Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wait Till She Sees...

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reservoir Woods, Roseville

I go on a lot of walks -- maybe 15-25 miles a week. Although I'd rather bound through an off-leash dog park, it's the leash for me, most days.

The boys take me to DQ for cones or to Choo Choo Bob's to buy little trees for their diorama projects. Dave takes me for a daily spin around the neighborhood at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. Susan and I usually head to the river walk, various city parks or, when I am a really good dog (or if she ate too many of Susan's Chocolate Chip Cookies), to the woods.

One my favorite urban woods is Reservoir Woods in Roseville, Minnesota. It is a hidden slice of heaven nestled between Dale Ave. and Victoria Ave. north of Larpenteur Ave. map

You may have driven by the little parking lot on the north side of Larpenteur Ave. just past Roselawn Cemetery on your way to Linders Garden Center -- that is if you like to dig in the dirt as much as my Susan. (I think she was a dog in a previous life...although she never barks at squirrels...just at Boy #1 and Boy #2 at chore time).

Reservoir Woods is a working 30 million gallon reservoir managed by the City St. Paul. Not that you'd know it, of course. All that is underground. But they picked the spot for the reservoir because it is one of the highest, hilliest spots in Roseville.

On the surface is a 120 acre park with a myriad of paved and soft trails through pine forests, savanna and wetlands. If you look at the trail map, you'll see it's actually three kitty-corner tracts of land -- there's even a tunnel under Dale Avenue connecting the two main pieces. There are lots of routes, if you leave the main asphalt trail. Make no bones about it, Reservoir Woods is a lovely, peaceful place and a great workout for human and dog alike.

There's an off-leash dog park here too. (Although I don't think Reservoir Woods is where Quentin Tarantino filmed his movie Reservoir Dogs.) It is actually an odd five acres for a dog park. It is fenced along the dry side but open to wetlands on the other. Fun!

Except that the swamp is protected wildlife habitat. I know this because there is a sign telling the dogs to stay out of the wetlands. Right. That's like leaving the door to the butcher shop wide open with a sign saying, "Please Do Not Steal the Porkchops."

Of course, with all that delicious stinky mud and consequent b-a-t-h, we mostly skip the off-leash part. The real draw of Reservoir Woods is the maze of trails over wooded hills.

We walked five miles today, mostly all alone. It was a little wet from last night's rain, but even the soft paths were easy walking as they are mostly sand, pine needles and managed with some gravel. The asphalt walking trail is the most popular with joggers, seniors walking and families. Lots of well-mannered dogs too. If you are looking for a little tranquility in the middle of Roseville, Minnesota, check it out!

trail map - Reservoir Woods (not a great map, but it gives you the idea)

Susan's Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are thousands, maybe millions, of chocolate chip cookie recipes in the world and nearly all worth eating. This one leans a little to the healthier side without evoking the seventies health-kick (say carob, see elders cringe).  Susan replaces half of the butter with canola oil and there is a cup of whole wheat pastry flour. Double vanilla improves the flavor.

As a dog, I never get to taste the chocolate chips but Susan says they are the secret.  Don't skimp - go for the good ones!

Hint: Because of the oil, this batter will be a little more moist than other recipes. Be sure to chill it before baking.

Susan's Chocolate Chip Cookies
In a large bowl, cream together:
1/2 cup butter, softened (one stick)
1/2 cup (scant) canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar

add and mix well:
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

In a smal bowl, mix together dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cup white, all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda (no lumps!)
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix together dry ingredients and wet ingredients in the large bowl. Stir in:
12 oz. Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips 

Chill the batter.
Preheat oven 375-400 degrees (know your oven!)
Drop tablespoonfuls of batter on cookie sheets  -- leaving room to spread. Parchment paper is handy.
Bake 9-11 minutes until lightly golden and just past shiny.
Makes 3-5 dozen, depending on preferred size.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Leash Laws

I can't, in all honesty, say I am a fan of leashes No surprise, I suppose. What dog would ever say, "Hey, grab that rope, tie around my neck and pull me all over the planet."

