Monday, February 23, 2009


These orchids are only a few of the ones I saw at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus on Sunday. I don't know any of their names, but they were pretty. (Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"To The Haggis!"

This is a post I cooked up a couple of weeks ago, but I left it simmering on the back burner. It should be just as tasty - after all, it's about Haggis!

January 25 is the anniversary of the birth of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns (25 January 1759 - 21 July 1796.) Every year, on or about the 25th, Scottish societies around the world celebrate with a Burns Night. The exact makeup of the night may vary, but certain elements are essential. To be a true Burns night, you must have a haggis, and a reading of Burn's poem celebrating this "chieftain o' the pudding race." Oh, and of course, whiskey is required!

This year was a special one.
Rabbie would have been 250 years old.

Robert Louis Stevenson said: "The mark of a Scot of all classes [is that] he ... remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation."

I'm a proud descendant of the auld soil, from my maternal grandmother's side. My great-grandfather, John Dallas, emigrated from Scotland to the Scottish settlement in eastern Ohio. There, he met and married his first cousin, Jennie Dallas, a first generation American. I never met either of them, but have heard stories about them. Grandma Jennie lived to be 95 years old, and outlived
Grandpa John, despite being 17 years older than he was. Apparently, she was a tough old lady and very strict, especially when it came to honoring the Sabbath day. My mother remembers Grandpa John dangling her on his knee, singing her Scottish nonsense songs.

Ever since I learned my family's history, and especially since I visited the village of Cawdor where my great-grandfather and his family lived, I have felt close to my Scottish heritage, and what better way to celebrate than to attend a Burns Night supper. This year, my uncle scored some tickets from a friend, and invited us to join them at the Caledonian Society event.

[Caledonia is the Latin name for Scotland. It dates from the days of the Roman invasion into Britannia, when the northern territory was inhabited by the Picts, a wild race of barbarians who painted themselves blue and fought naked against the Romans.]

The entry hall was decorated with flags of the various clans, and most people wore a bit of their family's colors. The truly dedicated men donned the full Scottish rig, including, of course, a kilt.

This gentleman relaxed the rules, being authentic below and contemporary above the waist.

But, most men followed the strict attire of a Scotsman, dressed to the nines.

The "man purse" in front is called a sporran. Since kilts don't have pockets, you need a bag like this to carry your wallet, keys, or other personal possessions. Everyday sporrans are made of leather, like the one below.

Dress sporrans are only suitable for special occasions. Traditionally, horsehair sporrans, like the one below, are worn with regimental attire or by pipers.

This sporran was the most unique of the evening. It is, in fact, an actual lynx. I was a bit disturbed by this one, especially when I saw it in use. The head is folded over the neck opening. Apparently, a sporran made of an animal pelt may be worn for any occasion.

I asked the owner of this sporran about its origin. He assured me the lynx lived a long and full life, with a wife and many children, and in the end, was happy to lay down his life for the cause. I wasn't convinced. I don't think I would want a sporran like this one.

However, I was tempted by this T-shirt:
If you can't read it, it says:

"Membership: $20.00
20 year Scotch: $68.99
Pub Crawling: $154.36

16 oz Clan Kilt: $650.00

Airfare to Glasgow: $1390.00

Invading England - Priceless!"

A Burns night supper usually opens with the Selkirk Grace:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
There may be traditional dancing, performance on the pipe and drums, or readings of Burns' poetry, like "To a Mouse" or "To a Louse." There is usually a "Toast to the Lassies," which was rather crude in the days when women were not permitted to attend. Modern times have toned down the toasts, and these days, the "lassies" often have a chance to retaliate with their own "Toast to the Laddies."

The meal may include neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), cock-a-leekie soup (chicken stock with leeks and potatoes), or other Scottish food. Every dinner is different, but the one essential course is the haggis.
Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish. There are many recipes, but the main ingredients include various organ meats, called "pluck" (heart, liver, lungs) mixed with pin oats, onions, suet and various spices. The mixture is minced and stuffed into a sheep's stomach, then boiled for three hours. Yum, yum - just like Mamma used to make!

(I didn't get a photo of the actual haggis that night, so I had to borrow these from the web.)

Much pomp and circumstance attends the presentation of the haggis. A piper leads the procession, followed by the haggis borne on a silver platter. One man carries the knife which will be used to cut the haggis, another crossed whiskey bottles, and another bears a sword. Just watch this video (sorry, it's a bit shaky. I was overwhelmed with emotion!)

