Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Off to See Yellowstone in Winter

This is a winter photo of Yellowstone from the website. I've never seen Yellowstone in winter, so I decided to trek off this year and see if I can view some American wildlife instead of just African wildlife (the focus of all my recent trips, and the next upcoming one post Yellowstone).

We are going with the National Wildlife Federation, and so far the pre-trip materials and reading list have been impressive. I am looking forward to seeing whether we can view wolves, and seeing what else we come across in the way of wildlife. It will also be my first winter wildlife trip, so I'll get a chance to check out winter gear before heading off in the future to see polar bears and penguins. I'm sure it will be a big change from hiking in the equatorial rainforest! It should also be interesting to be in Yellowstone in the cold and just a few weeks later find myself in Southern Africa again. Another cool thing about this trip: rather than going alone, I'm going with my significant other (he's not a huge travel fan, but actually looking forward to this one).

I'm looking forward to snow-shoeing for the first time, and also dog-sledding! Hopefully I'll be back in early January with some great wildlife and trip photos, and tales of adventure (which hopefully will NOT include a shoulder dislocation in the remote wilderness!)

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Broccoli Recipe for Broccoli Haters

I like more vegetables as I try hard to find ways to prepare them that don't make me gag. As a lifelong vegetable hater, I have to really try to force myself to try new preparations and new vegetables. Substantial progress has been made in the last few years, but it's rare I find a vegetable I actually like - let alone love - as opposed to falling into the category of "I can tolerate it and make myself eat it once in awhile."

This past summer I ate at a restaurant in Portland, OR which had roasted broccoli. I have to say, it was the best dish on the table and it was stunningly good. I never before even liked broccoli, and I loved that broccoli! I made up my mind to find a roasted broccoli recipe and experiment to recreate the masterpiece.

Then I got busy, and might have forgotten about the quest for some time, had it not been for America's Test Kitchen. They came out with a roasted broccoli recipe in the current addition, and I have to say, the results are killer good. You can find the recipe here, but not for long, as after a time you have to subscribe to see their content. So either click and print, or get this month's issue (Jan/Feb 2008).

If you don't already know about America's Test Kitchen, they publish the magazine Cook's Illustrated, and also a number of books, including America's Best Recipes. They are like cooking scientists, they try variation after variation of a recipe to get the perfect mix of ingredients and the perfect preparation. In many years of trying their recipes I have only ever had one that didn't come out 4 or 5 stars. You can count on them for fantastic recipes, to the point that it's the only source of a recipe I would make for guests without trying it out first. If you haven't been getting the magazine, try it out, you'll love it if you like to cook. They also rate kitchen gadgets and equipment.

Unfortunately, they don't include nutrition information, they are not always low-fat )or even most of the time) and they are decidedly not vegan or vegetarian most of the time. They are focused on the best tasting food though, and when you have a craving for a dish you haven't made before they are a great resource.

Their broccoli roasting tests paid off with a fabulous recipe and I challenge even broccoli haters to find it distasteful. It's a dish I actually look forward to eating - despite it being green. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Walking to Work: Fox, Geese, Ducks...

Walking to work in winter can be annoying when it's cold, or even worse, rainy. I have been trying to walk at least three days a week, and it's about 3 miles each way, so I am aiming for at least 18 to 24 miles a week. The walk, mostly along the greenbelt, is very pleasant. Callie comes with me and stays at the office, which we both enjoy a great deal.

This past Wednesday morning we came across a fox in Ann Morrison Park (photo above). The fox checked out Callie and I for a bit and then trotted off. I can't tell if it's the same one that visits our back yard nearly every night, driving the dogs into spasms of protective barking.

Every day there are tons of geese and ducks in the park, and they seem to know Callie is on a leash and no threat. She shows remarkably little interest in them given that she could be prone to want to herd them up. As we approach, they sort of collectively waddle away, slowly.

Although it can be a pain when we walk in 18 degree weather, or rain, overall I like it. The river is gorgeous, the animals are serene, the mountain views are fantastic, and I like watching Callie notice all the squirrels and other dogs and not misbehave and try to chase them! I am doing it for the exercise and to exercise Callie, but it doesn't hurt the whole saving gas/global warming thing either.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nadia, the Lettuce Loving Cat

Nadia loves vegetables, which seems quite strange since she is a cat. She steals asparagus off our plates and lettuce out of our bowls. (Arugula is her favorite). Last night she went nuts over Spring Mix and wouldn't stop eating mine. She doesn't like dressing, just greens, and she was so hungry for them that she wouldn't relent, so I gave her a small bowl of her own salad. This is a photo of her enjoying it. When she doesn't get lettuce, she grazes on the houseplants. She has literally eaten a few of them to death. I don't know why she seems so interested in vegetables and greens when the other cats won't touch them. Strange little girl.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Good Madagascar Book

Gerald Durrell is a conservationist who spent some time in Madagascar, and this is the story of a trip he and his wife took to try and obtain some animals for zoos. The point was to provide animals for captive breeding programs and to assist in species recovery. While I don't like the idea of removing animals from the wild, I recognize that in some cases captive breeding programs are the only way that species have a hope of recovery. Mr. Durrell has been around for a very long time, and so in a way he is the last of his era of conservation, and looking at how things were done we can only hope they have improved a bit for all concerned. That said, it is a good story.

For one thing, he tells the story of travel in Madagascar without editing or romanticizing it. For example, the many people who met who were killing and eating lemurs, or just killing them, or capturing them, and who upon being told this was illegal said "So what? No one will enforce the law." That was exactly the attitude I observed in the people there as well. I found his observations about the people, places and conditions, though made more than a decade before my trip there, to be quite accurate.

Some aye-ayes were captured, as well as some bamboo lemurs and tortoises. The story of how these animals were captured and how they were cared for an transported is interesting, if a bit bizarre. Carrying baby bamboo lemurs around in baskets and feeding them bananas is not something most conservationists would probably approve of, but what other way to get them to the safety of a zoo when traveling in such a country?

Durell's wit and humor, his love of animals, and his acceptance and observation rather than hatred or judgment about humans makes this book an enjoyable read, though the first chapter got off to a slow start. There is a story about what happens to him while camping when some ducks invade his shower that certainly ought to make anyone laugh out loud - that alone is worth the time to buy or check this book out from the library. This is one of the best books about Madagascar I read when I was trying to learn more about the country.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Animal Intelligence

An interesting article on animal intelligence gives some examples of study results you may not be familiar with. For example, studies on elephants in Amboseli have shown that elephants can distinguish between two different human tribes - very interesting. Many of the other examples given are also fascinating, so if animal intelligence interests you, take a minute to read this.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Long-eared Jerboa: extraordinary desert creature

The long-eared jerboa is endangered and lives in the gobi desert. Noctural and small, this is the first known footage of one of these creatures in the wild. With a pug like nose, a kangaroo like hop, a very long tail, and huge ears, it is a very unique creature, and does not appear to be related to rodents.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trimming the Tree With Cats

Christmas trees are tough to impossible to have with cats and dogs around. I certainly don't want anything delicate or glass that could get broken and hurt them. The cloth ornaments get eaten, and the wooden ones too. So, I gave up and just put up a plastic tree (why kill a tree for a holiday?). The cats like it because they love to climb around in it. Ophelia is pictured above, but every cat takes their turn climbing, and laying in the branches, popping in and out of various parts of the tree.

