Monday 27 March 2017

Meet Rusty. My first dog.

I am 40 years old and on Friday afternoon I drove proudly from Jo'burg to Parys with my first dog in my car.

Meet Rusty. My first dog.

Rusty's first few hours with us - Friday, 24 March 2017
She had a home, outside of Pretoria. Her previous people have been overseas for 18 months. She had a home and food and shelter and was on the property with a ridgeback and the domestic worker.

When I received the note about Rusty needing a home a few weeks ago, I passed it on to a friend. She was interested but I then found out Rusty had a home. A week ago I received a note from the woman that I know, Sonja (she is friends with Rusty's previous people). She said the people that were going to take Rusty couldn't no longer as they are away very often. I contacted my friend again but with one of her two older border collies not doing very well, she didn't want to take on a new dog right now.

On Wednesday Sonja said she would be collecting the dogs on Friday (last week). She had a home for the ridgeback but no home yet for Rusty. There was just something about Rusty in the fuzzy picture that I had of her. I began negotiations with Celliers. When Rusty's original people agreed to cover her costs, the deal was sealed and Rusty would be coming to live with us.

On Thursday I hit the pet hyper in Vanderbijl to get her things like a collar and tag and running harness and lead and food bowl and brush. And some food samples.

On Friday, Rusty's day started with being collected by Sonja, from Pretoria. Sonja drove her through to Sunninghill, where I collected her. Thankfully she came with her kennel and a basket. Thank goodness that I had a big trailer with me as I was in Jo'burg to collect things. I then drove back with Rusty to Parys. She travels really well and lies peacefully on the back seat.

We had a short stop at home. Ruben and Kyla were totally surprised and absolutely delighted.

I then took Rusty to the vet for her vaccinations, deworming and tick-and-flea treatment. She had ticks and fleas. I caught the doggie parlour lady as she was leaving and got Rusty booked in for Monday morning - plus I could stay with her during the grooming process. She was very dusty and quite matted in places and definitely needed a good scrub. I also booked her in to be sterilised. This will happen on Wednesday.

All in all she is in good health. The vet think she is about four years old. I'd been told seven years - so she is in this range. She is a bit overweight and is very unfit. The vet has guided me on what and how much to feed her and after her op, once she has recovered, we'll start with walks and then slowly work on her fitness.

On Saturday I didn't take her to parkrun. It would have been too overwhelming. We'll do parkrun together later. We did have neighbours come to visit for tea and cake on Saturday afternoon. Ruben and Kyla are helping to teach her how to play - she doesn't seem to know how to catch or fetch or chase but she is definitely getting more keen.

On Sunday we had friends over in the afternoon for tea and cake and so Rusty got lots of attention and some balls, treats and doggie shampoo as presents.

This morning we did doggy parlour and although it was new and scary for her, she did so very well. She even got ribbons in her fur, near her ears. She is now soft and furry and clean and fresh. I can't get enough of touching her.

Rusty is incredibly gentle and sweet and chilled. She is affectionate and loving. She can sit, she knows her name and she doesn't run out of the gate.

I am totally smitten with her and look forward to many years of companionship and adventures together.

Sunday 26 March 2017

50th parkrun milestone

Yay! I finally got to 50 parkruns. Although I'm at parkrun almost every weekend, I don't always get to log a run on those weekends so it has felt like forever to get to 50 parkruns. I have run 41 of my 50 parkruns here in Parys.

I've put in for my 50th tee and look forward to running in it. I've also put in for the new Volunteer 25 Club tee (purple) as I've volunteered well over 25 times now (somewhere in the 30s).

It is nice to hit milestones. Onward to 100!

Friday 24 March 2017

Orange River adventures

What do paddling friends do when they return to SA after working abroad for a few years? They organise a group of friends to head to the Orange River for the weekend. And so it was that I spent the long weekend on the Orange River at a delightful spot - Egerton River Camp - just upstream of Hopetown in the Northern Cape.

Celliers used to go here often many years ago. Back then it was a fairly rustic spot. New owners took over a few years ago and they upgraded the facilities to create the most charming place. The property is a game farm so in addition to having the river with a great stretch of rapids to paddle, there are beautiful antelope to view.

We arrived a day ahead of our friends - both Celliers and I had it in our heads that we would leave to drive there after school got out on Friday. We were actually only booked in from the next day. We only realised this shortly before getting into our car but as it was packed and we were so totally ready to head off, we phoned the owner Amie and he said we were more than welcome to come early.