When I first got to Minnesota, I'd never walked on a leash. I knew how to sit, shake and even lie down when requested. But it takes a lot of practice and patience to keep pace, lock and step, with a biped. Once I figured out that A Walk means we walk -- not run, sniff, chase squirrels or anything else on a dog's short list -- we got it sorted out.

Leashes are important for urban animals. Not only do they keep animals and humans safe, they level the canine playing field... as long as everyone follows the rules. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being on a leash when an unleashed (lucky) dog bounds up. I don't care how friendly the owner says it is. It makes me snarl. If I am tied up, then everyone else should be too!

The other day, I saw my neighbor out walking his cat. It was bark-out-loud funny.  Cats DO NOT understand leashes. That is because their brains are the size of a a piece of dried dog food.

This is not my neighbor's cat. But it makes me laugh.

My other neighbor doesn't leash his cat. Or his dog. But he is a very good citizen.

He leashes his tortoise. 

It is a very large tortoise. So I keep my distance. And I am glad it is leashed. If tortoises ran free, it would be anarchy.

Pocket Envy

Police Report
Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird

"And in Cairns, Australia, a 51-year-old man was caught shoplifting in March, witnessed by security staff putting three limes and a package of beef tongue in his pants. When cornered, the man (like clowns exiting a clown car) pulled out an additional two onions, three trays of rump steaks and a packet of lamb forequarter chops." [Cairns Post, 3-16-10]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Up to Eleven

Spring is a busy time for unaltered animals. Bees, of course, truly do define busy -- gathering pollen dawn to dusk while dodging my lightening fast jaws. I haven't caught one yet...I think they will taste like honey.

Spring squirrels, drunk with love, spend their days leaping and chasing each other round and round tree trunks -- making some very unwise maneuvers in their pursuit of pleasure.  I will catch a pair soon... just give me time...and it will give "Lovers' Leap" a whole other meaning.

Birds generally hold no interest for me -- except for pigeons and the occasional beached duck which seem fairly rodent-like in their plumpness. But I'm no bird dog.

However, on the dial of spring fervor, birds are definitely "up to an eleven" -- in the words of Spinal Tap's Nigel.

"This one goes up to eleven."

When spring birds aren't singing like Wagnerian sopranos, pounding on aluminum siding and gutters like crazed Woody Woodpeckers, or dog-fighting Red Baron-Roy Brown-style -- they are house shopping.

Each spring, we sit on the deck and watch the birds house hunt on our little urban estate. You'd think the birds would remember, "Oh, yes, this was an excellent nest box last summer. And it is move-in ready!" Or, "This nest spot was a disaster when it rained-- best not try THAT again." But each year, they consider it all again with fresh, beady bird eyes.

Some years ago, Susan and Boy #1 built a nest box together and stuck it on the north corner of the garage.

By putting on a chickadee-sized metal ring over the door, it allows entry only to those small songbirds and not pesky invasives like house sparrows. The metal ring also prevents any rodents from chewing it wider for their own purposes. Tiny songbirds only.

So far, no wrens have signed a lease. No one turns it "up to eleven" like a warbling house wren -- they sing like angels on crack. But if you have a wren nesting in the neighborhood, that's all you'll have. They are more territorial than I am.  Wrens are spend their free time destroying eggs and nestlings of all the neighbors. They'd make great mob hit men. But wrens like brushy cover and the edges of woods, so they haven't asked for showing of the nest box.

We've had better luck with black-capped chickadees who nested two-year's running and may make a new offer soon. Chickadees are cute and personable - very desirable tenants.

But chickadees would drive any realtor mad. They return over and over again to check out the box, measure the floorplan, and scope out the neighborhood. Or maybe they are a series of different pairs. They all look alike to me. Today, it looks like a pair just might be moving in.

Right around the corner, on the east side of the garage is a free-standing nest in the climbing rose bramble under the eave.

No one really remembers who built it. It's like a Roman city, layers of generations built on top of the original.

Family lore tells of a sweet robin that sat patiently for days before disappearing -- leaving behind the heartache of blue eggshells on the sidewalk. Scruffy house sparrows sporadically weave in bits of trash on clumps of dog fur from neighbor Johann. Even a mourning dove has cocked its puny little head in the nest's direction. Last summer, the takers were blue jays.