Some years I add lights, and I'm sure I could get away with typing ribbons on the tree - the cats would love that. But it's a lot of work without m Such reward - the plain tree looks very nice as it is and watching for glowing cat eyes or little cat heads to poke out from the branches is fun too.
So far they have only tipped the tree over once, and since we put it where it can't hurt anything if it falls, this isn't a big deal.

This year I thought about hanging a clothesline across the living room out of reach of the animals and hanging ornaments across it, or putting lights around the house, but at this point in time I don't feel like I have enough energy to do all that decorating and then undo it a month later, when I have a constant to do list that's at least two pages long as it is. Maybe next year, if I ever get ahead of what needs to be done.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Horses in Blankets

We are having a cold week, and when nights get in the single digits or low teens, I blanket the horses. Even though they are built for cold, I can't stand to have them bear THAT degree of cold without a little comfort. I'm always trying not to leave the blankets on too long, as I don't want them to start shedding their winter coat, but when the nights stay so cold for so long I begin to wonder how long is to long to blanket. This morning when I left to walk to work it was 18 degrees, and I decided to leave the blankets on for today. It's nice to have some winter weather, but at the same time, I get sick of cold fairly quickly.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Play With Your Food

A few years back I got a book for Christmas called "Play With Your Food" about how to make animals out of vegetables. It's unclear whether the point was to encourage kids to eat more veggies or just to make cool veggie garnishes, but either way, it's sort of cute. Recently my mom gave me some radishes I didn't know what to do with, so I made radish mice. (Eyes are peppercorns). I have to say that the radishes did not taste very good, but at least I put them to some use rather than just tossing them as I would otherwise be inclined to do.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Photos from Gabon

These two amazing photos, showing an elephant walking on the beach and then forest elephants and lowland gorillas in the same photo frame, were taken by my friend Shivani Bhalla and are posted here with her permission. She took them on her trip to Gabon, a country in West Africa that I'm dying to go to one of these days. Unfortunately, it remains a little pricey, and tourism is still new, so there are some issues. I looked into going there for my next adventure very carefully, but in the end, for now I am going to have to settle for going to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia for the next Africa trip.

Gabon has ten percent of the country set aside for wildlife parks, and supposedly the wildlife is pristine. It can therefore be hard to see the animals as they are not habituated at all. It is, from all accounts, not a good first trip to Africa, but a great subsequent trip.

I read an amazing account of an english woman who, at 30, traveled to Gabon by herself and eventually became a trader there. The books, Travels in West Africa, by Mary Kingsley, is the amazing true story of how in 1890 this woman explored Gabon in full Victorian dress. Although the writing can be a little dated or thick in places, this is a very interesting story and a good read.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Finally, Some Snow!

We haven't had much snow so far this winter, so it was nice to wake up to some this morning. The horses didn't seem to mind it a bit, and I like this black and white contrast picture, even though you can't see Esmae that well.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Idaho Wolf "Management" Plan Released

Idaho Fish and Game is having a series of public meetings to receive comment on it's wolf "management" plan. The dates and locations of the meetings around the State can be seen here. The Boise meeting is Thursday, Dec. 13th from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Trophy Room at Fish and Game headquarters, 600 S. Walnut St, Boise. All the meetings are being held in a short span of time, so there is very little time for public input, and if you want to be heard, you have to act quickly.

You can view the plan here, and you can also submit your comments online at the same page. Fish & Game is asking for input on some specific components of the plan, but you can comment on any aspect.

The plan is, sadly but not unexpectedly, slanted towards killing rather than protecting. They have decided to have no less than 15 breeding pairs of wolves. This means killing the vast majority of the wolves we have now, and it means keeping the population at very vulnerable levels. Besides, it is not always easy to determine which pairs are breeding, and killing at the levels proposed will vastly alter pack structure and impact breeding. A reading of the plan reveals all kinds of issues - even if you just skim it you can see them. They also plan to allow every kind of hunting you can imagine, including baiting. It's disgusting.

I get that wolves are going to be delisted, and even that at some point they need to be managed to avoid over-population. But to allow the killing at the levels proposed is ludicrous and will undue years of progress and keep wolves on the brink of danger. One epidemic of canine distemper or parvo could have a massive impact on the wolf population. Plus, with wolves there is vastly more motivation for people to poach, as there is a huge hatred of wolves still in play in this state. What will be the fine and punishment for this? Certainly not enough to deter anyone under this plan.

Sigh. It's sad. Take a moment to comment, online or at the meeting. It may not do any good, but it won't hurt, and the more rational people who comment vs. the "kill them all" folks, the better off we all are.

The letter of intro from Otter is a joke. This is the same guy who said that he wanted to be first in line to kill a wolf. The wolves are in deep, deep trouble.

You can read a gray wolf fact sheet to learn more about wolves here. The Defenders of Wildlife have been the greatest voice for the wolves and have had meaningful rancher reimbursement programs during the reintroduction. Contributions are another way to consider helping.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Compassionate Pet Food

I am not one of those people who, having decided to aim for a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, wants to make all of their pets go vegetarian also. I recognize that both dogs and cats are designed to eat meat, and generally considered carnivores not omnivores, despite nibbling on some grass for upset tummies here and there. Although dogs can do well on a vegetarian diet, the veggie pet foods are very expensive, and let's face it, the dogs prefer meat. Research shows that cats actually do not do well on a vegetarian or vegan diet, and need meat for overall health.

So, is there a way to give the pets what they need and still not support factory farming and inhumane treatment of animals? After all, for me the big desire to go vegan is fueled by simply not wanting to kill animals. At least I can try to ensure that the animals were humanely raised and killed, and that they aren't pumped full of antibiotics or other bad stuff that I in turn would be feeding to the pets.

I have been using a brand of pet food called "Pet Promise" for nearly a year now. It's available at Fred Meyer, the Co-op, and theoretically Petco, though my Petco never has it. I'm very happy with it, and so are the cats and dogs. If you visit the company's website you can read about how the food is made, and does not contain any by-products. The meat comes from networks of small family farms, not big commercial factory farms. Much of it is organic. No growth hormones or anti-biotics are used. The animals are humane raised. The company is committed to environmental conservation and appears responsible in all the ways which are important to me.

Is it affordable? Well, it's more than Purina, but it's still manageable. It's cheaper than vegetarian foods I've found locally, and roughly the same price as Canidae, my old brand of choice for dog food. The nutritional composition is about identical as well. Overall it isn't bad, especially since it is calorie rich and your dog doesn't need much of it per day. The cats like both the wet and dry foods, and you can buy the wet food cans in 12 packs, always a convenience, and a savings.

I don't mean to imply that I am critical of people who do use vegetarian pet foods. In fact, if you can afford it and your pet remains in good health and gets the nutrients they need, great! I have a friend with only dogs, not cats, and they eat vegetarian diet and are extremely healthy with gorgeous coats. I don't know anyone who has done so with cats, and from what I have read that is much riskier. However, I personally prefer the middle ground of selecting a pet food company which shares my values and concern for animal welfare. Since I haven't seen them advertising, I wanted to share the news that there is a good company out there to consider when it comes time to feed the pets.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Bizarre Farm Bureau Poll on Animal Suffering

A friend called my attention to this Reason Magazine blogpost about a recent Farm Bureau poll. It's a strange one - check it out at:

They have made the assumption through some faulty logic that people must not mind animal suffering and tried to justify existing farm conditions with the poll. Their conclusion is that people prefer that 11,500 animals suffer rather than one human. They didn't describe the suffering though - and certainly didn't show it. I bet if I polled the same people but gave them information about the animal suffering vs. the human suffering the result would be different. Also, the suffering to the human appears to be an implied economic one, while the suffering on animals is physical and psychological/emotional. It is interesting also to note that the question supposes there is a new technology which can only help either one human or x number of animals - a ridiculous proposition to begin with. Further, the animal suffering is needlessly inflicted by humans on animals, while presumably the human suffering is not (if it is physical suffering).

