Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Baby elephant in the snow

This video was taken at the Portland, OR zoo. The baby elephant clearly loves the snow - wish I could see this in person! Reminds me of babies in the mud in Africa.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sticks in the Snow

I bought a house a few years ago from a man who had lived there nearly all his life. He built the house, adding on as his family grew. He built the pasture fence, out of heavy boards and wooden poles. He built a chicken coop – a big one, with roosts, nesting boxes, multiple compartments, and a little chicken play yard. And, he built a playhouse for his daughter. I don’t live in the house; I bought it for the pasture, adjacent to mine, and I rent the house out. I knew this man for the final few years of his life, and I knew his wife, for the final few years of her life, which ended a few years before his. I used to visit them, since they were neighbors, and hear stories of the neighborhood and how it has changed over time from an orchard to a quarter horse training facility to homes and cul de sacs.

The site of his house was an old bootlegger cabin. My other rental (also purchased for the pasture) was one of the first houses built, in 1915, and my house wasn’t long after, in 1920. He knew all the people who’d ever owned my house. His wife told me about the willow tree she planted, that still grows in the yard, huge and shady. I sat with them at their kitchen table and looked out the window at my horses grazing in their pasture (by arrangement, of course).

I have always appreciated all the little details; how he organized his garage, built the shelves in the hallway, lived his whole life without a bathtub. He died this year, so it’s the first year since I’ve lived here that I’m not sending him a Christmas card, updating him on the horses, chatting about the flood irrigation problems.

This year, I’m trying to heat the house with a fire and save on energy costs – and it’s working. Bills are down by 2/3rds and I like the fire. I’ve moved the bed into the living room; it’s almost too hot falling asleep, and crispy cold in the morning or mid-afternoon before the fire gets going. It’s not freezing – I have the thermostat on 64, but it’s 78 or so with a fire (in the living room –it stays very cold in the rest of the house). All this fire building takes newspapers (which I collect at the office from co-workers), kindling (which I am short on), and wood (which I have gathered over the years). So, I decided to raid the woodpile at the old man’s former house. He collected and organized the wood by size and stacked it in the chicken coop yard. I doubt he had a fire during the last 10 years he owned the house, but old habits die hard. The renter doesn’t use the fireplace. And, I need kindling…so I decided to start bringing over the smaller wood to my house.

I walked across the frozen pasture with the dogs. When I got to the wood pile, I marveled again at his carefulness. The wood was organized by size, and carefully cut and stacked. Cardboard boxes tied with twine contained twigs he’d collected from the apple tree out back. These little twigs are the type most people rake up with leaves and toss. But, he lived through the depression. Leaves were compost. Sticks were firewood. Everything had a purpose. Everything got recycled.

I thought about the current recession, vs. the great depression, which my parents lived through as well. I admired the old man’s frugalness, his patience, his attention to detail. I imagined him stacking all that wood. Every scrap of wood, from whatever source, was there. I could see remnants of home projects, pallets, shelves, fence boards, tree branches, sticks, twigs and more.

As I picked the sizes I wanted, I thought about how it would be nice to clean out all the wood over the next couple of years and maybe have chickens in the coop again. I love my house – but I also love his. I love that out his window you can see the pasture, whereas out mine I see a big tree. I like his coop better than mine. Not that I need more chickens – but I do love having them. And although I live in the city, with a busy city job, I have always wanted to live in the country and have a ranch and tons of animals. This is a good compromise, but I am always hoping I can live the ritual of life without the ritual of work. I wouldn’t mind gathering twigs, growing food, feeding the animals, and taking care of the property all day. There is a certain peace that comes with that lifestyle vs. the one I have; I can glimpse it now and then but never seem to hold onto it long term – my job doesn’t let me.

Walking home across the pasture again, I missed my dad, who had the same kind of old guy organization and the same kind of depression era saving stuff habit. I was happy to be able to make use of the wood for its intended purpose, right down to appreciating the convenience of being able to carry a twine tied box of twigs to my back porch for use with fire.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas Chick

We weren't really doing anything for Christmas this year. We gave up presents a few years back, and sometimes we take a trip, but money is tight this year and I'd had plans to have a surgery I ended up skipping, so I was supposed to be laid up for the holiday. It seems I never have the energy to decorate anymore - partly because it's a pain to haul all the stuff out by myself and pack it all up by myself, partly because decorations remind me of my dad and missing him gets depressing, and partly because cats and decorations are not particularly compatible. Sometimes I put up the fake tree and let the cats lay in the branches, but even that is a lot of work. Since I'm not into the religious or material/commercial aspects of Christmas, it leaves only the food and cookies. Cookies are a given - an excuse to make them is all I need. As for the food, I'm working on vegan or vegetarian main courses that we can look forward to....but that's hard to develop.

