Friday, August 30, 2013


Most people know what Golden Retrievers look like, since they are the third most popular dog breed in America.  Which means I don't have to waste time describing them to you.  In Australia, they are the fifth most popular, and they are the eighth most popular breed in the UK.  I'm not sure why people would choose to have a big, hairy dog like a Golden, when they could have a cute little short-haired basenji instead, but that's just the way it is.

Anyway, one thing people seem to like about Golden Retrievers is the fact that they are easy to train.  These dogs were first bred to be hunting dogs, but you can also train them to do sports like obedience, agility, flyball, or dock diving.  The breed is also used a lot as guide dogs for the blind, as detection dogs, and for search and rescue.  One thing you can't use them for is guard dogs, because they are so friendly that they would let bad guys come right on in your house.

Goldens have a thick inner coat that keeps them warm, and a flat outer coat that repels water.  They are bred to be gundogs whose job is to retrieve game birds or water fowl after the birds are shot.  Retrievers  are not allowed to tear the dead birds up and eat them, even if they would like to.  Instead, they are supposed to bring the birds back without harming them.

Photo:  Dirk Vorderstrasse

Most Goldens will also retrieve other things, such as tennis balls.   Augie, a Golden Retriever from Dallas, Texas, is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most tennis balls held in a dog's mouth.  On July 6, 2003 Augie picked up five tennis balls and successfully held onto all of them.

Photo: Guinness World Records

Because they have such nice temperaments, Goldens make good family dogs.  They do best if they have plenty of exercise, and since they shed so much, they need regular brushing.  They get along with other dogs, cats, and most livestock.  Sometimes Golden bitches have acted as substitute moms for other types of animals such as kittens or tiger cubs.

The Golden Retriever breed got started back in the mid-18th century in Scotland.  In those days, the wealthy Scots liked to go hunting, but their hunting dogs could not retrieve birds from both land and water.  This was a problem because there were lots of marshy places and rivers on their hunting grounds.  So a man named Dudley Coutts Majoribanks, the first Baron Tweedmouth, decided to create a new breed of dog that would be gentle and trainable, and that could retrieve game from both land and water.

Baron Tweedmouth's home, Guisachan
©Scottish National Trust

I think we can all agree that this poor man was stuck with two very funny names, "Majoribanks" and "Tweedmouth," but in spite of this handicap, he managed to invent the Golden Retriever.  He did this in 1868 by crossing a yellow-colored retriever named "Nous" with a Tweed Water Spaniel named "Belle."  Four puppies were born, and their names were Crocus, Cowslip, Ada, and Primrose.  After lots more breedings and cross-breedings, the new breed was created.

The Kennel Club of England accepted the breed for registration in 1903 as Flat Coats -- Golden.  They were first exhibited in 1908, and in 1911 the breed name was changed to Retriever (Golden and Yellow).  The American Kennel Club recognized Golden Retrievers in 1925.

Last month, an event called the Guisachan Gathering took place in Scotland.  Guisachan (pronounced Goose-a-kin) was held at the home of Lord Tweedmouth, where the Golden Retriever breed began.  Of course, the original Baron is long dead now, and his house is in ruins, but that doesn't stop people from going there and taking their Goldens.  This year, a record number of 222 dogs were at the Gathering.

Photo:  Gordon Richardson

People attended from the UK, Spain, Australia, Denmark, Austria, Japan, Italy, Canada, and the US.  During the three-day event, people did fun stuff like have a conformation show, play tug-of-war, and hurl haggis.  Haggis is the national dish of Scotland, and what it's made of is sheep's heart, liver, and lungs, all wrapped up in the sheep's stomach.  In my opinion, this haggis stuff sounds like it would be extremely yummy to eat, and I don't understand why people would hurl it away!  But humans are mostly crazy, as I think I have mentioned before.

Everybody loves Golden puppies!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I feel really annoyed because I still have to wear this stupid cone.  Part of my scab fell off
yesterday, and Mom thought maybe she could take the cone off of me, but then she took a good look at my boo-boo, and she saw that it was still kind of gooey under the scab, so she left the cone on.

