Thursday, January 29, 2009

welcome home, baby Teal

Last Saturday our friend Ben brought home his new puppy, Teal, from Ignited in Chicago. Teal is a cousin to Ezri, Indigo, and Rua through their shared grandmother Brita, as outlined in the genealogy post that I made a few months ago. Her full name is likely to be "Ignited's Passed With Flying Colors" or something along those lines, whatever Ben settles on when the papers come for registration. Of course, with a new BC puppy in the area, I needed to meet her as soon as possible, so Ben brought her over on Sunday morning to meet Ezri and Curzon. I kept Jadzia and Phoebe gated in the back so as not to overwhelm the new pup with too many crazy dogs at one time!

The introduction between Teal and Ezri went very well, with Teal quickly shifting into "annoying puppy" mode and giving Ezri a taste of the medicine she's been giving Curzon for the last four months.

This was clearly an invitation to play, so Ezri proceeded to wrestle and squish Teal for the next ten minutes.

Teal soon retaliated for the squishing with a POUNCE, which I miraculously captured perfectly with a well-timed shot:

Soon after this, we let Curzon join the fray, and he and Ezri quickly began tugging together. Little Teal found this fascinating, and tried repeatedly to join in on one of the loose ends. She was suprisingly successful, although since she's so little she was just dragged around as the other two fought. I have video of this and will put it up on Youtube when I get home today. By the end of the afternoon, Ezri was a little tired and was happy to look pretty for a picture!

Sunday evening was Teal's first exposure to flyball, and Ben and I played with her on a single puppy jump as her first "lesson" in between being cuddled by the rest of the team members. Chris took some photos, and this is the best one!

Tuesday afternoon Ben asked if he could bring the puppy over for some more playtime, to which I happily agreed as a nice diversion from the cold of the unheated house. So Chris woke up to find a puppy in the house, which is always good when the puppy is willing to be snuggled.

After some half-hearted playtime since Ezri was more interested in toys than her cousin, we took Teal down to meet the cats. While Sharon and Mike at Ignited do have cats, I don't think they really interact much with the litters, probably for their own sanity. Obsidian quickly did his patented "I rule you, puppy" smack several times, earning the puppy's wariness perfectly - if only Phoebe would learn the same lesson! Onyx didn't smack the puppy, but did definitely confuse her a bit by stropping up against her, causing Teal to freeze confusedly much as Curzon does to this day.

I thought I had taken some video of Teal interacting with the cats, but I think it was lost when my card popped a read error during the recording. I think I need a new camera, this one is about four years old now and is increasingly annoying with things like flash battery life, card read errors, and spots on the photos (although the latter is fixable). However, I will end with a photo of Obsidian that shows off his still-shorn leg from his stint in the emergency room - it's amazing how skinny kitty legs are under all that fuzz!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

baby it's cold outside.....and inside

Well, this month (particularly yesterday) has been one for the record books for amount of money spent with nothing concrete to show for it. I finally took the Subaru in to the shop yesterday for it's overdue 60k mile service, which went well but was expensive, plus highlighted that we will need new brake pads and new tires soon. When I got home, I discovered that the house was at 64 degrees in the hall and 61 in the kitchen, despite the thermostat being set on 70 degrees. I was able to get a tech to come out on an after-hours call, and our furnace is shot. It's a 20-year-old furnace, with a certain blower part that was only used in that style of furnace, and even if they can get the part (which is unlikely) it would be $900 and extend the life of the furnace by just a few months to a year. So we're going to be putting in a new furnace as soon as they can get one ready and the parts fabricated, hopefully today or tomorrow.

Yesterday evening wasn't too bad, as if you shut the office door with two people, four dogs, and two gaming desktops inside the room was warm enough to be tolerable. I also was wearing a hat and had a heating pad on my lap, in addition to two of the border collies laying on my feet under the desk. The furnace tech guy was very nice and left us two space heaters to use until they can get our furnace installed, so one is downstairs keeping the kitty room at 60 degrees and the other is in our bedroom keeping it at 72 degrees. I moved the dog beds into the bedroom last night and had the dogs stay in with me - they would probably be fine at 45-50 degrees in their room, but that seemed unnecessary to me so they slept in my room. The borders stayed put but Phoebe did jump up and curl up against my back on the edge of the bed at some point, but since she didn't move and didn't go near Chris' side of the bed I let her be when I discovered her around 2:30am. I had moved the cat beds right near the heater in their room, and they were perfectly happy and meow-y this morning so they're doing fine.

