Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Balls to the Wall

Many years ago, my sister married a man who had a ten-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix named Suggs who wasn’t neutered. My brother-in-law couldn’t bring himself to “do that to Suggs.” Meanwhile, Suggs repeatedly escaped under the fence and wandered the neighborhood in search of girls. As a new wife, my sister laid down the law and took Suggs herself to be neutered. She had no qualms about what needed to be done and Suggs not only stopped running away, but went on to live another eight years.

Why is it that some men have such an emotional attachment to their pet’s testicles that the thought of castrating him makes a guy squeamish? If we wanted to spend tax payers’ money on something worthwhile, this would be as good a study as any.

We could compare the resistance to desex an animal in many ways. For instance, do women feel that neutering their dog, cat or horse will make the animal have low self-esteem or look less manly? Does it make a difference if the animal is long or short-haired? An unneutered or “whole” boxer or sphinx cat is obvious in his ability to reproduce; not so much on the collie or Maine Coon boys. People do realize, don't they, that the primary visible statement of maleness is not the testicles, but that other thing that males of all species enjoy showing off? 

I’m not going to lecture about the need to spay and neuter your pet cat or dog. Unless you’re committed to improving the breed of your purebred pet by researching, networking, showing, testing and all the complications that come with breeding and raising litters, your pet shouldn’t be reproducing. Responsible breeders will speuter and retire their breeding animals after a few years and place them in pet homes, realizing the animal will be happier and healthier that way.

The Neuticles company capitalizes on what is presumably a predominately human male attachment to testicles by selling fake testicles of all sizes for many species (cats, dogs, horses, bulls). The idea is to have your vet replace the real deal with artificial gonads so “your pet will never know what he’s missing”. I don’t think for a minute animals are that stupid. He’s missing the source of his testosterone which fuels aggression, territorial behavior and a sex drive that puts teenagers to shame. And yes, even if he has the benefit of Neuticle implants, I’m sure he can tell by the smell and feel that he must come out of anesthesia in Hollywood for fake pets.

Neuticles were invented for men by a man who suddenly realized that if his dog were neutered, he’d be losing his testicles (yes, really). The argument is that if the thought of Spike losing his family jewels causes the owner to keep his pet whole, Neuticles takes away that excuse and encourages neutering. The company claims that 250,000 pets have Neuticles. That’s 250,000 men who couldn’t imagine having their pet neutered without grabbing their own crotch and shouting, “No! Not his balls!”

I know men like this, though fortunately not too many. These are men who project their cat or dog’s proclivity to hump pillows, legs or anything that moves as a statement to their own virility (or lack thereof). To them I say…grow a pair of your own and allow your pet to just relax and be a pet without the burden of being a victim of his hormones the rest of his life. He’ll be okay. If it makes you feel better to substitute fake testicles, then do it. I promise I won’t laugh in your face. I’ll wait until you turn around.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Would You Do?

I distinctly remember my denial of the price of gas rising over three dollars per gallon years ago. I stopped the pump when my total reached exactly $39.99 because I refused to pay over $40 to fill my tank. Oh, those were the days!

This past Friday, I drove to a friend’s house in upstate New York for a girl’s night at her place, over a three hour drive for me. As I knew gas was cheaper just about any place outside of Connecticut, I planned on filling up in Massachusetts. Once on the Mass Turnpike, the service areas and exits are about 20 miles apart with a whole lot of trees in-between. I pulled into a service area complete with McDonald’s, restrooms and gas pumps, everything a person could need all in one place. The two gas islands were occupied with cars that also had their gas tanks on the same side as my mini-van. Rather than wait in line, I thought I’d see if the hose could reach around my vehicle from its off (right) side.

I pulled forward and parked to the right, popped the door to my gas tank and got out. Nope, it wasn’t going to reach and I couldn’t turn around to get to the back of the line without violating the one-way rule of traffic. Disgusted, I decided I’d just have to drive the 22 miles to the next service area. As I sped up on the acceleration lane, I glanced at my side-view mirror and realized the little door that covers my gas cap was still open. Not in a position to pull over safely and knowing the gas cap itself was still intact, I kept going.

Then I had this vision of well-meaning passengers in passing cars on the highway trying to tell me that my gas tank was open. They would be going too fast to see the cap, just see the opened door, and honk, wave or point to get my attention. I anticipated waving back to thank them, “I know it’s open. Thanks. I’ll get it at the next exit.” Five cars passed me and nobody tried to communicate with me. My mood went from irritated that I’d have to deal with good Samaritans to pretended annoyance that no one cared enough to communicate. “If this were What Would You Do?, you people would fail!” I chastised out loud to no one in particular.

When I reached the next service area, my gas tank was in a more desperate situation and I happily found an open space at the pump on the left side of my car. As I started to remove my gas cap, I was taken aback by a woman who came around the back of my car and started talking to me. She said she needed money for gas so she could get home to Saratoga. She was only asking people for a couple of dollars as she didn’t feel comfortable asking for more. My initial reaction was of suspicion. I normally don’t contribute to beggars.

The woman looked to be in her thirties or forties, wearing a long dress and her red hair in two long braids. I did not detect a smell of alcohol or body odor. I decided to give her a couple of bucks, if no reason other than to get rid of her. I only had one single in my wallet. Amazingly enough, the rest of the bills were $10 and higher; obviously my husband and daughter hadn’t used my wallet as an ATM recently. I gave the woman the one single I had and watched as she approached others at the pumps. The man behind me with the New Jersey plates pulled out a wad of bills and peeled something off for her, but I didn’t see the amount. She approached others at the pump, but I couldn’t hear or see their responses.

As my tank filled, I continued to watch the woman while she made the rounds. She returned to her car which was at the pump island opposite me and just stood there looking out at the people pumping gas; apparently there wasn’t enough to fill her tank and she needed new candidates to approach. I wondered if this was a scam, but with her car sitting there, it was looking more legitimate.

Again, I thought of the TV show What Would You Do? Pretty sure that John Quinones wouldn’t bring a camera crew this far away from civilization, I didn’t look too hard for hidden cameras or mic packs. I felt I had to do more. I pulled my van up out of the way, got out and walked up to the woman standing beside her car, handing her a ten dollar bill. Once I got up closer to her car, I saw a man asleep in the passenger seat and a baby in a car seat in back.

I began to doubt my gift as I drove away. Why wasn’t the man doing anything? Why would he leave his wife to beg for gas money? Was he really asleep or was this part of a scam? I’ll never know for sure. The man and the baby were African American and I wondered if the woman was acting on the belief that their chances were better at soliciting funds if the clean-cut, red-headed white woman was the solicitor.

Having watched a similar scenario on the TV show where people of different genders, races and styles of dress ask for gas money, the producers asked if the difference in people’s contributions were due to race. Race wasn’t the issue with me, but gender and age are definite considerations; if an African American or Hispanic woman approached me in a similar manner, I would have felt the same way. It was a matter of a woman (me) feeling safe with a stranger and fairly certain that I wasn’t being taken advantage of. Broad daylight with others around helped the stranger’s predicament.

I realize that begging for gas money at the pump probably happens more often than I know, but this was my first experience. Would I do it again? Yeah, probably. I don’t have a lot of extra money floating around, but I did have enough fuel in my car to get where I was going.

So I have to ask my readers: What would you do?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Too Many Good-byes

In the past two months, my family has had to say good-bye to four pets. For some people, four would be ALL of their pets, but since we have chickens and a Maine Coon cattery plus a few others added to make our lives more challenging, there are still a large number of furred and feathered family members. Thank goodness for them or the void may be even larger.
I don’t know yet if I can write too much yet about losing Cassie, the Maine Coon I often proclaimed was my favorite, the one I would keep long after she retired from breeding. Cassie's death was caused by a family member who didn’t see her jump into the dryer. It was a horrific accident which will haunt us forever and one I can’t dwell on. I have written before about how special Cassie was to me, how she’d jump from the floor into your arms, or onto your back when you least expected it. Cassie loved everyone and her love was reciprocated by all.

