Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sophie's Ears

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Blue Jay Tweens

Our blue jays are tweens!

More about the birds:

Halfalogues and the Search for Intelligent Life

You may have caught a recent article about the annoyances of halfalogues (the half-conversation of some idiot yakking on his cell phone). Cornell researchers found that when you need to concentrate, having a halfalogue intruding into your happy place was more annoying than any other kind of talking -- including monologues.

Although, I ask you: How well would you concentrate if some wacko was carrying on a monologue while you were trying to... say... multiply out a recipe... or diffuse a bomb? But apparently, a halfalogue would be much, much worse.

My Susan would also say that two-way conversations as background noise are often just as irritating when you need to concentrate. Like when she was trying to birth Boy#2 and the doctors kept talking about their cabin improvements. Or when she had to get a shot stuck into her spinal cord (while AWAKE) and the medical personnel kept up a constant blather about cars. As she tells it, their chatter made it very hard for her to get the job done.

Then again, her annoyance probably had more to do with her general loathing of medical procedures and the general feeling of powerlessness that goes along with them. I know I hate it when the groomers chat about weekend plans when they are trimming my nails!

My blogging mentor Daughter Number Three posted her reaction to the halfalogue research: Halfalogue -- More than a Annoying Neologism. I first read this as "Halfalogue -- More Annoying than Neologism" -- which is a little more global and I thought, Wow! That IS annoying! (Although I secretly rather like neologism -- once Dave explained to me what it is).

But why, you ask, are halfalogues so annoying to people? Why are they so hard to tune out? The researchers think that when people can't predict speech patterns it prevents them from ignoring halfalogues. They can tune out two-way conversations and monologues just fine because they follow familiar cadences.

Speech patterns are important to me too. In fact, I mostly listen to voice patterns and tone -- even though I know plenty of words. To conserve my energy, I have trained my people to switch to higher, ultra-excited tones if they have something really worth listening to. "MELLY! Want to go for a WALKIE?"

I admit I spend a lot of time tuning people out. Blah blah blah blah blah... People talk a LOT. (And to think I get snapped at if I need to vocalize!) But since I need to monitor human communications for key words such as CARMELLA, TREAT, WALK, GO, I can't tune them out completely. I am sort of like SETI -- ears always scanning the airwaves for sounds of intelligent life. For example, "LET'S GO TO THE DOG PARK!"

SETI telescope array

To be perfectly honest, halfalogues of people on cell phones don't interest me in the least. I can tune them out just fine. I'm not stupid. If there is a phone, computer, TV, iPod, iPad or any other electronic device in contact with my people, there is nothing in it for me. It is my cue to power down and take a nap.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ted's Seat

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

25 Cents Can Cause Pee In Your Pants Hilarity

Who needs to spend ten bucks for a movie? A quarter is all you need for unlimited entertainment - if you have a squirt of super glue and some bushes to hide in. And you are a boy between the ages of five and fifteen.

Simply glue a quarter to the sidewalk and hide. And watch innocent people break their stride as they spot it. Their eyes light up. They look side to side to be sure it is theirs and theirs alone. Then they reach to pluck it.

Whole families give it a try. Scuff marks on the sidewalk reveal the determination, the tenacity of the average American. But no one falls for it more than once.

There really is nothing funnier for my boys. Well, other than a whoopee cushion which was hilarious until one of them jumped on it. No, you do not get the loudest fart EVER. It simply bursts.

Quiet Confidence

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chick Magnet Garage

As you may already know from past posts Up to Eleven (April 20, 2010) and Time to Get the Batting Helmet Out (May 18, 2010), my little estate has become quite the bird nursery. Our garage is a chick magnet! We've got blue jay chicks on east side and robin eggs on the north east corner. (The chickadees never moved in - after weeks of house showings... but their noisy family is close-by.)

I am still worried about the jay-robin coexistence. Either the blue jays haven't figured out the robins are there (and how dumb can the little birdbrains be) or they don't see the robins as a threat. But certainly the robins must be worried about the jays. For the time being, they confine themselves to dive-bombing each other and leave it at that.

The blue jays got the head start. You can just see the jay on the nest in this photo. It was hard for Susan to get a good angle  - with the garage eave and the dive-bombing. But you get a nice feel of the thorny layers. Nobody is going to raid that nest! But tell that to the parents.

The jays attacked the camera...
OK, Susan was on a ladder peering in.

But look how cute the little blue jay quads are! 
(They are panting because it is very hot - 90+ today.)

The robins are still sitting on eggs.

I think they wish their nest was neater 
but yard lights don't make the best base.
Don't worry, we are keeping the lights off...

They are expecting quads too!

Happy spring! 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Dogs Say Howdy

When dogs say howdy, we dogs focus not on the face but on the other end - where all the profile info is. Dogs, in fact, would never have invented Facebook. We would have invented Buttbook. 

A mutual butt sniff is the equivalent of a human handshake, I suppose. But much more polite... and informative. 

