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January 2015 - ???:


January 22, 2015:                  [Odometer 282729]    Today was not such a good news day. Last September, Taz was diagnosed with diabetes and we have been trying to regulate her sugar levels ever since. Today we took her in for a routine Kennel Cough treatment and a Fructosamine test, which is like an A1C test for humans measuring the average sugar levels over time. Julie brought up to the vet that Taz seemed to be having trouble seeing our trailer steps when she went out at night. The vet checked her eyes and said Taz has developed cataracts because of the diabetes and will eventually go blind.


January 27, 2015:                  [Odometer 282946]    Today we went to the Coastal Arts Center in Orange Beach. This organization both displays and teaches various types of art including ceramics, painting, and glass making. For Christmas, Julie gave me a gift certificate to a class on glass making and glass blowing. The cost of the certificate included hands-on experience making either a paper weight, a flower, or an ornament. I could not see any use for the flower and did not think I could bend down far enough to do the blowing required for the ornament (nor what I would do with it afterwards so it did not break) so I opted to make a paper weight.


There were several design considerations that were made before we started working. I decided to have two colors of glass in the center and chose white and yellow (which looked orange when it was hot) from a wide variety of colors they had there. Julie also asked about adding air bubbles, so we decided to do that. Each time glass is added to the forming rod from the melting furnace, it is called a "gather." A normal paper weight requires two gathers, the inner glass and the outer glass. To add air bubbles requires a third gather. The professionals were the only ones allowed to do the actual gathers as an error in the melting furnace such as contamination would be very time consuming (days) and very expensive to correct. However, I did almost everything else with some help where two things were happening at once.



After Carey made the first gather, I added color. This will be the inner glass. Note that I am wearing the requisite cotton long sleeve shirt and long pants (also closed toed shoes).



After adding the yellow, the glass was turned over and white was applied to the opposite side.



Once the color was added, the glass needed to be reheated. This was done in a separate furnace, not the one used to melt the glass. I don't know the exact temperatures, but this furnace was somewhat cooler than the melting furnace.

Reheating was a step frequently repeated as we went through the procedure because the glass will cool off quickly as it is worked and the outer surface will become hard and unworkable.



Tongs are used to twist and shape the inner glass. As a complete novice, the best I could achieve was some twists so the color would display through the clear outer glass.



After the second gather of clear glass, wet wooden forms are used to shape the outer glass to approximately a sphere.

The pros keep the glass turning with one hand while they shape with the other. I was lucky to do the shaping so Carey did the turning.

The glass is always kept rotating so it stays centered on the rod unless a droop is desired.



The second layer of glass is then poked with the ends of the tongs to make slight indents. These indents become the air bubbles after the third gather is added.

After the third gather, the outer glass is again shaped using a slightly larger wooden form. If you do it correctly, the paper weight comes out as almost a sphere. Mine was slightly egg shaped as the surface cooled quicker than I worked.

Carey then used the tongs and drops of water to create a weak spot where the paper weight would break off from the rod.



The object is taken over to a nest where the forming rod is struck with an iron bar. The vibrations caused the paper weight to break off the bar at the weak point.

We then heated just the bottom of the paper weight and Adam applied a flat piece of steel. This both eliminated any sharp points left over from breaking the glass from the rod and made a flat bottom so the paper weight would have a good surface to rest on.



The final paper weight complete with air bubbles.


February 6, 2015:                  Today we started our "accessibility" projects for Taz. Julie had noted that Taz seems to be able to follow the flashlight beam when walking outside so we decided to add some lights outside to help her out and give her some reference points at night when it is particularly hard for her to identify where she is going.



The steps into the trailer were originally covered with black outside carpeting. I replaced those tops with two different light-colored rubber mats to give Taz as much differential as possible in viewing the steps as she looks down to identify where she is going. Up is more instinct based on previous repetition, but down she needs to have some idea where she is going. We have also started saying "step" prior to each step down so she knows there is another one to go.

I also added solar lights and solar rope lighting around the steps to make them as visible as possible.

Note: If you look carefully at the screen in the door, you can see two little supervisors. JoJo is on the left (her beard is more visible through the screen) and Taz is just to JoJo's right (just visible if you know she is there).



This is what is visible at night. Besides the lights at the steps, there are lights around the hitch (which have been there since Julie injured herself) and at the Dish tripod. The photo is a little fuzzy because it was a long exposure and I was not using a tripod.



One of the most impressive things to come out of Taz's disability is to watch JoJo step up to the plate and help take care of her sister. The photo shows the path the dogs cross over to go to the small hedgerow of woods to poop. JoJo used to just take off and go and Taz would wander along as she felt like it. Now, JoJo waits at the first road to make sure Taz is coming. She then proceeds but stops every 20 yards or so to look back and make sure Taz is following. If Taz has gotten "lost" (i.e. going in the wrong direction), JoJo will go back to Taz and let Taz see her, then leads off in the correct direction again.

