Wednesday, February 28, 2007

His Majicsty

Yes, that's his new nickname. He certainly keeps us busy, and I am getting fitter. We have taken to heart the teachings of the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. Cesar says that dogs need to migrate in their search for food, so every morning and afternoon Majic and I migrate long distances, as well as a short walk just before bedtime for emptying of the tanks. The longer walks take us up to St. Stephen's cemetery where we stride among the historic gravestones, or down to Erskineville Park, or further afield. He is discovering and I am rediscovering acquaintance with dog walkers I knew when Jonty was a lad. It is a nice community of people and many wondered where Jonty and I had gotten to.

Majic is still pulling on the lead, but when he is off the lead he sticks close and I am quite comfortable letting him go free, especially in the Churchyard. which is walled and quite safe.

Michael and I are renamed as Catapult 1 and Catapult 2, as we spend hours at home throwing toys and balls for him to fetch. He loves it. We've tried ball-throwing in parks, but he doesn't seem to recognise them. Perhaps there is too much other stimulation there for him to concentrate - he is quite a skittish dog.

He sits like no other dog I've ever known, and remember this is our Pug 3rd. edition. Pugs often sit right back on their bums with their back legs sticking forward - a kind of Winston Churchill pose - but Majic sits upright with back legs stuck out at the sides. It is very cute.

If you look very closely at this photo you might see a mark on his head among the wrinkles, just above his right eye (on your left looking at him.) He went to the vet about this a couple of weeks ago, and was tested for ringworm. Not ringworm. So yesterday he went again to be sedated and have some of this scraped off and analyzed. There is no way you could scrape anything off him without him being sedated - he is a sublime wriggler.

The verdict is demodetic mange, otherwise known as demodex. All dogs have these mites, but when their immune systems are compromised, often as puppies, the mites take hold. He is being treated with Advocate every two weeks.

Being of an ever so slightly herbal nature, I also saw on the web that Neem Oil can be helpful. I happen to have Neem Oil (for soap-making purposes) and have decided it can do no harm, so I am now rubbing that into the spot. Most dogs recover from this with no treatment, but when he does get better I am likely to claim success from the Neem Oil.

Speaking of soap-making, I shall probably send off the twenty bars to Chicago today. The soap is good and I hope the buyer is happy with it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Soapy success

The soap was turned out of its mould on the weekend, and looks to be OK. It is a greenish colour from the green tea, and is still quite soft. I have tidied up some of the blocks, and squashed the scrapings into a ball which we are using in the shower now. I always test my soap for a while before letting anyone else have any. I shall leave this lot to "cure" and harden for another week before sending off the twenty bars ordered from the US.

The weather is glorious, although sticky and humid. I got to Coogee Beach yesterday for a surf and snorkel. The waves were quite big for Coogee, but there was lots of kelp in the water and tossed on the sand. It didn't make for pleasant body surfing - too scratchy to be tumbled over vast mats of kelp. The snorkelling up the north end was pretty clear, and there were lots of very small striped fish with yellow fins. Also a school of about a dozen bigger fish. Very satisfying swim. I adore lying on the sand reading. Yesterday's read was The Mamo Murders, a vintage Hawaiian mystery by Juanita Sheridan.

Back home the mangoes are hanging heavy in the tree, and getting riper. We are blessed with a large tree in our courtyard, as well as a lime tree which has also fruited well this year. It seems so exotic to have such wonderful fruit in a small inner city garden. The mangoes often reach weights over a kilo each.

Majic Moments

Majic went to obedience again on Saturday and was a little star. He walked quite nicely on the lead, sat and stayed when told, and did a good job of lying down on command. We have been practicing at home. The trainers voted him Most Improved of our little group. He is gradually getting socialised too, getting used to being around other dogs. But at home for our regular walks he is still pulling, and I have bought an ebook with a technique to try. I have been trying it, and it does seem to help. We will continue with it. Majic and I go for quite long walks at least twice a day.


