Monday, November 11, 2013

Sewing needle tote tutorial

Because I can't seem to resist a sale, I have amassed an impressive collection of sewing needles; but I hate the packages they come in - those stupid plastic holders never seem to want to surrender the needles without a fight. Annoying needle packages + fabric scraps I wanted to use up + a chance to procrastinate on the things I should be doing = a sewing needle tote tutorial!

Step 1: Gather supplies. Some felt fabric, mine was 4x7 inches. Cotton fabric, I used a piece 17x21 inches, a cutting mat and rotary cutter - regular and pinking (or fabric scissors), a sewing machine.

Step 2: Iron your cotton fabric, then fold in half, right sides together, leaving the third side open.

Step 3: Turn right side out and press the open edge under about half an inch, toward the inside of the fabric pocket.

Step 4: Topstitch around the entire piece.

Step 5: Fold each end in to meet in the middle, on the long edge.

Step 6: Fold the bottom and top edges in towards the middle, forming a pocket.

Step 7: Measure the size of the folded fabric. Mine was 8 inches long, 4.5 inches tall.

Step 8: Cut some felt slightly smaller than the folded size. Use pinking scissors or a pinking rotary blade if you want to make it look nicer. I cut mine 7 inches by 4 inches.

Step 9: Take a pin and mark the center of your folded pocket.

Step 10: Cut a piece of ribbon long enough to tie around the pocket. 

Step 11: Sew this to the center front of the pocket

Step 12: Organize your needles by pinning them through the felt sheet. (Or sheets plural, if you are anything like me.)

Step 13: Unfold your pocket fabric and put your needle sheets in the center of your fabric. Fold the pocket up around it and tie the tote closed. Voile! You're done - go enjoy your new tote.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

I have decided to try and include more photos from life here on the Unfarm - just quick snapshots of the goings on around here, and this is the first one: 

This is Minni-mama on her nest that she built herself (such a proud momma I am, that my little one is such a skilled nest builder!) I had pruned the nearby rose bush and she picked up all the little branches and carried them to her nest and placed them all around her and her little stash of eggs. She is very devoted to her eggs and will sit on them all day. This seems to please her but it leaves Maggie terribly bored as he maintains guard duty nearby.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Single serve sticky buns

My brother's girlfriend, Rachel, has been baking up a storm lately. Chocolate croissants, monkey bread, cupcakes, banana bread... you get the idea, and all this baking has made me feel like I'm dropping the ball and should be baking more. My mom, who is in Weight Watchers, disagrees and thinks I bake more than enough as it is. But I have seen one too many facebook posts of delicious baked goods on Rachel's page and I have been spurred into action. 

Unfortunately, while Rachel and I share a love of baking, we do not share the same metabolism. If I were to guess, I would have to say that she has the metabolism of a hummingbird which means that she could probably eat nothing but cupcakes for a month and still stay as thin as a twig. My metabolism is probably closer to that of a bear, which enables me to put on and carry weight, without the added benefit of a months long hibernation period in which to burn it all off. With this in mind I have altered a monkey bread/sticky bun recipe to create this single serve version, because left alone with a regular sized batch of sticky buns I can assure you that any willpower I have would crumble and I shudder to think how many of those delicious sticky buns I would inhale. 

Single Serve Sticky Buns

2 biscuits from a package of refrigerated, ready-made biscuits (regular, not the flaky kind), cut into quarters
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar*
1 heavy tablespoon marshmallow fluff*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a small ramekin and put the cut biscuits inside. In a microwave safe container, melt the butter and marshmallow fluff until soft (about 20 seconds or so) and stir together, adding the cinnamon and sugar and mixing until well combined. Microwave for additional time if needed, until you have a pourable mixture. Pour the entire mix over the biscuits in the ramekin and place in the oven on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips) and bake for approximately 18 minutes. When finished baking, let cool for five minutes, then turn upside down onto a plate and tip out of the ramekin. Serve warm. 

*Should you desire sticky buns with more sweet, gooey sauce, just add a little extra sugar and/or marshmallow fluff. (It is possible that I have already tested this version and could vouch for the deliciousness.)

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to serve more people. It makes a great dessert that is quick and easy. And tasty. And should you decide to make two and eat them both, well, no judgement here.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Red light, green light

I remember playing red light, green light as a kid while at school or daycare but at (eek!) 32 years old, I haven't thought about that game in years. Until tonight, that is. (In case you don't know or remember this game, there is a description on this website that you can check out.)

