Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Woeful Willow

The stone has returned.

Willow took a sudden nose-dive on Saturday.  She spent the day begging for food and attention and would devour what was put in her cage.  But at the end of the day, for all this apparent appetite, I saw that her pellets had not been touched.  I picked her up to weigh her and was horrified at how frail she felt.  I put her on the scale:  690g.  She's been steadily weighing in the last several weeks at 770g.

I syringe fed her some critical care and began to watch her closely.  On Sunday and Monday she stopped inhaling some of her favorite treats; I found bits of tomato and banana left around the cage. Monday morning, with no real sign of improvement, and a couple of days of  metacam and critical care, I made the appointment for the vet.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lilac Dance Dress

The dance dress is complete.  I stitched the last of the hem this evening.  Overall, I'm pleased with how it came out.  I learned a few things while making this dress:  allow for more fabric on the finished edges, and use the top feeder foot when hemming the bottom.  Working with knit material wasn't too bad, and it made finishing the edges a lot easier than with non-stretch fabric.  Making another dress from this pattern should be a snap.

And now that it's done?  I feel self conscious whenever I try on the dress.  How unfair.  I swear this material is a little clingier than the original.  I suspect I'm the only one who has trouble with the dress or even notices.  Any male that I've mentioned this issue tells me clinginess is not a problem.  Thanks, guys.  But I still might wait until spring before wearing it to a dance.  Currently it hangs on the closet door as incentive to get to the gym.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Healthy Competition

If you have ever watched guinea pigs eat, you know that the best tasting food is that which is being consumed by another guinea pig.  We have witnessed Bertie drop what she's eating to snatch the piece of food Pinni is devouring, even when it's all the same.  I've seen Pinni start eating the other end of a blade of hay Bertie is eating, to end up in a tug-of-war over the last two inches of the hay, even though there's a pile of hay right next to them.

Being separated from the Newbies, Willow doesn't have to race the others to finish her food first.  I wondered if she was eating less hay/pellets because she lacked the competition that most pigs seem to thrive on.  I'm concerned:  Willow has been dwindling very slowly over the last several months.  It's probably a mixture of old age (she'll be 8 in May!), arthritis and possibly another bladder stone.  So I want to encourage her to eat as much as possible to keep her weight up.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fleece Cleaning Routine

Using fleece as guinea pig bedding, in theory, is dead simple:  you buy a few yards of fleece, put it in the cage for several days, take it out, wash it, and put it in again.  It's wonderfully economic, it's not dusty nor will it get tracked around the house like shavings or Carefresh.  There is a great overview of the stuff on the GuineaPigCages.com forum, called The Fleece Project: The Study.  It covers purchasing, preparing and using fleece.

In practice, you'll discover that using fleece is not quite as simplistic as it sounds. 

Tools of the fleece trade:
rubber mitt, curry brush, whisk brush and fingernail brush
Everyone uses and works with fleece a little differently.  Most of my fleece is in upper levels of my cage, so it stays relatively clean.  The bottom level fleece is normally covered in wood chips, hay, poo and hair.  So even in a single cage, I am faced with different cleaning requirements.

The Fleece Project recommends a Vacuum-Shake-Brush-Beat routine.  I prefer a Brush-Brush-Dustbust-Shake routine for cleaning fleece.  You probably have (or will have) your own favored routine.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

What was I thinking?

When I go off the rails, I don't do it in dribs and drabs.  I got home from work today, and was tired, cranky and didn't really feel like working out.  Baking makes me feel better when I'm in a mood like this.  So not only did I skip the gym, I baked Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had bookmarked these cookies last week from The Girl Who Ate Everything.  The recipe was small - it made 16 big cookies, which only used a half-bag of chocolate chips.  I figured, if I was going to open a bag of chocolate chips, I might as well use the whole bag.  So I make a double batch. 

Oh. My. God.

I have no idea how many of these cookies I taste-tested.  And I may need to sample another in a few minutes to make sure they really pass inspection.  They are delicious.  They go perfectly with a big glass of milk.

<sigh>  Now I have more to work off the next time I go to the gym.  But my mood has improved!  I guess that's a reasonable trade.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chocolate Caramel Squares

Another day, another new recipe from Chocolate (Practical Cooking).

I attended a Tea on Sunday (why did the Patriots have to schedule a home game smack in the middle of our Tea?!?).  I usually bring two items, one savory and one sweet.  The Chocolate Caramel Squares looked like a good candidate for the latter.  The recipe makes a small batch, which was perfect for this event.

Still working on my food photography skills
The book described these bars as having a crunchy oat layer.  I think that was a small understatement.  The word they were searching for was brickbat.  It was incredibly tough to cut these into bars.  I'm glad I followed their tip and lined the pan with parchment paper.  It was easy to lift the whole thing out and cut them on a cutting board.