Cassie died on June 15th. Fortunately we went on a family vacation a week later as I desperately needed the change in scenery. The grief over Cassie’s death was overwhelming at times. However, vacation was good therapy and I felt I was finally able to move on when we came home.

Then Kelsey’s Russian tortoise, Eli, got out of the outdoor cat run where he lives during the summer. We looked all over, somewhat reassured that the stone walls which border either side of our property would keep him out of the woods. Being a tortoise has its advantages also, I told Kelsey. His greatest enemy would be the road and our driveway is a quarter of a mile long. For good measure, we informed our two neighbors who also live back in the woods about Eli, describing him as the size of a box turtle, but more blond in color and with faded paint on his shell from when Kelsey painted him over a year ago.

Meanwhile, Charlie the hamster’s enclosure was left open and he escaped. As soon as it was discovered, the cats were removed from Kelsey’s room and a towel was used to plug under her door. Charlie had gotten out while we were on vacation, but he’d been found safe in the closet. After an exhaustive search of Kelsey’s bedroom, I advised her to sit and listen for Charlie, certain we’d find the little guy, and I headed for bed. There I found Charlie in my bathroom, but not before the mother cat inhabiting my room found him. Charlie was not so lucky this time.

Our luck seemed to change when our neighbor was mowing the grass on the side of the shared driveway and noticed a tortoise with paint on his shell. Eli was back!

Meanwhile, our beautiful bantam Cochin hen, Millie, was sick. At first I thought her labored walking was due to her very short legs and her picking up balls of dirt and poop which hung to the ground between her legs. I trimmed those off and bathed her. We kept a closer watch and noticed that she had stopped hobbling over to the area under the deck and just remained in the coop. Then Millie could no longer get up to roost at night, nor could she get down in the morning by herself.

I got the name of a vet in Mystic who specializes in birds and exotic pets, Dr. Cindy Brown at Northeast Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Brown said Millie had a neurological problem which kept her from balancing. The cause could be Vitamin D (Purina recently recalled their chicken layer pellets due to a Vitamin D deficiency). It could also be caused by tumors or many other ailments. We decided to treat for a Vitamin issue to see if it helped. Millie received two vitamin injections and was put on antibiotics, vitamins and a homemade diet.

Within a week, it was apparent that Millie was getting worse. She would no longer drink, even when I dipped her beak in the water. She had to lean against the side of the small cage I’d put her in to protect her from the other hens just to stay upright. She was constantly flapping her wings in an effort to balance. I decided that Millie needed to be relieved from her pain and had her euthanized on a Tuesday.

The following Sunday, we had yet another loss. Jay and I were getting up from watching television and our 13-year-old cat Remy collapsed as she neared the top of the basement stairs, meowing frantically in pain. Remy had lost a lot of weight over the past couple of years and after normal blood test results our vet could only conclude that she probably had cancer. Once a rotund 18-pounder, Remy had slimmed down to a reasonable 11 pounds. Not ones for veterinary heroics when the end result is the same, we had decided we would just watch Remy. I had weighed her just a few days before and her weight had remained stable for the past couple of months.

Remy joined the family back when we lived in Florence, South Carolina, before I became a Maine Coon breeder. I had recently lost my cat from my college years, Yoda, to cancer and felt desperate for a kitten to distract me from my grief. The animal shelters were practically empty in January, but my neighbor mentioned that a school teacher she knew had been raising a litter of kittens which had been abandoned under a bush in her yard. I chose the kitten with the pink nose and Remy came to live us, purring through two young children, my divorce, the move to my mother’s then to Connecticut, sleeping on Kelsey’s face, tolerating the Maine Coon kittens which played with her striped snake of a tail, the dogs who played too rough, greeting strangers, not caring when we made fun of her tubbiness and called her “Remy-lard” and knocking over the dogs’ water jug on their waterer when it got too empty.

When I saw that Remy’s hind legs failed her, I knew she’d thrown a blood clot. I’m so careful to screen the hearts of my breeding cats to prevent cardiomyopathy in my kittens, to try to protect any of my kitten buyers from experiencing what I saw before me. Remy was a domestic short-hair who’d never had a heart murmur yet here were textbook symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Her hind legs were cold, she was in tremendous pain. Jay held Remy steady on the kitchen counter as the cats and dogs gathered around her in concern. It was a Sunday afternoon, when all medical emergencies seem to occur. I called the number for Stonington Vet, knowing that their answering service would have the doctor on call get in touch with me. I have avoided the emergency vet all these years and didn’t want that to change now. Fortunately, Dr. Karen Brown, my go-to vet, was on call. I almost burst into tears when I heard her voice, thank God it’s you! I asked if she could come to the house, but she didn’t have the meds for euthanasia at her house if it came to that (too dangerous with her children in the house). She agreed to meet me at her office.

I was in full panic mode. I yelled for Tyler and Kelsey and told them to say good-bye to Remy as I was sure this was her time. Kelsey became hysterical. The vet had said she was okay, she argued. This is different, this is her heart.

Jay drove to the vet clinic while I held Remy in the carrier on my lap. Remy was able to use her legs to squat and pee on the towel, so I began to second-guess my diagnosis. Once there, Karen tested my fear. She pulled out a pair of nail clippers. Jay asked me if I didn’t just clip Remy’s claws last night. Karen told me not to be mad at her then she clipped one of Remy’s hind claws really short. “You’re checking to see if she can feel anything?” Remy hadn’t flinched. No. Then I realized, although I could clearly see the quick of her nail, it wasn’t bleeding at all. With a cut that short, her claw should have been bleeding profusely. There really was no circulation in her back legs, blood clot confirmed. Shit! I was right.

Within about 45 minutes of Remy’s collapse on the stairs, it was over as she lay peacefully on my lap. In retrospect, we had noticed that someone, probably Remy, had vomited a lot of bile that morning. Remy probably felt worse than we knew and her heart gave out. I comfort myself by remembering that at least we were there for Remy, we didn’t have to go through the long wait of cancer, watching her grow skinny, guessing her quality of life before making that phone call.

Probably 85% of my kitten buyers contact me because they’ve recently lost a cat. The void is painful and a new life helps to fill that void. I strongly encourage them to select a kitten which does NOT look like their previous pet. There’s a helpful article on grieving pet loss here. Losing the two favorite cats so close together has been really tough though the emotional breakdowns are gradually easing up. Even losing a hamster and a chicken hurts. I’m sure having other animals around has helped my family and me. I have been hugging them more and threatening them to stay safe, healthy and alive.

The dogs’ water jug was empty this morning. Remy wasn’t here to knock it over and let us know it was getting low.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Rooster and a Gentleman

Back in January, I blogged about our new beautiful, but imposing Cochin rooster we named Aslan. At the time, I was very hesitant to introduce a rooster back into the flock because the last one we had became aggressive toward humans. However, between my family’s pleading and the rooster’s breeder who insisted that Cochins are gentle giants, I relented.

Aslan was a good decision. He reminds one of a dinosaur when he runs, mostly because you can actually hear his footsteps, like timpani pounding on the ground. His crowing is minimal, especially when compared to the neighbor’s rooster half a mile away who seems to crow non-stop. The most astonishing observation of Aslan is how caring he is.

I first observed Aslan’s nurturing instinct when I left two eggs I’d collected on the ground while I did something else. He clucked and circled the eggs repeatedly, acting concerned that his future offspring were left unattended in the open.

