Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wheatgrass for the Guinea Pigs

At the end of February, my sister Joy started a new project - growing wheatgrass for our pets Moonball and Walnut. We live in a condo building, and usually have a hard time getting fresh grass. We do mostly small container gardening in the balconies. We give our guinea pigs some inexpensive leafy vegetables, but they're not a substitute for fresh, sweet grass. So Joy did her homework, and discovered a very good tutorial on There are also many blogs that have excellent how-to videos and directions as well.

It was a challenge finding the seeds. At first Joy went to a feed store and bought oat groats, but only a small percentage of that sprouted and grew. She later remembered that Healthy Options Shangri-la had a selection of organic grains for sale. She found some Bob's Red Mill brand "Hard Red Winter Wheat Berries" and "Hard Red Spring Wheat Berries" which were being sold for P169 per 2-lb pack. Oddly this was a better price than what was being offered at Manila Seedling Bank.

The grains are soaked (and drained, and soaked, and drained) for anywhere from 8 hours to 18 hours. They are later spread on potting mix or shredded newspaper in small recycled take-out containers, and left to grow, covered, in a dark area until they sprout and etiolate (grow pale grass shoots without sunlight). After some time the shoots are transferred to an area with indirect sunlight, and the grass shoots eventually turn green. They are spray-watered several times a day. By the time the grass reaches 5-7" it is ready to harvest. Joy does staggered plantings so she has a harvest every day, or every other day. A serving of wheatgrass in a low take-out tray is enough to feed the guinea pigs - it's only meant to be a treat, since they have pellets for daily sustenance.

One day instead of cutting the wheatgrass and putting it in a bowl, we decided to give Moonball and Walnut the entire tray. They loved it!

The mowed-down grass, root system and potting mix are then shredded and returned to our little compost bin for later re-use. We've tried growing some wheatgrass in A4-sized low plastic containers for wheatgrass juice, but the yield was quite low - after a spell in a Jack Lalanne juicer, we only produced about 5 oz for 2 containers' worth of grass! We fed the discarded grass from the juicer to Moonball and Walnut, so nothing was wasted. That was worth a try anyway :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sheaffer Pens Launch in Manila

One of the first things I ever bought with my first ever paycheck in the early 1990s was a Sheaffer No-Nonsense fountain pen. It was translucent purple, it had a fine nib, and best of all, I could afford it. I bought it at National Bookstore, whose Sheaffer kiosk shared space with Parker, Waterman and Cross pens. I still have this pen, and it still writes as well as ever. I also now have a handful of vintage Sheaffer pens, thanks to eBay and my pen group, Fountain Pen Network-Philippines.
In those two decades or so, fountain pen use and sales seriously declined, since Sheaffer disappeared from the stores, to be followed by Rotring and Waterman brands. Imagine my pleasant surprise one day when I read an email that 20 of us FPN-P members could sign up to attend the Sheaffer Pens Launch (held last February 21)!
Jeweler Walter A. Sheaffer started the W. A. Sheaffer Pen Company in 1912, in Fort Madison, Iowa. He wanted to create attractive fountain pens that wrote well and were easy to refill, and successfully came up with lever-filler pens. From the 1920s to the 1940s the Sheaffer lever-filler became the US industry standard; some of these pens came with a lifetime guarantee symbolized by a white dot. Sheaffer also trailblazed with revolutionary and innovative designs in nibs (the conical “Triumph” nib, the inlaid nib) and other filling systems (the Snorkel, the Touchdown). Many iconic pen models were produced throughout the years: the Balance, the Pen for Men, the Imperial, the Targa, the No-Nonsense. Since the 1960s the company has changed owners. In 1997 it was bought by its current owner, Bic USA, the American subsidiary of the French ballpoint pen manufacturer. Click here and here for a detailed history of the Sheaffer Pen Company.

So, after about 25 years, National Bookstore returns Sheaffer to its stores. Sheaffer pens are marketed from Singapore by BIC Product (Asia) Pte. Ltd. They held the launch party at The Gallery in Greenbelt 5, last February 21. The program was hosted by the lovely Daphne Osena-Paez. They borrowed fountain pens from the collections of Jose “Butch” Dalisay, Jr. and Clement Dionglay to create a historical exhibit. Daphne took the audience on a tour of the historical Sheaffer pens, to today’s current product offerings. She interviewed Butch and Clem about their how their collections started, and why they choose to write with fountain pens. There was also a raffle, at which I was one of the lucky winners. There was a confusion between the announced prize and the awarded prize, which led to me being presented a pricey Legacy Heritage instead of a Prelude. Fellow FPN-P member Caloy Abad Santos, who won the Legacy and got the Prelude instead, graciously allowed me to keep the pen. Another lucky gentleman won the Valor.
After the raffle we got to chat with Alejandro Rodriguez Tabo, General Manager for Asia. He told us that the Sheaffer pens were now manufactured in different countries (although no longer at the Fort Madison plant, which closed down in 2006), with the Valor being manufactured in Italy.


