Monday, April 25, 2011

Quotes from a Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Those of us who work in the zoo field become accustomed to things that most people just don't see in a regular day...or lifetime. Here is a glimpse into the daily conversations that simply don't (and shouldn't!) happen anywhere else. If you're part of the zoo world yourself, you are probably already familiar with quotes like these:

Rather exuberantly: "When the chicks are frozen, you can pop their heads right off!"

"Will you pass me that fish head, please?"

"What kind of pee is in the hallway?"

"Sorry I can't do that right now--I have to take the armadillo to a birthday party."

"Let me change my shoes really fast because the kookaburra hates these boots."

And try asking this question in the office to see how many volunteers you get: "Who wants to eat these beetles?!"

Aan aadorable aardvark does, aamong others.

More zoo posts to come!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Guest Blogger: Herald the Dog

Hello Blog-fans,
My name is Herald, and I'm a dog. Not just any dog--I'm a famous zoo dog. Over a year ago I started working with the kind keepers at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater in Tacoma, Washington who hired me to help them with their program.

So far, I've been doing a great job; the zookeepers are really learning a lot. I spend my days training the them to make funny noises, to feed me peanut butter and string cheese, and to act as the cast and crew for my live animals program.

This show is a BIG deal. At least five well-trained humans need to be present or I won't even attempt it, which is why we only do the whole program in the busy season here at the zoo.

During the program I go rafting,

and I take a hot air balloon ride.
Oh, and there are some other animals in the show, too, just to entertain the fans during my costume changes.

Check out the latest behavior I've taught the keepers here. These humans are pretty amazing, aren't they?

At night I send the trainers home to recuperate for the next day's sessions while I keep an eye on the Wild Wonders building and all of the other animals. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say a lot of them are bird-brained, and they really need looking after. Plus, there's that sneaky lynx who lives down the hall...I know he's up to something...

Life wasn't always all warm laps and Snausages though. I don't like to elaborate on my experiences before Wild Wonders, but I spent some long nights on the streets, on the run from the dog-catchers, begging for kibble. That's right: I'm a pound puppy. I'm not ashamed about my lack of pedigree. Even in the hard times, I knew I was destined for greatness.

Here's the real heart of the matter, Blog-fans. Just think what might have become of me--ME, Herald the celebrated conservation hero and all-around Wonder Dog--if some wise humans hadn't picked me to bring into their lives. I won't get all mushy about it because I'm not that kind of dog. But if you're thinking of adding a new friend to your family, visit your local shelter or humane society.

Give mutts a chance.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Brownie Toolboxes: A Degree in Architecture Would Have Helped

Although roses and florets are attractive cake decorations, they don't exactly shout "manliness!" so for my brother-in-law's birthday I decided to attempt the decidedly more macho toolbox cake. I found numerous well-executed toolbox cakes online and I used these as inspiration, though my skills aren't advanced enough for most of the techniques.

My end results, a mini cake and a mini-er cake, looked like this:

Honestly, they're not great cakes. But they're a heckuva lot better than what I would have predicted in the middle of the decorating process.

I started by tracing the tools from a coloring page (supplied from a Latter Day Saints lesson plan about ancient and modern tools) using melting chocolate, with mixed results.

Clearly the sizing wasn't to scale, since no screwdriver and sledgehammer should be of equal length. The tape-measure looked like it should be keeping the sun out of a center-fielder's eyes, and the wrenches looked like lobsters. But some of the tools were cute, so I was not discouraged.

I baked a batch of gluten-free brownies.

Denser than the gluten-free cakes I normally make, the brownies SHOULD have been easier to cut into an exact rectangle. They were not. The disaster began. The brownies cracked in places I didn't want them to crack and stuck together in places I didn't want them to stick together.

While the lumps of brownie that did not in any way resemble toolboxes cooled, I made icing. Well...I made a substance akin to icing. I used a new  recipe and had to substitute butter for shortening, which was most certainly an error. Then the lack of a hand mixer made it impossible to really cream the butter, so it was too thin and didn't crust fast enough.

At this point, I stacked the blobs of brownies, secured them with icing in between and tried to shave off some of the edges to give them sharp corners, like boxes. I re-purposed some of the pieces that had been shaved off by smashing them into crevices that didn't belong there.

Less than inspiring.

The situation was not improved when I tried to color the icing. With a rudimentary knowledge of color-mixing, I assumed that if I put a little of my black icing coloring into some white icing, I would get gray. Contrary to any kindergarten curriculum, black and white mixed together made purple.

Combine the coloration with the uncooperative consistency of the icing and the uneven edging and you get something that does not even vaguely approximate a toolbox. The tiny cake I made from the extra bits, with dimensions of about 4x2x2, escaped the purple, but not the lumpy texture.

To remedy, or at least mediate, the purple icing, I brushed the whole cake with a special sugary powder called luster dust that has a shine, so it would look a little metallic. Then I drew a "straight" line all the way around in black.

Adding a handle, a lock and some plates on the corners suddenly turned the purple metal lump into something that was at least related to a toolbox.

The tiny yellow cake was similarly rescued.

Glue a few recognizable chocolate tools to the cake and voila!

It's a small lump of edible (really tasty, actually) brownies that loosely impersonates a toolbox!

The icing consistency, while terrible for covering a cake smoothly, more than suffieced for writing.

Add few more chocolate tools for the finishing touch.

To be fair to the cakes, they surprised me by suddenly morphing into toolboxes at the last minute, which was a relief. I'm trying to learn to reserve judgment/despair in the middle of the cake decorating process, since the cakes always seem to transform themselves into the intended object rather abruptly.

In the end I was happy to give the cakes to my wonderful brother-in-law, who deserved every bite.