Recently our bantam hen, Millie, became sick. She had a neurological problem that became increasingly worse and started remaining in the coop on the floor. As time went on, Millie not only had trouble walking, but could no longer fly or keep her balance. We had to put her up in the nesting box at night and take her down in the morning. When I finally took Millie to the vet (Dr. Cindy Brown in Mystic specializes in birds and loves chickens), she was put on a homemade diet, supplements and antibiotics to see if the cause was a vitamin D deficiency. The other possible causes were cancer or Marek’s disease, but I was unwilling to spring for x-rays and blood work. Millie had to be isolated in a small cage to keep the other chickens from stealing her food. Aslan immediately became concerned, first by looking for Millie in her normal spot on the floor, then by clucking around her in the cage which was placed near the coop. In the end, I had to have pretty, sweet Millie euthanized as her condition worsened.

We often give our chickens leftovers to supplement their diet of layer pellets. The hens come running as the goodies are tossed on the ground. Aslan runs to eat too, but unlike the hens who will steal from each other, he’ll stand back and let the girls go first. He has a bigger body to nourish, but he doesn’t need the calories the hens do to produce eggs.

Our blueberry and raspberry bushes traditionally provide summer treats for the chickens too. As we pick the blueberries, the chickens will stand around and on top of our feet, waiting for the next berry to fall their way. The hens rush in like bridesmaids trying to catch the bouquet, grabbing and running with their prize with the others in hot pursuit. Aslan seems to just supervise and provide. He will actually pick up a fallen berry and, instead of gobbling it down himself, carry the morsel to a hen and drop it in front of her. Who knew a rooster could be such a gentleman?

Blueberry  Opportunities

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sometimes It Takes a Village

Living in a rural community like Ledyard may not seem exciting to some, but it isn’t devoid of adventure. We have chickens on our 3-plus acres and our neighbors, Walter and Roberta, have horses (and a lot more land). On a recent Sunday morning, Walter came to ask for our assistance; they had a horse down and needed help trying to get her back on her feet.

Roberta has a 3-stall barn which stables her two horses and another belonging to her friend Linda. Roberta found the horse down at 7 am when she normally feeds. It was Linda’s mare, Eve, who couldn’t get up. I grew up around horses, but the ones I had were young. Eve is 22-years-old and arthritic. Eve knows her limitations and consequently never sleeps lying down. When I walked in the barn and saw Eve lying flat out in her stall, my heart sank. There was blood high on the wall where Eve had hit her head when she fell. Periodically Eve would raise her head and thrash her front legs in an attempt to rise, but her hind legs never budged. The limbs were stuck in place, unable to bend as needed so the mare could get them underneath her body for support. Not sure how long Eve had been like this, we theorized that the right hind leg she lay on was probably numb from her weight. She needed to stand.

The vet arrived and gave her a shot to help with inflammation, pain, etc. He said if we could turn her over to her other side and massage the feeling back in Eve’s right hind leg, she had a good chance of getting herself up. Wide, flat straps were slid under Eve’s body on either end by Laura and Matt, Linda’s daughter and son-in-law. We tried to turn her with her legs facing the larger end of the stall. However, handling and maneuvering a 1000-pound animal with thrashing hooves in an enclosed space is dangerous. Linda had already been kicked by a flailing hoof before we got there.

Fortunately, the stalls were designed with removable partitions. By this time a few extra people had arrived and in short order two walls were taken out to give us more room. It took a couple of hours to widen the stall, the vet to visit and the horse pulled around to ensure that we had room to flip her over safely. We finally had the room to turn Eve over by wrapping lounge lines around her legs and pulling. Eve’s hind legs were massaged and moved for her to restore circulation, but didn’t work. Eve struggled to rise and gave a valiant effort to stay up, but then she fell back down on her bad side again, cutting her other eye and banging her head in the fall. All we could do was stand back and watch as getting in close was too dangerous. I was relieved Eve had been fitted with a horse helmet intended for protection while trailering.

For the short time we had the mare on her left side, the forcefulness of her initial fall was apparent in the swollen and bloody eye and the large scrapes on her right front leg. Antibiotic ointment was put in her damaged eye and we tried to keep a clean towel under whichever eye was ground-side.

After Eve’s major attempt to get on her feet failed, she seemed to give up. She was tired. Her tongue hung out of her partially opened mouth. Eve would take water from a turkey baster, but did little from that point on to help herself. Meanwhile, Laura didn’t give up trying to find someone in the horse community who had a horse sling. She figured that if we could support Eve from the barn beams in a sling, her legs could gain the strength to move and hold her again. Laura called everyone. My step-daughter, Erin, who works as an EMT for Ledyard Ambulance heard of Eve’s plight and asked for assistance from the Ledyard Fire Department. Next thing we knew, there were 30 people in the barn with the firefighters and police. Apparently, the fire department has been called on before to help farmers with their cows that get in similar predicaments. Labeling this mission as “Air Bag Training”, the firefighters tried to get Eve in more of sitting position by inserting air bags under her back to raise it.

In the end, this failed also. The firefighters left and the vet returned after visiting other patients to give Eve another shot. He offered little hope. I asked him how long we should give Eve. “Until dark,” he replied. It had already been about four hours. I tried to offer support to Eve’s owner Linda and got Eve’s history.

Eve was an accomplished dressage horse who was being retired from the show circuit when Linda bought her 12 years ago. Linda herself was retired and wanted a pleasure horse to ride occasionally. Even with Eve’s arthritis, she enjoyed getting out and being ridden. After a few hours of the torture of maneuvering Eve, her struggles, and the hopeless look on her face, Linda started talking about euthanasia. The rest of us had already concluded that it looked like the only humane outcome. More than once, I felt like I could break down and cry at the helplessness of the situation.

The main motivator who really kept pushing and continued calling around was Laura. The rest of us followed Laura’s suggestions. Linda looked just as beat as Eve, her face flushed and sweaty. It was a 90-degree day and although there are industrial sized fans blowing in the barn, it was sweltering. Walter kept all the helpers who came and went well supplied with bottled water. Eve received cold sponge baths to keep her temperature down in addition to the syringe-fed water.

Then we heard that a woman who was an expert in horse rescue was on the way. The fire department had called Ledyard Animal Control who called Tanya Wescovich from Stonington Animal Control. I was skeptical. What would a horse rescue person be able to do that we hadn’t already tried? Tanya came in, a formidable, loud, take-charge person who insisted that we were going to get Eve up. Her own 27-year-old gelding had “been stuck” a few times and she’d always gotten him back up. Tanya had also received extensive training in how to safely maneuver large animals out of tight places. Tanya proclaimed that we need to get Eve’s hind legs working again with massage and movement. We’ve done that.

Tanya had two helpers with her who apparently had experience with downed horses also. She instructed Linda to yell at Eve to get up, for Laura to hit her rump with a crop and for her friend to pull Eve’s head across her body instead of straight ahead. She warned us that it would look mean, but the point was to force the animal to do what she didn’t want to do.

The yelling, the crop, the pulling…I walked out of the barn. I couldn’t watch anymore. They were just going to wear out poor Eve more and the end result was going to be the same. I almost walked down the hill to our house, but I came back. It didn’t work. I noticed that Roberta, the barn owner, had left also. When Eve was allowed to put her weary head back down, she did so gratefully. She had had it.

Tanya declared the horse needed to be moved out of the barn so that the downhill slope of the paddock could help her get her legs under her. Tanya expertly directed the pullers of body straps to safely manipulate Eve’s legs and head through the stall door. It was like moving a large table through a narrow door; first the legs, go to one side, then the other legs. Three to four people would pull on a strap around Eve’s body on command, moving her a couple of feet, then stop and allow the horse to rest. Someone else would remain with Eve’s head to keep the towel under her eye for protection from sliding on the dirt. I noticed after she was outside that Eve’s gums were white. Her expression remained listless, her hind legs stiff and motionless.

