Wednesday, December 31, 2008

fun with cooking

I just realized that I don't have a copy of my final biscuit roll recipe written down, so here it is.

Biscuit Roll Recipe
modified from Seattle Times food blog recipe, 11/20/2008

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
5 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
2 cups buttermilk

1) In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside.
2) In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or using Kitchenaid mixer until mixtureresembles very coarse cornmeal.
3) Add buttermilk to yeast mixture, stir briefly, and add to flour mixture. Stir until mixture is just moistened. The dough, will be very soft. (You may covered and refrigerate it overnight at this point.) Let the dough rest and rise, covered, for at least a half hour, or up to several hours, punching it down asneed be during the longer rise.
4) Lightly grease muffin tins. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (If refrigerated, remove dough from refrigerator and let rise an hour. Then punch down the dough and knead it briefly, about 2 minutes, on a lightly floured surface.) Pinch off quarter-sized pieces, roll them into rounds between the palms of your hands and put 3 small balls into each muffin tin. Alternatively, put one golf-ball size roll of dough into each muffin tin for more biscuity appearance. Let rise for 30 minutes and bake about 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden.

I have found that less rising time will give more dense biscuity rolls, and more rising time will give fluffier dinner rolls. Both are tasty, of course! Yesterday I also found that in my oven I can bake them at 330 degrees for a longer time and get a fully-baked roll that is very light in color, which I personally prefer.

Yesterday I made a batch of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies for Chris, which I made by doctoring a gluten-free cookie mix with a heaping teaspoon of ground coffee and another teaspoon of vanilla. They came out really well, according to him, so those were both excellent additions - he says the coffee flavor is really subtle but works to bring out the chocolate flavor even more. I also made a batch of regular chocolate chip cookies, and I think I finally have that nailed down to a science - use a preheated baking stone, keep my oven at 330 degrees, and bake for 16 minutes per batch. All of the cookies came out just right, not too dark or crispy, with enough rise to be a bit chewy, and with the slight sheen on the top from the butter. I also learned that they cool better if I peel them off the stone immediately, rather than waiting a few minutes as I had done previously.

Yay for successful baking!

Monday, December 29, 2008

disaster averted

On Saturday evening, I noticed a bit of ice pulling away from the "ceiling" of our upright freezer, but didn't think much of it because we had been in and out of it a bit that day. First thing Sunday morning, however, it was clearly apparent that the freezer had died - ice on the shelves was melting and the freezer was making no sounds at all. With only a few things we could check ourselves, we called around looking for someone to come out but failed to find anyone available. Chris moved things around to pack in the dog/cat food together to retain temperature, moved as much as would fit into the garage fridge's freezer, and moved the human food upstairs into our main fridge freezer, but there was still four full crates of dog food (160lbs total) and at least 12 bags of cat food (72lbs total) left in the freezer. Oh, if I had only "gotten a round tuit" and bought the temperature sensor for the freezer like I had meant to since we brought it home in October - we might've known early on Saturday of its demise!

With nothing more to do yesterday but wait, we put the worry aside and enjoyed our last evening together with my mother and sister, including flyball practice and a trip to Burgermaster. This morning we took them to the airport at 8:30am, and on our way home we were called Seattle Home Appliance (Bothell) and they had a technician who could come out later this morning to look at the unit. After a quick stop at both Home Depot and the SHA store itself, both to scope out replacement options, we picked up some dry ice at QFC to help hold over the meat in the freezer and returned home. Interestingly, you must be 18 or older to purchase dry ice, which greatly amused both of us.

The wonderful technician from SHA showed up before lunchtime, and was able to repair our freezer! There was an issue with a bit of wiring, and he was able to patch it out and get the freezer running again for just a moment - the dry ice had done its job all too well, causing the temperature to drop to -10 inside the unit itself, so that the freezer immediately turned back off due to the cold. We are monitoring it, and expect it to be running on its own power sometime late tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on how quickly the dry ice burns off. Most importantly, we are out far less than the cost of replacing the freezer or replacing the compressor, and of course the expense of replacing 240lbs of meat without a bulk purchase group. That is a relief!

A much smaller failure occured early last week when I killed our small Cuisinart rice cooker, as it has always had trouble cooking rice for more than two people and I overdid it with rice for four. In its place we now have a shiny new Zojirushi fuzzy logic rice cooker, which can make several kinds of rice, has a pressure-cooker seal to keep it from boiling over (huge messes were the signature of the old one), and can even cook via timer. I'm excited to use it for the first time later this week, and if the quality of our Zojirushi water kettle is any indication we will be happily using it for years to come.

And now, I'd like a quiet day with no drama.....although in a way, the house is almost -too- quiet with only us and our own critters here now.....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

it was a white Christmas after all!

As will come to no surprise to those in the Seattle area, we did indeed have a white Christmas this year. There was about 14" of snow on the ground Christmas morning, and we got another 3-4" throughout the morning and early afternoon. We've never seen this much snow since we moved here in 2001, and according to an acquaintance it's the most snow they've seen since a storm when they moved here in 1993. This picture is the view out of the living room window, taken Christmas morning - you can see the snow falling, the new accumulation on the shoveled half of the driveway, and the massive pile of snow on the corner of the roof.

Our Christmas at home was truly lovely, with my mother and sister arriving in town just before lunch on Monday with no further delays. We spent Monday evening settling in, and then Tuesday morning we did a portrait session with Ann Chase for up-to-date pictures for Mom. That night we went to the Melting Pot in downtown Seattle, despite the heinous ice on the roads there, although in hindsight it might've been smarter to not go at all, but we did travel safely (if slowly) and really enjoyed our dinner. That evening I also met a friend of Ben and Deb's to pick up Ari, who we have through this evening's flyball practice while they are on vacation together in Europe. Wednesday and Thursday were spent at home doing family/holiday things, including Chris making lasagna on Christmas Eve and Mom making a lovely beef roast for Christmas Day.

And of course, what is Christmas without a tree full of presents? I admit I may have gone a bit overboard, but I love buying presents for those I love and it was a special treat to have my family here in person, so it was worth it. The tree was lovely, the gifts were all beautifully wrapped (even the awesome "patchwork" one Chris did for me), and we had a relaxing morning going through our stockings and opening the presents from each other and from family far away. Highlights included new computer parts and a new motorcycle windshield for me, a silver shaving set for Chris, designer perfume for Jade, and a custom-embroidered Timbuk2 tote bag for Mom. I was also the recipient of a pair of silver earrings that Jade designed and made in one of her classes this semester, and I like them very much. They are a little pointy, however, so I will need to wear them mostly when my hair is up, but that is a small price to pay for a unique piece of jewelry!

On Friday we went to see the Tacoma Museum of Glass, which was very interesting but a lot smaller than I thought it would be. There is a "hot-work" shop that is open for the visitors to observe, complete with someone answering questions and explaining what the artists are doing. That was the best part, in my opinion, as I haven't seen glass worked in person so that was fascinating. The exhibits were pretty good, with one by a single artist, one massive Chihuly installation, one collection of vessels by one artist, and an "intro" exhibit that explained the differences in glass art. I really liked the "intro" exhibit, as it was very good at highlighting different techniquest - such as a "heavy" cast glass cinderblock next to a "light" spun glass moth - and even had tactile sections for feeling the glass types. It's too bad the museum isn't larger, I would have liked to see more than the space could support.

Yesterday we picked out photos from our session earlier in the week, and then ran a few errands before returning home. We have also introduced Mom and Jade to Rock Band, with Mom playing bass and Jade trying out both guitar and vocals during the week. This morning we went up to Salish Lodge for brunch, which was delightful as always, and tonight we will be attending flyball practice to finish up our day. Tomorrow is when Mom and Jade fly home, sadly, but we have had a wonderful week together and I am glad to have enjoyed a lovely Christmas with family here in my home.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

walking in a winter wonderland

Over the past week, we have had record-setting winter weather here in the Seattle area. First we had some ice last weekend, followed by frigid temperatures in the low teens for several days. Next up we had a snowstorm hit Wednesday night, dropping a quarter-inch of ice followed by about four inches of snow. And finally, we had a second snowstorm hit yesterday evening that has dropped another 4-5 inches of snow. All in all, we have about 8-9" of snow on the ground at our house, certainly the most we've seen in our eight winters here!