The thing that makes this cone situation really bad is that it is Cicada Season, which is my favorite season of the year.  So now I have to go cicada hunting on the patio at night with my cone on.  I feel like an idiot, but I still manage to catch some cicadas, and I guess that is the important thing.

But speaking of the patio, it is now getting all covered with acorns and acorn parts, so you can't walk there without making crunching noises.  It's like walking on corn flakes, only louder.  There are tons of squirrels around, and most of the time they stay high up in the trees where we can't get to them.  But guess what!  The other day Dorrie was standing under the huge oak tree in our back yard, and suddenly Something Big fell out of it.  Dorrie was shocked, and so was Mom, who saw it happen.  And the big thing turned out to be an entire squirrel who fell right out of the tree, like some kind of klutz.  I think the squirrel was as surprised as Dorrie was, but the squirrel managed to get partway up the tree again before Dorrie could try to catch it.

Anderson likes sitting in Mom's lap
In other news:  our little black foster kitten James got adopted yesterday!  We are very happy about this because we thought we might be stuck with the black kittens forever.  Right now we have John and Anderson here at home -- oh, and little Chief.  Adrian and James have been at PetSmart since Saturday, and yesterday Aunt Tania also took Audra out there.  So Audra can keep Adrian company, and he won't be so lonely.

Rags is still chasing the cats, and even though he isn't doing it as much as he did at first, Jason started a petition, which all the cats signed.  Then they got Dorrie and me to sign it, too.  We presented the petition to Mom, and what it said was that we thought Rags wasn't a good fit for our house, and he should go someplace else to live.  Mom tried to explain to the cats that Rags is just trying to play, but they don't like the way he plays.  Dorrie doesn't like the way he plays either, because he is such an in-your-face kind of dog.  I don't want to be bothered by him, so I just growl and snap and tell him to go away.

A standoff between Jason and Rags

Mom finally decided that all of us were right about Rags, and that he would be happier in a home where he had a nice, young dog to play with, or maybe some children.  And no cats.  So she emailed Aunt Christine yesterday and told her that she needed to bring Rags back.  Aunt Christine is trying to find a foster home for Rags to stay in, so in the meantime, he is still living with us.

Anyway, that's all the news for today, but news seems to happen every day, so I'm sure there will be more of it soon.

Monday, August 26, 2013



People used to think that miasmas caused horrible diseases such as cholera or the plague.  No one knew for sure where sickness came from, so they blamed this smelly, poisonous atmosphere that was like rotting plants in a swamp.

The word miasma came from ancient Greek, and it meant "pollution."  Other terms for miasma were "night air" or "bad air."  The miasma theory was accepted in many parts of the world such as Europe, India, and China.  It only went away in the 19th century, after germs were discovered.

Nowadays, people might use the word miasma to mean something like evironmental pollution or maybe something more symbolic, like a feeling of foreboding.

The Cholera Miasma

Aqua vitae

In the Middle Ages, people figured out that if they distilled wine several times, they could make stronger drinks such as brandy and whiskey.  These liquors were called aqua vitae, which was Latin for "water of vitality."

Another use of the term was in the Church, where it could mean the water of baptism.  I guess if you wanted a double dose of aqua vitae, you could get baptized with brandy, but people probably didn't do that.  I'm just sayin'.


This word looks like it has something to do with celery, but it doesn't.  What celerity means is speed or haste or going really fast.  For example, a greyhound runs with great celerity.

The word came from the Middle French word celerite, which came from the Latin word celeritas.


If you have surgery, and your veterinarian or doctor accidentally leaves a sponge inside you, that is a gossypiboma.  Another word for it is textiloma or a Retained Foreign Object (RFO).  The word gossiypiboma comes from the Latin word gossypium, which means "cotton wool" or "cotton".  The boma part is a Kiswahili word that means "place of concealment."

Of course, it is very bad to have a foreign object inside your body.  It's so bad that you can die from it.  The symptoms might not even show up for months or years.  Sometimes an infection develops around the object, or sometimes the body tries to make a tumor around it.

