Volunteer "Work"

Some things are a lot of work, and strolling through forest and field isn't really one of them. But that's the volunteer position that I've signed up for at the local SPCA. Dog walking has been a great experience as I get exercise, fresh air, experience with dogs, and the feeling that I'm doing something useful. It really is important for dogs in the shelter to get out and get exercise, so it is a good and important task even if it doesn't feel like "work".

Meet Tink. Tink is a boy, despite what we in the shelter all agree is a girly name.

Tink doesn't like living in the shelter, but is very happy when he has the chance to explore in the woods. Check out this video I took of him one day when he realized that there was a chipmunk running around inside a particular hollow stump.

(In the future I'll stick to making horizontal video, since the vertical shot doesn't translate well online.)

Tink is my current favorite at the shelter, and I'll miss him when he finds his forever family, but I'll be happy for him. This is the time of year that we start getting in lots of puppies and kittens, and it's a great time to visit your local shelter - wherever you are.

If you're interested in volunteer work that's more fun than work, our shelter (and I think this is common) also has a volunteer position that involves coming in to play with the cats. You can also take positions working with the dogs without having to take them anywhere if all that walking doesn't seem like fun to you. Animal shelters can always use the help, and if you like animals there's probably something you can do for your local shelter that's truly useful and not at all like work.
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Ithaca, Cornell

"Fear No Weevil" show at the Mann Library Gallery

These amazing photographs make the miniscule large enough to appreciate. They're part of a project to produce a new guide book to weevils not native to the Western Hemisphere. The show currently on display in the Mann Library Gallery includes representations and descriptions of 27 different weevils - a lot more will eventually be included in the new book, but not at this huge size. They are worth a visit if you live in the Ithaca area and have a chance during the month of September. In the photo of the Cotton Boll Weevil there is a small circle in the lower left. Inside the circle are represented the actual size of the weevil in question.

photo of photo of Cotton Boll Weevil

photo of description of Cotton Boll Weevil

several different weevils with very different appearances

My cat turned twenty last April

I didn't post anything about my cat's birthday last April, mostly because I'm out of the habit of posting - something that I am trying to work on. A twenty year old cat is a blessing. I feel incredibly lucky to have her with me still. Ursula was born on my bed when I was a kid - I was coming to bed and saw that her mother was in labor on the bed, so I decided to sleep on the couch that night. My parents learned a hard lesson about getting cats fixed promptly, since they didn't really want more cats. Ursula's sister went to another family, and her brother stayed with us, but died relatively young at five years old. As an adult, I adopted her away from my parents once I was able to. She was sixteen then.

As wonderful as it is to have her with me, a cat of this age is bound to provide medical challenges regardless of how well she's doing for her age. This photo captures her cataracts, which so far don't seem to be damaging her vision too badly. She has a heart murmur too, though the cause isn't known and it may not be anything serious. Her vet told me that he'd feel uncomfortable putting her under anesthesia for any reason without first diagnosing the murmur, so should anesthesia prove necessary they would need to perform an echocardiogram or heart ultrasound. At least one (maybe both) of these choices would involve shaving her chest while she's awake, which would piss her off royally. Her most frightening medical condition is the state of her kidneys which are not quite failing yet, but are now functioning very poorly. It may be her kidneys that do her in in the end. For the time being, her main symptom lies in drinking a whole lot of water, which results in extra kitty-litter duty for me.

The one thing that has been seriously impacting her quality of life has been her weak digestion. She was puking with increasing frequency - usually just her stomach bile, and I went looking for solutions. That led me to Naturvet's "Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics & Probiotics", which has been a miracle product. (I don't actually know what prebiotics are, but I'm familiar with the other two.) I started mixing a small amount of this powder into her food whenever I feed her, and it instantly improved her digestion 95%. The puking has become quite rare, and she has also seems more energetic and outgoing than before, which makes me feel that she had been in some discomfort which is now improved. It's quite cost effective. I think it would take about four months of continuous use to finish the container that I spent $11 on. (Dosing is relative to food volume, so a larger animal who ate more would require more enzymes.) I mentioned it to an aunt who told me that she already knew of the product and was really impressed with how she was able to use it to deal with her dogs' occasional diarrhea. So... yay Naturvet! I didn't consult with Ursula's vet before buying this product because I was relatively confident there wouldn't be contra-indications for it - that it would either work or not work for her, but not run the risk of hurting her. After all, there can be no possibility of good health if food is not being digested properly. Ursula hasn't had a check-up since I bought this, but I plan to bring it along to her next appointment to show and tell.

