Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The alpacas are gone!

I think I forgot to blog that last weekend the evil alpacas moved out and went to live at the rescue. This made me very happy, because they HATED me, and all I had to do was walk up to the fence and they would start working up a gob of spit to spray at me. They also didn't like the dogs, and the black one in particular would run back and forth along the fenceline stomping and kicking when the dogs were out, and I was afraid if the dogs ever snuck out into the pasture that alpaca would have at 'em! I was glad to see them go!

I don't plan to have any more llamas/alpacas at our house. Though Dave has already said he liked the sheep. I liked the sheep too. I could handle having sheep again. They never spit on you :)


Dog training

I just had a fun dog training session, with each dog individually. I started with Barclay, with my intention to teach him to roll a big ball around using his nose. Since he already knew 'touch' (nose to my hand), I just put my hand between him and the ball and had him touch it a few times, then removed my hand and he went right to touching the ball. I stopped then to go work on the soup for dinner, and he kept bugging me to come back for more! So I went and did another round with him, and actually had him double-touching the ball before I ran out of treats - he'll be pushing it in no time. Then I just have to figure how I want to teach him to move it where I want him too!

Then I did a round with Navi, and worked on 'Jump up' like jump up on the couch, and 'off' - get back off the couch. And sits and downs. She is so eager to earn her treats, she goes at light speed and offers things so fast I have to click fast to catch her before she decides to offer something else.

For Jack's turn, we did some starting nosework. I hid a treat under a towel and told him to find it, and he nosed under the towel and got the treat, and was VERY proud of himself (I think he was actually strutting around). After that seemed pretty easy I moved to putting the treat in one of three small boxes. I'd mix up the boxes and tell him to 'find it' and point at the boxes, and he sniffed around until he singled one out, and I opened it and let him get the treat - he got it right everytime! That's a beagle nose for you!


Cold rainy spring day - with chickens

We had a beautiful day a couple days ago. We can sit around wistfully remembering the sun and the warmth, because now it's all grey skies and rainstorms blowing through again! When is spring coming?! I spent a bit of time outside taking pictures of the chickens today, until the rain drove me (and the chickens) back indoors.

My 'feed store' chickies are off the heatlamp and have joined the rest of the flock. They can choose between hanging out in the shed or coming out to join the other birds, and they have been getting braver everyday about coming out.

The hens don't seem to mind them at all, despite the difference in size. I haven't seen anyone getting bullied.

Such a pretty bunch of birds!

Mama hen takes her six remaining chickies out on adventures in the tall grass of the chicken run.

Life is a big adventure for these guys

Mama points out a piece of squash!

Then she does a little digging...

And the chicks look for any goodies she may have kicked up.

When a breeze picks up and the rain starts sprinkling, Mam hen fluffs up and calls her chicks under her.

Like little kids, they can't sit still, one pops out, then goes back under...

Then a different one peeks out

I guess it's kind of crowded with six chicks under there.

When the rain really starts coming down, the whole flock heads for the coop. But hey, what's that in the middle...

It's orange, but it's not a chicken!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gardening, and a chicken update

 Yesterday I worked in the garden. I was glad I prepped it earlier in the year so it was ready to plant. I got seedlings this year so I wouldn't have to start anything from seed. I planted lettuce, kale, broccoli-rabe, bok-choi, leeks, parsley, pickling cukes, and dill. I also planted spinach but I started with seeds. It's a special variety I was given by a local farmer. I also put in 100 onion bulbs and planted a little rosemary bush in a large pot. I still want to pick up some rainbow chard, thyme, and several basil plants. Last year I only had one basil and that wasn't nearly enough - at the end of the season there was none left to dry and use over the winter!

In the chicken world, I lost all power to the shed, so hopefully the older chicks will be fine tonight without heat. They haven't been sleeping under the heat lamp lately anyway, so I hope they are all able to snuggle together to stay warm tonight.

