Saturday, October 30, 2010

Curiosity and the cat chickens

I think it was Funder who asked if I was concerned about our new mouser-kitties, Maddy and Artemis, chasing (and potentially catching and killing) the chickens. So I took this short video to prove that if you've got cats and chickens, you probably should worry more about the chickens chasing the cats.

Maddy vs. the chickens

Chickens are strange little creatures...

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's what's for dinner

Not beef... eggs! We are getting lots of them - which is awesome, because we love eating our fresh, free-range yard eggs. In fact, one of the staples around here is breakfast for dinner. Who says eggs are just for breakfast!

Quiche? Omelette? Frittata? Maybe a nice Tiramisu?

And the best part? There's always more tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mid-week kitteh

Alas, there will be no cute pictures of Freya in this week's Mid-week kitteh. Instead, I need a moment to rant.

Earlier, I posted about getting Artemis spayed now that she's no longer sick with the kitty sneezies. They couldn't do the surgery while she was sick - apparently when they're stuffed up and can't breathe well, there can be issues with the anesthetic. She also didn't get her rabies and other vaccinations, because you don't want to give a sick kitty something that could make them more sick.

Now that she's been over the sneezies for a few days, I called my vet to make her an appointment to be spayed and have her vaccinations done. All was going well until I asked how much the spay would run. And I about dropped the phone when they told me:



I like to think I'm well aware of the cost of owning a pet. What with the horses, dogs, and other cats... well, it's not inexpensive. And all of our animals are current on vaccinations, wormer, heartworm meds, etc. etc. etc., so a good chunk of change is spent every month on animal feed and care.

And, I am ADAMANT that all our pets be fixed. Both Maddy and Artemis have had kittens, potentially contributing to the pet overpopulation problem. And given what a problem it is (over 1000 animals are put to sleep every month at the Town Lake Animal Center alone), I would think that having your animal fixed - in the interest of controlling the pet population - should be one of the least expensive things you can do. To put it in perspective, Maddy cost me all of $35 from TLAC, and she came spayed and with all her shots. So why the huge discrepancy in cost?

I can probably chalk it up to the location of my current vet - he's in a very nice part of south Austin, with very expensive homes all around. Still, it would be great if he could offer a discount for animals from TLAC or something. $270 for a spay surgery just seemed outrageous, so I called around. Turns out that my old vet up north charges $150, Animal Trustees of Austin charges $45, and Emancipet charges just $39 to spay a kitty.

All that leaves me feeling like my vet is really out of line with reality. I realize that pet ownership isn't cheap, but I feel that some basic things - like getting your pet fixed, and maybe Rabies vaccinations (since they are required by state law) - should be provided at a very basic cost. And that's not $270. Heck, I'd rather pay ATA or Emancipet to do the surgery and then make a donation... which is exactly what I've decided to do.

So, Artemis has an appointment at Emancipet to be spayed tomorrow morning. I'll be giving them an additional donation - hopefully enough to cover the cost spay 2 or 3 additional animals, since they do provide that service for free to families that show need. Because, well, I think helping to control the pet overpopulation is probably a better way to spend my money.

End of rant. Freya will return next week in all her cuteness... promise!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Always check your boots before putting them on

I typically leave my muck boots and/or nasty shoes by the carport door when I take them off. And I always, ALWAYS shake them out and then look carefully in them before putting them on.

Why? So glad you asked...

The mother of all wolf spiders. And I mean that literally. See how her abdomen looks sort of fuzzy? Those are baby spiderlings. All 8 billion of them. EEEEK!

If you can't see the babies very well in the picture I took, here's a better one from another website.

What you can't see in this picture is how BIG mama spider is. Not quite the size of my palm, but getting close (and no, I was not going to put my hand near her for comparison, Thank You Very Much). DANG but we grow them big here in Texas!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Out and about

This weekend, I let Madelaine (Maddy), the orange marmalade out of the workshop for the first time to do a little supervised outside exploring. I should note that her name is definitely Maddy, that's what I seem to want to call her, so we'll go with it. The brown tabby seems to be named Artemis, goddess of the hunt - or so says the hubby. However, Artemis not allowed out just yet since she's not fixed, but now that she's over the kitty sneezies that should happen this week.

Maddy checks out Anie's food and water.

Pretending to be a fierce cat hunting in the tall grass.