It was 54 degrees in my kitchen this morning. Brrrr.

I really hope we'll get the new furnace installed today. I don't like being shivery in my own house, it's bad enough that I'm cold from the time I leave the house in the morning until I get back home due to the insufficient heating at work combined with a cold commute on the motorcycle. The new furnace will be much more efficient and will have a nice HEPA filter installed, so there are improvements to be made there, but the upfront cost for it is definitely a big chunk of change. I had planned to use some soon-to-expire stock options to finally buy a set of bedroom furniture, but it looks like that money will go to help pay for this new furnace instead. Oh well.

Friday, January 23, 2009

puppy girl keeps on growing

I took this photo of Ezri this morning right before I went to work, and it's now the wallpaper on my phone. Her ears are utterly perfect this morning, and I wanted to immortalize that should they change again!

On Wednesday Ezri weighed in at 26.0 lbs, gaining just 1.2 lbs in the past three weeks. She seems to be stabilizing pretty nicely at her current size, and while she is skinny as a rail her height doesn't seem to be changing much. Last Sunday I asked Jeff to help me measure her with our practice NAFA wicket, and she came in right at the line of 18", which is the same height as Jadzia. That seems off somehow, she doesn't seem like she's as tall as Jadzia, but maybe the 10-lb weight difference is enough to skew my perceptions! We increased Ezri's food up to 9oz per meal as of last night, matching what Curzon gets and now a full 3oz more than what Jadzia gets. She's skinny enough and active enough to use it all, though, and I'm watching her like a hawk so we don't have a repeat of Jadzia's current FatDog status.

Speaking of Jadzia the FatDog, she weighed in at 35.8 lbs on Wednesday, down from 36.6 lbs on December 30th. Her thyroid levels were tested and her T3 is measuring normal, although I don't have the exact number. Hopefully the final cut in her food and the support with Thyroid Guard over the last two months is enough to drop that weight off her, as I really want her back down to at least 32 lbs and preferably 30-31 lbs. Four pounds doesn't seem like much, but when you are only supposed to be 32 lbs that's a whole 12.5% of your total body weight, which is like a standard 150 lb adult human gaining 18 lbs!

Ezri's flyball training moved up a notch last weekend, as Jeff and I transitioned her over to a regular course with 6" jumps and a real box with a training platform on it (to minimize movement when activated). The jumps gave her no trouble at all, which is unsurprising given the height she's been jumping over the 3" jumps - one photo I have shows her clearing a good 10" or so! The real box was a little more trouble, however, as it's smaller than the training platform and the ball position is a little different. We're working on her on-off technique and that was coming back nicely by the end of practice, and with another week or two of work she will probably be back to taking her ball and doing full runs. The big bonus of this is that when we go to the flyball retreat next weekend, we don't have to take a full set of puppy jumps or that big training platform!

Finally, last week I spent a half-hour and trained Ezri to do "paw" which is shake hands. She's almost got the "other paw" command as well - I love having smart dogs! Now if we can just get "Come" solidified into her spazzy little brain, we'd be all set.....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

new President, new world

On Tuesday, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. His campaign strongly referenced the simple ideas of "Change" and "Yes We Can," positive messages which have been sorely lacking in politics for quite some time. I found it refreshing to watch a candidate who was eloquent, well-educated, and clearly made his own decisions about policy. I voted for President Obama, and his election brings me hope that the next four years will see improvements in many areas of American government and policy.

In Obama's inaugural address, he stated the following:
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over ocnflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

Those statements sum up, in a nutshell, why I feel that President Obama is the right choice for this country today and why I think he will do a very good job. He has risen above the petty muckraking that so many other politicians indulge in, and he seems to be truly humble and accepting of the great responsibility -before- the great power of his elected position. When watching the inauguration on CNN Tuesday morning, I was struck by how serious Obama was, as he radiated calm and gravity from his very person. This is in sharp contrast to other politicians who have come to office with a huge "shit-eating grin" on their faces, as if to highlight that they have only been given their due and now have all the world to play with.