The cold wet towels were constantly rotated on Eve’s body, her head wiped down, her legs manipulated until they moved more freely. Finally, Tanya said it was time to make her stand. “What if, after all this, it doesn’t work?” I asked the guy next to me. All the yelling, pulling on Eve’s halter to make her rise…it didn’t work. Eve fell again. I looked over at Linda. She was wiped and I felt sure she would burst into tears at any moment and tell everyone to stop torturing her horse. Enough was enough.

But it wasn’t enough. Walter has a small tractor with a front-end loader attachment. He drove it into the paddock area. At Tanya’s direction, towels were placed under the web straps around Eve’s body to pad right behind her front legs and in front of her hind legs. The straps were secured to the bucket and Walter slowly raised Eve’s body for her. At one point, the horse’s weight was too much and the arms of the loader started to come down, but people rushed in for additional support and held up the tractor’s arms. Eve’s hind legs remained listless as she stood there supported by the tractor. They were pushed into position under her body and the straps were unhooked. More cheers. Eve started to sit down and I saw another failure coming, but the horse was pulled forward, her rump was slapped repeatedly, and Eve started walking!

Eve had given up like most of the rest of us, but Tanya the miracle worker knew her stuff. In the end, the community came out to help a horse; Animal Control Officers on their day off, a police officer who had a farm and cared, the fire department, neighbors, friends, children drug by their parents who worked for Ledyard Ambulance. Walter declared this event had restored his faith in humanity. Roberta said she’d follow Tanya into battle. After a long, hot 8-hour ordeal that we were sure was going to end in a dead horse instead had the patient being lead around the paddock.

I went to visit Eve a couple of days later. Linda had spent that first night after the fall in the barn with her mare. Eve is sleeping (standing up) in the larger lean-to area attached to the side of the barn for now as there is a natural fear of putting her back in the smaller confines of a stall for a while. Her legs seem to be back to normal and her eye and abrasions are healing nicely. The only negative side effect is the nerve damage Eve has to the right side of her mouth which makes it difficult for her to eat anything but mash. The vet is hopeful that the nerves will heal over time.

Eve had come so close to being euthanized that trouble eating seems minor. In the end there was a community that cared enough to band together to save the life of a horse. Sometimes it does take a village.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Just Pecking Around

I blogged over a month ago about our new chicks, Meringue, Nestle and Narnia.  They have been integrated into the rest of the flock now for a couple of weeks.  The newbies are still at that cute, friendly stage where they follow people around the yard and don't mind getting in your lap.  I took the opportunity today to take pictures today of our flock of 17 with my cell phone. 

Meringue and Nestle
Everytime I tried to take a picture of the 3 chicks, Narnia would run up to me and be excluded.  So I finally just held her.

Later, the 3 little girls rested so could get my shot.

Meringue, who is the mixed color Orpington, so far is living up to her breeder's promise of becoming quite large. Her sire is reportedly a 14-pound roo. She and the little Buff Orpington, Narnia, are living up the Orpington reputation for having the best personalities. Nestle, the Black Copper Maran, is more shy.

Millie, our Mille Fleur Bantam Cochin, is the prettiest little thing, but it seems like she's always broody and sits in the nesting box a lot.  The other two bantams are Silkies and they also go broody a lot.  Cute, but poor egg layers.

Aslan, our Partridge-colored Cochin rooster, is still magnificent.  He's very good with the little ones, but the crowing commences at 4:30 am.

Chicks at the water with the rest of the flock.  Buffy, our original Buff Orpington is on the right beside Chad, the Light Brahma. The fluffy white thing on the left is Beaker, our white Silkie.

It seems that many of my Facebook friends think of me as the chicken guru now.  I've actually been tagged by people I don't know.  I am by no means an expert on chickens, but I have learned a lot in the past three years.  My best resource continues to be Backyard Chickens

What started out as dream of three hens now has blossomed into a flock with 16 hens and one rooster with 13 different breeds represented.  I love the looks of the various breeds and their eggs (which is mainly why I have so many now), but it has the added benefit of being to tell the chickens apart easily and name them.  Pets first, egg providers second, garden compost third, dinner never.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Robin Feathering Her Nest...Should Choose a Good Location

A few weeks ago, I noticed our dog Coraline “Cory” staring intently at the holly bush in the front yard. A second later, I was startled by a robin flying out of it. Sure enough, there was a nest in the bush, filled with four pretty little blue eggs. The only problem was the nest was situated about 30 inches from the ground, the same height as a Golden Retriever’s mouth.

Although our dogs know to leave our chickens alone, small birds really bring out their natural prey drive. After witnessing our sweet natured Golden Retriever, Chardonnay, flush, catch and instantly kill a baby bird on a hike once, I realized that she sees chickens and birds as different creatures. Cory, our Shar-pei mix, has an even stronger prey drive and focused on the robin’s nest every time she went outside. Cory is a very vertical dog, so although she’s smaller than Chardonnay, jumping up to grab the nest is well within her capabilities. We knew this was going to be trouble.

“Survival of the fittest,” rationalized my son. I cursed the ignorance of the mother robin for choosing such a low spot to raise her brood. Last year, the nest was in a maple tree, 15 feet up. Sorry, the thought of our dogs killing a nest of robins was too much.

The robins starting hatching so we knew we needed to do something. Jay and I found some old rusty fencing material and surrounded the holly bush, using a couple of old stakes to hold it steady. Being so low to the ground, it was easy to monitor the family as the little robbies emerged. The big surprise was that unlike chicken chicks which are fully feathered and adorable, newly hatched robin chicks are naked, their black eyes bulging underneath their closed eyelids. Not exactly cute; they reminded me of inch-long, miniature rubber chickens.

Two Days Old
I did some research on the American Robin, and found that the chicks go from naked to leaving the nest within two weeks. The newly fledged robins can’t fly too high or far yet, but will seek refuge in low branches or in bushes. The parents continue to feed and watch over the fledgling robins for another two weeks until they become fully functional fliers. Robins typically raise two or three broods each spring/summer, building a new nest for each family. They have concentrated, in and out parenting during the summer so they can take the rest of the year off. Still, even with their parents’ watchfulness, only about 25% of all robin chicks live to be adults.

Rusty Robin Fencing
I always heard as a child that one should never touch a baby wild animal because the mother will smell human and abandon her young. Now that I’m a backyard chicken hobbyist of three years, I’ve learned that birds have a very poor sense of smell. They use sight and sound to navigate through life. Young birds found on the ground should be left alone unless they are in imminent danger. The parents are around watching. However, one should never handle eggs found in a nest as the incubation process is complicated and the embryo inside can easily be killed if jostled.

We remained vigilant over the nest without trying to be intrusive and our rusty fence did its job of protecting the robin family from our dogs. We are well aware that snakes are easily tempted by a nest of birds and the fence could easily assist a snake trying to reach the nest. I have seen four-foot black snakes climbing fences or on top of tables, reaching toward nests of chirping Phoebes and Bluebirds. Ironically, I knew that our dogs would discourage any snakes, at least during the day. Fortunately for the robin, the babies were very quiet and attracted little attention. 
One Week Later

The last time I saw the chicks in the nest was a few days ago, looking like fat people in a crowded subway, wishing their neighbor wore deodorant and their stop couldn’t come soon enough.  I waited two days too long to go back and get a picture, because when I did, the nest was empty already. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chickens: Down One, Up Three

My family started our first backyard chicken flock almost three years ago. As I’ve mentioned before on previous blogs, the first day-old chicks arrived via US Mail from the Meyer Hatchery in Ohio. We began with 10 chicks, four of which were Easter Eggers (layers of blue-green eggs, often referred to as Ameraucanas or Araucanas). The other six were Silver Spangled Hamburgs. Of our original birds, we now have just four left; one Hamburg chick died during the first week, three Hamburgs were sold, one Easter Egger we lost to the hawk last fall, and just recently we lost another Easter Egger.

