Monthly Archives: June 2008

Bees

I’ve always loved bees. Or, almost always. I have been stung exactly once. When I was about four or five, I was hiding in a barrel and I accidentally trapped a bee against the side. It stung me and I went inside, wailing, to show my mother. For the next couple of days I was frantic whenever a bee approached me, until I was told that they would only sting if provoked. I cannot remember who told me, but I do remember this amazing calmness taking ahold of me. I practically melted as I relaxed, and I remember being fascinated by bees ever since.

Bees don’t seem to mind me too much either. Bees follow me around when I am outside, land on me to investigate. I am thrilled by the sweet tickle as they move around. I remember how surprised I was when I realized they were after my sweat. It can be unnerving for others to watch, but whenever a bee comes near, I get that familar melting sensation and as I become still, the bee is sure to land.

Bumblebees are fat and fuzzy, lazy and curious. If you are very gentle, you can get them to walk your hands and look at them up close. Wasps are hard and angular, very militant with their crisp lines and colors. I don’t encourage them to stay, but often it cannot be helped. I was standing in a line one hot summer day, and the guy in front of me was gesticulating wildly as he retold an exciting story to the man in front of him. The girl behind me was appalled to see three wasps home in on my face, landing and exploring. I made her stop when she went to go wave them away, explaining how I wasn’t worried as long as I was still. The man in front of me was a problem, though. I tapped him on the shoulder, and he gave a strangled girly squeak when he turned to see my wasp-covered face. I asked him to please be a bit calmer, and he meekly complied. The wasps went away in a few minutes, and we all had a good laugh about it.

I first thought about keeping bees when I read “A Country Year: Living the Questions” by Sue Hubble. This was in the beginning of the phase where I was bit by the farm bug, and this book was the first ‘memoir’ rural lifestyle book that I read. I was very hooked. Some of my favorites include “Shepherdess: Notes from the Field” by Joan Jarvis Ellison, and “Bean Blossom Dreams: A City Family’s Search for a Simple Country Life” by Sallyann J. Murphey. It’s these personal accounts filled with endless learning experiences that make me feel that I too can have that sort of life. I’m always looking for more titles, and I’m thrilled whenever I find one.

Years ago, I was sad to hear of the rising problems that honeybees were being attacked by roaming bees or other invasive pests. Now there’s the mysterious colony collapse disorder. Is it viral? Fungal? Stress? Pollenating seasons? Overachieving breeding practices? Who knows? I will fight to have and keep honeybees someday. I hope they crack this one soon.

Frustrated About Vaccines

I believe that vaccines are not the miracle they are proffessed to be. The research done on vaccines, the scientific reports, overwhelming numbers of anecdotal reports, these make me suspicious of the need for vaccination, and especially re-vaccination.

Batman suffers from some of the classic signs of vaccinosis, including extreme sensitivity and weakness in the hind end. I am beginning to suspect that Tweed-revaccinated recently at the shelter-is showing signs as well, but in his case it is fearfulness. Shawn is out of date on his rabies shot, and so if we picked him up, we’d have to get him revaccinated for him to be “legal” again.

This prompted me to find out once and for all exactly what the legal stand on vaccinations and titers was in Alaska. I’ve heard of titers being done in place of revaccination, with letters from vets stating that the animal meets or exceeds the levels of immunity required by law. From what I gather, this is usually only done with sick or old animals or with vets who agree that revaccination is detrimental.

The laws, on the other hand, are not so flexible. According to the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, who annually review and recommend proceedures for rabies prevention and control in animals, titers and letters are simply not a legal replacement for vaccines in any of the 50 states. The official stance is that even though antibodies may be present, this does not confer immunity. “Rabies virus antibody titers are indicative of a response to vaccine or infection. Titers do not directly correlate with protection because other immunologic factors also play a role in preventing rabies, and the ability to measure and interpret those other factors are not well developed. Therefore, evidence of circulating rabies virus antibodies should not be used as a substitute for current vaccination in managing rabies exposures or determining the need for booster vaccinations in animals.”

