her and she could even tell who was talking without seeing them.

Have you met the giant yellow funny looking cat yet? I think they call them dogs. We have one here too. Every time we knock a pen or something off the counter she will pick it up and bring it to mom. That's her job. We don't have jobs. Except to look cute and purr. Like that's hard!

Your BT Boys bros Baxter & Bowdoin

On Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 8:00 AM, UPS> wrote:

Dear B & B,

You think I need brothers? Well, they will be a welcome change after living with all these crazy girls! We’re just learning to walk and already I can tell they are the bosses. If I try to fight back, they’ll just all gang up on me saying something like “Girl Power” so I try to keep a low profile.

We have a few weeks until we get to go downstairs and face the other dangerous creatures that I’ve heard about who live here. I hear a loud barking noise from time to time. When that happens, I cringe because the noise is scary, but Mommy goes to the window to look and see who’s here. I think the barking is a doorbell or an alarm or something.

My cat Mommy says she’s retired from showing and her only job now is to be a good mommy. Of course, now that she’s been published, she feels extra special. She shows us her picture in the book and on the famous photographer Helmi Flick’s website and reminds us of how she “used to be somebody.” She likes to do that when we get on her nerves. My Mom, the Supermodel.
(Note: click here to see the book UPS is talking about that pictures his mother, Myra)


Dear UPS Man,

We are all anxiously awaiting your arrival! Bowdoin is ready to give up being the baby, he got "nootered" a few weeks ago. Mom said that you will already be "nootered" when you come home. Did it go OK?

Have you met the big yellow uglycat yet? What did you think? We have one here too and she is very nice, good to cuddle with. She'll be going with Mom and Dad to pick you up. Her photo from the modeling gig for Orvis just got released...

Mom says that she desperately needs photos of you 'cause the age you're at is the cutest! She hopes she gets one of the infamous Dracoonfly kittens at the stair rail photos (hint, hint) but she'll take what she can get!


The BT Boys
Baxter, Bowdoin, Fred (and little sis Diva)

Hi Baxter and Bowdoin,

Bowdoin, you are such a baby! I just got “clipped” today and it didn’t hurt a bit! I’m ready to go home this weekend if someone wants to come get me. My Mom will be at a cat show in Fitchburg, Mass this weekend if ya’ll want to come there if that’s easier (My mom is speaking funny after returning from South Carolina).

The big yellow uglycat has a funky looking tail, but she’s okay after you get used to her smell.

We just got the new PC going today so after Mom has a chance to catch up on things, I’m sure she’ll be doing the Kittens in the Railing photo.



UPS Man with his UPS bandanna and his new mom, Suzan.

UPS is now called Angus King and has made himself at home with Baxter, Bowdoin and the "big yellow uglycat", Logan.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Women's Work

My parents raised me to be a feminist. Not the stereotypical man-hating, bra-burning kind of feminist, but the kind who isn't afraid to tackle things just because they are considered a "man's job".

When we had trees cut down around the yard over the summer, I challenged myself to cut up one of the fallen trees with a chain saw....just so I'd know how to do it. Jay gamely taught me how to do it safely (I have a healthy fear of chain saws). I learned that upper body strength is something I don't possess and very necessary to handle a chainsaw. Still, I can say I did it. I couldn't move my arms for the next week, but I did it. I can also honestly say I did not feel at all compelled to help with stacking the resulting firewood.

Likewise, I have tried to make sure my children don't buy into stereotypes of jobs that are appropriate for their gender only. I also try to encourage my teenagers to be self-sufficient...do their own homework, their own laundry, clean their own room. The idea is not to have clean rooms and clothes (although that would be nice), but for them to be comfortable with doing it themselves. According to the experts, it's supposed to build self-esteem.
I have a dear friend we'll call Marjorie. I can mention her because I know she won't read this. She wasn't raised to be as self-sufficient as I was. For instance, she always goes to the same full-serve gas station because she insists that whenever she's tried to pump gas herself, she does it wrong. There are many other examples of ways in which Marjorie could be more self-sufficient, but I digress. My point is that I don't want my daughter to be like Marjorie and depend upon a man to do the most basic of things for her.