So what do you do with that much snow? You take the dogs out to play in it, of course! First up, we have Curzon, whose dark fur picks up the snow beautifully, thus highlighting his features:

Next is Ezri, who isn't fazed by her first snow at all, and enjoys romping through packed and powder snows chasing her brother or a ball:

Third up is Jadzia, who doesn't care what is on the ground as long as she can fetch a ball somehow:

And last but not least is little Phoebe, who has had great glee in demonstrating her previously unknown talent for burrowing in the snow to bury/uncover/bury/uncover a tennis ball:

They've all had a great time romping in the snow, and hopefully they will now sleep for a while. Yesterday we took them to get baths at a place we hadn't been to, the Bow Wow Fun Towne at the corner of 61st and Lake City Way, and that was enough to tire out the (terrified) puppy to sleep most of the day.

Chris has been working from home since Thursday, having brought home his laptop and using a combination of ventrilo and our cell phones to take calls. I stayed home on both Thursday and Friday due to concerns with getting out of the house safely (plus the police were telling people to stay home already), but whether those days will go down as sick time or weather time is yet to be determined. I'm on vacation starting tomorrow, so no further worries for commuting for me until January 5th!

On a more disappointing note, my mother and sister are still not here despite being scheduled to fly in yesterday. Late Friday night, United Airlines preemptively cancelled all flights going into Chicago in fear that the weather forecast would be horribly wrong. Of course, nothing happened at ALL yesterday in Chicago, meaning that the cancelled flights were nothing more than an insult to the thousands of passengers stranded. The best they could do was to put them on a flight tomorrow, thus cutting short our visit by two days and actually making it far more dangerous for us all, as instead of them coming in between storms they will be coming in at the end of one. I'm hoping the roads will be clear tomorrow so that I won't have too much trouble getting out and going to the airport, in addition to hoping the airport is running well enough for their flight to get in. Overall, I'm really pissed at United right now for doing this for absolutely no good reason, as they've cut my time with my family and put us all at greater risk during the rescheduled travel. Well, nothing I can really do about it now but hope, I suppose. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

snow, trees, and singing

On Saturday Chris and I went out to get our Christmas tree from Mountain Creek Tree Farm in Snoqualmie, WA. Our friends Barbara and Jared introduced us to the place in 2006, and this is our third year returning to get a lovely tree and other decorations. This time we wanted something different than the typical Douglas Fir, especially since we couldn't find one that we both liked. I initially wanted a Frazier Fir, but again there were no trees that we both liked - Fraziers tend to be a bit spindly, and of the few that were full enough to make Chris happy there were none that were even enough to make me happy. We looked at the few Turkish Firs present, and also meandered through the Noble Fir section, but nothing really seemed to fit. As we were going through the Frazier section again, we wound up finding a mis-located Grand Fir, which we both liked immensely and decided to bring home. We cut it down ourselves, had it baled, put it on the roof of the Subaru, and brought it home. Right now it's up in the stand in the dining room (drinking ungodly amounts of water), and we're planning to decorate it tonight. I also got a lovely wreath for the front door, and a small sprig of mistletoe that is currently hanging decoratively on a cabinet.

Saturday night brought our first snowfall, along with a truly Artic cold snap that this area hasn't seen in about forty years (according to the radio personalities this morning). We got about 2" of snow Saturday night, which was enough for Ezri to run about in for her first experience with snow - not that she really noticed anything new! I think it will be interesting to see what she does the first time she sees nice deep snow, as Curzon's first experience at just 10 weeks old was rather entertaining and adorable to boot. Perhaps there will be enough snow in the mountains to make snowshoeing feasible during my week off after my mom and sister leave. At any rate, the cold snap is expected to hold through Christmas at this point, with few if any excursions above freezing. There is quite a bit of ice on the roads in various places, including the flyover bridge I take to get into our work campus, so yesterday I drove myself and the remainder of the week I am riding in with Christy so that Chris has the car to drive himself to work. Between the cold and the ice, it is just not worth the risk of a bad spill or frostbite, so no riding for us this week. It is supposed to snow again tonight, and possibly snow Sunday-Tuesday as well, so we may have a serious white Christmas this year!

I have posted a few new videos up on YouTube for anyone who is interested!
Ezri and Riker, 12/06/08 -
Ezri and Curzon, 12/08/08 -
Ezri at Flyball Practice, 12/14/08:

Ezri was five months old yesterday, and her flyball training is coming along beautifully as seen in the videos linked above. She's single-stepping most of the jumps, has a nice high quick boxturn, and an excellent recall back to her squeaky tug toy. I had a teammate time her on Sunday and she ran a 5.26 as her best time - pretty awesome for such a little thing!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

three teeth and a dewclaw - just another flyball weekend

Last weekend was the annual Christmas tournament put on by the Dogwood Pacesetters and Kaotic K9's, this time held in the heated cement-floored barn in Abbotsford. The tourney went very smoothly, with racing done by 4pm on Saturday and by 2:30pm on Sunday - a record as far as I'm concerned! Our entire team had lime green Santa hats that I had ordered online, so we got plenty of comments about those, and overall I had a great weekend.

Ezri has now reached the point in her development where her adult teeth are coming in, and so she has started losing her baby teeth. On Friday afternoon before we left, I found one on the floor where Phoebe was snuffling after something, and put it on my desk for safekeeping. Sunday morning we were playing fetch when she started bringing back a bloody tennis ball, which prompted me to find where the tooth had popped out and slid against the wall. Just a few hours later, the tennis ball was once again crimson as she dropped it into my hand along with one of her lower incisors....this time covering my hand in blood, right before I had to take Jadzia into the ring for a race! I have all three teeth in a little baggie on my desk right now, as I want to keep them even though I have no plans for them at the moment. We never found any of Curzon's baby teeth, so I'm kind of tickled that I've managed to catch three of Ezri's.

Sunday after Curzon was done with his scheduled races (although I could have used him in the last one, as it turned out), Chris took him outside to play fetch. And, of course, he promptly tore one of his dewclaws off again, the same way he did back in September. Luckily Carol was on-hand again and was willing to pull out the remaining claw and then clean and bandage it up properly for us. So I'll be cleaning and rebandaging his leg every 2-3 days for the next two weeks or so, just like I had to do in September. I called the vet to find out the cost and pros/cons of surgery to remove the claws, and it sounds like it is a very painful surgery with a long recovery time, almost disproportionately so. I'll probably talk to her in person at some point to see when they think it is reasonable to do so, and see how that goes. I don't want to put him in pain (especially to pay money for that!), but if the pain is similar to ripping it out then it might save him in the long run.

We got the photos back from the photographer yesterday, and they're gorgeous. She provided two that were downsampled for use on Facebook, and I'm sharing those here. I absolutely love her work and just wish the prints weren't so darned expensive....sigh.

Me with all four dogs, taken next to the stream on the photographer's property.

Chris and I with all four dogs - this is our 2008 Christmas card photo.

It's amazing how much Ezri's grown and changed in just the six weeks since these photos were taken. It's also pretty impressive what the photographer can do to the photos - both of the little dogs were wearing slip leads in the photos, which have been mostly removed (there is a bit of one visible in the photo with me alone). So if you are reading this and want a card, make sure I have your address!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving wrapup and Christmas preparations

Our Thanksgiving dinner turned out very well, with good food and excellent company, and a good time was had by all. I learned that my new(ish) crockpot will actually cook if left on "low," so next time I need to hold mashed potatoes I have to figure out how to turn it to just "warm" or else just leave it off until shortly before serving. The potatoes weren't bad, but they were sort of twice-cooked which made the texture a little weird. As for the buttermilk biscuit rolls, the changes I made to the dough recipe - 3/4 cup Crisco and 1/4 cup butter, 2 tsp salt - came out fantastic. The first batch baked on Thanksgiving burned quickly, however, and so I think the baking temperature of 400 degrees is just way overkill especially if you're putting the rolls on the bottom rack. I made up the last of the dough on Friday and used 375 degrees instead, and they came out absolutely perfectly. They could probably even be baked at 350 degrees and turn out just fine, which would be helpful since so many chicken and pork things I make are baked at 350.