Again, from what I can tell, they’re interpreting things very oddly. In an article from Christie Keith (not a vet, and she is simply reporting information from elsewhere) she states:

“A titer test does not and cannot measure immunity, because immunity to specific viruses is reliant not on antibodies, but on memory cells, which we have no way to measure. Memory cells are what prompt the immune system to create antibodies and dispatch them to an infection caused by the virus it “remembers.” Memory cells don’t need “reminders” in the form of re-vaccination to keep producing antibodies. (Science, 1999; “Immune system’s memory does not need reminders.”) If the animal recently encountered the virus, their level of antibody might be quite high, but that doesn’t mean they are more immune than an animal with a lower titer. ”

From the same article:

“…other uses for titer tests in my opinion are to check immunization status on dogs with an unknown history, to provide documentation for legal purposes such as travel, or licensing in areas that accept rabies titers in lieu of rabies vaccination, to satisfy curiosity, or to provide peace of mind for pet owners.”

I looked up the Alaska state law on animals that are off of the legal vaccination schedule, and it’s a pretty big risk to not have your animals vaccinated. Any animal that is not vaccinated for rabies is subject to seizure and immediate vaccination or euthanization. Any animal that is suspected of being infected with rabies and/or has bitten someone and is not vaccinated is usually euthanized immediately for testing, no observation period. Ouch.

I’ve asked for advice from others who are on a reduced vaccination schedule, and the answers range from “vaccinate if you’re not willing to take the risk” to “falsify the records.” I don’t like the helplessness implied with the first answer, and I might consider the second out of desperation, if the records were paper rather than metal tags. It all smacks of subversity.

Even though the system seems ironbound, change is creeping. People are pushing for reduced vaccine schedules. Some areas have successfully implemented 3 year rabies rather than yearly rabies. Some areas are pushing titers as a legal substitute, but the national recommendations are dismissive. Articles like this one http://www.news.wisc.edu/8413 help, but aren’t enough. I am considering donating to http://www.rabieschallengefund.org/. They are funding a study to determine the real length of immunity from vaccines.

What will I do in the meantime? Refuse all vaccines but rabies, and learn how to treat homeopathically. It’s the best path I can choose right now. Walking the line between risks is a hard choice.

Houseplants!

A neat thing about This Old House is that there are plant hooks everywhere on the ceiling. I’ve taken the opportunity to finally acquire some houseplants! There is a golden pothos in the kitchen, and a lavender African Violet (African Lavendar? Ha. DH affectionately calls it the ‘Frikkin Violet) I have had to be very good and not buy any more yet. We haven’t been able to have them because Batman is terrible about plants. “Oh hey, looks like that could use a little off the- *gas powered hedge trimmer sound*” He doesn’t eat them, just likes to chew. This cat is OCD about flossing. His favorite is the plastic mesh that you can get vegetables or fruit in. if his piece gets thrown away, he walks around trying to find a suitable replacement. AAARRRGH!

I am usually pretty stern about no-one hitting the cats, but I wanted to get my point across when he went to go “help” with the violet. I was turning it and he came over for a sniff and then he decided that he was going to take a right tasty bite and SWACK! I swatted the bejeezus out of him with my work gloves from behind. Cured that habit. He won’t even look at the violet now, hides behind me when I offer it to him. No problems with the gloves, no flinching if I go to mock-hit him. Success! So far it has carried over with the other random leafy things that have been in and out of the house for short periods. Wonderful! I wish I had the patience to sit and shape something like that, but for potentially life-preserving things I’m willing to resort to a little bit of force.

We’ll have to see if this carries over to cut flowers. DH kept me in flowers from early in our relationship to the day we got the cats. I’ve had perhaps four bunches since, all of them “creatively razored” courtesy of Batman, no matter where they were placed.

Cooking again

I love to cook, and it’s been very difficult since we moved in here. I do not think I have cooked on a regular basis for at least eight or nine months. It has not been good at all.