Our First Chicks
Foster, our almost white Easter Egger, was found dead in the coop by my husband Jay this past weekend. This is the first hen we’ve lost to natural causes as opposed to flying predators. The only explanation I can offer is that Foster had not laid an egg in about a year (Foster used to lay a paler, rounder green egg so I knew which were hers) and had recently been hanging out in the nesting box, a behavior she’s never exhibited before. Her feathers looked fantastic and healthy, and she had no outward signs of illness. She just died. Of course, there had to be some underlying cause like heart or kidney failure for Foster’s death, but since we didn’t have a necropsy done, I don’t know for sure. If the rest of the flock seemed sick, I’d probably be contacting UCONN for testing. I’ve heard of chickens just expiring and the other extreme of life spans up to 15 years.

Foster (white hen) sharing pasta with her first flock-mates
I was away at a cat show when Jay called to tell me about Foster’s death. Since he ties his own fishing flies, often using feathers as material, I asked him if he was going to use any of Foster’s white feathers. No, he couldn’t bring himself to scalp or pluck a bird he knew as a pet for three years. Jay used to hunt, a sport he had to give up when I moved in, so dissecting a dead animal doesn’t make him queasy. However, pet chickens have an elevated status over wild animals. I’ll always remember Foster as the one who was easy to identify from the moment she arrived, as she was the only all-yellow chick in our first batch. Faye and Flo, our remaining Easter Eggers, look very similar, distinguished only by Faye’s darker head.

Baby Foster
Although we are down one hen, we had, coincidentally, attended a small poultry show a couple of weeks ago. My intention was to get a young adult Black Copper Maran pullet because of their ability to lay a chocolate brown egg. Many poultry exhibitors were selling chickens outside the show area, but all that I saw were either small breed pairs or baby chicks. Chicks are more difficult in the beginning as they require heat lamps, special starter feed, frequent monitoring, an indoor cage and age-appropriate companionship for the first five to six weeks. Females normally begin laying eggs at around five months.

If I got one Maran chick, I’d have to get her a buddy. So we ended up with three chicks, bringing our flock total to 17. All of the new babies are deemed to be female by the breeder and have been named by daughter Kelsey. “Nestle” is our Maran.  Nestle's buddies are “Lemon Meringue”, a cross between a Lemon Cuckoo Orpington (yellow striped) and a Jubilee Orpington (multi-colored), and “Narnia”, a Buff Orpington (standard buff color). The new chicks are about 2 weeks apart in age and the smaller ones tend to rest under the bigger Lemon Merinque who plays Mama hen.  Lemon Merique's sire is a 14-pound rooster, so I'm curious to see how large she'll become.

New Additions
I love having chickens that all look different and lay different colors and sizes of eggs. Nestle should start laying her dark chocolate eggs in the late fall and add even more variety to our egg collection.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mammograms Are a Pain, But Cancer is Worse

“It’s difficult to get a good picture of your breasts because they’re so dense,” explained the mammographer.

I looked at her. “You’re telling me my breasts are dense? Isn’t that why they’re called boobs?”

Offending my girls notwithstanding, I got a phone call from the Breast Imaging Department of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital the day after my annual mammogram, asking me to come back in so they could do a follow-up with a more specialized mammogram. I was concerned. The representative on the phone couldn’t give any more information and advised me to call my doctor if I wanted more details. I opted not to panic and call my doctor. I was going to be fine.

When I’d gone in for my regular squishing of the breasts the day before, I had not anticipated any problems. Cancer does run in my family, but no relatives have had breast cancer. It’s a small reassurance, but doesn’t guarantee anything. The mammographer that day, Katy, had been quite talkative and we enjoyed a rather lengthy conversation about our sons in college. I even wondered if I was distracting her too much as she took images. In retrospect, maybe bonding with the mammographer isn’t always a good thing.

Women generally complain about the pain caused by a mammogram. I decided long ago that it’s merely uncomfortable momentarily and not nearly as painful as those stiff, sharp-edged, square things the dental hygienist puts in your mouth to get X-rays. “Bite down and hold,” she instructs as I feel the insides of my cheeks slice open. I’d take a mammogram over dental x-rays any day.

I tried to hide my concern about going in for a follow-up mammogram. Jay asked if he should come with me, but I excused him. I rationalized that the mammographer wouldn’t be able tell me anything immediately anyway and I’d have to wait until the next day to get results. We talked in general about how much better cancer detection and treatment is today than it was even ten years ago.

Against my better judgment, I played the “what if’s” in my head as I drove to the hospital. If they found something, I’d probably just tell my sister at first. If it came to a biopsy and that was bad news, then I’d tell the rest of my family. No need to worry anyone unnecessarily, especially my mother who is living with liver cancer (and doing extremely well, thank goodness).

At the hospital, my mammographer of the day was Lisa; friendly, but not as talkative as Katy. I saw breast images on her screen and asked if those were mine, hoping to get a clue about the problem. “I can tell how cold the room was,” I joked. Lisa laughed politely and got down to business. They needed to concentrate on a specific area of my right breast. She used the analogy that if you imagine the breast as a bag of marbles, not all of the marbles are seen clearly when the bag is compressed in an effort to get a 2-dimensional picture of a 3-dimensional object. Her goal was to single out a few marbles. I resisted a “losing my marbles” crack.

Remember what I said before about mammograms just being temporarily uncomfortable? Not so much on the follow-up when a more specific area is compressed. It was a gasp-areyouserious-thisfrickinghurts-hurryupdammit-pain. There were red marks left behind that would surely turn black and blue. Lisa apologized and advised Tylenol when I got home. I was certain this called for ice packs and a glass of wine too.

As I held my whimpering breast, Lisa informed me that the mammogram review doctor was in and she’d be back momentarily to give me the results. Really? No waiting for hours, days possibly, mentally torturing myself with more “what if” scenarios? I sat down, still wearing my hospital-issue blue cotton top while Lisa left me alone in the room. A few minutes later, Lisa returned. “You’re fine,” she smiled. “You can go home.”

Friday, March 30, 2012

Human Placentophagy - Seriously?

Warning: this blog is not for squeamish or humorless folk.

Actress January Jones has recently publicly discussed the benefits of eating her own placenta after the birth of her son, putting a face on an increasingly popular fad in America. Although pictures of January Jones depict her looking marvelous post-partum, I think her appearance has more to do with genetics, a personal trainer and Photoshop rather than a placenta. Apparently, there are placenta recipes and placenta encapsulation specialists who formulate the organ into capsules taken like a vitamin. The placenta handling and encapsulation business is booming.

The arguments in support of the practice of human placentophagy (placenta consumption) stem mainly around the idea that since all mammals and a few reptiles eat the placentas of their newborn babies, it is natural and therefore better for you, right? The nutrition one gains from a placenta supposedly helps the mother recover more quickly and wards off post-partum depression. Joel Stein wrote a very entertaining article, Afterbirth: It's What's For Dinnner about his wife's personal experience with placentophagia after the birth of their child. Nancy Redd, a writer for the New York Times, reported that she experienced very negative side effects after trying her placenta.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was in awe of the ability of a woman’s body to create an organ that would support her fetus. The placenta is the link between the mother and child, filtering nutrition and excrement (yes, that too) until it is time for him to leave the womb and live as an independent being. I was curious after my baby was born to see what a placenta actually looked like and was shown a bloody organ about the size of a large steak.  Not once did I feel an overwhelming urge to try it, not even with A-1 Sauce.