After the haggis is piped in and admired, a reading of Burns' great work, "Ode to a Haggis" preceeds the opening of the pudding with a ceremonial knife. The poem is long and generally incomprehensible. At authentic Burns' dinners, they find the man with the thickest brogue to recite it, so that no one has a clue as to what is being said. The first verse goes like this:

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm."

The standard English translation:

"Fair full your honest, jolly face,

Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm."

I will spare you the other seven stanzas. At the conclusion of the recitation, the haggis is sliced open, the worshippers raise their whiskey glasses in a toast, proclaiming "To the haggis!" and the most fool-hearty ones partake of the delicacy on crackers, a bit like pate.

As much fun as this is, I suspect that Burns Night is a bit like Saint Patrick's Day or Cinco de Mayo, a much bigger deal in the US than in its native land. They do still make and serve haggis in Scotland - I have had it there a couple of times - but I think it is more for the tourists than the locals.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't feed you the folklore about hunting haggis. The story goes, these indigenous creatures are threatened in their native Highlands. You see, the haggis is not a bright creature, and is being hunted into extinction. One major problem is that their legs are longer on one side of their body than on the other, so that a haggis must stand on a hillside. As they graze 'round the mountains, they continually climb uphill. Thus, to hunt one, all you need to do is chase it to the summit, whereupon they are quite easy to capture. If you want to help Save Haggis In Trouble, you can click on this link.

a wild female haggis and her hagglets,
in their natural environment

And, if you believe that, I have some scales from Nessie I would be willing to sell you.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Odds and Ends

Several things have conspired to keep me away from blogging lately, not the least of which has been a massive, four-day long migraine headache. Although I have had headaches since high school, they haven't been as frequent in recent years and the worst of them usually only lasts 24 hours, leaving me with a post-migraine "hangover." This one has been a doozy and I'm glad it is lessening as of today.

All whining aside, I thought I'd catch up by reminding you of some birding events. First and foremost, this weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, co-sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. Whether you count for one day or all four, whether you bird from your back yard or further afield, your participation in this weekend's citizen science project is important. Go to the GBBC link above for all the details, and count the birds at your feeders this weekend.

Secondly, this weekend winds up the Rusty Blackbird Blitz, a nine day period when birders volunteer their time and effort to locate hotspots for this declining species. Check the link for the protocols and help save the Rusty Blackbird!

In my own back yard, I am seeing and hearing the "half-hardy" birds, those species which don't truly migrate during the winter months, but merely congregate in hidden sanctuaries, out of sight of the casual observer. Birder purists are fond of reminding me that bluebirds, blackbirds, killdeer, and meadowlarks overwinter in Ohio and that seeing one in February is no big deal. Poo on you, birder snobs! The return of these birds always makes me feel that spring is not too far away, and I am happy to report that in the past week I have seen an Eastern Meadowlark on a power line, had a flock of 30 male Red-winged Blackbirds descend on my back yard feeding stations on Thursday, and heard a Killdeer calling last night. I also saw a Great Blue Heron flying towards an area where I'm certain there is a rookery. I am determined to find it this year. Finally, others in SW Ohio are reporting woodcocks dancing this week, and I have been listening for mine, so far without success.

Other spring-like omens include the Carolina Chickadees beginning to sing - the books and tapes describe this as "Fee-bee, fee-bay," but I hear "See you, see me" - my resident Eastern Bluebird pair inspecting the nest box (and him softly singing, "Cheer, cheerful charmer," to his bride), and the Red-shouldered Hawk pair across the road perching together and calling.

Soon, soon, spring will be here. And then, the frenzy starts -

New River Gorge Birding and Nature Festival
, Fayetteville, W.Va., April 27 to May 2 (Come and bird with the Flock in wild, wonderful West Virginia!)

International Migratory Bird Day weekend celebration at Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Black Swamp Bird Observatory, among other places May 9 & 10

Annual Meeting of the Ohio Ornithological Society, Oak Openings Metropark, Toledo, Ohio, May 16

Here's hoping the groundhog was wrong.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Say "NO!" to Aleve

Oh, no! It happened again this week. A well-meaning person inadvertently caused a serious health problem in his pet by self-medicating it. Usually, I see this sort of problem when pet owners administer Tylenol (acetaminophen) to their cats. This week, I met a dog owner who gave his Beagle the NSAID Aleve.

I had seen this dog last spring for back pain related to intervertebral disc disease. He was an old guy, and the owner has been aware of his arthritis for some time, but in the last two days, the dog seemed to be in more pain and now was falling frequently, so the owner brought him in. As part of our check-in form, we always ask if the pet is on any medication, and we were told "No."

