Field Trip: The (Normally) Peaceful Prairie Alpaca Ranch

Mbot and Little Gus

Mbot and Little Gus

Meet Little Gus. He’s the one not wearing a dinosaur raincoat. Instead, he’s wearing a coat warmer than wool and soft as cashmere, in one of twenty-two natural colors.

Little Gus is a cria, or baby alpaca, and in addition to wearing a lovely coat that, when he’s fully grown, could potentially become ten pounds of Ralph Lauren sweaters or the world’s most luxurious socks, he also knows where to poop. The alpaca uses several communal waste piles in a pasture and their natural cleanliness, along with their gentle, aloof nature–two ranchers I’ve spoken with have likened them to cats–make them ideal tenants and soothing company.

The herd gains a chia in froggie boots.

The herd gains a chia with stripes.

We visited Little Gus and about ninety of his huacaya pasture-mates a few weekends ago, on a road trip to Peaceful Prairie Ranch, just over ninety minutes north in Arizona’s altiplano. (Huacaya, pronounced “walk-EYE-uh”, are the most common of two types of alpaca, Huacaya and suri (pronounced “SOO-ree.”) They live with Wendy Dittbrenner, on acreage she’s crafted into an ideal alpaca preserve, with divided pastures for males, females, crias and their mamas, visiting stock, etc. She also keeps a small herd of Merino sheep, a variety of hairy sheepdogs, and a henhouse around which colorful chickens strutted.

Wendy breeds the animals for health, temperament and fiber. Each April on shearing day, professionals wielding razors liberate the animals of their coats, which can yield from five to nearly ten pounds of useable fleece. I’m a fan of alpaca yarn–Nanny knit me a sweater of 100% alpaca several years ago, and it’s the only fiber I’ve found that rivals cashmere for its light weight, warmth, and softness.

The bots stressed them out at first...

The bots stressed them out at first…

herd black corner-001

…but they soon calmed, and stood staring, en masse….

...at the two-legged newcomer.

…at the two-legged newcomer.

Each alpaca is unique in appearance and temperament–they all had names and Wendy knew them by sight. Although the bots were curious about the big, fluffy critters, Mbot kept drifting across the yard toward the chickens. Chickens do not poop in discreet piles, they poop everywhere. And it smells vile. Mbot was not discouraged. It is confounding to me that a child who can smell dog food from across the room and identify two teaspoons of espresso in an entire batch of fudgy cupcake batter does not mind the smell of chicken poop on his boots. Nonetheless, Mbot attempted the whole time we were visiting to pat a chicken. He finally succeeded, and the hen, a silken gold and brown, stood obligingly still as a beaming Mbot stroked her feathers.

Driving home, Mbot asked if we could get another pet. “I’m ready to move on from my starting creature,” he announced. (His starting creature is the antique cat, whom he sometimes feeds and waters.)

“Well,” I replied, “I don’t think we’ll get Little Gus. They’re herd animals, and so we’d really have to get two or three, and we don’t have room for them.”

“No, Mom,” he said. “I want a chicken.”

Gbot is less interested in Little Gus than he is in exactly what his tongue can do.

Gbot is less interested in Little Gus than he is in exactly what his tongue can do.

But pictures and poop on our boots will have to do for now.

The Year of the Carrot

Apres-bath beta-carotene snack!

Right around the time that the bots bring raggedly cut paper lanterns home from preschool and announce they were born in the year of the ox and the tiger (wrong–the rat and the ox), the winter garden begins pushing all sorts of goodness out of its chemical-free furrows. Chinese New Year gives way to President’s Week among mild days, comments like, “I learned that presidents who don’t look good are smart” (Mbot), and bickering over who gets to use the big shovel.

Picking lettuce

Child labor is alive and well in Arizona.

It usually also coincides with a visit from Nanny. While The Guru stays home in Idaho to cut the corduroy on the ski slopes, Nanny comes south for a bot-fix. This year, we introduced her to the Secret Garden. We were taking a chance, as, if you need a hired gun to assasinate any lifeform capable of photosynthesis, Nanny’s your man. (You see here that she managed to kill an iceberg lettuce, but at least we will eat its head.)

Yes, Virginia, this is where iceberg lettuce comes from

Yes, Virginia, this is where iceberg lettuce comes from! (And we learned from His Wikiness that iceberg lettuce got its name because it used to be shipped under shovelfuls of ice.)

As we stepped among the rows of broccoli, green onions, spinach, and other assorted supermarket items, Nanny’s continued exclamations about how cool the iceberg lettuce was–actually growing out of the ground–reminded me of how cool the iceberg lettuce was, actually growing out of the ground.