Now that I’ve delivered countless Maine Coon kittens and one foal, I look at the birthing process more pragmatically. I know some cat breeders who don’t allow the mother cat to eat the placenta for fear of it making her (the cat) sick. Others believe that eating the placenta provides the mother with extra nutrition and stimulates milk production.

I’ve noticed a few things over the years which relate to cats so I’ll just liberally generalize based upon my personal area of expertise. One is, not all cats and their placentas are equal. Some queens (a breeding female cat) will swallow the placenta like an oyster. Some placentas are tough, requiring the mother to gnaw on it endlessly while the wet kitten is ignored. Some new moms prefer to just lick the placenta clean, then leave it.

A couple of things to keep in mind with cats and other animals that deliver multiples; usually one birth quickly follows another so clean up has to be efficient. If the placenta isn’t taken care of before the next baby arrives, it’ll just have to wait. After delivering several kittens and consuming a placenta for each one, a queen gets full and very tired. She welcomes help cleaning up and drying her kittens. I usually follow the mother’s lead. If too much time is spent on the placenta or she shows no interest in it, I’ll start removing them for her so she’ll focus on her kitten.  I normally dispose of placentas along with the used bedding in the trash, but I've been known to flush them down the toilet too.

I think the instinct to eat a placenta is not only for a carnivore’s easy food source, but for hygiene. Herd animals whose babies are up and running within hours may have less of a need to consume their placenta, but animals whose young are helpless at birth must stay near the nest for protection and warmth.

Most domestic cats don’t like to leave their new kittens at all, so I usually put food and water in the birthing cage to make it easier for the mother. Likewise, if the mother cat has a choice, she will not use a litter box anywhere near her brood. Birth and all the fluids that go with it have a certain odor that is bound to attract predators. By cleaning up all signs of birth and kitten excrement, the new babies have a better chance of survival. That’s also why many cats move their kittens, to get them away from the birth aroma. I’ve seen new moms fastidiously lick the wet bedding in an effort to clean up the evidence. She is relieved when I remove the wet, disposable puppy pads and replace them with clean cotton bedding. Cleanliness is survival in the wild, an instinct the domestic animal still possesses.

A Maine Coon cat’s placenta is about the size of a large McNugget and looks like a piece of raw meat. I’ve often joked about breading and sautéing placentas, but I don’t eat red meat. I suppose if I were more enterprising, I could use my feline source and market my own magic placenta pills.

So with all the Hollywood hoopla about doing the natural thing and eating one’s own placenta, I have to say, this is just gross. Having the placenta steamed, dried and put into capsules may look more appetizing than grilling out, but it all seems like a scam to me. If you have a healthy diet, a placenta pill isn’t going to really make a difference. Post-partum depression?  See your doctor, please.  Even in third world countries, they’re not so hungry that placentophagy is an option and just bury it. The practice is not as common in most cultures as some would have you believe, but it has been promoted by Chinese medicine. Hey, don’t the Chinese also eat goat genitalia, monkey brains, dogs and cats? I found a huge assortment of exotic (read "disgusting") food sources native to China on the internet, so it must be true.

If a human mom really wants to emulate nature by eating her placenta, I think she should take it the rest of the way. Mother cats also eat the excrement of their newborn babies. It’s just another way of recycling really. Go for it Mrs. Jones.

Olivia with her Oscar Litter at one day old

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wilson and Willy

Ben is seven-years-old, the youngest of three, very active and needs something constructive to do or there will be trouble. He and his ten-year-old sister Amanda come over one or two times a week while their mother is at work or nursing school. “Technically, they are my step-grandchildren,” I respond when people hear them calling me Grandma Sharon and question how it’s possible, either because I look so young or because they know my kids are 20 and 16 and wonder if one of them “got in trouble.”

As Ben was recently frustrated with our flat basketball and had been taking an interest in sports, I picked up a new basketball and a football for small hands prior to his next sleepover. The balls did not become objects for sport as much as they were adopted by Ben as his new playmates. I told Ben about the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away and how his character had only Wilson the soccer ball to talk to while stranded on the island. Ben was inspired by my story and named his basketball “Wilson” and the football “Willy.” After all, they were also Wilson Sporting Goods products and had their names on them.
Ben's artistic rendering of Wilson and Willy

Wilson and Willy played on the swing with Ben, jumped on the trampoline with him, had conversations and disagreements, sat at the dinner table with us, got wiped off when they got dirty; just like they were dolls. He even took Wilson and Willy to bed with him and kept the boxes his new friends came in so they could be perched without rolling. My daughter Kelsey rolled her eyes when Ben brought the balls to the table and carefully placed them in the chair beside him, insinuating that Ben was a little crazy. “Doesn’t he remind you of someone else when she was little?” I asked her, “You used to have conversations with your spoon and fork at the table, your crayons got in fights with each other then kissed and made up. Pretending the balls are people isn’t really that much of a stretch.”

What a great age to be able to lose yourself in your imagination and create personalities for inanimate objects. How incredibly cute!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Major Bad Hair Day

When my son Tyler comes home from college, he’s way overdue for a haircut. Tyler attends school at the University of South Carolina so homecoming is at Christmas, spring break and summer. He claims the barber on campus does chop jobs and won’t go there anymore.

At Christmas, Tyler simply borrowed his friend Chad’s clipper set, complete with several attachments to dummy-proof the length of hair clipped. The clippers I have for my cats has just one blade length and God forbid my child use a tool on his beautiful head that had touched cat hair. I clipped Tyler’s hair at Christmas with Chad’s clippers and had very positive results, both of us happy that we’d saved money too.

The evening before Tyler was scheduled to take the Greyhound back to South Carolina, he borrowed Chad’s clippers again. However this time, the clippers made a sporadic ear-splitting noise at somewhere around 90 decibels. Occasionally, the cacophony would suddenly switch to the healthy low-pitched buzzing and we’d sigh with relief. Then, it would start back up again. I experimented with different settings and blades to see if I could fix the clippers, but nothing worked for more than a few seconds.

Tyler and I resigned ourselves to just trying to get his overgrown locks trimmed quickly in spite of the distracting dissonance. After trimming the bulk of his thick, brunette hair, I blame the raucous clippers for what happened next. I folded down Tyler's ear in order to clip the hairs behind it. I had taken the attachment off so I could trim closely. A demon possessed the instrument of evil and touched the side of his head in two areas, leaving parallel stripes about a half inch in width, three inches long. Tyler said he knew it was serious when I dropped the F-bomb.

I was horrified; Tyler was too…initially. I apologized profusely, memories of the time I convinced my mother to let me cut her bangs coming back to haunt me. Back when I was a teen, and probably now too, bangs weren’t normally worn only one inch down from the hairline.  

Thank goodness Tyler has the ability to forgive and see humor even at his own expense. His sister Kelsey couldn't stop laughing and promised that if I’d messed up her hair like that, she’d hate me forever. I suggested he wear a hat until it grew back out and offered to take Tyler to a hair stylist for a fixer-upper. He didn’t think my mistake could be covered up and came up with a solution of his own; I had to give him a Mohawk and make it look like an intentional new doo. A Mohawk was on his bucket list anyway, or so he says.

Tyler took the clippers and got his Mohawk started. I finished it up and did the back. My son looks pretty good considering; kind of like the character Puck from Glee. He’s been told he looks “badass”, but cautioned not to complete his new look with gauge earrings or tattoos. Tyler says he still loves his mother, although I’m sure he will use this little incident against me for years to come.

Kelsey and Tyler

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Howardisms Part Two

To read the prequel to this, please see my previous blog, He's Not Proud, He's My Brother.

