17. May 2024 · Comments Off on Literary Imagination · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, General Nonsense

The matter of a certain literary style and practice came up a couple of months ago – and I was reminded again of the discussion in a weird way, when my daughter and I watched the Night at the Museum movie series. This was in the interests of not freaking out Wee Jamie terribly, who is soaking up information and stimuli like a small, child-shaped sponge. I vaguely recall watching the first of the series, but my daughter did not, so I must have seen it in a theater, possibly when the Gentleman With Whom I (Once) Kept Company was on one of his yearly visits to Texas. Cute movie, and one which loaded in a lot of established actors in supporting roles (Ricky Gervais? Seriously?) …but anyway. (It is kind of cool, though – imagining an animated dinosaur skeleton playing ‘fetch’ the bone, and behaving like a playful puppy…)

The museum of the initial movie setting reminded me of an elementary school field trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History in Exposition Park, which also covered the La Brea Tar Pits, with all the life-sized landscaped dioramas, and the stuffed critters, mounted dinosaur bones and the remains of paleolithic critters excavated from the tar pits… all terribly retro and rather quaint, actually. There’s a natural history museum here in the old upscale part of San Antonio, the Witte Museum, with pretty much the same sort of exhibits, established around the same period, now with the addition of lighting and sound effects.

In any event, I began to think on how these kinds of exhibits became so very popular in the 19th century: I mean, the showman P. T. Barnum started with his exhibit of natural curiosities, scientific exhibits, wonders, and marvels early on. People flocked to see them in the flesh, and twice natural size – because most ordinary people didn’t often see extraordinary things; dinosaur bones, ancient Eqyptian temples, statues of Greek gods and goddesses, African elephants … such were curiosities, and rare ones at that. So going to P. T. Barnum’s flamboyant exhibits, and later on to more staid and scholarly local museums of natural history – well, there they were; all the exotic natural history and fabled creatures that you could wish to see, before movies and television brought them to us in living color in theater and living room.

On one of the book/author blogs which I follow (can’t recall which one or when, or even if it is an original insight!) another writer made what I realized immediately was a perceptive observation, regarding those verbally florid Victorian novelists who went on for pages and pages, describing scenes, settings and characters. Modern readers find this terribly frustrating, as this tendency bogs down the plot something awful. The reason Victorian authors did so was because most of their readers then had no mental archive of visual references to build on! When someone like Sir Walter Scott wrote about medieval Perth, or Dumas wrote about Renaissance France, or Lew Wallace about the Roman-era Holy Land, they were setting the necessary scene for readers in necessary and exacting detail for a reader who perhaps might at best have seen a crude black and white line drawing, or a hand-colored lithograph of a castle, Jerusalem, or the skyline of Paris. There was nothing in the 19th century reader’s visual vocabulary anything like what movies, television, even color photographs in glossy coffee-table books provide modern readers. We have the advantage of already having those visuals in mind, and don’t need to have them spelled out at length.

And that is my off-the-wall observation for this week – the news is just to depressing to contemplate at the moment. Comment as you wish.

06. March 2024 · Comments Off on Another Visit to the Quadrangle · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Devil Dogs, Domestic, Local

My daughter and I with Wee Jamie had cause to visit Fort Sam Houston this week, to pick up some prescription refills and make a run through the commissary – but before we did, we went by the historic old Quadrangle, so that my grandson could pester the deer and the peacocks and admire the enormous koi goldfish in the little landscaped fishpond. Yes, the historic limestone Quadrangle, the original structure and oldest building at Fort Sam houses a kind of petting zoo in the courtyard in the middle of three block-long ranges of buildings. That is, it would be a petting zoo if the current herd of nine deer were slightly more tame.

The Quadrangle was originally constructed to replace the Alamo, which had been the original military HQ in this part of Texas, serving sequentially the Spanish colonial army, the Mexican army, the Texian militia and army, the US Army, the Confederate Army, and the US Army again over the space of 200 years. (The Quadrangle is now HQ 5th Army, and home to the post’s historical museum.) In it’s last decades as a military installation, the Alamo was basically a central supply depot for the US Army in the Southwest, and the plaza before it a wagon park. When city sprawl swamped it all in the 1870s, the Army took the opportunity of some donated land out north of town to build a brand-new post with plenty of room for quartermastering activities – to park wagons, pasture horses and mules, warehouse supplies, and to establish a proper garrison for training and housing troops and officers.

Originally constructed for defense against attack by hostile Indians, the Quadrangle was first built without doors and windows along the outside walls. This was a somewhat remote reality by the time that the Quadrangle’s cornerstone was laid – but not entirely out of the question, and certainly not outside of living memory by troops and ordinary citizens then. About the only activity in the Quadrangle involving hostile or formerly hostile Indians came in the mid-1880s, when the Apache war leader Geronimo and the survivors of his war band were captured and interned there for a month before being moved to Florida. The legend is that the deer and birds were brought in to serve as meals on the hoof for the Apache prisoners … but that is an oft-debunked legend. According to some accounts, the presence of the deer predated the Apache internees.

Which does bring up the question – why? Why is a herd of semi-tame deer and a flock of peacocks and waterfowl kept on an active military post? They must be maintained at some expense and trouble, after all – there are pens for the deer and sheltered quarters. Presumably deer chow has to be gotten from somewhere, not to mention veterinary care. The first obvious answer is – military tradition! Like the Barbary apes at Gibraltar, and the ravens in the Tower of London. They are there, because they always have been there, and caring for them is enshrined in custom since time immemorial, or at least in this case, since the 1870s. But why – and since when? I began to wonder about this during our visit and did a little research when I got home … and it turns out that … no one really knows for certain. A local historian ventured the supposition that having a few peacocks and tame deer around the place was a popular domestic thing to do in the late 1800s. I have my own theory about the deer herd, though. I suspect that sometime after troops and families came to live at Fort Sam that someone rescued an orphaned deer fawn and made a pet out of it … and the best place to keep it when it was grown was in the confines of the Quadrangle, which seems to have become a park very early on. Could have been an officer’s wife or family member … or equally – a soldier. The deer fawn became a unit mascot – goodness knows that other unlikely animals have since become beloved and honored unit mascots – bears and horses, among them. Within a few years, having the deer at Fort Sam was an established custom, and everyone forgot about who and under what circumstances the deer herd had been established.

Discuss as you will – and share any theories that you might have.

So, Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson is of the age when he likes noisy things, flashing lights, music and moving colors. We have a Tunie (a kind of boom-box for small children) with an assortment of selections – none of them Disney, by the way. I’m boycotting Disney for now and for the foreseeable future. He has a couple of walkers, and noisy educational toys, toys that jingle, rattle, and play music. And we do let him sit up in the den and watch cartoons. Shaun the Sheep was a favorite, and then a French production – Grizzy and the Lemmings, which features a grizzly bear plagued by a troop of mischievous lemmings. Both Shaun and Grizzy feature wordless adventures, and lots of physical gags.  But the very favorite seems to be Masha and the Bear – a Russian series in various translations for the international market, the adventures of a mischievous and hyperactive little girl and her best buddy, a retired circus bear. There are all sorts of Russian cultural references, most of which I am certain that I am not catching. I do get the classical music references, but the one about the characters of two wolves who live in a decrepit ambulance and are called on for medical and rescue assistance had to be explained through the Wikipedia entry. It’s a Russian proverb, that the wolves are the orderlies of the forest. It’s a cute series, and one of the best things about it is that there isn’t a rainbow in sight. Not a single reference to current woke fads, diversity, or anything more significant than ‘Be careful you don’t get in over your head, child!’ Just gentle and amusing antics of a little girl and her best bear friend, at home and in the forest.

Between this and Grizzy, though – some day we will have to break it to Wee Jamie that bears (and wolves, too) are wild creatures, and not really given to play nicely with small children. I am hoping that he will not be too terribly disappointed.