"But Daddy," piped up the four year old boy, "you gave him a pill."

"Oh, yeah," the owner admitted, "I gave him an Aleve yesterday, and again today."

My heart sank when the tech relayed this to me. I got more depressed when she listed the dog's symptoms: Staggering and falling, not eating, diarrhea, and vomiting "black stuff."

I thought to myself: This guy has just killed his dog.

You see, naproxen (Aleve, Naprosen) is one of the most toxic of the NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) out there. It causes perforating ulcers of the duodenum (upper small intestine) at doses as low as 5.6 to 11mg/kg.
This dog received 12mg/kg. Twice. A major sign of an ulcer is vomiting the digested blood which comes from the perforation. This blood appears as black fluid. Other signs of toxicity include nausea, diarrhea, black tarry stools (also due to digested blood), abdominal pain, weakness and stumbling. Our patient has most of these signs.

In dogs, naproxen is absorbed in as little as 30 minutes, or up to three hours after ingestion. Because the drug undergoes enterohepatic recirculation (is picked up from the intestines by the blood stream, filtered by the liver, excreted into the bile, then returned to the intestines) naproxen
has a half-life of 34 to 72 hours. That means it takes between a day and a half to three days for HALF of the ingested drug to be removed from the body. As well as causing the perforating ulcer, kidney and liver damage can occur from the constant bombardment of the organs by this potent medication.

After a brief explanation of what was going on in his dog and an outline of my initial treatment plan, Mr. Beagle elected humane euthanasia for his pet. It was the best choice, given the circumstances, but all I could think was what a waste. A five minute phone call could have prevented this dog's suffering and ultimate death.

The take-home lessons from this sad post are twofold:

Number One and most important: NEVER, EVER give your pet any medication without consulting with your vet first.

And secondly, when we ask you if you have given your pet anything, please confess. We won't yell, really, but we need to know. Had the small boy not brought up the pills his daddy had given the Beagle, I would have loaded the dog up on steroids for his neurologic signs while I waited for lab work. This would have been the absolute wrong approach, as it would have made the ulcer worse.

When the veterinarian or staff member asks you if your pet is receiving any medication, we are including heartworm and flea products, vitamins, supplements, herbal products, and drugs, whether for humans or other pets. Don't be embarassed or ashamed to tell us if you have self-medicated your cat with the dog's arthritis medicine or if you dewormed your dog with the paste you use for your horse. It's important that we know what your pet has been given, so we can correctly diagnose and treat it.

Pleas. Just Say "No!" to Aleve, in any pet, in any form.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Snowy Day, part 2

Yesterday morning, the prediction was for "a dusting to a half an inch" of snow. At lunchtime, they had upped the forecast to "1 to 4 inches." By drive-time, the radio was warning of "4 to 8 inches" of accumulation by midnight.

The drifting snow on the country roads made the last two miles the hardest of my 25 mile commute, and a normal 45 minute trip took me an hour longer. Luckily, the snow was light and fluffy, so I was able to negotiate the drifts in my driveway and blocking my garage door.

This morning, I stepped outdoors to check the thermometer:

What is the temp?
Oh. I thought it felt a bit nippy.

And, how deep is the snow this morning?

"THIS deep, Mom!"

Holly inspects the drifting snow. Lab-certified as safe to drive through.

Deli, waiting impatiently for her morning hay.

"Will you stop taking pictures
and feed me?
In case you hadn't noticed,
it's cold out here!"

"Aren't you done feeding horses yet?
It's time to play!"

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mockingbird and friends

I love Northern Mockingbirds. I love their voices, with their wide repetoire of songs. I love their colors - gray, black and white, but so sharp and distinctive. And, I love their attitude - Me, Me, Me. Whether displaying over their territory or looking for food, mockers are very possessive. They don't like to share, and I enjoy their antics.

Here are some photos taken Friday thru the window at my office of my resident "work" mockingbird. (I also have a "home" mockingbird.)

Northern Mockingbird, hiding in plain sight
"If I can't see you, then you can't see me."
"I will deign to look at you now."
"Ah, peanuts. I enjoy peanuts.
These are all mine"

Hey, there! Mockingbirds don't eat seeds.

"We don't? Well, it is cold and icy and it has been all week.
I will eat whatever I care to."

"And you can't stop me."
"Mine. All mine."
"I will even perch on this tray and
eat from your tube feeder if I want to."

"Told you it was all mine."

Despite his best efforts, a few other birds made it to the feeders on Friday:

Song Sparrow
House FinchCarolina Chickadee

The Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch and Tufted Titmouse refused to pose for pictures.