Saturday, September 25, 2010

That's Some Egg

The newer hens have started laying eggs now.  Not all of them, but about half of the seven newbies so we're getting more brown eggs these days.  Good thing, because some of the older hens (by older I mean they are about 18 months) are not laying at all.  Since I pointed out in a previous blog about the uniqueness of each hen's egg, I have a good idea of who my non-producers are.   Shout out to Flo, Foster and Righty, hey, it's been a couple of months....what the cluck? Probable reasons were the extreme summer heat, their current excuse is moulting.  Righty has actually lost the feathers in her tail that tilted to the right like a rudder.

In background, a headless Buffy, Flo and Thelma. Chad, our beautiful Light Brahma and Frodo the Red Silkie

Of the younger set, Hybrid, the Red Sex Link pullet, has matured quickly into a large hen with a pronounced comb and wattle that would make the Corn Flakes rooster jealous.  The Red Sex Link, also called the Red Comet or Red Star, is a breed created by mating a Rhode Island Red with a Plymouth Barred Rock.  The resulting chicks which hatch with red on them are females, making the sexing of newborn chicks a lot easier.  Hybrid lays brown eggs that are mottled with lighter colored spots.  Then she layed this ginormous egg, so large I felt compelled to check her bottom for injury and ask her if she was okay.  The egg earned the initials of BAE for "Big Ass Egg".  After a day of photo ops and admiration by the rest of the family, I cracked it open to reveal the equivalent of two eggs inside.  Fortunately for Hybrid, she lays normal-sized eggs most of the time. 


Normal-sized egg with Hybrid's BAE

Turkey Bacon and the Big Egg Revealed

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Allergic to Cats?

Kelsey with Bubba and friend at a cat show in 2005
I recently wrote about my son Tyler going away to college at USC. When I spoke to him last week, he made me nervous after he mentioned that he had a major allergy attack soon after he opened the care package I sent. What if he has developed an allergy to cats? I knew the box I mailed had been used as a cat bed before I loaded it up with goodies. Just try keeping a cat out of an empty box; they assume you got it specifically for their use and mine will fight over whose turn it is to sleep in the new box. 

I read an article years ago which referred to the allergy problem some college students face when they come home at Thanksgiving after being away from the family cat for a few months. This happened to my sister-in-law. I even experienced it myself after I left my pets with my mother in Weaverville, North Carolina at the age of 14 and went to live with my pet-deprived father all the way up in Ithaca, New York. When I came back to visit Mom, suddenly the long-haired black and white cat named Hal drove my allergies over a cliff every time he tried to get in my lap. I actually sympathized with all those people who declared they hated cats because they were allergic to them. The theory is that while one is living with cats or dogs, your body creates an immunity to their dander. Contrary to popular belief, it's the animal's dander and not their fur that causes an allergic reaction. Living in a pet household is similar to getting regular allergy shots, only a lot more cuddly. Once you leave a cat environment, your resistance gradually diminishes and you may find yourself a sneezing, snotty, miserable mess whenever a cat is nearby. 

I've had allergies most of my life. They started when I was a young child and because no one in my immediate family had allergies, at first Mom couldn't understand why I always seemed to have a cold. Because my allergies worsened at times of stress (i.e. Sunday morning when I was supposed to be getting ready for church), it was often insinuated that my allergy attacks were "all in my head". I can tell you the only thing in my head was snot. Many of my childhood memories are fogged by images of Triaminic Syrup, choosing clothing with large pockets to carry Kleenex, and my perpetually red, runny nose. I slept with a Kleenex box, littering my bedroom floor with used "snot wads" of tissue by morning. Why it took so long to move a trash can beside my bed I don't know.  Add that image to a girl who already had enormous buck teeth and you have a little Sharon. 

There was no Claritin back then and my mother didn't want to put me on the only medicine the family doctor offered to prescribe because it caused drowsiness. Lovebird the parakeet was moved out my bedroom and my feather pillow exchanged for a cotton one, but this wasn't enough. When I was finally taken to an allergist as a teenager, I tested positive for just about every known allergen, including cats and dogs. Still think it's all in my head Mom and Dad? The swollen reactions to the test stripes all over my back gave me the medical proof I needed to get my parents' attention. My major allergens were (and still are) grass pollen (especially ragweed), dust and mold. The mold allergy explained why Mom had always suggested that I was allergic to rain since that really sets me off. As a die hard animal lover, there was no conceivable way I was going to give up pets and since it's hard to avoid many environmental allergens, I got allergy shots for all five allergens through college. Pollen, dust, mold, dogs and cats. The arm that took the pollen, dust and mold shot always had the strongest reaction, becoming swollen, tender, hot and red for a day or so. The allergist also had more effective drugs to treat my symptoms than the country doctor in Weaverville so at last I found relief. Meanwhile, I convinced my father to let me adopt two kittens from the Ithaca animal shelter whom I named Simon and Garfunkel. 