I inked the Legacy Heritage at once when I got home. It was a black lacque metal-bodied model (inspired by the Pen for Men design) with palladium plate trim, and filled via a converter. It sported a very smooth and juicy 18k medium nib. It was quite solidly built and well-balanced in the hand. I was very glad to see that this particular modern Sheaffer pen was a well-made pen worthy of Sheaffer’s long history of fine writing instruments. In fact, I made up my mind to get myself the more affordable Prelude next…

National Bookstore is the exclusive distributor of Sheaffer pens and inks in the Philippines. This blog is not affiliated with National Bookstore.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Walnut the Guinea Pig

Last Sunday, my sister Joy surprised me with a text. "Check your email for important bulletin!" I was so intrigued I immediately opened my email.
I saw this:


A walking ball of fur with eyes! "Her name is Walnut." Our other guinea pig, Moonball, is an American shorthaired cavy, so the prospect of caring for a fancier breed was exciting. Walnut is approximately 4 months old, what they call a Sheltie or Silkie. A cavy with Justin Bieber hair. My brother-in-law Tristan picked her out of a lineup at the Northeast Greenhills Sunday Market, and paid P500. He says he was enamored by her black button eyes and teddy bear looks.

Joy and Tristan decided to get another cavy to keep Moonball company, because they'd read that cavies are social animals. Moonball is now a year and a half old, so it was interesting to see how she'd bond with another cavy half her size. Walnut was skittish, and tended to run away everytime Moonball would attempt to smell or lick her. Good thing we had a couple of shelters - a huge PVC T-joint and an overturned plastic basket with cut-out sides - inside what we like to call the cavy-tat.


Eventually, Walnut's hunger forced her to leave the T-joint and join Moonball (and her bulk) at the food bowl.



At first we were concerned that Moonball would hog the food bowl, but Walnut managed to get her share of pellets.

Tristan would occasionally capture Walnut so Joy could give her a dose of Vitamin C from a syringe, and so Walnut would get used to handling and grooming. Right now she fits on Tristan's palm:


Joy also rebuilt the cavy-tat from a 2x3 to a 2x4 Stack-and-Rack cage held together with cable ties with a coro-plast box inside. The coro-plast (corrugated plastic) box is lined with an extra-large garbage bag and old newspapers, followed by a green plastic mesh floor where poop and urine could pass through. This makes it easy for us to collect the poop and newspapers for my mom's composting needs.


In the evenings after dinner we like to sit on the sofa and watch Walnut and Moonball run around or eat. Since they're still getting acquainted, there's a lot of chasing going on. Walnut is a perky little thing; despite being wary of the bigger Moonball, she has learned to spend more time out in the open instead of hiding in the T-joint all the time.

Right now Moonball is about 800 grams and is about as big as a puppy. She is well socialized with humans, so she actually enjoys being picked up and cuddled every so often. She's also potty-trained - she only pees and poops on the old newspaper folded in the corners of the cavy-tat. We're hoping Walnut catches on.
Cavies have a lifespan of about 4-6 years, given the best possible care. We plan to enjoy these two pets for as long as we can.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Two Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

I just found out via The New York Times today that Polish poet and 1996 Nobel prizewinner Wislawa Szymborska had passed away.

I had been lucky enough to buy a copy of her book, View With A Grain of Sand: Selected Poems, several years ago at a local bookstore. Later, I found that my sister also owned a copy of her Poems: New and Collected, which contained basically the same poems as in my book, but including newer works.

A former member of the Polish Communist Party, Szymborska later turned away from her early "Stalinist" work. She was also an essayist and translator. Shortly after winning the Nobel Prize, she said in a New York Times interview that although "life crosses politics... my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life." Many of her poems that I have read deal with the aftermath of war, of people rising from its ashes. Her words can be stark, but manage to convey hopefulness and sympathy.

I wanted to share here two of her poems, which I enjoyed reading:


Die -- you can't do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
In an empty apartment?
Climb up the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there's more space.
At at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they're new ones.
The hand that puts fish in the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn't start
at its usual time.
Something doesn't happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here
Then suddenly disappeared,
And stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet has been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken,
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
Just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do with a cat.
Sidle towards him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.


Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
That we arrive here improvised
And leave without the chance to practice.

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is offered only once.

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with exactly the same kisses.

One day, perhaps, some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.

The next day, though, you're here with me
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay
Today is always gone tomorrow.

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.

(translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh,
from "View with a Grain of Sand", Harcourt Brace & Co., 1995)

There are more translations of Szymborska's poems online on the Polish-American Network,, and the State University of New York (Buffalo).