And as for Mama Hen: she is losing chicks right and left! Yesterday I found one dead by the chicken run gate. I assume it fell in the water bowl because it was very wet. I don't know if it got out but was chilled and died, or if it drowned and another chicken pulled it out of the water to see if it was good to eat. Anyway, that leaves her with six. She would be down to 5 if I hadn't rescued the one on the woodpile the other morning. I hate to say it, but she's the worst mama hen I've had so far! I dumped out the water bowl to prevent any further accidents and left them with a very shallow bowl nobody should be able to drown in!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lost chick!

My best adventure always seem to happen when there's no time to grab a camera!

Yesterday was such a pretty day that all the chicks were out in the chicken run. Mama took her 7 chickies out, and I took my brooder chicks and stuffed them out the coop door one by one to show them how to get out too. It was a beautiful warm sunny day, and everyone seemed to be having fun exploring.

When I came home from Dog School in the evening, Mama had already taken her chicks back into the coop for the night and had them snuggled up under her, because it was getting cold. I counted the older chicks and found a few missing, so I went and found them and showed them how to go back inside the coop so they could sleep under the heat lamp. When I was done I had all 12 chicks back in the brooder box, and Mama had her chicks under her. At least I assumed she had all her chicks under her!

This morning I let the dogs out and heard a loud PEEP PEEP PEEP that sounded like a lost chick. I put the dogs back in and checked the run - no chick there. I checked the coop - Mama was still snuggling her chickies under her. I counted my brooder chicks again - they were all there. So I walked around to the 'backyard' side of the chicken shed - and there, in the morning sunlight, sitting on the woodpile, was a little yellow chickie! It was one of Mama's chicks!

I tried to  catch it, but it skittered away into the woodpile, which is covered by blackberry vines, and I couldn't see how I could get it, plus I was getting snagged right and left. So I went and got my heavy gloves and long handled pruning shears, and started clipping away the blackberry vines. Meanwhile the chickie climbed down into the woodpile and got herself hung up between the wall of the shed and a log. I cut back enough blackberry vines to reach her and took off one glove, and used the other gloved hand to pull back the vines and snatched her up before she could get away again!

I took her into the coop and mama had her chicks up and scratching around, and as soon as she heard the chickie peeping she fluffed up and held out her wings and came running towards me! I set the chick on the ground and it ran over to catch up with it's brothers & sisters, and Mama ran back to them, strutting around and scratching. I told her not to blame me - she'd better learn to count!

Looking into the chicken run I can see where if a clumsy chick slipped off the ramp on the way into the coop they could fall into a crack between the shed and the skirting around the bottom and end up under the coop with no way to get back into the chicken run. Then the only way out would be to travel under the shed and come out on the other side, by the woodpile. So I took some wood over there and blocked the hole so a chick can't fall in it again. Hopefully they'll all make it into the coop tonight. I can't believe that little fluffybutt survived a whole evening outside in the cold by herself!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cleaning stalls at the stables

Today I got to the ranch and they hadn't taken the horses out yet, so I got to help do that. The volunteer coordinator told me which horses to take and made sure everything was done safely. She gives me little tips about how to handle the horses, and different horse personalities. She let me walk out one of the friskier horses, but she walked along with us in case he gave me any trouble (she said he likes to see if he can get away with stuff with new people). I got to walk out one of the adorable ponies too :) Then she went into the office to work on the computer, and I stayed out in the barn and started cleaning stalls.

It had started out as a sunny day, but as I worked I heard the wind picking up, and the sky changed to a sort of dark, slate blue. The little birds who live in the barn rafters were getting restless and fluttering around. The sun disappeared, and the rain started coming down, pattering on the metal roof of the barn. I looked down the aisle and saw the wind was blowing stuff around pretty good, so I went down and closed the big door. As I continued cleaning, listening to the rain and wind, I couldn't help but feel a sense of peace, doing something people have done for thousands of years - cleaning the stables, while the wind howled and the rain poured down outside.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chicken update

I let Mama Hen take her chickies out into the chicken yard and spend the day showing them how to scratch in the grass, and by the end of the day she was down a chick! No idea what happened to it. So I caught her and put her in a dog crate and moved her and her chicks back into the coop for a while longer.