The bacon-wrapped turkey was fantastic, with lots of bacony flavor in the meat. We may not repeat this, as I think both Chris and I prefer a more traditional turkey, but it was very good and I'm glad I did the experiment.

Yesterday I put up the Christmas lights on the house, as I try to do each year over Thanksgiving weekend if the weather permits. It just gets dark too early to try and do it after work in the evenings, so a weekend or vacation day is really the only opportunity to do it safely. I pulled out the Bin O' Outside Lights and started testing them - four icicle strands had bit the dust, but luckily there were three boxes of new icicle lights in the bin so I figured I was all set. Up to the roof I went, after going up and down to set up the extension cord off the side of the house and into the garage, and the long string of icicles went up first with no problems. I opened up a new package of lights, only to discover they had polarized plugs (one blade bigger than the other) - and the first set I had put up did not, so I couldn't chain them together. So I had to take down the long string, and start over using the new lights...which worked great until I found that the new strands were much shorter than the ones they had replaced, meaning I didn't have enough to cover the roofline that I wanted to cover. Back down to the ground I went, on to the computer to look up where to buy them, a call to Home Depot to see if they were in stock, and finally a trip to go buy more.

By the time I got home with the new lights, Chris had gotten up and was ready to work on the ground stuff while I finished up the roof. The new icicle lights finished up the roofline handily (and I really like them much better than the others - GE Commercial Grade Icicle lights), and I now have three strands of multicolor lights available since we bought LED lights for the tree this year, so those went up on the roof as well. I was able to make a double line along the edge of the gutter (just above the icicles), as well as outline the little detail roof peak above the garage. Chris put the blue and white lights into the bushes, outlined the walk with the green rope light, and the front door in purple lights. I want more blue/white lights for the bushes and maybe another rope light for the other side of the walkway, but what we have looks good for sure.

And last night I got to come home after flyball to a lit-up house, which is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving preparations

The last week of November is here, and that means it is time for the Thanksgiving holiday. I never had a big deal with this holiday growing up, although it was by no means traumatic or anything silly like that, just not much to-do about it. Having a good meal with immediate family was how we celebrated, as well as watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV that morning. I know Chris is used to much larger family gatherings, but we have only attended one Thanksgiving together with his family (that I recall) due to the distance between us. Instead, we have a nice dinner here in Seattle, and invite any friends who care to join us, especially those with no other plans or nowhere else to go. I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 with the help of my mother, and I've done it alone every year since with various contributions from Chris and other dinner guests. Strangely enough, I actually like cooking this big dinner once a year and even have a spreadsheet set up with cooking times and a schedule, so that everything is ready on-time for dinner.

2008 Thanksgiving Menu
Herb/Oil Roasted Turkey
Bacon Wrapped Turkey
Pan-Baked Herb Stuffing
Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes
Buttermilk Rolls
Deviled Eggs
Mixed Greens with Carrots and Heirloom Tomatoes
Gluten-Free Cornbread
Pumpkin Pie (one GF, one regular)
Chocolate Pie
Homemade Vanilla Whipped Cream

Our friends Ben and Deb will be joining us, and they will be bringing an additional vegetable side dish of some sort. Chris and I are perfectly happy to have potatoes, meat, and bread, so it is good for us to have someone who actually wants a real vegetable on the table.

This afternoon I did all of my shopping, as the only things on-hand already were the two bone-in turkey breasts that Ben had brought me. I stopped by the Pike Place Market to get the herbs, potatoes, and vegetables; by Whole Foods for the bacon, eggs, cream, butter, tomatoes, and buttermilk; and by QFC for the pumpkin, evaporated milk, stuffing mix, and shortening. I also stopped by Three Dog Bakery to pick up four Thanksgiving Beast Feasts for our pack, as they love having them every year and the proceeds go to support animal charities.

So far I have made the pumpkin pies (one in a GF crust, one in a regular crust, and four single-serve glass bowls), chocolate pies (two in regular crusts), boiled the eggs, made the roll dough, and made two types of brine for the turkey breasts. I'm quite pleased with the brines that I came up with, and I hope they turn out as well as I expect. Each brine was made in a large pot on the stove, warmed until everything was dissolved and mixed thoroughly.

Savoury Brine
3 cartons organic vegetable broth
5 whole garlic cloves
whole allspice
whole peppercorns
minced toasted onion
1 1/2 cups kosher salt

Sweet Brine
1/2 gallon apple cider
maple syrup
whole allspice
one cinnamon stick
3/4 cup kosher salt

The larger of the two turkey breasts is in the savoury brine and will be roasted with herbs and oil, the smaller is in the sweet brine and will be wrapped in bacon and roasted.

Finally, I made the roll dough based on the Seattle Times recipe that Christy found last week and made for our book club. We decided that the recipe needed to be modified slightly, so I used 3/4 cup shortening and 1/4 cup unsalted butter, and added an extra teaspoon of salt. The dough tasted really great when I was done, even better than last weeks' batch, and I'm hoping the rolls come out just as well.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

flyball crazy at just four months

As usual, we went to flyball practice this past Sunday evening. The last two weeks, and probably for the forseeable future, we went early to be there at 5pm in order to work with Ezri during lesson time. This week was full of interesting new things, that's for sure!

Ezri is big enough (19 lbs or so) that she can make the training board slide, whether it's on the floor or on someone's knees, so it was time to move her up to the training frame. This is a big fake box sort of thing that Ben made last year sometime for Ari and Indy, and it is basically a fixed-angle board, much larger and higher than a real box, with velcro spots on it to hold tennis balls. This lets the young ones learn how to run up on the box to get a ball without having to deal with the shock of hitting the pedal or having to catch that fast-moving ball as it's ejected out of the box. Regular training aids (jumps, barriers, etc.) can be used with it as the dogs' age and abilities allow, and for now we have Ezri using just a little piece of something in front of it to visually cue her to jump up, she's far too little for a regular jump aid of 6". So the first thing Ezri did at practice was decide she wasn't going to turn left anymore, she wanted to turn right. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to handle this, as a left turn is faster but if the right turn is natural that's safer. We switched her over to the right after she kept turning that way anyway, and she proceeded to have a perfect turn just about every time.

Ezri did plenty of "full runs" on the puppy course consisting of 3" jumps and the fixed box-trainer, run in sets of five with at least 1o and usually 20 minutes between sets. She ran two sets for me, two sets for Chris, and one set for Julie with successful runs in every set. Next week I hope to get Jeff and Rudy to run her for some experience with additional handlers, especially since Chris is the only guy she's run for. She's doing pretty well holding her ball and going over the jumps, with a reminder holdback at the beginning, but does occasionally get too excited and drop her ball before she crosses the finish line. We're being careful to make sure she's not rewarded for that and the incidence of that particular foible lessed over the course of the evening. She has got the whole "border collie stop" down pat as she hits her tuggy toy at full speed and swings out without ever braking. Hopefully I can switch her from the TugIt with the squeaky toy to a regular fleece tug in the next few weeks, as if Ezri gets much more invovled with the tugging the trainer TugIt isn't going to last much longer.

Finally, we learned just how much Ezri loves flyball now...she climbed out of the e-pen! We were running the second set of tournament lineups, with Jadzia and Curzon both on the same team in start and cleanup, respectively. During the last heat I recalled Jadzia and looked over to see Chris drop Curzon's harness and race over to catch a flailing Ezri who had climbed up to the top of the e-pen and was about to drop out over the side onto the concrete - a four foot drop. I grabbed Curzon and ran him while Chris dealt with the puppy, and luckily nobody (and no dog!) was hurt. Ezri tried the climbing escape again a few minutes later, and Chris saw her and leaned the e-pen wall backwards so she fell off without warning (landing on the thick dog bed safely). She looked rather emotionally wounded and pathetic for the rest of the night, but didn't even try to stand up against the e-pen wall again so that's just fine with us. If need be we'll leash her to another dog when she's in the pen, like another teammate has to do with her bouncy girl border collie, but I'm hoping she has learned her lesson.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

vet visit yesterday

Yesterday I took Jadzia in to the vet for a followup to her thyroid/endocrine blood panel from a few weeks ago as well as her annual exam. The results from the thyroid blood panel showed very low T3 and low-ish but still in range T4 numbers, indicating that she may have a thyroid problem but probably not. Jackie did a physical exam, finding no problems whatsoever, and drew blood to do a regular/geriatric test panel just to be sure. She's not expecting to find any problems, and her guess is that Jadzia's thyroid is slightly underactive and if there are no issues with the new panel then she'll have us put her on a mild thyroid support supplement to basically "feed" the thyroid and help it behave properly. Jadzia weighed 35.4 lbs yesterday, up from 35.0 lbs just two weeks ago despite cutting her food to 7oz, so I hope that a supplement will help her out. I don't want to cut her food again, though perhaps cutting another ounce of meat and replacing it with pumpkin would not be amiss.