On a semi-related note, I was reading a book yesterday that described the killing of some animals for the fur trade by literally sticking a red hot poker up their asses, so as to leave no mark on the skin which would be created by a knife cut, bullet wound, or other means of killing. It seems even poison would be a kinder (though more expensive and therefore apparently ruled out) method of killing than that. The question posed was would women still enjoy wearing fur if they knew how much the animal suffered in death. Obviously, they don't mind buying fur and know the animal died, but knowing HOW it died may well impact their choices. Likewise, people buy factory farmed meat, and don't mind eating other creatures, but if they knew the conditions the animal lived in and the pain it suffered in death (many chickens being literally boiled alive, or other animals being cut apart alive when the machines in the factory don't perform as planned, or hundreds of other examples of suffering) perhaps it would affect their choices. In fact, as more people learn about farming practices more and more people try to buy free range and humane raised meats and organic products.

Too bad Farm Bureau is spending it's time trying to justify rather than reform cruel farming practices. There are many family farmers who care a great deal about the welfare of their animals and are members of that organization - every one of them should complain.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Excellent Vegan Holiday "Nog"

Going vegan, I would miss holiday eggnog - except that now I don't have to, thanks to Silk Soymilk. They have a new product called, appropriately, "Nog," and it's awesome! It does taste like eggnog - rich, deep, silky and pleasant in all ways - but it does not contain any dairy. Even if you aren't vegan, you might consider it simply for the fact it has vastly fewer calories than traditional eggnog and is much healthier. Check out a nutrition comparison between traditional eggnog and "Nog" here. It's not 100% organic, but hey, we can't have everything all at once! I think it's GREAT that they made this product and I certainly appreciate not feeling deprived this holiday season. A five star product in my book! And Fred Meyer carries it, so pick some up and give it a try.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Struggling to Go Vegan: An Update

It's been almost a year since I started trying to "go vegan," starting with "ethical eating," paying attention to where the foods we eat come from and buying only humane raised meat. My goal was to start by being very selective with meat and dairy and eventually phase them out.

I was able to do this for about four months, and by the end of the four months I noticed the following:

1. I not only no longer craved meat, I found it gross, and had no desire at all to eat it, despite having loved meat all my life more than any other food.

2. I missed cheese intensely and never did find a good cheese substitute.

3. When I consumed even a small amount of dairy at a restaurant, I felt ill. It no longer agreed with me.

4. I felt healthier, and had more energy.

5. I learned how to make a variety of food, and I found that our menus had more variety than they did before, as I was always experimenting and trying new items, substitutes, and recipes.

6. I actually liked Boca Burgers more than beef hamburgers! Less greasy, and very good!

I wanted to keep it up, but I went to Africa, and I did not find it possible to continue to eat vegan there. Also, I had a work commitment for a long period of time in a very small town with very limited offerings in both grocery and restaurants. I was extremely busy and simply did not have the time and energy to dedicate to food choices, so I "fell off the vegan wagon" for a period of time. The busy work period lasted until August. In August, I was so tired and drained from that intense work period I simply didn't have the energy to go vegan again, and then I had another trip to Africa, during which I was almost entirely vegetarian, but not vegan.

So, now I am trying to get back to it, phasing out of the house all the meat and dairy products bit by bit, using up the last egg, tossing the last carton of sour cream, etc. We still have a little meat in the freezer, a tiny bit of cheese and a little bit of butter and then the house is back to vegan.

I rather enjoy resuming the search for recipies and substitutes, and the creativity required. It does still take a lot of time and energy, but I know it will get easier with practice. I have also found that in the last year there are some additional resources: vegan podcasts, more vegan recipie websites and cooking shows, and even a local vegan potluck. Whole Foods is coming, but not here yet.

I can't yet claim to be vegan, but I have a renewed enthusiasm for getting there, and I'm glad that we are able to eat vegan much of the time, becoming most of the time, and soon all of the time.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Zamba: A Good Read

Continuing on the book review theme (books always make good Christmas gifts), you might want to check out Zamba. This is the true story of a lion who was raised from a cub and lived his entire life with Ralph Heller, his owner. He starred in movies and TV shows, but he also slept on the bed (one specially made to accommodate both lion and human) and rode int he car (a convertible, resulting in head-turning!)

This book was an enjoyable and easy read, and surprisingly good considering Heller's first book, Modoc, about an elephant, was not nearly as interesting. I think the difference is that in Zamba he is writing from his own experience, and in Modoc he is telling someone else's story. He is best served to stick with his own experience as he tells it far better.

If you are interested in lions, or just animals, I highly recommend this as a nice read. It was interesting to see how Zamba behaved in different situations, and it's clear to see that Heller was a compassionate animal handler in Hollywood who put the welfare of the animals first in an era when many other did not.

You can read more about the book or order it from Amazon here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

This was my favorite pre-trip reading for Madagascar. Heather Heying is a frog researcher who studied mantella frogs on the island of Nosy Mangabe (my favorite place of the trip). She tells the story of her time in Madagascar on this island, living in a tent. While she did her studies in the 1990's, the island has changed a lot since she was there, largely due to increased tourism.

Her description of the place, the people, and the odd things she discovered about Madagascar was fun to read. This was the only book I read about Madagascar that made me actually want to go there, and I thought she was very honest in her descriptions of both the good and the bad she encountered. If you have any interest in Madagascar at all, I highly recommend this as a good read.

You can read more about the book or order it from Amazon here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Read Up on Wolf Re-Introduction

This book is written by a biologist intimately involved in the wolf re-introduction program in Yellowstone, and provides a very interesting discussion of the Yellowstone ecosystem before and after the return of the wolves. The chapters alternate between providing statistics and discussion on a variety of subjects, including wolf behavior, wolf kill rates, pack formation, etc. and portraits of individual wolves involved in the project.

While the author clearly loves and respects wolves, he is also realistic and scientific in his approach rather than appealing to emotion. To my surprise, he also appears to conclude that at this juncture delisting is to occur and that some hunting will be necessary. He gives credit to the Defenders of Wildlife for taking a realistic approach to livestock loss issues during the reintroduction effort, which I was pleased to see as I donate to them and support their efforts on behalf of wolves. (Incidentally, they are asking constituents of Rep. Mike Simpson to call his office at 208-334-1953 as he hasn’t yet signed on to cosponsor H.R. 3663, the Protect America’s Wildlife Act. This bill would prevent the needless deaths of hundreds of wolves in Alaska by clarifying the longstanding federal law against aerial hunting of wolves.)

I thought the book was an easy and interesting read, particularly the portions which discuss the ripple down effect of having wolves present; how trees, beavers, birds, bears, etc. are affected. I think there can be little doubt that returning wolves to the ecosystem is good for the environment and the system. Too bad man wiped them out to vigorously and violently.

You can order or read more about the book on, specifically here.

I am going to Yellowstone in December to try and catch a glimpse of some wolves, and whatever other wildlife the Park might have to offer in the dead of winter. The trip is with the National Wildlife Federation and will be my first trip with them. I am looking forward to seeing some of the places discussed in this book.

A No-Kill Shelter for Boise?

Northwest Animal Companions is trying to raise funds for a no-kill shelter in Boise, having received a donation of 200 acres of land to use. You can read about their plan and see a floorplan for the sanctuary here.