Love the tail action...

Ignore the peeling paint and focus on the cute doggy in the window watching the cute kitty on the other side of the window.

The grass is lava! Don't step on eeet!

Maddy did really well with her first time out - explored lots but came when called and was very willing to go back in the workshop. Of course, her food is in there, so that might have something to do with it.

Next time, I'll introduce her to the chickens!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Window-to-doors, part I

In our family room, we have a picture window that overlooks the back pasture. It's where I sit on the couch and drink my morning chai while watching the horses, chickens, and Anie go about their business. I love this window!

The window itself isn't in great shape. It's a single-paned aluminum-framed window, and the wood around the bottom of the frame is pretty rotted out. You can actually push the entire window about 2 inches out from the frame - eeek!

You can see how rotten the wood is around the bottom of the window frame.

We had contemplated replacing the framing and the window itself, but then realized that it was in the perfect location for a double French door, with some solid glass panes on either side (the existing window is 9 feet wide - too wide for a standard French door). Plus, it would exit out onto the area that we plan to make our back patio/garden.

We've put in a French door before, but never anything that required masonry work, so we decided to hire this project out (well, OK, and we didn't really feel like we could get it done in a reasonable amount of time - plenty of other projects to work on that we HAVE got the skills for). We got a very reasonable estimate from our favorite contractor, and work started today.

Destruction - from the outside.

They used this nifty wrap to seal it until they can put the door in - should be tomorrow.

Just how rotted was the window frame? They had to put supports in on the inside just to hold the windows up once they had taken out the rest of it!

View from the inside. It's going to look great with a French door instead! Also, check out the protective wrap they put down on the carpet. These are the tricks of the trade that the hubby and I know nothing about.

Once this is done, we'll grade the ground away from the house more and begin to put in our patio and back garden. Fall is the perfect time for planting around here, so we're trying to get a lot of plants in the ground this year. That way, they'll have the best chance to put down roots in preparation for the hot, dry summer months.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mid-week kitteh

Last week, I got the kitties new scratching posts. With catnip.


Freya got really into it.

Checking out the goods.

Bailey stops by to inspect too.


Catnip. I love eeet!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In search of names

A bit ago, I posted about two kitties I had adopted from the Town Lake Animal Shelter. I apologize for not updating sooner, but yes, I did take the kitties home as planned, and they are both doing very well and settling in quickly.

Currently, they are lodged in the hubby's workshop. The marmalade was spayed and given her shots the day I took her home, so she needs to be kept quiet until her staples can come out. The tabby has kitty sneezies and can't be spayed until those have resolved, and I am not letting her out when she's still intact. So, the girls are making themselves at home, getting plenty of food and love.

Ms. Marmalade explores the shop.

Is it just me, or does she have a really long tail?

Poor thing - you can see how thin she is here. Fortunately, she's got a great appetite and is already gaining weight!

More exploring, this time in proximity to Ms. Tabby.

May I come out now, please? I kept both cats in crates for several days, mostly so that Ms. Tabby wouldn't infect Ms. Marmalade with the sneezies. Alas, that didn't work. However, they are both on antibiotics now and getting better.

Ms. Tabby likes to reach out and touch things (people, other cats) with her left paw. It's an interesting trait.

So obviously I can't go about calling them Ms. Marmalade and Ms. Tabby forever - they need names! I keep wanting to call Ms. Marmalade "Madelaine" for some reason, so that may be her name. I haven't come up with anything to call Ms. Tabby though. So, I would love it if y'all would post suggestions in the comments. They've been with us for a week now, so the lack of names is getting more than a little silly!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why yes, my husband was out of the country. Why do you ask?

Sometimes my husband travels - A LOT. For the last two weeks, he's been out of the country - first to Australia, then to Edinburgh, then London. It was a round-the-world adventure.

Also if you know me (or if you read this long enough), you'll know that things only break in really seriously major ways when he's gone. The further away he is, the worse it breaks. It's Murphy's law of travel, as far as I can tell. Last time he was out of the country, the shed roof fell down. Before that, I think the tub completely stopped up.

This time, on the way in to work, I ran over a stick (a stick!) and ruptured the CV boot on our Jetta. Woohoo!

See all that thick black grease on the inside of the tire? That's CV joint grease. It's supposed to be in the CV boot, not all over the tire.