Anyway, surgeons and nurses are very careful about counting how many sponges they use and making sure they have every last one of them before they close up the incision.  Sometimes they also x-ray somebody to make sure there is nothing left inside them.

Photo:  Ali Aminian


The British use this term for anybody who likes to stand around by canals and watch what is going on there, especially on the locks as the boats go through them.  Probably the canal workers first used this term to make fun of idle spectators, but gongoozlers are now proud to call themselves by this word.  Not only that, but while they are gongoozling, some like to make artwork, such as paintings, photographs, and postcards.

You can also use the term gongoozler to refer to anybody who is just standing around watching an event without contributing to it in any way.
Foxton Locks
Original uploader:  Stephen Dawson


Sabrage means opening a champagne bottle with a saber, which seems like a strange way to do it, when you could just use a corkscrew.  Sabrage became popular back in the days of Napoleon because his troops were always drinking champagne.  Napoleon thought that if you won a battle, you should celebrate with champagne, and if you lost, you should drink champagne to cheer yourself up.

Anyway, you do sabrage by sliding the saber along the body of the bottle and breaking the whole neck off.  The cork just stays in the collar of the bottle.  You can see a slow-motion video on YouTube that shows you how to do it.  There are other videos about sabering champagne there, too, including one in Swedish.  If you want to know the physics of why this works, you can read about sabrage in Wikipedia.
Author:  Frank van Mierlo

Friday, August 23, 2013


Yesterday Dorrie and I went to the Humane Society with Mom, and we met Rags.  He is a goofy-looking dog -- not sleek and elegant like a basenji, or even like a chihuahua.  I think he looks a lot like a cairn terrier, except he has the wrong kind of ears and his snout is too short.  I'm not sure why Mom thought it would be fun for us to have this kind of dog in our family, but for some reason, she did.

Rags plays with toys without ripping them apart.
Clearly, he does not understand what toys are for.

Anyway, we met Rags in the hallway outside the dog kennels, and we all sniffed each other and sort of got acquainted.  Then we went outside in the yard where the shelter dogs play.  I pooped right away out there, and so did Rags, and Dorrie peed.  After which, we sniffed each other some more.  I did not like being in the yard because it was really hot out there, and I started panting.

Rags meeting Adrian and James, the kittens

Mom was hot, too, and so was Dr. Regan, who went out there with us because she had finished all her surgeries for the day and was helping us meet Rags.  Aunt Christine came out there, too.  She is the adoption counselor.  Anyway, since we were all hot, we went back inside.  Then Mom waited in the hall with us three dogs for a while until Aunt Christine had time to do all our paperwork.

Rags was being annoying and way too full of energy.  He kept sort of jumping at me like he actually expected me to play with him.  So I started snarking at him every time he came near me, and he went and lay down and proved that he could be a calm dog, after all.  Mom got a little worried because she thought maybe Rags and I weren't going to get along, but Aunt Christine said I was just setting some boundaries, which is true.

Rags on our patio

Dorrie thinks Rags is a little too big and too energetic also.  Mom hopes Dorrie will get to be friends with Rags and they will play together.  But right now, Dorrie thinks Rags is kind of scary.  The cats haven't decided for sure what to think of him.  Well, except for Audra, who mostly hates all dogs.  She is always hissing and swiping her claws at me and Dorrie.  I just ignore her, but Dorrie yelps like she is dying, even though I don't think Audra has ever actually touched her.

Anyway, Audra started this "get away from me, you dog" thing with Rags, but he tried to chase her and made a big game out of it.  Mom got worried that Rags wasn't going to get along with our kitties after all, but now we think it is just Audra he doesn't get along with.  And next week Audra is going back to PetSmart to spend a week or two, and if she gets adopted, we won't have to worry about her anymore.

Rags and Latifa

Okay, well, here are some more pictures Mom took of Rags on his first day here.  I don't really know what I think of him yet, as a brother, so I guess I will just have to wait and see how things turn out.