Home delivery – the latest trend to hit retail and grocery outlets – is a boon to sick people. I say this as someone who caught the current flu last Thursday. Here I was, innocently going about my usual routine, although I did note than on Thursday morning during the ritual Walking of The Doggles, that I was sniffing and sneezing; as if something had gotten caught in my sinuses. Innocently, it all seemed to pass; at mid-day my daughter and I went up to Bergheim in the Hill Country to meet with a small book club who had done me the honor of choosing the first of the Adelsverein Trilogy as their book selection of the month. More »

13. December 2018 · Comments Off on Inherited Trauma · Categories: Critters, Domestic, Home Front

Whilst I was perusing this story about the possibilities of trauma being a heritable thing, on my home office computer, my daughter came in to see what I was up to, and to lavish some small affection on our own bit of inherited trauma – that is, Mom’s cat, Isabelle. Isabelle was the last of those purebred apple-head Siamese cats which had been Mom and Dad’s. When their house had to be sold upon Mom becoming an invalid, my sister took the dogs to live with her (along with Mom) and Blondie and I inherited her two cats, one of whom has since passed away from advanced age. But Isabelle … sigh. Mom can’t remember how old she is exactly, since she was one of a long series of pure-bred apple-headed Siamese cats – and this iteration turned out to be as nutty as squirrel poop. Also mind-blowingly timid, unaffectionate, hostile even, unhygienically given to pee and crap where she slept (or where I slept, which was even more disgusting), and negative to the existing cats. We speculated that either Isabelle had been dropped on her head too damned many times as a kitten or was just as inbred as heck.
Anyway, upon completion of the Glorious Catio last spring, Isabelle – with her disgusting toilet habits and bad temperament firmly established – was one of those who moved in full time. There she spent her days and nights, fed and sheltered, amused by the garden outside, receiving some affection whenever we went out to sit – carefully, of course – and all was right with our world. (And it was nice to be able to clean something and have it stay clean for longer than ten minutes.)
Late in October, we rescued a dog from the streets in our neighborhood; a lively pug-chihuahua mix, whom no one recognized or claimed. We started calling him Fang – one has to call animals something, of course – and schemed to rehome Fang with an animal-loving couple of our acquaintance, a couple whose previous small dog had crossed over that rainbow bridge, and looked to us to find them another one, since my daughter and I seemed to have a secret super-power of animal-attracting. Fang seemed agreeable to cats but was (and still is) a consummate escape artist, and speedier than chain-lightening with a link snapped. We were afraid to keep him in the house, where he might tangle with our two small dogs, outside in the yard – too many gaps in the fence where he might escape. The Catio, with hardware mesh walls, brick floor and latched door, was the perfect temporary place. The cats, after all, had their ranks of shelves and perches, far above a small dog, who would perforce be limited to floor-level.
All went well for a couple of days. Our friends agreed to take Fang when no one claimed him, and my daughter went to run some errands, and I settled down to work at the computer. Until the sudden horrific ruckus broke out – howling, snarling, wailing – coming from the Catio. I rushed out there to see two cats on the highest shelves, watching with interest, and Isabelle with one hind leg up to the knee caught through the slats of one of the chairs, and twisting around, yet had her front claws and jaws firmly latched onto Fang’s rump. All too obvious what had happened; Fang had surprised Isabelle, asleep on the chair, she got her leg caught, and retaliated as cats will, with tooth and claw.
Fang, of course, did not like this situation, and commented loudly. Isabelle didn’t seem terribly pleased, either. I grabbed her scruff, eased her leg out from the chair, she let go of Fang and seemed to levitate across the Catio and hang onto the screen door for a moment before falling back to the ground. Fang, whimpering slightly, seemed relatively unhurt save for his dignity. But Isabelle was limping, badly enough to make a visit to the vet obligatory. My daughter thought she might have broken one of the long bones in her leg. So – applied some antibiotic to Fang’s rump, stowed Isabelle in a carrier, and off to the vet. (By coincidence, the one that I had brought Fang to, earlier in the day to have him checked for a chip.)
No, it emerged that Isabelle had not broken her leg – to the astonishment of the veterinarian, she had contrived to blow out the knee tendons in attempting to get her leg out from between the chair slats. The best and least expensive surgical solution he could suggest was to install a long pin through the leg bones to hold the knee rigid, and let the tendons heal. This we agreed to; for a cat we weren’t all that fond of, that to all appearances hitherto wasn’t all that fond of us, either – but Isabelle was Mom’s cat, and we felt obligated to take care of her to the best of our abilities because of that. We warned the veterinary staff of her disobliging and usually hostile nature and left her overnight for the surgery the following day.
When we went to collect her the following afternoon, the vet-tech enthused to us over how good and cooperative she had been, how affectionate she had been, even when the anesthesia wore off. My daughter and I are looking at each other and going, “OK … what have you really done with Mom’s cat, and where did you find this identical Siamese?”
We had to keep her restrained in a crate inside the house for a good few weeks – a crate just large enough for a towel-and-piddle-pad covered pillow, with a dish of food and a water dispenser. She took her daily antibiotic graciously, seemed to briefly retain her old habit of peeing and crapping where she slept, and then … didn’t. The concept of the litterbox seemed to have dawned on her. The surgical wound on her thigh healed over (she’ll go back to the vet after the holidays to have the long pin removed), and she curled up quite amenably in on of the pet beds that we have star-scattered across the household. From there, she moved into claiming the dog-bed at the foot of my bed, from Nemo and Connor (who prefer sleeping on the bed itself,) and to being actually human-affectionate. She sits on laps when offered, purrs affectionately, ‘talks’ to us in ‘Siamese-cat-yowl’ when we pet her.
Really, it’s quite astonishing, the transformation. I can only think that there must be something positive said for trauma. At least in the case of Isabelle.

(Note to all – the first three Luna City books are marked down for 99 cents on Kindle for the month of December only. Yes, as the pusher promised; the first couple of hits are free!)

09. July 2017 · Comments Off on Dogs of Note · Categories: Critters, Domestic

Calla-Puppy; the model for Dog

As a writer whose household contains dogs, cats and chickens, it has amused me ever since my first novel to include some of those pets as characters. In To Truckee’s Trail, my daughter’s boxer-mix, Calla was dressed up somewhat with a size and intelligence to play the part of Elisha Stephens’ companion on the overland trail; Dog. Yes, his dog was named Dog – the character was not terribly imaginative. Dog makes her first appearance in the second chapter:

John looked down; not very far down at that, at one of the largest dogs he had ever seen, a huge fawn-colored mastiff bitch with a dark face. She sat quietly at his feet, regarding him with intelligent golden eyes. “Dog,” said the smith quietly, and made a quick gesture with his fingers. The mastiff bitch nudged John again, as if reminding him to be on his best behavior then, because she would have an eye on him, and obediently trotted away to settle herself underneath the wagon. From there she still regarded John and her master with those unsettlingly intelligent golden eyes. She had a clownish white splotch on her nose and another at the end of her tail. All of her toes on each foot were white, as if she wore dainty gloves.

My daughter brought Calla home with her, when she finished her second hitch in the Marines in 2006. Calla and Dog, besides having the same appearance, were both excellent travelers. Calla loved riding in the car, even on long distances, and guarded the car as zealously as she guarded the house, hopping into the driver seat and growling at anyone who came just a little too close. Alas, even though she was a mixed-breed and presumably had some hybrid vigor to count on, she was a large dog, and those breeds in her makeup were prone to age rapidly – she only lived to the age of 12.