People are terribly squeamish about butt sniffing. I have even seen dog owners at the dog park berate their dogs who are following dog etiquette with dignity and grace. Without butt sniffing, dog parks would be war zones.

We aren't the only ones who find butt sniffing the best way to get acquainted. 

(That dog is not me - even though it looks remarkably like me. We don't have javelinas at the dog parks in Minnesota, to the best of my knowledge.)

To think about dog butt sniffing in another way (and laugh hysterically, if you share my Susan's sense of humor), check out Creature Comforts America: Season One, Episode One in which two men discussing wine become two dogs sniffing another dog's rear. 

But whatever you think about butt sniffing, remember: dog olfactory bulbs are forty times bigger than humans', relative to brain size. So who's to judge?

Don't Touch My Head, I Hardly Know You!

OK, I get it. You want to pat the dog on the head. The dog stands looking up at you and you would like to give a friendly hello. For whatever reason, you would prefer to skip over the polite butt sniff.

Me: An adorable face with liquid brown eyes and velvety ears.

You: Paws with ten digits each, including opposable thumbs, 
all bursting with nerve endings.

You see it as a match made in heaven.

But the dog involved might not really enjoy you pawing at her head. And really, would YOU like it if that was how humans greeted each other? (Hey! Not the hair! Don't smear the glasses! Did you wash that hand?) There is a reason the hand shake was invented.

Dogs most certainly don't greet each other by pawing at each others' faces. Heads contain eyes and noses and are very close to throats - heads are to be protected! To meet strangers head to head would be unnerving and also might involve staring - which is terribly rude, as I have said previously. And human hands going for the head might be instead reaching for the collar which no dog really enjoys. 

So, if I duck or move away when you reach for my head, please try to see it from my point of view. Once we know each other very well, I love to have my ears rubbed - or my neck scratched right under the collar...yeeees... right there. But this is for family. Don't get up in my grill until we are better acquainted!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Don't Stare at Me

As a little brown dog, I think I can help you mind your manners and smooth canine-human relations. Some of my tips for canine etiquette may be well-known - especially if you are a dog owner. But I am amazed how many folks at the dog park still don't understand the basics of manners and common sense.

Let's start with eye contact. American humans are big into eye contact. "Look me in the eye!" parents tell their children.

Let me be clear. Don't stare at the dog. It is domineering. It is intimidating. And it is just plain rude.

If you have a dog handy - preferably one that won't bite you. Try staring intently at her eyes.  She will likely blink or look away within seconds. If you keep staring she will squirm and maybe whimper - or try to distract you with play bow or a lick. Or she might growl or snap. Depends on the dog and your relationship. But my point is, the dog doesn't like an intense stare.

(Now try staring at a cat. What does that gaze MEAN??)

Generally, when two dogs meet and aren't looking for a fight, they would never stare at each other. Or the clearly dominant dog would do - just to enforce who's the boss.

That said, some herding dogs can be tough for fellow dogs to sort out as they are bred to use a "strong eye".  I don't like it. Sheep don't like it either and often comply as soon the herder turns their laser gaze on them. (Bitzer demonstrates).

When I meet herding dogs at the dog park they often stare right at me which makes passing them on the path a dicey business. I am sometimes forced to approach turning my whole body diagonally to avoid the stare. Even play bows don't get through to them. Consequently, most herding dogs make me uncomfortable.

And most herding dogs aren't much fun to play with anyway - they just want to herd. Keep in mind, herding is just modified predatory behavior. I will not be herded.

Dogs do spend a LOT of time watching people. Watching is different. And most dogs do stare to beg. But that's completely different. Begging eyes are pleading eyes -- not domineering eyes.

In general, dog eyes are on you whether you are holding a biscuit or not. Our world depends on reading people correctly. So our eyes follow you constantly to keep up to date on your mood and your plans. But, mind you, we aren't staring to be in charge. Or, if we are, you had better watch out.

So here's the deal: When you meet a dog, turn your head, keep your gaze moving, keep it light. And for goodness sakes, don't lean over me and stick your face in mine to say hi. Don't you try looking into MY soul. We won't bond that way. If a mutual butt sniff makes you uncomfortable, give a scratch to my back or ribs. If I like you, I might even let you scratch my belly.

Ted's Shoes

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meet the Sloths

I had no idea sloths were this adorable. No good for chasing, obviously. But adorable.

Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time To Get Out the Batting Helmet

We have blue jays nesting under the eave of our garage - as previously described in some detail. Yes, the jays did indeed return for a second round. And why not? It is the perfect spot to raise a family.

Tucked under the protective overhang it is warm in the morning sun and cool as the day progresses. The nest is surrounded by a bramble of vicious rose thorns. The fenced yard is protected from cats and other predators by a loyal hound (that's me).

In fact, two robins have joined the blue jays just around the corner. They are building a lovely nest on the north side of the garage - perched on top the yard light right over the chickadee house (those picky chickadees never did move in). I am not sure how the bluejays will take to having neighbors.  They don't seem like the live and let live types.