Since I was going to the vet anyway, I took all four dogs with me to weigh them all. Phoebe came in at 9.1 lbs (perfect), Curzon came in at 40.1 lbs (perfect, at last!), and Ezri came in at 18.7 lbs (up 1.5 lbs in two weeks). Because I am a nerd and I use Excel an awful lot anyway, I made a graph of the growth pattern information that I have for Curzon, Indigo, and Ezri.

It's shrunk down a little in this post, but if you click on it it should open in a larger size. Basically Ezri looks to be tracking Indigo pretty closely in weight so far, with a slight difference in when they hit their growth spurts in the 3-4 month age range. She's well under Curzon's weight at the same age, which is good. Looks like she'll probably be dead on with Indigo in size, which is just fine with me!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

holiday plans are filling up the calendar

It's hard to believe, but it's just one week until Thanksgiving and just five weeks until Christmas! Our calendar has really filled up over the past few days, and I think we will have just the right combination of external activities, friends and family time, and alone time to have a very nice holiday season. Some of our activities are annual, some are special occasions, and some are new additions to our calendar. So, what are we doing for the holidays this season?

November 8 - TSO concert (as posted about previously)
November 27 - Thanksgiving Dinner with Ben, Deb, and Ari joining us
November 29 - Chris' birthday dinner
December 2 - Chris' birthday
December 6-7 - Dogwood Pacesetters Christmas flyball tournament
December 9 - Child's Play Charity Dinner and Auction
December 13 - Christmas Tree selection and decoration
December 14 - Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis
December 15 - Seattle Men's Chorus holiday concert
December 20 - My mother and sister arrive for Christmas

I'm very excited about our plans for this year, especially our tickets for the Child's Play Charity auction and dinner. This is the charity that Chris and I donate to every year, and you can learn more about what they do at In a nutshell, Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade set this up in response to claims that gamers are a blight on society, and the aim of the charity is to donate games and other items to children's hospitals. The first year include just Children's in Seattle, and it has grown every year since then to include children's hospitals across the USA and now around the world. They provide Amazon wishlists and Paypal links to each hospital, and donors select what they want and send it directly to the hospital of their choice, so the CPC guys don't need to put much overhead cost into the charity drive at all. If you'd like to give back to your community, this is a nice direct way to do so - it's wonderful knowing that I picked out a Game Boy and four board games for a hospital, instead of just writing a check.

I hope everyone is having fun planning out their holiday season! While we will not be visiting the East Coast during the holidays this year, we are tentatively planning to come out next year. We will definitely be at Dan's wedding in September in Ohio, and we hope to be able to swing another trip in December for Christmas. As always, however, we will have to wait and see!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

four months old in puppy world

Last Saturday was November 15th and Ezri's four-month birthday. She's thoroughly out of the infant/toddler puppy stage and is probably pushing the late child / early pre-teen stage judging by her behavior. Physically she's slimmed down a lot due to growing and has completely lost the puppy pudge she originally had, and looks more like a small dog than a baby puppy. She's got a waist already, from both side and top views, and her tail is flagging out more each day. Her nose has lengthened and her ears are fully pricked, leaving her looking so much like her sister Indigo it's a little surreal. As for coloring, her merle is darkening more thus making it much more visible, and her eyes have held steady at the light honey top / light ice blue bottoms, which is a very striking combination. All in all, Ezri is quite a pretty little girl.

Last Monday (11/10) was her last puppy kindergarten class, and she passed with no issues and is approved for Intermediate Puppy if I choose to take that option. It has been interesting to watch how she interacts with the other puppies, as she seems to be unsure what to do with them and is much more comfortable around adult dogs. If she wasn't getting enough attention in class (say while the instructor was talking), she would yip to get attention, so we spent a lot of time working on "good quiet" and "treats from heaven" for lying quietly. Command-wise, Ezri has a firm grasp of sit, wait, and spin (both directions) and is improving her down, beg, come, and bang commands as well. She still needs more work on leash to walk politely, and attention work outside especially with Curzon around to learn that she needs to pay attention to us and not to him. It's handy to know that she will follow him right back to us if we are working offleash, but that's not a crutch I want to keep for much longer - she has the habit of watching him exclusively while ignoring us, which is not good. Curzon has always watched Jadzia more than me, but he will watch me if I ask for his attention, and that's where I want to get Ezri. Of course, it is amusing to think of the border collie chain - Ezri watching Curzon watching Jadzia watching me!

As for useful behaviors around the house, Ezri has fully mastered the "sit and wait" for her dinner, so that we can have all four dogs sitting quietly and waiting for release to eat their meal. She also understands that she has to sit (and sometimes wait) before going outside, and she's now sitting and waiting quietly with the other three when I open the garage in the morning before releasing them to run out into the kennel. We can now confidently let her potty offleash in the front yard, although I wouldn't leave her completely unsupervised just yet, and she hasn't had any avoidable accidents in the house for a couple of weeks. Last Monday she did have an incident where I had let them out of their crates and gone directly to the front door (as per our morning SOP), and she just couldn't wait for me to get downstairs and peed a little in front of the door. That is a physical housebreaking issue and not a mental one, so we aren't counting that as a major problem. We are still gating the dogs close to us to cut off any avenues of sneak potty attacks, but I almost prefer doing that and may continue to do so even after Ezri is fully trained and trustworthy.

We had flyball practice for the first time in four weeks on Sunday, due to two tournaments and a scheduling conflict, so Ezri needed a little reminder to go over the jumps before she was running happily again. She needs more work on her baby boxturn on the board, so I plan to work on that a lot next Sunday and maybe borrow the board again to work at home. She definitely has the idea down of going over the jumps, getting a ball, and returning over the jumps to her tuggie toy, so that's great! I do need to have other people handle her, as she's bonded strongly to me but also needs to respond better to Chris as well as other teammates, so I think I'll work on that next week as well. Training is neverending, after all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

what I did this weekend

Let's see here, it's been a busy weekend in Azeroth as we invade the newly rediscovered contintent of Northrend. First, a picture taken last week of my beautiful new flying horse as we flew through the night skies of Nagrand. Soon we will be flying throughout the chilly skies of Dragonblight!

Well, even if I can't fly in Northrend yet, I can find other ways to go zooming through the air. How about harpoon surfing near Valgarde Keep? This was one of the most fun things I have done to date in this game, and from what I hear I can go back and repeat the experience any time I want. Now THAT is service!

Never fear, I have not been alone through my journey. Here is a shot of Chris and I as we wait for the ski lift to take us up from the Tuskarr village back to the cliffs of Howling Fjord. He is quite proud of his new kitty mount, even if she is quite toothy! We've had quite a lot of fun exploring both the Fjord and the Tundra, and we should be moving in to Dragonblight later this week. He's a little behind me right now since he's leveling a death knight, but Volnek will catch up to Bretak and I soon enough!

I have visited the Nexus in Coldarra, Borean Tundra, quite a few times this weekend as well. I even pulled out my magic broom for one last picture before it faded away until next Hallows Eve. Thankfully my awesome horse is not a temporary mount, but rather is one I will keep forever! The Nexus is the most beautiful instance I've seen to date, and I wish I could live there in the beautiful Librarium. Having pet dragons would also be quite awesome, of course.

Speaking of horses, I got to borrow this horse from some crazy death knight for a quest for a while. It's a little unnerving being on a horse who is just taking you somewhere without you having any input on the decisions whatsoever...but the horse was pretty smart after all and took me right to help her master, and I saw one of my friends there at the same time to boot!