Spike – the original inspiration for Mouse

The second dog of ours to make it into my books was Spike the shih-tzu, who came to the household as a puppy, from a couple who thought they wanted a puppy, and then decided the puppy was too much trouble to housebreak and socialize. Spike had attitude to spare, which was why we called her Spike, and adorned her with a small black leather collar studded with silver spikes. Spike was bred to be a lapdog and constant companion, and by the time we adopted her, I was already largely working from home. Her natural place was the space underneath my chair, or within three or four feet of wherever I happened to be. She was also a very good traveler, insofar as long stretches in a car; we made several long-distance journeys to California from Texas and back. She was not so agreeable to having her home routine disrupted, though: she distinguished herself by surreptitiously piddling on every one of the area rugs in my parents’ house. Spike was the inspiration for Magda Becker’s Pekinese (or rather series of Pekinese dogs) in the Adelsverein Trilogy:

There were six puppies, lively squirming little balls of fur; four of them gold like their mother, one black, and one piebald white with brindle spots. That one seemed to be more sedate, not as excitable as the others. Magda put her fingers around the pup—it was heavier that it appeared, no fragile little handful of bones and fur. It looked at her with curious eyes, as she said, “This one, Irina.”
“Very good,” Princess Cherkevsky nodded, regally. “That is a boy. Your son already brought a little collar and a bed and dish for you.”
“You and he plotted behind my back,” Magda exclaimed. She sat back on her heels, with the puppy cradled in her lap. “I know he loves dogs, but this is not a dog, it is more like a mouse!” And thus did the pup receive its name.

Spike also developed chronic health problems peculiar to dogs whose popularity leads to inbreeding. She passed away rather suddenly at a relatively young age; we think she ate some grass which had recently been sprayed with a powerful insecticide, and died almost overnight, even before we could get her to the veterinarian.

The third of our dogs to appear in my fiction is in blissful good health – and also quite firmly attached to me; Nemo, so called because we found him wandering the streets in our neighborhood. Someone had either dumped him, or moved out of a nearby rental house and left him behind. He was wary of humans, even us, at first; but since has been so eager to become one with a pack that he has even buddied up with some of the cats – to their horror and disgust. Nemo is some kind of coarse-furred terrier of no recognizable breed; black with a strange white mohawk on the top of his head. He was cast in my most recent historical, The Golden Road. as Nipper, the canine companion of the mysterious and slippery Fenian, Aloysius Polydore O’Malley:

The mule wagon was driven by a scarecrow of a man; of indeterminate years and put together in an untidy gangle of limbs, topped with a thatch of fading ginger hair. Fredi gawked at him, as he hopped nimbly down from the wagon-seat, for he was dressed in clothing which had once been fine, yet appeared to have been intended for a much shorter man. The sleeves of his coat, and the threadbare shirt underneath it barely covered his knobby wrists. He was also accompanied by a small black dog, which followed his master with equal agility; a short-furred dog with upright ears and tail, and what looked like a comical set of grizzled chin-whiskers fringing its sharp little muzzle. The dog promptly cocked a leg and pissed against the wagon-wheel.

Like Spike, Nemo is clingy – he sleeps in the dog bed under my desk during the day, at the foot of the bed at night, whines heartbreakingly if he can’t follow me and practically turns himself inside out with joy when I come back after being away for a couple of hours.

As for the cats – I have only put one of them in a story, so far – but that’s an entry for another day.

16. May 2015 · Comments Off on It All Comes Down to Chickens · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General

Granny Jessie kept chickens during the Depression – quite a lot of them, if my childhood memories of the huge and by then crumbling and disused chicken-wire enclosure, the adjoining hutch and the nesting boxes are anything to go by. Some of her neighbors went on keeping backyard livestock well into the 1960s – we occasionally sampled goose eggs at Granny Jessie’s house where we could hear a donkey braying now and again. Mom had to help care for the chickens, as child and teenager – and wound up detesting them so much that this was the one back-yard DIY farm element that we never ventured into when we were growing up. Mom hated chickens, profoundly.

But my daughter and I were considering it over the last couple of years, along with all of our other ventures into suburban self-efficiency – the garden, the cheese-making, the home-brewing and canning, the deep-freeze stocked full, the pantry likewise. I put off doing anything about chickens until two things happened: we finally encountered the woman in our neighborhood who keeps a small flock of backyard chickens, and she took us to see her flock. She told us that it was not much trouble, really, and the eggs were amazingly flavorful. In comparison, supermarket eggs – even the expensive organic and supposedly free-range kind were insipid and tasteless. (And – it seems that other people in other places have come through bad times by keeping chickens.)

The Coop with WindvaneThe second thing was spotting a ready-made coop at Sam’s Club a good few months ago. We kept going back and looking at it, whenever we made our monthly stock-up. It had a hutch, an attached roofed run with open sides secured with hardware cloth, and an appended nesting box accessed through a removable roof. But still … the price for it was what I considered excessive. Then, at the beginning of the month, the coop was marked down by half. Seeing this, we transferred some money from the household savings account, and with the aid of a husky Sam’s Club box-boy, stuffed all 150 pounds of the box which contained all the necessary flat-packed panels into my daughter’s Montero.

I put it together over Mother’s Day weekend, painting it the same colors as the house: sort of a primrose-peach color with cream trim. The coop and run was constructed of rather soft pine, with some kind of greenish wood-stain slathered over it all, which took two coats of paint to cover entirely. I wish that I had gotten out the electric drill with the screwdriver attachment a little earlier in the game; the side and roof panels were all attached together with 67 2-in and 2 ½ inch Phillips-head screws. Yes, I counted; I did about the first forty by hand … sigh. The remains of half a can of polyurethane spar varnish went on the roof to make it entirely waterproof. We topped it with a wind vane ornamented with a chicken, and it all went together on a bedding of concrete pavers set in decomposed granite, wedged underneath the major shade tree in the back yard. By municipal guidelines we are permitted up to three chickens and two of any other kind of farmyard animal: goat, cow, horse, llama, whatever – as long as their enclosure is at least a hundred feet from your neighbors house. The chicken coop may not, strictly speaking, be 100 feet from the next door neighbor’s house on the near side, but he is the one with the basset hounds, one of whom can hear a mouse fart in a high wind, and can be heard about a block away when he really puts his back into his bark.

We went out to a feed store in Bracken for feed pellets, bedding chips, a feeder and a water dispenser. The feed store also had artificial eggs made from heavy plastic, but so cunningly textured they looked very real. The feed store manager said that what they are also used for is as a means of dealing with local snakes that prey on chicken eggs … they slither into the nesting boxes, swallow an egg whole and slither away. If you suspect your nest is being raided in that fashion, you bait the nest with a plastic egg. Snake swallows it, but can’t digest, pass or vomit up the egg and so dies, in the words of one of Blackadder’s foes – “horribly-horribly.” (Ick-making to consider, but then I’ve gotten quite testy about critters predating on my vegetables, and set out traps for rats and dispose of dead rats without any qualms.) From many different places; Sam’s, our local HEB which now offers stacks of chicken feed in the pet food aisle, and now the semi-rural feed store – we are getting the notion that keeping back-yard chickens is getting to be a wide-spread thing. I wonder how much Martha Stewart is responsible for this development.

This morning we were off to the south of town, to a small enterprise in Von Ormy for three pullets. We

The Three Chicken Stooges - Laureena, Maureen and Carly - in the back of the Montero

The Three Chicken Stooges – Laureena, Maureen and Carly – in the back of the Montero

had wanted Orpingtons, but they weren’t available at any of the close-in providers, and the owner recommended Barred Rocks – those are those pretty black and white chickens with bright red combs. My daughter wants to name them Lorena, Maureen and Carly – Larry, Moe and Curly, feminized. They are supposed to start laying when they are mature, in about late summer, according to the owner of the bird-providing enterprise. Our three pullets are about ten weeks old, and somewhat timid yet – little knowing that they have won the grand prize in the chicken lottery of life. Eventually, they will have the run of the garden; we are assured they will brutally diminish bugs of every sort, gratefully fall upon green vegetable scraps, and come to be quite friendly with us. Early days, yet. And that was my week. Yours?
(Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz and at www.celiahayes.com)

27. August 2014 · Comments Off on This and Data – August 2014 · Categories: Critters, Domestic

Another week at Chez Mom’s – here in Texas it’s been over a hundred every day for the past two or three weeks. Yes, August in Texas has been unfavorably compared to Hell by wits and commentators since Phil H. Sheridan. Probably before him as well, but in any case, I say a prayer of thanksgiving and blessings to the Jon Wayne HVAC folks, and to the nice lady who bought the California property a year ago next month. Her payment for the property meant that I could have the HVAC in this house done as it should have been by the original builder. Funny that my chronic cough let up round about that time; the deity only knows what kind of mold or crud was in a lot of those ducts and interchange boxes.