I don't think I overcooked it, and used butter instead of margarine.  Hmmm... now reading over the recipe, I wonder if they intended that I used tub margarine?  I wonder if that would have made the middle layer a little softer?

Regardless, I have a sneaking suspicion they cut their bars with a hot knife or while the chocolate was still soft, because my photo don't look like the one in book.  My color isn't quite as golden brown as in the book.  And their chocolate layer looks a little thicker and softer -- like they added cream or butter to the chocolate.

Well, they may have been hard to cut, but they were easy to bite into. And they may not have looked as pretty as the cookbook photos, but they were delicious:  sweet, crunchy and gooey all at once.

And because I know you're dying to try these yourself:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Love Affair Resumes

Those of you who know Bertie have probably heard of her love affair with the hay rack.  I spent several months figuring out why they hay rack kept falling apart or coming off the wall.  Then I spent several more months trying to keep her out of the hay rack.  I finally developed some kind of contraption that kept her out, but found it difficult to get hay into the rack.

Eventually, with the removal of their house and an addition of a hammock, I was able to retire the Bertie Barrier and she remained on this side of the hay rack.

Until yesterday.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Poor Put-Upon Pinni

A pinch of Pinni
Let's face it:  Pinniped is a tubby pig.  Between that and her personality, she inspires people to reach out and pinch or poke that pudginess.  It's true!  If you ever met her, you'd be overwhelmed with the need to do so, too.  Therefore, it was not surprising when Rob reached into the cage other night and gently poked that belly.  There was a wail of protest.  It was truly heart wrenching.  He was so astonished by her reaction that he reached in to repeat the poke.  His finger was still an inch away from her when she let out another pitiful wail.  Oh!  This was terrible.

Admittedly, we were both laughing at this point.  Guinea pigs can be such over-the-top drama queens.  But I did feel bad for my poor little Pinni.  I reached in to comfort her and was hit with another tale of woe before my fingers even touched her.  I spent the next half minute or so scritching her nose, telling her things were okay and we loved her; she sat there and cried uncontrollably.  I haven't heard a sob story like that since the spring pignic when a sow gave Pinni more attention than she could handle.  What a big baby.

I suppose I can understand why she was so put out:  How could that nice guy who normally gives me such good things to eat have the audacity poke me?  For no reason!  Why would he do such a thing?  I was minding my own business.  I wasn't even begging.  And he poked me!  How could such a thing happen?!

I don't know, Pinn.  We find you irresistible, just like anyone else who's met you.  You're just too dang squeezable for your own good.

Once she stopped wailing, we gave her (and the others, of course!) a bit of tomato.  And all was forgiven.  At least until the next squeezing.  Oof!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fleece's Dirty Little Secret

"What on earth am I doing wrong with my fleece?"

I've recently read several posts from guinea pig owners who are confused and dismayed with their fleece bedding.  They've seen the photos online of pristine cages decked out in this wonderful stuff.  They're beautiful!  Who wouldn't want to have a cage like that?

Willow says:  Mess?  What Mess?
Alas, their guinea pigs' cage didn't look at all like the photographs online.  Their cage was a mess.  Poo all over the place.  They find themselves cleaning constantly, much more than a cage with shavings or Carefresh.  How embarrassing to fail so dismally in keeping a cage cleaned properly.  Why didn't their cage look like everyone's photos?

Well, let me tell you, unless you and your pigs are compulsive cleaners, your cage is probably pretty normal.  All of those wonderful, clean fleeced-lined cages you see online?  There is a dirty little secret:  photos are usually taken of a freshly cleaned cage, minutes after the pigs were plopped back in.  If the owner is good with a camera or computer-savvy, any offending mess is magically cropped or photoshopped out of the shot.  I admit to electronically removing a stray poo or two.  Who wouldn't?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dance Dress Progress

So after reading my sewing machine's owner's manual (can you imagine?) and practicing some stretch stitching I was ready to try sewing togther
my dress.  So far, so good.  I feared I would get ripply seams, but they all stayed flat.  The fabric didn't crawl either.  Yay!

I've pinned the top of the shoulders and tried it on.  Not bad.  One shoulder doesn't quite lay flat, but I'm hoping it will do so once I finish the edges.  Would have done better with a darker color, but I wasn't going to go out and buy more material since I wasn't sure how this would turn out.  If this goes well, I'll make another!

Sewing the seams were straight forward.  Now comes the sewing trial and error.  The original dress just had the arm and neck seems folded over a 1/4" and stitched with some kind of overcast/topstitch combination.  My machine doesn't have fancy stitching like that.  I'm not looking forward to trying to fold over and iron 1/4" of material.  The hem will be equally as fun.  But that's this weekend's project.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dance Dress Experiment

I have a wonderful slate grey dress I found at a yard sale for $2.50.  It's a basic tank dress with a gored skirt.  It doesn't look like much at first glance, but it is one of my favorites.  It's so comfortable and fun to dance in.  I get tons of compliments whenever I wear this dress.