A local radio station, The River, is donating proceeds from "Concert for a Cause" to a charity, and Northwest Animal Companions is in the running. Please go here and take a moment to vote for Northwest Animal Companions before December 3rd. In things like this, even small numbers of voters can make a difference so please take a second to click and vote! Thanks in advance.

Boise currently has no sanctuary which is no-kill. The Idaho Humane Society policies require euthanization under certain conditions or at certain population levels and it is not realistic given their burdens and volumes to expect that to change anytime soon.

If you want to learn about no-kill facilities, the shining example of one is Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. They have outreach programs nationwide trying to teach people how to run no-kill shelters with success. I once tried to pay to send an Idaho Humane Society employee to the Best Friends seminars to get this information, but the offer was not accepted as they don't feel they are in a position to go no-kill. While I support the Humane Society and foster for them, and underrstand where they are coming from, I do believe this community can support a no-kill facility and I would love to help Northwest Animal Companions succeed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The "No Mail" Campaign

About two years ago I was appalled at the amount of mail I was getting. I must have gotten at least three catalogs a day, sometimes as many as ten, and all kinds of credit card offers, junk mail, campaign mail, solicitations, etc. It was just ridiculous! Especially after going to Africa the first time, I wanted to be more committed to saving trees and not wasting paper, so I decided to try and take some small steps to change things in my life for the better, one of which was a "no more mail" campaign.

I wrote to or called every single catalog sender and asked to be removed from their mailing list. I noted my favorite stores and bookmarked their websites or signed up for email notices of their offerings. I also asked everyone to not share my name and address with other companies. For every non-profit I donate to, I made sure they promised not to share my name - as I was getting two to five solicitations for money from various organizations per day, many of which I'd never heard of so I knew they must have bought my name from elsewhere.

I contacted all my financial institutions and credit cards and asked them not to share my info or send unsolicited credit offers. I found out there are some national clearinghouses where you can register not to receive direct mail, for example here, here, here, here, or here. I also started paying attention to all the "Privacy Notices" in the mail and opting out when possible. I asked the magazines I subscribe to not to share my information.

While this was a pain, I did notice a sharp decrease in mail within eight weeks. I kept a list of companies I had notified, and I was annoyed to note that some companies I contacted two or three times were still sending me things - so I called them, sent their labels back, and eventually was able to get rid of most of them. I noticed after a year there was a resurgence and I had to contact a lot of the same companies again. But, overall, it has definitely helped reduce the junk mail.

Now I routinely write to all companies I did not ask to send me mail and try to get removed from their list. The initial step was the hardest and most time consuming and now the maintenance, just contacting a few new companies here and there, is not so bad. If you want to do something for the environment and to reduce your carbon footprint, this is a free and easy step to your house stays cleaner without so much clutter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Adorable Teeny, Tiny Car Review

Although I don't usually post a lot of videos, this one really made me laugh. There was, in the 1960's, a teeny, tiny car that got 100 miles to the gallon. Check it out!!! If we all had these....

Montana Sunset

I'm not a good enough photographer to get both the trees and the moon in focus, which is too bad, as this was, in person, a really great scene of the sun setting over mid-Montana. It was too cold to experiment more with the camera.

Across Montana there were gorgeous mountains and lots of deer, as well as a handful of antelope visable from the road. Interstate travel doesn't allow for photos, but there were some nice views of large hawks on fenceposts, Canadian geese in fields, grazing groups of deer, and even an elk here and there. It was a land of snow and cold and beauty.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Chance to Run!

The dogs needed to run after a long, long trip in the car. When we were on the outskirts of Parshall, ND, a small town in a sea of flat, cold, yellow crop stubble, we let them run. Here is the scene they stood overlooking, and a shot of them running off energy. Oddly, their legs were yellow after running in the stubble, and we never did figure out why.

Later the same trip we had a small disaster when we let the dogs run off leash through some trees and brush. They came back covered in extra teeny little burrs, smaller than I've ever seen before. They took literally over an hour to remove, and were a massive pain both for the dogs and for us. Running off leash in fields and parks was fine, but brush in ND is to be avoided at all costs!

Along the way we looked for other safe places for them to run off leash. In Billings, MT we found only one "dog park" and it was still marked for on leash pets only. People seemed to be observing that as well. Overall Billings didn't seem to be a dog town, though we finally found a place to let ours stretch their legs a little bit along a cold lake.

Bozeman, MT had a couple of dog parks and appeared to be a fairly dog friendly town overall. The dogs had a good time in the snow there, but did NOT want to get back in the car for another long and boring day of driving.

Once again I was glad for Holiday Inn's pet policies so we had options all along the road for where to stay. Kudos to all hotel owners willing to let pets participate in journeys rather than stay home.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lawn Art in Plaza, ND

We are back from a long road trip from Boise to Plaza, ND. Plaza is a very small town, and one in which you should not drink the water. (The smell of it alone lets you know that; the taste is indescribable). There is one main street with one flashing traffic light. On that main street there's a house with a lawn art display that I could not help laughing about every time we passed by. It has two wolves, along with two wolf pups, and they are apparently scaring a small raccoon, who has flung his arms in the air in surrender and/or fear. At least, that's what I got out of it. The expression on the faces of all of the statues are quite amusing, but my favorite is the raccoon. I'm not sure if they intend it to be serious or tacky or amusing...but I was definitely amused. Click on the scene to enlarge the photo for yourself, and I had to give you a raccoon close up as well. Naturally, I doubt you will make it to Plaza to see it in person but of course I know you would not want to miss this!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Road Tripping with Dogs

Turns out that there is free wi-fi at the Billings, MT Holiday Inn, so I can get at least one more post in. Today we packed up the car and drove with the dogs about 10 hours from Boise to Billings. We saw a number of deer on the way, but at interstate speeds so we didn't get any photos. Montana was pretty, but darkness covered it too early.

The dogs are great travelers. Simon likes the back of the Subaru and never makes a peep. Callie likes the back seat and once in awhile tries for the front. They like rest stops and always seem curious to see where we end up at each stop. They love hotel rooms too. Right now Simon is sprawled across his very own double bed, in doggie heaven. They enjoyed dinner scraps and stretching their legs before settling into their new digs for the night.

There is something great about traveling with dogs, like packing up home and taking it with you, offering both comfort and adventure. I do miss the cats terribly, and the horses, but I know they are in good hands and I try not to worry.

The one disturbing aspect of the trip so far was in Dillon, MT at a convenience store where "Tom Turkey" was in a small wooden cage and there was a guess his weight contest. I'm guessing "Tom" is destined for a Thanksgiving table. In the meantime, he is confined in an unclean wooden crate that is too small for him. In fact, the boards on top cut into his tail so if he moves back and forth he breaks his tail feathers off. He breathes exhaust and gas fumes and people come stare and point at him. He has great difficulty turning around and I did not see food or water in his crate. "Tom" is definitely not in good hands. Peta would be pissed. I was revolted, especially that people seemed to be bringing their kids over to see Tom as though nothing was wrong with the situation. However, I could not see a legal way to free him. Hopefully he will not suffer much longer. Hopefully, at least a few parents pointed out the animal cruelty involved and used this as an opportunity to educate, not to perpetuate the idea that treating animals this way is okay.