What prompted this bit of nostalgia was in watching the interaction between Maggie and Axel. Over the last couple of weeks, the interactions between these two has become increasingly combative. This occurs mainly in the evening, when Axel is hanging out in the kitchen and the ducks are on the back deck finishing dinner and waiting for me to get their diapers on and bring them in for the night. During this time, the screen door is the only thing standing between Axel and the ducks. Or Axel and Maggie, to be more accurate, because Minna is above it all and could care less what goes on between Maggie and Axel. I have yet to determine what exactly is the cause of this argument. It could be that Axel thinks Maggie is threatening me when he chases me around during mating season (as I am apparently part of Maggie's harem - an honor I could do without.) Or maybe Maggie thinks he needs to protect Minna from Axel. On the other hand, they could just be expressing their mutual dislike for each other.

Whatever the reason, Maggie and Axel have taken to charging the screen door, Axel from inside and Maggie from outside. Maggie is quite brave when he knows that Axel is securely on the other side of the door and that, more often than not, I am on hand to reprimand Axel. When not separated by a door, Maggie is more cautious; he doesn't want to risk an actual run in with Axel, but his ego will not allow him to stand down completely. The compromise Maggie makes is this: when Axel is looking at him, Mag stands his ground. When Axel is walking away and not looking at him, Maggie lowers his head, pulls up his shoulders, and charges at Axel. This is what I call Maggie's linebacker stance - although, knowing nothing more about football than the fact that the ball is roughly oval in shape, it is entirely possible that I am incorrect in my reference - at any rate, this is the posture Maggie also uses when charging chickens that threaten Minna and squirrels that have the nerve to eat the squirrel food that Maggie considers his. The minute Axel turns his head to look at Maggie, however, he stops in his tracks and stands normally. If he could whistle and look around in apparent innocence, I'm sure he would. As soon as Axel loses interest and begins walking away again, Maggie resumes his charge. This continues until Axel comes back inside with me - to keep me company (in Axel's opinion) or because Maggie has succeeded in sending Axel running for safety (in Maggie's opinion.) Red light, green light. I honestly don't know what people without pets do for entertainment. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

DIY Unfarm swimming pool

I love to swim. (Or, to be more accurate, I love to doggy paddle.) What I do not love is public pools. I am both extremely shy and less than pleased with my weight right now so the thought of a public pool has as much appeal as a root canal. 

This poses something of a dilemma as we do not have a pool of our own. Aside from a lack of horizontal space due to the location of the Unfarm on a slope, we also have a lack of one other critical resource: money. As with most cases when we are faced with a lack of finances, I was forced to get creative. The solution I came up with is far from ideal, but it serves the critical purposes of cooling me off and allowing me a place to "swim" (read doggy paddling and kicking.) And so, the Unfarmgirl swimming pool was born. 

True, it looks remarkably like a 2 foot wide, 3 foot deep, 8 foot long metal livestock tank, but make no mistake: it's a swimming pool. Should any other Unfarmgirls out there want to learn how to make this Unfarm swimming pool, I have put together a tutorial to explain the complicated process. Ready? Got your pencil handy to take notes? Here we go.

DIY Unfarm swimming pool tutorial

Step one: Purchase livestock tank of appropriate size. If you can find it, a three foot wide tank would probably be a bit nicer, but a two footer will also work. 

Step two: Bring said tank home. 

Step three: Find appropriate location for tank and position it. A spot that gets some sun and is relatively flat works best.

Step four: Fill tank with water

Step five: Enjoy!

Did you get all that? I know it can be a bit overwhelming, but take it one step at a time and I'm sure you'll be able to manage it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I need very little...

There is a quote by St. Francis of Assisi that I found years ago in a beach side art gallery, written in calligraphy on a small piece of paper, that I liked so much I bought it and have held onto it ever since. A somewhat less elegant version of it (read: sans calligraphy print) follows:

I need
and of
I need

Simple, elegant, clean, and to the point. Also, easier said than done, and I would know. I have been in the process of attempting to simplify for the last several weeks and the only "very little" I have encountered thus far is success. 

Perhaps it is a lost cause, but I continue to try and fit an office, storage space, an art studio, Rabbitville (otherwise known as my four antisocial rabbits and their hutches), the duck's sleeping area, and an exercise space into one room (commonly known as "the bunny room"), and not a large one at that.

