Saturday, December 31, 2011

History of Cages

Like many misinformed guinea pig owners, I let my first pair of guinea pigs live in an aquarium.  I was told that drafts were bad for guinea pigs and the aquarium kept them from getting a chill.  It was tiny and I had to clean it often.  What a cramped, boring life for those pigs!

Years later, when I got guinea pigs as an adult, I bought a plastic bottomed cage with a wire top.  It was still unbelievably tiny.  I am embarrassed to even post the dimensions of that cage and two pigs lived in it for a few years.
The evolution of the guinea pig cage
I eventually realized that guinea pigs required more space to be happy and active and splurged on the biggest guinea pig/rabbit cage I could find.  It cost me nearly $100 and it was (as I discovered later) still too small for a pair of guinea pigs.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Remembering Athena and Victoria

I adopted Victoria and Athena in December 2003.  They were the first guinea pigs I ever adopted from a shelter.  I bought a car about the same time and I was honestly more excited about the pigs than the brand new car.


The two of them were very funny together.  Vicky would do her best to utterly harass Athena, until Athena would show her teeth and hiss at Vicky.  Vicky would literally piss off Athena (and then get pissed on).  But right after all this hassling and apparent bickering, they'd stuff themselves into their hidey house together and take a nap.  I have not witnessed another pair of guinea pigs as deeply bonded as these two.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stitch Night Sampler

(or How I Got Into Quilting)

My mom gave me an old Singer student sewing machine for my 14th birthday. The thing is a tank.  I love it.  Mom then taught me how to sew with it and I still use it, after all these years.  When I was young, I mostly made clothing for myself.  Nowadays I mostly quilt and make non-clothing items.

I didn't try my hand at quilting until late 2001.  Stitch Night Sampler was my first quilt.  What an insane first project - it's a queen sized quilt.  A friend of mine organized a stitch-and-bitch at her house once a week; we called it Stitch Night.  One evening she invited a new member who taught us about quilting. The light-blue/pink/black nine-patch to the left of center on the quilt was my very first square. I was hooked. I decided to make a bunch of blocks with variations of nine-patch patterns. The other gals helped me with colors and placement; I did the research and the stitching.  After making several blocks, I wanted to make something with them.  This quilt is the final result (and thus the name of the quilt).

I had everyone sign their names and I embroidered the signatures onto the friendship star at the bottom of the quilt.  Pretty cool!

I have not done another quilt quite as large as my first one.  But I have enjoyed quilting.  The blocks appeal to my mathematical side.  It's the piecing that I really like.  I can spend hours picking colors and designing what I want to do.  I keep the actual quilting to a minimum; I never got the knack of hand quilting and my machine works best in straight lines.  I've tried stippling a few times on that machine and I haven't quite got the hang of it.  My first attempt turned out the best.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We Interrupt This Broadcast

To those of you who follow my blog:  Thank you!  I hope you have been suitably entertained.

I started this blog as an experiment.  Turns out I've really enjoyed writing it.  The format works a lot better than my old web site.  So I'm taking some time to rewrite a chunk of the old site's content into this blog in preparation of taking down the old web site.  It seemed like a fitting way to end the year.

That means you'll be seeing some of my old projects and pigs of the past float by your feeds for the next several days.  Think of it as TV reruns over the holidays.  I will return you to my regular sporadic programming in a week or so.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Building A Third Level

One of the fun things with a C&C cage is that there are endless ways to configure it.  I built my first C&C cage in 2003. (You can find a great set of instructions on how to build a C&C cage on GuineaPigCages.com.)  Over the years I've rearranged my cage several times.  The original base still exists, but the rest of it morphs.

Many of my YouTube videos feature Bertie, Pinni and Willow frolicking around in their cage and people want to build a cage like it.  These are instructions for the third level I have in my cage.  The design is dependent on having another floor that is only a half-grid below it.  You can get the directions for that in No-Ramp Loft.

The third level in my cage is almost the same size and shape as the second level, just with one extra grid that works as a ramp.  Before you build this addition, you need to know that your guinea pigs are not leapers.  The third level I designed is rather open, and if my pigs were determined, the could leap out of the cage entirely.  It would be a long and possibly fatal drop.  If you are unsure about your pigs' penchant for jumping, you may want to replace the half-grids on the balcony with full grids.

No-Ramp Loft

People like the loft in my guinea pigs' cage.  It is only 6" off of the main floor, so it doesn't require a steep ramp that is common in most second level designs.  In fact, it doesn't require a ramp at all!  Guinea pigs can just hop up or jump down from it.

I've had several people ask for instructions how to build one.  It's not complicated, especially if you've made a C&C cage before.  The loft is made out of 10 grids, a bit of coroplast and a bunch of 50lb zip ties.  If you are adding this onto an existing cage, you will need to modify the base on the side you are adding the level. It requires a half-grid wall instead of the full grids.

I cut a single grid into two pieces (removing the middle row of grid-holes), so that I end up with two 4x9 hole grids.  I used a pair of heavy-duty wire cutters for the inner wires, but I needed a hacksaw to get through the thicker edge wire.  The two half-grids are the same height as the coroplast on the base. This is to help support the second level on the base of the cage.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Working with Scupley

I have been making ornaments for many years. I picked up the craft in the early 1980s "apprenticing" for a woman who made salt-dough ornaments she sold at local shops.  She made dozens of them at a time.  I learned how to make the dough, seal the ornaments and paint on some of the details.  Occasionally I got to watch her create the ornaments.  She made it look so easy!

Typical work area
I started making salt-dough ornaments for Christmas presents for my extended family.  Some of the oldest pieces still survive (which is impressive, because of the seal breaks, salt-dough ornaments turn into mush).  In the mid-1990s I switched from home-made salt-dough to Fimo and Sculpey, at which point my ornaments became smaller and more detailed.  I can see the improvements over the years, as my ornaments become more 3D and my people look a bit more realistic.

I often work in the living room.  I try to keep my area somewhat mobile, so I can stash it all away in a moment's notice.  However, it doesn't take much before clay and tools are all over the place. I sometimes have multiple pieces under varying stages of construction all at the same time.  It can be a mess!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Not A Creature Was Stirring

...not even the bad squirrels in the attic.

The stockings were hung on the cage grids with care... in hopes that they were good pigs and will get carrots instead of coal.  If it was up to me, I'm not sure.  Bertie and Pinni were causing such a ruckus last night I feared Bertie was going to take a flying leap from the balcony to get away from Pinni.  Bad pigs.  Pinni needed wuzzes.

A friend of mine knitted the stockings for me as a present.  Aren't they cute? One for each guinea pig.  I think the blue and grey one is my favorite.  The pigs think they are the perfect size for a big fat carrot.  I may have to agree.

So they're keeping their paws crossed and being good pigs tonight.  Don't they look like good little girls?