Moving right along … because of the heat and probably other things – the flea problem this year is pretty intense. This necessitated a bath with flea shampoo for all the dogs. No, we didn’t try and bathe the cats – what, do you think we are insane? Although it was a bit of a risk with Nemo, who hates water unless it’s in a bowl for him to drink; water from a hose, standing water that he needs to wade through? His detestation of the element is obvious and long-standing; one of the reasons that we think he might have been a cat in a previous life. Anyway – he got the bath with flea-killing shampoo, and although it did take both of us to administer it in the kitchen sink, he did not try to bite or nip. So – progress.

On the sad side – the cat-herd is diminishing. This is due to age, rather than accident, but we were never very certain how old that Wubbie, the fluffy confirmed escape artist was. He was an adult cat when he turned up, dripping wet one afternoon when the next-door neighbors’ grandsons were playing with their new super-soakers. They are good boys, really they are, but they were much younger then, and poor Wubbie was sitting on the hood of the car, stunned and drenched in ice-water. We took him inside, and he never left, save for brief excursions when he whipped between our ankles and ran out to a particular place in the next-door front yard to chase away any interlopers. We did briefly consider asking the neighbor if we could bury Wubbie there, since it was a place he was so fond of … but re-considered.

My newest new toy; a Cuisinart multi-griddler, which was one of the newer models, offered at a considerable discount on Amazon last week, along with a set of waffle plates – also at a considerable discount. We nearly bought a previous iteration a couple of months ago, seeing it for a marked down price at a local high-end HEB, but a total stranger, seeing that we had it in the cart, came up and freely told us what a total disappointing dog it was to her. She really unloaded about all the unfortunate features … most of which seemed to have been remedied in this version. The good thing is that this new toy allowed me to get rid of an electric grill (a nice one, but too hard to clean and never really got hot enough, even as it smoked out the kitchen), an electric griddle (which was a cheap model, heated erratically across the surface, a hand-me-down from a friend) and a George Foreman griddler which we got for nothing, but which was missing a griddle plate which proved to be impossible to replace. So – space cleared in the kitchen, one for three!

We’ve done waffles in it already, and grilled sausage patties on one side and fried eggs on the other, and so vary, everything has come out well; it heats thoroughly and evenly … and cleanup is a breeze.

And that’s my week? Yours>

09. May 2014 · Comments Off on Something Silly For a Friday · Categories: Critters, Fun and Games, Geekery, History

Found through Insty – had to watch it several times, giggling.

28. March 2014 · Comments Off on On Ice · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, History, Technology · Tags: , ,

Just this week and thanks to gaining a new book-publishing client, I was able to complete the purchase of a new refrigerator-freezer. Oh, the old one was staggering along OK, still keeping the refrigerated foods cold and the frozen food frozen … but there were so many dissatisfactions with it, including the fact that it had such deep shelves that in cleaning it out we discovered an embarrassingly large number of jars of condiments whose best-if-sold-by-date were well into the previous decade … not to mention a couple of Rubbermaid containers with leftovers in them that we had quite forgotten about. Well, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Truly, I don’t like to waste leftovers, but in this case, we had a good clean-out and as of now are resolved to do better, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The new and larger refrigerator-freezer has relatively shallow and many adjustable shelves in its various compartments; so that we dearly hope that the buried-at-the-back-of-a-deep-shelf-and-totally-forgotten-about syndrome will be banished entirely.

Anyway – enough of my failings as a thrifty housekeeper; the thing that I was marveling on this afternoon was that the new refrigerator-freezer has an automatic ice-maker. Better than that – an automatic ice-maker and ice-water dispenser in the door, and a small light which winks on when depressing the lever which administers ice (in cubes or crushed) and ice-water and then gradually dims once released. And if all that is a small luxury compared to the previous refrigerator-freezer, it is a huge luxury compared to the electric ice-box that made my Granny Jessie’s work and food-storage capabilities somewhat lighter than those of her own mother. It’s monumental, even – and no one thinks anything of it today, unless the electricity goes off.
More »

08. January 2014 · Comments Off on We Saw the Fast Armadillo! · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Local · Tags: , ,

Yes, we did indeedy – the elusive fast armadillo of Uptown Luckenbach, Texas! you see, there really is a place in the Hill Country called Luckenbach, it’s just not a name in a country-western song.

Welcome to Updown Luckenbach

It’s a feed mill, actually – just up the road from the loop which leads into downtown Luckenbach, home of the old post office/general store/concert venue. But in the same unpaved driveway there is a small souvenir store, run by a guy named Monroe, who advertises his own home-made custom art. If he is not there, the store runs on a self-serve, honor basis. See what you like, drop the money for it in an old butter-churn crock, or in a lockbox outside.

And many of Monroe’s roadside signs advertise asking about the fast armadillo.

What is the fast armadillo, you may ask? This.

Fast Armadillo

Yes, he does a free-hand sketch of an armadillo, etched with a Dremel tool, on a glass bottle (scrounged from local dumpsters or by donations, I guess), adds an ornamental squiggle, the date, and ‘Luckenbach, Texas.’ He does this – when he is there at the shop – for tips. Apparently many curious travelers have stopped, looking for the fast armadillo, but it’s a matter of luck, catching Monroe in the shop at the right time.

Fast Armadillo 1

He did two bottles for us – one is for Mom, so he did an especially large fast armadillo, and put her name on it. We tipped, and Blondie folded him an origami crane out of a piece of lined notebook paper, but it still took her twice the time that he took, doing the bottles.

Yep, that is one fast armadillo.

24. October 2013 · Comments Off on Kitten Fostering · Categories: Critters

We are temporarily fostering a kitten for some neighbors who may not be all that enthusiastic about having a second cat in the first place, being as the husband is allergic to the one they already have, and that they wish to raise him as an outdoor cat and he is way too young to fend for himself on that basis … I mean, there are hawks in this neighborhood – they hunt squirrels, small dogs and kittens, for pete’s sake. So young Muffin (whose full name is now Stud Muffin) is living with us temporarily. He gets along very well with the other cats, tolerates the company of the dogs, and thinks that he has landed in kitty heaven when Blondie opened the small galvanized trash container that we keep a stock of cat food in …

Stud Muffin - Perfect Kitten Bliss

We will not keep him permanently. If the neighbors are honest about their disinclination, we will find him a permanent home in the next few months. In the meantime, Blondie is getting her kitten fix.

21. October 2013 · Comments Off on How To Tell If It’s A Really Bad, Bad Monday · Categories: Critters, Local, My Head Hurts, Veteran's Affairs

1. Unhappy cat who gets bullied by other cats and looses bladder control when frightened by other cats is frightened by another cat while I am out running … and pisses on bedding. While out walking the dog – having put unhappy cat in locked bathroom, another cat pisses on bedding in another place.

2. Car does not start. Have to borrow Blondie’s Montero to pick up prescription at Fort Sam Primary Care Clinic.

3. Get speeding ticket from SAPD for doing 54 in 45 MPH stretch of road in the Montero. Didn’t notice that I was going faster than anyone else. Suspect this stretch of road is now a speed trap.

Any questions?

02. August 2013 · Comments Off on Why Yes, Everything IS Bigger … · Categories: Critters

In Texas.

Especially the orb spiders, which are only a little smaller than humming birds…

Orb Spider 2

Any questions?

10. May 2013 · Comments Off on Signs of the Impending Apocalypse! · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic

Sings of Impending ApocalypseFire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!
His name is Nemo, and we think he thinks he is a cat. We think the cats think he is retarded, and his Mama dressed him funny.

