Thursday, December 22, 2011

Coming Saturday: History of Santa's transportation

Whether portrayed as a noble, elderly gentleman, a Germanic god, or a jolly fat man in red, for hundreds of years cultures throughout the world have honored traditions centered on an icon of annual generosity.
But Santa's name, image and methods aren't the only things that have changed with the times.
Though he and his evolving personas have taken center stage in the stories, it is only with the aid of the seasonal gift-givers' steeds that the whole thing succeeds.
Coming Friday evening to and and in newsstands Saturday, Christmas Eve, In Search of Ponies takes a walk through the history of Santa's transportation providers and the contributions they've made to give us the Christmas we know and love today.
And, armed with a better understanding of who's clip-clopping on your rooftop, you just might find a couple of new ideas when it comes to leaving treats out Christmas Eve.
Don't miss it!

Christmas gifts not for pets

As featured Dec. 17, 2011, on
Walking through the stores this holiday season, at first you may think,“that squeaky toy is so cute, Fido would love that!
But as you shop, you may start to get the feeling it's not an accident the Christmas tree shaped dish full of frosted beef biscuits is at the end of the isle right where you would see it, or, that you had to steer around a pile of pup beds that are more plush than any mattress you've ever owned.
And before long, you start to realize the retail powers-that-be are targeting your pets.
Well, not your pets exactly...
In 2011, American pet owners are expected to spend just shy of an estimated $51 billion on their pets. Yes, that was $51 BILLION dollars!
And of course the marketing gurus know you are willing to drop bucks on your pet, and yes, they are out to get you.
And what better time than Christmas, especially when, of the nearly 73 million households that have pets in the U.S., almost 70 percent will buy gifts for their critters this year.
So in other words, no, the squeaky toys, Santa hats with ear holes, red and green biscuits and over-sized, memory foam dog beds aren't in the middle of the isle by accident.
In the days of old, pet Christmas marketing was limited to the red nylon mesh stockings filled with rawhide bones hanging in the pet food isle.
If you looked hard, you might have found a little squeaky duck or a package of catnip balls mixed with the petware at your local grocery, but that was the extent of it.
Ah, how times have changed.
If you're looking for the ultimate in pet gifts this year, for $3,200, you can replace that faded nylon collar with 1,600, hand-set diamonds, then spritz your pal from a $3,000, 4-ounce bottle of Le Pooch V.I.P fragrance.
Or your canine can feast on gourmet peanut butter biscuits at a measly $50 for a package of eight, and don't worry, of course they're all natural.
If, on the other hand, you're feeling stressed because you just can't swing that $500 cedar climbing tree for Morris this year, don't be so hard on yourself.
I'll let you in on a little secret.
Morris doesn't care.
He won't feel left out Christmas morning when everybody is unwrapping their gifts and he won't think you forgot him.
Quite the contrary, he will probably be sitting off to the side licking his nether regions and wondering why the family decided to congregate in his usually peaceful living room – and during nap time no less.
Nor, will your pooch sulk into a corner and cry because he didn't get that fancy leash and collar set you had your eye on.
Why? Because pooches don't really like collars and leashes, they like us and the time we spend with them when the leash comes out.
And Fido could care less about a $6 peanut butter biscuit when what he really wants is to visit that little box in the laundry room where the cat scratches up feats of unbelievable tastiness.
A closer look at the numbers shows that though spending a lot on their critters, pet owners do tend to put their money where it matters most, with estimates that almost $45 billion of that $51 billion will be spent on food, medicine and veterinary care.
What that means is that, no, you're not a bad pet owner if you decide to scratch Fido off your list and instead drop a couple of toys in the charity box on your way out of the store.
Because while Fido is just happy you got an extra day at home with him (and that you didn't notice you dropped some ham on the floor), there's a child somewhere nearby who, unlike Fido, will notice when they're forgotten Christmas morning.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Coming Saturday: Santa or Scrooge?