I’d hire a maid for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Turn my head when you’re weighed for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
I’d eat something you made for ya (yeah, yeah , yeah)
I’d get a cat spayed for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Say you looked good in suede for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Listen to your tirade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)

By howard on Prove Your Love by Doing Something Meaningful to a... on 3/5/11

My brother and me (after I forgot to put sunscreen on my chest at the beach)

When you picture a "stereotypical cat lady", what do you see? A grandmotherly type, fat and frumpy, bra less perhaps, softly curled gray hair and a bit daft in the head. Let me see now. You are a grandmother. Your hair is curly and there are few gray hairs there. You have the potential to be a full-fledged cat lady. It's good to have goals.

By howard on Cat Ladies on 2/23/11

A woman wears her FMP's*, looks good, her rear sticks out, she can't walk very fast and her feet hurt, but the men come a running just like a tom cat. It sounds very romantic. In retrospect, I am sure Jay now realizes one of the early signs that you would become a cat breeder.

By howard on Thanksgiving Day Kittens on 12/8/10

My kids and husband are well-trained in reluctant cat holding. The cat is reluctant, or the kids and husband are reluctant? My guess is all of the above. For cats such as Bubba, the less brave may find that wrapping the cat in a towel or blanket to contain him may be a safer solution. Or dressing him stylishly as in your picture. Of course, with a name like Bubba, I would expect a nice, cold one with BBQ brisket would probably calm him down better than a towel.
By howard on Paws and Claws Part Two on 10/20/10

Clean the chimney!
Clean the chimney, step in time
Clean the chimney, step in time
Never need a reason, Never need a rhyme
Clean the chimney, step in time

Chop the woodpile!
Chop the woodpile, step in time
Chop the woodpile, step in time
Never need a reason, Never need a rhyme
Chop the woodpile, step in time

Write a story! Write a story, step in time
Write a story, step in time
Never need a reason, Never need a rhyme
Write a story, step in time

Admit you’re a grandma!
Admit you’re a grandma, step in time
Admit you’re a grandma, step in time
Never need a reason, Never need a rhyme
Admit you’re a grandma, step in time

By howard on The Mysterious Sandcastle on 10/5/10

…and my perpetually red, runny nose. Add that image to a girl who already had enormous buck teeth and you have a little Sharon. Let’s not forget little Sharon’s winning personality. 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: Hey! My move to Arizona had nothing to do with allergies. Not only that but we have 2 vicious, man-eating parakeets and a cute, little, man-eating hamster living with us in Arizona.

By howard on Allergic to Cats? on 9/14/10

Given that Boom Boom had gotten up to 18 pounds, about a 5-pound gain, I was slightly disappointed, but have learned that just because a cat has lots of room for babies doesn't mean she'll fill up that space. This is not surprising. Studies have shown that cats make very poor home decorators.

By howard on Finn the Bonus Boy on 8/19/10

With apologies to John Denver: It'd hold three kids 'n' one hound dog and a chicken we stole from the pen Didn't get much sleep but we had a lot of fun in Jay's grandkids' tent

By howard on Camping 101 - Stay In The House on 7/8/10

Eek! Under all that fur Sassy is naked! I'm going to have to hide this blog from the kids! "Maybe if you shave yourself Mom, you won't look as fat either." Have you stopped shaving? If so, do you use one of those seam rippers to get rid of your mats? It would allow you to feel closer to your cats to have that shared experience.

By howard on Fat and Sassy No More on 7/6/10

I threatened the chickens with the fryer for slacking off, but they just laughed at me. This surly behavior is the reason why chickens don't get animal agents for media exposure like the cats do. Is it any wonder KFC used Colonel Sanders as their spokesman instead of a chicken? I had also intended to dispute the false statement made on Animal Planet that if a cat has an "M" on its forehead, it's a Maine Coon, but I forgot in my nervousness. There is a whole branch of Animal Planet-endorsed cat vendors selling cats as Maine Coons, after applying an "M" with a permanent marker to a feline forehead, that breathed a sigh of relief.

By howard on Kitty Spotlight on 6/14/10

What I notice is that when the chicken coop is in the sun, there are chickens outside. When the chicken coop is in the shade, there are no chickens outside. I attribute this phenomenon to these possible reasons:

a. Thanks to the shade, the chickens think it is night time all the time and are asleep.
b. The chickens are cool enough inside the coop to kick back and watch the finale of Lost on their big screen HGTV without sweating.
c. The chickens realize that they take better pictures without those awful shadows across their little chicken faces.
d. The chickens have become camera shy from being photographed so often for this Blog entry.
e. Green is a chicken's least favorite color. I know it is my least favorite color on chicken I eat, so why shouldn't it be for a chicken as well?

By howard on The Greening of Connecticut on 5/25/10

It's nice to see you have posted such a flattering picture of the birthday boy. He is rocking that bed head look. As for the recipe, the tradition involves cooking the cat with sprigs of thyme. That way, if you find the kitty being cooked you can rescue it just in thyme. Kelsey should be careful with her remarks though. It might kill her career as a chef. Beppe Bigazzi on the Italian cooking show La Prova del Cuoco, was dropped from the show after offering up a recipe for stewed cat.

By howard on Jay's Birthday Letter and a Recipe for Cat Stew on 5/17/10

As I sipped the plastic cup of champagne someone handed me, I looked at my handsome boy. I thought they gave the winner a bottle of milk. Was he jaded by all the attention? No, he humped his favorite blue fleece blanket then promptly laid down and fell asleep. He was probably exhausted from having to suck in his head to keep his ears aloft all day.

By howard on My Best Cat Show on 5/3/10

With names like Righty and Tighty, does this mean Lefty and Loosy will be among the names for the new chicks? I hope so. Then you could come visit the new chicks and say, "Loosy, I'm home!"

By howard on Eggprints on 3/23/10

Mother Nature hatches 50% boys whereas humans really only need about 10% to keep flock harmony and proper procreation going. The first time I read this I thought you were making some off-hand comment about the percentage of men who were necessary. However, allow me to be offended on behalf of male chickenkind.

By howard on Your Face on 3/15/10

Friday, February 24, 2012

He's Not Proud, He's My Brother

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I am the middle child from my parents’ first marriage, my birth sandwiched in-between my brother Paul and my sister Diana. We were raised as nerds with music lessons, good grades, braces, glasses, little athletic ability and the annoying tendency to turn everything we hear into a song (often from a Broadway musical).

Diana, Paul and me in 1979
My brother Paul, being two years older than I, led the way as the ultimate geek with his passion for comic books, Star Trek, high school musicals, marching band and stupid jokes. Paul studied books like 1001 Insults and Corny Jokes That Adolescents Repeat Until You Want to Strangle Them. One of Paul’s standard jokes is/was his play on words. For example, when he was about eleven he was asked to pour milk in the glasses in preparation for the family meal, he took off his Ernie Douglas-style glasses, set them on the dinner table with the lenses face down, and you guess it, poured milk in them.  Another favorite he never tired of was his response to a declaration.  If you said, "I'm hungry, " Paul invariably replied, "Hi Hungry.  I'm Paul." 

Paul is now a fifty-year-old family man living in Arizona. He has a good job as a computer programmer (of course), sings in the church choir and still collects comic books. Although Paul is an intellectual, he has kept his adolescent sense of humor and ability to act stupid without embarrassment.

Paul’s alter ego when he comments on my blog is “Howard”, a reference to Howard the Duck, some comic book character that I’m sure he’d be glad to expound upon.  When I first started writing this blog in 2009, I didn’t realize that Howard was my brother. I have a friend named Howard and assumed it was him when I read the following comment on my blog:

I was a teenager in the eighties. Being born in 1963 means you would turn 13 in 1976 and you would turn 20 (end of teenagery) in 1983. 3 of your 7 teenaged years were in the 1970s. However, your fashion understanding is not incorrect. The trend toward more conservative dress began in the late 1970s and continued to the mid-1980s, when the miniskirt reappeared.