18. February 2013 · Comments Off on Das Cat-ital · Categories: Critters, Domestic

Or, how many sleeping cats can cram into a single small animal bed?
More »

12. February 2013 · Comments Off on A Bleg to Benefit My Little Doggie · Categories: Critters, Literary Good Stuff, Local, Old West

Connor, the middle-aged Malti-poo is at the veterinarians office today, to sort out why he has been throwing up for the last day and a half, has no appetite and is terribly lethargic. The bill for his treatment will be an unexpected expense for me … so anyone going to my book blog and purchasing copies of To Truckee’s Trail, Daughter of Texas, Deep in the Heart, or the Adelsverein Trilogy in the separate volumes will help me to square matters with the vet, and put Connor back where he belongs, sleeping peacefully under my desk.

20. April 2012 · Comments Off on All Things Doggish · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, Home Front

It has happened to us again; we came home from morning walkies on Thursday with an extra dog, to the bafflement and apparent disgust of the Lesser Weevil and Connor … who seem to be getting over it, even as I write. The current canine find is small, attractive, and relatively well-behaved and seems to be agreeable to cats. Which a dog in our house had damn-well better be … the cats outnumber the dogs, and are Superior Beings – at least, as the cats see it, and woe betide the canine which doesn’t acknowledge this superiority immediately.
We have done this quite often – arrived home with another dog. Usually we can locate an owner almost at once – either the original owner or someone who will step up to the plate and take said dog on. Now and again we have had to turn them over to the county animal shelter; a concern which is trying their damndest to re-house the amiable and healthy animals which are turned into their facility. This time we do have some hopes of locating the owner who is missing him. How many people in a short range of our neighborhood have managed to misplace what appears to the expert eye (of a breeder just a short way away) to be a young pure-bred male Pomeranian, of an appealing reddish coloring, an amiable personality, and agreeable to other cats and dogs. He (an unmistakably un-neutered he) was running around on one of the main streets through our neighborhood. It took a bit of effort to catch him, as they are fast-moving little b****rds. Two of our neighbors stopped and told us – as we were carrying him home – that they had tried to catch him, as he was merrily skipping about in the traffic along that main feeder avenue. We were the first to be successful, probably because he was curious about Weevil and Connor, so that after about three blocks of pursuit, feints and dodges, my daughter managed to scoop him up in her arms and carry him homewards – all eight pounds and some. Of which I think a pound or so is in the weight of his fur and about half a pound in the weight of his balls … un-neutered male, as I said.
More »

02. December 2011 · Comments Off on Disposable · Categories: Critters, Working In A Salt Mine...

We live in a fairly OK suburban neighborhood on the north-east side of town – working class to middle-class, well-kept small house, with lots of military and retired military, being convenient to Randolph AFB, Fort Sam Houston and Brooke Army Medical Center; mostly owners and not many rental units. A solid, but not upscale neighborhood, which we know very well through having lived in and taken a lively interest in since I bought a house in 1995. We walk the dogs, and even before we had dogs, I used to jog a course taking me through most of the streets – it’s an OK neighborhood and we know it well. And San Antonio and Texas generally is doing all right, employment-wise, in comparison to many other places, but even so, I am developing my own way of following the current economic picture; the numbers of disposable pets.

Up until about a year and a half ago, when we found a loose dog in the neighborhood, the animal invariably turned out to be a strayed pet, and their owners were usually frantic to get them returned. Two of the largest dogs that we found and returned to their owners turned out to have strayed a good distance; several miles and from the other side of a busy four-lane avenue, but small dogs usually haven’t gone very far, not more than a couple of blocks from their starting point. We had it down to a science; if they were tagged and/or chipped, we would usually we’d have to wait until Monday to call the veterinary practice and get them to look at their rabies shot register and give us the owner’s phone number. Or the owner had put up posters all over the neighborhood, or even thought to put their phone number on the dog’s collar, or registered them with some kind of pet retrieval service. Sometimes, it would be a matter of just putting a stray on a leash and walking around, asking anyone if they recognized the dog. On one particularly memorable weekend, we found and returned four dogs to their owners – I was at a point where I was afraid to step out of the house, for fear that I would find yet another one. It usually wasn’t a bother to keep a stray for a day or so; they were almost always house-trained, friendly, and amiable towards our own dogs and cats, older animals showing evidence of having been groomed and cared for … but in the last year and a half, this has changed in a bad way.

The dogs that we have found in the streets lately have all been dumped here by their previous owners – no collars, no chips and no tags, no one advertising their loss, and certainly no one recognizes them. Most of these dogs were young, almost always dirty and rambunctious. It was easy to work out the story arc there: someone got a cute puppy, it grew up and grew large, became a handful. Someone solved their problem by driving into our neighborhood and making their problem someone else’s problem; a distressing circumstance, but kind of understandable. We dealt with two incidents of this in the last year; the first time by finding a new owner, the second time by reluctantly contacting the city animal shelter. The local city shelters will do their best to place healthy, uninjured and amiable animals, so we were not unutterably depressed in having to do this.

What is most depressing of all, is that the last few dogs that we or our neighbors have rescued from the street were not the very large, young, untrained and un-housebroken kind. They were all small, affectionate and well-behaved; one was a Chihuahua/min-pin mix, and the other two appeared to be Maltese-poodle mixes, not one of them more than fifteen pounds, and all three bearing the evidence of having been otherwise well-cared for. The first of these had also been neutered, tail docked, fairly well clipped and with beautiful manners – we thought for sure that he was a pet, and would be searched for by his owner … but no. He had been dumped as well: no one recognized him, there were no posters or notices up, as appear when a well-loved pet goes missing. The only way we can square this, is to think that perhaps his owner died or was incapacitated, and whoever was sorting out their household couldn’t be bothered to take him to the shelter. We’ve come to a bad place, when pets are being dumped like this. And if it’s like this here … how bad is it in the cities where the economic pinch is really being felt?

(We kept the one dog, by the way – his name is Connor, since we found him near O’Connor Road – and he is sleeing in his dog-bed, under my desk as I post this.)

16. September 2011 · Comments Off on A Little Shadow, Who Goes In & Out With Me · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, General

Sigh – it’s happened again. Blondie, the Queen of All Yard Sales, went out prospecting last Saturday morning to the neighborhood on the opposite side of Stahl Road, and returned with a very cute stuffed bear (practically new!) who sat in his own (cheap but cute!) upholstered armchair, which was for sale for the OMG-have-to-have-it price of a whole $3!

And there was another item, accompanying her, upon this expeditionary trip into another neighborhood: something live, black-furred, wiggly and friendly. A small and relatively well-kept dog, about twenty pounds at a guess, somewhat gray about the muzzle – which Blondie found, running around in the street, a heavily-trafficked suburban street adjacent to the yard sale – a venue which could easily spell death to small dogs.

We’ve rescued a number of dogs, in our residence here – mostly lost, and now and again dumped. We can read the whole sad story in their demeanor and behavior. Someone gets a cute puppy, puppy grows up, becomes a handful and not so cute, someone decides not to want to cope with it any longer . . . short drive to a likely neighborhood, a quick dump out the door . . . and the problem dog becomes someone else’s problem. I wish we could put people like this in the stocks, so we could throw rotten vegetables at them. Better yet – dump them in a strange town, completely naked and gagged, and let them fend for themselves and find their way home. Dogs are . . . well, they are dogs. Thousands of years ago – wolves who decided to throw their lot in with us, to look to us as the leader of their pack of one or two. The love of a dog is the only kind of love that money buys – and sometimes a love that is horribly misplaced.