In Billings I saw a bumper sticker under a Stop sign that said "Eating Animals." "Stop eating animals" was not a slogan I expected to encounter in Billings and I was pleased that there was or is at least one vegetarian or vegan here trying to spread the word and counteract all the "I love animals, they're delicious" bumper stickers on beat up pickups. Yuk.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Off to North Dakota

I will probably be offline for about a week, as we are heading off to North Dakota to visit relatives. I am looking forward to seeing Montana and to spending a week road tripping with the dogs. I looked up some good restaurants in Billings, MT, where we'll be staying a few nights. I love Tripadvisor, and if you aren't already using it, you should check it out. You can find user reviews of hotels, restaurants, and even cities. It's great for both international and domestic travel, and between the reviews and the chats you can usually get a sense of what places locals like.

I review hotels and places I stay when I travel on Tripadvisor as DAEsmae. Whenever I've stayed somewhere I didn't research on TripAdvisor that turned out to be a dive, I've later laughed at how accurate the reviews were and all the trouble I could have saved myself had I just looked! It's my favorite travel review site, and I can usually get input even about such remote locations as Gabon. You can contact other users for more information and I have gotten some great feedback in response to questions I have asked other users.

So, off we go, and I shall miss my internet access *terribly.* Hopefully when I get back I'll have at least a few decent photos to share with you - though I'm not sure how the dislocated shoulder will affect my ability to use the camera yet.

I'm pleased to report that Callie seems to have made a full recovery. One of the best things about road trips is taking her and Simon to hotels. Callie guards the door and barks if someone passes by, unless we create a barricade in front of it - then she guards the barricade and people can be outside the door just not in the barricade area. Smart little dog.

MUST Watch "Heart of a Lioness"

In Samburu, Kenya there is a legend about a lioness who adopted an oryx calf. On the wall of the park gate there is a painting of this lioness and calf. When I was there the first time, my guide told me the story - a lioness who could not have cubs adopted oryx calves due to her mothering instinct. Supposedly it was absolutely true, witnessed by many people. Of course, it was quite hard to believe.

There's an elephant research camp in Samburu called "Save the Elephants," and when I got back from Samburu I contacted them about an elephant birth I'd seen there, to see if they wanted the photos. They did, and I corresponded with researcher and author Ian Douglas-Hamilton about them. As I looked at the Save the Elephants website I saw that they had a link to photos of this lioness with oryx. (I don't see them there currently). Later, I learned that a documentary was made by the daughter of Ian Douglas-Hamilton, who runs the research camp and also, with his wife, a lovely lodge called Elephant Watch Camp. I had the privilege to stay there in May when I went back to visit Albert, the baby elephant.

I couldn't find the documentary on DVD; it's called "Heart of a Lioness." I searched for it on animal Planet in vain. Then, last night, IT WAS ON. I was so excited when I saw it come on the kitchen television that I raced into the bedroom to Tivo it, somehow (unexplainably) dislocating my right shoulder in the process. Before I lost consciousness and then was raced (by my devoted and ever patient boyfriend) to St. Luke's ER, I fortunately had the presence of mind to get to the Tivo remote and hit record.

Lucky for you, Animal Planet is showing the program again Nov 24 and 25. YOU HAVE TO SEE IT!!! It is a fantastic and suspense filled true life drama about the adoption of calves by this lioness, and what happens. I have never enjoyed a documentary so much, nor been in such suspense. I can't imagine ANYONE not being wowed by this program!! In all truth, despite the fact shoulder dislocations are EXTREMELY painful, it was actually worth it....though I sure wish it hadn't happened and I'd caught one of the later showings! I've been trying to find this program since May when I last returned from Samburu, and I am so glad I finally did.

Samburu is my favorite place in Africa so far, and seeing the land, the animals and the people I have been lucky enough to come to know there was wonderful. But seeing through film the remarkable story of what happened there is so incredible, it's only slightly heightened by my personal experience. See for yourself! Don't miss it!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Organic Food Bars

For Madagascar I packed a variety of "power bars" to try and survive - and good thing I did. One of them was a clear standout above the others - the Organic Food Bar "Vegan" Bar. These bars are surprisingly good, and pretty healthy too. Several of the flavors they offer are actually vegan, and are labeled as such. If you haven't tried them yet, check them out! So far I've found them at the Co-Op in Boise and at the Vitamin Shoppe on Emerald. While they do cost a bit more, at least you aren't getting a bar packed with sugars. They make a nice breakfast when you get up late, a good snack for hiking, or a good post-workout pick me up. Check out their website by clicking above.

I'd love to get back to posting about wildlife, but I've been stuck in the City and haven't seen any lately!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How About a Personal Chef?

If you eat out four times a week or more, you probably spend a decent amount of money and don't eat the healthiest food. For about the same money, or less, you could actually hire a personal chef who comes to your house once a week and makes meals that you can then re-heat. Typically they do the shopping also, so all you have to do is give them some idea of what you want to eat. This is great if you are on a special diet, trying to lose weight, or struggling with a new way of eating or cooking. For example, you can request low fat meals or vegetarian or vegan meals, then leave it to the chef to figure out what you should eat and make you some (hopefully) tasty meals.

I have looked into this service in Boise in the past and had a hard time finding anyone. Recently, however, I have noticed there are several personal chefs advertising services here, including:

Food Infatuation

Cuisine by Gary

Joy of Not Cooking

Dine by Design

A Table in Thyme

You can also hire a personal chef to make a special dinner, whether a romantic anniversary dinner or a dinner party for several people. What a great idea!

I suppose that my interest in America's Top Chef got me thinking more about the personal chef option. That's a fun show to watch because of the creativity the chefs demonstrate in approaching their challenges. Also, having literally been starving in Madagascar, I would say I have a new appreciation - and desire - for good food these days!

One of the problems I have with cooking vegetarian or vegan is that I run out of ideas and when I get busy I don't have time to research recipes and experiment with new ingredients. All my fallback positions and comfort foods involve meat, and most of them dairy as well. As I develop more versatility, I enjoy doing so, but when I get busy we fall off the wagon and resort to old habits. Hopefully a personal chef can help by being there in busy times to provide healthy eating options, and to expose us to new options.

So far we've tried it for two weeks, and I don't know if we will stick with it long term or not, but it is kind of nice not to have to worry what's for dinner, and to know that you're eating something good for you made with fresh, organic ingredients for less than you'd be paying to eat out. Granted, it is hard to cook for a vegetable hating vegan, but so far I have been impressed that I have truly liked some of the dishes - and they are things I never would have tried making on my own because, in theory, they are unappealing. In practice, they are quite good!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Movie Reviews...But Not Here

Someone asked me about putting my movie reviews on the blog. That's not the focus of this particular blog so I won't post them here, but if you want to join my Netflix Friends Network you can see my ratings and reviews there. If you aren't using Netflix and you like movies, you really ought to try it. Great selection, and couldn't be easier. I *love* it....almost as much as Tivo, but not quite. Click on this or paste it into your browser to get an invitation if you are interested:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stunningly Good Guacamole

Barbacoa is one of Boise's newest restaurants, located on Parkcenter Blvd. where Jaker's used to be. We've been there twice now, one for a full meal, appetizers through dessert, and once to sort of sample a variety of appetizers and sides. Both trips, the standout was the guacamole, prepared table side. While it was good the first time, the second time is was stunningly good. We asked the name of the "guac preparer" and were told he was "Enrique" and he usually works Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. We will definitely be asking for him again, as he prepared bar none the best guacamole either of us has ever had. We are still talking about it a week later and longing to eat it again.