Because the noise it made was so loud and so immediate (I was afraid I'd damaged the CV joint as well), I pulled over and had the car towed. A very, very kind friend from work (you know who you are!) came to pick me up, since I was about a mile from campus. While I was waiting, I crawled around under the car a bit to take pics of the carnage. Because really, what else are you going to do with your camera phone?

At least the hubby is back in town now. Things may return to normal... or not. :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

When you care enough to send the very best

My mom, bless her, loves to send cards. She tried to teach me the value of sending things like thank-you notes and birthday cards at an early age, but I'm unfortunately an abject failure at such things. It's not that I don't think about doing it, per se, but just that the action of sending the card never happens.

I also have a horrible time finding good cards. Fortunately, my mother has no such troubles. In fact, she's sort of legendary for having a stock of greeting cards on hand for any occasion. Cute, funny cards. The kind that make you laugh out loud when you get them. She probably has 200 or so of them stuffed away in her desk drawer, ready to send whenever she needs them. She is always perusing the card section at any store we go to.

We are often the recipients of her card-finding expertise, and today was one such occasion. Mom sent us a thank-you card for our hospitality last weekend when they came to visit. (Really, mom, you don't have to send us thank-you cards for that sort of thing. Our door is open at any time. REALLY!) And because the card was so good, I just have to share.

You're probably wondering what could possibly be on the inside of this thank-you card. Well, so was I.

Um. Er. Well... of all the ways to say thank you, this certainly is original!

And for the record, sure, I'll take a nice hen of egg-bearing age. You can keep the roosters, though.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A matter of life and death

Recently, we discovered we had rodents in the barn shed and in the attic of the house.

I can live with the scorpions, snakes, and wasps, but I refuse to have rodents anywhere near my house.

I tried traps. Apparently the little buggers know what that's all about, because I've only managed to trap one of the suckers in three weeks. A bit of research on the web shows that rodents are suspicious of anything new, and so traps often don't work.

I've removed food sources as much as possible. Anie's food is no longer left out overnight, and neither is the chicken's food. Hopefully the lack of an easy food source will make our house and shed less appealing. I also know where they're getting in, and will block off the entrance as soon as I know all rodents are out. I do not want a rodent trapped in my house, to keel over and die in a wall space. I just finished patching up the drywall - I don't want to rip any out to get to a dead rodent! Gross.

In talking with my neighbors and a few other folks, the consensus about the best way to get rid of rodents - or not to have rodents in the first place - is to have a few cats.

In case you haven't noticed, we DO have a few cats! There's Freya, who appears regularly on Mid-week Kitteh, and Bailey, who is my stepdaughter's cat (and somewhat less photogenic). However, they are both pampered indoor kitties, and their response to things like crickets sproinging down the hallway is to stare intently, then look at me as if to say, "Um, mom, shouldn't you take care of that?" Useless creatures.

So I started asking friends if they knew anyone who was looking to rehome any mouser-kitties. I responded to a few ads on Craigslist, but nothing panned out. There were a few kittens available, but I wanted a full-grown street-smart cat (or two). We have coyotes, dogs, and other cats in the area, and although Anie does an excellent job keeping everything off the property that's not supposed to be here... well, her protection stops at the fenceline.

I ended up in touch with a friend who helps rehome and foster animals for Austin Pets Alive. I checked out their web site but none of the available cats stood out. She in turn put me in touch with a lady who volunteers at the Town Lake Animal Center, and suggested I go there and look at the strays. Apparently, all animals that come in are "strays" for three days, and then the friendliest ones are selected as adoptable animals. The adoptable ones have the best chance, but you can adopt strays as well.

The lady I was supposed to meet wasn't there when I arrived at TLAC, so I filled out an application. I knew from the web site that I'd need proof of Rabies vaccinations for all my other pets, so I had the dates and vets that had done them handy. I also had Rabies certificates for the horses, and I asked the adoption counselor if I needed that as well. She was surprised and said that I didn't, and that she didn't recall having Rabies vaccinations done for her Trakhener. After we were done with the application, I of course had to ask her about her horse, and to make a long story short, it turns out that she used to take lessons with the same person that I now take dressage lessons from! The two of them had lost touch over the years, but I got her name and email address and they are now madly catching up. It's a small world.

