Saturday, September 15, 2012

The best laid plans...

I had big plans for this summer. Go camping.  Train up Buddy for longer hikes.  Wander through the woods with the dogs.  Hike around the Columbia Gorge.  Go camping again.  Explore the Puget Sound.  Stay at our family vacation home up on the Washington coast, the dogs and ducks in tow.  And what did I actually accomplish?  Sadly, none of it. 

At first, the slow start to summer waylaid my plans - it is quite difficult, I have found, to get excited about camping if it means hunkering down with three wet, muddy dogs as we listen to rain dripping onto the tent for hours on end.  There goes May and half of June.  By mid June it was finally clearing up and I was attempting to set up a camping expedition or two with my sister, a person I had always loved spending time with, but - long story short - she was being rude, condescending, and self-absorbed and I was tired of putting up with it.  We have not spoken since the end of June.

July was taken up with keeping the Unfarm running while my parents went on various trips, and designing and building a new chicken coop to house the Littles, who were out growing their temporary housing in the living room.  We have a coop for the Ladies, but the size difference is too big and the Ladies tend to pick on the Littles, so shutting them all up in one coop overnight seemed too dangerous a prospect, especially with Penny the Attack Chicken on guard for the Ladies.

August - surely now I can find some time to go camping with my pups.  Apparently not.  August got taken up with time spent manning the Unfarm while my parents went camping (lucky them) and then one of my cousins came down from Washington to stay with us for a week. We spent most of the time hanging out with the animals, doing some arts and crafts, and going on a couple tax free shopping sprees.  By the end of August there was light at the end of the tunnel - I might finally get to go camping. Or not. Buddy the wonder dog got out into the front yard and, somehow, he managed to injure his leg. 

This happened, as these things always seem to, just minutes after our vet had closed for the day.  He spent the rest of the evening favoring that leg and by the next morning it had swollen up to a huge lump around his wrist joint and he wouldn't stand at all.  We carried him into the vet and several x-rays later we got the verdict: he had dislocated a bone in his wrist and torn the ligament.  We still don't know how he managed to do that - he had only been outside for 2 or 3 minutes.  Apparently, he does everything fast: run, eat, play, and dislocate his wrist.

The vet wrapped his leg in a huge green-striped cast - which gave him the appearance (and feel, no doubt) of having replaced one leg with a large watermelon - and sent us to the orthopedic vet.  A few days later (they wanted to wait for the swelling to go down a bit) he went to the vet's office for surgery and an overnight observation.  It was the first time he has ever been away from all of us overnight and I don't know who was more distressed - him or myself.  We both survived it and news from the surgery was good: he had dislocated his wrist but had not torn any ligaments, which the vet was rather surprised at and said that was hard to do.  Finally - something goes our way at the vet's office.  And here we were convinced that we were single handedly responsible for supporting the entire veterinary profession in our state.

However, even with the good news from the vet Buddy was still put into a cast that he will have to wear for at least 6 weeks.  In addition, he has to be kept quiet and prevented from running, playing, jumping on or off of furniture, and going up or down stairs.  All of which he does on a regular basis, and continued to do as if nothing had changed.  The sedatives they gave us might as well have been placebos for all the good they did.  In addition to the sedatives, he is also on thyroid medication, pain medicines, and antibiotics which he must take two to three times a day.  But that is another story.

We are about two weeks in now and by the time he is back to his regular routine it will be cold, and wet, and dark and much too late to consider camping.  

Normally I could handle this disappointment but this year is particularly hard because Kita has always loved camping and I don't know how many summers he has left.  At 15 he is already elderly and his arthritis gets worse every year. A depressing thought, I know, and I usually try to keep this blog lighthearted but death is an unfortunate part of life on the Unfarm at times.  I suppose I could spare myself the pain of losing my little ones by not having pets, but then life would not be nearly so worthwhile.  And besides, it would be incredibly selfish of me to not provide a safe and loving home for an animal simply because it causes me pain when they go.