And what have I learned in the last three weeks or so that I have been trying to clean up and clear out? 
1) The majority of my clothes I do not wear, but can't bear to part with because I love them and am determined to fit into them again. Eventually. 

2) Although I generally disapprove of collections, I appear to have acquired a collection of t-shirts (78 of them) and books (somewhere around - eek! - 534 of them.) In my defense, most of the books I own are reference/informational in nature; I have very few novels.

3) I am plagued by having too many interests and hobbies, which translates into a boatload of supplies. Instead of "I think, therefore I am" what we have here is a case of "I do, therefore I have." I sew, therefore I have needles, scissors, thread, bobbins, mats, rulers, two machines, and fabric, fabric, fabric: felt, cotton, muslin, polarfleece, and flannel. I draw and paint, therefore I have paper, pencils, pastels, paint, brushes, and palettes. I felt, therefore I have wools, needles, roving, etc. You get the idea. Lots of stuff in very little space.

The realization that I have very much, as opposed to the very little I was striving for, has prompted me to come up with some tips for decluttering, as well as stemming the tide of incoming items (otherwise known as future clutter) because at least one of us should be organized and it's not looking good for me. With that in mind, here we go:

The Unfarm presents: Decluttering tips and tricks

Do you need it? Do you use it? Do you love it? If you don't need, use or love it, why hold onto it? Pass it on to someone who will use it and love it. 

Not sure about an item of clothing? Ask yourself if it is something you actually enjoy wearing, or if you bought it because you like the idea of wearing it or you like it but it doesn't really reflect who you are. I will admit to being guilty of this in the past.

Have a hobby type item you're debating? Ask yourself if you would rather spend your free time doing that activity over another hobby/activity. An example of this comes from my brother who loves cycling but continues to hold on to several model plane kits that he has not found time in the last 15+ years to work on. Several times a year I try and get him to part with those kits by asking him if he would rather work on building a model plane or go on a bike ride. (He continues to resist my efforts the kits are still gathering dust on his bookshelf.)

And to prevent new items from entering:
It is very easy to get caught up in the novelty of something - a new hobby, a new sport, etc - and to go out and buy all the supplies for something only to end up with a cluttered house, a depleted bank account, and guilt over amassing a collection of items that lose their shine after the novelty wears off. Ask yourself if you really think you have the time and can sustain an interest in this new endeavor into the upcoming weeks, months or years.

On a similar note, I often see the work of other artists in some medium I'm not currently working in, and I will run out and buy the supplies and begin working only to be disappointed because it doesn't turn out the way I hoped it would because I have yet to find a store that sells boxes of experience or bags of talent. Should I find such a store, however, you will be the first to know.

These days, it is so easy to find cute little note pads or fabulous bags or beautiful journals or whatever your weaknesses are and to decide that this is exactly what you have been searching for to make your life better and you desperately need it, so I have taken to asking myself if I would still need it if it were some ugly color or had pictures of Spongebob Squarepants on it instead of Hello Kitty. I usually find that I can survive without it after that.

Ask yourself if you would still spend your money on whatever you're contemplating purchasing even if it means that you have less money to put toward some big goal or dream. I, for instance, am saving up so that I can eventually buy a real farm and add yet more animals to my menagerie. (But fear not, I expect I will always be an Unfarmer at heart - it's a lifestyle, not a property of a location.)

Think about how many hours you will have to work to pay for whatever you are planning to buy and ask yourself if it is still worth it to you if it means you'll have to work [insert number of hours here] hours to pay for it.

Do you have room for this new item? Do you know where you will store it or what you will get rid of to make room for it? 

If you would like to continue simplifying, you can check out the 100 thing challenge at some of these websites:

Time to sign off. The ducks need diapering, the dogs need pills and this stuff isn't going to get rid of itself.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Maia's Meatballs

Maia has become increasingly uninterested in eating her food, causing her to lose more weight than I would like. To try and reverse this weight loss, we have taken to supplementing her dry food diet with extra calories in the form of a variety of treats, cheeses, meats, eggs and beef jerky. It is quite possible Maia is milking this weight loss for all she can and is fully enjoying this recent change in her diet. But as we estimate that she is approximately seventeen years old, we are willing to give her almost anything she will eat. Chocolate, however, is still not on the menu and it will remain that way; sorry, Maia.