Back to the cats. After filling out the application, I headed back to see the strays. Immediately when I walked in, a slim, short-haired orange marmalade started talking to me and rubbing the bars of the crate, purring madly. I checked the info, and she was a stray about 18 months old. Other than being on the skinny side, she looked in excellent health and seemed very sweet. Definitely an option!

I continued going through the cats. There were lots of cute, friendly kittens, but I definitely didn't want a kitten. I found a pair of big, black kitties that were together, one of whom seemed fairly friendly and the other of whom was napping. There was a handsome grey-and-white tabby who was unfortunately declawed, and a pretty long-haired calico who was an option. There was also a lovely black-and-white boy who seemed like a possibility as well, and then there was a longish-haired brown tabby girl that was pretty friendly and rather talkative.

It was so hard going through all those cats and choosing who might get to go home with me. TLAC is a kill shelter, and there was the very real possibility - since I was looking at strays - that cats I didn't choose would be euthed. I wanted to pick cats who were most at risk if possible, so when the lady I was supposed to meet came in, I asked her to show me those first.

The long-haired brown tabby girl was the first one she showed me. "Mandy," as she had been named, had been dropped off with 5 newborn kittens, none of whom survived. She had started off skittish, but when we opened the crate door, almost jumped in my arms, rubbing and purring and talking to us. She had developed kitty sneezies, which is almost always a death sentence at TLAC, so her coat wasn't in the best condition. The lady I was with had been trying to get her adopted, and had even put up ads on Craigslist, since she was rapidly running out of time. I knew she had street smarts and she seemed like the friendly type, so I decided she would be one of the two.

Ms. Tabby

We looked at all the rest of the most at-risk cats. Most of them were pampered indoor house pets who would have been ill-suited to life outside as mousers. A few were fairly feral, which I didn't want to risk. The rest were kittens.

So who would get to be the second kitty to come home with me? Outdoor cats apparently do better in pairs at least, so I wanted to choose two. The whole time, the orange marmalade kitty kept talking to me, and when I asked about her, I was told that she would probably be chosen as an adoptable kitty when her three days were up as a stray. I went back to look at the most at-risk kitties again, but there just wasn't one that really appealed or seemed like our house would be a good match. So, I chose the marmalade. How could I not?

Ms. Marmalade (who would not stop moving long enough for me to take a decent picture!)

It turns out that she had very recently had kittens, although no kittens came in with her. Her milk was in the process of drying up. Who knows what happened to the kittens, but certainly that would explain part of why she was so very thin. Poor little girl. She had also been found outside, so hopefully she has some street smarts and will be a good mouser!

After making my choice, I went back to the adoption counselor, filled out the rest of the paperwork, and was then given two bright yellow ADOPTED! stickers to put on the girls' crates. I felt so, so good doing that. And then after, when I got back to my car, I cried for all the other kitties who didn't have stickers on their crates. Hopefully they'll find people, too, but let's be realistic - there are far too many cats and not nearly enough people to adopt them.

In the next two days, the girls will get their vaccinations. The brown tabby will get antibiotics for kitty sneezies, and the marmalade will be spayed (I'll have to wait till the sneezies are cleared up before getting the tabby spayed, hopefully a week or so). They get to come home this weekend, and will hang out in the hubby's workshop for a week or two to get acclimated. Then they'll be allowed out supervised, and eventually have free rein of the place. Oh, and of course I'll introduce them to Anie, so that she knows they belong here and are part of the family.

Later in the evening after I'd adopted the girls, I got an email from the lady who'd helped me at the shelter, saying that the brown tabby had been scheduled for euthanization in the morning. Adopting her was litterally a matter of life and death. Let's hope that her renewed lease on life is a good one for her!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Uniquely Austin

The other night, we decided to try out something that seems to be more or less uniquely Austin - trailer food. On south Congress and south First streets, as well as near Barton Springs, there are literally trailers (sometimes Airstreams!) that sell food. And we're not talking sno cones, oh no, we're talking some really gourmet items.

Mighty Cones, our choice for dinner.

The place we tried tonight was on south Congress near Elizabeth street, called Mighty Cones. I got a chicken-avocado cone and the hubby got a shrimp-avocado cone. The cones are essentially fried chicken or shrimp, plus fried avocado (oh, sorry, "fried" is a bad word... they call it "deep sauteed") with some chopped cabbage and a spicy sauce, all wrapped in a flour tortilla and tucked into a paper cone for easy handling. YUM!