The dress had been well used; it was threadbare in a couple of places when I bought it.  I've added several years of wear, so its days are numbered.  Bummer.  I've looked for another dress or pattern like it, but have had no luck.  I decided to make a pattern from the dress.

The dress is simple - a front, a back and four identical pieces for the skirt  Making a pattern from it was difficult because I refused to pull the dress apart.  I'm not willing to lose it in hopes of making a copy!  I tried several ideas, but couldn't come up with an acceptable pattern until my mother suggested laying the dress out on paper and use a pin to trace the seams.   

Pattern in hand, I have taken the plunge.  I had a length of knit fabric languishing in my fabric drawer.  Turns out there's enough yardage for the dress.  I laid out my pattern and cut it, so now there's no turning back.  After two years of false starts, this dress is getting made!  Whether it meets my expectations and will be wearable is another story....

This project has pushed my sewing comfort zone.  Next step:  learning how to use the stretch setting on my sewing machine.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sculpey Name Tag

The old and the new
Name tags are becoming more popular at contra dances lately.  I have one I made years ago.  It has a plastic loop and snap on the back, which is handy to hold my NEFFA ticket.  I don't use it very often.  It clips easily to a tank top, but not so well to a T-shirt.  The clip and the loop is kind of bulky as well.

I wanted something new and different.  I also wanted to try something that would attach with a magnet, like the new Rehoboth name tags.  And I wanted to make it myself.

I used an old button as a base, having removed the original coating and the pin.  I'm not sure where the inspiration for flowers came from.  It needed something; my name by itself seemed rather bland.

I like how it turned out.  It's not small, so it should be easy to read during a dance.  I wonder how well it will stay on.  Magnets don't pull on fabric like pins do, but can be knocked loose by a blow.   I have some strong magnets, but contra dancing is often a contact sport!  I'll try it out on Friday night at the Rehoboth dance.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Chocolate Fruit Bread

I believe I have mentioned that every recipe I've tried in Chocolate (Practical Cooking) has been pretty tasty.  Sadly, the majority of the book has remained untried.  I tend to stick with the recipes I know and love rather than trying lots of new stuff.  I am attempting to remedy that.  I wrote up a wish-list of recipes to try from this book (and another chocolate cookbook) with a goal of trying several new recipes this year.

I had breakfast club last week, so I treated my coworkers like guinea pigs and experimented on them:  Chocolate Fruit Bread.  The consensus?  It's a keeper.  The recipe listed a number of substitutions for the fruit and the chocolate.  I made mine with chocolate chips, raisins and craisins.  It wasn't overly sweet, like some quick-breads.  It also wasn't quite as dense as I expected, which was nice.  The recipe suggested possibly using white, milk and dark chocolate.  I may have to do a combo next time.  But certainly no complaints with the semi-sweet chocolate chips.

It took a lot longer to bake than the recipe called for.  I could see the center was still quite liquidy after an hour in the oven. I may have to do a little less eggs or maybe up the temperature.  So although this recipe needs a little work, it will be added to my regular breakfast club (and possibly tea-time) repertoire.

The recipe, for those who've asked:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Newbie Annivesary

Two years ago, in the dark of night, I brought home two nervous little rodents.  One was so curious, she instantly won me over.  Her roommate was so cute and soft, I needed to bring her home as well.  They were soon named Pinniped and Bertie.

Bertie and Pinniped
I can't believe I've had them for two years.  I am also amazed that Willow is still kicking around with them.  Of course, that's why they're still called The Newbies.   Compared to that cranky old bat, Willow, they're young hotshots.

This is the longest time by far that I've had three guinea pigs.  Pippin and Willow overlapped with Victoria for a mere six months.  It's too bad I couldn't keep all three together.  It would have been fun to have a single herd.  The latest cage layout lets Willow touch noses and steal hay from the Newbies and keeps peace in the household.  Whatever works!  At least they can all roam together for floor time and in the outdoor pen.

So happy anniversary to my Newbies!  May we have many more.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


As a little kid I always wore a long flannel nightgown to bed.  You know the kind:  red plaid with a lacy color that screamed '80s.  Then I discovered flannel sheets; so much warmer than normal sheets.  Alas, flannel sheets and flannel sleepwear don't mix.  It's a little like veclro - get into the bed and don't move until morning because nothing's gonna budge.