Merry Christmas from Pinni, Berie and Willow

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Creepy-Crawly Connoisseur

My boyfriend is the bestest.  But he has this thing about plastic creepy-crawlies.  The first time he purchased a handful of plastic snakes and spiders, he assured me they would go in a friend's backpack, or in someone's shoe bag at a contra dance.  I innocently believed him.  However, after the cockroach appeared in my shower, a snake in my utensil drawer and various ants and bugs under my pillow and in my  purse, I began to doubt the truthfulness of his intended victim(s).

I must admit, this Halloween he offered a number of contra dancers their choice of spiders.  People's reactions were entertaining, ranging from disgust to unexpected delight.  But I still wonder if the majority of these critters will ever leave the confines of this house.  And the collection continues to grow.  I brace myself any time we walk into a toys store or a nature center; he makes an uncanny bee-line to the plastic bugs section of the store.

I seem to be facing a real pest problem
For example, he found another wonderful selection of bugs just last week at A2Z in Northampton.  There were even a pair of banana slugs!  Who could resist them?  He's a little disappointed that he has not yet found a good house centipede.  But was content with his other purchases.  The spider (which I have not come across yet) and the over-sized ant are impressively realistic.

I had the whole family over this weekend.  My nephew was enthused about the slug on my keyboard and spent some time with my sister hunting down various bugs in the kitchen.  Hmm... maybe next time they're over, I'll tell my nephew that he can keep any bugs he can find.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Blue and Coco

Meet Coco and Blue
My nephew normally gets storybook characters for his Christmas ornament.  This year I got a special request:  to make an ornament with his two favorite stuffed animals/imaginary friends, Blue and Coco.  I was familiar with the stuffed animals and took some photos of them for reference.  Coco looks a lot like Snoopy.  Blue is somewhat nondescript, with odd-looking floppy ears and a stubby tail.  My nephew is infatuated with Mario Kart, so I thought if I put the two of them driving in a go-kart, it would be a big hit.

I knew the kart would be some work, simply because I've not built one before.  Imagine my surprise when my stumbling block was Blue and Coco.  Blue is relatively two-dimensional, mostly light blue with a large light green patch over one eye and ear.  Two colors. One spot.  How hard could that be?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Musketeer

Musketeer - 2011

My godson receives an iconic character as his annual Christmas ornament.  It started with a train engineer and over the years I have worked my way through a variety of countries and time periods:  minute man, a cowboy and Indian, a knight, a Roman Centurion, an Eskimo, the Gloucester fisherman.  Many of them were warriors or hunters.  People carrying swords and axes are possibly not the most appropriate thing to gift at Christmas?  There are so many colorful costumes out there and let's face it - some of the most interesting are military uniforms.  I've tried to veer away from the warriors in the last few years, but as I puzzled this summer over what to make, a musketeer popped into my head.  When something sticks in my head like this, I've learned to run with it.

I think it was the blue of the musketeer outfit that had caught my eye.  In doing my research, I discovered that there are many different uniforms for musketeers.  I suspect what I ended up with is probably a mishmash of a few different time periods.


Various stages of progress





This took a while to make.  I worked on it in bits and pieces.  I had the boots and legs done before Thanksgiving, and then it sat for a week.  Baking cookies and a pie and dipping toffee took precedence.  But even when I had time, progress was slow.  I worked on it for several nights, just an hour or two at a time.  I had to rework the boots, because they were too high.  The legs were too skinny.  He was becoming taller than I wanted.  The tabard was difficult to work with; the blue kept smudging on the white shirt and vice versa.  I had to work on hair color for a bit, and hemmed and hawed over facial hair.  Then debated over making a sword, and should he hold it or have it on his hip?  Decisions, decisions!

I finally had him all assembled and ready to bake.  He went in with the vet ornament and got singed as well.  The results were shiny bangs, a tricolor feather and dark blue edges to the tunic.  So no more cooking ornaments in that oven!

All that was left was painting some trim and the blade of the sword.  Painting detail always makes me nervous.  It's tricky getting in and around legs and arms and clothing and not touch something else.  It all worked out in the end.  My musketeer looks splendid.  En garde!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fezziwig's Ball

All gussied up
(photo by Bryan Krauthamer)

In the last several years, I have gone to the Cotillion at the Scout House.  This year we decided to try Fezziwig's Ball up in Salem, MA.  The fliers made it sound similar to the Cotillion: a fancy-dress dance, featuring period costumes and dances.  But there were several things that ended up making it a different experience than what I had expected.

First, there a lot of children and young people.  Much more than at the Cotillions I've attended. It seemed that were more people in costume, too; I was constantly brushing up against one hoop skirt or another during the waltzes. I met several people who said this was their first time, and had no dance experience.  I think the mix of young people, costumes and anticipation helped create the festiveness of the evening.

The dance started with a Grand March, which was very long and involved going up and down the stairs more than once.  This was a bit nerve wracking since I had a very long dress and was wearing heeled shoes (which I do all of 2-4 times a year). I was so relieved not to have stepped on anyone's gown. 

Through the evening they did a mix of couple dances and called line dances.  The woman calling the dances was difficult to hear in the crowded hall.  In addition, the dances were taught without any references to contra or English dance figures.  This was frustrating.  I couldn't understand what she was asking us to do any better than the uninitiated beginner.  Once we successfully did the move, it was fairly obvious what she had called.  Even not knowing the dance, I feel I could have picked up on the root movements quicker and easier had they been in terms I recognized.  However, not understanding her instructions left us unable to assist anyone.   I guess it leveled the playing field?  We were all equally lost.

Grand March
(photo by Bryan Krauthamer)

But it was neat to learn some new old-style dances.  The Cotillion does the same set every year.  I really enjoyed the reels.  Everyone was laughing when we did Gothic Arches.  We all got pretty silly.  You can get a feel for the general controlled chaos from the polka:


All of the dancing was much like this:  full of smiles and people having fun.

I didn't switch dance partners like I do at the Cotillion.  Dance names and order were not posted, so I felt safer sticking with Rob than to venture out and dance with others.  Which was fine!  It was a rare treat to dance the evening away with just one person.  I think many people stuck with whomever they came with for the dances. 

There was a decent amount of down time between dances.  Fezziwig's Ball was as much a social function as a dance.  With the beautiful hall and everyone dressed up as they were, it was easy to imagine what a dance would be like over a century ago.

The food at the break was delicious.  The treats appeared to be from period recipes, too.  There were mini mincemeat pies and ham and cheese.  There were gingerbread and sugar cookies, all stamped.  I don't want to think of the time it took to prepare all those!  Of course there was plum pudding and a variety of other sweets.  It would have been perfect if there had been 21st century hand cleaner available at the tables -- I doubt anyone took the time to wash their hands before heading for the food.

So the Cotillion and the Fezziwig Ball turned out to be similar yet distinct events.  They each have pros and cons.  For me?  I had a delightful time.  We both enjoyed the festive atmosphere and the dances and the people.  Even though it was a long drive up there and back, I expect we will be returning to Fezziwig's Ball in the future.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Vet for My Vet

I am lucky to have a decent exotics vet so close to where I work and live.  Every year for the holidays I give the Windhover Veterinary Center a box of my almond butter crunch and ginger star cookies (along with a goofy guinea pig card).  It's part thank you and part offering to the Pet Gods.  Perhaps if they're appeased, I won't have to make so many visits to the vet in the new year?  So far the goodies are loved by the staff, but the gods have not been placated.  Oh, well.