For a while, Maia was willing to eat her dry food as long as we mixed it with some warm ground turkey, but in typical Maia fashion she has recently come to the conclusion that the formerly acceptable meal is now subpar and no amount of cajoling on our part will change her mind. Her behavior has meant that I have had to get creative in trying to get any amount of nutrition into her, hence the following recipe that I developed a few days ago. So far, it seems to have earned the Maia seal of approval, and hopefully it will remain that way. For at least another week, the standard time frame it takes for Maia to decide that she should abandon yet another formerly acceptable food source.

Maia's Meatballs

approximately 3 pounds ground turkey
2 cups rolled oats
¼ cup better in the raw powder*
¼ cup ground flax seed
½ cup finely chopped broccoli
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg

*Better in the Raw powder is a nutritional supplemental powder designed for a raw food diet that we had left over from the raw food diet Buddy was on in an attempt to improve his health. You could leave it out if you want, or perhaps use this recipe in a raw diet, omitting the baking step. I'll leave it up to you.

Mix all of the ingredients together and form the mixture into balls about 1 -2 tablespoons in size. Place onto greased baking sheets and bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees F, depending on how brown you want them. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freeze the excess. They can easily be rewarmed in the microwave before serving, or cut into smaller pieces for little dogs or dogs that prefer smaller bites. Or those that think they should be fed pieces of food the size of grapes, while reclining on a chaise lounge, being fanned with palm fronds, a la Maia.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Milestone on the Unfarm

I have big news. Are you ready for it? Here it is.... I FINALLY graduated! It was genuinely starting to look like I might be walking across the stage with the aid of a walker while wearing my cap, gown and dentures. I thought for sure that I'd be part of the graduating class of 2059, but here I am, way ahead of schedule in the class of 2013. The question everyone wants to know now is what I plan to do with my degree. And the answer is: absolutely nothing. I've graduated from I school I don't particularly like (which will remain nameless) with a degree I don't want. (The specifics of how I ended up with a degree I don't want instead of the one I originally planned to get are too tedious to get into at this time.) What an accomplishment! But at least I'm done and it wasn't a total loss - it would have bugged me to be a college dropout for the rest of my life, and the only member of my family who didn't have a degree.
The other upside to finally having my diploma in hand was that I got to go through all the papers, notes and textbooks that I had accumulated in 14 years (yes, 14 - it's not a typo) and get rid of everything I wouldn't need in the future - a full file box of notes plus a stack of textbooks that was approximately three feet high. (I should mention that two of my favorite recreational activities are decluttering and organizing, a fact that drives the rest of the family crazy when I run out of things to get rid of and badger them to declutter their stuff.) The books were donated to charity; the notes were finally put to good use: I rolled them into logs and roasted vegan marshmallows over them. They were, perhaps, the best s'mores I've ever had.

PS. I would also like to mention that I managed to pull of a 3.87 GPA. Not bad for a degree I don't want from a school I don't like.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who rules the roost?

I think the term "owner" in relation to pets is outdated. I know that many animal lovers prefer the term "guardian" which I don't generally use, mostly because I am lazy: "guardian" has three syllables and "owner" only has two. But the main reason I no longer think "owner" is appropriate is because it seems to carry with it a sense of control over that which is owned. And as almost any pet owner can tell you, we are not the ones holding the cards. 

Maia, for instance, has decided of late that the living room carpet is the appropriate place to go to the bathroom, ensuring, perhaps, that Mighty Mouth, our industrial carpet cleaner (yes - we named him, it seemed appropriate after all the time we've spent together) earns his keep. Do we want Maia to pee in the living room? Of course not. Do we have much say in the matter? Of course not. In an effort to prevent any further affronts to our carpet we have now set up a system of gates blocking both living room entrances. The gates are low enough for everyone but Maia to get over so they have not proven much of an inconvenience (unless, of course, you happen to forget they are there and trip over them.)

The chickens have very little say with what goes on in the house (not that they don't try - they run into the kitchen any chance they get, looking for crumbs on the floor) but they do exert a fair amount of control over the garden. Contrary to what my mom thinks - that I am the one making all of the decisions when it comes to the garden, whether she likes them or not (a large honeysuckle vine is the current bone of contention between us) - the real rulers of the yard are the chickens. Mom wanted rhubarb - the chickens wanted it more. It is now a small, raggedy plant barely hanging on after merciless grazing courtesy of the ladies. I managed to clear enough space in my garden for a winter daphne plant but the chickens were convinced that I had hidden some delicious treat underneath it and scratched around the roots determined to find it. Needless to say I had not hidden anything underneath it but did that stop the ladies from digging my poor daphne out until it was too far gone to save? Yeah, right. And I was so looking forward to it blooming next spring. The chickens were also responsible for polishing off every grape within their reach last summer. I suspect the wild birds and squirrels finished off the rest. Total grape harvest: zip. 

