Saturday, August 25, 2007

They ran over the Animal

My purple Dyson Animal vacuum cleaner, that is. The head mover told me about it after they finished moving everything in. Compared to the mess they had already made of the move, this was a nit. The short version is:

They loaded up on Tuesday. I said to the moving company, "I have a lot of books and a very heavy marble table. Shouldn't someone come out and take a look?" Naah, since they were going charge this by transport fee and time, they didn't need to estimate weight. FYI, transport fee and time can be a better deal when you have a 15,000 pound household. Late Tues. afternoon, it was evident that the truck was too small. Head mover says, "That's why I built this 4 ft. ramp on the back." They proceeded to attach that and build a tower of objects fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. Very proud of themselves. I called the company to complain.

They set off with the tower, a birdcage (empty) and my office chair hanging off the back, looking like a large family escaping the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma. They were going to reach Seattle the following afternoon.

Late Wednesday morning I received a phone call. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news," said the dispatcher, "but the truck was 2,000 pounds overweight. The weigh station fined them $600 and won't let them continue until we send up another truck and redistribute the load." Then we renegotiated the fee and thus begins a long, dreary fight with the moving company. Fortunately, because they were recommended by a realtor who does a lot of business with them, I was able to sic the realtor after them and she is going to work on the problem. Her nickname is "The Pit Bull," bless her.

After calling with progress reports, the movers decided at 9:30 pm that they were not going to get here until the next day, which they finally did. Every time I move, I hear, "Gee, you have a lot of books," and/or "You have a lot of stuff." I have a lifetime of stuff and still have a lot of my late husband's lifetime of stuff. I get along well with the men doing the punishing work of carrying heavy objects because I don't get upset with them and I tip nicely. (Pizza helps, too.)

Only as the last papers were signed did I hear about the box that fell off the truck and got backed over. The clothes in the box were OK, just dusty; but the hat rack, hair dryer, and expensive vacuum cleaner were roadkill. He would forward an insurance claim form. It says on the Dyson website that their vacuum cleaners are made from the kind of plastic used in helmets. This means that your Dyson can survive a fall off the truck but it will be crushed if you run over it.

That vacuum cleaner was the most frequently used tool I owned. During its short life, it sucked up many pounds of dog hair, cockatiel and parrot feathers, seed hulls, bird food thrown on the floor, house dust, and about half the backyard dirt. I never measured the height of the backyard dirt but I am sure the dogs lowered the level by a good inch from tracking it into the house.

R.I.P., Dyson Animal, Rest In Pieces.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Moving day(s)

There's no such thing as moving day. It's moving weeks, the weeks of packing and increasing aches and mental confusion while you forget what day it is. If it means one day, is it moving out day or moving in day?

This is moving out day after weeks of packing days. The only good thing about packing is that you have to finish off all the ice cream and the only good thing about unpacking is that you find the liquor bottles (unless you finished them off while packing in the interest of streamlining the operation).

Dogs hate packing, all that running around the house and swearing. They try to follow the people--by walking in front and glancing back, of course--and just get yelled at. Their bed--yours--gets heaped with boxes and the floor beds they normally disdain get moved so they never know where they'll sleep next. Then this crowd of men comes to the house and takes away all the boxes and the dogs have to spend the day in their crates instead of being able to lead the running back and forth. My dogs should be expert movers by now, considering this is the fourth--I think it's the fourth--time in seven years.

The cockatiels' cage is now sitting on the floor of the bird room because I took away their cage stand, which was a large box. Imagine my joy when I discovered another box inside that one. If you haven't moved lately, you might not be able to imagine it. Soon the two Amazon parrots will be cowed and grumpy because they'll be inside their carriers. Even Matilda the snake is probably as grumpy as a snake can feel because she's inside a small carrier. Or maybe she finds it cozy?

You can be damn sure I'm grumpy. Soon I'll lose my internet connection and will be without it for at least 36 hours. Some people rely on cell phones to keep in contact; I could happily do without a phone for days. But going without email makes me shudder.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Impractical Chicken Keeping part 2

Our first dozen chickens were the beginning of a sixteen-year habit that only ended by mischance instead of choice. During that time we moved once, selling the flock with the house to like-minded people, who later even bought the same kind of dog we had. At the new house, we built a coop and attached run as quickly as possible, becoming oddities in this upscale neighborhood. To us, the oddity would have been life without chickens (and dogs).

There’s something about chickens. It’s hard to frown when you’re saying chicken a couple of times quickly. They have become fashionable in small city yards where the coop is as much a necessity as the garden. For children, the egg hunt is like having the Easter bunny visit daily. Then there’s the look of them, the rounded, fluffy bodies with big feet and tiny heads. The amazing thing about those heads is how fierce the beaks look. They’re curved and pointed especially for picking up bugs too small for us to see and they move quickly. The eyes can look really serious when coupled with the beaks or just glassy and silly, being perfectly round and fixed in their expression. The iris ranges from gold to pumpkin orange to nearly black. Like most animals, chickens express themselves with their whole bodies, not just their faces.