That leaves the scary specter of kidney failure. Ursula has lost the better part of a pound, which is a lot for her considering that she has never been overweight, and started out at a scant 7 pounds 4 ounces. This is probably due to the weakening of her kidneys, and needs monitoring. Kidney failure is unlikely to be avoidable in the long term. If nothing else kills her first (and I have no reason to think anything will), it seems inevitable that her kidneys will give out. All I can do is make sure that I do what I can to make sure they have to deal with as little damaging abuse as possible. So what kind of diet is easy on kitty kidneys? Apparently it's low-protein, low-phosphorous, and low-sodium. Fewer toxins and chemicals are healthy too, since the kidneys are filtering organs and are responsible for dealing with those toxins. My vet has given me a couple of "prescription" cat foods that fit this bill to a greater extreme that is probably healthy for cats without kidney trouble. The only problem with these prescription foods is that Ursula refused to eat them. I would come home from work to be greeted by an angry, ravenous cat and a dish of untouched prescription food. They say you shouldn't try to starve a cat into eating what they don't want to - even when not already concerned about their weight loss. In the end, I fed the prescription food to the sink disposal and gave Ursula more of the food that she would eat - the very food I was trying to remove from her diet.

So what kind of food does this picky eater consent to eat? She likes very wet food - ideally covered with watery gravy or sauce. This preference is likely related to her kidney difficulties, since the main way she is able to compensate for their reduced function is by taking in extra liquid. She doesn't eat dry food at all anymore, and will turn her nose up at canned food unless it's a pretty wet variety. Canned food that she doesn't eat gets dried out and yucky on the dish until I have to toss it. So, if she's not happy with the prescription foods, the question became what else I could give her that would be better for her kidney health.

Merrick Cowboy Cookout Cat Food
Merrick Thanksgiving Day Dinner Cat Food
I did a whole bunch of Googling, and found a fair bit of advice and a nice guide to the levels in commercial cat foods of elements both good and bad for kidney failure. I bought several of the likely brands from a nice local pet store (same place I got the enzyme powder), one and two cans a time, to try them out on Ursula. One advantage of buying in person instead of mail order was that I was able to eliminate a couple of brands by shaking the cans and determining that they were very low-liquid. In the end, we settled (for the time being) on two particular flavors of Merrick cat food which seem to fit in the happy medium between being good for Ursula and her being willing to eat them: Thanksgiving Day Dinner and Cowboy Cookout. Both are high moisture, low-phosphorus, and not too high in protein or sodium. The Thanksgiving Day Dinner is significantly lower in protein than the other, so I may settle on it more that the other, if Ursula is willing.


The electric company stopped by to trim my trees

Apparently there were trees touching the power lines in the neighborhood, so NYSEG (New York State Electric & Gas) sent some guys out to trim them away. They rang the doorbell on a weekday morning to let me know what they were doing and to assure me that there would be no cost associated. The guy said that the electric company had been noticing "hot spots". They didn't say anything about the new trees I've planted directly under the power lines, but they are all fruit trees that I don't plan to allow to grow to the height of the lines. Either they were able to guess that or they just weren't too concerned about future tree growth. The kind of trimming they do is the kind that makes lop sided trees as they cut away side branches that are near the lines.

After they did the trees in my yard, I saw them working for days in the neighborhood. By the time they were done, the whole neighborhood was probably significantly more energy-efficient.

The More You Know

I'm trying to identify this tree - update IDENTIFIED

My original post:

I've have this tree that has burst out with tons of these pretty white flowers that smell lovely. I would love it if anyone could identify it for me. You can see from the last photo that the tree is very tall.


I sent the link to my Dad and asked him if he could identify the tree. He told me a leaf photo would have been more useful for identification, but came through with the answer anyway. It's a catalpa tree!

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Ithaca, Cornell

Temporary Office Space

Due to a combination of factors including my involvement in a particular project and a lot of office space upheaval resulting from some fire safety improvements, I find myself working in a temporary location two days a week. Unfortunately, the situation should resolve itself in two or three more weeks, and I will have to say goodbye to the best office view I could ever hope to have and probably ever will have.

In this first photo, you can see the city of Ithaca in the valley on the right-hand side of the photo.

Another angle:

The office space itself. You can see that our view goes quite a long way around:
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Green Smoothies and Headaches

I've been making myself green smoothies on and off for a couple of years now. A green smoothie is like a regular fruit smoothie, but you also add some kind of greens. It needs a liquid base, which in my case is usually juice or water. Unless you choose strongly flavored greens, you end up with something that still tastes mostly like fruit but has a green color. It's a nice way to get extra cleansing greens into your diet in an easy way. It makes a yummy, easy and healthy breakfast. My favorite green for smoothies is spinach, which is super healthy but doesn't have a strong flavor. Kale, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, collard and even broccoli greens are good too. Sometimes I prefer a green with an interesting flavor. Parsley is incredibly healthy, but there aren't a lot of ways to eat large quantities of it, and cilantro is good only for lovers of cilantro (which includes me). I learned the hard way not to use mustard greens. The blending seems to multiply the spiciness so that drinking the smoothie can like drinking mustard gas. Egad! A small amount of mustard might be okay, but you know what they say, "Once bitten..."