A rough likeness of my vet, with the mumps?
This year I decided to make an ornament for my vet as well as the usual goodies for the staff.  I thought it would be a fun project.  And it was, although the execution was trickier than I had imagined.

The idea was to have my vet surrounded by a bunch of animals.  The number of animals decreased as I ran into difficulties.  The parrot, which I thought might be complicated, turned out to be the easiest piece of the bunch.  I've sculpted bunnies before, so that wasn't too difficult.  The cat was challenging - I wasn't sure what to do with the legs.  Even the lab coat had issues!  The white stuck to everything.  I had brief thoughts of a guinea pig or a rat, but the rabbit was so small, I didn't want to try anything smaller.

Then I discovered the toaster oven has hot-spots.  This ornament lucked out - one sleeve ended up a little dirty and the grey kitty cat ended up a bit browner than it started out  both the vet and the rabbit have slightly shiny toes.  But the scorching was kept at a minimum.  Given all that white of the lab coat, I was thrilled!

This is the first time I've tried to make an ornament based on a real person.  I've matched the color of her hair... and that's probably about it.  Regardless, I think it's cute.  I hope she likes it.  At least I know the toffee will be a hit!  Do you think the Pet Gods will be satisfied this year?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Girls Next Door

The twin girls that live next door recently discovered that we have three guinea pigs.  A week or two after this discovery I answered the door to find the twins and a friend standing on my porch.  Could they visit with the pigs? 

I suspected that the friend was added in hopes that if I let them play with my guinea pigs, no one would feel neglected:  there would be one little girl per one guinea pig.  And their timing couldn't have been better.  They rang the doorbell just as I was getting ready to clean the cages. 

I invited them in and told them they could hold the pigs for as long as it took me to clean the cages.  They swept through the living room descended on the cages like a force of nature, a whirlwind.  I pig-proofed the kitchen and ushered the girls in.  They sat on the floor, each with their own pig, asked me questions and babbled to each other all at once.  Wow.  The pigs didn't know what to make of it either.  Bertie was terrified; she wouldn't come out of her cozy.  Pinni managed to pee on one of the girls, twice.  Willow, meanwhile, charmed everyone and basked in the attention.  The girls were thrilled - they got play with the pigs and feed them bits of lettuce and cantaloupe while I cleaned the cages.

One of them asked how often I cleaned the cages and was surprised that this was a weekly chore.  Every Saturday?  Oh, joy!  I now listen for the doorbell on Saturday afternoons, when they know I should be cleaning the cages.  The pigs require supervision, right?

Subsequent visits have been calmer, if not quieter.  Even Bertie has relaxed a little.  Pinni still manages to pee on at least one of the girls each time.  None of the pigs are too certain about being bundled up in cozies then cradled, rocked and cooed over like babies.  That may take a bit more adjustment.

I find myself attempting to answer questions asked by two or three kids at once.  Occasionally I'm answering one's question while another is relating some story of family pets.  It's tricky keeping track of pigs, kids, stories and questions all while I'm trying get things done.  It's a lot like juggling.

Pinniped is exhausted after entertaining three little girls.
After an hour or so, I finished cleaning the cages.  The pigs went back into their cages with sighs of relief.  The little girls, for the most part, were sated.  They gave  farewell pats to the pigs, parting questions to me and informed me they'd be back next week for another visit.

My trio were exhausted; I soon found them flopped all over their cages.  I was pretty tired, too.  It's a lot of work to clean two pig cages while supervising kids and pigs to ensure they don't accidentally hurt each other.  I don't think the pigs or I could handle this much excitement more than once a week.  Don't get me wrong - it's a delight to have the little girls for a visit.  They were so excited to have some one-on-one time with my pigs.  I'm just glad I have enough well behaved (non-biting) pigs to go around.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pinniped Guards Hay

I had separated Willow from the Newbies for a number of reasons.  One major issue was that Pinni was guarding and eating all of the hay and pellets to prevent Willow from eating any.  Pinni became a moose of a pig and Willow kept losing weight.  It was an unacceptable situation.  So I split them, and arranged the cages so they could interact with each other.

I regularly stuff hay between the grids, so that the three guinea pigs can spend some time in close proximity.  It's the guinea pig thing to do:  the best food is always what everyone else is eating.  So the fact that Pinni will eat hay on one side while Willow munches on the other side is not unusual.  But what I witnessed the other day indicated that I have little chance of reconciling these three sows into a single herd.

Pinniped, unnecessarily guarding the leftover hay
I discovered Pinniped curled up around the remaining bits of hay that I had stuffed between the grids.  At first glance it appeared she was sleeping.  I thought it was a little odd, because that's not her normal sleeping spot.  But on closer inspection, I could see her body was in "guard" position.  Sure enough, if Willow came close to the strands of hay, Pinni would suddenly wake up and start eating again.  If Willow walked away, Pinni would drift back to sleep.  Pinni is still trying to assert her dominance, even though there was no possibility Willow could eat the hay that was on Pinni's side of the grids! 

What a bad pig!  Or perhaps just a very foolish pig?  It appears that Pinni still considers Willow a threat to her standing in the pecking order.  Willow hasn't made any attempts to regain control as Boss Pig in well over 18 months.  She would be quite happy as a quiet little subordinate, but Pinniped seems unable to just leave Willow alone.  Poor pigs, caught up in the drama of social status.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Experiments in Dipping Toffee

For all the toffee and candy dipping I've done, I've never really looked at how to temper chocolate. I melt; I dip.  Last week, I was leafing through one of my chocolate cookbooks and read through the instructions for tempering chocolate.  I thought I'd give it a try.

The various stages of toffee dipping
I got mixed results.  It took a bit of time and patience to go through the steps (at least according to this cookbook) of tempering the chocolate.  I dipped at a lower temperature than I have before.  This made the dipping go so much faster and easier.  I was amazed by the lack of puddling under the toffee.

The drawback?  I didn't temper it right.  I got faint blooming on almost every piece, which is more than what I usually get.  On the other hand, it's so consistent, it almost looks like it was on purpose.  I was a bit timid about trying this, so I worked in a few small batches.  I followed the heating temperatures precisely, but didn't test properly.  Given what I've now been reading, I might have had better luck if I had melted my chocolate in one big batch.  So now I got something things to try for the next batch of toffee or the Easter candy making event I have each spring.  I would love to make a batch of butter creams or peanut butter eggs that don't end up with a puddle of chocolate underneath them.

Ginger Stars and dipped toffee
Since I was in the experimenting mood, I decided to cover a third of the toffee in milk chocolate.  It melted and tempered a few degrees lower than the semi-sweet chocolate (and it also bloomed).  I liked working with the semi-sweet chocolate better than the milk chocolate, but I guess I'll need to ask people which tastes better.