Even a novice chicken keeper, like Kaye in Portland, Oregon, perceives different personalities and expressions among her small flock. She got into chickens almost by accident. A gardener, she was picking up straw for sheet mulching from an acquaintance when she made an admiring comment about the person’s chickens. The acquaintance had just built a better coop and needed to get rid of the old one. Kaye took it home along with the straw. “My partner and I decided we’d better get some chickens to go in the coop,” she said, so they went to Pistil’s Nursery in north Portland where in the spring customers can find chicks being brooded at the front of the store and the banty hen mascots keeping bugs in order out back with the pots of plants. They picked out three pullets.

The first was a Black Australorp, an excellent laying breed. Kaye describes her as dim, even for a chicken, but sweet-tempered. “If she goes a certain distance from the coop, she can’t find the door to get back in.” The distance is not very far, since this is a city lot. Big Red, a Rhode Island Red, is easygoing and playful, though not likely to initiate the play. The leader of the flock is a bantam Silver Leghorn named Chipmunk. “She’s always the first to get out of the coop or get into something, like flying over the fence into the vegetable garden.”

People get hooked on chickens and the habit is spreading. In urban settings where the rule is three hens or less, they become pets even though they are honestly not interested in or attached to us, not in the way of a dog or even a guinea pig that recognizes familiar people. Lorna found another benefit. She lives with five other people in a rented house. Since some of the residents have severe allergies to fur-bearing animals, but they still wanted some animals around, they bought a selection of chicks. While brooding the chicks indoors until they grew their adult feathers and could go outside, Lorna and her housemates discovered a common bond. “We sat around and adored them!”

Although they found the chickens to be fairly low-maintenance once established in the coop, the people had to organize themselves to make sure the work was done. “Otherwise, with six people, you tend to think someone else’ll do it and nothing gets done.” They made up a schedule and divided the work. They have a sign by the back door like Lucy’s in the Peanuts cartoons: the chickens are in/out. The chickens eat all leftover food scraps from the kitchen. While bug-hunting, they break up the piles of straw mulch and fertilize the garden, getting it ready for spring planting. “It’s a closed loop,” Lorna says. “We feed them; they feed us. They help with the garden. They home us into the ecology of where we’re living.”

I still have the first Murray McMurray catalog that came with our first batch of chickens. Anyone who has ever looked at a seed catalog understands the pleasure of looking through it and dreaming of all the different kinds of flowers and vegetables, or chickens, they would like to grow. My catalog has reached an iconic status, representing the life I had and never thought I would have to give up. I’m headed that way again, though. Once you start visiting other people’s chickens clucking and humming in the back yard, your own yard looks bare without them, bereft of the daily dose of serious silliness. Excuse me, people; I must see about some chickens

Monday, August 13, 2007

Impractical Chicken Keeping

There’s an anecdote my mother tells to illustrate how Aunt Tillie was afraid of every living thing. One of the last of the family to emigrate from Rhodes to Seattle in the early 20th century, five-year-old Tillie encountered chickens on her way to school. She knew just enough English to recite, “Excuse me, chickens. Excuse me, chickens,” as she edged past them. By the time my mother was born in the 1920’s, chickens were outrĂ©. The family assumed only farmers and other country folk kept chickens.

That was until my husband and I moved our computers and graduate degrees from the city to the outer fringes of the Redmond suburbs in 1982. It was a mixed area of modest homes on acre or third-acre lots where a dog down the street trotted home with porcupine quills in his nose and the people with a few acres on the corner kept a flock of sheep. Our place happened to come with a combination chicken coop and storage shed larger than a child’s playhouse. It looked like destiny.

As a child I had wanted a chicken, not just the cute little fluffball chick sold at Easter time but a real chicken to peck around in the flower garden. My mother said no, chickens are dirty. For some reason a dozen guinea pigs in the house were OK but an outdoor chicken was not. We all have our prejudices. Over the years I, too, developed the idea that chickens were ugly and stupid. It lasted until the chickens arrived.

My only warning was my husband’s saying, “Gotta get some chickens.”

“I thought we were going to get a dog,” I said. (The dog came a few months later, then the ducks and the rabbit and the geese.)

John and a friend from the high-tech company where they both worked ordered the Heinz 57 chick mix from Murray McMurray Hatchery, sharing a grab bag of twenty-five chicks called the Special Assorted Bargain, the least expensive order. I discovered this meant an unknown number of meat chickens vs. layers and an unknown number of roosters. John assured me that all extra roosters would go to the friend and his wife, who were apparently made of hardier stuff and would deal with the birds accordingly. We—or I should say the roosters—were lucky. The two roosters of our flock of twelve turned out to be mellow types. They did not turn mean, as many roosters do, attacking everything that isn’t a hen; and they got along with each other. They stayed.