Digging carrots out of the ground

Digging carrots out of the dirt before we….

 

...dig carrots out of the washing machine!

…dig carrots out of the washing machine!

The next day, I was also reminded that every visit to the garden should be followed by a pocket-check. Not that a little beta-carotene in the laundry ever hurt anyone.

(To read about last year’s exciting and treacherous foray among the furrows, see Adventures With the Earth.)

2013 February carrots exhibit 003

A Four-Year-Old’s Icebreaker

Mbot's first visit to the pediatric dentist. Free Pac-Man in the waiting room, movies on the ceiling, and a balloon. Oh, and dental x-rays, sharp tools wielded gently, and three cavities. I tried to hide my shock and dismay, but I think it's actually greased the wheels of Mbot's social life.

Mbot’s first visit to the pediatric dentist. Free Pac-Man in the waiting room, movies on the ceiling, and a balloon. Oh, and dental x-rays, sharp tools wielded gently by kind Amy, and three cavities. I tried to hide my shock and dismay, but I think they’ve actually greased the wheels of Mbot’s social life.

Mbot, pumping all by himself on the swingset at the park, to the six-year-old (judging from the gap in her front teeth) stranger girl pumping by herself on the swing beside him: “Do you know I go to the dentist now? Do you go to the dentist?”

Stranger Girl: “Yeah.”

Mbot: “I have this many cavities–” (untwines one hand awkwardly from the chain of the swing to hold up three fingers, then counts them) “–three.”

Not-Quite-Such-A-Stranger-Girl: “I have one.”

Mbot: “They’re going to give a filling. It’s weird, isn’t it?”

Friend Girl: “REALLY weird.”

Four-Year-Old’s First Aid Kit

2013 February 11 firstaidkit & dentist & happymealspidey 002Because you just never know when you might have to floss, file your nails, have chapped lips, or get attacked by a Dementor. (For those of you who haven’t just finished the third Harry Potter book, the antidote–recommended in large quantities–when a anything tries to suck all the happiness out of you, is chocolate.)

Gbot, seeing Mbot’s, insisted on packing his own first aid kit, which consisted of a Magic Eraser box containing the same contents as Mbot’s, with the addition of a tampon. Because you just never know when you might need to staunch a nose bleed.

Friday Flashback: Fingerless Arm Found

2013 Feb 8 009My apologies to those of you who already read yesterday’s post, but I was informed by one of my followers that none of my followers were informed of my post. This is due to my server doing me a disservice as I was publishing the post.

So this is a Notice of Posting: Tune in to yesterday’s, which features photos of the completed Ironman pinata. Some of you will be pleased to hear that I found an arm in the back of my car today, under a box of papers To Be Shredded. I guess it’s true: he just can’t die. And you know what? I’m actually glad.

Pinata de Ironman: Back From the Dead

ironman 1 fullbody with m

For many of you, my Ironman pinata of ridiciulous dimensions is old news. But last June, just as I was finishing building the largest and best behaved guest at Mbot’s fourth birthday party, my camera died at the hands of said birthday boy, and so the final images that appeared on the blog were teeny-tiny stills captured from my video camera, and I didn’t know how to make them any bigger. Well, seven months later, I have figured out how, and due to the overwhelming number of Google searches for Ironman pinatas, many of them in Spanish, I’ve decided to post them here, just in case anyone wants to repeat my folly and create in their dining room a 5’8″ hollow Superhero sculpture made of newspaper, water, flour, and balloons.

I do not recommend it.

ironman complete thighs up

The entire premise of building a pinata in your dining room–especially when you live in Arizona, within a thirty-minute drive of an ENORMOUS pinata store, and your assistants are two hyperactive midgets with too little appreciation for long-term goals and too much appreciation for flour paste, is ludicrous. But there is nothing like laundering many small socks, wiping many small booties, and preparing many small meals every day, many of which are greeted with “Blech!” before being pushed half way across the table, to inspire one to create something big and lasting that will be greeted with “Ooohs!” and “Ahhhs!”, even if it’s eventually whacked to bits and survives only in photos. It was that sort of housewifishness, mother-of-weebots, frustrated artist mentality that drove me to purchase the thirty-inch high “It’s a boy!” bottle-shaped balloon that would become Ironman’s torso, setting the scale for Ironman’s body, and coming to represent the first circle of Pinata Hell.

ironman complete legs down

ironman torso legs

Here we have Ironman at about the midway point. The coat hanger that we hung him from is visible sticking out his neck and arm holes. The hanger eventually required reinforcement in the form of Gorilla glue, when the metal hook pulled out of the wood.