This turned out to be so in our favour. We got there just before dark on Friday night and woke to a quiet and peaceful Saturday. They had spotted a roan antelope cow with an injured leg and had called in the vet to assist. We went out with them to find her. They darted the antelope and the vet took a look at her leg, which had a massive cyst on her 'heel' joint. The vet drained it, cleaned it, added treatment and gave the animal the tranquiliser antidote. Where the poor thing was hardly able to stand on her leg, she could get up and walk on it. We saw her again the next day, walking with the herd and feeding; and again before we left. It was very special to be up so close to this large and beautiful animal. And to touch her.

On the drive in, I'd spotted a trig beacon. As a number of buffalo bulls had been moved into this camp a few days before, Amie wasn't keen to let me free range in that section of the property. He took Celliers and I out there with the plan that he'd drop me near the hill - in the open grass where no naughty buffalo were hiding - and I could run up the hill while they drove around in search of the animals.

It was excellent fun heading up and the view from the top was superb. I waved to them on the other side from where I'd started. Apparently Amie sends workers up there with a radio occasionally; they look for game down below and radio through the location. Amie says he drives around and waits to see them at the top. This is the first time for him that anyone (me) has gotten to the top faster than it takes him to drive around. Very funny. 

While waiting for them at the bottom I made a great find - a cluster of tortoise eggs that had been dug up and raided by some kind of critter. This egg was still whole. We expected the egg to be a stinky one when cracked but it was actually quite fine but clearly unfertilised. 

The whole weekend we had incredible game sightings with an assortment of springbok colour variations, roan, sable, blesbok, giraffe (two on the property), red hartebees, buffalo, gemsbok... and a pair of white rhino that had been dehorned the week before. What a treat to see them close up!

Of course, we were there for the river too. On Sunday morning I was in the raft taking the children down the river. It was a nice way to check out the river and to paddle with friends. The next morning I went down on the sit on top whitewater kayak. On the rapid that I was most likely to flip on, I thought that I had made a clean run - through the more challenging section - when a wave zapped me and sent me swimming. I really have a lot of work to do on staying in/on a kayak. 

A really great few days with special people. Egerton is a place I look forward to going back to. 

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Back to my blood donation schedule

In early December I went to donate blood at our regular mobile clinic here in Parys. I was deferred (not allowed to donate) when a drop of my blood failed the haematocrit test, which is done every time before you donate.

The test is nothing more than taking a drop of blood from a finger prick and dropping it into a container of copper sulfate. The drop of blood is required to sink to the bottom - if it floats or hovers to descends too slowly, you fail. I've failed the test a number of times over the years but when this happens, the clinic takes another drop and runs it through their testing machine (much like the glucose-testing machine that diabetics use - just bigger). My iron levels have proved good each time. The test isn't absolute; just a general screening process and it is quick and inexpensive.

In December, neither of their machines were working and thus I got deferred. Of course, SANBS always has the health of the donor as a priority and so they completely did the right thing in deferring me; my health would have been at risk if I really did have low iron.

I was only expecting the mobile clinic to be in town next Tuesday as they come through on the second Tuesday of every month. On the way to paddling I saw their banners and popped in on the way home from the river.

Ruben came through with me - he likes the cookies and juice and is quite fascinated by the process. While my bag filled, one of the SANBS staff explained to Ruben about the testing of blood and the need for donors. His eyes were glued to her as she spoke (I couldn't hear properly from where I sat; but I did watch his face). When she was done she finished with, "Now you see why blood donors are so important". He nodded and added, "Really interesting!".

I'm starting him young - Ruben is only 8 now but by the time he is 16 I hope to have cultivated a committed donor.

Through our Parys parkrun I have been able to meet many people in town and most times I bump into people I know at the clinic. This evening I saw Yolande and Hein, a lovely couple who are regular parkrunners. They also ran my Forest Run last year. They were there to donate too.

I asked my nurse if their turnout had been good today. "Parys - this town never lets us down," she replied.

I'm pleased to have added to our numbers today.

Monday 6 March 2017

Dancing with children

At the beginning of the year I joined a local Wednesday afternoon individual dance class (no partners required). My friend - same age as me - started attending last year and was keen for more adults to be there. Another friend - 10 years older, very sporty and competitive - joined with me in January. We're the oldest people in the class as the rest of our classmates are in primary school.