Rags running back and forth in the house with his toy

Finally tired out

Rags butt

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Stuff #1:

I have to wear the horrible Cone of Shame for at least a week, and here's why.  Somehow I got a boo-boo on my elbow and it got infected.  Mom thinks maybe I got the boo-boo because I am a klutz, and I slipped and fell down.  But no way am I a klutz, so that couldn't be the reason I got the boo-boo.  Anyway, Mom thought my elbow would heal up just fine on its own, but it didn't.  And after a while, she noticed that I was using my special saliva cure on it, so she took me to see Dr. Vodraska on Monday.

Dr. Vodraska looked at my elbow, and right away she said that it was infected.  It didn't look all red, like some infections look, but it had a scab that was kind of greenish.  Which meant that my magical saliva cure was not working.  When we got home, Mom put The Cone on me, and I have to take a Clavamox pill twice a day.

Stuff #2:

This is not news from our house.  It's important national news, because guess what!  There is now a second First Dog in the White House!  Poor Bo has been alone all this time with no other doggies to play with at home.  But now he has a little sister, and her name is Sunny.  She is totally black, so "Sunny" seems like a funny name for her, but the Obamas said it was because she is a cheerful, happy, friendly dog.

Sunny is a Portuguese Water Dog, just like Bo.  She was born in Michigan, and she is one year old.  She arrived at the White House on Monday, after the Obama family got back from their vacation in Martha's Vineyard.

Bo and Sunny
Photo by Pete Souza/AFP-Getty Images

The Obamas got a second Portuguese Water Dog because that breed doesn't bother the two girls, who are allergic to dogs.  The family made a donation to the Washington Humane Society in honor of Sunny, but they did not tell the public how much they gave.  I guess they did this to make the people happy who thought they should have adopted a shelter dog.

Anyway, Sunny will have most of the same First-Dog duties as Bo has, which include romping on the White House lawn, going to the Easter egg roll, and posing for lots of pictures.

Stuff #3:

Well, I left the very best thing for last, because the Obamas are not the only people who are getting a new dog.  We're probably going to get one, too!  His name is Rags, and he's about a year and a half old.  He is some kind of scruffy terrier mix with short legs.

Rags got hit by a car, which is why Kansas City, Kansas Animal Control picked him up.  It turned out that Rags had a broken pelvis, so he has been sitting around in a cage at the Humane Society, waiting to get healed up.  He's pretty much all well now, except he has a little limp sometimes.

Mom met Rags last week, and she went out for a walk with him.  Yesterday she played with him and took him in the cat room at the shelter to see if he would chase the cats or try to eat them.  But he didn't want to eat the cats at all.  He only wanted to eat the cats' food.  So to me, this means he is a very smart dog, and I think I will like him a lot (unless he tries to eat my food)!

Anyway, tomorrow Dorrie and I get to go meet Rags, and if we like him, he can come home with us.  Mom even said I could take off my cone while we are meeting Rags, so I can get a really good view of him.  But sadly, I have to put the yucky thing back on when we get home again.

Monday, August 19, 2013


The painting of our house happened several weeks ago, but I was so busy taking naps that I couldn't write about it until now.  Luckily, Mom took lots of pictures while the whole thing was going on, so that way we could remember how it all went.

The reason we got our house painted was because the old paint was trying to fall off.  Old paint does this sometimes, and our old paint had been there for maybe 9 years or so.  Mom put off getting the house painted because she knew it would be expensive, but finally it had to be done.

So the first thing Mom did was go to the paint store and get some paint chips and decide what color our house should be.  Actually, she already knew what color she wanted, but she pretended to consider some other colors.

The color Mom picked was called Clary Sage.  I didn't know what "clary" was, but it turns out to be an herb in the salvia family that is used for seasoning.  The last time Mom got the house painted, she meant to pick out sort of a sage color, but she made a mistake and got a weird green instead.  So we have been stuck with that green for many years.

