Monday, September 29, 2008

Kiva and the warm fuzzies

Well, I did admit that I liked fuzzy critters in an earlier post. So I'm moving on to a new fuzzy topic - the warm fuzzies. It's that feeling you get when you know you've done the right thing - when you've helped someone or when you've made the world a better place. One thing that gives me the warm fuzzies (besides rescuing chickens) is Kiva. Do you Kiva? is a microfinance website for people in developing countries. There's a lot of information out there about microfinance, but let me tell you a little bit more about it. People in developing countries don't have banks like we do here, and often couldn't use a bank even if they did have one. They have dreams, projects, a desire to improve their lives and the lives of their family members, just like everyone else, but usually, they have no resources. Kiva works with lending operations all over the world to make micro-loans, anywhere from $250 to $1200, for some worthwhile person and their well-planned project.

So, where do I come in? Well, I lend money to specific projects. Kiva lets you look at a photo of the applicant and gives you a description of their project. You can decide if you like their project, and if you want to, you can sponsor it. The minimum is $25 towards the loan. But really, that's a huge difference in someone else's life. Loans usually get funded within less than a week, in $25 increments, one person at a time. Right now, the Kiva website is pretty busy, and sometimes they even run out of open loans. Don't let that dissuade you! Re-visit!

So then what? Well, you get your money back! The person who gets the loan improves their life with it, and pays back the microlender, who then pays Kiva. When the loan term is up (usually from 6 to 18 months), you get your full contribution back. Actually, you get little bits of it back every time they make a payment. And what do you do with that money? You sponsor another project, of course! Or, you can move it back into your Paypal account if you wish.

Occasionally, things go wrong. Sometimes, people get hurt and don't finish their project. Sometimes people are even killed in these countries. Sometimes, they just go missing. This is rare though. I've sponsored over 50 loans now (each for $25) and have never had a single problem. Many of the loans I've made have been paid back and I've re-used that money to help someone else. The reason I only sponsor at the $25 level is to keep the risk low. If anything does go wrong, I'm only out $25. A few trips to Starbucks. No big deal. The benefits to both the lendee and the lender far outweigh the risks.

So, go check it out. If you've got $25 to spare, someone else sure could use a hand, and then someone else after that, and so on, and so on. What is it they say? Pay it forward...

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, September 26, 2008

The vastness of it all

I'm sure everybody and their dog has blogged about the night sky. It's something we all look at, maybe even on a daily basis. It looks different, depending on where you're viewing it, how you're viewing it, which part of it you're looking at, what time of night it is (the list could go on...)

Last evening we attended a lovely dinner at the local Community College. Their Culinary Arts program hosts a dinner series with wonderful meals, good wine, local musicians, and interesting company. We like to attend these dinners and try new foods. Actually, mostly Claire tries new foods and Kelly pushes them around on his plate until Claire says "Here, let me eat that for you." That said, one of last night's courses involved a fried oyster, and Kelly kindly ate that for Claire! He eats anything that walks or swims.

So, after that we came home and we got out of the car and I was about to close the garage door but I looked up. Riveted in place, I nearly fell over backwards. Looking WAY up in high heels is a dangerous maneuver. Living out in the country means far less ambient light, which makes the stars appear so much brighter. All dressed up in our evening duds, we none the less lay down in the middle of the driveway to stare at the stars overhead. Sometimes, you just have to do a crazy thing like that in order to stop and take time to observe. There above us, in its hazy stillness, was the milky way, quite clearly visible, and tremendously vast.

Sure enough, a shooting star really did fly across the sky like the tail of a white mouse barely seen as it scurries out of sight. I was mesmerized for those moments, trying to take it all in, and yet knowing that what I could see was such a small slice in the enormity of the skies. I know it sounds cliché and overdone, but I really did think about all the people around the world who might be looking at that same sky, whether in daylight or in the dark of night, and I thought about how small the world seemed, and how vast the sky was. I thought about a lot of other things too, but they're too political and controversial for this posting, and I just let myself drift through the connect-the-dots sky and contemplated the arrogance of the theory that we are the only life form in existence.

I didn't take a picture because
1) it wouldn't begin to capture the scene
2) I don't have a fancy enough camera for that kind of photography
3) it just wouldn't do justice to the moment or my remembrance of it.

So this posting is without pictures - you'll have to make your own mental picture, or go out and look at the night sky yourself and just let your mind wander. Best done after a full meal and when it's not freezing cold outside.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Small Furries

I know, it's a bit unusual, but I really like small furry critters. Mice, voles, moles, lemmings, rats, hamsters, shrews, and all the assorted other small furry mammals that I haven't listed. There is something very endearing about these small creatures and how industrious they are. I've always liked them, which in my opinion is a wonderful testament to my parents, who taught me to love and respect all creatures, great and small.