The downloading of the ebook was in pdf format, and I thought I might put it on my Rocket eBook. This eBook just pre-dated the widespread adoption of pdf as a standard document format. It works fine with html and with txt, and has its own proprietary .rb format. So I saved the bought book as text, and transferred it across with a minimum of fuss. Yes, the eBook still works. Then I thought I would investigate whether there are any pdf to .rb converters, and yes, there are. I downloaded the free version and it does seem to work. Any better than just saving to text? If I paid the $12 would it do a good job on the images too? I will think about this one. It makes me happy to read stuff on the eBook.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Soap Opera continues

Soap progress

Sunday morning, and I decide to proceed with the soap making (sorry Lien, I was busy in the afternoon, and I know you were busy in the morning...)

The first thing to do is to bring both the oils and the lye solution to the same temperature, around 98 degrees F. (Yes, I still work in Fahrenheit.) This is a tricky business requiring hot water baths for the lye and very careful monitoring on the stove for the oils. It involves two thermometers.

Once the temperatures are achieved, it is time to introduce the lye SLOWLY into the oils, stirring madly as it goes in. That's why the lye is in that bottle. There are two small holes in the lid which allows it to pour in in a very thin stream.

Once upon a time I used to stir with a wooden or stainless steel spoon. The soap making community discovered that a stick blender works a thousand times better. (I burned out one blender, so these days keep it to relatively short bursts).

The theory is that you stir until "trace". This means that the soap has thickened and saponification has begun. The term refers to being able to drizzle a stream of mixture on the surface, and it will remain visible before it sinks back in. Normally this takes quite a bit of time. It can take up to an hour of stirring, so I had the sudoku at hand for something to do.

Here is where I start worrying. This mixture got very thick very quickly, even before all the lye had gone in. Never has soap behaved like this. Is it hubris for claiming in my last post that I've never had a bad batch? See how very thick and claggy it is?

I decide that it is just the efficiency of the stick blender. I pour it, or rather spoon it and stuff it into the prepared moulds. It is very thick, and I am worried. It is very brown, and I am worried. Perhaps I just like to worry.

Now it is covered with blankets to keep it warm. The chemical process converting the lye into soap carries on for quite a while, and it needs to keep warm. I try not to peek too often. The bits that I do peek at seem to be behaving. The residue in the soap pot looks OK. It seems to have whitened up (that means it is really soap.)

It will stay in its mould for a few days. My fingers are crossed.

And the new big platform scales arrived this morning! I think I am going to up my quantities a bit next time. This mould could take about 13 pounds of soap, I reckon.

Majic Moments

Majic still hasn't figured out what reflections are all about. He loves to try and play with the dog in the wardrobe mirrors, and barks like crazy. This also makes walkies difficult. Up on King Street there are lots of distractions, including all those reflections of himself in the shop windows. I try and walk between him and cars parked on the street, because he sees himself in the car duco, especially black cars. This makes him much more skittish and very distracted. I wonder when he will realise that it is him?

Here he is exhausted after his obedience training:

Friday, February 09, 2007

My Etsy shop has borne fruit again. I had an enquiry from the US from someone who wants to buy a year's supply of my soap - twenty bars! We discussed the postage, and she has agreed.

I don't have that much soap left from my last batch, so I am soaping again this weekend. The kitchen scales I had were acting up, so we did the only mature thing and threw them out. We went to the Essential Ingredient yesterday and bought some more kitchen scales, and I also went to ebay and bought some more heavy-duty soap making scales. The latter haven't arrived yet, but I decided to proceed with the kitchen scales.

Soap making from absolute scratch is rather fun. First, I gather the oils into a big stainless steel stockpot. This batch has:

5 oz (yes I work in ounces) grapeseed oil
20 oz coconut oil
50 oz olive oil
80 oz emu oil

That makes 155 oz all together, or nearly ten pounds of soap.

Next I went to the Majestic Mountain Sage Lye Calculator. For those of you who aren't familiar with how soap is made, lye - yes, caustic soda - is essential. Without it you don't have soap, you just have a whole pile of oil. You need to have the right proportions of lye and liquid for your oils, and before these online calculators you had to do lots of your own calculations and guesswork to get it right. Each different oil has different saponification requirements. You can end up with soap that is too soft, or which separates, or curdles, or has pockets of un-saponified lye in it. Amazingly, I have never had a batch that failed in all my years of making it.