And finally, the ultimate in insane cuteness - I rescued a bunch of murloc tadpoles from their evil captors, giving me an entire entourage of babies following me around! Sadly I cannot take pictures of sound, but they make the CUTEST sounds ever, I wish I could keep one permanently! I don't think Luineleuca (my flying serpent) would be quite so thrilled about that, however, she's much like Jadzia in her dislike of babies. Chris was also less than thrilled by the amount of squee that these murloc babies produce, but well too bad for him. CUTE!!

So I hope you enjoyed these postcards from Northrend. Wish you were here!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

the holiday season has officially begun

My junior year in college, we were poking around on the internet and found this awesome song entitled "Christmas Eve / Sarejevo" which was basically a rock version of the classic "Carol of the Bells." I LOVED that song and listened to it an awful lot, probably driving everyone around me absolutely batty. The copy we found was listed as being by a group called Savatage, but we couldn't find any more music like it, so we figured it was a one-off they had done and just enjoyed what we had. In November of 2001, I was in the lab at the PDF one day when that song came on the radio, followed by the DJ announcing that "we just played 'Christmas Eve / Sarejevo 12/24' by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra." Cue the frantic scrambling to the computer for Google, and I discovered that TSO was the band we'd been looking for all that time, and they had two Christmas albums out. Much happiness was had that year!

The following year (2002) we discovered that TSO does a holiday tour every year, and so we decided to go to their show. It was at Mercer Arena at Seattle Center, and we wound up with 14th row tickets after miscommunication lost us our 2nd row tickets. The show was utterly fantastic, more than the CDs and DVD could have ever prepared us for, and Chris and I decided on the spot that this was how we would celebrate the holiday season every year. Some people go to the Nutcracker ballet, we go to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. We've gone six out of the last seven years, only missing 2004 due to our Christmas trip east already planned with tickets bought before the TSO tour schedule was announced - and I seriously considered flying to LA to see the show on my own!

This past Saturday was the annual TSO show, and despite it being "early" for a Christmas show we of course eagerly got our tickets during the fan presale in September, made our reservations for a dinner out, and missed a flyball tournament to attend. This year we were in the seventh row center, and it was a great location just barely off from last year's epic third row seats. Every year the band does the same plan for the show - the first half is the full "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" storyline, and the second half is when they introduce the band and do a setlist from their entire catalog plus some other songs like "Carmina Burana." This year the sound balance was perfect, the pyrotechnics were phenomenal, and the show was utterly fantastic with absolutely no sour notes.

With the repetition of the main storyline each year, the group often does little things to freshen up the routine. This year it was a combination of being exceedingly clean and adding in extra riffs and solos, as well as a few specialty "duets" including the two violinists playing one violin (she was fingering the strings, he was using the bow) and the two keyboardists playing a duet on one keyboard. Unfortunately the lead guitarist, Al Pitrelli, had injured himself just a few days before our show by jumping off the stage onto a dais, in the process shattering his knee and tearing his ACL (according to Tommy's introduction), so he was limited to a chair on stage instead of his usual rock star presence. The only thing this affected musically, however, was that we missed his beautiful harmonizing with Tommy on "Ornament," which is impressive - all of his solos were just as beautiful and technical as ever, and he was fully in the moment like few other artists are.

One of the reasons I love TSO so is because they are all so happy to be up on stage performing, not only for the audience but for each other. They are clearly friends, have played together for years (over 20 in some cases), and are just out to have a great time. This comes across so clearly in their music and in how they interact with each other that you can't help but grin when they play. Watching Al and his wife Jane interact is also usually pretty entertaining, as they definitely have a loving yet playful relationship - this year Al introduced Jane with "The first time I heard her play she stopped my heart, and then six months later she had the misfortune of marrying me. It's been ten years and she still stops my heart." So, so sweet. :) A few years ago Tommy made some snarky comment about Jane marrying Al and not him as well, so clearly a well-worn friendship in place, which makes the show that much better.

There are two touring companies, one for the east coast and one for the west coast, and the major players have stayed the same for every year we've gone - Tommy Farese on vocals, Al Pitrelli on lead guitar, Angus Clark on guitar, Jane Mangini on keyboards (Al's wife), Kristin Gorman on vocals, and Anthony Gaynor as narrator. With so many key players staying the same from tour to tour, it is a bit like seeing old friends every year and makes it that much more personal to me. The band is kind enough to have a meet & greet after every show open to anyone who attended, and we went our first year (2002) and again this year (2008). This picture above shows the signatures from both of these years, and I also have a book of piano music from "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" that was signed in 2002. All of the band members are kind and gracious, and I truly wish I could spend an evening in their company to just listen to their stories. I'm sure many fans feel the same way, however, and I think it is wonderful that they do put as much of their personal time out with the fans as they do. Not many bands are willing to do so, and it is very special that TSO does.

This year when we stayed back to meet the band, it was not too bad of a wait and it was really nice to have a moment with each of the members. We were able to wish Al a speedy recovery and tell him how much his show means to us - that it's not Christmas until they play, which seemed to touch him a bit. I was able to talk to the drummer (John O'Reilly) about his choice of ride cymbals, and one of the singers really liked my dragon pendant. The narrator (Anthony) and Tommy were the last at the table, and I was able to tell Anthony how much he adds to the show, while he was quite impressed with my tanzanite ring. As we wrapped up, we told Tommy thanks so much and that this was our sixth show - to which he said "Oh wow, I've got to do something for that...." and pulled out two pre-show passes for us to have as souveneirs. Combined with the printed guitar picks the guitarists had out for us, we had a truly unique souveneir of our evening. Every member of this band is a class act, and I am thankful that they are willing to spend their holiday season touring and entertaining us every year. May they have a smooth tour this year, and I look forward to seeing them again in 2009.

And now the holidays have begun!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

vet visit and behavior training

Yesterday I took both Ezri and Jadzia to the vet, with the latter tagging along to see if she could be squeezed in during my trip. I lucked out and Jackie had time to see Jadzia, saving me another trip out to Mercer Island later this week.

Ezri is sixteen weeks old today, and weighed 17.2 pounds yesterday. This is an increase of only two pounds over four weeks, but I think she has been putting most of her energy into lengthening and less into putting on weight, so that's fine. She's well under Curzon's weight at that age (about 22lbs) and just under Indigo's weight at that age (about 18lbs), which tracks out very well. She got her distemper shot yesterday, which is her last vaccine until her rabies at a year of age, and also got microchipped. I updated Facebook with her 12/13/14 week photos on Sunday and will put up her 15/16 week photos tonight after I take the 16 week set.

Jadzia got to go along because she is fat and cutting her food hasn't done much good, so I wanted to get her thyroid checked out. She weighs 35 pounds, which is [b]well[/b] over what she should weigh at about 30 pounds. They did a blood draw on her and will send it to California for a comprehensive endocrine panel, and I should get the results back in a week or so. Meanwhile I'm going to cut her food slightly more to just 7 ounces per meal and see if that produces any change. Jadzia also got a chiropractic adjustment, with her L4 vertebrae being stuck and limiting movement, so that will hopefully help improve her flyball times at practice and at the December tournament. Jackie said that everything else looks really good joint-wise, and she's very muscular and strong despite her extra padding. So that is great news, as I was a little worried she was falling apart on us at just 6.5 years of age!

The last week or two have really shown great strides in Ezri's behavior and learning, with her really following the house rules very well especially in the last few days. She is sitting and waiting for her food with the other two border collies (Phoebe is under special "shut-the-heck-up" training at meals right now), and also sitting and waiting at the door when it's time to go out. She has learned that some mornings we sleep late and not to fuss when we do so, and also has had very few accidents in the house in the past week, and those were all our fault. It's still very frustrating that she holds #2 until she's back inside at times, but if we keep her tethered to us that nixes her instinct to run off and do business elsewhere in the house. I'm hoping that by Christmas she will have free run of the house and be fully potty trained.


No Excuses. Step up and vote. Say something and be heard.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the girls being quiet...

