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Let’s be kind to dogs. August 30, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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This past Sunday, August 26, was National Dog Day. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were up in the Catskills and had a good friend watching over our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. But oh, we were so happy to see Shiloh when we returned home, and she was so happy to see us!

Shiloh isn’t like our two previous dogs, who were both golden retrievers. We adored our goldens, and they adored us. But they both thought they were people, and had no dog instincts at all. Shiloh has every shepherding instinct there ever was. She is only happy when everyone she’s watching over is together in a space she can oversee. If it happens that our friend Ben, Silence, any guests who happen to be here, and our cats are all within Shiloh’s view, she’s ecstatic. But if, say, OFB is in the living room watching a mystery on TV and Silence is in her office working on the computer, Shiloh will position herself exactly between us so she can keep an eye on us and make sure we’re both okay. Exactly between us. And she’ll hold that position until we come together.

Unlike most of us, Shiloh knows exactly what her job in life is, and she knows how to do it. OFB and I understand that our job is to make sure she’s able to carry out her job without hindrance from us. We love you, Shiloh!!!

Do you know what your dog’s job is? Do you know how to help him or her achieve it? Do you know how to show your dog how much you love him or her, in a way s/he understands? Please, please try.

        ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

A bat in your bra. August 29, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I have lots of friends in the biological sciences, and let’s just say, they’re not quite like other people. As medical doctors might discuss the horrific symptoms of degenerative diseases at the dinner table without giving even one second’s thought to how this graphic depiction of pain, suffering, decay and death might affect the appetites of their fellow diners, so the biologists I know have not the least clue as to how their latest obsession might affect their friends’ appetites.  

My favorite incidence of this was when my dear friend Susan, who’s the biology editor for Science News, came up from D.C. to have lunch with me and our mutual friend Rudy, who specializes in birds and orchids. We went to a country inn and placed our orders. At which point, Susan launched into an endless and extremely graphic discussion of whale decomposition. As in, at least 30 minutes of telling us in the most graphic conceivable detail about what happened after a whale died and began to decay. Needless to say, I discovered that somehow, I wasn’t hungry, and it appeared that no one else in our dining room was, either. Yet Susan, completely oblivious, continued on with her story of whale decomposition, caught up in the moment and her excitement about the topic.

She’s certainly not alone. I’ve also been subjected to hourlong talks about tarantulas, ticks, piranhas, and the like. Eeeewwww!!!! What are these people thinking?!!

Well, they’re thinking about subjects that interest them. Our friend Ben and I can relate. One or the other of us could talk about American colonial history, marbles, stamps, rocks and fossils, seashells, Jane Austen, Native American arts and artifacts, coins, plants, cooking, Reiki, our beloved pets, or you name it for hours on end. If we consider decomposing whales, tarantulas and the like revolting, that says something about us, not the speaker. But still.

I honestly didn’t think I’d ever hear anything to beat the decomposing whale story, but I think maybe I have now. You’ll just have to weigh in and tell me if I’m right. My dear friend Dana was staying with us over the weekend. She’s an ecologist who specializes in bats, which I happen to like as a backyard gardener who appreciates their consumption of gadzillion insects every night. Over breakfast at OFB’s favorite local diner, she mentioned that some of these bat people were a little bit over the top. I immediately pictured the “Twilight” contingent and the endless other vampire sagas flooding the airwaves. I could envision vampire wannabes desperately trying to capture bats for their own unfortunate ends.

Turns out, though, that’s not what Dana meant. She was actually talking about legitimate bat researchers. She’d gone to a bat conference and spent the night at the home of a couple who specialized in bat research. They raised bats, and allowed them to fly free throughout their home. During dinner, Dana said, a bat lit on her arm, crawled up, and snuck inside her bra. When Dana, a bit rattled for some reason, mentioned this to her hosts, they said, “Oh yes, that’s Sweet Pea. She always does that.” Turns out the female half of the couple had raised Sweet Pea from an infant and had reared her in her own bra.

All I can say is, the next time you’re invited for dinner to a friend’s house and their dog licks your hand, consider yourself lucky. At least their resident bat isn’t trying to crawl into your bra!

           ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

When the porcupines ate the tigers. August 28, 2012

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood just spent a wonderful weekend in a lodge in the Catskills, enjoying the lake, meadows, and woods surrounding the lodge. We didn’t see any of the wildlife that the brochure assured us lived there—bears, wolves, bobcats, porcupines, and the like—but there were plenty of birds, butterflies and chipmunks.