The next thing Mom did was she got the names of some people who paint houses, and she asked them to come give us an estimate.  All the estimates were around $5,000, so Mom decided to use a guy who has painted several houses in our neighborhood.  His name is Tim Fitzwater.  He is tall and has a shaved head and a funny-looking goatee.  He asked Mom if she wanted some kind of "super paint" that would last forever, or if she wanted another kind that would only last 25 years.  Mom thought 25 years was plenty of time because she figures she will be in a retirement home long before that, and the next people can worry about repainting the house.

Then Mom emailed her financial planner and told him she needed to spend about $5,000 out of her mutual funds account to get the house painted, and the financial planner said he would make sure the money was there.

Mr. Fitzwater put us on his list to have our house painted, but we did not know how soon he would get to us because it kept raining, which made the painters not be able to work.  And also, we didn't know how many people were on the list ahead of us.

So we went to Austin to visit Aunt Cheryl, which I already told you about, and a couple of days before we were going to come home, Mr. Fitzwater emailed Mom and said he could start on our house the Monday after we got back.

The first day, not much happened except a couple of men moved lots of tools and equipment to our house and put it in our shed.  But the ladders had to stay outside because they didn't fit in the shed.  Mr. Fitzwater asked Mom if she had picked out some colors, and she said she mostly had, but she talked to him about the choices to see if he had any suggestions.  He did, but in the end, Mom stuck with the colors she had already picked out.  She only changed the color of green from what it was before, and she kept the same colors for the trim and shutters.

Okay, so the first thing that the painters did was something called "power washing."  This knocked all the really, really loose paint off the house.  After that, they scraped the rest of the flaky stuff off by hand.  Then they put primer on the places where there was no paint, which made our house look kind of spotted like a giraffe.

There were some places where the wood was all rotten, like some of the window sills, for example, so the men had to cut new wood to replace them.  And then, after that, they painted the trim, and we could not even use the front door for a day or so.  We had to go in through the garage.

The view from inside the house was not very good.  It was like night or else like a snowstorm, where there is snow stuck to all the windows.

Finally, the painters starting putting the nice sage green color on the house.  This paint had some kind of adhesive stuff in it that is supposed to make it stick to the house for 25 years, like Mr. Fitzwater said. You can definitely see that it is stuck on much better than our old paint, and also it looks very smooth and nice.

After they finished everything, the painters went back and did some touching up to make sure they hadn't missed anything.

The wood shutters on the front of the house turned out to be really old and in bad shape, so they did not hold paint very well.  Mom decided to get new shutters, which are plastic, but they had to be ordered because the ones in the store didn't fit our house.  So we waited about a week to get the new shutters.  Our house looked sort of naked until we got the shutters.

It took 3 weeks or more for everything to get fixed and painted.  Sometimes we thought it would never be all done, but finally it was.  It ended up costing more than we thought it would because of all the rotten wood and shutters that had to be replaced.  Mom kind of stopped keeping track of the cost, but she thinks it was pretty close to $9,000.  Some people probably didn't even notice that we got our house painted, since it went from being one green to being another green.  But we can tell, and that makes us happy.

Friday, August 16, 2013


The more I think about it, the more I realize
there is nothing more artistic than to love others.
    --Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, Die Ernte, Arles, 1888

Behind all this, 
some great happiness is hiding.
    --Yehuda Amichai

Vincent van Gogh, Seascape at Saintes Maries, 1888

Realize deeply that the present moment 
is all you ever have.  Make the Now 
the primary focus of your life.
    --Eckhart Tolle

Vincent van Gogh, View of Arles with Irises, 1888
They always say time changes things,
but you actually have to change them yourself.
    --Andy Worhol

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night over the Rhone, 1888

I have realized that the past and future 
are real illusions, that they exist in the present, 
which is what there is and all there is.
    --Alan Watts

Vincent van Gogh, Cornfield with Cypresses, 1889 
If you can’t find your inspiration
by walking around the block one time,
go around two blocks -- but never three.
    --Robert Motherwell

Vincent van Gogh, Field with Poppies, 1889

The sunrise, of course, doesn’t care
if we watch it or not.
It will keep on being beautiful,
even if no one bothers to look at it.
    --Gene Amole

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I started out to write a blog entry about pythons in general, but while doing my in-depth research, I was shocked to learn of a horrible event in New Brunswick, Canada last week.  And what happened was that two young boys were killed by an African rock python while they were sleeping.  I will tell you more about this event in a minute, but first I will tell you a little about African rock pythons.