Making your list and checking it twice?
You might have a couple names on there that could be scratched without guilt, and depending on your perspective, it doesn't have to mean you're a scrooge.
Coming to and Friday evening and newsstands Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011, In Search of Ponies will focus on holiday shopping even Santa might agree with.
Don't miss it!

Hummingbirds need some sugar

As featured Dec. 9, 2011, on

Every now and then a neighbor needs to borrow a little sugar — and sometimes it could be a matter of life and death.
No, not because of that batch of cookies they started only to realize they didn’t have enough in their canister.
It turns out that perhaps because of the extreme weather we’ve had this year, there’s a bunch of hummingbirds hanging around Clovis and other communities in our region and for whatever reason, they didn’t get the migrate memo.
I received an email this week, asking me to get the word out so people might help the little biological hover crafts and I found my interest quickly piqued.
In recent weeks I have seen news reports of how the weather patterns in our region have impact the monarch butterfly migrations. I had also noticed some out of the ordinary predatory bird behavior in the last couple of months, with different species of hawks hunting together in area fields, but I had never thought about humming birds.
“With our weird weather, some of the hummers “forgot” to leave with the rest in early October. They can still catch bugs to eat, but their natural nectar sources are gone since the flowers froze, so they are dependent on the artificial nectar from our feeders to stay alive,” wrote Lisa Moore.
A hummingbird enthusiast who said she and her husband have been enthralled by the tiny birds for 25 years, Lisa said if people will leave their hummingbird feeders out a little longer this year, it might help the prodigal birds get their show on the road like they should have a few weeks ago.
“Keeping feeders out won’t cause the hummers to stay longer. It will just help those who have lingered here survive until they wise up and decide to head out,” she said.
Having always heard that you needed to bring your bird feeders in before the weather turns or our feathered friends will stay with the free stuff and not travel as they should, I did a little research after receiving Lisa’s email. It turns out this happens sometimes and hummingbirds are known to lag behind a little on their schedules when weather patterns run amuck.
What I found most interesting was that rather than forgetting to leave because people are feeding them, they actually need the extra nourishment to build up fat reserves enough for the trip.
If they don’t get enough food, they either won’t leave at all and will die from cold and lack of food, or won’t survive the journey.
One year, Lisa said she even had a hummingbird that stuck around her home until January before going on its trip.
Nectar feeders need to be kept warm in freezing temperatures because a “nectar Popsicle,” as Lisa put it, won’t do them any good. A hummingbird website I visited recommended heat bulbs near the feeder as a good way to prevent freezing, (of course, if you choose this method please follow all product safety guidelines to prevent fire).
As with any holiday season and cold spell, there are many among us that need our help and care, and this one seems fairly easy to pull off, so if you have a hummingbird feeder in the garage, what the heck.
Dust it off, fill ‘er up and hang it next to the garland on the porch.
Not because we want these amazing creatures to leave, but because we want to make sure they can do their thing and come back to visit in time to enjoy the spring blooms.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sugar please!

When temperatures drop, sweaters come out, the smell of evening fires mingles with the crisp in the air and where summer blooms once brought color to neighborhood streets, strands of twinkling lights take their places.
But at one Clovis home, the glow of red lights serve as much more than a signal of the coming holidays, working instead with purpose in an effort retain that which winter has undone.
For more than 25 years, Lisa Moore and her husband have shared their lives with hummingbirds, working to create a world within their yard that will attract the energetic little birds. It is a mission that has been successful, over the years drawing more of the colorful sugar seekers than they can count.
Lisa knows her annual visitors so well, she has nicknamed many of them and come to know their habits, preferences and personalities, studying up on their needs in the hopes of being a helpful hostess.
This year, Lisa's love and attention is rooted in concern for the many hummingbirds who have outlasted the blooms that give them sustenance, remaining in the area well past their scheduled departure date.
Now, confused by drought and strange weather, they are fighting to survive in freezing temperatures.
Lisa has asked for help from the community in the hopes that if people hang nectar feeders, the hummingbirds will have the resources they need to either migrate as they should have or at the very least, survive through the cold until the flowers return.
Having developed a system that works, Lisa's feeder stayed warm during this week's winter blast of ice and snow, providing welcome refuge to a juvenile male Rufous hummingbird who has been with her since the spring.
Featured as the topic of this week's In Search of Ponies column in the Clovis News Journal and Portales News Tribune, here you will find
Lisa's guest blog, complete with tips and photos of her hummingbirds, particularly the tough little fellow she has nicknamed “El Nino."
Make sure to scroll down, check it out, enjoy, and this year, please hang some nectar with the mistletoe!