I have had pet guinea pigs, a dwarf hamster, chinchillas, and a pet rabbit. All of these were sweet little pets whom I loved dearly, but they are quite different from the little creatures in my own backyard. Over the winter, we had voles making tunnels under the snow in the yard. When the snow melted, you could see a wonderful pattern emerge, showing how busy they had been. They did a nice job of aerating the lawn in some areas and I think that helped it grow back more vigorously in those spots!

Once, when I lived in a rental townhouse in Guelph, Ontario, I fed the birds a seed mixture and I fed the squirrels peanuts in the shell. One day, when re-organizing the closet, I pulled out the bags of seed and peanuts. Much to my amazement, I had a very organized little house guest. Although I didn't know what it was at that point, my guest had arranged extremely neat and tidy piles of seeds. It had taken the seed mix from the bag, separated the seeds into their various categories (sunflower, safflower, cracked corn, millet) and made completely separate piles of each type along the back closet wall. Likewise, there was a pile of peanut shells, separate from the seeds. I did have to buy a trap, because I knew I didn't want to share the inside of my home with this guest, so I bought a live trap. The next day I met my house guest - a darling little deer mouse. I commended my mouse for its organizational skills and had a discussion with it about why it couldn't stay. I took it, and its piles of seed, to the woods, and set it free, but I put the seeds out for it in the same spot so it might be able to re-stash them somewhere. I hope it lived a happy life. I used the trap on a number of other occasions, notably in an apartment I lived in that was located where a corn field had been the year before. I had a few mice that fall. They were all caught and released into the woods too.

So the other day I was in the barn giving antibiotics to a poorly chicken, when I heard a little scrabbling noise coming from inside a cardboard tube that was on end. Hmmm...I thought to myself...what have we here? Upon inspection, it was a very distant relative of my previous house guest. Another darling deer mouse. This time, I took some pictures. He was very appreciative of the chicken scratch that I gave him when I deposited him in the bucket for viewing purposes. I had a discussion with him about not getting stuck in cardboard tubes, and after a few photos, I let him go. It's a barn, not a house, so I wasn't that worried about it. One can't keep all mice out of a barn, and they have a right to their space too.

Here's a picture of my little friend. I hope he finds a warm spot for the winter. He can always drop by the barn for a little chicken scratch and a friendly chat.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Opals aren't just gemstones anymore

I think Craig's List is just about the best thing since sliced bread. Not sure what's so great about sliced bread really, so perhaps it's better than sliced bread. I prefer it to eBay because it's local, and there's such an interesting assortment of items on it. We've purchased (or obtained free) a lot of chicken and goat structure building materials from it. Today, I purchased a second set of trolley lights for my plants in the spring when I start seeds indoors. Kelly also found fresh grass/clover/alfalfa bales on it today for $2.75 a bale! Wow!! He rushed out and bought all 21 bales that they had left for the goats for winter. What a great price.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I was looking at Craig's List last week and saw a listing for a "lonely goat" who was a miniature goat with no companions. She was at a farm with 10 horses, but as you can well imagine, horses and miniature goats are on different levels, in so many ways. I thought about it for a couple of days. The ad didn't disappear. I talked to Kelly about it. He said we already had 7 goats. I knew this. But this goat was lonely. Maybe she needed us. He read the ad. He said maybe we should go have a look. So I wrote to the poster and said that we wanted to see the goat, and could she give us any more information.

She said the goat's name was Opal, and she was born in March to the Nigerian Dwarf goats that are in the petting zoo at our local city zoo. She was very affectionate, but lonely as an only goat. Goats need companionship, and this one was not getting the attention she needed. Clearly, a visit was in order.

We visited Opal on Sunday. One look, and that was all it took. Opal came home with us that very day. She is, in 2 words, a lap goat. She likes to sit on my lap and get head and ear rubs, and she thrives on affection. We introduced her to our nubians. She seemed to enjoy playing with them, but then, she discovered that she fit through the grid of the cattle panels that serve as our goat fencing. Oops. Little did we know she was an escape artist. So, little Opal now lives (temporarily) in a 12 by 7 foot dog run, next to the nubians. We think she will get a little bigger, and may be unable to fit through the cattle panel grids. If not, she will need her own little area. And, she's a bit lonely this way, so it may be that she needs a goat companion her own size. And for that, there's always Craig's List...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Red Rosie Finds Her Forever Home

From time to time, I look at the adoptable animals from my local shelter. Of course, they usually break my heart and I have to stop looking because otherwise I'd want to adopt them all. Most of the time, I just check the "barnyard buddies" section, because from time to time, there's a chicken there. And that's just what happened a few weeks ago. A rather poor picture accompanied by the uninspired name of "Chic" was on the site. I was intrigued. A visit to the shelter was clearly required.