Anyway, I decided that in order to weather the winter, well, weather, I wanted to up my intake of greens. It's actually been remarkably successful. I feel great, and I've been surprised by how little the cold gets to me. The weather hasn't been record-breaking or anything, but we've had a couple of those days when your nose hair freezes. Green leaves are nutritional powerhouses. Because hunger can often be triggered by a need for vitamins and minerals more than for calories, getting solid nutrition is a great way to nix inappropriate cravings. I had already been eating a fair amount of greens, but in order to increase that I've done two things. One, great big salads nearly every day. Two, even more greens in my smoothies.

My smoothie this morning contained:
2 bananas
3 apples
2-3 cups of water
8 oz. baby spinach
1 scoop (1/2 serving) Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer - Vanilla Chai Flavor

I bought the apples and spinach from a local organic farm at the farmers market. 8 ounces may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that green leaves don't weigh much. It's really a very lot of spinach. The whole smoothie yielded close to two quarts of dark green yummy. It came to work with me where I sipped at it at my desk for hours. I finally finished it around two o'clock, so it ended up being lunch too. All that fiber makes it very filling. The Vega powder has some amount of powdered chlorella, (a green algae,) so it could have tinted the smoothie a little green all by itself.

So with the dramatic increase in the amount of greens I've been consuming for the last weeks, I am finding myself back in a detoxification mode. I have been having midday headaches, and an increased need for sleep. Detox is generally worthwhile as long as it doesn't become debilitating, which it has not been. I'm taking it as a sign that I should redouble my efforts and get through it. I should be much better off for it in the end.

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Kiva: Loans that change lives

Kiva - loans that change lives

My birthday was this week, and I found a great thing to do with my gift money. I loaned it through this great person-to-person microloan site. When my money comes back to me, I can choose to loan it out again, or to take it back. In the meantime, I can help change the lives of people trying to pull themselves out of poverty.

My money went toward:
  • A Peruvian agricultural collective, looking to borrow $3025 for 8 months. More than 50 people have contributed toward their loan so far. With my contribution, they're 79% of the way to raising their loan.
  • A Mongolian man who owns and operates an auto-repair shop. He wants to borrow $725 for 15 months to improve his stock of car parts and car oil. 23 people contributed toward his loan, and his goal has been reached.
  • A Nicaraguan farmer, supporting an extended family from his family farm. He wants to borrow $775 for 20 months to become a partner in the construction of a community rice threshing machine to cut down processing costs and improve his farm's profit margin. I am the ninth contributor toward his loan, bringing him up to 32% of his goal.
  • A general store owner in Cameroon, looking to borrow $250 for 14 months. The four people have contributed toward his loan so far have raised 40% of the loan.
I will be able to monitor these loans on the site, and as soon as any of these people begin to repay their loans, I can decide if I want to loan the money out again, or take it back myself.
Kiva - loans that change lives

The Feminine Monarchie

"The Feminine Monarchie, or the Historie of Bees; shewing Their admirable Nature, and Properties, Their Generation, and Colonies, Their Government, Loyaltie, Art, Industrie, Enemies, Warres, Magnanimitie, &c. Together With the right ordering of them from time to time: And the Sweet Profit arising thereof."

by Charles Butler. 1623.

They really could write book titles in those days! My favorite part is the line about "sweet profit" at the end. How often do you have the opportunity to chose a "favorite part" of a book title??

The whole book has been re-published online by the library of Cornell University.


Hurricane Stainless Steel Wheatgrass Juicer - a product review

I just got a new wheatgrass juicer to replace my old juicer which broke. The old juicer was the HealthyJuicer Manual, and a real bargain for the price. It could juice just about anything and cleaned up relatively quickly. Both juicers are masticating models. That is, they "chew up" the food and press the pulp to separate the juice from the dry matter. The HealthyJuicer's main limitation was it's primarily plastic construction. The plastic had a tendency to stain, but when some of the plastic around the tip of the auger began to crack I started to get less juice and wetter pulp. When I began to get pulp which I could easily squeeze more juice out of by hand, I decided I was not comfortable discarding half the juice with the pulp. Sometimes I find good uses for the pulp, but more often than not it went straight into the compost.

I was always happy with the manual action of the HealthyJuicer, so rather than buy a more expensive electric, I went looking for another manual. After the failure of the HealthyJuicer, I was concerned with finding something with stronger construction. I selected my new Hurricane Stainless Steel Wheatgrass Juicer over a less expensive cast iron model I saw, because I was not confident about being able to keep the inside of a cast iron juicer from rusting.

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The Hurricane Stainless Steel Wheatgrass Juicer juices wheatgrass very well, and is remarkably simple to set up, take down, and to wash. I'm hopeful that its stainless steel construction will hold up well to time and usage. It should definitely not be confused with an all-purpose juicer. It is designed for juicing grasses and greens and it will not juice carrots and apples effectively.