President Obama is clearly his own man and while he will take advice, he will make and own his decisions on policy during his presidency. I firmly believe that once a leader is elected that they should be left to lead as their position dictates, and that at the end of their term they should be judged based on what they have accomplished. This has been difficult to do with President Bush, as he has not made his own decisions so it is difficult to judge him based on any firm track record, leaving him appearing to be a simple puppet who has done nothing but break things. If nothing else, President Obama will be his own man and will be judged upon that, which is a powerful thing.

Many people are unhappy with President Obama and are letting their unhappiness ring out in varying degrees and methods. To all of you, I say this - let the man do his job before you bury him. Let there be open and honest discourse, untainted by vicious personal attacks and hatred. And let there be hard work put into the country by ALL of its population, no matter what color or creed, so that tomorrow will be a brighter day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

what is in our pantry?

This morning I caught up on a few blogs, including this entry by Gluten-Free Girl, who is a Seattle woman with celiac disease (same as Chris). This post was inspired in its turn by a food blog post on the New York times website entitled "Fresh Start for a New Year." Both of these writers simply ask, what's in your pantry, what could you change, and how could you eat healthier without spending tons of money? I find this idea a good one, and so I'm going to go through some things that we keep on hand and some things I wish I could use.

Grains, Beans, and Pasta - We've always got a couple packages of gluten-free spaghetti and a nice big bin of brown rice. I've recently supplemented this with gluten-free oats (which sadly Chris still can't handle) and a bag of white Japanese rice that made absurdly creamy rice in the new cooker. I've been interested in trying quinoa and amaranth, but I'm very gunshy about things I haven't eaten before. The same thing follows for beans and lentils, although I've had them in a few dishes elsewhere I'm still quite nervous about trying them out at home.

Spices - I've slowly been moving our spices over to items from Penzey's, getting rid of old ones and replacing them with new, fresh items. Their taco spice mix is way better than Old El Paso, and much cheaper to boot, and I'm totally in love with their Beef Roast Seasoning as a mix-in for burgers. I do keep Old Bay and Lawry's Seasoned Salt on hand, although I'm thinking of trading the latter out for a new option from Penzey's with this order. Finally, we keep a can of Rudy's Rub which our friend Barbara brought back from Texas for Chris, which is his favorite thing on just about any meat. I rarely use fresh herbs, except when making specific dishes that I go to the Pike Place or farmer's markets to purchase them, as I refuse to pay the exhorbitant prices that grocery stores charge for fresh herbs.

Canned Goods - This is another area where we do tend to fall flat, as I typically keep and use only a few things, mostly again due to worries about wasting a meal on something that isn't good. I do keep chicken stock and a few soups on hand, but that's about it.

Cheese - The NYT article extolled the virtues of freshly grated Parmesan, but that just seems like way too much effort to me. I've bought the Whole Foods organic powder-grated Parmesan before and enjoyed it, although it sadly molded much faster than the canned stuff, but actual shreds makes the flavor too strong for me. We do keep many types of cheese in the house at all times, however - right now we've got medium cheddar, sharp cheddar, fromage d'affinois, havarti, mozzarella, and smoked gouda.

Maple Syrup - This is a success story for me personally, as I wanted to move away from high-fructose corn syrup filled "breakfast syrups" but found the natural maple syrups to be too strong at first. As time passed, I was able to handle the nice light grade maple syrup just fine and now enjoy it although it is a very different flavor than the cheap breakfast syrups. I've made maple-glazed pork chops before, and think I may need to bring out that recipe again.

Meat - I always keep on hand chicken (frozen in 2-person servings), ground beef, bacon, beef chunks, sausage, and some form of precooked meat (Italian dinner sausages, chicken strips, etc.). We like meat, although I do try to alternate meat and nonmeat dinners by using spaghetti or grilled cheese in the middle.