There are three 45-minute classes in a row that start shortly after school comes out. Our first time there we did all three to get a feel for the dance disciplines.

The first class includes styles called energy (like aerobics), slow, hip-hop and bhangra. The second is Latin American styles (including jive - my favourite) and the third is contemporary and jazz. I'm really enjoying the last class.

There are some magnificent images of contemporary dancers on Google images. I don't look like this when I dance; but I'd like to.
My friend, who has been there for a year, goes to the first two; my other friend and I go to the second two.

For the first few weeks I really felt the moves in my feet and Achilles. I've acclimatised to the movements; now I only get nailed by stiffness from the contemporary routines that have us rolling around on the floor and dropping into splits (I can split so I do the lesser 'jazz split'). For the moves that require us to kneel on the hard floor, we tuck socks into our 3/4 tights as protective knee pads.

What has charmed me most about the class is how we have been wonderfully accepted by our much, much younger classmates. They may call me 'Tannie' (a respectful term in Afrikaans meaning 'auntie' given to a woman older than you) but they also give me a warm greeting (often with a hug) and they readily interact with me in class. I sometimes bump into them in town, with their parents, and we give each other a friendly hello.

This class is sweet and refreshing and I certainly don't feel like I'm three decades older than my young classmates.

Compost progression after nine weeks

Although I've only recently let you in on my composting adventure, I've had a growing composting obsession for the past two months. I toss stuff into my YOLO Compost Tumbler, I tumble it, I stare at it and I marvel at the organisms that are doing their thing to reduce organic matter to brown, earthy compost. You just don't get to do as much looking when the composting action is happening deep within a heap.

On Sunday, I spent some time with my compost. After nine weeks, my YOLO is less than half full. The volume goes up and down as I add material and then it starts to decompose and the organisms work on it and so the level drops. I'd say I have less than 20 litres of the 45-litre volume. I emptied it out into our wheelbarrow.

To give you an idea of what is in here...

  • nine weeks of onion skins - I use an onion or two almost every night (say an average of one a day for nine weeks - that's skin and bits from 63 onions)
  • lots of crushed egg shells - from what must certainly be over 120 eggs
  • cardboard from at least six 30-egg egg trays
  • rind from a large watermelon
  • rind from a sweet melon
  • lots of peelings from butternuts and other pumpkins (at least 7 to 10 of them)
  • gem squash skins (cooked) - a good number of them
  • lots of banana peels (my household eats bananas 1 to 3 of them a day)
  • off cuts from celery, tomatoes, carrots, baby marrows, potatoes, apple cores and other bits
  • rooibos tea leaves (lots!)
  • a few tea bags (I'm still testing out the composting of tea bags - so far no evidence remains of the bags that I can see; I'm throwing in a bunch tomorrow)
  • some coffee grinds (the rest go to my worm bin - the worms are boring compared to my YOLO)
  • at least a 1/4 tumbler volume (not compacted) of dry leaves from autumn last year
  • two vacuum-bag contents
This is what I have tossed into my YOLO. My family has probably added some other stuff.

For weeks I've been reading websites about composting. Compost tumblers are definitely faster due to better aeration (from the tumbling), heat (closed container) and that new material is mixed in with old. It's more efficient. But I don't believe websites that report that you'll get compost in two weeks (yes, some do). It will actually take weeks to fill, especially if you're only using kitchen scraps. And then once it is full, you stop adding new material and then leave it to mature. That takes a few weeks more. Looking at the state of my compost as it stands now, 6-8 weeks to maturity would be fair. 

Of course rate of composting depends on environmental conditions (sunny South Africa or sub-zero Alaska) and what you've put in your tumbler. I'm torn between wanting to leave my compost to mature and an interest to see just how long it will take me to get my YOLO to the point of being almost full.

I've got a tub of new material - banana skins, mielie cobs and full tea bags - to throw in tomorrow. I'm interest to see what happens to the cobs.

Between recycling plastic, paper, glass, tins and my compost, we have less than a plastic shopping bag of trash each week for a household of four.

Friday 3 March 2017

My new YOLO products

The past few months I've been kept quite busy developing a new product - the YOLO Compost Tumbler.

Although my vegetable gardening efforts have been very poor for the past three years, I've become even more obsessive about recycling. The four bins in our kitchen are appropriately labelled (trash, plastics, paper, glass & cans) so that even guests know where to put their waste.