Drawing by Sir Andrew Smith, 1840

There are seven species of pythons, and the scientific name of the African rock python is Python sebae.  This snake is the largest one in all of Africa, and it is one of the five largest snake species in the world.  The other four are the green anaconda, reticulated python, Burmese python, and amethystine python.  African rock pythons can be as long as 20 feet and weigh up to 120 pounds.  You can find them in all types of habitats, ranging from forests to desert-like places.  But there will usually be a source of water nearby.

African rock python in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve
Photo by Michel Denis-Huot, Hemis/Corbis

Female pythons lay eggs, and they try to lay them in a place where the eggs will stay warm.  The mother snake coils herself around the eggs to protect them, and if they start getting cold, she makes them warmer by shivering.  As soon as the baby snakes hatch, they go off on their own, with no thanks to their mom.

Killing the prey

Pythons hunt by hiding someplace and then ambushing their prey.  Their bite is not poisonous, but the fangs hold the prey until the snake can coil itself around the animal it has caught.  Then the python keeps making the coils tighter until the prey can't breathe anymore and it dies.  The kinds of things pythons like to eat are small mammals, warthogs, herons, and antelopes.  After killing and swallowing a huge meal such as an antelope, a python might not need to eat again for a year.  Usually they will not attack a human unless they are startled or cornered.

Swallowing the prey

You can buy most kinds of pythons in the exotic pet trade, and some of them, like for example, the Burmese python, supposedly make pretty nice pets -- if you like scaly, slithery kinds of pets.  But African rock pythons do not make good pets because they are usually grouchy and vicious.

Digesting the prey

So here's what happened last week in New Brunswick, in a town called Campbellton.  Connor and Noah Barthe, who were seven and five, spent the day with a neighbor boy and his father.  They went to the family farm and petted the animals and rode on the tractor and had a lot of fun.  Then they slept over with their friend, who lives in an apartment above a pet shop called Reptile Ocean, because his dad is the owner of the shop.

Connor and Noah Barthe
Photo:  Rex Features
During the night, an African rock python who lived in the shop got out of its floor-to-ceiling glass tank somehow.  Then the snake crawled up through the ductwork to the ceiling of the apartment above, and it dropped down out of the vent.  When the pet shop owner got up in the morning, he found out that Noah and Connor had been squeezed to death by the python.

Since it is rare for pythons to attack humans, nobody is exactly sure why the boys got killed.  One theory is that because they had spent the day at the farm, they smelled like animals a python might like to eat, and the snake was just hungry.  But after killing the boys, it didn't try to eat them.

Photo:  Reuters
The Canadian Natural Resources Department has not said whether Reptile Ocean had a permit to own the python.  Since there is an investigation going on, they are not supposed to comment on things like that.  The python that killed the boys was euthanized, and so were four American alligators from Reptile Ocean, because there were no accredited zoos who could take them.  Twenty-three other reptiles were also seized by the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, N.B.

Nick Wright, who is a lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice Canada, said "There's no uncertainty that the African rock python is a species that should not be permitted to be kept in captivity in the way that it was."  And Kenneth Krysko, senior herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville said, "I personally don't see why people need to have these things as pets -- they're not good pets and look at what ends up happening.  I was shocked to hear about this."

BBC Nature Wildlife

In the last few years, African rock pythons have been found in Florida, along with Burmese pythons and boa constrictors.  Probably the African rock pythons got there because some people bought them and then found out they weren't good pets, so they let them loose in the wild.  Anyway, none of these snake species are native to Florida or to the U.S., so it's a problem having them here.  All I can say is I hope they never slither their way up to Missouri!