Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Weathering the long winter, the very long winter...

Wow, this winter is really an extended one for us! Granted, I realize there are places all over the country faring much worse than we are, but nonetheless, the locals around my neck of the woods are grumbling.."Is it over yet?" with heavy sighs. Winter fatigue has set in. To overcome the gray, often dull, cold days of January, I have found my own personal way of dealing. I keep my bird feeders filled.

I get calm satisfaction seeing flocks of goldfinches, cardinal pairs, juncos, tufted titmouse, hairy woodpeckers, blue jays, red bellied woodpeckers and chickadees among the daily feeders. I don't even mind the local crows. I do have a problem with the brown-headed cowbirds over running the feeders, but that will probably be more toward the end of February when they return. Those birds are parasites in every sense of the word and they run the regulars out, but for now, I can enjoy my local feathered friends.

Bird feeding through the winter is a relatively inexpensive past-time, in my opinion. If you have children it's a great way to teach them various local bird species which can then lead into a more widespread interest even life long hobby.

When my sons were small, and as something we could do together through the winter, they learned the species that frequented our feeders.My oldest son was so enthusiastic about birds for a few years he completed a 4H project and a science fair project on birds. In college he took an ornithology class that took a trip to Lake Erie during the spring migration time. Birding has turned into a lifelong hobby for him just as it has for me. I've enjoyed birds and winter feeding since I was a kid. I can even remember making a simple bird feeder out of a cardboard milk carton bottom.

Over the years I've had a variety of bird feeder types. I've finally found the ones I think are the best I've ever had and they weren't terribly expensive. I found them at TSC. They' are metal wire mesh tube feeders with twist top and bottom for easy fill and cleaning. I've also come upon the easiest combination of seed and feed: black oil sunflower seeds, thistle seed, and a suet block or two. A little corn doesn't hurt but not really necessary. I've watched the crows and blue jays ignore the corn and go for the sunflower seeds. The bulk seed with the little white millet seeds is really a waste. You'll notice, the birds don't eat it. It's simply fill for bulk sale. If you want the best bargain and the most complete feed, buy straight sunflower seeds and thistle seed.

Snowing again this morning but when I look out my window and see the birds flying in and out from the feeders, perching and eating at my four feeders it takes my mind off the weather. In reality, they'd survive fine without the feed. They'd find a way, but I guess a little part of me feels gratification that I can help them, or at least think I'm helping them, get through a long, cold winter here in Southern Ohio.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Animal Planet's Confession: Animal Hoarding

Let me start by saying I am not a fan of most reality shows, but recently found myself caught up in this one. 

Surfing around the channels, I stopped on Animal Planet's Confession: Animal Hoarding. I thought to myself~How bad could they be? 

Unfortunately, from my viewpoint, it was like a train wreck. I could not help watching. I suppose that's how all reality shows get people hooked. But watching this one, I was interested in the psychological aspects of how the people got into such dire situations with their animal addiction. 

I felt bad for both the animals and the people. I was relieved that the people were handled compassionately, at least that's how it came across. One of the stories made complete sense to me. A woman worked at an animal shelter. Every time a dog came in, and she felt it wasn't going to find a home, she ended up taking it home with her. I can see that happening. It was a point.

Some people don't have an off switch, some people do. I am fortunate to have an off switch. I have two dogs. Sure, I'd love to give a home to more dogs, or even more cats, currently have only one sickly, asthmatic cat, but I know it wouldn't be right for us to bring more animals in at this time. Both our dogs were abandoned, as were most of the dogs from our past, and we gave them a home. We've had many dogs over the years, usually no more than two at a time. Probably the only animals we've had, who weren't abandoned, are the two horses. 

Anyway, the people who ended up hoarding started out with good intentions toward the animals. At least that's how I see it.They did their best to care for them, although you would think they could realize as the numbers increase and they're feeling stressed, something isn't right, but they feel they are needed. Needed to the point of turning their backs on family, friends, and the reality of what is happening. The off switch quits working.

No one should judge them. I appreciated that the show ended on a positive note with the people getting help for their animal hoarding issues and the animals going to a better place than where they were living.