I found "Chic" in the rabbit room, where all the rabbits and other small furry pocket pets have their living quarters at the shelter. I find it hard to go into that room because again, I want to adopt them all, especially the bunnies. Still, I was on a chicken mission, and there she was, looking sad, thin, and rather pathetic.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that she had been quite brutally debeaked. The process of debeaking is commonly used in "battery" chickens to prevent them from pulling each others' feathers out, since they live in such small, confined quarters, and they easily get bored. Usually, debeaking takes off the first third of the beak. I dislike the practice, but I understand why it is done.

The chicken I was looking at in the shelter had been debeaked nearly to her nostrils. This was highly abnormal, and very sad. I couldn't leave her there, so, I adopted "Chic" and promptly renamed her "Red Rosie" because she is red, probably a Red Star variety. She was in rough condition when I got her. She had been found by the city animal control unit, wandering around on a busy downtown street in a not-so-good part of town. She had bedraggled and dirty feathers, pale comb and wattles, and a frightened look in her eyes. I didn't know how well she would adapt to life with me, but I was determined to give it my best shot.

Red Rosie has done tremendously well in the weeks since I acquired her. She began her life with me on high protein chicken feed, supplemented with her special treat mixture: cottage cheese, minced garlic (for immunity and natural deworming), oatmeal, and chopped grapes and tomatoes. She now has clean and bright feathers and a bright comb and wattles. She has put on weight and is much healthier, and continues to enjoy her treats as well as regular chicken feed.

After nearly 3 weeks of having her, one day she laid the most enormous egg I have ever seen. Since then, she lays an egg every other day. They're huge, and very tasty!

She now follows me around the yard when I am outside, not unlike a dog. She comes when called, and is a delight to be with. One of her favourite activities is digging potatoes with me. I begin to dig a hole, and once I have a couple of scoops of dirt out of the hole, she hops in. She scratches around for worms and other delights, then hops out and looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to do my part. I willingly take another couple of scoops of dirt, and in she goes. This continues until we get to the potatoes. Raw potato isn't good for chickens, so I scoop out the potatoes and let her scratch around for more bugs. I think she believes the potatoes are eggs and she does have an interest in them. I have to keep her attention focused on the worms.

I do believe that Red Rosie is as happy to be with me as I am to be with her. She has blossomed in her time here, and I hope that she has many more years of potato digging, egg laying, and general happiness to come. Thank you Red Rosie, for finding me and adopting me as your chicken mom!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our Field of Dreams

Today, I decided it was time to start a blog. I have officially graduated into the class of the technologically up-to-date. Actually, having a blog is probably a bit behind the times now, but I feel like it's overdue, so here it is.

I chose the title of the blog from my favourite film of all time - Field of Dreams. I like that film because it makes me think about believing in things that I feel are impossible to achieve. Every time I watch it, I get little chills down my spine. That's how I also feel about my little slice of heaven in Iowa.

Kelly and I moved here in February of 2008. It started out as a 5.5 acre slice, and has since grown to an 8.52 acre slice. I'm not a religious person, but I do call this my little piece of heaven in Iowa. I call it that because it has brought an amazing sense of peace and calm to my life. I come home from a busy day, knowing that I am going to my own sanctuary. My own peaceful, natural, wonderful home. I never dreamed that I would own a home and land like this, and that's why it reminds me of the film - achieving the impossible.

I now share this sanctuary with Kelly; our rescued greyhound, Stickley; our 7 nubian goats; a plethora of chickens (both standard and bantam); a river otter in our pond; and a constant teeming parade of other wonderful creatures. These include nearly 40 different species of birds that we have identified, voles, deer mice, raccoons, white tailed deer, snapping turtles, frogs, toads, and surely other animals we have yet to see or identify.

This blog is for friends and family to keep up with our adventures, to learn of our successes and failures, and to share with them our dreams, our constant projects, and our furred and feathered companions.

Today's special moment was the hatching of a new chick - its name is Praline. It hatched this afternoon and is a variety called an "Easter Egger" chicken. They lay blue-green eggs, thus the name. Praline is one of 6 chicks hatched in the past few days. The other chicks are two more Easter Egger chicks, an Old English Game bantam (its parents are fawn silver duckwing colour), a silkie, and a mille fleur. Their names are, respectively, Shortbread, Butternut, Biscotti, Wafer, and Nilla.

So welcome to Praline, and welcome to friends, family, and fellow internet readers who decide to visit our blog. I can't guarantee daily posts, but I'll try to keep up with our busy lives and keep everyone informed of events and adventures, large and small.