Anyway, I was geared up for basically nothing this year, skipping nearly every aspect of the holiday, when I got a call this morning. It seems that in the dead of winter, in the coldest week of the year, one lone baby chick was born. Someone called me and asked if I might be willing to take it on, along with its mom, as it was in her kitchen and couldn't really stay there. I am known to have a heated chicken coop (it's really just a very well insulated coop that has a heat lamp in it, so "heated" is a stretch, maybe "warmed"). I am also known to be a soft touch so big surprise - someone calls and wants me to take about any baby animal in, and I'm probably going to find a way to say YES.

As I thought about it, I didn't think I could possibly integrate the new hen and chick with my existing flock of four, for four main reasons. One, they need time to get to know each other and work out the pecking order and I don't want mom or baby getting pecked on by the others. That process takes about three weeks based on my limited experience, and I don't want to throw them in there without some get acquainted time and supervision. Two, the new hen could have mites or something that my current flock does not - they are clean and just molted and I'd like to keep them that way. While I have no reason to believe mom isn't healthy, observation and separation is a good idea for any newcomers. Three, the books I have say chicks need it to be about 90 degrees - which can be accomplished with warm temperatures and mom's wing, or a heat bulb. Clearly, teens and twenties would not work well - and if 60's can cause a fatal chick chill, no way I'm sending a chick a few days old out when it has no feathers and it's below freezing - warmed coop or no. Fourth, the chick is so small it can walk right through the chain link fence, so it would not be secure from predators and it could get separated from mom. So, clearly, I had to come up with an indoor setup for a few weeks.

I wanted to be able to reach in the top, and also have confidence the dogs and cats aren't going to have a snack, so I chose a dog crate. I lined it with cardboard, put in some wood shavings, and experimented with food and water bowls. I added a cardboard "nest box" that has some flaps so mom and baby can "hide" from the other pets if they want. I put it in the living room near the fire. And then I waited for the baby to arrive - as excited as any kid on Christmas morning.

And then they arrived. Momma hen turned out to be a bantam or bantam cross I think, she's about 2/3 the size of my hens. She's black and pretty. She lets me pet her and she makes a sound when she's nervous like she's telling herself it's going to be okay. The chick is black and its sex is unknown (I hope it's a girl so I can keep it; roosters aren't allowed in the city and I am not much for fertilized eggs either). Too soon to tell.

The cats lined up IMMEDIATELY, super intrigued. When I let the dogs in the cats had to switch to the crate roof. The dogs were super intrigued as well, especially Callie. She is addicted. She didn't even want to leave the chicken long enough to lick a macaroni and cheese pot, her favorite!!! All the pets love outdoor "chicken tv," but man oh man, they loooooooove indoor chick tv. The mom came from a place that has cats and dogs so she is not overly disturbed by them. The chick just peeps and sleeps, and stands on the feeder and pecks at the chick starter. Mom and baby are cute, warm, and welcome.

In case Callie's devotion bothered mom, I covered the crate with a blanket. The photos show Callie remaining dialed despite blanket, and momma and baby.

We get to have Christmas after the form of a special chick. It brings newness, surprise, and joy to the house. Something to look forward to every day - not unlike foster kittens.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Broccoli Kitten LOVES Broccoli!

Admittedly, the human voices on this are annoying so it's tempting to mute it - but then you would miss the very cute kitten sounds. The paws and the sounds are stunningly adorable. I thought Nadia's arugula habit was funny but this kitten and broccoli trump her in the cute department!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Silk: Simply Amazing!!!

Silk makes some seasonal soymilks that are truly incredible!!!! If you haven't already, you've got to try Nog!!! Also amazing is Pumpkin Spice, another seasonal flavor, and Mocha is good too. In fact, I just can't believe it's soymilk. In addition, Silk makes a soy creamer for coffee that is just to die for. I love the Hazlenut flavor best, but French Vanilla isn't bad either. Vegan, good for you, fewer calories than dairy, and great flavor...what more could you ask for?? Fred Meyer has a decent selection, but the Co-Op has even more options.
If you haven't tried it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. YUM.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Save Some Sheep

