27 January 2013

Made With Paper: initial sketches

A few weeks back, my youngest sister shoved her iPad under my nose and asked me to try out the Paper app.  Since she doesn't draw, she wanted me to populate her Paper Sketchbook on the iPad.

I was never under any delusion that I could draw amazing stuff from memory, and most of the things I sketch, I sketch using a photo or an actual model/sculpture as a visual reference. So my sister asking me suddenly to draw something somehow made me feel I was in a bit of a tight spot.

Because I was hungry, rather cranky, and craving for sweets, the first thing I drew was this:

Sketch by Gina Sales, 2013

Not my best sketch, obviously, but Steffi looked pleased and asked for another one. (I swear, younger sisters can take on this demanding attitude sometimes. I don't know why I oblige.)

When all else fails, and I can't think of anything to draw, I make trees.  I must be the laziest 'tree-maker' around, because all the trees I make are barren.

Sketch by Gina Sales, 2013

Had some difficulty using the Paper App at first, but one can get used to it. Too bad the free version only allows me to use a standard pen tool, eraser and basic color palette.  Buying the pencil tool and the watercolor brush would cost me $2.58 each, and I wasn't that ready to commit to an App yet. I still had my Moleskine sketch book and tech pen, thank you very much.

But when I casually posted the tree sketch on Facebook, I was pleasantly surprised that people came up to me and actually said that they liked my tree. Wow. Had no idea sketching on an empty stomach can create something likeable. 

At any rate, this Paper App is turning out to be loads of fun. The degree of control isn't as great as holding an actual pen, but it works. At least I have a better reason to use an iPad these days.

16 January 2013

Happy birthday, blog!

Wow, my blog turns 7 years old today!

I can't believe it's been that long. As the years progress, I write less and less--not that there's much to write in my opinion (okay, maybe that too) since I don't lead a super exciting life, but because I suppose my aging thirty-something self has too much to do. Work is tough and keeps me busy, and what little leisure time I have left I spend reading or taking care of my hamster. Or just hanging out. Or downloading US TV shows. Or just uploading photos of my travels on Facebook and Flickr because I'm always paranoid of losing my photos, lol.

I feel like I'm always catching up on things, making sure that the little details of my life are captured, whether through photos or iPhone videos or that shamelessly useful thing called social media--so that I always have something to look back on when I grow old. And it's this blog that always suffers, because, face it, not everyone these days has time to write (unless you're a writer, which I'm most emphatically not).

I still look at my past entries, and depending on the post or my mood at that time, I either cringe now, or smile with joy. Some entries I'm proud of, some aren't definitely my best writing moments--but they're all here so I won't forget.

I have this inane fear of forgetting things, and so I need to capture whatever I can. May this blog always keep that fear at bay.

03 January 2013

Choosing her crib

This is what Ginny's cage looks like today, more or less. It wasn't like that 9 months ago, as you can already gauge from the photos in my previous post.

Taken before Christmas 2012. As of January 2013, the ladder's been removed, and there's a new chewable log treat that's been added in. P.S. Ginny looking very alert and curious here.

This is what her cage looked like when I first got it from a local supplier. The cage came with the tubes, the stairs, the water bottle, the green bowl and pink house. I got the pink hamster wheel from a hamster/small animal carrier which I also bought. The orange mineral stone and the bedding are of course also purchased separately.

Her cage is on those first few days. Ginny resting in her sleeping spot on the tubes as always.

The cage has seen several changes over the past few months, as I keep replacing or moving around the furniture to keep Ginny from being bored, but mainly also to find the layout that suited her needs best. There are more than a dozen factors I obsess about when it comes to Ginny's cage in order for her to get the best kind of hamster care I can get, and I'll be telling you more about that.

One of my favorite cage layouts in the first few months, and then I was forced to remove the pink house  (another story in itself.)

But first of all: the hamster cage.  Before getting Ginny, I scoured the internet for a long time for local suppliers who had the kind of hamster cages I wanted. It was clear to me what cages I was looking for, and if you're a good hamster owner, you would consider these 3 main factors: size, ventilation, and layout.


Most people assume that just because your hamster is a small pet means that it only needs a small cage. This is probably one of the worst things you can do to your pet hamster.  So the advice is: get a cage that's as big as possible. Hamsters need room to run about, nest, burrow, and do their thing. In the wild, they run for miles, looking for food and then tunneling their way below ground to hoard their grains.