I'm definitely going to think some more on this topic, especially as I have a Penzey's order to make anyway. Perhaps I will open up some of the gluten-free cookbooks and see what I can come up with using beans or a new spice this weekend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

dogs, waste, and controversy

As many cities do, Seattle has laws on the books involving keeping dogs leashed and picking up after them. However, one of their laws also includes having a proper poop-scoop device on your person when out with your dog, which one dog owner is currently challenging. Reading through the comments is interesting, with a large sprinkling of crazy, but there are some points that should be addressed on this (stinky) topic.

Do I believe in leash laws and scoop laws? You bet your ass I do! All dog owners should control their dogs and their dogs' leavings at all times, but unfortunately many do not and thus laws are required to punish these offenders. My border collies do not need to be leashed due to the training and voice control I have over them (well, we're still working on that with the puppy), but the terrier most definitely needs to be leashed at all times. However, most dogs are not border collies and most owners are not me, so I understand and comply with leash laws when in appropriate public areas. I don't leash the dogs (ecept for Phoebe) when walking on my dead-end street, but I do when we go past the stop sign. I don't leash Jadzia at flyball tournaments, but I do so with Curzon. I don't leash the dogs to go in/out of the offleash park, as I can carry Phoebe and the other three stay right at my feet. If all dog owners were so responsive and knowledgeable about their dogs' reactions and needs, such laws wouldn't be necessary. And there is no question about picking up dog poop - always, it is absolutely REQUIRED by mere courtesy, let alone other arguments.

One topic that is concerning me is the concept of scooping the poop out of ones' own yard, as apparently there are laws on the books in some areas governing this. There are reasons to scoop your yard, ranging from smell/looks to possible bacterial contamination of groundwater, and again most reasonable people know this. However, this is where it gets a little difficult to deal with, especially when dogs with different diets are concerned. Our dogs are fed raw food, which means their poop is small, firm, and turns white and falls into dust within 48 hours. There are no carbohydrates for bacteria to thrive on, the poop dissolves very soon after it is deposited in the yard, and I see no reason whatsoever to scoop my yard. How can it possibly be better to wrap poop in plastic and send it to a landfill? I could see an argument for flushing poop, so that it goes through the proper wastewater treatment, but not for wrapping up poop from the yard at home and putting into plastic for disposal. I have a feeling that there is far more bacterial contamination from the flocks of Canadian geese that infest our city than from the dogs, and yet nobody has to clean up the piles of green slime from the parks every day.

It's really too bad that laws of this sort need to be on the books at all. But since they have to be, they need to govern what people do with their pets in public - NOT on their own property. I believe that someone who lets their yard turn into a stinking toilet for their dogs can be properly dealt with via standard public nuisance laws, there is no need to have a law mandating yard cleaning at certain intervals. If only everyone, dog owners, neighbors, and politicians alike, could simply show some common sense and decorum, the whole problem would never become an issue deserving of legislation. Ah, well, I can dream.....

small appliances are fun

I'm not sure why, but recently small appliances have been making me happy. Perhaps there is some sort of latent homemaker / housewife lurking below the surface, even if the concept of being one fulltime is definitely not on my to-do list. Or perhaps it is just my love of gadgets and efficiency that makes such items so very appealing to me. Either way, I have two new things that make me quite pleased.

First off is an electric can opener - a simple object, yet one I haven't had before. We've made do with a hand opener, as in the past we have rarely opened cans, but with the change in Phoebe's diet to include canned pumpkin the frequency of use has gone up. Also, I am apparently completely incapable of operating our hand can-opener with any sort of reasonable success. It doesn't seem to matter how I try or how others show me, I always wind up with it skipping two parts that are perfectly across from each other, thus making opening the can safely incredibly difficult. So a few weeks ago, I went to Bed Bath and Beyond and picked up an inexpensive Hamilton Beach electric can opener, and apart from an overly short cord it is wonderful. I can attach a can, push down the top, and do another task while it happily whirrs away and opens the can for me. Then it's a simple matter of grabbing the can, removing the cut top from the magnet, and all is well with the world. Sure, it's not the fanciest (oh how I drooled over the stainless steel $50 one) and it doesn't do the "no-cut" edges, but it does the job and it makes my life just slightly easier, and that is always a good thing.