I expect the ducks would go after the grapes too, but they are unable to climb the arbor the way the chickens can. That doesn't stop them from going after the blueberries, however. They are so fond of them that they eat every berry within two feet of the ground (the approximate limit to Maggie's reach.) They don't even wait for them to ripen. As soon as the berries appear the ducks are down there, plucking them off the branches.

And then there are the rabbits. The cute, fluffy, bouncy little bunnies. The chewing, scratching, biting little bunnies. If they aren't scratching up the carpet, or marking their territory by peeing on the floor (a practice I try very hard to break them of), they are chewing. Their cage, their litter boxes, the deck, the door frame, the wicker baskets I store my fabric in, paper bags, books, and the cute wooden desk I picked up at a garage sale. Oh, and cords. Rabbits love cords. Telephone cords, vacuum cords, iron cords, lamp cords, and cable cords. The only weapons I have in the war with the rabbits are gates to block off furniture I don't want them chewing and a squirt bottle of water that is sometimes effective, sometimes not. Rabbits are stubborn creatures.

So, "owner." I think not. We are hardly in control of the situation. The main purpose we humans serve seems to be damage control. We roll out Mighty Mouth whenever Maia decides to pee in the living room, and follow the chickens around the yard, replanting what they dig out. We hide cords and fence off enticing furniture. Other than that, we have very little say in the matter; around here, the animals rule the roost.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Long overdue updates from the Unfarm

I made a resolution at the beginning of this year that I would make posts more often. And I know that most resolutions get thrown by the wayside by mid January, or early February if we are very good. But despite that history, I really did have every intention of keeping this resolution. Things got a little bumpy at the beginning of the year, as you may remember, when Maia had a health scare, but after recovering from her surgery she had more energy than she's had in a long time and it looked like it would be smooth sailing from there on out. And it was. For her. 

But as I drove home from work on the evening of January 29th, I got a call from my parents that Kita was acting strangely. I rushed home long enough to call the emergency vet to give them a heads up and run out to the car with drooling, panting, unresponsive Kita. There was nothing the vet could do. He was ready to go (which was confirmed by our AMAZING animal communicator, Karen Anderson, who we LOVE) and we couldn't hold him here no matter how much I may have wanted to. The hardest part of living with animals is knowing that you will, in all likelihood, outlive them and you will have to watch them as they slip. I lay on the floor at the vet's office, with my nose resting against Kita's, trying to let him know I was there for him and would not leave his side. And then the vet gave him the injection, and he left. It was hard - incredibly hard - to lose this dog who had been part of our family for roughly 16 years. I kept expecting to see him come around the corner, or be sleeping on his dog bed on my bedroom floor, or pass his leash hanging on my wall. 