I had some major issues in the kitchen when we moved in, because we moved a bunch of stuff in, I started unpacking and then I knocked over a six-foot florescent light (go me) which shattered everywhere. I had to halt everything and meticulously clean glass shards and dust from every surface, out of the stove coils, windowsills, every carpet nearby, and that’s right, every stupid dish, bag, and box that was in the kitchen. I’m still finding glass.

More depressingly, I am still washing dirty dishes from our old apartment. I was fed up at the end, and I threw piles and piles of awkward dishes into plastic totes, so now I’m stuck doing it all now. Which is really ok, since I was planning on washing everything before it went into the new cupboards, but it’s still time-consuming. I’m down to perhaps two loads out of twenty. Did I mention we have a single sink and no dishwasher? Personally, I don’t care about the dishwasher, and I’m thrilled to be washing dishes in a plastic tub again. I can’t stand dishes in the sink, so now my sink stays nice and clear, otherwise we can’t use it.

What this really boils down to is that it has been difficult to find the space to cook, especially before we moved the table in. Now the table is half clear, and I’ve gotten the stove and one counter clear, and I’ve been enjoying cooking the last few days. It’s not all roses, though. I’m out of the habit, so my timing is off. We had some fresh salmon donated by DH’s boss, and the only thing I had in the house to go with it was some frozen cauliflower and rolls. I found a recipe for hollandaise sauce, which I had never made before, and dove in. It began beautifully, but split rather obviously right at the end. Not scrambled, but just split. I looked up how to fix it, and tried again. Fine, fine, fine, split. Damn. I threw a mini tantrum, then got ready to eat. I separated it and resigned myself to an odd, spicy tarragon melted-shredded-cheese-textured thing and set aside the spicy butter for the fridge. I don’t know what made me, but I stirred the egg-stuff and it became surprisingly smooth. Out of curiosity (what was it going to do, split?) I added the butter back in a little at a time, and what do you know! Hollandaise sauce! There was much cheering. And man, was it good! I used tarragon vinegar and smoked paprika, and it was to die for.

I also made a new variant on my mother’s recipe for Chicken Soupa, a sort of “mexican” lasagna. I struggle with this recipe, not because I can’t make it, but because I just think that her version is very… plain. Well, here, let me show you:

Mother’s (bland) Chicken Soupa

  • 1 package shredded cheddar
  • 1 can diced green chilies
  • 10 flour tortillas
  • food-processed onions
  • shredded chicken

In 2 quart baking dish tear up tortillas. Layer ingredients like a lasagna. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

It’s really good, but in my head I’m always screaming “WHERE ARE THE VEGETABLES?!?!?” I’m always trying to add things to make this dish feel right. I’ve probably made this dish a hundred times since I moved out, and I have never gotten something that seems right. I might have hit on it the other night. Don’t mind the frozen and canned stuff, I usually work from scratch.

Heretic’s Additions:

  • frozen celery and carrots
  • 1 can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of salsa verde by Embasa
  • 1 can mixed beans (pinto, black, great northern)
  • fresh chives
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup, mixed with the tomato juice and bean juice, plus:
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle powder

The celery was questionable, and it really, really needed olives, but I think I finally hit on the perfect update.

Square Foot Gardening

I was thrilled when I realized that This Old House came with a neglected garden plot and a huge mound of topsoil unceremoniously dumped in the backyard. I bought a few judicious purchases (gloves, hand tools, pruning shears) and uncovered a surprisingly healthy collection of gardening tools under the waist-high weeds in the yard, including a wheelbarrow, several hoes, a shovel, and–most excitingly–a hand held weed cutter that is shaped like a large, serrated putter.

DH gleefully swung and hacked away at a bunch of weeds, and I have to admit, for now, it beats pulling. I used it today to clear the rest of the yard, and it took me about five minutes rather than the hour it would have taken had I pulled by hand. Yes, I’ll still have to weed it, but we’re still trash-hunting and I’m uncovering a lot of interesting things. Like a beautifully sculpted border at the back of the property. And an old sinkhole that I might just turn into a pond.