Silence has been a huge porcupine fan ever since she gave a neckrub to a porcupine at the San Diego Wildlife Park (she said it was like rubbing a cat’s neck gently under the fur) and saw the porcupine close its eyes, sigh, and collapse in ecstacy as a result, to the astonishment of the staff. So she kept hoping we’d get to see porcupines, but alas, no luck. Our friend Ben was hoping for bald eagles, and maybe a wolf.

At any rate, as we were relaxing in the lodge with the other guests, one of them mentioned how they’d been warned about the porcupines eating the tigers. Tigers?!!! Tigers in the Catskills? What the bleep?! And here I thought porcupines were vegetarian.

“WHAT?!!!” Silence shrieked (our friend Ben would have done the same had she not spoken up first). 

“They told us we had to be careful because the porcupines like to eat tigers,” the person carefully explained.

“Yes, I heard that someone left the gate to the parking area open on Friday night,” a second guest said. “I’m relieved that no porcupines got in and ate our tires.” 

TIRES. Three other guests also thought the person had said “tigers,” so it really wasn’t just yours truly and Silence experiencing some kind of brain fade. The idea of porcupines craving rubber (which is, after all, derived from tree sap, not chemicals or plastic) is certainly bizarre. But it pales in comparison to porcupines devouring tigers in the Catskills! Yowie kazowie.

So Silence and I were emboldened to explore our surroundings in peace. It’s a good thing we didn’t hear about the timber rattlers until we were packing our bags for the return trip to Hawk’s Haven.

Julia Child: Larger Than Life. August 24, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. I just got my copy of Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child, a children’s book by Jessie Hartland (Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2012). I’d read such great reviews of the book that I, a diehard Julia fan, simply had to have it. Unlike so many things in life, Bon Appetit! lived up to its reviews. I adored it. It made me laugh. It made me cry. I’m so happy to add it to my Julia book collection.

If you want to introduce your kids to the wonderful world of Julia Child, this is the place to start (possibly followed by the Dan Aykroyd parody on “Saturday Night Live”). If you want to revisit Julia with fresh eyes, this is the place to start. Ms. Hartland covers so much ground in such a condensed format that children and adults alike will feel like they really know Julia after they’ve finished the book! Then anyone who wants to dig deeper can read Julia’s and Alex Prud’homme’s memoir, My Life in France, and of course watch the film “Julie and Julia.” 

But even if, like me, you’ve read pretty much everything by and about Julia and seen all of her shows, Bon Appetit! is still worth reading, worth collecting. It’s a book you’ll want to revisit whenever you need cheering up. It will remind you, as Julia famously said, that life itself is the ultimate binge. Kudos, Jessie Hartland!

               ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Casting “Catching Fire.” August 23, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. As a fan of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, I’ve been watching with great interest as to who would be cast in the key roles of the second movie, “Catching Fire.” Once Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast as Plutarch Heavensbee, that left just two key roles, from my POV: Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason.

Finnick is described as a gorgeous Greek god, with blond hair, sea-green eyes, and bronze skin. He plays a major role not just in Catching Fire but in the final book of the trilogy, Mockingjay. Though he’s an idol in the Capitol, he’s still in his twenties. Who on earth could play him? Unfortunately, the uber-gorgeous Liam Hemsworth has already been cast as Gale.

Well, I have a suggestion. He’s certainly not blond, but as we’ve learned from Orlando Bloom’s performance as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a good prep team can work wonders. So I nominate Jonathan Rhys Meyers of “The Tudors” fame to play Finnick. He’s both sexy and cynical, the perfect combination for Finnick. Lionsgate, are you listening?

Johanna is so fierce, so fearless, yet she’s still willing to give her life for Panem’s emancipation from the chains of the Capitol. She, too, is in her twenties. Who should play her? Who could play her? Jessica Biel would be fantastic in my opinion. Who could stand against her? But Kate Beckinsale, Natalie Portman and Kiera Knightley might be contenders, too. What about Victoria Beckham?

So what do you think? Who would be your Finnick and Johanna? 

                ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

Sexy single wives. August 22, 2012

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Good grief. Silence Dogood here. My Yahoo! spam filter is always pulling out bizarre e-mails informing me how I can “enlarge my manhood,” buy Viagra cheaply from Canada, get laid tonight via F***Book (and no, that wouldn’t be FaceBook), and the like. Mind you, I don’t think it’s too challenging to tell from my e-mail address that I’m not a man and am not in the market for these services, but apparently the spammers disagree.