Almond Buttercrunch is dipped; Ginger Stars are baked and iced.  All that's left to do is bag 'em and tag 'em (and give them away).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Please, sir, I want some more.


Please, sir, I want some more.
The problem with a long weekend is that the girls get notions.  On a normal week day, they get fed at very regular times.  It usually takes until Sunday afternoon for Pinni or Willow to realize that the schedule has changed, and they'll try to push their luck.  Being a holiday weekend, the begging started in earnest by Saturday.  They've been inquiring about food any time either one of us has walked through the kitchen. 

It's amusing to identify who's asking.  Pinni has a fast, short wheek, that is often voiced while she's moving around the cage.  It sounds like a question:  Will you feed me now?  How about now?  Now?

In contrast, Willow demands to be fed.  She stands in the middle of the cage, to be as visible as possible and wheeks loudly.  If she's really bad, she'll chew the bars to make her point.

Bertie just needs a tin cup to bang on the bars
Bertie doesn't wheek.  She let's the other two do the dirty work.  However, she's not shy about stepping forward if there's the possibility of someone bearing food.

Initially they were told "No", or got picked up and wuzzed, but eventually their cuteness wore us down. I gave in this afternoon and they got their 3pm snack early.  And then they got their 3pm snack.  And again at 6pm.  We're currently watching football (go Patriots!), so we may succeed in giving carrots at the proper carrot time (7:30pm).


Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

My Black Friday consists of staying far away from any stores.  One year I went to Natick Mall and although I had fun (and a good deal) I vowed not to do that again.  Instead, for the last several years, I spend the day after Thanksgiving wrangling guinea pigs, making toffee and cookie dough and then go to the Rehoboth Contra dance in the evening.  It's a good way to spend a day.

This morning was the shortest pig-shoot we've ever had.  Especially with these three.  In one hour we shot 130 photos in two short sessions and from that bunch found a few decent Christmas photos.  By comparison, the normal Christmas photo shoot requires at least 400 photos in four sessions to get a decent photo.  And the winning photo?  The second one taken of the whole shoot.  Figures.  I didn't even need to Photoshop out any hay, fur or poo.  Amazing!

Could you please identify the creature that stole your carrot?
I end up with several cute photos that can't be used for the card because it didn't crop well, it's missing a pig or two, or it's out of focus.  Often, we've caught some pig being bad.  The best outtakes tend to happen at the end of a session, when we're all a bit frazzled.  We had piggy porn and snowman taste-testing and goofy expressions.  My favorite non-contender was this photo of pigs and props in a row.  It was too wide to put on the card and Pinni was a little hard to see.  What a long lineup of pigs, snowmen and a penguin. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Baking Frenzy

Apple Pie, take two
I have been promised to make an apple pie for Thanksgiving.  I love when I'm volunteered to do something, especially something that I've only done once before.  Ever.  Thanks.

I made enough pie crust this time, but still didn't quite get the edges right.  I think the third time will be a charm.  This pie is certainly more presentable than my first.  We'll find out this afternoon how it tastes, since I also modified the filling since my first attempt.  Muahahah!  This will get served to an unsuspecting houseful of guinea pigs!

Since I had the oven going, why stop there?

I had tried out a recipe recently called Crunchy Topped Apple Oat Bran Muffins.  Oat bran muffins can be so dry and tasteless; I had agreed to try this one last recipe before I gave up.  These got The Stamp of Approval.

Obviously, the food photography skills need some work.
The entire set of muffins were spirited off to the office.  What didn't get eaten before last weekend went moldy (because they hadn't been put in the fridge).  I was informed I needed to make a replacement batch (oh, and they should be bigger, and have more crunch topping).

Since I was already peeling and slicing apples I made a replacement batch of muffins, too.  Bigger, but with the same amount of topping.  Then I promptly put most of the batch in the freezer. 

I had made cookie dough last week that was in the freezer, awaiting to be baked.  The oven would be going.... so...  I baked two batches of cookies, too.

And I wondered why I was up until 10pm pulling stuff out of the oven?  I forget that I can't stuff everything into the oven at once, especially when some things cook at different temperatures.  When I finished, the counter was strewn with pie, muffins and bags of cookies.

What a good way to start Thanksgiving:  My fridge and freezer will be packed with goodies.  Willow, Bertie and Pinni have apple skins for treats.  The kitchen sprites visited this morning, and much of the mess I left has disappeared.  Life is good.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Boy in Blue

One ornament is complete.  Feedback from my co-workers indicate it will be a hit (and it passed the Rich Test).  You'll have to wait until Christmas to see.  Sorry.

In the meantime, here's a small preview of next one I'm working on.  I've got legs and boots.  The legs are looking terribly bow-legged at this point, but things will straighten out a bit once I work on the upper body.  He's got swashbuckling boots, so expect something with flair!  And he'll be dressed primarily in that dark blue blob on the left.  Any guesses on what country or time period he'll be from?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Swing of Things


We seem to be in-between pig dramas at the moment.  It gave me a chance to write about the goofier side of guinea pigs (see Pigs Lie) and focus on my holiday projects.  Here's a quick update on the girls:

Willow, Bertie and Pinni, all enjoying a bite to eat
Pinni is, of course, Pinni.  She's her normal cushy, nosing-around self and still complains loudly when I pick her up.  She eats like a horse and is as healthy as one, so I have no complaints.  She and Bertie do quite well together, rumblestrutting at each other and having who's-nose-is-higher contests.  I often find Pinni and Bertie sleeping near each other.

Bertie seems to have leveled off with her viruses.  She's still too light for my liking, but her attitude is back to her cheerful, goofy self.  I'm so happy to hear the random thumpa-thumpa as she runs laps around the cage.  She's keeping her weight above 900g without extra assistance from me.  I still hope at some point she'll fatten up a bit more.

The interesting outcome of Bertie's illness is that she developed a taste for Critical Care (amazing, eh?) and she actually likes being held (not for long, but she no longer quakes at it).  She isn't as skittish as she was just a few months ago.  It's an unexpected change.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Scout House Toffee


No sewing for this year's Scout House fundraiser.  I had even made a pair of oven mitts in advance!  I guess they'll have to wait for the next silent auction.

Zebra streaking?
I was asked, instead, to make my Almond Butter Crunch.  I obtained this recipe years ago and in typical Sally style, have modified it a bit.  The original recipe calls for chocolate chips to be melted on the top of the hot toffee, and then break it into pieces when it has cooled.  I didn't like how the toffee could be a bit greasy (there's a lot of butter in it!), so I started breaking it apart first, and then hand dipping the pieces.  This is very time consuming, which is why I normally only make this twice a year (Easter and Christmas).

For the auction, I stuck with the original recipe method.  The zebra-striping didn't come out quite what I wanted.  That's what I get for trying a new brand of white chocolate.  <sigh>  However, they look great once I broke up the batch.  The buttercrunch looks a lot different than my dipped version, but this way you can see exactly what you're bidding on.