I suppose sometimes it's hard to talk to these people. Friends and family often say they tried or the other side of the coin, they had no idea how bad it had gotten.The hoarders believe they are saving lives and see others as interfering.The man with over 100 chickens was an example. He was very concerned the roosters would be killed once they left him and he didn't want to take that chance. Some of us might say, "Chickens, they're just chickens!" but to him they were individuals and they filled a need he had for acceptance. We often do the things we do because we get gratification from it. Sometimes, that gratification drives us to addictions, when we have no off switch life can turn ugly.

I hadn't realized how widespread the problem of animal hoarding had become, according to the statistics presented. I suppose it's been a problem shoved aside in the past. Neighbors or family members may have known of someone, but possibly had no idea how to help, so they ignored the situation. 

One lady asked her son to help her clean the house. I can't even imagine the looked horrid. She had cats. Over 80 if I'm remembering correctly. The woman lost her restaurant job because of the odor that stayed with her, in her clothing, constantly. Her husband couldn't stand to live in the house anymore. Disgusting, yes, but also, sad. 

My hope is that this reality show helps those people AND brings to light the importance of spaying and neutering cats and dogs. There are so many free clinics these days where even people who can't afford it can get their pets neutered. I do have trouble understanding reasoning behind not getting pets neutered. It's good all around for the pets and their owners. Lack of neutering is often one of the key issues in these hoarding situations. The people acquire the animals without thoughts of neutering, and then they multiply. I think sometimes the people are so overwhelmed, yet so guilty of what they'd done yet were afraid to admit they'd lost control. From what I've seen of all the people in these episodes, they seemed to genuinely love their animals. Most of the time they had favorites, which in most cases they were eventually permitted to keep once they'd gone through a kind of cleansing.

My husband and sons have often joked that they could easily see me becoming the "cat lady" of the holler, but I've never had more than 4 cats at one time and all of them were neutered. These episodes give new meaning to the title "Crazy Cat Lady."  It's not a joke when it goes too far. 

Our dogs are neutered. Every dog we've ever had over the years was neutered, even when we were in lean times.The horses are gelded, but they came that way. Anyway, if you get a chance to peek in at this TV show I  recommend it. It's done very well, with compassion, which I find admirable. While you watch and feel disgusted by what you see, you can also realize that the people who take up animals to the extreme, also seem to have love in their hearts. They have that on their side.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch

Sometimes you happen upon a nonfiction book that is written so well, with so many facts, and good storytelling, about a time long past, you become mesmerized. That's how I feel about this book by Charles Leerhsen.

The name Dan Patch was in my memory of historical horses but I had no idea the impact the little bay horse from Oxford,Indiana, had on the country in the early 1900's. Leerhsen scoured tons and tons of material to put together this historical account of one little crippled horse who had the country cheering at race tracks where he ran. Dan Patch became on of the country's first superstar athletes. People couldn't get enough of Dan as he won race after race,some rigged, most not. Leerhsen doesn't sugar coat the racing world in the early 1900's but you get a sense of innocence from the people who were fans of Dan Patch.

While I'm not a big fan of horse racing, in general, I do admire the great horse athletes and enjoy reading about the lives they led, the people who handled them and got them to the winner's circle. Not always the most pleasant part of the story, but without those people, there'd be no story. Sometimes a good part of the story, sometimes not so good, but all in all, Dan had a good life even during the years he was being used as a symbol for numerous commercial products.

Leerhsen emerged himself in the life and times, going as far as to try to find Dan's last resting spot somewhere in field near Savage, Minnesota, alongside a river. It had to be kept secret when the Great Dan Patch died, he was so famous, the owners feared fans would try to dig him up. Sounds like fans today. Who would have thought in 1916? An autopsy showed Dan's heart weighed 9 lbs 2 oz. which is four pounds heavier than an average horse's heart. It's believed that the oversized heart, which was an asset for Dan in his racing days, had hurt him in his post racing years. It was stated that Dan Patch had the heart of an athlete and that's probably what brought him to his end.

If you're interested in the history of the early 1900's, horse athletes and the people around them, you'll enjoy reading Leerhsen's work about a scraggly, not very pretty pacer who became America's most famous race horse.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What is it you say? It's 2011?

Feel l like I've been on a self imposed hiatus since about Thanksgiving, from just about everything. It has always been amazing to me, the older one gets, the faster time seems to fly by and then, well, it's a new year already! Hubby has been on holiday break plus he took vacation time so we've been pretty lazy together!