It is believed that growing up in a pet household gives children a natural resistance to allergens they might not otherwise have. There's a video on Web MD regarding this, so I'm not just pulling this out of the dander-laden air I breathe. I found an article on strategies for living with cats if you have allergies. I will also point out that my cat allergies were profoundly worse back in the day when our cats went outside. Think about it; if the cat lies in the grass and you're also allergic to grass, you've just doubled your exposure when Fluffy comes in and gets in your lap. Just one more reason for cat owners to keep their cats inside.

A few tips for dealing with allergies I've learned over the years rather than moving to Arizona and living a life of misery without animals:
  • Get your children a pet while they are toddlers to build their resistance to pet allergies. I recommend a Maine Coon cat. The choice of dog breed is up to you but I have a personal fondness for Golden Retrievers.
  • If you are just allergic to dander and not to cat saliva, try visiting the homes of breeders who have more allergy-friendly cats like the Sphynx, Devon Rex or Cornish Rex to see how your allergies react. The Siberian is also supposed to be a good choice, but I can't verify that.   Breeders of these cats are experienced in working with allergy sufferers.
  • If you have asthma or chronic sinus infections, assume you have allergies and treat them first. 
  • Don't be afraid to try allergy drugs. Drugs are my friend and could have saved me a lot of Kleenex and embarrassment if I'd had them as a child.  
  • Lack of sleep and stress seem to worsen allergy attacks. Take a Benedryl and a nap if possible.
  • Keep your cat inside and if necessary, out of your bedroom. An occasional bath (for the cat) is helpful. If you start them as kittens, it makes a big difference to your cat's acceptance and your success.
  • Central air conditioning is a must, especially during the heavy pollen seasons in spring (trees) and fall (ragweed). Opening the windows to let in the cool autumn air can really backfire when the grass pollen settles on your pillow.
  • Consider allergy shots to build up your immunity to your allergens. A couple of years of regular shots may make a big difference in your comfort.
  • Don't drink beer or wine if your allergies are acting up. The hops and tannins will just exacerbate your symptoms. Instead, try a mixed drink.  
I am obviously biased, but unless someone has severe health concerns, there is hope for committed animal lovers who suffer from allergies. I know I couldn't live without the hairy little rascals.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The C Word

Hearing that a loved one has cancer can be emotional, heart-wrenching news.  When it happens to the person who brought you into this world and and has loved you unconditionally from the time you were conceived, it can be terrifying.  My mother has lived her life the right way; never smoked, in good physical shape (still mowing the lawn at 71) and doesn't drink except for the occasional glass of cheap sweet wine. She always took care of her teeth, got regular physicals and had any available preventive health screening done.  She's tall for a woman of her generation, 5'10", slender, and still has her original hair color without the assistance of Loreal.  She's easy to envy with her natural beauty. 

So what's the point, many may ask, of doing all the right things when you can still get cancer?  I don't know, but I guess one could project that since our family is predisposed to cancer, bad habits like smoking would bring about problems a lot earlier in life.  My mom's mother died from stomach cancer in 1982, soon after I started college.  Grandmama also did all the right things, but back then we didn't have colonoscopies and CT scans.  Her cancer was found with exploratory surgery, but by then it was too late and she passed a few months later.  There seems to be a genetic component, obviously, but my wish has been that by the time I get to be around that age, we will have a cure.

We're getting there.  A good friend who works on research for cancer drugs at Pfizer reassured me that with all the progress we're making, the day will come when we manage cancer the same way diabetes and high blood pressure are managed now. 

Fortunately, even though my mom's cancer has metastasized from her small intestine to her liver which is covered in malignant lesions, there now exists a treatment which should enable her to live another 20-30 years without a lot of negative side-effects.  The fine doctors at the UNC Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill will do a localized chemo treatment called chemoembolization on half of my mother's liver tomorrow.  They will do the same thing to the other half of her liver in a couple of months as it's important for the liver to function while its other half is being blasted with chemo.  It reminds me of the "one to wash, one to wear" philosophy for the liver.  All without surgery, utilizing the major artery in her leg to access the liver, the meds will be injected and sealed within her liver.  Being ever positive, Mom reserved tickets for a Caribbean cruise in October and expects to have a great time. 

When visiting a few days ago, I set up a blog for my mother so she could keep all interested parties informed of her progress.  Her blog is titled "The Organ Within Me"; a play on words since in addition to being a high school choral director, mom was also a church organist for most of her life. 

Sharon, Ruth (Mom), Paul and Diana