The garden plot stayed pretty exciting, with the discovery that last year’s grasses had dried and mulched the plot like straw, and the soil underneath is moist, crumbly, black, and full of huge earthworms. (Note to self: Set up a worm bin for the winter.) There are also a dozen established strawberry plants. Probably seeded by birds, but they’re flowering, so we’ll see if anything comes of it.

The problem is the shape and location of the plot. It’s perhaps 8 feet on a side, and there are young trees growing at one corner of it and suckers encroaching on it. Not very good at all. I struggled to get a corner cleared of dead grassroots, then decided I wasn’t going to be able to reach the middle of the plot at all if I planted it all. Plus, there’s all those roots from the trees.

What to do? Well, raised beds are always handy in northern climes, so I started to research. There were some handy articles on starting new beds and building simple, movable raised beds. Nice, but the question seemed to be: “Where will these beds be located? More angst. Another article from an Alaskan gardener suggested Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening.” Oh, hey! What do you know! I had already picked that book up from the library and it was sitting on the windowsill.  One of those books I grabbed that I’d read years before but wasn’t sure if I was really going to review once I got it home. It was already in the “Return” pile, but it quickly went into the “In Progress” pile. Absolutely perfect, down to helping me choose site location.

There’s a large red conex car that’s been in the backyard for a decade or so. It’s supposedly full of books. Who knows if it’ll ever be picked up. It’s not in the way at all, and the landlord said we can paint it or do whatever with it. Most importantly, it’s on the north side of the property, and is the perfect length for three 4’x4′ beds with the suggested row of vining plants along the north edge. That red color will even help the plants along, and soak up the warmth from the sun.

My plan is to knock up some lightweight frames using 1″x12″ or somesuch, dig the grass and existing dirt up from the site to a depth of 1 foot, lay some landscaping cloth (another freebee from the backyard) and fill half with dirt from the garden and topsoil pile, plus some rabbit and poultry manure from Meadow Gates, and the suggested vermiculite. We’ll fill the existing garden plot and turn it into grass next spring.

Meanwhile, the square foot plots should be ready to plant this weekend. I’m obviously behind in my planting, but I anticipate being able to grow at least some lettuce, strawberries, carrots, and herbs for this year, others too if I start with transplants from local nurseries.

It feels good to finally have a plan.

Shawn the Dog

There is a 2 year old Border Collie/Aussie boy named Shawn that I went to go see recently. I’ve deeply considered the BC or not to BC question, and I have several more months to make up my mind. This dog has a good home, so there’s no hurry. We’ve got day-visits planned to see what he thinks about our house and our routines, and there’s no pressure either way for us to take him.

First, some background:

Shawn was born and raised as an outdoor dog on a rescue farm. He’s well-mannered inside, and is crate trained. Not much formal training, but he’s very intuitive about what is being asked, and offers behaviors until he gets some sign that he’s done right. Initially clueless about taking treats: he had to watch the other dogs and has caught on quickly (no surprise there). Good with visiting kids. Extremely gentle mouth. Raised around all manner of poultry, rabbits, llamas, horses, sheep, goats, cats, and other dogs. He does not chase the free-roaming poultry or cats, is easygoing and submissive with the other dogs, is polite around the sheep pen, and ignores everything else. His full BC father works elsewhere, and his Aussie/BC mother works the sheep on the farm. He’s turned on to sheep but he knows he is not allowed in with the sheep and calmly watches from the sidelines as his mother works.

His mother is a wild whirlwind of crazy energy, but both he and his brother are quiet and friendly. His brother Duncan is outgoing and shameless in soliciting with his Frisbee. Shawn is more reserved and extremely patient, but I’ve seen some beautiful displays of people-joy from him.

I’ve gone to visit several times, but it’s hard to get a fix on his personality. He’s very unobtrusive and mild-mannered. The other dogs push him aside to get to people, so he seems to have resigned himself to the background. He has not had a lot of cuddle time, but he went from standoffish and thinking he’d done something wrong when I was grooming and petting him, to butting his head under my arm and snuggling close whenever I am on the ground. The busy lady who owns the farm wants him to go to a home where he gets more interaction: the farm dogs live good, doggy lives, but they all seem starved for human contact. All in all he seems like he would benefit to having his own family.