A lot of hamster owners, especially those in Germany, the US, UK, and Canada, recommend 360 square inches as the minimum cage space for one's hamster. Unfortunately here in the Philippines, one is hard-pressed to find really decent hamster cages that size, and I was in agony for a long time searching for a proper-sized one. (I envy hamster owners in Western countries!).  It was good that I managed to finally find a cage (the one that you're seeing in the photos) that offered enough space for Ginny.

Its floor space, if you consider both first and second levels, is around a total of 290 square inches. It may be 70 square inches shy from the recommended 360 square inches but those 290 square inches don't even include the tubes yet. The tubes are super important to me (and to a hamster's overall well-being), so I feel that the tube space adds significant value to the cage I got. All in all, I don't think I've deprived Ginny of decent space--although I know I could do better, if I had a bigger apartment. Maybe someday, I can link another cage to the main one so that she has more room for running around and whatnot.

Ginny has a small cage which doubles as a carrier, where I put her while her main cage is being cleaned. Naturally, I put my little critter in a place that's safe and contains familiar stuff (e.g. her toys, water bottle, and food bowl), so that she's properly distracted as I scrub and rinse her big cage for 2-3 hours.

Ginny stays inside her carrier for 2-3 hours while I clean her big cage.

Ginny has already stuffed her cheek pouches with food while biding time inside her carrier.

This was what her carrier looked like when I brought Ginny home from the pet store 9 months ago. :)

Most hamster owners--the irresponsible kind, I should say--would normally use this kind of carrier as the pet's main cage, which is completely cruel. If you're getting a hamster for the first time, please don't get this small a cage for your pet.  If I were a hamster living in a space as tiny as Ginny's carrier, I'd die of boredom and despair.


The best hamster cages are, in my opinion, made by German pet owners. They believe in offering the most natural-looking habitat for their pet hamsters, and the IKEA Detolf and Expedit shelf models are really popular amongst German hamster owners. You can find amazing examples online on how IKEA shelf units are converted into hamster cages.  Floor space is usually massive when using a Detolf or Expedit, and the Germans certainly don't seem to scrimp on hamster cage space. I wouldn't be surprised if the 360-sq. in. floor space policy originated from a German.

The only thing that is holding me back from getting an aquarium or glass-style cage for Ginny is not really the size but the ventilation. Aquariums offer poor ventilation for those small animals living in a tropical country.  Nor are purely plastic cages (which a lot of US-based hamster owners are fond of) necessarily the best. They don't provide good ventilation as well, and it's easy for hamsters in tropical countries like the Philippines to die of a heat stroke if they're living in plastic cages.  Aquariums and plastic cages only work for those living in cold climates.  So unless you're willing to switch on the A/C for your hamster 24/7, please do not get an aquarium or a plastic cage if you live in a country with year-round tropical weather.

The best type then would be a wire cage with a plastic bottom to hold the base bedding and all the hamster stuff. Wire cages provide really good ventilation for Syrian hammies, and I've seen my Ginny sleep like a baby in her cage all the time whether under semi-humid or cold conditions. There's an electric fan right beside her cage, so that she always gets a nice breeze.  And at night, she enjoys the A/C like the rest of us humans.  Whenever I'm not at home, I'm forced to switch off the fan, of course. But before I leave, I place a solid frozen ice pack (the hard plastic kind, NOT the gel one) on top of the cage so that the cool air travels down to her cage, and she gets to enjoy a cool atmosphere for hours.  The ice pack, which I keep inside the freezer whenever I'm not using it, does last for several hours, and I'm usually back at home after work to give her the fan breeze that she likes. I've contemplated getting a rechargeable fan with an auto timer one of these days, so that I can leave a fan switched on beside her cage while I'm out of the house.


There are hamster cages that offer one, two or multiple levels. There are those with tubes, and there are those with none. The way hamster cages look these days depends on how the pet owner cares about their hammy's 'lifestyle.'

I read up a lot on hamster's burrowing tendencies even before I got Ginny, because I was concerned about how much deep bedding I can offer to my hamster and I honestly wanted my pet to be able to burrow as much as he/she wanted. When I had Joey, he had a smaller cage than Ginny (forgive me, Joey--I was younger then and I didn't know much about hamster care back then as much as I do now *sad face*), and I wasn't able to give him enough space for burrowing.  More about bedding in future posts--but essentially, I just wanted to get a wire cage that had a deep enough plastic bottom so I could give Ginny loads of bedding.

Ginny loves burrowing. At the time I took this photo, I haven't even finished filling up the cage to its maximum bedding depth!

Fortunately, the wire cage I got allowed for 3.5 to 4 inches of bedding in terms of depth, which made me happy. The barest required minimum is a depth of 2 inches, and one can go even more than 10 inches in depth.  Hardcore German hamster owners construct 2 or 3 layers of glass or wooden shelves so that their hammies can get as much as 12 inches worth of burrowing.