When you place your guacamole order, you wait for the preparer and his cart to come to your table after processing the other orders ahead of you. When the cart arrives, there is a coarse brown mixing bowl and various bowls and bottles of ingredients. We didn't turn down any ingredients offered and asked for a medium heat, not too spicy. The avocados were in excellent condition and I wondered where they obtained them, as I can't find that quality in the local grocery stores this time of year. Added to the mix are cilantro, jalapenos, onion, tomato, and some other things I can't recall. The chips that come with the guacamole are very good, but frankly that stuff is so good that if you had to, you'd eat it with a spoon!

Oddly enough, the rest of the menu is only so-so. The entrees are overpriced as far as I'm concerned and were nothing spectacular. While the restaurant decor is nice, the service is good, and the food is decent, the accompanying price tag ($120 for two with appetizers, entree and dessert, no alcohol) is excessive for what you get. (You could eat at Mortimer's, top of the line, for less). The menu is also sort of a strange mix of options, as though the chef couldn't decide whether to go with Southwest, South American, or Mexican. We did like the herb fries and the zucchini chips, particularly the latter. The other appetizers we tried were also good, better than the entrees.

Bring some cash so you can tip the guacamole person individually, as opposed to your waiter or waitress. I am happy that we found another vegan dish in Boise that is mouth-wateringly good. Five stars to the guacamole - take or leave the rest.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mortimer's: Boise's Best Dining Experience

This weekend we ate at Mortimer's, a lovely restaurant in the lower level of the Belgravia building at 5th & Main in downtown Boise. We only go there about once a year, and every time we do I am impressed. It's the only truly fine dining experience I've found in Boise. While there are many other nice "white tablecloth" restaurants, when you really want to celebrate a special occasion, there is nothing quite like Mortimer's. The setting and decor are excellent, the service is always good, and the dining experience is one you simply can't get elsewhere in Boise.

I highly recommend the Chef's Tasting Menu. It is quite frustrating that they never seem to update this online so that you can see their current offerings. The last few times I considered going there it appeared the tasting menu hadn't changed, so I went somewhere else. This weekend I learned that it actually changes several times a week, they just don't update the website. Bummer.

The Tasting Menu offers just a few small bites of a variety of different things, in a lovely progression, complete with palate cleansers, bread and dessert. We don't drink, but it is possible to get wine paired with the menu offerings as well. This weekend the menu included a shitake cappuccino, a beet salad, swordfish, bread, strawberry sorbet, beef tenderloin, blue cheese with spiced carrots and candied cabbage, and chocolate soup. Although it sounds like a tremendous amount of food, since you only have a few bites of each thing, you leave feeling full but not overstuffed, and having had the chance to sample a lot of wonderful cuisine. It's a lot more fun than getting a traditional entree, though they do offer that option as well. The tasting menu gives you the chance to try some things you wouldn't ordinarily want to order a large portion of. Also, there are some lovely fine touches on every dish, whether shaved and crisped leeks, or Norweigan smoked sea salt (my favorite little finesse of this particular meal).

At the moment, while I am trying to get back to eating primarily vegan, we are not there yet, so we could enjoy the meat and dairy involved in this meal. I do wish that the chef would provide more information on where the meat comes from and some additional information about the other ingredients. My impression is that he aims for local and organic, but I don't think he does grass fed beef, which is a shame. (I can't believe local chef's aren't scrambling to get Alderspring Ranch beef, available at the co-op or online, or Home On the Range Beef, available online or seasonally at Farmer's Market. Aside from the fact that it is humane raised and grass fed, it tastes fantastic. Alderspring is the best, 100% grass fed, while Home on the Range is a close second with mostly grass fed but grain finished.) At least the waiter did know where all the meats I inquired about came from, and they were local.

Too expensive to be a regular dining option for most people, Mortimer's can still be affordable for the special occasion if you plan ahead. If you do the tasting menu and no wine, expect to pay about $100 for two people for dinner. I don't think that's out of line for this market, particularly given the quality of the dining experience. When you want to get dressed up and have a night out, this is a great choice. I've never seen kids there, which to me is a huge plus when you are out for a high class dining experience. You also don't have to contend with "live music" or other entertainment options; the focus is on the food. (In fact, the only slight detractor from the experience this weekend was a bad background music soundtrack and I was sitting under the speaker).

While I would love for a local chef to put some time and thought into some vegetarian and/or vegan offerings, I can understand that the market just isn't really there yet. However, I think more people would be open to trying to go vegetarian or vegan a few meals a week if they had some exposure to tasty dishes in those categories. It seems that chefs sort of scorn rather than embrace vegetarian/vegan lifestyles, and I suppose if you're in love with food and dedicating your life to it, it would be hard to give up the taste options of meat and dairy. I suppose we are decades away from a vegan tasting menu in downtown Boise...but it sure would be nice.

Until then, once in awhile we will have to succumb to Mortimer's.

Capturing Cats

A friend sent me a link to this and I can't resist posting it. This is a great little animated cartoon which perfectly captures all the rituals a cat goes through trying to wake you up in the morning! In addition, mine like to rattle the blinds a lot, letting me know they want to go out and be fed. I once had a foster cat (a mother manx, Oscar and Lizzie's mom) who would wake me up by placing her claws under my eyes and literally pulling my eyes open. It was a scary way to wake up and I was never motivated to try and go back to sleep. I got up and fed her immediately!

It's short and well worth a minute of your time to see. Great cartoonist!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Brunch in Boise??

For some reason I don't understand, it seems there is no decent Sunday brunch to be had here. I've lived in much smaller towns with good brunch selections, and it puzzles me why a city the size of Boise doesn't seem to have decent offerings. Is it because most people are in church Sundays? I don't get it. If Kearney, Nebraska can have a good Sunday brunch then Boise, Idaho certainly ought to have one.

Today I researched online as much as possible and called around to see if I could run down brunch options. A few places which said they had brunch turned out to be closed on Sundays, so they must have discontinued it. Which made me wonder: have places tried and failed to establish brunch? If so, why on earth did it fail?? Doesn't everyone love a good Sunday brunch?!? Disappointing offerings.

Here's all I was able to come up with for brunch options - if you know of others, please comment!!

1. Plaza Grill at the Owyhee Plaza downtown
2. Marie Callendar's on Fairview
3. Cottonwood Grill,

There's a new restaurant downtown at 8th & Main, City Grill, and they supposedly were going to offer brunch, but as they did not answer their phone or have a recording I couldn't find out for sure.

Decent breakfast options (though not a brunch buffet) include Boise Bungalow, which has a nice menu, and the old standby, Elmer's. I can't bring myself to wait in the Goldy's line downtown.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Everyone Got Homes!

All the kittens got adopted! The last two left today. Letting Cameron go was really hard - he was the cutest kitten!!! Hopefully all the homes are good ones and the kittens will be happy. Fostering is hard, but rewarding at the same time.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Foster Kittens Are Ready, Part II

Although it is late in the season for kittens, there have been several litters at the Humane Society. I am fostering two litters for a total of six kittens. They have been with me a little over two weeks and they are ready to get spayed or neutered and adopted. They are listed on the Idaho Humane Society website if you want to read about them or call about adopting. My favorite is Cameron, the most outgoing, who gets into everything all the time and likes to talk a lot. He is adorable, I can't believe anyone can resist him. He's the one with white paws, an intense look at the camera, and white on his face - the rest of him is tabby.

It is always fun to have kittens. Though they make a mess, they are a joy to raise. I love watching their personalities develop. It's just a shame people don't spay and neuter and we end up with so many unwanted animals. Hopefully these little guys can all find good homes before winter.

The current batch of fosters is pictured here and in the previous post.