Why, oh why do we always seem to undertake these rescue missions on weekends? No collar, no tags. He (definitely he and neutered) is about 20 pounds, black fur with a grizzled grey chin. Mixed breed – almost certainly part Shih-tzu, for the body conformation is the right size and confirmation, although I think there must be something else in the genetic mix. He has a long muzzle, and the veterinarian’s assistant who regretfully turned up no chip guesses Maltese, or Maltese-poodle-Shih-tzu. He is inclined to be glued to whichever one of us is working at a computer, and lays quietly under the desk, unless provoked by a cat. This is what lap-dogs do, they want to be near their chosen person – He isn’t chipped, no collar, no tags. No one has papered the neighborhood looking for him. I’ve put his picture on a couple of local lost and found websites, but no one recognizes him. He was well-cared for, healthy, fairly clean, well-mannered, obedient and affectionate … the only rationale we can come up with is that perhaps he belonged to an older person, who either passed on, or was moved into a nursing home, and the next of kin just didn’t want to botherIn the meantime, we have another dog about the house. We will make one last stab at finding his owner this weekend, by going for a walk with the dogs in the neighborhood where Blondie found him – which will probably prove to be fruitless, for no one is papering that neighborhood with posters of him.

I confess – I have rather missed the rapid clicky-clicky-clicky-nails sound of a small dog’s toenails, as they follow me about the house. Another neighbor presented us with a barely used pet-bed – the kind with the removeable cover, over a heavy foam base. We washed it all, and put it under my desk, and there he is, every day after I work. He’s there now.

26. December 2009 · Comments Off on An Oddly Satisfactory Christmas · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, General, Politics, Tea Time

It was shaping up not to be a very merry Christmas for us, under circumstances which at first appeared even more strained than last year, when I was still working at the hell-hole job – a job which brought in a regular paycheck, but earned under circumstances which . . . well, least said, soonest forgotten. (Never forgotten though – but leaving me with a burning determination to henceforward earn a living doing work that pleases me, not work which I hate every second of every minute of every hour performing.)

This year I am working for a teensy boutique press. I thought we would be able to finish one project in time for a Christmas release, which would earn me enough of the profits from it to pay some bills, buy some presents and pay enough that I could afford the drive to California. That did not work out – the book will most likely be delivered to the client by mid-January. Dad absolutely freaked at the thought of me driving to California alone, (Blondie being in school and needing to care for the pets!) and Mom’s hospitable nature is worn to tatters by Christmas, anyway. So, gave up on that plan early last week, and Blondie and I spent Christmas at home . . . our home. The one with dogs and cats, and a Christmas tree which has seen all the ornaments removed to the upper 2/3rds of the tree, due to the Lesser Weevil’s tail, and the cats’ proclivity to knock down and play with those ornaments within in reach.

Even with not finishing that book, I have two clients who are paying me to edit their own memoirs, a possible contract to ghost-write another book, beginning in January, and a regular client who pays me for content for a real-estate blog; plus a constant trickle of royalties for the Trilogy, and Truckee’s Trail. All things considered, I’m economically better off than I was last year – or I may be, once everyone gets back to work after the holidays!

We even were able to afford a bit of a splash for Christmas. Through another member of our local Red Hat Ladies chapter, Blondie scored three days of work, delivering for Edible Arrangements. Last year, no one was hiring temporary workers for Christmas, so this year she had given up entirely. And I had my royalty checks, and the usual generous gift from Mom and Dad. We also had another unexpected and totally unlooked-for blessing. We did a good deed, agreed to do a favor for someone, almost in a fit of absent-mindedness. I was scribbling away on one of my writing projects, with an eye on the pizza dough rising – (yeah, our family tradition has pizza for dinner on Christmas Eve. We do home-made, with whatever we like on it, by god! Even anchovies!)

One of my nearby neighbors pounded on the door – totally ignoring the doorbell, and it’s a mystery to me why people don’t see that, since it has a little illuminated button anyway – and explained, breathlessly that as he and his wife were about do hit the road, could we do them a favor, do a good deed over Christmas, if we were going to be at home over the holiday. It was about a stray dog, he said. As he was loading the trunk of their car with luggage, this dog came up to him. A nice little black dog, sort of poodle-ish, very friendly and well-mannered, and he thought it might be the same dog as was being advertised on a flyer attached to various mailboxes and light-posts. At this very moment, his wife was feeding the dog, but they absolutely had to hit the road in the next few minutes – could we keep the dog, and call the number on the flyer, and see to returning this nice little dog to it’s owner? Well – it’s not like we haven’t done that before. Sometimes I have thought that Blondie and I are magnets for every lost dog in our neighborhood, and beyond. On particular memorable weekend, there were four of them returned to owners; we have gotten particularly experienced at this. It’s almost a routine; check for tags, call the clinic which issued them, call the local clinics, call the various voluntary groups. If it’s a weekday, take the dog to the nearest service for a chip-check, put an ad in the paper, and walk around the neighborhood with the animal, asking everyone we know if they recognize it . . . this works, it really does. We have kept stray dogs in the back yard, and in the house, never for more than a few days, before finding the owner – usually people who have been frantically searching for their pet. There is something about a dog which is cherished, and beloved; they behave themselves, they gratefully eat the kibble in the bowl, make friends with our dogs, tolerate the cats and generally . . . behave like dogs who have people who are missing them, and ransacking the neighborhood.

Blondie came home, just as the neighbor was going down the walk – he was relieved no end to be able to pass off this project on us, for he couldn’t leave a strange dog alone in their house with their own dogs, unsupervised over the weekend, and what if the owners were going away for the holiday weekend? So Blondie took the telephone number from the poster, and called, leaving a message which was returned in a few minutes. Yes, they had been looking for their little black schnauzer, he was ten years old, neatly groomed, but no collar, neutered and with unclipped ears – they would come immediately and look at the dog which seemed to match their description. We had cheerfully put amongst our menagerie. He was very sweet and well-mannered; he sat obediently for a dog-treat and allowed the cats to dubiously sniff at him.

He had been missing for five days, as it turned out – and his owners’ family was frantic. This was sentimental movie material, when the husband and older daughter walked into the living-room, and he scampered up to them; of course he was theirs. And how wonderful to get him back safely on Christmas Eve, although where he had been for five days was anyone’s guess. It had rained on Wednesday night, and then been bitterly cold, and he was a sheltered indoor dog, for the most part. The owners said, they had posted a reward, for whoever returned him – would we accept it. We’ve only been offered a reward once – and the first time, we were very noble and turned it down. This time, I admitted that, well – Blondie’s a student, and I’m an erratically employed writer, so, yes, we would accept a reward. We truly expected it to be in the range of 25$ or so. When consulted, the neighbor who had left the situation in our hands didn’t want a share. Although we really hadn’t done all that much in this case, we had taken an awful lot of trouble on previous occasions, with all the other strays. We could consider this our cumulative reward, for all we had done for other dogs, and feel all right with accepting it. The husband thanked us again, and said they would be back in a bit.

Which they were, this time with the wife, who has been papering the other side of our neighborhood with flyers; the dog was her particular pet. They all teared up again, thanked us profusely, admired our own dogs, told us how worried they had been, and how desperately they had been searching . . . and to get him back again on Christmas Eve. They left us with a Christmas card, which contained a check for an absolutely stunning amount . . . so, yes, we were enabled to have a very pleasant Christmas, knowing that our casually-accepted good deed would help us pay a couple of bills, too.

It’s just that last year, outside my own personal situation – everything seemed more hopeful. We could cross our fingers and hope that B. Obama, once inaugurated, could grow into the job of president, that maybe having come out of the Chicago political machine would not be so much of a bad omen. After all, he did seem intelligent, politically adroit, reasonable and well-spoken – or at least the people in his proposed administration seemed to be. All the political experts, media personalities, and big intellectual authorities kept assuring us so Harry Truman came out of another such big-city machine, and he turned out OK. We could hope a little. Last year at this time, I had never heard of a Tea Party, save in the history books, would never have considered being party of a protest, carrying a sign, or sending a message to my congressman. And now . . . here we are, not yet on the edge of an abyss, but fearing that one will open up at our feet, any moment now. I am now haunted by a line a year-end roundup by Wretchard at Belmont Club, enjoy the champagne, this year – for by this time next year, we will be eating the glass.