Another way JoJo helps take care of Taz is to always place herself between Taz and any strange people or dogs. She will actually chase the stray dogs away, although she does not bark or show anger. We have several of the neighbors dogs that wander into the park. Even though JoJo has seen them before and knows them, she seems to know which ones do not belong and "sends them home."


February 10, 2015:                 The next step in our accessibility projects was to make steps at the bottom of the bed. We have always had a hassock at the end of the bed that the dogs used as a step to get on and off the bed. Taz can still use it to get on the bed, but hesitates getting off because she cannot identify where the hassock is and cannot differentiate it from the floor. It is important for her to get on the bed in the middle of the night to tell us when she has to go outside.



I designed the steps to fit the available space. I would have liked to make a ramp instead of stairs, but with a 27.5" high bed and 24" length before interference with the bathroom door, it would have only been a dog slide no matter how it was surfaced.

This photo shows the completed stairs sitting on the work bench I made this past fall. The photo also shows one of the two side tables I made for holding tool boxes and supplies and the two storage sheds we set up when we first got here. The storage sheds allowed us to store craft items we had been carrying in the back of the truck for four years. Our "garden" is located between the two sheds. The tables and our two stools are covered with fabric that used to be our awning. The shade umbrella will make the whole area usable this summer, something I did not have last summer.



After we installed the stairs, we had a training session to teach the dogs how to go up and down them. Little marrow snacks make a powerful incentive.



Taz wants to know, "You want me to go back down now? Are you kidding me?"



So JoJo leads the way.



How the steps look at night.


February 14, 2015:                 Unfortunately, because of the space restrictions, the steps are narrow and only 9.5" deep. This does not give the dogs enough room to have both their front legs and back legs on the same step at the same time. Therefore, even though Taz did do it once, neither dog will use the stairs without encouragement. They also make it very difficult for Julie and I to get around the bed, so we are going back to the hassock, but putting the rope lights around the hassock to make it easier for Taz to locate.


Hassock with lights.


February 18, 2015:                 Taz's eyesight has deteriorated very rapidly. We do not know what she can see peripherally, but know she has no forward vision. She is probably relying mostly on her senses of smell and hearing. She has run into the Dish tripod and into JoJo when JoJo stopped moving. Yesterday, Taz stepped off the side of the steps leading into the trailer because she started too close to the edge. Another time a couple days ago she fell off because she was excited and wanted to get to me.



I took the side rails off the stairs for the bedroom and put them on the front steps. Hopefully this will keep Taz from sliding off the edge.


February 22, 2015:                 Julie and I are having a hard time keeping up with how fast Taz's eyesight has deteriorated. Yesterday she walked up the outside stairs near the edge. She did not fall off thanks to the sides, but did bump into the door frame. She is also having trouble identifying where the steps start, frequently getting too far left or right. She will no longer use the hassock in the bedroom to get on the bed, which she would do at first although she would not go down. She has learned to go around the side of the bed, knowing Julie will pick her up. I do not know how well this will work at night if Julie is asleep, but we will see. She is proving to be very creative.


Inside the trailer, she is very good at knowing where she is going and getting there. She seems happy and will still play with her tug of war toy and chew on her bones. She still jumps up on whoever is in the recliner, once she identifies the edge of the foot rest, trusting that she knows where the gap is in the chair and where to find our legs. Outside she is comfortable enough in the field to even run to Julie, locating her by her voice. JoJo is doing a marvelous job of protecting and guiding her, although she will steal the crumbs Taz drops from her treats if Taz is not fast enough. Outside, she is comfortable with the area surrounding the trailer, although she tends to bump into things. We think she treats her head like a white cane. She is also comfortable in the large field where she has played for almost a year. She does occasionally lose her sense of direction, but can easily get back on track if we call to her or if JoJo goes over to her. We can tell she has lost her direction because she stops and waits for a cue.


It is Julie and I that are having the hardest time adapting because we have not been able to keep up with the degree of decline and because the vet tells us it is only a matter of time until her kidneys fail. We will enjoy her for as long as we have her, but will not let her suffer. Right now she is still happy and alert.


February 23, 2015:                 At this campground, we have goats and donkeys to the East, goats, donkeys, and chickens to the West, and free-range chickens and cats to the North (and free-range dogs everywhere). We also have passing coyotes to the East at night. That is the purpose of the donkeys, to protect the goats from the coyotes.


When I went out to get the mail and some groceries this afternoon, I saw this hen with her two tiny chicks following her walking along the North fence of the park. I have no idea how old the chicks are, but I'm betting it is measured in hours.


When I came back, the hen was in a different location out in the front of a trailer sitting as shown. It was a cool, blustery day and she was facing into the wind. I cannot see them, but I am sure the chicks are under her protective wings. Nature is marvelous!