I suppose I should report on what has finally happened to Ironman. For a long time–many months–I kept his limbs in a pile in the garage. The bots got a kick out of trying on the legs from the knee down, and chasing each other wearing the giant red arms. My plan was that perhaps I would reassemble him and hang him in their room, slanting from the ceiling like he was flying.

But a few weeks ago, in a claustrophobic cleaning frenzy of the sort that grips me every ten years or so, I stacked the body parts in the recycle bin and breathed a sigh of relief that it was gone. After seven months, in my mind, he had finally turned into an it. I forgot one arm, and the bots spent an afternoon chasing each other with it, at which point I think it, too, went into the recycle bin. This morning when I brought the empty bin back into the garage, I saw a single red finger laying on the concrete. I thought of evil little Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter books, who cut off his own finger before turning into a rat, to “prove” to everyone he was really dead.

Hmmm. Is Ironman not really dead? Does he live on? If I ever start building a giant rat pinata, will somebody please stop me?

ironman behind complete hanging

For those of you who missed the original posts, just click on these and you, too, will be able to witness the whole sordid affair:

If I Build an Ironman Pinata, Will Robert Downey, Jr. Jump Out of It?

Ironman, The Killer Pinata, Part 2: Taking Up Arms

T – 19 Days: Ironman the Killer Pinata, Part 3

T – 8 Days: Ironman the Needy Pinata Boyfriend

T – 4 Days: Ironic Man

T – 2 Days: You Say Pinata, I Say Peanuta

T – 0: Blast Off: (From Both Ends)

Reasons Not To Store Your Money In Your Underpants

It's bad enough, just putting the mons in the undies. Save your money by NOT buying this piggy bank for your kiddos. It might give them ideas.

Fortunately, Gbot’s mons just went in the underpants, and no further.

Due to the nature of this post, I cannot provide photographs of the actual subject at the time of his discovery.

But Gbot likes to count his money, although I use the word “count” in the most liberal way. In relative terms, he doesn’t have very much, although more than Mbot, because he’s better at keeping track of it. He is a natural hoarder. This morning on his pillow amongst fifteen or so stuffed animals, lay a purple puff ball, a hot wheels car, some Trio pieces, a toy microphone, and a harmonica. (He uses the harmonica most mornings before 6 a.m.) Under his pillow were two gift cards he had liberated from the glove compartment of the Botmobile.)

Several times a week, Gbot will come to me holding a piece of spare change to put in his piggy bank. He finds it laying around–it’s either fallen out of Husbot’s pockets, or I’ve left it on the counter or pulled it from under the sofa. Some of it’s actually his own, as last summer, Nanny gave both bots little fabric baggies filled with quarters to take to the zoo to buy food for the fish, goats, and llamas.

The baggies and their contents immediately became objects of contention: I quickly learned that the propensity to hoard and fight over small shiny objects seems to be embedded in our DNA. Every time I’d let the bots get out their money, it would start a fight. They were two and three when it began–too young to even know the practical value of what they were hitting each other over.

Let me reiterate that Gbot just turned three. A just-turned-three-year-old doesn’t understand that a Starbucks gift card enables the holder to walk into “The Chocolate Milk Place” and buy ten boxes of chocolate milk. But he’s always liked the toy credit card that came with the toy cash register he got for his birthday, and apparently, he likes real ones, too. He knows they’re good for something.

So yesterday afternoon when we were all very tired, Mbot played with his LeapPad and I let Gbot count his money. Generally I keep the piggy banks in a high cupboard–out  sight, out of mind. But yesterday I got his down, uncorked the hole, and helped him empty it on the table. Counting his money kept him busy for thirty minutes.

And because I forgot to put it away last night, it was still on the table this morning, a shining pile of change beside it. I told him that he had to put it away before I would give him his Cheerios. Then I went about my business in the kitchen. Several minutes later, I heard, “THIS is a spectacular way to clean up my money.”

I was emptying the dishwasher and didn’t look up.

Then I heard, “Here! Is that what you expected?”

I turned around. “I need to put copper pennies in my underpants so it will seem like a piggy bank!” he told me happily, jingling his underpants, into which at least three dollars in change had been deposited, with both hands. They were Batman underpants, and The Joker smiled wickedly from their crotch. The Joker would have been thrilled at this development. Then Gbot’s expression changed from glee to consternation and he began to rearrange things down there. That’s when he announced: “If I put too much money in my underpants, my pito will hurt.”

That’s when I suggest he rethink his banking options, and use the ceramic pig instead. I helped make the withdrawal, and explained that money has germs on it and so it’s best to keep it out of our underpants. And hoping fervantly that his were the only underpants it had been in.

And this is a good reason not to store your money in your mouth, either.