03. February 2009 · Comments Off on Sunday Afternoon at the Dog Park with the Lesser Weevil · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, General

There is a dog park, hidden away in the back forty of McAllister Park, a sprawling public park/semi-wilderness area in Northside San Antonio. It is formed by a large fenced area, about half an acre of trees and shrubs, dotted with benches, a pavilion with a concrete table and benches under it, a couple of structures that hopefully the dogs might find amusing to run through or jump on top of and a lavish number of heavy trash cans and dispensers offering what my daughter describes as ‘poopy-bags’. There is a paved path leading around the perimeter of the fenced area, the rest of it being spread with free mulch generated by the city waste disposal department’s industrial-sized tree shredders. Another long paved path leads from a parking lot: on any given afternoon when the weather is fair and mild, and most especially on weekends, that path is alive with leashed dogs and their people. The dogs are normally wild with excitement, for they are either coming from or heading toward their social-hour, play-date or mad-minute. It must be something they look forwards to all the rest of their limited, doggy lives – if they are capable of retaining a pleasurable memory. I rather think they are; at least they know, through constant repetition, that something nice is about to happen. Spike and the Lesser Weevil are insane with excitement every morning when I put on my exercise things; for they know that it means the morning walk is imminent. So when the dogs are decanted from their owner’s cars in the parking lot on the third or forth time around – they must know. By the time they get to the double-gated entry-way enclosure to the park itself they are usually mad with excitement

It was one of our neighbors told us about the park; admittedly, we were nervous when it came to the whole off-the-leash concept when it came to the Lesser Weevil. We know that she is part Boxer; it’s obvious, just to look at her. But we don’t know for sure what the other half is, and suspect that a considerable lashing of what is usually described in screaming headlines as ‘pit bull’ is included in her genetic makeup. She is adoring and lovable to all humans. Without exception everyone she meets is instantly her bestest friend in the whole wide world, and the way she went all gooey and affectionate over the cable guy was quite embarrassing – especially since she is supposed to be a guard/watch dog. No, we have no apprehensions about the Weevil and humans – it’s other dogs, and only now and again in the early months that she took an instant and abiding dislike to another dog on a leash. If she had not also been on a leash herself, and for Blondie or I instantly half-strangling her in the pinch-collar, it might have gotten very ugly. But our neighbor assured us, over and over – that it is all right, the dogs seem to govern themselves very well, off leash, and the more there are of them in the confines of the park, the better they all behave. So we took a chance – and we stuck very close to her that first time, and waited until she had behaved well for the first half-dozen dogs who came romping up for a bit of friendly butt-sniffing.

Weevil still does not play quite so uninhibitedly with the other dogs as some of them do. She will chase a thrown tennis ball and race with some of the others, but she will stay fairly close to Blondie. And Spike basically attaches herself to my ankles, never going much farther than ten feet away, even if there are other small dogs – Shi Tzus, Jack Russells and Chihuahuas and the like who want to play with her. It was quite lively this last Sunday; not least because it seemed to be Big Dog Day. No kidding – don’t they keep insisting that everything is bigger in Texas? Sometimes people tell us that the Weevil is a big dog; no, she actually is rather agreeably medium-sized. On Sunday she looked positively dainty, next to a Newfoundland the size of a small sofa (there were three of them there, that day), two mastiffs who topped out at a couple of hundred pounds each, and a Great Dane who looked big enough to put a saddle on and ride like a horse. No kidding, that last dog’s nose alone was bigger than the smallest dog present – a four-month-old Chihuahua puppy, too small even to be put down on the ground among all those specimens of canine gigantism.

And of course, the Weevil behaved herself – how could she not, when the whole place was seething with dogs; dogs running, chasing tennis balls and each others’ behinds, begging to be played with and petted, and romping in front of, or behind their people making a slow circuit of the path around the park? No, it was a good day and good for her – and kind of a relief to know that Blondie has trained her to obedience well enough to trust her off the leash and with a large number of other dogs.

13. January 2009 · Comments Off on A Simple, Dog-related Question · Categories: Critters, Domestic, General, The Funny

What do you call a little doggy who is the result of a cross between a chihuahua and a Shi-tzu? (and what would you give to have not been present at that moment, the barking would have been deafening!?)

Blondie and I spotted one, in Fredericksburg last weekend – kinda cute, actually. But small, and probably yappy. The best we came up with was

(wait for it …. drumroll, please…)

A ‘Cheet-zu!’

Any other suggestions?

07. July 2008 · Comments Off on Jezzie Has Two Daddies · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, General

And other animal adventures …

Jezebel the kitten has now achieved a whole three pounds, weight-wise. We have had begun weighing her on the bathroom scale, rather than the kitchen scale which only goes up to two pounds anyway. Of course, to us who see her constantly, she looks about the same as ever: a cute, small, immature feline, tortoise-shell in color and with eyes which still look sort of a muddy grey-shading-to-green. She is comfortable with the dogs, but still a little nervous when encountering the Lesser Weevil at ground level. Three pound kitten, seventy-pound boxer-pit mix – who would win that encounter? Given the size differential, I’d be nervous myself.

Otherwise she is bold to the point of being brash, friendly and affectionate to all humans. The instant she is picked up, she begins to purr like a small electric engine. She spends those evenings when Blondie is watching television, curled up on Blondie’s chest like a little cat-fur collar. We speculate that it is because she likes the sound of a human heart-beat. Perhaps it is as comfortable to other infant mammals as it is to babies, the sound of that heartbeat. She also has an enormously long tail, proportional to the rest of her – and with an endearing kink in the end. Why do certain cats have kinks in their tails – surely it wasn’t caused by an injury? We speculate that there may not have been room in the womb for all of Jezzie’s tail – sheer lack of space forced it into a slight bend.

She has formed, as expected, a comfortable bond with Percy. They were both detected last night, curled up comfortably together on a chair seat, while Percy washed her, with loving and careful attention to her ears. Well, we always have thought of him as our little gay hair-dresser cat. Sammy, the faded flame-point Siamese with the gammy leg has also been detected in a playful mood with her; rather like a crotchety old uncle deigning to pitch baseballs for the edification of the junior set. He does not do it with good grace or for very long, but these actions are promising. The other cats couldn’t care less – all stodgy dignity in the face of kitten impudence.

We did another dog-retrieval this weekend; this one considerably prolonged because of the holiday. The subject in question had a rabies-tag on the collar, but the clinic where it had been issued was closed over the long weekend. Our neighbor Judy captured him; a stray which made himself notable all along the street for his size – which was enormous – and his friendly demeanor – which was unmistakable to all, and the fact that no one recognized him. That’s the thing about neighborhoods; within a certain radius, everyone will recognize a familiar dog, especially a big one which most likely, has to be taken for walks. She couldn’t keep him at her house, her three cats would go absolutely ape-shit at being forced to share quarters with a very large dog. Not that any of ours would have been all that happy, just that they have become inured to it. Blondie thought at first that we could keep him in the back yard; he was a large, leggy dog with ears that stuck out like Yoda’s. He looked like a German shepherd mixed with generous lashings of Doberman and god knows what else. Just what you want to introduce to a houseful of other cats and dogs! We called him ‘Yoda’ or alternately ‘Big Boy’ – neither of us really wanted to prod his nether regions to see if he had been neutered or not, but that was unnecessary, for he turned out to be the original metrosexual dog. Terribly gentlemanly, affectionate, obedient and well-behaved – wussy, even. If he were a human, Madonna would never even consider dating him. As it turned out, he was terribly frightened of thunderstorms. One rolled in, on Saturday afternoon, and he plastered himself against the slider door and trembled so awfully that the whole end of the house shook. We relented and let him, holding our breath. Not to worry – everyone behaved themselves, although Jezzies’ tail swelled up like a bottle-brush and she shot all the way up the curtain in the den doorway to the top and sat there for I don’t know how long. He slept for two nights in the corner of my room, although the Spike was loudly indignant about this. Like a true gentleman, Yoda/Big Boy – whose real name turned out to be ‘Doofus’ restrained himself from slaughtering her. It turned out that he had run away from his home on Friday evening, after being so terrorized by the sound of fireworks that he took out a good chunk of the backyard fence in his haste to depart.