Today we set up the baby gate outside of the office, with the dog bed between it and the wall. At one point Chris found all three girls quietly sleeping on the same bed, and managed to nab this photo. Perhaps there is hope for harmony amongst the pack yet!

Halloween Flyball

Last weekend was the annual South of the Boo!der tournament hosted by the Cascade Comets at Argus Ranch down in Auburn. While it is nice to not have to leave the country or travel much for a tournament, it does mean that we have to get up ungodly early due to the hour-long drive from our house down to the facility. As usual everything we brought was just covered in dirt, as it is a soft dirt-floored barn that doesn't pack down well, but thankfully we had no canine or human injuries.

All three of our dogs ran very well all weekend, with Jadzia running as height dog again (13") with the new rules change. Her times were slower than I would like, with her best time only around 5.3", but that soft footing made her lose a lot of speed especially coming off the box and causing her to double-step between jumps 5 and 6. I had Carol take a look at her midday on Sunday and Jadzia does have some tightness in her spine, so I think I'll take her to see the vet and see if she needs any chiropractic work. She's also still chunky despite lowering her food, so a thyroid test may be in order as well. Curzon ran well all weekend, with only one bobble on Saturday and that was still a clean run, so it looks like our "throw the ball at his head" drills are helping him with catching the ball out of the box more reliably. Phoebe ran solidly both days, and this was the first tournament in two years that she didn't run every heat of every race, as both Siena and Taben were also on her team.

Perhaps most exciting of all, at least to us personally, was the presentation of title awards on Saturday after racing was over. Chris got the ONYX plaque for Curzon, and I received the Flyball Grand Champion plaque for Jadzia. The FGDCh plaque is huge and really gorgeous, and I'm just so tickled to finally have it - she earned the title on June 29 after all! Unfortunately the title pull was just before Phoebe earned her ONYX, so it'll be another six months or so until I get the plaque for that title. Julie and Tango also got their ONYX plaque, and there's at least two other dogs closing in on the title so hopefully we will have at least one more achieved before the next title pull. I hope to get both plaques up on the wall in the dog room tonight - Curzon's ONYX plaque will go below Jadzia's, but I think I am going to move some art around to put the FGDCh plaque up next to the bulletin board. We might move other things around too, and re-hang the individual photos of the dogs with their ribbons as well, depending on how motivated I turn out to be.

Ezri is doing beautifully and is fifteen weeks old today. I plan to write a longer post tonight with pictures after I've taken the weekly set this evening at home.

Monday, October 20, 2008

of freezers and photos

With four dogs and two cats on the raw diet in our house, we have been looking at ways to cut costs for their food as their food budget outstrips our own at this point. I have joined the local raw buying group to get deals on bulk meat orders, and our first (small) order of Columbia River pet food was quite good. However, the group only orders CR once every three months, so we would need over 300 lbs to last that long, especially as Ezri grows and needs more food. Our chest freezer can only fit about 100-120 lbs, so that was not going to work out, so I started looking on Craigslist to find an inexpensive freezer. Well, I totally lucked out and found one last week - a 31 cubic foot freezer, delivered to our house, for $300 total. These photos are from my iPhone, but they should be sufficient to show the size of this beast - the top shelf is about even with my head! We are now all set to make an enormous order for three months worth of raw food, and I've even taken advantage of a sale at the grocery store to stock up on some french fries and ice cream, although I don't want to put in too much "human food" until we're sure we have the space we need for the raw food. I'm going to also change our Darwins order to quarterly since we will only be ordering cat food from them, and so we'll be stocked for months at a time. All I need to do now is to get a temperature probe and alarm for the freezer, as a "just in case" measure should it ever fail.

When Chris' parents visited us in September, they came to the Gig Harbor demo we were running on the 27th and got to see the dogs play flyball in person for the first time. His mom took lots of pictures, and I nabbed these two from her Flickr photostream to share - our "family" picture is not the best since we were trying to wrangle the dogs, but the closeup of Ezri's face is just stunning. Yay Mom!

We spent most of the day Saturday preparing for and then taking our family portraits with Ann Chase at her home studio in Woodinville, which is a lovely house on absolutely gorgeous grounds. Our appointment was part of her "Fall Fantasy" series to take advantage of the color in the trees, and we got a beautiful sunny day to use for the shoot. In the morning we took the dogs to Marymoor to play and tire them out a bit, then we took them to the dogwash to ensure they were all sparkly clean. This was Ezri's first not-in-the-sink bath, and she was not entirely sure she wanted any part of it! After the dogs were clean we headed home for lunch and to get dressed ourselves (jeans and blue shirts), and off to Ann's house we went. The shoot went really, really well, with the full amily portraits taken in three locations, a set of just Chris and I in another location, and individuals of us with the dogs (Chris with Curzon, me with all four). We even got a nice series of all four dogs, alone together on a blanket! It was fun, none of the dogs went into the creek, and Ann was highly amused by Jadzia and Curzon jumping over her fence prop in the yard. I can't wait to see the proofs at our viewing appointment on the sixth!

Friday, October 17, 2008

nine thousand miles

Yesterday I kicked over nine thousand miles on my bike while on my way home, probably somewhere on Mercer Street. It had about 2700 on it when I bought it in February, so that's just over six thousand that I've ridden this year. Double that to include the mileage that I put on the Vulcan, and I've ridden about twelve thousand miles in the past fifteen months, nearly all of it commuting. That is a lot of city riding, and thankfully I have had no accidents (knock on wood) and only a few truly close calls.

I would love to ride for fun on the weekends, but most of the time the thought of settling the dogs for the day, figuring out where to go, getting geared up, and actually heading out is just too much to overcome. I'd like to go ride on the peninsula by taking the ferry, especially with cheaper fares and preferential loading on bikes, but we just haven't gotten around to doing it. Add in that Chris has been working nights for several months now, and putting a fun ride in our schedule just isn't as easy as it could be. Last spring we did take the bike to go to the tulip festivals in the Skagit valley, and that was a good day. Maybe next year we can go to the lavendar festivals on the peninsula, or find some other destination that involves scenic riding. We both generally do better with a purpose to a trip, and not just riding for scenery.

I've been using earplugs since I got the BMW, as it is much louder than the Vulcan was due to the riding position and lower windshield. However, the earplugs I use have been hurting my ears after just the 30 minute commute, which was another mark against going for a longer ride. Yesterday the new earplugs I ordered online showed up, and so this morning I wore the first pair that I had the highest hopes for - the SilentEar reusable earplugs. They have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 32, higher than that of the ones I was using (24), and look way cooler and also came in a small size. After one trip with them I am pleased, as my ears did not hurt at all when I got to work, noises were quieter, and they were easier to insert properly than the old ones. Depending on how I like them after a few more days, I may not even try the others - but the others were all $2 per pair or so, thus I am not fussed about the cost. I can probably use at least one of them for flyball, at any rate.

Now, if I could just find a manufacturer who believes that women do in fact ride during the winter and need waterproof, armored, insulated gloves just like men do, I'd be all set. Men's XS is just not the same as a properly proportioned Women's S size.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

thirteen weeks -and- three months

Yesterday little Ezri was thirteen weeks old, and today is her three-month birthday as well. As it turns out, the ground rubber floor at our puppy class is an excellent backdrop, as evidenced by this photo, taken on Monday. Over the last five days or so her ears have been standing up more and more, and as of about yesterday they're pretty much settled in a fully upright position. I'm a little sad about that, and have been threatening to tie weights to her ears to make them lie back down again. It doesn't really matter, her health and performance are what matters most of all, but all the same I'm just slightly sad that her ears popped. In happier news, her tail started flagging last week and is showing a nice little fringe already, and her adult coat is already starting to come in along the lower part of her spine. I wish I could somehow record how soft puppy fur feels, but I suppose only pictures and video are available to us now.

She's doing quite well with puppy class, flyball training, and general housetraining. This week in puppy class we did a handling exercise involving dressing the puppies in a t-shirt and socks, which led to this picture of a slightly confused and embarrassed border collie puppy. I wasn't fast enough the first time, but she did have four socks on initially but they slid right off with just walking, so I didn't get a photo. At flyball this weekend we worked on recalls to a toy, chase drills with Riker, and box motion drills on the flat board with a tennis ball. Julie had a new Tug-It, which is basically a mesh pouch that you put food or a toy inside to train tug drive, and with her squeaky toy inside it Ezri went nuts. She's not quite up to tugging on a fleece tug at flyball yet, so this is a perfect way to reinforce the tugging behavior until she does understand it, and I've ordered my own set of Tug-Its to help. Maybe later I'll even see if I can transition Phoebe to a tug!