Guest blog: Sugar, lights and fighting ice

~Love blooms ~
My husband and I became big fans of hummingbirds about twenty-five years ago when we lived in San Antonio, TX. Many of our neighbors had feeders, so we put one up too, and quickly became fascinated and amazed by the hummers' antics. We moved to Clovis in 1991, and it took several years of putting out feeders and planting flowers preferred by hummingbirds to attract them to our yard, although we knew there were many in the area. Persistence paid off, and now we get lots of hummers every year between April and October.

~ Meet the hummers ~
I have a hard time estimating the number of hummingbirds, but I have seen at least three different hummingbirds, a Black-chinned male and female, and a Rufous at my feeders since the beginning of October when the rest of them headed south. (Another local hummingbird enthusiast I know) has had several, including a male Rufous last weekend. Hopefully these are stragglers traveling through, not staying on. In 2007, I had one stay until mid-January. I am just seeing one at a time now, and not every day. In the summer months I often see four or five at a time. I have had Black-chinned, Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Calliope hummers – much more variety than back east where they usually just see Ruby-throats.

A juvenile Rufous feeding during a
New Mexico snow storm Dec. 7, 2011.
Courtesy photo: Lisa Moore
~ Winter woes~
With our weird weather, some of the hummers "forgot" to leave with the rest in early October. They
can still catch bugs to eat, but their natural nectar sources are gone since the flowers froze, so they are dependent on the artificial nectar from our feeders to stay alive.
We also need to be creative in keeping the feeders from freezing, since hummers can't eat popsicles. A few years ago, I had one hummingbird stay until mid-January.
If people keep their hummingbird feeders out a while longer this year, hopefully the ones still hanging around will get the urge to head south soon!
Keeping feeders out won't cause the hummers to stay longer. It will just help those who have lingered here survive until they wise up and decide to head out.

~ Lucky Punk ~
First generation winter nectar feeders.
Courtesy photo: Lisa Moore
In the winter of 2007-2008, when just one hummer we nicknamed "Punk" stayed until January 9, I clipped aluminum spot light holders to the eaves a couple of feet away from the feeders, and put infrared heater bulbs in them (nothing says "classy" like red spot lights on
the house).
"Punk" eating under the lights in 2007.
 Courtesy photo: Lisa Moore
Punk didn't seem to notice the lights, and that system worked fairly well, except for a few days when temperatures stayed below 20 degrees. Then I had to keep bringing frozen feeders inside to thaw, swapping them with thawed ones.
It was so weird to see a hummer sitting in my rosebush with snow all around. It amazes me that these tiny guys can survive this harsh winter weather, as long as they have food and can find adequate shelter.
Generation two winter nectar feeders.
Courtesy photo: Lisa Moore

~Perfecting the solution~
This year I followed a tip from a "Birds & Blooms" magazine reader (Dec-Jan 2011, p. 10) to put a strand of 20 large outdoor Christmas lights in an acrylic bowl hanging a few inches below the feeder.
So far, it is working better than the spot lights did, and is keeping the nectar from freezing, even with
temperatures in the teens.