(more later)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Terrier TV

I learned that term from someone who'd put the gerbil cage on a table in front of the grooming table while grooming her Airedales. It's an excellent method of keeping the dog on the table, attention focused forward.

There are two terrariums in my house, one with Matilda the cornsnake, the other with Chilly-Billy the leopard gecko. The Airedale with the low prey drive, Darwin, likes to stand and stare at whatever is or is not happening inside. But now with crickets still chirping in Chilly's tank, Darwin wanders over several times a day and just stares with great concentration. I'd like to know what's going through his head--if anything.

what I now know about hair

A couple of people have asked about the photo, so perhaps it could use a bit of explanation. My hair is not straight; it’s naturally messy-curly. While I was getting my hair cut that day, Miranda the stylist (think Shakespeare, The Tempest) asked if I had ever straightened it. Too much bother, I said. So she proceeded to bother. Those chairs are like dentists’ chairs, you know; once you’re in, you can’t get away until they release you.

I learned that the professional procedure for straightening curly hair involves at least three different glop products, a large round brush and blow dryer, followed by a flat iron. Since I figured this might be the only time in my life I’d have straight hair, I asked my son, home from college for the summer, to take a photo. In the first set of photos, I looked like a nut-case dork with a strained smile. Nobody would want to believe she really looks like that and certainly nobody would want anybody else to think she looks like that, with or without straight hair.

Inspired with sudden brilliance, I fetched Matilda the corn snake from her afternoon nap in her terrarium and voila, as natural a smile as you’ll get from me when there’s a camera nearby.

Another observation about straight hair: recently I attended the Willamette Writers Conference. Lots of native or naturalized Oregonians went to this conference to pitch their work to editors and agents, most of whom come from the east coast. It was not difficult to spot the female out-of-towners; they were the ones with the professionally straightened hair that acquires a polished, precise look. It’s very attractive and, by comparison, the rest of us looked like slobs. But that’s the Pacific Northwest for you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

ambitious cricket & gecko

Buying flea stuff yesterday at the local pet supply store (no chain stores, if possible), I picked up some crickets and mealworms for my son's leopard gecko. He gave her a mouthful of a name, Chillibilena, so I call her Chilly-Billy. Chilly prefers crickets over mealworms. She stalks them on her long, translucent orange legs, then lunges so quickly that you'll miss the movement if you blink. Tongue flashes out, gulp, she smacks her lips, and it's on to the next.

We buy a dozen at a time and she eats them in a couple of days. Important note: crickets go stale quickly, so you don't want to buy more than your reptile will eat in a short time. Some of the crickets commit suicide in the shallow water dish, so it's best to check back frequently to remove them. Dead crickets apparently lose flavor. Actually, if they're not moving, they won't get the gecko's attention.

One cricket has been steadily chirping since yesterday. He reminds me of one of my cockatiels, who goes into these long arias of sound and then suddenly stops. This one noisy cricket climbs to the top of the coconut shell that is Chilly-Billy's boudior, looks down at the others, and chirps. Antennae vibrate back and forth, so you really have to wonder if they're communicating about something. It's like those movies of revolutions when one guy stands on a platform exhorting the crowd to insurrection or riot. Crickets are not smart enough to unite their forces in this manner but I'll let you know if that changes.

Meanwhile, Chilly-Billy doesn't seem to mind the noise and sleeps right through it. If it were me, though, I'd eat that particular cricket first.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

just dogs

I've always lived with assorted animals, except for a brief aberration when I was a college student and it was better not to have pets because who knew what time you'd get home (or how many days later)? Most animals like routine; they like to know what's going to happen when, especially if you're talking breakfast. They like to know where things are and they like those things to stay put, except for their toys, which they want to be free to throw around the house. Which brings me to the current chaos.

I'm packing to move from Portland back to Seattle, where I'm from, and the dogs watch me constantly because they're not sure what's going on. A human running around the house, moving things from one place to another and swearing, generally means vacation time when the dogs either come along in the car or go to doggie camp. They're Airedales, outgoing types who enjoy camp. But the running around and swearing just keeps happening without anyone getting out the door with a suitcase. So they watch. And they follow my every step, which they do by walking in front of me and stopping every couple of steps before glancing back. I believe that's a general dog trait--following you by walking in front. It makes things more difficult, especially if you're carrying something and have a certain momentum going and there are two dogs milling around you and a box in front of them and a table over to the right.

Every time I move, which has been much too often the past seven years, I accumulate bruises. That's about as close as I'll come to being a kid again.