I also put my two young roosters on CL and within 10 minutes I had someone coming to pick them up - now that's quick! I figured it was better than feeding them for months and then giving them away! From now on I'm giving roosters away as soon as I am sure they are roosters!

Beautiful, my big friendly Buff hen, has had some feathers out of place for a week or so. I posted a picture of her a couple days ago looking out the coop door, and you can see her feathers on her thighs are fluffier on one side than the other. I picked her up to look at it a few days ago but couldn't see what was going on - she's very fluffy. Today I picked her up and just happened to get the right angle, and it looks like a big flap of skin on her side has been peeled back and is just hanging there with the feathers on it! Nothing looks goopy or infected, the exposed muscle looks dry and hard, the flappy skin looks dry, and her attitude seems to be fine, she's hanging out and eating and acting normal. Will the flappy skin just fall off on it's own, or do I need to get involved somehow? I asked my chicken friends and they seemed to think that if it didn't look sore and infected, I should just leave it alone. She doesn't seem to be suffering, she's happy as usual, following me around. I hope this all turns out ok, she's my favorite in the group.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I ran for 3 minutes!

I have never been much of a runner, but I am slowly changing that. When I started the year I began doing the Couch to 5k training plan. The first week has you run a minute and walk for a minute and a half, and repeat for 30 minutes - and it was really hard. After a couple months it was starting to feel easy, so I moved on to week 2 - running for a minute and a half, walking between. A couple months of that and running for a minute and a half wasn't so bad. So I checked out week 3 - and you have to run for 3 minutes! That's a long time. I tried it last week and couldn't make it :(

But yesterday I tried again. Running a minute and walking a minute, running two minutes and walking two minutes, then I tried running 3 minutes - and I did it! I breezed right past the two minute mark and felt great so I kept going! It was awesome! I can't believe I did it!

It's just another sign of how my body has been improving with all this exercise and weight loss. At the stables on Saturday I helped out with a children's riding class where I had to walk around and around the arena and occasionally jog alongside the horse as they trotted, and I had no problem keeping up and wasn't even winded after the trotting! And now I ran 3 minutes! It is great to challenge myself and push to see what I can do, and discover I really can do it!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Standing Desk

I've been reading a lot about 'standing desks' - desks that are tall enough to stand at and work. It sounds like a good idea. I spend entirely too much time at my computer, lulled into a trance, following link after link, reading articles I'll never remember. I could use to be a little less comfortable at the computer! Plus if you're standing you're making your muscles work to hold yourself up, instead of slouching into a lump, chin on hand, semi-comatose (I'm just describing myself - not necessarily anyone else!)

So I went out in the garage and stirred up a few scraps and built this in about 20 minutes, just to see how the concept works. I can already tell it's a little tall - I could take about 4 inches off of it and it would be more comfortable to type.

Not that this will stop me from taking my laptop out to the couch and vegging out!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chicken update

I took the front off of Mama Hen's brooder box a couple days ago and let her and her chicks have free range of the shed - it was the only way I could put their water where the chicks could reach it and Mama couldn't bury it in chips! Today the sun was shining (though it's still cold) so I opened the door and let her bring them out into the sunshine for a bit. (the pictures are blurry because I was taking them from the deck of the house with my longest telephoto lens, and that STILL made Mama nervous and she decided to take them back inside to get away from my prying eyes)

I also removed the front of the brooder for the older chicks, and let them move around the shed. Of course they have led a sheltered life, so it was all very scary for them! (ignore that poopy water, it gets changed twice a day - messy birds!)

 I let the hens into the shed as well so they could go through to the backyard. They stopped to steal the chicks food and hang out, giving the chicks their first look at what they would grow up to be someday!

Fluffy butt! That's Beautiful, my super-friendly chicken.

Last week I gave Handsome the Rooster away. Once he had the flock to himself and the other roo was gone, he became very mean to the hens. He would chase them down, corner them, jump on them and rip at their neck feathers. They were all looking frazzled and hiding in the coop to get away from him. I put him on CL for free and he was gone within a day. The girls have been much happier and more relaxed without him around!