By howard on Teenagers on 4/28/09

For the Howard I knew, I thought it kind of rude of him to correct me on my blog. So I clicked on the link for his name. It led to Howard Bunt’s Blog with a URL of Howtheduck.com http://howtheduck.blogspot.com/ Suddenly, a little bell went off in my head (ding, ding, ding!); Howard was really Paul! I knew my brother wrote a blog, but he had been very secretive about what it was called. I assumed that either he was not one to brag about himself or it was something pornographic.

So Dear Reader, I hope that when you read my blogs, you also read Howard’s comments. I admit, I will often throw in something intended to elicit a response from my brother. He still makes me laugh and I love to get comments on my blog (hint, hint). I recently started looking back over all the blog comments and thought selective words from Howard might be entertaining and worthy of its own blog post. I may have to do this in more than one part as I could only edit it down to seven pages of Howardisms. The links are there for reference if you’d like to read the whole blog for context. My words are in italics, Howard’s are not. I’ve started these from the most recent and moved backward.

Leader of the flock
Is she really going out with him?
Well, there she is. Let's ask her.
Millie, is that Aslan's ring you're wearing?
Gee, it must be great egging with him.
Is he picking you up after coop today?
By the way, where'd you meet him?
I met him at the poultry show.
He turned around and smiled at me
You get the picture? (yes, we see)
That's when I fell for (the leader of the flock)
My folks were always putting him down (down, down)
They said he came from Eastern States Expositi-own (whatcha mean when ya say that he came from the Big E?)
They told me he was big
But I knew he liked to dig
That's why I fell for (the leader of the flock)

By howard on Size Does Matter - If You're a Chicken on 1/30/12

But life is not all about me; it’s really about the cats. Don't let the chickens hear you say that. They would be traumatized. I'm sure Jay already knows. ...in return I’ll try harder to keep your litter box clean on a regular basis. With as many cats as you have in your house, is this like a daily cleaning? Or more often than that? Speaking of diet, I don’t put food out on the counter just for you. Kindly refrain from licking the butter or stealing food as if I won’t notice. I don’t eat your food so don’t eat mine. Now here is advice for the whole family, not just the cats.

By howard on New Year’s Resolutions…for the Cats on 1/6/12

Kelsey, who normally spends most of her time in her room on her laptop pretending to be annoyed with all things parental, learned to come in our room after family game time and keep us up late with conversation and flatulent humor. I am suddenly filled with family pride to see the great traditions have made it into the younger generation.

By howard on Reflections on Hurricane Irene - Like Camping with... on 9/30/11

I think the problem was the Punnett Squares. Monohybrid and Dihybrid crosses are a lot sexier.

By howard on Educating the Educators on 7/6/11

She's too old to try to place now, but I have since promised myself that all future retiring queens will be placed into other homes. If only everyone had this practice. They have had such trouble with that in England and in the Netherlands. Oh wait! You're talking about cats. Sorry!

By howard on Sassy - Ten Years Later on 4/18/11

To be continued...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Try It! You'll Like It!

Growing up in the rural mountains of North Carolina, we ate Southern-style meals and had rules for eating. No, we didn’t have ‘possum, chittlins or pickled pig feet, so you can get those negative stereotypes out of your head right now. We did have vegetables that were overcooked, seasoned with fatback and lots of salt. Because my grandfather and my mother were into gardening, most of our one acre of downhill backyard was tilled, planted, weeded and harvested. Fresh veggies like kale, collard greens, tomatoes and rhubarb were featured on the dinner table, no matter how disgusting they appeared to the finicky eyes of my younger sister and me.

When my grandparents ate Sunday dinner with us, we heard a lot of comments like, "Eat your vegetables. They’re home grown, fresh from the garden," "Much better than store-bought" and my personal favorite, "Sharon, eat the stewed tomatoes or you will hurt Granddaddy’s feelings.” Stewed tomatoes was one of our grandfather’s specialty dishes. "It looks like vomit," I whined, wishing the dog was allowed in the house so I could slip him my food under the table.

My mother required that we at least try everything on the table, no matter how repulsive we found it. I would take a small bite of collards or some such green thing, make a face and swallow. Sometimes I’d hide the food in my napkin or under my plate. My sister and I were skinny little kids. Our older brother was what you’d call a “good little eater” and not so little.

I remember one week it seemed like Mom served cauliflower every night. Regular broccoli was gross enough, but WHITE broccoli had to be a mutation of some sort. Still, I tried it with chocolate pudding being the reward for my compliance. Oh, the inhumanity of my pain and suffering just to earn dessert!

The next evening, there it was again. Was there any wonder why there was cauliflower left over? I dutifully took a bite and went on to my applesauce chaser.

Third night, I realized I was actually eating cauliflower and it wasn’t so bad. I looked at Mom suspiciously. Did she do this on purpose? Serving a vile vegetable so often that my taste buds were numb to the intrusion? Or maybe she was right; some foods just need to be given a chance without consideration of how they appear.

Now that I cook for a finicky child of my own, as well as my husband’s grandchildren when they visit, I find myself quoting my mother. “Kelsey, if you don’t eat your food, you’ll hurt my feelings.” Like a typical teenager, hurting her mother’s feelings is a constant game. Score one for the kid.

The same teenager was also diagnosed last summer with Celiac Disease, an auto-immune disorder of the small intestine that reacts to gluten, a product naturally found in wheat, barley, rye and many prepared foods. The challenge of creating meals that will not only be gluten free, but also appealing to Kelsey, is daunting. Kelsey, like her mother, already wouldn’t eat red meat even before being diagnosed with Celiac. She also doesn’t like any seafood. That leaves us with chicken. Ironic that we have a flock of 15 backyard chickens as pets.

Although it’s gotten easier for me to “de-gluten” any recipe, I will typically spend an hour-and-a-half preparing our dinner from scratch to ensure that it’s not contaminated with gluten from prepared products. My husband Jay and I usually love the food (we are no longer skinny kids) and Kelsey often turns her overly critical little nose up, claiming to be full. That’s when I pull out the “You’ll hurt my feelings” and “Take a least one bite” quotes.

The other night we had Jay’s grandchildren, Amanda and Ben, stay over. Amanda is ten, polite, and a good little eater. Ben is seven, outspoken, and picky about his food. I planned to use the only meat I had left in the fridge, two packages of ground turkey, to make naturally gluten free Shephard’s pie for supper. I had already used up the russet potatoes earlier in the week, but decided that I should try it with the sweet potatoes I had sitting around. Why not make a sweet Shephard’s Pie?

I served the Shephard’s Pie with the orange-colored mashed potatoes on top. Kelsey and Ben were pretty vocal with their disapproval when they saw it. Kelsey claims she hates sweet potatoes even though I’ve seen her eat them many times. The only reason she likes Shephard’s Pie is the mashed potatoes on top, she whined. She was no longer hungry. Ben loudly claimed that it looked gross. Actually, since Ben has a hard time pronouncing his R’s, it was “gwoss.” He was twice denied his demands for a hotdog substitute. Amanda stared and said nothing.

Jay chastised Ben for being so rude and I lamented about how long I’d been cooking only to have people complain. In the end, they were all hungry and had to give it a try as I’d made nothing else for supper. Jay and I smiled at each other as each disbeliever was converted with the first bite and cleaned their plates.

The kids prefer Shephard’s Pie with sweet potatoes now. Ben must have eaten five helpings by himself. Kelsey decided she was hungry enough to take thirds. Amanda complimented me on the meal. Like I said, Amanda is the polite one of the group. The orange Shephard’s Pie was a huge hit.

This one is for you, Mom.

Me with my sister, mother and brother in 1979