Signing off for now - time to give Aspen, Buddy, Kita and Maia their medicines.  Between all of them I fear we may be in danger of wiping out entire pharmacies. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The curse of being an artist

We all know that hobbies come with supplies. Whether you collect stuff, build model airplanes or create art, you need supplies.  Especially if you do art.  Which I do.  And not just one kind of art - I dabble in pastels, felting, fiber arts, watercolor, acrylic, quilting, and mixed media.  

And there's the rub: mixed media.  It means that I can find a use for almost anything, which, of course, means that I need to add it to my collection of supplies.  Even stuff that most people would pass up, I see inspiration in.  Old dominos? I could use those.  Second hand dictionaries, one english and one french? I could use those.  Mountains of small formica sample tiles?  Better stock up.  Samples of laminate wood flooring?  I could use those as a base for a mixed media piece: cheaper than canvas, and it's recycling!  Partially used spools of thread?  I would hate to be in the middle of a project and run out - I should probably get at least seven.  Bags of yarn from the 1980s - for FREE?  I'll take as many as I can fit in my car.  Piles of small boxes?  I'm sure I'd find a use for them the minute they drive off in the recycling truck, so I'll just hold on to them for now.  

And then there are the legitimate art supplies.  Those pads of scrap booking paper that Michael's occasionally offers for sale at 40% or (gasp!) 50% off?  How can I pass that up?  Stamps?  I'll need alphabets in several different fonts, as well as nature prints, and flowers, and swirls, and shapes, and... Of course, you can't stamp without ink pads, so I'll need one in every color.  Canvas?  You bet - some small, some large, some medium, and a few more small.  Colored pencils, crayons, paints, brushes, pastels, beads, fimo clay, wire and glue.  Each item in itself is not much of a problem, but when they add up, you get this: a room scattered with fabrics, papers, stamps, boxes and books in an attempt to "organize."  Somehow, whenever I organize, things always seem to get worse before they get better.  

In this case, things have been "worse" for a few days now as I attempt to fit all my supplies into one room in an orderly manner.  Add to this the complication of sharing this room with the ducks, my office supplies, and three rabbits and all their supplies.  It's not looking good.  At this point the only thing I can be grateful for is the fact that at least the rabbits are not artists.  They seem much more interested in destruction than creation, as evidenced by the shredded phone book that Clover is, at this very moment, ripping up and tossing around his cage, and the numerous pads of carpet that I have had to replace once they are reduced to 1/3 their original size and a pile of carpet fibers strewn about their cages.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The grass is always greener...

It would seem that the old saying is true: the grass is always greener on the other side, or perhaps I should say, the food is always better in the other bowl.  We seem to be forever playing musical food bowls here on the Unfarm.  

The dogs, for instance, are constantly on alert for any opportunity to get into the cat food, or worse, the sand cookies (our term for what shows up in the litter box after the cats have digested their own food.)  Minna has mastered the art of sneaking under the gate and waddling into the chicken run to eat any food the chickens have left behind.  The rabbits appear to have no particular desire to eat anyone else's food, but Maia considers bunny berries (aka rabbit poop) a delicacy. (I don't see the appeal either, but there you have it.)  The chickens are equal opportunity snackers, eating not only their own food but any scraps we toss their way (they are particularly fond of corn cobs and melon rinds) whatever crumbs they can glean from the kitchen floor and duck food.  

Not only are the animals getting into forbidden fruits on their own, I think they may have enlisted help.  I suspect that one or more of the animals may have formed an alliance with the squirrels.  The chickens and ducks can often be found sitting under the squirrel feeder, catching bits of corn and seeds that the squirrels "accidentally" knock off the feeder while searching for the ultimate prize: peanuts.  In addition, I am quite sure that the dogs and ducks have a longstanding agreement - the dogs are forever nosing open the bunny room door (where the ducks spend the night) thus allowing the ducks to waddle down the hallway and into the kitchen where they proceed to splash in the dog's water bowl, making a mess that I must then clean up.  I can see what the ducks get out of the arrangement but I am still unsure as to what's in it for the dogs.  Perhaps they simply think it's funny to watch me chasing ducks around the house.  