In the housetraining world, Ezri has been going out in the kennel after Chris gets home for a week now, and it is going well. She is mostly quiet and not waking him up now, and spends most of her time chasing Phoebe as the terrier bounces around watching squirrels. Between the activity and the chilly weather, Ezri has been pretty tired and sleepy during the evening, which is an odd thing to see in a puppy! Housebreaking is going very well although we are still being very careful about regular potty breaks and keeping her within sight or on lead at all times. She has learned to sit before eating and going outside, and is picking up plenty of other household behaviors and cues. She and Curzon spend quite a lot of time playing with each other as well, and she loves playing with a tennis ball although we are still working on the fetch part of that game. So all in all, a happy, healthy, well-adjusted three month old puppy. I love her to pieces and am enjoying every minute of watching her grow.

Friday, October 10, 2008

cold weather is here

This week it seems we have skipped straight over fall and gone directly into winter, at least temperature-wise. We had a nice windstorm on Monday/Tuesday and it's been very chilly in the mornings, down in the low forties already. I saw a temperature of 39.2 degrees at the bottom of my hill yesterday morning on my way to work, that's pretty darn cold for October in Seattle.

The cold weather means more than just another blanket on the bed at night, however, it also means both Chris and I are now wearing all of our motorcycle gear for our commute. Right now, my winter kit consists of the following items:

Olympia AST three-quarter length jacket in grey
Gerbing heated jacket liner in black
Olympia Promax armored pants in black
Oxtar Sunray Gore-Tex boots in black (recently rebranded as TCX)
Scorpion Exo700 helmet in Black Dahlia
Fieldsheer Polar gloves in men's XS, black
Schampa Doo-Z helmet liner in black
Turtle Fur fleece tube neckpiece in black/blue
Conic Fit earplugs

It sounds like a lot of stuff, but it's not really all that much when you put it on even though it can get bulky and time consuming. And after all, all but the helmet liner and fleece tube are necessary for safety! I had forgotten just how bulky the pants are when the liner is in, so that took some getting used over the last two days - I lose some of my leg length on the bike due to the extra fabric, making it a little harder to put a foot down safely.

Of all the gear, however, the most important piece for comfort is the heated jacket liner and the built-in heated grips on my bike. Without those two I would be cold and very unhappy, and probably unable to ride during the winter. On the old bike I was OK without the jacket until about December, but there was also a bigger windshield and more protected riding position on that bike. On the BMW my head, shoulders, and upper chest are pretty much completely exposed unless I'm laying down over the bike, and that is only feasible at speed on the highway and isn't terribly comfortable. As of yesterday morning riding on the highway was not fun at all, even with all the gear, so today I took Lake City Way in to avoid the highway as much as possible.

Despite what many people think, I actually enjoy riding in the cold and rain to an extent. Yeah, misty rain that continually covers my helmet is annoying, as is slightly-cold-rain that makes my visor fog up. There is just something about being encased in my gear and riding along in the elements that driving a car just can't match. I'll keep riding because of that.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

12 weeks old!

Today Ezri is twelve weeks old, although it will be another week until she is three calendar months old. Her second vet appointment was yesterday, and she weighed 15.2 lbs and had her parvo vaccine. She'll have her next vet appointment at sixteen weeks where she'll be microchipped and get her distemper vaccine.

I found the pet records file that I kept up until about 2005, and Curzon's growth pattern was as follows:
8 weeks - 12.0 lbs
11 weeks - 16.0 lbs
14 weeks - 21.4 lbs
20 weeks - 24.6 lbs
6 months - 27.2 lbs
8 months - 31.0 lbs
11 months - 34.6 lbs
13 months - 36.0 lbs

So far Ezri was 10.3 lbs at 8 weeks and 15.2 lbs at 12 weeks, so she is tracking just behind where he was growth-wise. I was a little worried that she was bigger than him, as I thought he was only 8 lbs when he came home, so I'm glad I found the data sheet. I should get photocopies of their 2005-2008 records and update the file. Also, it would be interesting to see how Indigo grew if Ben or Deb happens to see this and have the information.

Behavior-wise I think she had a maturity leap in the last few days, combined with stricter discipline by us with regards to keeping her leashed to us physically if she is not actively playing under supervision. She's doing much better with the going outside to potty, is quickly learning tricks and commands (some by observation), and is having a ball at both flyball practice and puppy kindergarten. Of course right now she is chewing on her tail, so not showing much of that vaunted intelligence at this particular moment.....

Monday, October 6, 2008

Irresponsible Authorities

I just read a story on the Seattle Times website, entitled "Exotic Pets and Young Kids A No-No," which is extolling the dangers of having nontraditional pets in homes with children under five years of age. On first blush this is a reasonable topic, especially as the article further explains that hedgehogs and lizards often carry bacteria such as salmonella, and many young children will kiss their pets or put their hands in their mouth after playing with them. Fair enough, parents should be extra vigilant if they have these types of pets, it is good to know about the possible dangers if for no other reason than reference should Junior come up with a mysterious case of diarrhea.

However, these doctors went way too far with the last line in the article - "Those who already have the pets are encouraged to contact their veterinarians about specific risks and possible new homes for the animals." WAY to extol responsibility, people - scare the snot out of parents, and then tell them that they should get rid of their pets to protect their children. How about simply asking parents to be aware of the risks and avoid bringing these pets into a household with young children? Exotic pets have few enough good homes as it is, so scaring a parent who does provide a good home into giving up their lizards is going to do NO good whatsoever.

And to make things worse, one of the pets on the "exotic and nontraditional" list? Hamsters. If hamsters aren't a traditional childhood pet, I don't know what is - I had hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs growing up, in addition to cats and a pair of parakeets who belonged to my mother.

It makes me so angry to see authorities spreading fear and hyping up minimal dangers, and then implying that the only way to protect your child is to get rid of your beloved pets. That does NOT protect your child, it simply teaches them that pets are disposable and furthermore removes another "dirty" part of life that is important for developing immune systems. There are enough scaredy-cat parents out there trying to coat the world in hypoallergenic germicidal Nerf already, the last thing we need is for doctors adding to the frenzy.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

if a picture is worth a thousand words....

Then this picture says it all about Curzon: intensity, drive, power, concentration, and more!

It was taken by Harold Carter at the Gig Harbor "Harbor Hounds Walk the Town" event on September 22, 2007. At the event last weekend he gave me a CD filled with images from the 2005 and 2007 events, which we greatly enjoyed looking through with Jeff, Julie, Jason, and Lindsey this evening. I plan to put all of them up on Flickr or another site where the rest of our teammates can see them and get copies for themselves.

Here is a lovely one of Jadzia with her tail up in full "airbrake" position, also taken on 09/22/07.

Finally, two more taken on September 24, 2005 - Curzon is just shy of two years old, and Jadzia is three and a half.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Time to Play?

Play and work are both very important to dogs, with each having a place in their lives. There are so many kinds of play that it's hard to list them all, as nearly every dog has their own preferred way to play. Some dogs like to play with their owners, some like to play with other dogs, and some like to play with toys on their own. And some dogs don't play very much at all, preferring only to do serious work. I have known border collies who fill all of these roles, and routinely play with my dogs or watch them play with each other.

This photo is of Ezri and Riker playing with each other in a small e-pen last Saturday (September 27). These two don't want to play with toys, no they only want to play wrestle and chase and bite games. In an enclosed area like this pen they simply weave and tumble over and over, but in an open area they will dodge around people and obstacles as they ferociously chase each other. As of last week Riker was required to use fast turns and obstacles to keep ahead of Ezri, as she is nearly his equal on flat open ground already. It will be interesting to see how they interact this weekend!