But one of the advantages of having multiple pets, for me at least, is knowing that all the other animals still need me and I can forget my loss, to some degree, by taking care of the rest of the animals. And we weren't without dogs - Maia and Buddy were still with us, although Buddy seemed to feel Kita's absence and spent the time after the loss moping around the house and showing little interest in his regular activities. About a week after Kita died I decided that Buddy needed to get out of the house and go for a walk with me and Maia, even though he didn't show his usual exuberant whippet energy. We got part of the way down the street when he stopped walking. He simply refused to go any further, despite several attempts to get him to change his mind. I finally gave in and took him back home and he went right back to bed. At about 6:50 that evening Mom noticed that his gums were pale and suggested we call the vet. They told us to bring him in right then, even though they were closing in 10 minutes. At the vet it was discovered that his red blood cell count, which should have been in the 50-60 range was down to 8, a number the vet described as "barely compatible with life." From there I rushed him to the specialist vet 40 minutes away and he was submitted and getting a blood transfusion within the hour. We were told by Buddy's internist (yes, he had his own internal medicine specialist) within the next couple of days that Buddy had IMHA. Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia. Basically, his body was destroying his own red blood cells, for reasons unknown. And more good news: it was a non responsive type, which is harder to treat. But we went all out - transfusions, regular blood counts, multiple night stays in the vet ER, special diets, and enough medications that we had to create an elaborate chart to keep track of when he needed his 13+ medications each day. I even tried alternative treatments. He went to a holistic vet, he got acupuncture, and he received reiki and shamanic healing from an amazing friend of Karen's. We spent one month fighting for Buddy, and over $10,000 to give our six year old dog every shot possible. I wish I could say that it worked, that Buddy finally began to make a turn around, that he is sleeping on the floor behind me as I write this. But I can't. In the end, Buddy became unresponsive and began panting hard one night. I rushed him to the specialist with my brother where they said he may have thrown a clot and they might be able to get him through to the morning if they intubated him, sticking a breathing tube down his throat. I decided that we had to let him go. He had told Karen a couple of weeks earlier that he was tired and ready to go but we hadn't been ready to let him go yet, and he seemed to be showing some improvement. I couldn't stand the thought of him dying there, in the hospital, with tubes down his throat and all alone. So I kissed him and hugged him and stroked his face as they gave him the injection, and then he left. Just like Kita, and only two months and two days afterward. And five short days before his seventh birthday. Driving home at 3:30 in the morning, it struck me as appropriate in some way that I had been the one to bring him into our lives, with a car ride together after picking him up at four months old from the breeder's house several hours away in Kennewick, Washington, and I was with him on his last car ride, as he left our lives that night.

Kita we had expected. We didn't like it, but we saw it coming - he had lived a long, full life with us. But Buddy. Buddy was so young, and so full of life such a short time ago. And now the house felt like a canyon - like you could scream and you would hear an echo with the emptiness of this place.

Two days after Buddy died, I checked in with him and Kita, via Karen. They were both feeling great and Buddy was raring to come back soon. He said he felt like he hadn't gotten to finish his time with us. But in the meantime, he said, he had sent us a gift. A dog at the local shelter was meant for us. So I went that very evening to get Axel, our newest addition to the Unfarm. He is a large dog - about 95 pounds, and black with brown markings, a Husky-Shepherd mix (so like Kita it's almost uncanny!) and ten years old. He probably didn't have much chance of being adopted with that triple threat: big, black, and elderly. He had, in fact, already been adopted and returned to the shelter once before. As I was filling out the paperwork for adoption I was given the highly encouraging news that Axel also had separation anxiety and should he ever be left alone he would proceed to destroy the doors, windows, couches, gates and any crate we might put him in. This gave me a great deal of trepidation, but not nearly enough to doubt Buddy's wisdom. 

We have had Axel for over a month now, and he has turned out to be THE perfect dog for us. He is gentle, calm, friendly, quiet, and he LOVES going on walks and for rides in the car. We have also discovered that he has little to no separation anxiety with us and my fears (and the ominous predictions of the adoption counselor) were largely unfounded. He certainly does not enjoy being left alone, but he tolerates it just fine. He also has loads of energy and doesn't show his age at all. And the cherry on top? He grew up around chickens and cows so he behaves perfectly around all of our various "snack sized" pets. We could not have created a better situation if we tried. Thanks, Buddy.

So the drama was over, and life on the Unfarm settled back into a comfortable, if slightly lonely, routine. Until exactly two weeks after Buddy died, when Aspen went to the vet to address his bladder leakage. I had to leave him there for the afternoon for x-rays but went back in the evening to pick him up and hear the damage (Aspen has had several bladder problems in the past and they tend to run at least $1000 each and involve at least one overnight stay at the emergency vet per occurrence.) When I got to the vet they told me to head back to the visitor's lounge. This was unusual - definitely more kidney stones. Sigh. It was not kidney stones. It was worse. He had a heart murmur. And was in kidney failure. And the cancer we suspected he had, had now spread and was filling his abdomen. He was uncomfortable and at 17 years old, even if we decided to be aggressive in our treatment, it would not buy him a lot of time. I held him, bundled up in a blanket, and kissed his little gray nose (enough times to annoy him, most likely) and whispered in his ear as the vet gave him the injection to send him sailing away from me. 