Bighorn sheep lived plentifully in Idaho at one time, and today there are about 2,000 in the State. Researchers attribute the sharp decline in population to contact with domestic sheep and contracting domestic diseases, for which of course wild sheep are not vaccinated. The Payette National Forest is currently accepting public comments on management alternatives for long term solutions. Providing disease free areas for bighorn sheep can be accomplished by closing grazing to domestic sheep where contact between species is likely. You can contact the Payette National Forest and urge them to adopt management alternative 7E, which according to the Sierra Club best reduces the risk of disease transmission from domestic to big horn sheep in the Payette National Forest. Send your comments by December 26th to Payette National Forest, Attn: Bighorn Sheep Comments, 800 W. Lakeside Ave., McCall, ID 83638 or email them to This photo of a Big Horn Sheep (Male), Near Jasper, Alberta was taken in October 2007 by Alan D. Wilson and can be reused when properly attributed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dry Dock for the Rainy Season

These are some pictures of a "dry dock" I put in a few years ago at my farrier's suggestion; a place where the horses could get out of the mud in winter. At his recommendation I put in red cinder, which is like red volcanic rock ground up. It works like a nail file on the horses feet and makes them strong (they don't wear shoes). I like it better than gravel, way better than dirt, but it has some downsides: it gets dusty in summer. It also gets tracked out of the dock into the pasture. But it is cheaper than sand, and weeds don't grow in it. The bad news is that it's time to add more red rock - and the mine has closed down as the mine owner passed away. It's in Canyon County. So, if anyone knows where to get some of this is the treasure valley, let me know!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The International Rescue Committee in Boise

I have supported only one charity over the past several years that focuses exclusively on humans vs. animals or the environment, and that is the International Rescue Committee. I have seen some of their work on the ground in Africa, and they have excellent ratings for using donations for programs, not administration and fundraising. They go places other aid organizations won't.

A few months ago I decided to take a break from volunteering with the Idaho Humane Society as a foster parent. After losing two kittens this summer and going through a really bat bout of kitty illnesses, I desperately needed a break. Even though work and life get very busy though, I like to have some amount of volunteer activity going on because, in the big picture, I want to make as many small differences as I can and not use the all too common excuse that "I'm busy" to justify not doing work that needs to be done.

Recently I watched two documentaries on refugees from Sudan trying to settle into the U.S. and the problems they encountered in adjusting to the American way of life. The challenges ranged from learning how to cook and dispose of trash to learning the language, mastering mass transportation, and dealing with racism. The biggest challenge seemed to be accepting the independence of America as opposed to the community style of life in Africa. It got me thinking that volunteering to assist refugees new to Boise might be a good way to lend a hand. I learned that the International Rescue Committee has opened a Boise chapter in the last two years, so I volunteered and was assigned a family from Africa.

So far I have been working with them on language and customs and getting to know them as best I can across the language barriers. I know a few Swahili words and they know some Swahili though it's not their primary language. They know a teeny bit of English and we are working on more. I really like their kids, especially a little girl of nearly two who likes my exotically light and straight hair and likes to fall asleep more or less petting me. I really like going to the store with them and seeing how they make decisions in an environment where they can't understand most of the language. I tried to explain the difference between tomato sauce and whole peeled tomatoes and diced tomatoes, but this was clearly a little of a mystery to them as all the cans had photos of tomatoes on them. So far it's been a little bit of an adventure, but rather fun, and I feel like it's time well spent. The language barrier is great practice for travel in a foreign land, and I am hoping to learn more Swahili and a bit of their native language along the way if I can. It's very clear that coming here, with nothing (not even any education to speak of) is a true challenge and if I can make that a little easier, I'll be glad. I have always felt welcomed on mainland Africa and if I can make some displaced Africans feel welcome in my own country, I'll be glad.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Some Smart Chickens

Last night was very cold, below freezing, and I made a mistake. I forgot to plug in the chicken water bowl, which heats and doesn't freeze. As a result, this morning, there was ice in the bowl and not water. When I went to check on them at noon, I discovered the mistake - and also learned the chickens had derived a very clever solution to it. The four chickens had cooperated to all press down on one side of the ice until it tipped and gave them a little water on one side. Then they took turns taking little drinks from the side they tipped down. I saw them all press with their beaks. This impressed me, I have to say.

Simon, the dog, is very good at getting water when a bowl is full of ice. He knows how to tip the bowl and get the ice out, and how to tip it enough to get the water on the bottom that isn't frozen without tipping it all the way and letting the water drain out. Simon has water in the house, but he plays with the outdoor water that's frozen. I've seen other dogs do similar things, but then, I know dogs are smart.

The chickens - I wasn't expecting this. I will try not to forget the chicken water plug in for the rest of the winter...but I thought it was cool they solved the problem on their own. Athena (light golden one on the right) is looking like a new chicken - post molt with her new feathers there is no longer a bare spot made by a rooster. Gwen is also looking great, though still finishing her molt - all the scars from the fox incident should be gone now. I have also learned that the chickens don't lay in winter - no eggs at all. Which is just as well since it's freezing.