So when we came home from back-to-school shopping at Staples yesterday with a desk chair for each teen and a computer desk for Kelsey (Tyler already had a desk), it became their job to do the assembly. Jay had warned me that he wouldn't have time to put anything together. Like I was going to ask....Hey, I used to work at a furniture store....simple assemblies don't scare me. I even read directions. But I wanted the kids to be able to do it themselves. Tyler was easy; he didn't want help and feels compelled to demonstrate his independence quite often.

Kelsey initially played the "I don't know how" card. What....they didn't teach you to read directions in 8th grade? I encouraged her to look at the pictures, read the directions if all else failed. I reminded her that all the members of the family on my side were mechanically inclined, with the exception of my brother (sorry Paul. You know it's true). My dad enjoys carpentry and working around the house. My mother can repair a toilet. My sister can hang sheet rock.

Once Kelsey got going, you could just see her mood change from a whiney "I caaan't" to "Hey....Look at what I did." The desk was more complicated so I helped, but she still took the lead. In the end, Kelsey had a new desk and chair she was very proud of and the attitude of someone who's now not intimidated by basic assembly. Kelsey was so pleased, she had to show off the pictures of her assembly process to her boyfriend to prove she'd done it all by herself.

Here, she poses in her normal state with her new accomplishment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


When I first started researching the idea of keeping chickens as pets, everything I gathered indicated that chickens will eat just about anything, the exception being raw potatoes. I assumed that the chickens and the dog would be able to share in leftovers and the chickens would benefit from the items that normally are dumped in the compost pile (affectionately referred to as "the landfill"). Chardonnay the dog continues to eat most everything in front of her, but the chickens are actually picky.

I chopped up some overly-ripe strawberries the other day to serve our little pullets and cockerel. They came to me expectedly, looking for the handout my presence is associated with. I tossed the berries on the grass and got "the look". Since birds' eyes are on either side of their heads, they have to turn their head to look directly at something. In this case, one eye on the strawberry and the other on me. It was clearly a "What the Cluck?" expression as in "you expect me to eat that?"

My chickens don't like strawberries or tomatoes or several other things you'd think they would like. Their favorite menu items are pasta and eggs. The eggs can be boiled, fried, scrambled, whatever. My birds are into recycling apparently. They do love seafood. I'm sure they would eat chicken too, but we're not even going to try it….it just seems wrong.

I haven't eaten red meat or pork since 1984. Blame the research I did for an argumentative speech at Ithaca College on laboratory animals. When you discover the truth behind scientific research practices on lab animals, you also learn about factory farming. I swore off all meat except for seafood. I ate turkey only on Thanksgiving and Christmas day for several years as my one cheat. I finally added poultry back into my diet when my first child started eating table food, mainly to make it easier to feed him. Now that I have chickens, I still eat poultry, but with more misgivings. Soon after we moved the chicks outside into their coop, Jay and I were out there watching them. He asked that loaded question, "What's for dinner?" This was one of the few times I'd actually given some thought to dinner preparation, but I felt self-conscience about saying it out loud, in front of my new pets. So I spelled it, "C-H-I-C-K-E-N".

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cat Party

Last weekend, Jay and I attended the TICA (The International Cat Association) Northeast Regional Banquet and cat show in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In addition to the normal cat show all day on Saturday and Sunday, there was a dinner and awards presentation Saturday night at the Royal Plaza Hotel. We went because not only is it an opportunity to party with a bunch of cat fanciers with no kids around, but my red tabby male, Tanstaafl Mickey Finn of Dracoonfly “Mickey” (shown here) was to receive a regional award for 11th Best Allbreed Champion for the 2008-2009 show season.