Usually I’m just revolted to see all this filth in my spam folder. However, as a lover of language, this morning I saw that one inventive spammer had come up with a classic: “Young, Sexy Single Wives!” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never encountered any single wives. Or single husbands, for that matter. This concept cheered me up enough to even forgive this particular spammer for contaminating my inbox. But I still deleted the message!

             ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

An eye in the sky. August 21, 2012

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Our friend Ben isn’t referring to the Dark Lord, Sauron, but to the Mars Rover. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it actually did find signs of life on Mars? I think it’s improbable that it will come up with any living organisms more exciting than bacteria. But what if it found fossil evidence of creatures that once walked, flew and swam across the planet before desertification claimed it?

Our friend Ben is a friend to fossils of all types and stripes; I’ve collected them since I was in diapers, picking crinoid fossils out of the gravel in our driveway. (This is actually my earliest memory.) To see images of Martian fossils would probably be the thrill of a lifetime. I’ve been driving Silence Dogood crazy speculating about what these creatures might have looked like; doubtless very different from anything we’ve ever seen, to survive so far from the sun.

Maybe that’s where the concept of the little green men with eyes jutting up on stalks came from; they’d need much better vision than ours, if they needed vision at all. Imagine a world of creatures with totally different senses than ours! I read just yesterday that piranhas typically live by grabbing bites out of passing fish, and that they have tastebuds all over the outside of their bodies, so they can sense which passing fish would be tasty and which wouldn’t! If that doesn’t sound like it’s straight out of science fiction, I don’t know what does.

Speaking of science fiction, much as we all love movies like “Avatar” and the concept of people shuttling back and forth between Earth and the rest of the galaxy, even were it possible to send people to other worlds, I doubt they’d be coming back. It would be too dangerous for our planet. Even the smallest alien bacteria, lurking undetected on the ship, could have the potential to wipe out all life as we know it, leaving only our own fossil record to say we had ever lived. Space exploration would have to be a kind of high-tech exile. But I’m sure there are plenty of adventurous sorts out there who’d consider exploring new worlds to be more than worth giving up this one!

Not our friend Ben, though. Our home planet has more than enough beauty and wonder for me. But I’d still love to see some photos of Martian fossils…

Love guitar? Watch this! August 20, 2012

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Our friend Ben loves guitar, and my all-time guitar hero is Jimmy Page. (Sorry, Mark Knopfler, Steve Vai, and Stevie Ray Vaughan; you guys are definitely next in line.) So when I discovered a documentary on Netflix called “It Might Get Loud,” featuring in-depth interviews about guitar-playing plus plenty of actual guitar playing by Jimmy Page, U2′s The Edge, and Jack White of The White Stripes fame, I rushed to add it to our Netflix queue. Unfortunately, it landed behind approximately 2 million of Silence Dogood’s historical dramas. I thought I would never live to actually see it.

But Silence is currently on deadline, so I cunningly suggested that she had no business wasting time watching movies and should turn the Netflix queue priority list over (temporarily, at least) to yours truly. She agreed, and I saw “It Might Get Loud” over the weekend. What a treat!!! The interviews were great, the playing was great, the archival footage of all the bands was great.

Our friend Ben didn’t think I could learn anything new about Led Zeppelin—surely the greatest rock band of all time—but I did. I learned plenty. Such as how Jimmy Page first came to use a double-necked guitar, so he could play “Stairway to Heaven,” the greatest rock anthem of all time, live.

And it was fascinating to see the varied paths by which the three guitarists had found their voices. (Jack White, one of ten children in a Southern family, found an abandoned guitar in one of the apartments his family rented. Elvis and Johnny Cash would have been proud. Given the battered, cut-into guitar he plays in the documentary, he may still be using it.) 

So our friend Ben urges everyone who loves rock guitar to find this DVD, rent this DVD, own this DVD. You won’t be sorry! And if you happen to know of similar films about Mark Knopfler, Steve Vai, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, please let our friend Ben know. Hey, guys, what’s the holdup here?!!

How many magnets are on your fridge? August 18, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. I recently read a decluttering pundit’s statement that the more magnets and the like were on a person’s fridge, the more cluttered their home was. She could look at a photo of the fridge and predict the state of the house with what she considered 100% accuracy.

Hmmmm, I thought. Is this true? And if so, what do you mean by clutter?