The only recycling element that I've had a problem with is compost. Outside our kitchen I've got an old rubbish bin, into which we tossed veggie cuttings while we were trying to figure out what to do with creating an effective compost pile.

Out back in the yard, tucked behind the outbuilding, are two compost piles. The first is a stash of leaves from last autumn that I didn't want to put out with the trash (and I was forming composting ideas) and the second is a heap on to which we pile our odd plant trimmings and grass cuttings each week.

Late last year we were trawling the web looking for compost ideas. Should we construct something smart for our compost pile with a removable tray underneath to be able to extract compost without needing to dig up the whole heap? While searching, we stumbled across compost tumblers. It immediately caught Celliers' eye as something we could make, especially as they are not readily available in South Africa. As a bonus, we could get compost out of it within a few weeks of leaving the contents to mature; unlike our heap, which we never turn, and which takes a year or more to produce useable compost.

Now, many months later, I've got the first production compost tumblers in hand under my new company name of YOLO Colours.

Celliers is the brains behind the design and manufacturing. This first one is a 45-litre shell and it comes in three colours and as a single or double unit. The focus for this unit is primarily on apartments and townhouses and homes with small gardens.

For me, composting is not really about making compost to use in your garden; it is about dealing with organic waste and reducing what I send to landfill. I just can't bring myself to put an apple core, potato peel or butternut skin in the trash.

The relatively small 45-litre volume is deceiving and while you may think you would fill it in few weeks, you won't (unless you add a lot of garden clippings, which is not the primary purpose of this 45l size). The level rises when you add new material and drops within a few days as it decomposes.

I have a pre-production test unit at home that I've been using for NINE WEEKS and it is less than half full. At one stage it was up to about 3/4 after adding leaves that I'd saved from last year. It dropped within a few days as the material began to decompose.

How does it work? It is really simple. I have a tub in my kitchen into which I put my veggie cuttings and the like. Every two or three days - depending on how much there is - I toss it into my tumbler. Each time I open the lid, fresh air (oxygen) is introduced. I then close the lid and tumble the contents a few times so that the new material is incorporated and properly mixed with the old material. I always open the lid again to see what is happening inside (I also stare at it for a while) and then close it again and leave it until the next day or two when I'm ready to add new material again.

We don't buy pre-cut & peeled packaged veggies so I have a good amount of organic waste.

The trick with successful compost is keeping an eye on the carbon:nitrogen ratio of the contents. Too much green, wet, nitrogen-rich material and you'll have a wet and smelly mush. Too much carbon-rich, dry, brown material and it will be too dry and unappealing to the composting microbes. I'm mostly using egg trays and crushed egg shells for my 'brown' with vacuum-cleaner bag contents and autumn leaves here and there.

What we've done is to include an informative graphic on the side of every YOLO Compost Tumbler that tells you what you can put into it. There is a second graphic that offers tips - like how to check whether your compost is too wet or too dry and how to tell whether your compost is ready.

The past two months have been interesting as I've been observing and learning from my own compost tumbling experience. I've developed tricks like leaving the peels from a whole watermelon out in the sun to dry out a bit before tossing them in. As the tumbler is a closed bin, moisture is retained so I'm very cautious about the wetness of the material that I throw in. How is this? Within a week I couldn't identify the watermelon peels in the tumbler!

While I've been happily playing with my YOLO Compost Tumbler and kitchen scraps, I still need to deal with the bin and my two compost piles out back. The piles can just sit for now but the bin... it is really yuck. I need a sunny day to shovel it out, let it dry (it has been rained on and it doesn't drain) and then throw the contents into a tumbler to properly mature with regular tumbling and aeration.

We've just got the small tumbler into production and Celliers is still busy with the medium (100-litre) and large (200-litre) designs and moulds. The medium will be better for all of my grass cuttings and autumn leaves. Our garden isn't big enough to warrant the large; but my mom's is.

This is a high-quality product. Steel, powder-coated frame, galvanised steel hinges and latch, robust shell rotomoulded from UV-stabilised plastic and in funky colours.

Our aim is not that you'll use this for a year or two but for a decade or two (in semi-shade it will last far, far longer than if left in all-day full sun). There is enough cheap plastic junk in landfill and my YOLO products are definitely not those. YOLO is made to last.

This is what has been keeping me busy and out of trouble.

I'll be ready to start shipping YOLO Compost Tumblers out - and around South Africa - in the next 10 days or so. I'll let you know details then.