Speaking of ducks, Maggie has recently discovered the dog's food bowl.  She will often sneak a couple mouthfuls while I'm busy chasing after Minna, trying to wrangle her into her diaper.  (If you have never seen ducks running, let me assure you that they are by no means slow animals - they can cover considerable distance in a hurry when they want to.)  For the most part, the cats seem to leave the other animals food alone - I expect they consider it beneath them to stoop to eating dog food and the grain and hay the other animals eat holds no appeal for them.  They do, however, flock to the kitchen whenever a can of tuna or salmon is being opened, and Aspen has insisted on milk at least once a day for the entire 16+ years we have lived with him.  If you decide that you don't want to get him milk until you are done, say, eating breakfast, he will help himself: he jumps up onto the table and sticks his head in your bowl to drink your milk.  

I would attempt to come up with a clever, witty ending to this post, but ironically, I can hear Maggie scarfing down Kita's dinner in the kitchen so I'm off to chase down two incorrigible ducks.  Until next time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Updates from the Unfarm

It has been a while since I've checked in so another session of Unfarm Updates is in order. I (barely) survived the school year, managing to pull off A's and B's in a soil science class and a computer class. The computer class was especially tedious with lots of little details to memorize and four proctored tests to take. (Really, proctored exams in a 100 level online class? Please.) Needless to say, I was more than happy to cross that class off my list and I will never have to take another computer class for as long as I live. Do you hear angels singing, too, or is it just me?

Speaking of angels, we've had another loss here on the Unfarm. Poor little Suki-mama passed away about a month ago. She had been suffering from kidney disease for a while and eventually lost about half her body weight. Despite the best vet care we could provide, the disease was too severe and she passed away here at home in the morning. I had checked on her as soon as I woke up and found her sitting in her litter box, not looking great but hanging in there. I returned less than half an hour later, after eating breakfast and preparing her medicine, to find that she had passed away. So far, Jojo – who was her mate – seems to be doing tolerably and is not moping much, so I have hopes that he will not decline as time goes on and I will not be forced to lose another of my children any time soon.

Such is the cycle of life, I suppose. No matter how much we may want to, we can't stop it from turning. The way I handle it, usually, is to bring a new animal to the Unfarm. And so we have found ourselves with a couple new additions: Buttercup, a Chantecler breed chick, and Belle, a Brahma. “We found ourselves with a couple new additions” may imply that they showed up on our doorstep one morning, with their small possessions wrapped up in a bandana, carried over their shoulders on tiny sticks. This is not what happened. What did occur was more along the lines of my mother lamenting the fact that our hens don't lay eggs nearly as often now that they are more mature, which I took to mean, “perhaps we should get more chickens.” She will, of course, deny this if you ask her, so I took it upon myself to go to the local store and pick up a couple rarey breed chicks. When adding chickens to an existing flock, it is best to add two or more at a time, so that they have a companion while they are young and a partner once they join the flock, to prevent the older hens from picking on them too much. So really, it would have been irresponsible of me to only get one. Once she got over her shock, Mom quickly warmed up to the chicks and now calls them “her girls” or “the littles” (as opposed to our established flock - "the ladies") and likes to say goodnight to them before going to sleep. So really, I did her a favor.

I feel that I should perhaps mention another disclaimer - despite what most of my family thinks, I am not an animal hoarder.  I do not acquire animals willy nilly, so to speak. I never have more animals than I can take care of, or more than we have room for, or more than we can afford to care for.  It is quite possible that, if asked, my parents would argue that last point - they frequently complain that we have surely funded an additional wing or two on our vet's office by now, but when it comes down to it, we have never euthanized an animal that was not ready to go because of costs.  We pay for laser treatments for arthritis, surgery for kidney stones, specialists in cardiology and hysterectomies on hens.  It has always been my opinion that money can eventually be replaced, but we will never have another Kita, or Emmy, Dandelion the hen, or Patches the guinea pig.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Adding Insult to Injury

Aspen got a bath today, which would be bad enough in itself, but the bath was on top of the haircut he got this morning.  A lion cut, which means that he was completely shaved down except for his head, his lower legs, and a poof on his tail.  I can only imagine how humiliated he must feel to now more closely resemble a poodle than the distinguished Norwegian forest cat he is.  