December here in Southern Ohio was snowy and cold. Very unusual for us. Our ground was snow covered from the first week of December until the last week of the month. We actually had a white Christmas for the first time in....well, I can't remember when. It was nice for a change, but honestly, I've decided a white Christmas is overrated. I don't think I'll dream of a white Christmas anymore.

Probably the best news of December for our family, #2 son proposed to his girlfriend. He called me the day after he asked her. Their proposal story is sweet and simple, one they can treasure and tell their kids one day.

He'd planned their day but didn't want her to know he was doing something special. They live in Maysville, KY, which is a beautiful area. It was snowing. They walked around in the snow for while through a local historical site that was having a Christmas weekend. He fixed dinner for her. Then, he got his banjo out. He is a super banjo player. Self taught. Doesn't give himself enough credit there. But anyway, played her a few songs because she'd said he hadn't been playing and singing for her for a while. The last song was one he had written for her and at the end came the proposal. He said she was so happy, so stunned, all she could do was shake her head up and down and smile the biggest smile he'd ever seen. He had the ring hidden in his banjo case. 

As he was telling me the story, I was so moved I couldn't help crying over the phone! So happy for them both! They had been friends their last two years of high school, but had gone separate ways after graduation. He had gone to Athens, Ohio, to attend Ohio Universtiy, she stayed in the hometown and attended the local university. In early 2009 they caught up with each other through the magic (as I see it) of Facebook. Started dating in the summer of 2009. In January of 2009 he got a job as an assistant librarian at a community college library in Maysville, KY. She remained in her hometown. And as sometimes happens, fate intervenes, she also landed a job in Maysville around June of 2009. Now, in my mind, things like that are meant to be and are signs that one is moving in the right direction. 

They are a good match and seem to really enjoy each other and compliment each other in many ways. We're all extremely happy for them! The wedding plans are up in the air right now. They want to get married in June 2012 because that was the month of their first official date. They want something small, very small, but her parents, well, I think they want something else for their daughter. Time will tell who wins out.

On a more somber note,our poor little asthmatic cat Buddy. He manages to be himself for about 2-3 weeks after the steroid injection then is congested again. Just like human asthma, some days are better than others. The last vet visit they did x-rays and ran some blood tests. The only thing the vet could see was a small area in one of the lungs which he still believes is an asthma condition. Everything else checked out OK. Looks like Buddy will have to see the vet about once a month for his injection. 

The horses are in winter mode. We were able to get in a truck load of hay bales before the winter gets bad again. At least I won't be fretting about running out of hay toward the end of January. Since December was cold and snowy, that sort of messed with my hay calculations. I add alfalfa-timothy hay cubes to their rations to extend the hay. 

The ground out there in the corral area is a pain because where we had a thaw last week, the mud has now frozen into what I call "lava rocks". So, it's tiptoeing around for the horses as the move from their shelter out to the field. I always grumble about the lava rocks. I thought I was going to avoid the situation when the first snows came in early December, but no, of course not, Southern Ohio thaw took care of that!

The dogs have adjusted to the early winter. Their coats are thicker. Stocked their dog houses up with straw which they huddle down into during the long, cold nights. In the mornings when they come out, their bodies feel to me like they've been sleeping in a warm, heated bed.

So, resolutions for 2011? No. I'm not doing that. I am beginning work on myself. Working to get muscle strength back and more limber. I figured out that one of the reasons I haven't been riding much is because I don't feel confidence in my own body. Naturally, I need to lose weight, which is something I'm working on as well. That will be tougher, but I am taking it slowly. I've been having the dogs take me walks back in our valley most days  but when the weather gets Arctic cold, I need to find other activities inside. My plan is a rotation of yoga, stationary bike, and working with a kettle bell workout DVD. I'm going to keep track of what I do, or don't do, each day because I tend to do better when I keep a record and can see what I've done. Not a resolution, a plan!

Also, work on more writing. I need to get that stuff down, just write as someone has suggested, instead of simply twirling the stories and characters around in my head! I did send a short story out a few months ago, to get myself in gear, realizing, one short story does not a writer make, but you gotta start somewhere. I'm not so good at multi-tasking.

When 2010 rolled into 2011 my first thought was that '11 seems like it'll be an odd year and I don't just mean the number itself. Then I remembered I would be 50 this year. Maybe kind of odd after all because turning 50 feels kind of like twilight zone to me. Well, doesn't matter, I have to turn it anyway. But, I'm going to start out with positive thoughts and see where 2011 leads me. Happy New Year to all of us!