Looking at the refrigerator our friend Ben and I share at our tiny cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, I certainly can see a wealth of magnets on the doors. (My favorite remains the one of then-President George W. Bush at Pope John Paul II’s funeral; the Pope is lying in an open casket, robed in red, and W is asking, “What happened to Santa?” But I digress.) Each of these magnets has been carefully chosen because it symbolizes something to us. There’s not one random or meaningless piece of junk on our refrigerator, and every time we look at those doors, they make us laugh, inspire us, refresh our spirits, remind us of joyous vacations. In other words, they enhance our lives.

The same is true of the things that we bring into our home. We have thousands of books, each individually selected and treasured. We have rocks, fossils, and shells, stamps and marbles, chess sets and foreign coins. We collect prints, original paintings, and photos that speak to us of the beauty of nature. OFB has his Pueblo pottery; I have my quilt and historic textile collection. We both have a weakness for beautiful rugs (though we don’t put them on the floor or our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, would eat them). Every single thing that we have acquired has great meaning and value to us; like the refrigerator magnets, they brighten and enrich our lives.

To me, “clutter” implies piles of random, worthless stuff you’d be far better off clearing out. You could be referring to piles of unwashed dishes, mounds of unopened mail, towers of unread newspapers, bags of outgrown clothes you’d meant to take to Goodwill but that somehow ended up stacked behind the garage door instead. Clutter is an impediment to living. It makes life harder and uglier, it trips you up on your way, it shames you. It diminishes you as a person, condemns you as a failure for being unable to cope with the burden of your worthless possessions.

This is certainly not the case for me and OFB. I have spent a great deal of time and thought figuring out how we can both enjoy our collections without having them take over the house. Since Hawk’s Haven is small, open space (or the illusion of open space) is absolutely essential.

The answer is clever storage solutions and rotation of displays. This not only keeps what’s visible at any time to a minimum, but keeps our collections fresh for us as well as for visitors, since you never know what you’ll be seeing. The idea occurred to me because, since so much of our wall space is occupied by bookshelves, there simply wasn’t enough space to display all our art and still keep plenty of free off-white wall, which I felt was essential to provide the illusion of spaciousness, not to mention give our eyes some rest. Rotation, rotation, rotation. It lets you have your collections and enjoy them, too!

So, ‘fess up: How many magnets are on your fridge?

          ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

What are they thinking?! August 16, 2012

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Men. I’ll never understand them. Silence Dogood here. The other day, I was reading one of the quirky, delightful human-interest pieces that The Wall Street Journal loves to put on its front page. (It’s actually my favorite part of the paper, highlighting just how diverse and eccentric the human experience is.) This one was called “Lovers of Minecraft Are Belting Out Odes to Digging and Smelting.” (Read it at www.wsj.com; it’s priceless.) It’s about grown men who not only spend hours each day playing a video game called Minecraft, but also post Minecraft-based videos on YouTube. (Minecraft debuted last year and now has 37 million registered users, according to the article.)

Admittedly, I don’t even begin to get the allure of video games, having never played one. (We’re such Luddites here at Hawk’s Haven that we’ve never been on YouTube, either.) They strike me as a total waste of time. I can certainly appreciate the appeal for kids, but why would any adult play a video game when he could actually be doing something interesting and/or constructive? Or at least getting some fresh air and escaping to the golf course or a favorite stream or lake. Yikes!

But the guys profiled in the article have taken their Minecraft obsession to a whole new level, creating elaborate Minecraft music videos featuring the blocky characters performing original verses to popular tunes against a backdrop of blocky Minecraft scenery. They post them on YouTube, where they attract huge followings. One, by CaptainSparklez, is called “Revenge,” sung to the music of Usher’s hit “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love.” It has been viewed on YouTube 54 million times, compared to Usher’s original, which has been viewed 75 million times.

I’ll leave it to you to judge the quality of the lyrics. The article featured this excerpt from a Minecraft rap song that has attracted 2 million YouTube views: “It’s night, it’s time to dig,/ I need some health, man,/ But it’s too dark to find a pig.”

It seems clear to me that both YouTube users and these video creators have way too much time on their hands. But what’s also striking is the level of technical skill required to create one of these videos. We’re not talking about a guy focusing a video camera on himself and singing a stupid song. The backgrounds are elaborate and animated. It must take practically forever to put one of these videos together. Which raises the question: If you’re talented enough to create one of these videos, why don’t you develop your own video games? Then at least your obsession would pay off, and you’d have the satisfaction of creating something original instead of derivative.

Sheesh.

          ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

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