I should perhaps mention, in case I haven't in the past, that we do not shave him because it amuses us. (It is actually something of an ordeal as he cannot be groomed without sedation and must therefore be taken to the vet and placed under observation while he is under the anesthetic and after he comes out of it.)  We shave him once a year, near the beginning of summer, because he has spent the previous twelve months growing his coat out and nursing an impressive crop of mats and by this point he has at least a good half dozen in various places on his chest and stomach.  Brushing his fur is out of the question unless we develop the desire to experience life as an amputee as he has no qualms about biting (and scratching) the hand that feeds him.

The bath is not something we usually do, but today he messed in his carrier on the way home and by the time we got to the house he stank to high heaven, so it was either subject him to a bath or break out the gas masks and hope the scent cleared.  The bath, however, put an already cranky cat into a foul temper and he crept into a bed under one of the desks and proceeded to mope for the next five hours, looking decidedly angry and shivering even with the heater on.  And so now, to top it all off, if the weather doesn't warm up soon, we might have to contemplate getting him a sweater of some sort.  If it comes to that, it might be wise to have the Red Cross on standby because I don't see us getting through that without serious bodily harm.  Let's all pray for sun.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Claim This Land in the Name of [insert individual bunny name here]

At current count, the Unfarm has 4 rabbits. Two single males, and one bonded pair consisting of a male and a female. They are house rabbits who hang out with me in my office/studio. Can't you just picture it: four cute, cuddly, fluffy rabbits hopping around the room together, munching on veggies and then flopping onto their sides and grooming one another?

I can't. Oh sure, they are fluffy and cute and they do love to hop around, munching on treats and chewing whatever they can get their teeth on (furniture, power cords, books, etc), but let them all out at once and what you have, far from being a group of contented rabbits, is a rolling, kicking, biting, scratching ball of flying fur. Bunnies are vicious, territorial little animals. Bonding them takes a great deal of time and energy, if it happens at all.

And after a vet bill totaling over $1000, I am scared off of trying to bond the rabbits for the time being. I might clarify that it isn't just about the money, it has more to do with the damage (physical and emotional) they inflict upon each other before I can break up the fighting. This means that giving the rabbits time out each day necessitates a rather elaborate set up of ramps and gates in an effort to allow the rabbit(s) access to their own cage while simultaneously blocking their access to cords and furniture they will chew on as well as the other rabbit cages, as they have a tendency to pee around them while trying to claim the entire room as their own personal territory. It doesn't matter how many times I tell them that the room is actually my territory, not theirs - they refuse to believe me. Rabbits are surprisingly stubborn animals.

The ramp is the newest addition to the bunny room - it was required after I put two of the three cages up on tables and left only Clover's cage on the floor. There were two reasons behind this move; first, I figured that putting the cages up on tables would allow me to position them so that they weren't sticking out into the center of the room as much and I could store the litter boxes and large bin of hay underneath one of the tables, instead of on top of Suki and Jojo's cage; and secondly, by raising Suki and Jojo's cage, as well as Basil's, up out of sight of rabbits loose on the floor, I hoped that the bunnies would feel less territorial and would therefore mark less while out gallivanting around the room. Clover's cage was chosen to remain on the floor as he tends to be the neatest, tidiest rabbit with the best litter box manners and he rarely marks while out.

When Suki, Jojo or Basil are allowed out, I open the cage door and put in the ramp (hinged to allow them safe and easy access to the ramp from inside their cages, and carpeted to give them secure footing). After a few minutes spent getting accustomed to it, they now happily hop up and down the ramp and have constant access to their litter boxes while enjoying their time out.

Not that it has helped - the rabbits continue in their efforts to claim the entire room for themselves. any areas not blocked off or protected by plastic hall runner. It seems my only option is to keep a floor cleaner close at hand or squirt the rabbits with water if I happen to catch them in the act.