My Susan spent the weekend gardening peacefully under the watchful eyes of soon-to-be jay parents. They were still incubating the eggs so they played it cool. Other than a moment of outrage when the new, noisy sprinkler went on, they stayed hunkered down except to go grab a bite now and then.

It has been an early spring and with last week's rain, the plants are huge - including the weeds. My Susan ripped out armloads of the things, trying desperately to find spots for her new plants. By Sunday she was pretty whipped and was standing quietly surveying her work when suddenly she screamed, "Bad word! Bad words!  BAD WORD!" (I promised myself I'd keep this blog at a G rating) and clutched her head in pain.

Those jays dive bomb from behind with full claws and beak. I know from experience! The boys heard their mother (and who didn't?) and ran out to the deck delighted, "The baby jays hatched!"

Time to get the batting helmet out. And the video camera. If someone will stop laughing long enough a decent shot.

In the meantime, check out the cute little baby cardinals on Daughter Number Three's blog.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Got Up In My Grill

The other day, I heard someone say, "She really got up in my grill!"
I wondered what she meant.

My first thought: You got in my way and got up in my grill.

Or, same idea... more traumatic for both of us.

Then it occurred to me it could be a sports reference...

Boy #1 assured me that "grill" refers to teeth. 
Like braces? 

Well... sort of. 

Grills are, in fact, fancy teeth. Jewelry. Bling.
Simply put: 
Got in my grill = Got in my face.

So, next time you see me at the dog park:
Don't get up in Carmella's grill!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Izzy's Flavor Up

Every once in awhile, technology is used to provide truly wonderful things. Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe in St. Paul has the best ice cream in the WORLD. And now, you can find out when your favorite flavor is being served by checking Flavor Up. It shows all the currently available flavors and is updated every THREE MINUTES!

Not that I am all that picky about flavors of ice cream. They all taste good right off the sidewalk. I wish they had an alert to whenever some dumb kid knocks his or her scoop to the ground. I could get there in five minutes flat, door to door.


Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

It's Glowing Cats and Dogs

I am sure Korean scientists had some worthwhile goal in mind when they cloned a litter of beagles and made them glow red by inserting fluorescent genes into them.

But don't even get me started about using dogs in experiments. That is a dark place not made any brighter by glow-in-the-dark puppies. That the scientists chose red - a color not even seen by dogs - just makes it worse. 

But I admit I felt a little grim satisfaction that they tried it on cats first. Heh.

Want the real story (and see a green monkey)? Glowing Animals: Beasts Shining for Science

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dumber Than a Box of Hair

My friend, also named Mel, uses the expression "dumber than a box of hair" to describe various people whom...well... at the very least, make choices that are annoying to her.

"Dumber than a box of hair" makes me laugh every time. It is right up there with "lost contact with the mothership" or "couldn't find their way out of a paper bag." (And everyone knows how much cats like paper bags. Don't try to tell me cats hang out so long in bags because they think they make cool forts.)

But back to the box of hair thing.

When I saw this article about people sending boxes of hair to clean up the Gulf oil spill, I though of my friend Mel and I chuckled.

According to an article in the Star Tribune:

"Nearly 200 hair salons and pet groomers are collecting their customers' hair -- or fur -- and shipping it to warehouses along the Gulf Coast. There, it's being stuffed into mesh booms that are slated to be dropped along beaches to absorb the ever-spreading oil slick from an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico."

At first, I thought, "Sure, sign me up. Shave me silly." If I could help some fellow creatures not die a horrible toxic death, I would willingly go hairless. Not that I have much to offer in locks.

There is something appealing about thousands, maybe millions, of people and pets banding together to come up with a homegrown solution that has, so far, eluded scientists, government and corporations alike. We'll show them!

Then, I closed my eyes and pictured all those boxes of hair being shipped.

That is: thousands of individual boxes of hair driven to the post office or picked up by the UPS guys, flown to the Gulf, delivered to the warehouse to be assembled into thirsty hair booms. I followed them in my mind's eye as they are loaded up again, driven to the Gulf, loaded onto boats with motors and finally dumped into the nasty oily mess.

The mess which was caused by our collective, insatiable appetite for petroleum to run our cars, trucks, planes and boats.

Suddenly, the whole well-meaning idea seemed dumber than a box of hair.

6/1/10 Follow-up and see how the whole hair boom thing worked out at Daughter Number Three's post: Make it a Hair Boomerang.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bitzer's Watching You

I have a new hero: Shaun the Sheep's dog Bitzer. He keeps those sheep in order - and does it with tenacity and flair. Shaun might be the star of the show but Bitzer gets the bone!

Cancel Each Other Out

Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen
Ballard Street

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Candle for the Dogs

I am not really into candles. Every dog knows flames of any kind are best avoided. However, I appreciate White Castle's attempt to capture the canine market. I will definitely put this item on my birthday wish list!

The White Castle scented candle is infused with the smell of 
"steam-grilled-on-a-bed-of-onions" burgers. (White Castle)