Dark chocolate and milk chocolate topped toffee
I like my toffee with dark chocolate, since the toffee is already so sweet.  But I know some people like milk chocolate better.  So I did both:  half a batch with milk chocolate chips, the other half with semi-sweet chocolate.  I wonder which will get the higher bid?

Fingers crossed that my toffee will be popular.  Meanwhile, I'm hoping that Christa's fudge is up for auction.  I'll be bringing my checkbook in hopes that I'll win!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Exit Stage Right

Let's face it:  guinea pigs are goofy.  It's one of the things I love about them.  You never quite know what's going through that little pea brain of theirs.  Popcorning is always entertaining.  I love when Bertie does donuts in the cage.  Sometimes their begging will make us laugh, especially if one or the other of us has just fed them.  Occasionally, it's the simplest of actions that will get me to chuckle.  This video is a perfect example.

Willow, being Willow:

I have no idea what could have been so riveting that she needed to drop everything and go.  With traveling noise to boot.  Such a peculiar rodent.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ornament Season

It's November.  That's when I start gearing up for my home-made Christmas gifts.  There's a flurry of activity near the end of the month:  making almond butter crunch, baking cookies, herding guinea pigs for the annual holiday card photo.  I started making ornaments this week.

I always intend to make them in the summer, when the house is warm and the Sculpey is probably easier to work with.  I was all set to get a jump start this summer, when I was stuck on the couch doing nothing else.  But did that happen?  No.  However, I did get some ideas of what I wanted to make, which is usually my biggest hurdle.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Apricot Chocolate Ring

A schedule change suddenly bumped up my Breakfast Club obligation by a week.  As I mused what to bake, a coworker suggested one of their favorites:  Apricot Chocolate Ring.

My cousin gave me Chocolate (Practical Cooking) for Christmas several years ago.  It's been a great cookbook so far (although I've only done a few recipes -- I need to start trying more of them!).  All of my friends love the ginger chocolate clusters we make for Easter.  The Apricot Chocolate Ring looked impressive, so I decided to try making it.

It was an instant hit at work and has become one of my Breakfast Club staples.  The dough is a biscuity/sconey consistency and flavor.  Most of the sweetness comes from the swirls of chocolate and chopped up apricot.  Yum.  It goes great with a cup of coffee or tea.  My co-workers agree (because this ring disappeared before the end of the day).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Back for More: Adopting Willow and Pippin

This is the sequel to Discovering Adoption: Athena and Victoria.

I have yet to have a pair of guinea pigs with such a strong bond as Vicky and Athena.  They would bicker and hassle each other like a pair of siblings and yet would cram themselves in their hidey house to sleep together every day.  When we lost Athena, Vicky quickly became lonely and depressed without her constant companion.  This was new for me - my previous single pigs had done well, even thrived, on their own.  I feared for Vicky's well being, so I began my search for suitable companions.

Willow and Pippin
I visited the MSPCA in Boston soon afterward, having seen a pair of guinea pigs on Petfinder.com that  fit my requirements: a pair that were no more than 1 year old.  I brought carrots tops in a plastic bag in hopes of making friends (I had checked with the shelter about bringing food).  I walked into the "small animal" room and discovered that the reaction to a crinkling plastic bag is universal:  an entire wall erupted with frantic wheeking.  Fresh greens were a rare treat for these guys.

The shelter had a dozen guinea pigs, far more than what was posted on Petfinder, aged from 3 months to a few years old.  I wanted to take them all home with me.  After spending an hour observing and examining all of those cute pigs, I finally settled on a mother/daughter pair.  They were  named Alberta and Sheba.  I soon renamed them Willow and Pippin.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wrangling Wired Pigs

One decent group shot
If I didn't know better, I'd swear my trio of guinea pigs had gotten into the Halloween candy yesterday.  They were certainly jacked up on something!

All I wanted to do was a quick November-themed photo shoot.  I put them in their scenery around 3:30 so they could get used to their surroundings.  I figured they'd be done sniffing and taste-testing in about 20 minutes and we could get to work with a minimum of fidgeting.

Ha.

In 20 minutes Willow was yelling that she was tired of Pinni chasing and climbing on her.  Bertie was taking pot shots at Willow whenever she ran by.  There was rumblestrutting, butt-dragging, teeth-chartering and humping galore.  It was like I suddenly had a trio of boars.  What gives?  It was chaos.

Bertie on the move
So I gave up and let them loose on the floor.  I hoped some more space would let them burn off the extra energy.  The noise!  Pigs were percolating all around the living room and kitchen.  Willow was still squawking at Pinni because she wouldn't leave her alone.  Pinni was grousing at everything.  Only Bertie was fairly quiet and placid, only reaching out to bite Willow as she ran by.

At 5pm I decided to get something productive done and clean their cages while they were on the floor.  The girls get pretty excited when I scoop out old bedding and wash down the cage.  But they get truly hyped up at the sound of fresh bedding getting dumped in the cage.  They line up at the edge of the kitchen doorway and look longingly at their cages.  Please, can we go home now??

Sweet, innocent Willow
Fine.  I put them in their cages.  I figured they'd been running around enough that they'd spend 10 minutes checking every nook and cranny, then plop down for a nap.  Wrong.  Those pigs were so wired, it was nearly another hour before they started to settle in.  Three hours of running around, non-stop, and they still showed no indication of sacking out.

It was getting late I needed those photos.  I decided to take my chances.  Stuffing the cornucopia with hay, parsley and Willow helped a lot.  In the end, after all of that waiting, the photo shoot went pretty smoothly.  One set of shots did the trick.  Amen.

Aren't they adorable?  Such lovely photos with apparently calm, well behaved guinea pigs.  Who would ever believe me if I said it took over three hours to get those little hellions to pose for a few deceptively simple pictures?  They're lucky they're cute or I'd be contemplating Bad Pig Stew for dinner.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Rehoboth Dance

I always love the Halloween contra dance at Rehoboth.  People dress up in all sorts of neat costumes, get together and have a good time.  Lots of goodies at the break.  Charlie (the cookie man) even brought Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies, which were positively evil.

There were some great costumes, as usual.  I always get a kick out of the simple, clever costumes.  One girl came as pumpkin pie: an orange shirt with a jack-o-lantern on the front, and the symbol for pi on the back.  There were tons of beautiful and elaborate costumes there last night.  I saw several swashbuckling types with costumes to swoon over.  I even danced briefly with Dr. Horrible!  There was a witch doctor, a couple of flappers, a Hands of Blue (without his partner?), Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Zorro, a ballerina, some clowns, some farmers, some pirates and others in generally festive/spooky gear.  What fun!


Usually I plan my costume several weeks in advance, to make sure I can get all of the bits and pieces I need.  But somehow Halloween snuck up on me this year, and I found myself wondering what to dress up as on the morning of the dance.  I dug through my closet and came across my goth paraphernalia which I hadn't worn in many years.  Alas, my black nail polish was unusable and I lost my extra tattoo.  I had to do without.