Foster Kittens Are Ready, Part I

Friday, November 2, 2007

Trailing of the Sheep

"Trailing of the Sheep" is an a annual festival in Ketchum, Idaho which is part of the annual sheep movement from summer to winter pasture. This year, since we were already in Stanley, we decided to make the trip to Ketchum to catch it. We had to wait awhile, and while there was frost that morning they day ended up quite warm. Eventually the parade started, and there were alot of peruvian dancers and various groups in costume, plus several trailers pulled by very large draft horses, mules, or a cross between the two. Paso Fino horses pranced by, and then some people with polish sheepdogs on leashes, and it seemed that the sheep would never arrive. The Boise Highlanders were there playing bagpipe music, which was excellent, and as a nice touch they had their bagpipes covered in sheep costumes.

When the sheep finally came, I was surprised that they were being herded mainly by people and not much at all by the dogs. The sheep were frightened, and several were jumping and trying to escape those chasing them. There were a few black sheep, but mostly white. It was over in just a minute or two.

I was a bit grossed out to see that the local paper was advertising restaurants who serve lamb and mutton in context with the festival. It seems odd to me that you would bring your children to enjoy seeing live sheep go buy and then want to take them to eat a dead one to top off the experience. I guess our culture is so used to killing that doesn't seem incongruous to most, but it did to me. I felt bad for the sheep, who were clearly scared, and I certainly didn't feel like dining on them.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Stanley, Idaho in October

October is a nice time to visit Stanley, Idaho. This year I went in mid-October, and the town was closing down for winter. It was the last night several hotels and restaurants were open. It was nice and cool, with even a tiny bit of frost in the morning, but it wasn't too cold to be pleasant. Stanley is about three hours from Boise, and it is a reasonably pretty drive. It's a great weekend getaway. It's hard to be stressed when you can look up at the Sawtooth Mountains or out across Redfish Lake (both pictured above).

I like to stay at Meadow Creek Inn and Day Spa unless I have the dogs with me, in which case I stay at Mountain Creek Resort. You can get an incredible black and bleu prime rib and the Kasino Klub downtown, a good breakfast at The Bakery, and breakfast, lunch or dinner at Elk Mountain RV Park & Restaurant on the way into town (four miles outside Stanley). Like most small towns, the staff and local people are nice, and generally pleasant to interact with. Everyone knows you aren't from there, but in Stanley, unlike some places, they don't seem to mind.

There is an information for tourists building where you can pick up fliers on local day hikes and other activities, and maps to visit the various lakes. There is a plethora of camping, rafting, hiking, and snowmobiling in Stanley.

The only drawback to Stanley is that it's not a very dog-friendly town. While it's great there is at least one hotel that will let you bring dogs, in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area you generally can't have dogs or you have to have them on leash, which is not very feasible on a long hike. While I didn't see any wildlife in or near Stanley, the scenery was nice and it was a great and relaxing weekend and a good way to recover from Madagascar.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Practical

Seeing a mouse lemur in the wild was one of my hopes and goals when I went to Madagascar. While I did see about four of them, I didn't get photos of any of them as they are nocturnal and very fast moving. The photo above is of a mouse lemur, but was taken at the Lemur Park, so it is not a wild mouse lemur. I did see them in the wild scampering about the trees, and they would pause long enough for a look at their unbelievable cuteness, but then they were off. As I wandered around both the rainforest and the spiny forest at night looking for them, avoiding branches, and trying not to wear down my flashlight batteries by using it, I wondered at times if I truly was crazy to travel the world in search of rare and endangered animals. But, when I saw the leaf tailed geckos and the mouse lemur and the other nocturnal species, there was no question it was all worth it. I have to admit though, in my other travels in Africa, walking at night though the forest would be a really dumb idea. In Madagascar, with no lions, leopards, hyenas, elephants to startle, etc., it is safe by comparison.

The other photo is of a zebu cart. The poor zebu truly are beasts of burden. I saw them kicked in the gut from behind, and beaten horribly. Most have punctured noses with very rough sisal rope through the delicate nose, as a means of controlling and harnessing the animal. They are often starving or have little to no water, and they pull carts all over Madagascar. Instead of valuing these animals for all they provide - meat, milk, transportation, a monetary asset/trade good, etc., the people seem to view them as things, and things which do not need to be treated well in any respect. Even children were mean to them. It was heartbreaking to see them and their conditions.

The people in Madagascar are so desperate for the basics and so focused on survival, they have no compassion, towards their fellow man or fellow animals. Although I have seen very poor tribes and people in mainland Africa, I never got the same sense of desperation or of lack of compassion. In part, perhaps it comes from the desperation of being born on an island you can never get off of. All the resources you are ever going to have are there, and they are scant. It is little surprise after meeting them that the Malagasy on the whole have no interest in conservation, the environment or species protection. They are far more concerned with creating a boat from a tree, a meal from an animal, or an advantage from absolutely anything they can.

It used to be that everywhere you went in Madagascar people would yell "Vazha!" which means foreigner. I only encountered this a few times, and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. But, usually when traveling I am asked about my own home and country. No one in Madagascar seemed at all interested in learning about anywhere else. And, if you knew you could never go there, perhaps you wouldn't want to know what was out there.

On the practical side, if you do decide to visit Madagascar, you have a weight limit for domestic flights which is strict: 11lbs for carry-on and 44lbs for checked baggage. I took a sleeping bag, Thermarest, and mosquito net...all useful, though I recommend a light sleeping bag as it is HOT. Obviously a good first aid kit, including Cipro, Oral Rehydration Salts, Immodium, anti-malarials, anti-inflammatories, antihistamine cream, anti-fungal cream, antibiotic ointment, and over the counter medications like Benadryl in case you have an allergic reaction. Sting pads for insects are also recommended. Bring band aids and moleskin for blisters. Water purification tablets are not a bad idea either.

For bugs, I highly recommend Ultrathon, a great lotion which contains deet and works wonders. When I applied it to part of my leg I could see a clear avoidance by mosquitos of it and everywhere I neglected to apply it I was bitten. For example, one night I forgot the part of my feet covered by sandals when I was applying the Ultrathon, so I got four bites there overnight.

I love Neutrogena sunscreen as it is non-oily and doesn't feel slimy, and also dust doesn't tend to stick to it as much. Portable Charmin is a huge must as this is largely a toilet paper free country. Also, wet wipes are truly indispensable, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. I brought 3lbs of power bars and 4lbs of books and longed for more of each. The only item I didn't need to bring was my snorkel, though I would not have known that without bringing it to see there were no fish and little coral.

A headlamp and backup flashlight are essential, along with spare batteries and a spare bulb (as I learned the hard way). Plastic garbage bags and ties are needed to protect your stuff on boat rides, and bring ziplocs for all electronics. I always take the Wolverine for data storage and the digital camera with extra batteries and cards, and this is vital when there is no electricity for long periods of time to recharge. I carry a small contingency camera as well, which I did not regret, and binoculars. The night vision scope, though cool, was not worth carrying over there. The animals move too fast for it to be that useful and you can see them when they are sitting still with a flashlight as well as you can night vision scope. Also, you can't find the animals easily without the glow of their eyes in the flashlight.

A collapsible cup was something I wished I had. I brought vitamins, Emergen-C and Airborne, and took one per day, and I was very glad I did. I think that contributed to me not getting sick during the trip.

It was a grand I am not sorry I undertook, but will likely never undertake again.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Anakao, and the End

The final stop on my trip before heading back to Antananarivo was Anakao. South of Tulear and on the west coast of Madagascar, Anakao is a nice place to relax if you aren't desperate to get off the island. I was told there was great snorkeling here - but this was not true. The coral is almost all dead and you're lucky to see a dozen fish.