At home, Curzon is the only dog who will play with Ezri, and we've even been teaching him the command "Play with Ezri" as a code for "go babysit your sister." They will play wrestle/bitey games, and also play tug with various toys together, but there's not enough room in the upstairs for a good game of chase so I don't know if he would play with her like that. Phoebe used to tug with Curzon when she was bored, but she is now trying to avoid Ezri so I haven't seen her play games with him since the puppy came home. And Jadzia has never liked playing with other dogs, much preferring to simply play fetch with one of her humans. She did play tug when encouraged while Curzon was a baby, but once he got older and stronger she quit doing it at all.

Working with the dogs on commands and tricks blurs the work/play line, at least in my opinion. They enjoy the treats and the attention, but they're also being asked to think and do various actions on my command, so it's really a mix of the two. I am currently working on teaching Ezri the standard commands (sit, down, bang, roll over, spin, stand, weave, wait, leave it), and intermittently working on more advanced tricks with the other dogs (back up, bow, paw, beg, dance, over, leave it+). Phoebe is very stubborn and really only will do sit and lay down reliably, although with treat-leading she will do stand, dance, and spin. Jadzia has the prettiest beg of any dog I know except Bear, who crosses his front feet while he begs. And Curzon is just lightning fast at anything you want him to do, as if he figured he gets more rewards for doing the requests at hyperspeed. I enjoy working with the dogs on their commands and tricks, as it is good bonding time and reminder of who is in charge in the house, and ending it with a good session of tug or fetch makes it truly fun for everyone.

Now, if I could only train Phoebe to leave the cats alone without using that zap collar.....

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why do I feed raw?

This is a question that I get all the time on forums and in real life, and I'm sure even members of my family aren't all aware of why I chose to feed my animals raw food. I'm not going to quote studies or books, although I will mention some, as there are plenty of resources available with a simple Google search if someone is interested. Instead I will focus on why we chose to feed raw, why we use the supplements we do, and what benefits I believe the dogs (and ourselves) reap from this choice.

Why do I feed raw?
The first and simple answer is "because Jadzia will eat it." When we brought her home, one of her many issues was that she did not want to eat very much - kibble, wet food, it didn't matter. We went through multiple high-quality pet foods (Canidae, Innova, Wellness, etc.), and found that only by mixing her food with copious quantities of Parmesan cheese could we get her to eat at all. Soon after we brought Curzon home as a puppy, I went to a dog show and visited the Darwin's Pet Food booth where Gary Tashjian gave me a 1-lb sample of their chicken-and-veggie raw food. I took it home, offered it to Jadzia, and she vacuumed it up in record time and was looking for more - and we were sold. A few weeks later we had arranged to get home delivery from Darwin's, and we have fed raw to our animals ever since.

I am also very interested in eating foods that are as natural as possible, and this mentality carries over to my animals as well. While I am not always successful in my own diet (mini Milky Ways, anyone?), I can ensure that my dogs have food that I can identify that is fresh and healthful. I do strive for that in my own food, and as such we no longer buy items such as chicken nuggets, instead choosing to buy cut-up chicken to cook on its own and french fries made with nothing more than organic potatoes and sea salt. Eating "clean" and eating well is important for health, in my opinion, and so I feed my dogs the way that I feed myself.

What benefits do the dogs get from eating raw?
Our dogs are border collies (3) and a jack russell terrier, which are all high-energy, high-intelligence, high-drive dogs. We play flyball competitively year-round, and also dabble in multiple other dog sports including agility, rally-o, sheep herding, frisbee, and dock diving. We often go camping or hiking with the dogs, and in the summer we've been known to take them biking or rollerblading. Regular kibble bought at the store will not do these dogs justice, and even high-quality kibble such as Innova Evo is only going to be "good enough." Raw food provides our dogs with the best quality protein that they can get, which is what they turn into those fast flyball times and flashy tricks. They have soft coats, clear eyes, few tummy upsets, few incidents of pickiness, and leave very little waste behind in the yard. And of course, they have boundless energy and weight management is very simple due to the high protein diet.

Jadzia and Phoebe are the ones we have seen change from kibble to raw, as Curzon was only four months old when he went to raw and Ezri was weaned straight onto raw. Both of the adult girls showed improvements in coat, muscle tone, and attitude towards food once they were fed appropriate amounts of raw food. And as stated before, just seeing Jadzia happy to eat was benefit enough.

What supplements do you use?
Right now we use three supplements regularly - salmon oil, liquid glucosamine/chondroitin, and digestive enzymes. Jadzia and Curzon get the first two, Ezri gets just the oil, and Phoebe gets the last two. The oil provides additional fatty acids that the raw meat lacks, as well as a pleasing taste (and not-so-pleasing aroma). The glucosamine/chondroitin is for joint protection as flyball and other jumping sports can be very hard on both the hips and shoulders. The digestive enzymes are a new addition, and they are helping Phoebe's system handle the protein diet without causing a flareup of pancreatitis.

The dogs will intermittently get other additions to their food, ranging from cottage cheese to canned pumpkin to eggs.

But what about bacteria? And aren't poultry bones bad for animals?
In general, the digestive tracts of both cats and dogs are hotter, shorter, and more acidic than those of humans. This means that should they eat a contaminated meal, the bacteria won't have much of a chance to grow up to colonies large enough to cause problems. Raw food is digested much more quickly than kibble, which can also be seen in how human runners "carb-load" before a race because those carbs take longer to digest and provide more energy later on. It is the sugars in carbs that provide food for the bacteria, so a low-carb diet is further protection against bacterial overgrowth. Finally, we take the same precautions with the dog food as we do with our own - it is kept frozen, thawed in the refrigerator, used promptly, and all dishes and utensils are cleaned in hot soapy water between uses.

Cooked poultry bones will be brittle and can splinter easily, which can be very dangerous and even fatal if a dog eats these cooked bones. Raw bones, however, are still flexible and chewy and simply crunch up into smaller pieces when eaten, thus causing no issues with digestion. Anyone can test this for themselves by simply taking one raw and one cooked chicken wing and whacking them with mallets - the cooked one will show splintered shards of bone, while the raw one will just be a little more squished.

What about the cats?
Our two cats also eat raw food, although it took a bit of convincing to get Onyx to eat it at first - but now she knocks her brother out of the way when it is meal time! Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that biologically they are required to eat meat because they cannot synthesize the amino acid taurine like omnivores can, so they must get it from meat. The perfect meal for a cat is a mouse - it has meat and bones, with a little bit of organ meat, partially digested vegetable matter from the stomach, and roughage from the fur. My cats must make do with premade raw or the occasional chicken wing, however, as I don't think bringing home mice for them to eat would be taken kindly by my husband.

Where did you get your information from?
There are several books you can read, including those by Ian Billinghurst and Ann Martin, which are two authors whose books I recommend. I have also talked extensively with other raw feeders, including my vet Dr. Jackie Obando at Mercy Vet, as well as read a great deal of information on the internet. Information on supplements varies all over the place, so I have simply considered what works well for my animals and keep an eye on them to be ready to change out anything that is no longer useful or is causing problems. Examples of this include Jadzia and Curzon being allergic to a new formulation of Missing Link last fall, and taking salmon oil out of Phoebe's meals to protect her pancreas. Many of my friends also feed raw, and we often trade information (and sometimes raw goodies too) to ensure that we keep all of our dogs safe.

If you want to feed your animals raw food.....
First, please educate yourself - just reading this post is not enough, you need to read books and peruse raw-feeding groups as well. Next, talk to your vet and be sure they support what you want to do and are willing to help you out with it. Not all vets are receptive to raw feeding, for various reasons although I believe the biggest one is due to much of their nutritional schooling coming from Purina and Science Diet. Third, determine if raw will fit into your lifestyle and budget - it can be much more expensive, or take much more effort, than kibble or canned food takes. Some people prefer to just supplement kibble with other fresh foods, and that is a good option as long as simple precautions are taken. Fourth, find a reliable supplier of good-quality raw food, as you do not want to be buying grade-D meat as that completely defeats the purpose. Finally, switch your pets over to raw, being alert to all issues and nuances of their behavior during the transition.

I hope this has been helpful in explaining why we feed raw. I am not a professional animal nutritionist or animal trainer, although I do consider myself well informed in both areas. I am always open to questions about our dogs, so if you have further questions please feel free to ask.