His owner had spent the whole weekend looking for him – but since the place where he lived was a subdivision a good way away up the Nacogdoches Road – without luck. Always nice to return a pet to its rightful person, especially when it’s a dog which has gone a considerable distance from where it was lost. The larger ones do that; the first year that we lived here, we retrieved an elderly golden lab named Tommy who had been missing for two weeks and from five miles away after being panicked by a thunderstorm. But we will have to go around tomorrow and tear down all the posters that we put up, in this neighborhood and the next one over. No way would I ever call the city pound for an animal that I have found, not when I know that they are for the gas within three days of being picked up.

30. June 2008 · Comments Off on The Food of the Gods · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry, General, World

Owing to a particular circumstance – that of Blondie’s boss having a pair of sons who were very into 4-H activities this past year, both of whom raised prize-winning pigs – our freezer is filled with the most delectable assortment of pork products. It seems that part of the whole scheme for students of the agricultural arts in raising such animals … is to partake of the resulting bounty. (Er… they are being raised to provide that sort of thing; ham, chops, bacon, the rest. The kids who do this are perfectly clear on the concept, as was my Granny Jessie, raised on a Pennsylvania farm at the beginning of the last century. Charlotte’s Web aside, farm pigs weren’t intended to be pets, as clever and endearing as they tend to be.)

Anyway, Blondie’s bosses’ family freezer quite overflowed with their share of two pigs, so a portion has been passed on to us, and oh, my! Chops, sausage, thick-cut cured bacon, ham slices, back ribs and a roast which we have already cooked in the slow cooker with two cans of Rotel tomatoes and green chilis for burritos. All of it delectable, succulent, flavorful… the sausage has very little fat in it and the ham? The ham is perfectly divine, unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten, although Honey-Baked does come close in hammy perfection. Believe me, all this will be portioned out and used in recipes which will show it all off to best effect. Should the house catch fire, mine and Blondie’s first thoughts will be for rescuing the pets, my computer, the Yoshida prints… and the contents of the freezer.

This is what the farm-raised stuff must have tasted like, and what the expensive, organic specialty ordered meats must be like, the stuff that I cannot afford, at least until “Adelsverein” and “Truckee’s Trail” are way, way farther up in the Amazon sales ranking than they are at present. In the early 19th century, pork was the meat of American choice, rather than beef – and now I know why. Food of the gods, people, food of the gods!

17. June 2008 · Comments Off on Meet Jezzy · Categories: Critters, Domestic, General

Short for Jezebel. About five inches tall at the shoulder. Eyes: muddy gray, will possibly turn green when mature. Overall color: mixed hues of black, several shades of brown, tan and pale orange. Weight: 2 lbs. Approximate age: 6 weeks. Temperament: carefree, affectionate and playful. Breed: Short haired American domestic feline. (I am guessing about the short-hair, though.)

Yes, after lamenting Meek, the adoring lap-cat with the beautiful celadon-green eyes, Blondie has acquired a kitten – or the kitten has acquired her. It’s kind of hard to tell with these things. There are those people who have “Incredible Sucker for Our Dumb Chums” written across their foreheads in invisible letters? Yes, Blondie is one of them, and the neighbors who originally provided us with Sammy (who with incredible fickleness fell madly, deeply, irrevocably in love with Blondie about three years ago) are another. A couple of weeks ago, they rescued a pair of infant felines from under the bushes at a neighborhood church, and took them both home to their menagerie of eight small and two large dogs and a number of adult cats. They found a home for one, and at a yard sale they were holding this last weekend, cunningly offered to show Blondie the other one.

Which, aside from being as endearing as kittens usually are, totally fearless with dogs, also is the spitting image of Patchie, the cat that I found as a kitten on a building site in Athens, and who accompanied us to Spain, Utah, California and Texas before succumbing at the age of 16 to complications from old age and feline diabetes. No, this was something ordained, although the other cats are probably objecting in no uncertain terms. Here is a kitten, a playful, adventurous infant being added to their staid and mature circle. Seeing that they were all neutered at an early age, and have lived indoors ever since, Jezzie is possibly the very first immature specimen of their kind that they have encountered in the last seven years.

Percival condescends to play with her, but Henry, Morgie and Arthur are all very much offended dignity. She gets a warmer and happier welcome from the dogs, oddly enough. They are both so very much larger – in the Lesser Weevil’s case, about forty times larger – that we must take care that their affections and playful urges do not put Jezzie in danger through accident. She, by the happy chance of being cared for in a household overrun with small dogs, appears to rather like dogs. She will play, pouncing on the end of Spike’s plumy tail, and will curl up between Weevil’s outstretched paws, on the floor of the den while we are watching TV of an evening. And whenever one of us picks her up – her purr-motor kicks into overdrive; all together a most endearing little catling.

Honestly, though – we are maxed out as far as the capacity for pets goes. No more. Really…

29. May 2008 · Comments Off on Horatio The Puppy-Cat · Categories: Critters, Domestic, General

My pet-loving neighbor, Judy, claims that the very best cats have something of the qualities of dogs in them; they are friendly, curious and open to all kinds of adventurous interaction with other species. Sometimes such cats as these like water, are perfectly agreeable to walking on a leash and display a fondness for dog-like amusements such as playing fetch, and eagerly eating anything that takes their fancy. In childhood, my family had a Siamese cat who had a peculiar fondness for popcorn, cookie dough, canned peaches and cornflakes – but then Siamese are notoriously eccentric. In any case, perhaps we can consider a name for these special cats. They are not kitty-cats – they are puppy-cats.

The most determined puppy-cat we know is a black cat named Horatio Caine, who lives just up the road – obviously his people are CSI fans. He has a collar with his name-tag hung on it, and the usual sort of animal license tags. I know nothing about his owners, save for what I can deduce from their garden: neat and ornamented with about the average number of garden tchochkas – fancy pots, banners, chimes and sculptures, and their car – slightly more than the usual number of in-your-face bumper-stickers. But they have a really cool cat.

Horatio lives in the garage, which he seems to prefer. They leave the garage door cracked about six inches, so he can come and go as he pleases, and does he please! He is almost always somewhere close by, when we come past with the dogs, and often comes trotting down the sidewalk to meet us. He has become perfectly amiable with Spike and with the Lesser Weevil. He will throw himself down on the warm concrete and bat at Spike with his paws, in an attempt to get her to tussle with him. One day, he even ran out from behind the car and batted Spike on the hindquarters to get her attention. He twines himself around the Weevil’s legs, walks underneath her and rubs the side of his face against both of them. This action may be taken as affectionate, but I am also told it is how cats mark objects for their own. This sometimes happens twice in a day, as we go out and as we return; it really seems that Horatio is glad to see us. When we depart, he runs after us the length of several houses, before trotting back to his garage.

It didn’t happen overnight, of course – he wouldn’t come very close to Weevil, at first. Spike was much closer in size, and not nearly so intimidating. Gradually, he put aside a certain wariness about the Weevil, coming closer and closer, or allowing her to come closer to him, as they sniff at each other in a companionable way. For the last month or so, they have been easy and comfortable with each other. Horatio walks below her chin, and she drools on him. I think the Weevil would like to be better friends with cats, but of ours, only Percy and Sam allow any such familiarity.

It is really quite marvelous, to have a cat be so friendly with dogs that are not part of their household. I shouldn’t be surprised to know that Horatio has other dog-friends, but it must make a curious sight for anyone driving through our neighborhood: a black cat, so utterly friendly and affectionate towards a pair of dogs, out for their daily walkies. He is obviously very fond of his people, and they of him – otherwise, we’d add him to our menagerie, or at least see if he wanted to put on a leash and go on walkies with us.