Now, blue jays have a lot to offer the eye. Blue, as you may know, is one of my favorite colors. They have a handsome substance to them...with their crests and bold voices. When they moved in last summer, my Susan was rather pleased they chose her garden. The jay couple worked diligently on home improvements and then settled in as the perfect neighbors: respectful with no loud parties.

Loud parties are hard for my Susan to take. Our street has only two college houses, one louder than the other. It isn't all that close but when there is a party, Susan seals up the windows, parks the car in the garage and puts a pillow over her head.

Mostly they are just louder and later than Susan would like. But legend has it that one dark night some drunken idiot opened the back gate and defecated a rather large pile in the middle of their cobblestone sidewalk -- right under the Roman bird nest, in fact. So Susan is sure civilization is in danger whenever the college students party.

The blue jay couple seemed very civilized when they first moved in. The pair worked together and hunkered down on the nest. We all liked their company peering out from the roses. Weeks passed peaceably.

But everything changed when the blue jay spawn hatched. Parenthood transformed those blue jays into Hitchcockian psycho birds.  They screeched and dive-bombed anything that thought about entering the back half of the yard -- including ME! And let me tell you, they are FAST. Blue jays attack from behind, smacking encroachers' heads with nasty little claws and screaming terrible bird words.

The family coped. I stayed on the deck. They took to wearing a batting helmet to take out the trash. In a few weeks, the jay family flew away together and peace returned.

It is fun to play god in the backyard. To entice nature, battle nature... Plant this plant. Pull that plant. Chase this rodent. Let that one live another day.

Sometimes it is hard to coexist even on a little plot of land in the city. How big of a doorway do we allow? Which family gets to sit on the nest under the eave this year? How much can we bend to share the space?

The jays came back this spring and spent a few days adding to the nest but then went away. Susan keeps saying she is going to remove the nest if she sees those jays again. But she doesn't have the heart. So the nest remains...waiting for the next renter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Carmella in Washington Town

There are many pleasures of having a learning game designer in the house.

Mainly, he works at home. Which means I have an all-day, low-demand companion who gives me Moist and Meaty® treats at lunch time after he lets me out to pee.  I would prefer, of course, that Dave worked on the deck.

Who says desk work can't be deck work?

But I do get to lounge in the attic listening to the click-clack of the keyboard and the blah blah blah of phone conversations-- very restful. Then I get a walk at 5:30 and finally my raison d'etre: DINNER. It is a good weekday life for a dog (made even sweeter because the other wage earner takes me to the dog park on Wednesdays).

Another unexpected delight of living with Dave the learning game designer is that I get to... wait for a virtual dog too!

That's right, Carmella is a character in an online game about Texas Independence. As previously noted, I am not a working dog in real life. But Carmella the virtual hound is a great guide dog. In this interactive story, I lead your avatar around 1836 Washington (yes, that's in Texas, Yankee friends).

Check it out! (You'll find me when you get to town).  Follow that dog!

Texas Independence: In Washington Town
more cool projects by Dave

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Roses are Gray, Violets are Blue

For my local readers, it is old news that Minnesota spring has come stunningly early and with no take-backs (so far). My Susan and her gardening neighbors are bemused by the loveliness and earliness of the spring flowers.

Boy #1 and Boy #2 learned long ago that a few oohs and ahhs about the garden make their dirt-caked, bramble-scratched mother beam -- so they seem suitably impressed with this year's flower show. Good boys!

Presumably, Dave has also had the beauty hit his optic nerves. But he is, after all, the founder of the I Hate Gardening Facebook group (yes, it is open to all lazy, hard-hearted souls -- just search and join, if you must).

This year, the spring garden has exploded in siberian squill. This little bulb spreads everywhere and offers the earliest burst of blue. You often see it, to nice effect, in waves of blue in the lawn. Then it dies back in time to mow or make room for all the other flowers. Blue is a relatively rare color for flowers and it is my favorite -- tied with yellow.

Now, I know some of you might be thinking: What business does a dog have writing about the blueness of siberian squill?  Dogs are colorblind! No so, gentle reader. That is a tall tale along the lines of: it takes seven years to digest chewing gum. Trust me. It takes a day. Although I have only ever sampled ABC gum from the sidewalk -- so maybe it had a head start.