Three losses of my little ones in as many months. Can you see now why I avoided this entry? I did not want to admit that we had lost so much, so many animals that spent their days and nights with us, who kept us company and made us laugh and comforted us when we needed it. So many days I won't get back and so many experiences that were yet to come. But here it is. Written down for everyone to see. And in reading this, I hope that they might live on again, even for a short while, in you.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A scare on the Unfarm

Last Friday morning I noticed Maia was a little wobbly. Because she had suffered a bout of Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome six months or so ago, I was worried this was a recurrence. I called our vet (who is, of course, on a first name basis with us as we have spent enough money there to put EVERYONE'S kids through college - vets, techs, receptionists, the whole shebang) and got an appointment for that afternoon. 

When I took her in I wasn't overly concerned, as she had come through the previous bout quite well and this one didn't seem nearly as bad. The vet found that she had slow reactions on her left legs and in her right eye, leading them to suggest that it might be a neurological problem. Concern started to wiggle in the back of my mind. The vet ordered blood tests, thyroid tests, a urinalysis, and suggested we take x-rays. Hmm, someone else must be approaching college age. I was able to authorize the blood work but the powers that be (my parents) decided to wait on the x-rays. 

By the time my mom arrived home from work the blood test results were back and the vet managed to convince my mom to approve the x-rays for the next day on the basis of the neurological symptoms and the fact that she was anemic, which might be caused by internal bleeding.

Saturday morning I managed to get Maia to the vet by 9 am so they could work her in during the day. She seemed much better so I was optimistic. The concern had made a quiet exit. By the early afternoon I got a call informing me that the x-rays had shown a mass in Maia's spleen and the vet recommended an ultrasound to get a better picture. The door slammed open and worry barged in. While on the phone, the vet told me that the ultrasound techs were at the local ER vet and they were holding the last available appointment for me at 4pm if I wanted to take it. Schedule it. I'll pick her up in 20 minutes.

Down to the ER vet. Yet another place I am all too familiar with, having visited it before with at least one cat, one duck and two rabbits. The ultrasound showed that there was indeed a mass in her spleen, which may have been causing the neurological symptoms, along with fluid in her belly that had leaked out of the mass yesterday. I think they used the term "ticking time bomb" when they told me that the mass could burst at any time; they recommended surgery. Then. Saturday night, not even 48 hours from the first sign of any trouble. I could not bear the thought that the mass might burst, causing Maia pain and forcing her to go into surgery in a state of shock. 

There was good news and bad to consider. On the positive side, we had caught this problem early, before it burst. Many of the patients the ER vets see come in after the mass bursts, and Maia was in the condition that the vets want to see a patient go into surgery in: stable and relatively healthy - she is in remarkable shape and most people do a double take when we tell them she is, in fact, 16 years old. The bad news was that the vet was less than optimistic about the outcome. He informed me that the ultrasound can't see everything and that many times, when they open the abdomen they find that the tumor has spread. To the liver, the kidneys, the abdominal wall. Needless to say, this was NOT what I wanted to hear. 

I authorized the surgery. I did not check with my parents, on the grounds that I was afraid they would say no and I was not at all ready to lose Maia, or risk a possibly painful death at some point in the future. I left her there, and drove home, still in something of a tailspin. To their great credit, my parents were not mad but were, in fact, supportive of the decision to go ahead with the surgery. Maia has always been a good little girl, and is very fond of sleeping all night in my room, and then all day with Dad when he is on his week to work nights. She is, as he often reminds us, "a good little sleeper."

The vet had informed me that they would call when they started the surgery. I checked my phone to ensure it was on the loudest possible setting. I then checked my phone at 9:30 to be sure I hadn't missed the call somehow. 9:37. 9:46. 9:50. 10:13. 10:25. 10:39. 11:01. 11:16. Sometime between then and midnight they called to say they were beginning the surgery. If they encountered anything unexpected (read: bad) when they opened her up they would call. I spent the next half hour laying on the couch in the dark, visualizing with everything I had that the vet opens her up, inspects her abdomen and says, with amazement, "it's clean - no signs of spreading! Wow!" I also pictured the happy dance I would do when I got the good news. (The visualization has more power when you imagine how you will feel when whatever you hope for happens.)

A little before 1:30 in the morning, my phone rang again. 
"We're all finished with the surgery. The spleen came out in one piece without any trouble." 
"And the spreading? How did it look?"
"Oh yes, we checked the liver, kidneys and abdomen and everything was clean. No signs of spreading."

I thanked the vet and hung up, then bounced down the hallway, burst into the master bedroom and told a somewhat confused, bleary eyed Mom the news while doing my happy dance. (And yes, it did look ridiculous.) I then called my brother, my dad at work, and my sister - even though it was 3am in Minnesota.