Then I discovered a long nightshirt that was made of flannel back satin.  Perfect.  Fuzzy warm without the velcro.  But it's amazing how hard it is to find as just a nightshirt.  Stores seem to carry two-piece sets and I didn't want the pajama bottoms. <sigh>

I was folding the laundry a few weeks ago and realized my old night shirt was very similar to a button-down shirt I had made.  I loved the shirt pattern and have been meaning to make another.  Hmm... find some flannel back satin, change the cuffs, add about four inches and it would be the perfect night shirt.  Right.  Why look for a new pattern when I can hack apart and modify an old one?

So I gave it a try and it turned out just as I envisioned.  Working with the flanneled satin wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared.  The whole thing whipped together in a few hours.  I admit I totally cheated.  I simplified the cuff and sleeve to remove the button.  I didn't bother interfacing the front or collar.  I skipped most of the top stitching for both the cuff and the front of the shirt.  I rolled-stitched the bottom hem.  And those five buttons down the front?  There's no button holes.  I sewed buttons and both sides together in one fell swoop.  It's a pullover that looks like a button-up.

It's so comfy!  I think I need to buy more material and make another one.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Remembering Pandora and Abercrombie

Pandora and Abercrombie were the first two pigs I bought as an adult.  They came from a big pet store chain and had been in a pen with at least another two dozen pigs.  They were all so cute and so tiny!  We figured they were somehow related, since all of the pigs in that pen looked so similar.

Abercrombie and Pandora
They loved to be held, and got along very well.  I would often sit with the two of them in my lap, curled up together.  I loved these pigs, but these two were a set of lessons learned the hard way.  Within months of owning them, Pandora started having health issues, one after another.  I lost them both at a young age.

Abercrombie was the smartest pig I had.  I would have loved to seen all the mischief she could have gotten into.  Unfortunately, she only lived 18 months and died of a congenital heart defect.  Losing her made me swear off buying pets from big name pet stores.

But in the short time we had her, she was very entertaining.  She loved running around and popcorning during floor time.  She did this so much at first we thought she was having seizures.  Abercrombie was smart enough to lie ("Guinea Pigs Lie: Abercrombie").

Monday, January 2, 2012

Remembering Teddi and Eclair

I bought Teddi and Eclair from a local pet store in 1998, hoping they'd be healthier and I'd have less trouble than with Pandora and Abercrombie.  They were half-sisters:  they had the same father and were born on the same day, but had two different mothers.  They were the first abyssinians I had ever had.  I wasn't sure if I'd like the bed-head look, but I fell in love with them.

They were so tiny when we brought them home; only six weeks old.  I think Eclair missed her extended family.  She'd jump on top of the hidey house and wheek and wheek at the top of her lungs.  Teddi was terrified.  She tried to hide under Eclair who wasn't much bigger than Teddi.  It was ridiculous.  Eclair would have a bewildered look with her feet dangling around Teddi wondering how she got like that.

Outdoor Pen How-To

These are instructions for building a portable lidded guinea pig pen that could be used indoors or outdoors.  Please note: This pen is not intended to be animal proof!  It is designed to keep guinea pigs contained and to slow down a passing predator that may see them as an easy meal.  When this cage is in use, it should be monitored at all times.

The measurements in these instructions are based on a 14" grid, so if you have grids that are a different size, you will have to adjust the lengths of the PVC pipe.  And the instructions assume you are somewhat familiar with cage building as seen on GuineaPigCages.com.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cross Stitch

Quilting isn't the only stitching I do. I've done a number of needlepoint projects as a kid and did counted cross stitch in college. The dragon sampler was my first big counted cross stitch - it took two years to complete.

These three pieces are all designs by Teresa Wentzler.  I love how intricate her patterns are.  Everything is woven together and very detailed.  Of course that means they're terribly time-consuming to stitch!

Contra Dancing

Growing up in the Midwest, I had the usual run-ins with square dancing. I went to my first contra dance during a college event.  I immediately fell in love with it, but had no idea that it was something I could go to regularly in the area.  Oh, if I had only known there were dances so close to me!

Once I started attending the Scout House dance regularly, I found dances all over.  The Rehoboth dance has been my "home" dance since 2004. I also regularly go to the Scout House and the dance at  Brown. There's special events, like NEFFA, the Fall Ball and Snow Ball in Peterborough, NH.

For those of you who have never heard of contra dancing, it is set dancing (similar, but not like, squares) that is called (dancers are told what to do) and is usually accompanied by live music.

My favorite definition of contra dancing can be found on: What Is Contra Dance?

And, of course, Wikipedia has a a more clinical description:  Contra dance - Wikipedia

The dance community is wonderfully diverse.  I've tried some other dances that I've heard about through contra dancers:  Mostly Waltzes, English dance, and a Cotillion and Fezziwig's Ball, which feature dances from over a century ago.

Contra dancing is all over. And I dare you to find a nicer group of people. Its a fun, social, community activity. Try it out!