~ Snow days ~
Early this morning, a hummer hung out on one of the feeders above the lights for a good half hour when the temperature was 25 degrees.
This hummer, which I believe is a juvenile Rufous, has been visiting my feeders for about a week.
"El Nino" enjoying the warmth of Christmas lights, Dec. 7. 2011.
 Courtesy photo: Lisa Moore.
"El Nino" eating during a snow storm snow Dec. 7, 2011.
Courtesy photo: Lisa Moore
The photo on the left is not the clearest of the photos, but one of my favorites because it shows El Nino on the feeder, snow falling around him, barely tolerating two house finches who wanted to warm up and steal a little of the nectar. 
Two different hummers were here two weeks ago. I think they were Black-chinned, but I couldn't get a good look at their colors.
I really love hummingbirds, and while it takes a bit of work and creative thinking in the winter, I enjoy them so much and consider it a privilege to help these little guys make it through.
When not rescuing hummingbirds, Lisa Moore is a nurse who spends her spare time gardening, at church and Bible study, at the gym and reading.

Photos and content submitted by Lisa Moore, exclusively for

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Coming Dec. 10: Helping unexpected winter guests

You may have missed In Search of Ponies this week in the Clovis News Journal and Portales News Tribune, but be sure to look for it next week, with tips on hosting an unexpected winter guest.
Dec. 10, In Search of Ponies will explore the plight of frosty hummingbirds and how you can help keep them hovering.
In the meantime, if you find yourself getting a little bored and stir crazy, it's a great time to pour a cup of cocoa, wrap up in your favorite blanket and cruise the archives for past articles.
Keep your pooches warm and dry, have fun breaking ice for your larger furry friends (the back side of an ax is very helpful in times like these) and be safe!

Animals can eat themselves to death

As featured Nov. 26, 2011, on

Feeling a little stuffed?
Having just survived the Thanksgiving holiday, you may be beating yourself up from that comfy spot on the couch, filled with guilt about how much food you managed to consume despite your best intentions.
Even sitting there with your belt loosened, entertaining the thoughts tumbling around in your head about another trip to the fridge, you know you'll stop before you actually die, right?
Good, that means at least you're not like a sheep, who can overeat to the point of a very painful demise.
Turns out there are a lot of animals out there who eat too much, some even eating their way to death, as farmers can attest when they find sheep and goats thrashing bloated on the ground.
In their cases, a pesky disease causes them to not have a time-to-stop-munching meter.
But there are others who power graze, such as horses, who, if they manage to find their way to the feed room unchecked, will suck in grain like it's their last meal on earth only to end up with a heck of a bellyache that can lead to sleepless nights for owners and sometimes even worse for the horse.
That would be kind of like sticking your head in the fridge and not withdrawing it until it's empty — but we all know we can at least make the leftovers last a week or so.
Many fish on the other hand, don't do leftovers. They will eat whatever they're given... every scrap of it, in fact. Surprisingly, the eventual result isn't them being weighed to the bottom. To the contrary, they float to the top.
Dogs, as a general rule, inhale whatever is in front of them, stopping only when they become so full they are uncomfortable, which explains why they tend to look like barrels with little heads and feet attached as they get older.
Frogs get in such a hurry to eat sometimes that they catch little rocks and chunks of wood instead of bugs and end up dying because they're, well for lack of a better description, corked.
Panda bears spend up to 16 hours eating each day, putting down as much as 40 pounds of food, or almost a fourth of their body weight. Luckily for them, they're wired in such a way that most of the food passes through their systems and only part of it goes to the spare tire.
Even if not overeating into oblivion, there are other animals out there that don't watch the daily recommended percentages either.
Interestingly, a recent study showed that rather than overeating starchy and fatty foods to get a little protein as humans do, mountain gorillas overeat in the opposite direction, consuming more high-protein food sources for most of the year in an effort to get their carbs and fat.
Closest to humans, lab rats, according to a study last year, develop a compulsive love of high fat and sweet foods that is comparable to a heroin addiction, driving them to grow quickly obese. But they don't go to the point of eating themselves to an immediate death, perhaps knowing that to do so, means no more bacon or cheesecake.
So rest comfortably in knowing you are not the only one in the animal kingdom who maybe eats a little more than they should sometimes — and unless you plan to keep shoveling till Christmas or eat until you're rolling around in the front yard bleating in pain — enjoy the feast season.
After all, why should the turkey be the only one at the table who's stuffed?