Enjoying the sunshine in the tall grass
Mama hen decided to move into the main coop area, and took her chicks to dig out a comfy corner.

I think she'll take care of them just fine.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Another fun day at the stables

The stables I volunteer at has a weekend program where kids sign up to come in as part of a group, and then we show them how to groom a horse, walk to the arena, and lead them around on it, teach them to steer, and then the ones that are more confident can start riding around on their own (with someone walking beside them the whole way). So I did that for both morning and afternoon sessions today. It was so much fun! The kids are having such a great time, it's fun to be involved in something like that. If only I'd had that kind of opportunity as a kid! But now as an adult I still have time to learn. I got to help groom and pick out hooves and lead the horse around. Learned to tack and un-tack, and learned to put a blanket back on the horse I was working with. So much fun! I felt a lot more confident after working with him all day (he was a very sweet and patient horse).

And I got a lot of walking around and around and around the arena - so that's a little extra activity for my day as well. That was a pretty good way to spend the first part of my Saturday.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mama hen hatched 8 chicks!

Eight new baby chicks, some yellow, some blue, and one looks kind of gold - how cute! Mama hen is possibly the meanest mama hen I've ever met - she growled at me just for daring to LOOK in the brooder box, and when I went to put a waterer in there the chicks could drink out of she puffed up and came after me! I think I'll let her rejoin the flock, if anyone goes near her chicks she'll kick their tailfeathers into the next county!

Meanwhile in the other box the chicks are all feathered out and looking pretty good. They are at the scraggly age. There's also a couple roosters hidden in there.

Can you spot the baby rooster?


Monday, April 11, 2011

Eye problems and fitness

My eyes are still healing up. The one that got scratched is getting much better. I can read with it now, just a bit of double vision left. The Dr said I might have to get a new prescription lens for that side, but it's looking like it could be back to normal when it's done healing up. The one that didn't get scratched, but sent me to urgent care two weeks ago with sudden inexplicable pain, is all better. The doctor could not find anything wrong with it, and thought it might have been some sort of 'sympathy pain' - he said that happens sometimes. So that eye is not taking any medicine, but the eye doctor put the scratched eye on the steroid drops for the next two weeks. The steroid drops sting. Other than the steroid drops, I am using Thera Tears (replacement tears) in both eyes regularly.

Friday and Saturday night I woke up with stabbing pain in my scratched eye, a couple times on Saturday night, and the doctor thought this was related to dry eyes, or my sleeping with my eyes slightly open. So last night I had a hard time going to sleep, because I didn't want the stabby eye pain to come back! I finally got to sleep, but woke up every hour or two and put Thera Tears in both eyes, and went back to sleep. So if you don't count waking up 6 times a night, I got a good nights sleep, and no stabby eye pain, so that was good.

I'll be so glad when this is all over! I just want things to be back to normal :(

The stress of the eye problems and not sleeping good has been hard on my stomach, I've been feeling just sort of 'off' and stressed out. I had some really good exercise sessions this week, including a nice 3 mile walk at the park with Barclay on Sunday. At my weigh in today I'm down to 249 - into the 240s we go! As long as it keeps going down, I'll be happy!


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Enchanted April

I went to the theater today to take pictures of the play they are working on - Enchanted April. It's a very sweet little play about a couple ladies who run away for a vacation to Italy to get away from their dreary lives and husbands, and end up finding their way back to them.

Most of the people in the play are our friends or at least people we've worked with before. My hubby was in charge of the set building. The first act is pretty simple, and black curtains on the back wall hide the second act set - an Italian courtyard with columns, pergolas, flowers, and a lovely mural one of our talented artists painted. Dave and I spent a lot of time (ok, mostly Dave, but I helped a few days) getting those columns mounted securely. It's nice to see it all done and being used.

I took pictures with my camera, but I'm still figuring it out, and I had some problems getting the exposure and color balance right. So I gave Dave my old camera to use and he took pictures at the same time. We ended up snapping about 1000 pictures between the two of us and whittled it down to under 200, and of those he only used about a dozen for the promo materials. Thank goodness for digital!