It's one of those basic outfits that can cover a lot of bases.  I was asked if I was a ghoul, a vampire (with a cross around my neck?!?), a dominatrix or a zombie.  Whatever.  It was fun just to dress up in something different.  I kind of ruined the whole severe effect by laughing or smiling (which I tend to do at a dance). 

A new guy is starting work at my company on Monday.  I plan on dressing up like this.  Wonder what kind of first impression that will make?  Whee!

Friday, October 28, 2011

An Abundance of Apples

A couple of weeks ago I bought a bag of apples at my local farmer's market with the intent of making several things, which never quite happened.  I inspected the apples last night and found that one or two of them had gone soft.  Obviously I needed to cook them up, quick!

My first apple pie
Someone in this house (I won't name names) is not overly fond of my apple crisp because it's not sweet enough.  So I decided to try my hand at apple pie.

I dug through my Joy of Cooking (I wonder if anyone in my family has my grandmother's "secret" recipe?) and roughly followed the basic apple pie recipe.  I followed the instructions for a 9" crust, and then discovered I have a 10" pie pan.  Oops.  I will need to fix that if I make this again.  But it covered enough., and into the over it went.

Isn't it a thing of beauty?  (not)  I am obviously not ready to compete with Ever So Humble Pie Company.  The whole kitchen smelled delicious, regardless.


But wait!  There's more! 

French Apple Cake (which passed Poison Check)
I had more apples than would fit in the pie.  While flipping through my cookbook, I came across something called French Apple Cake which seems to be an upside-down cake.  It was an odd recipe:  all of the sugar goes into the fruit; the batter is unsweetened.  And there's not much batter.  I gave it a try.  I had a hard time spreading the batter over the apples because there wasn't that much of it.  So this thing ended up being mostly apples with a bit of biscuit/cake over it.  I didn't had a chance to flip it out of the pan; it was still a little too warm to chance it.  But as you can see from the photo, I did a poison check (there was even less of it left by the time I finished writing this).  Maybe this will make it easier to turn upside-down?

We did not get a chance to try the pie (it was late by the time it came out of the oven).  If the taste-test of the apple cake is any indication, I think pie will be a keeper.  But that awaits the final verdict of the Judge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Discovering Adoption: Athena and Victoria

This is a bit of history as to why I adopt my guinea pigs from shelters (and don't support pet stores).

I had guinea pigs when I was a child. I bought my first pair as an adult from some large pet store chain.  There was a pen filled with dozens of guinea pigs and I decided to take two home with me.  Pandora and Abercrombie turned out to be perfect breeding-mill specimens:  so tiny they couldn't have been more than few weeks old and looked nearly identical to every other guinea pig in the pen.  They must have been terribly inbred.  The health problems started within weeks of bringing them home.  Pandora had a series of abscesses and and an ear infection which left her with a permanent head tilt.  Poor Abercrombie died at 18 months old, due to a congenital heart defect.  They taught me how hard it was to find a good cavy-savvy vet and the heart breaking results of breeding mills.

I vowed off of the big pet stores.  After Pandora passed, I found Teddi and Eclair at a locally owned pet store that bred a small number of guinea pigs.  These guinea pigs appeared much healthier and this pet store seemed to have a genuine interest in their care.  They stocked a good brand of pellet and stressed the importance of having a cage large enough for the pair of pigs.  I had these two for several years.  Eclair broke my heart when she died from a spay (due to tumors all over her uterus).  Teddi's heart started to fail soon after.

In researching Eclair's illness, I found out that there were guinea pigs in animal shelters.  I had never considered this before.  Shelters were for cats and dogs.  You could find guinea pigs at an animal shelter?  I discovered animal shelters had all sorts of small animals!  There were rabbits, mice, ferrets, hamsters and, of course, guinea pigs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's Wrong with Bertie

It turns out I wasn't the only one in the house hit with a virus this summer.  I got word of Bertie's blood work on Thursday night.  I had been a little worried because the vet hadn't called me back a full week after the results were supposed to be in.  It turns out that Bertie has pneumonia virus of mice (PVM) and guinea pig adenovirus.  These viruses affect the lungs, can have the symptoms of a URI, causes dramatic weight loss and may cause listlessness or depression.  Any of this sound familiar?

Typical virus:  there's nothing I can give her to fix the problem.  From what I understood from the vet, this is commonly diagnosed after an otherwise healthy-looking guinea pig has suddenly dropped dead.  The viruses can lurk, then hit quickly.  I wonder if Bertie picked up this virus a long time ago.  She has had bouts of wheeziness that disappear after 24 hours many times since I've had her.  She had been brought to a shelter with a large group of pigs.  I don't know where else she could have picked up the virus.

So the good news?  It's not heart disease.  It's not kidney failure.  If I'm lucky, she'll fight off this bug and gain her weight back.  However, I am once again dealing with a long-term illness.  Seriously?  And the added bonus... it might kill her sooner than later.  The vet said Bertie will be more susceptible to URIs, so we will need to watch her carefully for that.  And it's possible she will have a shortened life span, because of damage to her lungs (if a URI doesn't kill her first). 

I have a diagnosis, and that's a start.  There's plenty to do, even if I can't treat the virus itself.  I will need to weigh Bertie more often than the other girls.  I know the symptoms of a respiratory infection and can start treatment immediately.  And we can have some bonding time while she endures syringe feedings of Critical Care when her weight drops too low.  These, at least, are all things I am capable of doing.  Who knows?  She may pull a Willow and last longer than anyone's wildest predictions.  Go Bertie!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vacation Day Goods

Goodness - a blog post not about guinea pigs.  Can you deal with that?

I took vacation day today just to have a day for me.  Call it a Mental Health Day.  Often, the day is spent doing catch-up and errands, but I try to do something enjoyable.  I didn't quite get to the sewing projects or starting on my ornaments.  I did a bit of writing.  But the good stuff was some cooking in the afternoon.


 Life is uncertain, so the dessert first:  Chocolate Chip Shortbread.  The photo is before I cut them up into thin little rectangles.  But doesn't that look good enough to just eat the whole thing?  It's a simple recipe my mother made for a Christmas cookie swap years ago.  If you cut it up small enough, they're just about guilt-free goodies.  Unless, of course, you find you've just eaten a half dozen of them.  Hmm...








Pot pie, ready to bake

My other cooking project this afternoon was Chicken Pot Pie.  We had lots of leftover chicken from a roaster last week.  I visited my parents over the weekend and came home with a fistful of carrots fresh from their garden.  Carrots never go to waste in this household.  The guinea pigs were very appreciative of the carrot tops and trimmings.  I kept the big carrots for myself. 

The gravy is still a work in progress.  I've improved a lot since my first pot pie I made last year:  the gravy was so thick you could stand a knife upright in it!