I took a boat out to Nosy Ve, where I saw the endangered red-tailed tropic birds. They had chicks in the bushes - big fluffy black and white chicks. When the parents fed them, the chicks were very loud. The parents circled overhead, and it appeared they were pure white birds with yellow beaks and a red straw coming out of their tails. Apparently the birds only breed on this one island - therefore no surprise they are in trouble. Although the island is "protected" in reality it is not. There are fisherman on the island beaches. On the day I was there I saw at least 10 little boats, their owners laying in the sand or walking on the beach. One man was naked except for a T-shirt that did not cover his equipment. There were numerous piles of human excrement on the beach. There was a lot of trash, plastic, etc. strewn on the island. And, there was a domestic chicken.

How the chicken got there I don't know. There are some fire pits, so perhaps a fisherman brought the chicken for lunch and it got away. It seemed very thirsty, so I filled my snorkel mask with water three times and the chicken drank its fill. I knew it would probably be killed soon, but at least I could provide some comfort in the interim.

It was hard to enjoy snorkeling thinking about all the human excrement a few feet away on the beach...and frankly the only thing to see was a lot of sea urchins with very sharp spikes that need to be avoided at all costs.

I ate practically nothing here, and was horrified to see an enormous chunk of octopus leg on my guide's plate across the table. The vegetarian menu was rice, carrots and beans over and over again.

I rigged a mosquito net in my bungalow here that took engineering feats. I had to find a way to get a rope over a beam way too tall to reach and then devise a hook. I managed it after many tries and using some curtain rods and weights and a coat hanger.

Here I met two ENORMOUS hissing cockroaches and some giant nocturnal ants. The staff at the hotel tried to talk me out of my shoes, literally. By this point in the trip I wasn't surprised the "shower" was a bucket of salty water that I had to set in the sun to warm enough to use. I wanted desperately to get off the island. I was out of books and stuck reading a Hemingway book, the only thing I could find in English.

I'd write about the animals I saw here, if there were any...the only ones were two older rhodesian ridgebacks that belonged to the hotel owner. Sigh.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Gorgeous Place Among tthe Dust

Also in Tsimanampetsotse National Park I came across some very cool caves which collapsed, so they are like pits in the earth. Pictured here is one which has banyan tree roots growing way down into it, and shimmering aqua colored water at the bottom. This is like a green oasis in the middle of a completely dry, desert like area with no green vegetation. Overlooking this particular pit there was a parrot, also pictured, who cried out to me at great length. The parrots are black and grey - Madagascar has a lot of brightly colored things, but not parrots, apparently.

Other attractions at this park include baobab trees of various ages and types, lots of medicinal plants (all very unique), flamingos in a saline lake, and tortoises.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Madagascar's Oldest Tree

In Tsimanampetsotse National Park in southern Madagascar there is a baobab tree which is 3,000 years old. Known as "grandmother," the tree is still bearing fruit (which lo0ks like black peaches) and thriving. Grandmother is pictured here, along with a close up of her interestingly wrinkled skin. Six of the world's eight species of baobab are found in Madagascar, and many in this region of the island.

Also pictured is a blind cave fish endemic to Madagascar. The water in the cave has some salinity but the fish don't mind. The pools are small, the fish are few, and it seems very strange to have white, eyeless fish swimming in slow motion. It was a cool thing to see; if you click the fish photo it should enlarge for you to have a closer look.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Looking Ahead, and Back

I'll finish the Madagascar trip tales soon, but first, I interrupt. Although it has been a tough, tough week, I haven't felt up to writing about it at all until it has calmed down. This week, out of the blue, we almost lost Callie. She turns 5 next month.

Recovering from the shock and the emotional roller coaster will take a long time, but she is back home, and I hope she will be herself soon.

Monday night, we came home from work and Callie was fine. She had energy, she greeted us like always, she showed interest in everything as she always does. She bossed around the cats and Simon, she stole a sock to get my attention. Everything was normal.

About 7pm though, I heard her trying to get up. She couldn't get her hip under her. She couldn't stand - she tried and flopped down. Then a front leg acted like it too wouldn't work and was in a cramp. Then her head began to shake. I knew it had to be something neurological so we raced her to the emergency vet. As we sped across town, I held her in the back seat. She was scared - her eyes were wide, but focusing on me. She was trying to sit but she couldn't control her body. She tried to move and it was clear she had intention and couldn't carry it out. Her shaking became violent and I feared she wouldn't make it as far as the clinic. I didn't know if it was a seizure or what.

At first, they thought it was epilepsy and asked us to leave her overnight. Then around 2am we got a call they thought it was antifreeze poisoning and needed to give her a series of shots to have any chance of saving her. Since she was in fenced pasture all day with no access to antifreeze this seemed impossible, but of course we agreed to the treatment. We could tell from researching that if she encountered any toxin and it was in the neurological stage, her chances of survival were very small. The vet gave us 50/50 odds. All of a sudden, it seemed the world had stopped and the bottom had fallen out.

As time went on, Callie's liver and kidney functions remained good, and she had no crystals which would be expected with antifreeze consumption. Poison began to look less likely. Since her neurological symptoms persisted and she remained ataxic, a brain tumor became a strong possibility. She remained in the hospital day and night, and we visited, watching her fall into walls on her face, try to walk and wipe out, fall to the side, and keep trying. She was scheduled for an MRI and a spinal tap to try and determine the cause of the problem.

Then, remarkably, she was so much better that the internist decided that she did not need the MRI. A brain tumor should not have symptoms lessen and disappear like Callie's were. So, the most likely thing became a neurotoxin, in a sub-lethal dose. None of the other pets were sick. We searched the pastures and found nothing unusual.

After almost 100 hours in the hospital, Callie came home today. She acts like she's been through something. She's tired. She's happy to be home. She can't jump on the bed yet. Her back legs don't work quite right yet. Sitting seems a tad hard for her. We still see little tiny things that don't seem right. But she is so much better...and she is alive.

We are extremely grateful to the nursing staff and doctors at Westvet in Garden City. Their care was exceptional. We are lucky to have access to such a facility.

I can't describe the emotional roller coaster - but I did note that I went through shock and denial, a lot of fear, grief, anger, and I was willing to accept handicaps if she could just live. I couldn't bear the thought of her dying. I was okay with her being impaired, we could build her a handicapped agility course, we could compensate. But then, I couldn't help thinking how vibrant she was, and how could it be gone, and why? How could I not cry watching her not able to do puppy laps or play fetch anymore? I knew Callie could accept it; I didn't know how I would.

I'm afraid to leave her side even for a second. We don't understand what happened, or why. Maybe it will happen again. All I know tonight is that I feel time stopped, and everything warped, and for a time life was suspended. The house was empty; my daily life is wrapped around her in every way and I am never home when she is not. I regretted the days I've spent away from her. I regretted all the things we hadn't done yet.

While I like to think I spoil all the kids, Callie will no doubt be getting extra. I have another chance. Whatever time she has left - which I hope is a good ten years plus, I don't want to take one second of it for granted. She came back from the brink somehow. I still don't know how I feel other than so relieved she is still alive and she can walk again. My empathy for parents who have to deal with life threatening situations with their kids has gone up dramatically. The world keeps going when all you can do is sit and stare numbly at it. And without your best dog, that is a lonely, hard thing to do.

If your dog has gone through something similar, please comment. I want to learn all I can. It's frustrating not to know what happened. Whatever you do, after you read this, go hug your dog.