The other life-changing small appliance is a new rice cooker, specifically a Zojirushi NS-LAC05 that I picked up to replace my broken Cuisinart one. The old cooker was a simple one that used a weight sensor to determine when to go from "cook" to "warm," made no distinctions between rice types, usually boiled over, and always had a crust of unusable rice at the bottom. People on Ars always rave about the fuzzy logic Zojirushi rice cookers, so after I broke the first one (manually taping the lever in the "cook" position is not good, apparently) I decided to pick one up with some gift money. Reviews on Amazon indicated that this model was excellent for two people, and our local Japanese grocery store Uwajimaya had them in stock when I went - yay instant gratification! In addition to the multiple rice type settings, the unit is sealed with a small vent so that it acts much like a pressure cookier, meaning there is no boilover and no cleanup of the unit itself apart from the bowl. The bowl itself is much thicker and nicer than the old one, and in the three uses so far there has been zero rice loss due to a crust, with the rice perfectly cooked through from top to bottom. There is even a timer function where you can set everything up and tell it to be done cooking at a certain time. Finally, you have to love Japanese technology - the new rice cooker SINGS! It sings "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to start cooking, and sings another song I don't know to signal the end of cooking. It is totally irrational and very kawaii, but I love it just the same. So far we've made oatmeal and two kinds of rice in the new cooker, and the rice has been utterly perfect and I'm sure now that I know the proportions the oatmeal will be perfect next time.

Sometimes, it's the little things that make life easier that are truly wonderful.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

from puppy to young dog

Tomorrow Ezri will be six months old, and she's definitely made the transition from puppy to young dog. The picture to the left was taken on December 30th, as she played with Christy's puppy Edison, and it's not only a good shot physically but also captures her spirit and attitude quite nicely. She weighed in at 24.8 lbs that day, and has pretty much plateaued at her current size (height and weight) for the past few weeks. Her right ear has been down for over a month now, and her left ear alternates between up and down depending on the day.

Training-wise, Ezri is doing very nicely with learning manners, tricks, and flyball. We haven't had an accident in the house in about two weeks, and the change was almost like a light switch so I think that is tied to her maturity in some way. She's picked up so many general commands just by watching and learning as we go about our day that it's been easy - I know for sure I never specifically taught her "off," "out," or "upstairs" but she understands and responds to them all. We still need a stronger recall outside, especially if Curzon is around, but inside and at flyball she is doing well with recalls. At flyball she is nearly to single-stepping every single jump, and at practice last Sunday ran a 4.94 on the puppy course with a full single-step run. Next Sunday we will move her to a real box with a training board, so she won't be triggering the box just yet but will be modifying her high turn slightly to fit better on the actual box. I'll move her up to 6" jumps when she hits 8 months or so, although she can probably run them now with no danger I'd rather be safe and keep her on the 3" puppy jumps for a little longer.

Personality-wise, Ezri is a sweet and inquisitive little border collie who is a joy to have in the house, much like her big brother Curzon was at this age. She definitely has her opinions, especially on when she wants to be fed, but we can redirect her into toy-chewing or naps without too much effort. Her current idiosyncracy is chewing on my desk chair to get my attention - hard to just ignore that one, so I redirect her to a toy and otherwise ignore her, then a moment later give her some pets and attention as a reward for -not- chewing the chair any more. She's still definitely destructo-puppy, able to chew just about anything into pieces and often happily ingesting said pieces. Right now there are only two safe toys in the house that we don't have to supervise - a hard plastic ball with holes and a soft rubber ball inside it, and a medium-hard plastic ball. She'll shred fleece, defuzz tennis balls, and even chew pieces from Orbee toys. If she didn't eat everything she got loose, I almost wouldn't mind, but she does do so and thus we can't let her have such things unattended.

Next Saturday (January 24) Ezri's cousin Teal will come home to live with our friends Ben & Deb, who also have Ezri's sister Indigo. It will be great fun to watch the three interact when Deb and Indigo return home from Boston this June!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

healthy kitty and end of the holiday

Obsidian is home again now, with his health mostly regained and his attitude fully so. When I visited him on Tuesday after work he was still not eating and kind of weak, but really happy to see me and already much better than when I took him in on Monday. Wednesday his levels were all good and he was doing just fine, but still did not want to eat. I decided to take him home at that point, as the ICU care is expensive and a cat not eating is something I can deal with on my own, as long as everything else is normal. So home we went, with a bright yellow vetwrap bandage over the IV site and a bottle of antibiotics, to a very happy Onyx who was thrilled to have her brother home again.