I had enough ingredients for two pies; one goes into the freezer for another day and the other will be dinner tomorrow.  A perfect meal for a cool Fall evening.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Totally Tubular

Bertie can move a tunnel from the second floor to the first in less than a minute, but not every attempt is successful.  I managed to video one such botched attempt.  Bertie seemed to be making a good go of it, but then Pinni decided to get involved.  It seems that instead of getting the tunnel down to the first floor, they end up using it as a sort of a slide.  I've seen several examples of the tunnel hung up between floors like this, or jammed like an elbow pipe jammed in the corner.  It seems that neither one has figured out that they can pull the tunnel down from the second floor.  Yup - these two are not the brightest bulbs in the bunch.



Watching Pinni's involvement makes me wonder if she's has been involved every time the tunnel gets stuck between levels?  I always thought that Bertie was the more air-headed of the two of them, yet she applies herself to the task with more intent than Pinni.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Readjusting to the Neighbors

I spent part of my last two Saturday afternoons rearranging the cages because Willow seemed a little lonely.  She couldn't easily interact with the other pigs except when they were outside or during floor time.  I wanted to give her more contact with Bertie and Pinniped.

They entered the new cage layout after spending an afternoon together eating grass.  Initially, Bertie and Pinni were too preoccupied checking out their clean cage to even notice there was a wall missing on the far side of the cage.  Willow, though, immediately discovered the difference and appeared both fascinated and terrified by the lack of the wall.  She taste-tested some of the coroplast and watched Bertie and Pinni cautiously.

Pinni was the first Newbie to realize that she could see and hear Willow.  The hackles went up and she was all set to chase Willow out... until she bumped into the grids between her and Willow.  Willow seemed a bit intimidated, but didn't budge from the grid wall.  There was nose sniffing and Pinni went off to examine the rest of her clean cage.  Bertie came over to chew the bars a few times and touch noses and also lost interest.

Certainly not the reaction I had anticipated, although I guess I'm not too surprised.  Willow's behavior reminded me of when the three of them lived together:  she moved as little as possible lest she draw attention to herself and get attacked.  But by morning she was eating her pellets pressed right up against the shared grid wall.  A few days later, it's back to business as usual.   Pinni and Bertie largely ignore the missing coroplast.  Bertie checks out the grids a few times a day, but Willow isn't always nearby to notice that Bertie is looking for her.  Willow occasionally chews the bars when she wants their attention.

I had expected Willow to sleep against the grids more often, like she had with Vicky, years ago.  She and Bertie seem the most sociable and I'm still hoping to see more interaction between the two of them.  That corner is one of Bertie's favorite places to snooze, so I wonder if Willow will eventually move her napping spot to be closer to her.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cage Revamp Part II

I obtained coroplast during the week, so I was ready to complete the other half of my combining cages project.  Last week I pieced together the grids (Cage Revamp Part I), this week I added in the new coroplast base.

First, I gathered all of my tools to measure, cut and assemble the coroplast.  There are a good set of instructions on how to do this on the GuineaPigCages.com website: How to Make a C&C Cage. I measured the grid size of Willow's cage multiple times and wrote it down, and then double checked.  I am a big believer of "measure twice, cut once," mostly because I'm prone to transposing numbers and adding the wrong bits together.

Normally, you want to cut the bottom of a cage in one solid piece. I cut Willow's in two pieces, in part because it was the most efficient way to cut the large piece of coroplast I had.  It's also an odd-shaped cage, with a partial wall on one side.

I brought the coroplast in to test-fit it a number of times when I started taping the ends together.  It was going to be a snug fit, which is good:  I find that if the coroplast and grids are tight, the whole cage can be moved about with little risk of anything coming apart.

I did not zip-tie Willow's cage to the Newbie's cage.  The three edges that touch (two side edges and the overhang on Willow's cage) are connected to the Newbie's cage with binder clips and a grid connector.  This is to keep the cages portable.  Occasionally I use my dining room as <gasp!> a dining room and the pigs aren't invited.  There is no way I could move this monstrosity in one piece from one room to another.

I duct taped the seam on the bottom, from one cage to another to keep urine from leaking under the cage.  I realized after I had done this that it would have been better to make a 1.5" wall to each side of the cage and avoided trying to make a common seam altogether!  At this point, it's done.  If the tape starts to come up or when I have to pull apart the cages, I'll rework the two cages with their own individual thresholds.  Sometimes the most obvious solutions don't present themselves until after you've tried something else.

The new layout
Willow's cage gained about one square foot of space from the reconfiguration.  Over half of that extra space was due to replacing the store-bought bottom with coroplast.  Store-bought cages are deceptive because the sides slope in at an angle, but the measurements are usually taken at the top of the cage (at it's widest point).  It's amazing how much space is lost on the bottom!

I'm glad I had cut her fleece a little long, so it still fits across the bottom with no gaps.  I had to replace her perching shelf with the stool because it no longer has the support it needs.  I'll have to figure out how to best re-attach that.  In the meantime, the little stool is giving her something to hide under.  She no longer has to perch in order to see into the Newbie's cage.

The girls' first reaction to the new cage?  Not quite what I had expected.  But that story will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Blood Tests for Bertie

Bertie completed her meds on Tuesday.  Dr. Holmes had told me if Bertie's weight did not go up after the antibiotics were done, that Bertie should come in for more tests.

Bertie's weight was the lowest since her teeth were filed in August:  886g.  She and I returned to the vet this morning.  Dr. Holmes listened to Bertie's lungs, felt around in her tummy and, as in the past, nothing felt or sounded amiss.  If it wasn't for the tremendous weight loss (nearly 200g), we'd swear Bertie's in perfect health:  she is active, is eating, has bright, clean eyes, clean ears and a full, healthy coat.  She isn't sneezing, wheezing, or bleeding and isn't crying or whimpering when peeing or pooping.  Which means it was time for the dreaded blood work. No one was happy with this next course of action, especially not Bertie.

Guinea pig skin is tough.  Anyone who's ever had to inject a guinea pig knows this.  I have bent my share of needles trying to pierce Willow's skin.  They have small blood vessels, too, so drawing blood is very difficult.  Dr. Holmes allowed me to watch her and a tech draw blood from Bertie.  They worked on her left front leg for two or three attempts (and at least two needles) before switching to Bertie's right leg.  The right side needed to be shaved a bit, so they could have a clear shot at the vein.  After a couple of attempts on the right side, they successfully drew enough blood for testing.  Whew!  Bertie was worn out and rather bedraggled.  Both legs were wet from the alcohol and water.  Her left leg was pink because one of the punctures on that side that had bled a bit. 

Bertie had fussed and cried very little and she didn't struggle too much through the whole process.  I was impressed with how Dr. Holmes and the tech handled her.  As quiet as Bertie was, I could see about halfway through that she was getting pretty stressed.  She was so relieved to get back in the carry case to go home.

The reward for a hard morning's work
After Bertie got home, she and the girls got to spend an afternoon in the beautiful weather.  I'm sure she felt a lot better with a belly full of grass and the vet a distant memory.