I’m a little worried about taking him out of his country setting. Will he adapt to the noisy neighborhood? Being the only dog? Will he become attached to me? Are we really a good home for him?
Lot’s of questions. He’s a beautiful dog, and I’ve never seen a dog with such poise and politeness with such little training.

Well, no hurry. None at all.

The New Cat Shuffle

Pat and I agreed that we needed to bring a new cat into the house fairly quickly so that Batman did not get too territorial about having the house all to himself. We agreed that we would probably bring a new cat home around mid-week.  I had gone out with Boo on my own, and after she had gone, I needed to do something to calm myself. I ended up deciding to do the first round of visits to the large cat colony to see which cats caught my eye. It did not open until three, and my errands only took me through two o’clock, so I stopped by a tiny shelter way across town that I used to volunteer at before my schedule changed and we moved. The quality of care had gone way up in the past two years, and the cats were all well-cared for. I visited with the cats for a while and spoke about putting Boo down with some of the staff, and just shed some stress. None of the cats were really speaking to me, and I was on my way out when the volunteer said, “Oh, I forgot about Lucky, he’s up in the basket on the wall. They should have named him Love Bug.”

I walked over and peered in to an amorphous stripe-and-white blob. I stoked the fur once, and the mass rolled over onto its back, revealing a pink nose and white paws, which pulled my hand in so that he could rub his face on me and have me rub his belly. He was soft like a rabbit. I needed to pull him out of the basket to take a look at him, and as is the way with cats, he had wedged himself into a very small space. It was like pulling handkerchiefs from a magician’s sleeve, he just kept coming and coming, and eventually I had an armful of limp, contented cat. I sat down and he ragdolled onto my lap. I had to set him on his feet before I could entice him to stand up and walk around so I could get a look at him. He’s way bigger than Batman, very clean, amenable to fingers in his ears and mouth, no complaints when handling his paws or palpitating his innards, no sensitive spots on his skin, not overweight, interested in toys, good manners, very gentlemanly. A very nice cat all around. He clicked, and I decided to go ahead and fill out an application. They said since it was close to close of business, they’d check references on Monday and I’d be able to bring him home on Tuesday if everything checked out. Tuesday sounded good, I’d be able to talk it over with Pat in the meantime. They called that same evening, saying I could pick him up on Monday. Well. Serendipity.

On that end, at least. It remained to be seen if he and Batman would get along. I am familiar with the integration process, so I had a room all set aside for the newcomer, and when I brought him home Monday afternoon, Batman greeted us at the door, relaxed and curious. Neither one was hostile, merely curious, and I decided to set the crate down to let them get a sniff. Nose to nose sniffs were exchanged, and I let the new cat out. They said he hid at the shelter for the first two weeks, so I expected him to go to ground. He walked around the whole house before I cloistered him, me, and Batman in the cat room. He hid in my arms as I laid on the floor for about 15 minutes. Then he saw a spider, stalked and ate it, and seemed much more at ease. Good on him! We all hung out for around a half hour, then I left him alone in the room for a few hours, visiting every now and then. After a while, I opened the door and let him explore the house. He slunk around the bottom floor, laid down on every stair, scoped out the kitchen, and then settled down contentedly on the bed in our temporary bedroom/livingroom. Batman alternated tailing the new cat around with his nose up his butt and giving me looks that said: “Are you serious?!”

When Patrick came home, he heartily approved of the new addition. I said I had been ruminating on names, and that the cat was very definitely a country gentleman, a nice fellow, and needed a suitable name that reflected this. I put forth “Tweed” and  Patrick said it was a good cat name. That it “suited” him. Hehe.

So far there’s only been a few bouts of half-hearted fisticuffs, with Tweed mostly ignoring Batman and Batman ranging from wary to pouncing and cleaning the tip of Tweed’s tail. They’re cut from the same cloth, these two. They’re both currently sacked out, bellies up on the bed. They’re not comfortable enough to groom one another for real yet, but I think they will be buddies.