Dave has an upcoming play where he needed to have red hair, so he went ahead and had it colored - talk about a change! I should do a blog post of the 'many faces of Dave', he's always changing his looks for whatever play he's in!


Thursday, April 07, 2011

Camera lens #3

My 'new' Nikon D50 camera came with three lenses. The first is a Nikkor 28-80mm F3.3-5.6 which is the basic kit lens, so it's the one I played with first. The second one is a Tamron 18-200mm zoom lens, which I have been playing with the last couple weeks - seems like that is the lens I'll be using most of the time. The third lens is one the previous owner bought as a spare when he left his kit lens home on a trip, and so it is quite similar to the first lens, it is a Nikon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6. So it covers a range that could be described as wide angle, to not-quite-as-telephoto as the other lenses. For that reason I hadn't been dying to play with it. I'm not even sure I'll keep it, but I popped it on the camera to take a few shots today.

Dave in the office working (with a cat on the printer)

It's hard NOT to be cheerful with these smilin' dogs in the house!

The locust trees are always the last to get their leaves back.

This is the view north over the neighbor's dilapidated barn.

And this was one of those lovely sunsets where the sun is behind the clouds and they light up with a brilliant outline of the light behind them. Clearly I need to figure out how to adjust my exposure on this camera - not only is the detail lost in the clouds, but in the picture of the barn above it the sky is all washed out. I was spoiled by my old camera having automatic exposure bracketing. I just need to figure out how to do it manually on this one.

So my conclusion about this lens was what I was expecting. It kind of covers a range I already have covered just fine with the other two. 

Another thing I have to get used to with the new camera is that it doesn't have a live view on the viewscreen - you have to look through the optical viewfinder. That makes it tricker to aim when you're doing stuff close to the ground. I not only was spoiled by the view screen on my old camera, but it flipped out and rotated around so you could get shots from all sorts of interesting angles. But the quality of the pictures the new camera takes are far superior, so it's worth the trouble to learn to just deal with the new camera!


First Day Volunteering

I went to the horse ranch to volunteer today. Since it's spring break, they had an unexpected group of kids show up and clean the stalls, so I got a pile of paperwork to enter in the office. That was fine by me, and I plowed through it in about two hours. I was getting ready to leave when a couple girls showed up and they asked them to catch and groom one of the horses they have there for evaluations, and asked if I'd like to help. So I said sure, and went with them. The horse was a bit restless, and I mostly stayed out of the way. So the volunteer coordinator came by to check on us and said 'hey, want me to grab a pony for you to groom', and I thought, gosh, I don't want to be any trouble - but she said the ponies needed to be groomed too! So she went and got this adorable little pony and showed me where to get her brushes and I got to spend some quality time grooming her. She was more my size anyway :) I'm not ashamed to let the teenage girls handle the big horse while I brush out a pony!

That was great fun, I can't wait to go back. She said next time I can do some stalls. How silly is it to be excited about getting to scoop poo? Before I left I wandered by the arena and they had a class going on with some little girls racing around barrels (at a walk) and the winner would get to clean a stall! And then I heard one of the girls proudly tell the other one 'I get to clean three stalls already!' :)


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Volunteering at a horse ranch

Yesterday I went to visit a local riding stables that specializes in riding programs for disadvantaged kids. They need volunteers, and I need to be around horses - so I think we can help each other out. They have a very nice facilities, and need help with both cleaning up and office stuff - I can shuffle papers as well as anyone :) The people seem very nice. Luckily the rules we have to learn all made a lot of sense and were similar to the rules we already use in 4H to keep the kids safe around animals, so I should have no problem remembering them. She said though most of the adult volunteers have their own horses, she would welcome someone like me who really wants to learn about horses. I think my experience working with kids in 4H is helpful too.

I'm very excited, I get to go back tomorrow and work with one of the other volunteers to start learning the ropes to clean out the stalls. I think this is going to be a great way to get my horse 'fix' while doing something good for the community with my free time.