Back to dog vision. We are more near-sighted than people. But that is because what is right under our noses is the only thing worth looking at. And really, whoever needed to use sight to locate a strip of bacon anyway?

But humans don't see some stuff as well as dogs can.  For one thing, we see better in dimmer light. And dogs detect motion far better than people do. So stay still, varmints -- if you value your fuzzy-wuzzy coat!

Dogs are most definitely NOT colorblind.  Admittedly, we don't see the same spectrum of color that humans see.  We have dichromatic vision rather than trichromatic vision. Blue, yellow and many shades of gray are how we see the world.

"Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray. In other words, dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue and gray. They see the colors green, yellow and orange as yellowish, and they see violet and blue as blue. Blue-green is seen as a gray. You can see what the spectrum looks like to people and dogs"  above. Psychology Today

So, I ask you human dog-toy designers, why is my Kong® RED?

Red toy, green grass?? Go fetch it yourself!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Water Lilies and Carmella on Japanese Bridge

click on image to enlarge
Content and Criticism
Water Lilies and Carmella on Japanese Bridge is a painting by Impressionist painter Claude Monet. In1883, Monet moved to Giverny with his family. In the years that followed, Monet finally found commercial success. His fortune growing, Monet was able to hire seven gardeners and devote his time to painting. Monet was exceptionally fond of painting controlled nature. His gardens with its water lilies, pond, and bridge became favorite subjects that he depicted in varying light, and weather conditions.

As with his Haystacks series, Monet painted this Japanese bridge many times to capture different points of view and at different times of the day. Water Lilies and Carmella on Japanese Bridge is the only time he included his lovely brown dog Carmella -- even though the bridge was her favorite basking spot. She often lay there watching the fish nuzzling the lily pads below and she enjoyed barking at frogs.

Monet with Carmella and their gardens at Giverny 

Some scholars say Monet named his dog Carmella after his beloved first wife Camille. Certainly Carmella cheered Monet. The ever-faithful hound was always at his side while he painted - except when distracted by varmints. She can be seen in other works of Monet, including one in the haystack series.

More Art Hound (by artist)
Claude Monet'sWater Lilies and Japanese Bridge

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Historical Dramatizations

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hotel for Dogs

My favorite blogger Daughter Number Three goes on quirky little road trips and makes you want to go too. She just got back from Dickeyville, Wisconsin, apparently a gold mine of odd stops.

As a follow-up, Daughter Number Three got thinking about her new hotel rating system. And that got me thinking about mine. For me, it comes down to one thing: will they have me?

It is sometimes hard to find places to stay that welcome dogs. Mostly, my family camps in a tent so it is not a problem. I love the tent! I get to sleep in the family pig pile on mounds of soft sleeping bags and warm feet.

But barreling across Nebraska, finding a hotel room is a lot more appealing than setting up the tent in the glow of the headlights. Sometimes it takes The Little Woman (Dave's iPhone) hours of searching to find hotels that welcome the canine companion and don't wrinkle my Susan's nose. But when they find one, I immediately go all Groucho and wonder: Do I really want to stay in a hotel room that would have me?

Dogs are gross. We are hairy and smelly and we pee on everything we can. This is fine in the wilderness where rains dilute and mingle the dogginess into a mellow montage. But even I feel uncomfortable in rooms where hundreds, maybe thousands, of angry chihuahuas have stayed before me.

Most hotel rooms have designated pet rooms. But does this mean they get extra cleaning?  I think not. But how can I complain? I am truly thankful that there are hotels for dogs. I would not want to be left home with the creepy cats.

The first thing my people do when they enter a hotel room is strip off the bed quilt. And really, this is best practice for any hotel room, dog-free or not. People are gross. They ooze. Trust me. My sniffer works better than any black light. You really don't want to sit on that quilt. Stick with the things that get laundered. 

For the record, I don't pee in hotel rooms. And my people bring my doggie bed along.  They cover the end of the bed for me with my blanket. They don't leave me unattended -- that isn't me barking hysterically next door. But, as with all things human and canine, manners come in all shapes and sizes. So more power to hotels that tolerate.

"I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member." - Groucho Marx

Friday, April 2, 2010

Leaping Ability

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street