Not that it has helped - the rabbits are of the opinion that I clearly do not understand whose territory is whose. In an effort to clarify things, Basil tells me that the whole room is his. Suki and Jojo, on the other hand, insist that they own the whole room. Clover doesn't understand what all the fuss is about - he would rather leave the arguing to the other three bunnies while he focuses on the important things in life: chewing through all of the most expensive electrical cords and art supplies that I have been careless enough to leave unguarded. And by unguarded, I mean those objects that are blocked only by very heavy pieces of furniture and numerous gates. As anyone who lives with rabbits knows, if I really wanted to keep something safe, I would surround it with a five foot high gate of metal mesh, attached to the wall on both ends by no less than 5 bolts and topped with barbed wire.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tip from the Unfarm

Sometimes, on occasion, things get dirty around here. Shocked? Understandable. But it is true. With fourteen animals running in and out of the house and the mud pit that the back yard becomes during the long rainy season, it's a wonder you can tell the inside from the outside at all. Sometimes it seems easier just to throw down some straw in the living room and hose everything down come summer.

Alas, I am outvoted and we are forced to clean. Not only do we have the usual chores - sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, etc - but we also have all the animal related chores which include (but are not limited to) scrubbing pet dishes; washing duck diapers; keeping all the various dog, cat chicken, duck, rabbit, bird and squirrel foods stocked up; keeping cat and rabbit litter boxes cleaned out and shampooing the carpets when the dogs run in with muddy feet. (You know you have a lot of pets when the purchase of an industrial carpet cleaner is like Christmas morning.)

In addition to keeping the bird feeders full all year, they also need to be cleaned out regularly, which brings me to my tip. Hummingbird feeders are particularly troublesome to clean out, having such a narrow little opening so we here on the Unfarm have come up with a handy, reusable, eco-friendly cleaner.

Grit. We bought a small bag of grit (small rocks) from the feed store that we keep in an old peanut butter jar. When it's time to clean the feeder, pour in a small handful of grit, add some water and a little soap, plug the hole with your thumb and shake the feeder. You'll probably have to swirl it around and shake it fairly hard, but the rocks act as little scrubbers inside the jar, getting any dirt or mildew cleaned off. When the feeder is clean simply pour the rocks out into the jar to use next time. Since the rocks sink to the bottom, you can pour out most of the water and then let what's left evaporate with the lid off. You can buy small amounts of grit from the bulk bins in a feed store, it's relatively cheap and it's infinitely reusable. Plus, chemical free!

There you have it: hopefully at least one of your chores will be a little easier. Now if I could only find a way to use gravel to clean the rest of the house...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Single Serve Molten Chocolate Cake

1 tablespoon butter, plus extra for greasing
1/2 - 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, flour, OR sugar
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
4 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Thoroughly butter a 3/4 cup ramekin, then coat it with unsweetened cocoa powder, flour OR sugar. (Put in a small amount of the dry ingredient in the ramekin and tilt to get the bottom evenly covered, then tap the ramekin as you turn it, coating the sides as well. Dump out any extra.) Set ramekin aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate chips together and stir well. I used a double boiler but next time I'll try it in the microwave - one less dish to wash.

Whisk the egg and sugar together in a small bowl, then mix into the chocolate mixture until well incorporated, then stir in salt and flour until just mixed. Pour the batter into the ramekin, place on a baking sheet and put on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 7-10 minutes for a molten center (a 3/4 inch ring around the edge will look dull) or 10 to 12 minutes for a soft center (cake edge will look slightly puffy.)

Let cool a couple minutes and enjoy.

I've made this recipe twice now, and the first time I baked it for somewhere around the 7-10 minute range and it turned out to be almost entirely batter, with baked edges. Much too doughy for my taste, although it made an okay chocolate topping for the ice cream I had it with. Although, I did have 7 ramekins in the oven that time. The second time I made it I stuck to a single ramekin and baked it longer, until the top had puffed up out of the dish about half an inch and it was much better that way. But feel free to experiment on your own.

The original recipe called for a tablespoon of peanut butter instead of the additional tablespoon of chocolate chips, but I'm not that crazy about peanut butter in baking so I swapped it out. I found the recipe in Sunset magazine (my absolute favorite - I highly recommend it if you live on the west coast) and they got it from Joy the Baker Cookbook.