Test results should be in on Tuesday.  I'm dreading it.  Either the blood test will be inconclusive and we'll still have no idea what's wrong, or we'll know what's wrong and I worry it will be something untreatable.  So for now, I'm trying not to think about it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hand Feeding the Unwilling

Bertie is one of the few pigs I've had that is not crazy for Critical Care.  I have been hand feeding her lately, mostly in an attempt to get some probiotics into her.  She has been taking a high dose of Baytril and after several days it began to seriously upset her digestive tract.

Bertie often eats about 8ccs in a sitting before she starts making a fuss.  If I'm lucky, I can get about 12ccs into her.  It depends on her attitude of the day.  In contrast, I believe Willow has sucked down 15cc of critical care at one go.  I don't think she even came up for air.  Willow will try to pull the syringe out of my hand if I don't feed it to her fast enough.  She's more than happy to take any leftovers Bertie is unwilling to eat.

So many hand feeding videos on YouTube are of guinea pigs like Willow, happily slurping down Critical Care as fast as they can.  It makes it look so easy.  Hand feeding a problem pig can be a real challenge.  I finally got a decent video of Bertie demonstrating what it's like to feed an unwilling pig.  This is about half as bad as she can get.  Her worst attitude can be pretty funny, especially when she flat out says NO!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rolling Coroplast

I found a place just down the street that sells coroplast at a decent price (Graphic Images).  I had to buy a whole sheet, which is a bit of a drag since I only need at most four square feet.  I'm sure I will either use the extra or find someone who needs it. 

On Monday, I spoke to the owner and agreed to buy a whole sheet.  I told him I'd be by on Tuesday morning on the way to work to pick it up.  I'd be putting it in my car.  A whole sheet?  Impossible.  I told him it would fit, that I'd roll it it up.  He proceeded to tell me at least three times that I could not roll coroplast.  I told him saw how to roll coroplast online.  I'd be fine.

So I go in on Tuesday morning to pick it up.  I was thrilled that they had a large front office, because it had been raining and I didn't want to attempt to roll it outside.  Looked like I could roll it in the office.  At which point the secretary tells me, more than once, that I cannot possibly roll coroplast.  Sure I can.

I had to help her haul it from the back room, because it's bulky and we put it flat on the floor.  I was a bit nervous at that point, because I've never actually rolled coroplast before.  I really didn't want to crimp it.  But I had read the instructions.  How bad could it be?

Pretty easy.  The hardest part was getting the packing tape dispenser to work while holding the coroplast in place.  I put way more tape on it than was necessary; I was so afraid the thing would spring open before I left the building.  I packed it in the car with no problems and headed to work.  At home, at the end of the day, I discovered that leaving it rolled up all day resulted in warped coroplast.  It has straightened quite a bit in the last day, so it should be in good shape when I cut it.

The secretary was pretty impressed.  She said it was too bad that I was in so early, because the owner would have liked to have seen that.  It was a good thing I brought my camera!  I've emailed him the proof.  See?  You can roll coroplast!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tunnel Teleportation

Enjoying her success
The second level of the C&C cages isn't easy to furnish.  A cozy is too much of a dead-end since the girls often pass through on their way to the third level of the cage.  A cuddle cup is okay;  Pinni likes to curl up in one of the corners on occasion.  But a tunnel is perfect:  something to hide in, but easy to run through or around if all you're doing is passing through.

Someone doesn't share my opinion:  I often come home to find the tunnel on the first floor.  I have returned the tunnel to the second floor and come back in less than one minute to find it on the first floor.  Kind of reminds me of when the hay rack kept coming off the wall.  Hmmm....

Surprise!  Surprise!  Bertie is my culprit.  It took a while to confirm this because she never moved the tunnel while I was in the room.  Yesterday I set up the camera and was entertained with what I witnessed:


I timed her several times and she moves the tunnel in about 30 seconds when she really wants to.  This morning I moved the tunnel back to the second floor and Bertie stopped eating her pepper, brought the tunnel downstairs, then went back to eating her pepper.  Okay.  I understand.  I am not to touch the tunnel.  It belongs on the ground floor.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cage Revamp Part I

I never intended to have Willow in a cage all by herself, let alone the old store-bought cage I stopped using eight years ago when I built my first C&C cage.  But that's what happened after her fallout with Pinni and Bertie (Good fences make good neighbors).  When I separated them, Willow had been in declining health and had lost her daughter less than 6 months before.  She was not very mobile.  I honestly thought she would be in that cage for less than a year.  However, 16 months later (at 7.4 years old!), Willow is not slowing down one bit.  In fact, she's in better health than she had been the year or two prior!  I can't house them together, but I'd like Willow to have a bit more company.  It was time to bite the bullet and reconstruct the cages to allow for more daily contact.

Two cages, one wall
My plan requires attaching the two cages together, replacing the store-bought cage bottom and removing one coroplast side of the main cage.  The girls will be separated simply by a pair of grids.  I had done a similar design years ago, when trying to integrate Vicky, Pippin and Willow into a single herd.  Vicky and Willow enjoyed laying next to each other on opposite sides of the grids.

Willow is a nosy old lady:  she often watches the Newbies from her second level and tries to rubs noses with Bertie.  I think the new design will let Willow be closer to the Newbies without them stealing her food.

New grid layout but still the old store-bought bottom



I normally tackle cage redesigns on cleaning day, so I had my day all planned out.  Unfortunately, I didn't have enough coroplast to construct the bottom of Willow's cage.  I plan to pick up the coroplast during the week.

Regardless, I took the opportunity to reassemble the grids.  I hate deconstructing a cage.  Clipping away zip-ties makes me feel like I'm wasting good work.  But the end results should be worth it.  Both cages now share two grids as a common wall and the coroplast along that wall was removed.  Willow's cage has a sturdier base and was lengthened to a full three grids.  So far, it all looks pretty good.  All I have left to do is the coroplast.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Being Destructive

Bertie began chewing apart the cuddle cup this morning.  This is the first time she's ever been destructive with the bedding.  Either she's peeved at me and venting her attitude, or she's in pain and taking it out on the furniture.  Regardless, this is not a good development.  Tricky Vicky was my only other pig that ate her cozies when she was feeling unwell from a bladder cystitis.

Bertie's weight continues to fluctuate, flip-flopping between 910-930g.  I wish she could reach and stay above 960g.  I think the high dose of baytril is taking a toll on her digestive tract.  No doubt that is contributing to her inability to gain;  I also wonder if the infection is clearing up. 

I am giving her acidophilus once or twice a day, mixed into a bit of Critical Care and squash baby food.  It helps a bit, although getting it into Bertie is a challenge.  My boyfriend fed her the other day and I think there was more Critical Care on the towel and all over Bertie's fur than got into her stomach.  Bertie is a master squirmer when she wants to be.  Hand feeding is often a battle of wills.

One more week of antibiotics.  If the weight doesn't come back, we'll be in for another round of tests.  Nobody is happy about this!