I like to use green tea as the liquid. Here you see the green tea infusing, along with the lye in the big glass bottle. The lye and liquid will be mixed tonight. It gets VERY VERY hot, so it has to cool overnight. You also see a little bottle of citrus seed extract, which can be a useful preservative and will be added at the very end.

Tomorrow I shall bring these things together, and soap will be made. I have lined the mould with plastic, and am ready with my stick blender. There will be another post of that process.

Majic Moments

Here are Majic and Michael having a moment of fun with Smiley, before the real work begins.

Today was Majic's first experience of an obedience class. We went to Glebe Bicentennial Park with a couple of chairs for the observers, some chopped chicken as treats, and the dog. He wasn't too bad, he does know how to sit. He also did a nice job of staying when told to, and coming when called. We'd worked on those at home. But he is really bad at walking on the lead. He has taken to pulling like mad. We had some lessons, we have a technique. And we have to change the lead we use to get more control. He was also completely hopeless at lying down. He is learning, though. He is also socialising well. Now we are home and he has had his dinner, and is exhausted.

Having a puppy is sooooo different from having an elder statesman. It is like stepping back in time, to when Jonty the Magnificent was a lad.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bumper crop - er...NOT!

The potato tower has been in for some months. The green shoots came up and flourished, then they died off. A tomato plant sprouted, but I decided to sacrifice it yesterday to harvest the potatoes. We planned to eat them last night. At the fruit shop I ummed and aahed about buying potatoes, but decided to play it safe and bought a few big old ones. Michael planned to make potato soup from the harvest. Here they are!

Not as many as I had hoped. In fact, not very impressive at all. But even less impressive was their size. This picture gives a rather better perspective. Pea-sized potatoes. No potato soup. We ate them all at dinner, but needed to supplement them with the bought ones. I don't think I'll be trying potato growing again, somehow!

Majic News

This might be a regular spot. For those readers who don't care about pugs (!!!) you can skip this bit.

Pug Story 1: We get out and about a lot - I like a dog to go walkies with. The other day we were in the cemetery at St. Stephen's, Newtown. It is large and walled, so dogs often go there to bound free. Majic is a bit timid, but was getting into things. Suddenly this HUGE German Shepherd chased him, scaring him and me half to death.

"He only wants to play!" said the owner gaily.

Didn't look like it to me or to Majic.

"He's only a puppy - he's only three" said the owner, who was at a bit of a distance.

Three years isn't a puppy in MY book.

Majic and the big dog were at my feet, Majic seeking shelter. The German Shepherd was looming over him, teeth bared. Not a good look.

"Call your dog NOW- he's snarling," I instructed the owner.

"Banjo - come on," he said. Thankfully, Banjo bounded off. For some reason the owner thanked me. I thanked our lucky stars, and Majic and I skittled off home.

Owners don't realise that their dogs are DOGS, and not cute little puppies. I realise this is the first of probably more episodes like this one. Jonty had lots of them, and many times Michael had to use the patented Athol Grip to control an attacking dog. The Athol Grip? Grab the dog's balls and squeeze and pull HARD. It works. Of course it is usually the un-desexed dogs that attack each other. Jonty was such an assertive dog he often provoked it.

Pug Story 1: We are teaching Majic not to jump up on people. He is a wiggle-on-a-stick at the moment, and everyone is his friend. He is also very bright and a quick learner. He knows what NO! means, especialy in relation to jumping up. We were at Erskineville Park yesterday, and there he raced up to an eldery lady sitting on a bench. He almost jumped up when I said the Majic word, and to his enormous credit he restrained himself. She wanted to pat him, he wanted to jump, and I could just see the struggle going on in his mind. He wiggled a lot, and sat at her feet barely containing himself while she gave him a pat. Then we moved on, and he had to have a couple of episodes of Crazy Pug (otherwise known as the Pug Scuttle) to get himself in order again.