Obsidian slept most of the evening on Wednesday and Thursday, and I did have to syringe-feed him on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. By the time I got home on Thursday, however, he was hungry and letting me know so quite enthusiastically! Right now he's getting slightly overlarge meals of tuna or salmon (from a can) mixed with cottage cheese and either shrimp or clams (also from a can) with good digestion powder and salmon oil. He needs to put a bit of weight back on, and I want to give his immune and digestive systems time to fully rebound before I put him back on raw. I've got two more cans of tuna and another package of salmon, so he'll probably be on those through the end of this weekend. So this was an expensive interlude, but he's certainly healthy and happy again and so the money spent was well worth it.

Last Saturday we went to our friend Jared's birthday party, held at Tech City Bowl in Kirkland. This is a great bowling alley from what I can tell, nicely situated between the scariness of Kenmore Lanes and the haughtiness of Lucky Strike, and I'd certainly be happy to go back there again. The party arrangements themselves were not the best, being as they were intended for a kids birthday, but it was good fun nonetheless and it was great to see some of the presents Jared received - including 15 pounds of bacon!

After the party we came home and undecorated the Christmas tree and rest of the living room. This is always very sad to me, as we put away the sparkle and fun of Christmas and return to a relatively dreary and blah January. I now have to figure out what to do with our old tree star, which I replaced with an LED one to match the LED lights we switched to, and our old stockings which were also replaced. I can probably take the star to Goodwill, but unless I find someone with craft projects to do I don't think there's much that can be done with the stockings. The outside lights are still up, but I've turned off all the timers and unplugged them, and the wreath is still on the front door as it is perfectly viable due to being in the cold moist air. Inside, however, the only remaining sign of the holiday is a stack of Christmas cards on the table, with everything else put safely away in bins in the storage area under the stairs.

Goodbye, Christmas 2008. You were wonderful.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

happy new year and more

A bit belated, but I would like to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2009! That last bit may be more difficult due to the economy, but with some thought and a bit of luck I am sure that everyone will do just fine this year. Best wishes to all!

On a slightly less chipper note, my male cat Obsidian is at the emergency vet right now and has been since last night. Last Saturday morning I discovered that he and his sister Onyx had managed to find a way to open the cat treat jar (involving knocking into the sink), and he had overeaten by quite a lot. Later that day he threw up most of it, and then was not feeling well on Sunday either - that seemed reasonable, as I certainly wouldn't feel that great in his situation either. Yesterday morning he was still uninterested in doing much, and after I got home from work it was apparent that he was not improving. I cleared a clot of something from his nose, got him to lick a few smears of baby food on his mouth, and finally read his temperature to discover it was 105 (normal for cats is 98). So off to the emergency vet in Lynnwood we went.

I got him checked in and sent back to be stabilized right away while I did paperwork, and the initial exam confirmed his high fever and also noted that he was at 9 lbs instead of his usual 12-14 lbs weight. We went forward with an x-ray and blood work, with the x-ray appearing largely clear with no immediate danger signs. However, his blood work came back with a white count at 1900, when the low end of normal is 3400, so he is clearly losing a fight with something right now. I left him there overnight so he could be treated with fluids, antiemetics, antibiotics, and general monitoring to be sure he stabilizes.

So far his blood pressure has returned to normal (from 50 up to the low end of normal at 100), he's looking more alert, and actually ate a little bit on his own. The detailed blood work results from the pathologist and the re-read of the x-ray by a radiologist should be done first thing this morning, and hopefully those results will also be clear. Assuming he continues to respond to treatment, I hope to bring him home tonight. If nothing else, that will shut up Onyx who has been lonely and yowling for attention whenever she hears us walking around upstairs. Either that or she's annoyed that she's only getting half-rations so she can't steal his food too.....