Maia got the OK to come home Sunday night. Before picking her up I stopped by the store, got three different kinds of treats and a very fancy $70 metal frame "princess bed." Now, a week out from the surgery, Maia is doing very well. She has a cute red hoodie vest on to keep her from licking at her staples and she is back to her old self, with some improvements: her appetite has greatly improved and she is much perkier than she's been in a while, which has me wondering if this mass had her slightly under the weather for longer than we realized. 

All in all, I am quite pleased with the condition of all the Unfarmians. Kita continues to trek along, Ginger continues to insist that her litter box will work better if she dumps all the hay out onto the floor and then turns the box upside down like some post-modern sculpture in the middle of her cage, and the ducks are both molting, blanketing everything in a layer of down and feathers.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Unfarm updates and tips for living with an elderly dog

Well, it's 2013 and we managed to make it through 2012 relatively unscathed. We had two losses: Suki, who died and Buttercup - our hen turned rooster who we had to give up when s(he) started crowing. He did go to a good home, however, through a local farm store re-homing that places roosters with out-of-city farms that want them. We gained three new additions: Belle, our Brahma hen who arrived with Buttercup, and Beauty a black Australorp hen that we adopted to replace Buttercup so that Belle would have a companion; we also added a rabbit named Ginger who was given up by her owners when they could no longer care for her. 

After Suki died, Jojo was left alone and I was left with three bachelor bunnies. Adding a girl seemed to be the perfect solution: an unattached female might be just the thing to bring my bachelor males together. Forget sugarplums - I had visions of four calm bunnies, happily coexisting, dancing in my head. Alas, it was not to be. I now have FOUR rabbit cages in my art room, and have to juggle time out between four separate rabbits, instead of the three time outs I had before when Jojo and Suki could go out together. Of all of my pets, it is the rabbits who fight the most. Yes, those cute, lovable, fluffy bunnies are actually vicious fighters. Go figure. 

One significant loss that we did NOT experience in 2012 was Kita. He turned 15 last year and has slowed down considerably. He has arthritis and can no longer see or hear very well, but he's still happy and not ready to go yet so we keep him as comfortable as possible. He also sleeps a lot more than he ever used to and I always hold my breath a few seconds until I see his side rise when he's napping. As much as I would love for things to continue as they always have, and as much as I hate watching my children grow older, it is a part of having pets. Admittedly, one of the worst parts of having pets, but a part of it nonetheless. Given my experience with Kita's aging in the last few years I thought I would pass on a few tips for living with an elderly dog. 

1) Don't be so stingy with the treats. Splurge on some super tasty treats to spoil your pup. Kita is quite fond of original flavor beef jerky (the kind made for people - we get a bulk package at Costco.)

2) Let sleeping dogs lie - but if you must wake them, do it gently. Older dogs can't hear as well and tend not to sleep as lightly as they used to, so be gentle when you wake them up so you don't startle your dog. I put my hand on my pup's muzzle or paw, or wave a scoop of peanut butter under their nose to let them wake up more gradually. 

3) Accept accidents. More than likely, your older dog will have accidents in the house. They don't do it on purpose and they likely feel bad about it when it does happen, so yelling at your pup for something they have little control over won't help anyone and it won't fix the problem. Take a deep breath, give your pup a pat, and remind yourself of all the fun you've had together.

4) Now that you know accidents are in your future it's time to invest. Buy stock in paper towels and/or purchase an industrial carpet cleaner. Overboard, you say? I beg to differ. Our industrial carpet cleaner gets used at least once a week, it lives in our main bathroom and we've decided to name it Mighty Mouth. It is practically part of the family and one of our most used cleaning tools.

5) Quality over quantity. As your dog gets older, they will have more trouble keeping up on walks and likely won't be able go on the long rambles you went on a few years ago. It's time for quality over quantity, which means you take shorter, slower walks and let your dog sniff anything and everything without rushing them along or pulling impatiently on the handle of the leash. It's about the journey now, not the destination. Let your dog have fun and go at a pace that is comfortable for him or her. 

6) Take photos. We all get busy with our day to day lives and take for granted that our pets are always going to be there, but in the vast majority of cases, we outlive our pets and we don't know when the last day will be so take lots of pictures. Today. Now. What are you still sitting there for?