What does this mean, you ask? This means that out of the top 20 scoring unaltered adult cats (called the Champion class), Mickey was in 11th place of all the cat breeds in the Northeast Region. The Allbreed classification is further divided into longhaired and shorthaired breeds. Of the longhaired breeds, Mickey was 4th Best in our region. Either way, he earned the right to have the initials RW (Regional Winner) in front of his name to go along with the SGC for Supreme Grand Champion. There’s a lot more I could explain on cat shows, titles, etc., but I sense the eyeballs are already rolling with TMI (that’s Too Much Information).

My Rosette Pasties
But not only was I there to collect my cat’s award, but to celebrate the awards my friends’ cats won also. This was not the first time my cats have won Regional Awards, but definitely the most fun I’ve had at a banquet. Key to this was how well run it was this year by the Americats Cat Club….it was over by 9:30 pm. Normally these things drag on until 11. The other key was, again, the amount of wine I drank and the friends I drank it with (shout out to Mary Rastafari, aka RastaMary). I could say more, but what happens at cat shows, stays with the litter box.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Camp Stegall IV

I'm departing from my usual scintillating stories about cats, chickens and dogs in order to wax warm and fuzzy on something else important to me...my family. Not just my husband Jay and the teenagers who live with us, but people I grew up with, the people with whom I have more in common than I care to admit sometimes. My family is fairly ordinary; my parents have divorced and remarried, both sets settling in North Carolina. My siblings and I live all over the country with my brother Paul (a.k.a. "Howard" with his own blog who sometimes comments on mine) representing Arizona, sister Diana resides in Minnesota, step-brother Jeff in Georgia and me in Connecticut. Paul and I each have two children, Diana and Jeff have more freedom.

The middle generation:
Paul, Diana, me and Jeff

The tradition is and has been for us to get together at Thanksgiving at somebody's house, eat a lot, see a movie and sing Christmas carols until we drop (or we convince Paul to stop). However, it's not always been possible for everyone to travel at that time. Having grown up as a child from a "broken home", I didn't fully appreciate the lengths my parents went to in order to have our family get-togethers until I was older. If my dad and step-mom, June, were hosting a holiday gathering with us children, my mother and step-father, John, were always invited and vice versa. So although my parents, Joel and Ruth, haven't been married to each other since I was nine-years-old, they are truly friends and accepting of the other's spouses. I'm sure this has caused angst between them at various times, but they have somehow worked it out internally for the benefit of everyone.

The younger and older generations:
John, Mom, Weston, Tyler, Paris, Kelsey, Dad and June with a rainbow backdrop

Four years ago, my dad proposed the idea of renting a house at the beach for a week in the summer where we'd all gather without the pressure of holiday travel and getting back to work/school after just 2-3 days together. Thus, Camp Stegall was born. He found a house with its own swimming pool, a block from the beach in Garden City, South Carolina (about 30 minutes south of Myrtle Beach). It is fully furnished, very upscale, with 6 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms and 2 kitchens. Each bedroom has a full bathroom. Mom and John stay at a hotel or camp nearby, spending the day and dinners with the kids and grandkids. Dad and June foot most of the rental bill and bring most of the staples - food, soap, linens, etc. So although we have to cook for ourselves (each family has its designated night to prepare dinner for everyone), and may become tired of each other after awhile, it's our vacation. Hey, anytime I don't have to deal with pet hair, feed or clean up after cats is a vacation for me.
Jeff comes up with some sort of souvenir gift for that year; so far we've had Camp Stegall visors, T-shirts, travel mugs and carry bags.
Dad and his famous nose immortalized on a travel mug for Camp Stegall III in 2008

This year, most of us visited Brook Green Gardens together, a beautiful area filled with statues and flowers. Definitely a nice place to visit, but the 90-plus temperatures and high humidity were draining. Go in the spring if you get the chance to visit.
Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC

The Cousins
Kelsey (14), Paris (11), Tyler (17) and Weston (14)

Camp Stegall is our newest family tradition that I hope will continue into the next generation. It's kind of cool when you actually get along with and like your own family.