However, many of these German-owned hamster cages don't normally include tubes. I read on several internet sites that hamsters in the wild usually assign different holes or burrows for specific needs. One burrow is for their nesting/sleeping area, another for their food, and still another for their toilet. Aside from the cage's 4-inch bedding depth capacity, I was able to give Ginny tubes which brought out her natural burrowing instincts.

She loved the tubes right away. So much so, that I could immediately tell that she chose a spot for her sleeping area, another spot where to hoard all the food she collects from her food bowl, and the most downward part of the tube which she uses as a potty. It's very intelligent of her to choose that particular place for her toilet needs because it was far away from her bed and food area--and any pee or poop that she might have excreted doesn't get mixed into her hoarded stash at all. Ginny's also clever enough to block the end of that tube (where her potty is) with a thick layer of bedding, so that any pee smell is immediately absorbed by the bedding and prevents the rest of the cage from smelling. In fact, if you stick your face right inside Ginny's cage and take a good whiff, you can hardly smell anything weird at all.

I'm pretty lucky to have a neat freak of a pet. She's totally into hygiene. I barely saw the need to potty train her because she already had the proper hamster instincts in keeping her home clean.

Once you've observed your hamster designate certain spots for basic needs, it becomes easier for you to fix the rest of the cage layout, so that you can create a fun, liveable space around those needs.

Will do a 'cage tour' kind of post next time to describe Ginny's home more in detail. :)

02 January 2013

Meet Ginny

Why is it that I always have the energy to start the new year with a new blog post?  And then that energy wanes and peters out as the year progresses. Work can kill all that extra energy I must say.

I've been way behind in all my blog posts, and I've been meaning to tell you all about Ginny.  Now that she's 9 months old, I suppose I really should start writing.

Remember that dream I had about Joey, my first hamster?  Those recurring dreams of my beloved Joey affected me so much, I realized that I missed having a hamster. I haven't had a hammy for more than a decade now, and I felt it was high time to get another one.

I got Ginny at a pet store on April 1, 2012.  I wasn't planning to get a female Syrian hamster because females have a more excitable, agitated temperament, and I was sort of looking for another Joey--the laid back kind.  But none of the boys in the litter really got my attention, and so I turned to look at the next bin, where the females were. (By the way, pet stores aren't really the best places for animals, especially sensitive ones like hamsters. These stores can be borderline heartless when it comes to taking care of pets.  That was why I felt compelled to rescue a hamster from the pet store rather than get one from a breeder.)

And then I saw her. She was one of the plumper ones, but her weight didn't stop her from scurrying about.  While her litter mates were just snoozing away or hiding inside the tunnel, she was all over the place, an active little one.

I loved her the moment I clapped eyes on her.  She's a Syrian hamster, with a white and brown band--exactly like Joey. Her coat looked more orangey than brown, and that reminded me of the Weasleys of the Harry Potter books with their carrot colored hair.  And because she's a girl, I named her Ginny after Ginny Weasley. Some people think I named her after myself. (Gina? Ginny?).  I say--WTF.

Before I got Ginny, I had to prepare for her arrival in a big way.  As any decent hamster owner would, I had to buy her cage, food and accessories first before bringing her home.  Because hamsters get stressed easily when moving to a new environment, you need to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. I set up the cage and everything else before going out with my small animal carrier to choose a hammy. And where I live, I'm fortunate enough to be 15 minutes away from the pet store. As such, the travel time for Ginny wasn't bad at all. When Ginny finally arrived, she took to her new home right away, and that was a huge relief. At that time, she was already around 3 weeks old--and most probably ready to be weaned from her litter mates.

Here are her first photos in her real home:

Negotiating the stairs

...and finding it fun.

She learns to drink from the bottle for the first time.

Food, glorious food! She probably realized she no longer has to share food with her litter mates.

With Joey, I regret not having a point-and-shoot to record his life. I mostly shot video footage of him on a digicam, and now I don't know where those tapes are. :( 

I'm afraid the next few blog posts will all be about Ginny and proper hamster care. So if you folks feel like tuning out, that's okay.  I suppose these Ginny-related posts will appeal more to hamster owners looking for tips on how to care for hamsters in the right way, and I just want to do my bit. After all, the internet has also become my resource when searching for hamster-related topics.

Hamster care has progressed dramatically in the past decade; most of the cages, bedding, food, and accessories that I'm able to get now were not available then. I'm still amazed by the array of choices in the market today. In many ways, Ginny is luckier than Joey--although they share equal places in my heart. :)