The hubby awaits our food.

The cones were pretty tasty, and we'd definitely go back. I also want to try out Flip Happy Crepes, which gets rave reviews, and of course there's Gordough's, which has donuts with strange fillings (including a bacon donut. Eeek.) I've also heard good things about The Odd Duck (no web site that I could find), so we may have to go there next time we're out. Did I mention that a bunch of these trailers are on the way home from work? Dangerous.

If you're in Austin, check out Austin Food Carts for a good listing of what's around. The map of all the carts is especially helpful. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mid-week kitteh

The other day, Freya was almost eaten by the couch. Well, OK, really it was by our oversized chair.

It started out innocently enough. She decided to take a nap on a comforter that had been folded and laid over the arm of the chair. A couple of pillows had been placed in the seat of the chair. She fell asleep on the part of the comforter on the arm of the chair.

Gravity being what it is, she slooowly slid down the comforter onto the section of the comforter sitting on the seat of the chair. The pillows ended up on top of her.

Freya was very worried about the entire process. In between naps, of course.

Fortunately, she managed to extricate herself before it was too late.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In which the hubby does something he's been wanting to do since we moved in

This weekend, my parents were here, and with my dad's encouragement, the hubby got to do something he's wanted to do since we bought the house.

He took down the awful awning-thing we have over the front door.

Getting ready to remove the offending awning. How many Ph.D.s does it take to do this, I wonder?

Just a few more screws to pull out...


It's going...



GONE! Whew.

Removing the last two supports from the brick.

After all that, my hubby stood back and looked at the front of the house and said, "Gee... it looks kind of bare."

Um, yeah. Yeah, it does.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

The service around here leaves a lot to be desired

Elias here.

Sometimes humans are pretty clueless when it comes to fulfilling doggie demands. It's really quite simple in my mind: Food bowl is empty? Human should fill the food bowl.

If your humans don't get the point, you may have to be a little more explicit. Let me demonstrate how it's done.

(Me back in: I know, it's a week full of critter posts, but hey, they're entertaining!)

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's hot in here

As you may recall, we had a solar water heater system installed about a month ago. It definitely took longer than we expected to complete, but I think it's been worth the wait. Based on our experiences in the last month, I would highly recommend considering a solar system if you live in a sunny part of the country.

A couple of oddities you might note. First off, the plumbing required for the water heater tank is a little... convoluted.
It would be an epic plumbing kludge, except that it works.

The cylinder you see on top of the tank is a heat exchanger. Our system is an active, closed loop system, which means that the solar panel has loops of tubing filled with distilled water, and the distilled water circulates through tubing into the exchanger, where it heats water in the exchanger that is then circulated into the holding tank. Kind of a nifty system, if you ask me. Ours is guaranteed for 30 years.

The exchanger is kind of loud when it's circulating. It doesn't bother me, but you can definitely hear that the exchanger is working. If you're the type of person who wants things ultra-quiet and your water heater is in your house, you probably shouldn't get a solar heater.

Because the temperature of the water in the tank varies, you can't always set the dial on your shower in the same place and get the same temp. If it's been sunny, the water will be hotter, so you'll need to run more cold. If it's been cloudy, it will be cooler, so you'll have to move the dial warmer. Not difficult, but different if you're used to water that's always 105 degrees.

It can be entertaining to see how hot the water in your tank actually gets just from the sun. We have a little electronic doodad that shows the temperature both on the roof in the solar panel and in the bottom of the tank. I took these pictures over the weekend, when the high was 95 degrees.

See the little dot at the top of the graphic? That tells you the temperature on the roof, in the solar panel. In this case the temperature was 143 degrees.

The temperature at the bottom of the tank (denoted by the dot in the water tank) was 136 degrees, but since hot water rises, the temp at the top of the tank was likely higher. Any time there's more than a 10 degree difference between the temperature on the roof and the temperature at the bottom of the tank, the water will circulate, exchanging hotter water for cooler water.

So far we have not noticed a change in our electric bill, but we have been running the A/C more in the last month since August/September is usually the hottest month. If we continue to have sunny days, we will likely be able to leave the breaker for the water heater off completely until October! I am certainly hoping that is the case - it's very neat to have your water heated by the sun!