Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Eastern Garter Snake,
Spangler Park, Wooster OH
The most common kind of garter snakes North America are called "common garter snakes," and that's the kind I'm going to talk about.  If you have seen a snake in your back yard, it was probably a garter snake.  Unless your back yard is in Australia or the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which case, there might be another type of snake that is more common.  You can find garter snakes all the way from Central America to the panhandle of Alaska.  And in Massachusetts, the garter snake is the state reptile.

Bluestripe Garter Snake
©Barry Mansell/naturepl.com
Garter snakes are long, thin snakes with an average length of about 22 inches.  The most ordinary colors are yellow stripes on a brown or green background, but there can be lots of different colors, too, such as blue, gold, red, orange, brown, and black.  Usually, there are three stripes that run all the way along the snake's body, but occasionally, the stripes are hard to see, or there are no stripes at all.

Bluestripe Garter Snake
©James Carmichael Jr/www.photoshot.com

Most garter snakes have a head that is dark on top, with a pair of small spots like dashes.  The eyes are large, and the tongue is red, with a black tip.

Garter snakes are willing to live in all kinds of habitats, and they are the only type of snake found in Alaska.  They are carnivorous and will eat anything they can catch, including slugs, earthworms, leeches, lizards, amphibians, ants, crickets, frog eggs, toads, and rodents.

Red-sided Garter Snakes
©Francois Gohier/www.ardea.com
These snakes mostly like to go out in the daytime.  During the summer, they are more active in the mornings and late afternoons.  Garter snakes who live in warmer areas are active all year, but the ones who live in cold climates do something called brumation during the winter months.  Brumation is a lot like hibernation, except that when reptiles do it, it's called brumation.  Snakes start getting ready to brumate in the late fall.  They stop eating so that their stomachs will be empty during the winter.  Then they go to "sleep" and their body processes slow way down.  The snakes do have to wake up pretty often to drink water, but they might go months without eating anything.  Brumation can last from one to eight months, depending on how long the weather stays cold.

Red-sided Garter Snakes mating mass
©Christophe VĂ©chot/Biosphoto
Male snakes come out of the brumation state first, and they start trying to get themselves warmed up so they can mate.  Like other animals, snakes produce chemicals called pheromones that attract mates to them.  Some male garter snakes can secrete both male and female pheromones.  This confuses other males, who try to mate with the snakes that are giving off these mixed messages.  The advantage of this for the male/female pheromone snakes is that more heat is transferred to them, and they get ready for mating sooner.  Also they tend to attract more females.  This is a good thing, because as soon as the females come out of brumation, the males start competing to mate them, and sometimes there are great big piles of snakes where 25 males might be trying to mate 1 female.

Eastern Garter Snake giving birth
©Joe McDonald/gettyimages.com

After mating, the female goes looking for food and for a place where she can have her babies.  It takes 2 or 3 months for the baby snakes to develop inside their mom, and then they are born live.  A litter might have anywhere from 3 snakes to 80 snakes in it.  The biggest litter of garter snakes on record is 98.

Common Garter Snake with newborn young
©Zig Leszczynski/gettyimages.com
Garter snakes have several ways of defending themselves from predators.  If they are handled or harmed, they can release a fluid with a nasty smell from glands that are located behind the anus.  Also, they can bite.  People used to think that garter snakes didn't produce any venom, but now scientists have figured out that they do.  The venom is pretty mild, and the snakes don't have fangs to deliver it.  But they have enlarged teeth in the back of their mouths.  The venom is deposited into wounds by chewing.

San Francisco Garter Snake
©Michael D Kern/naturepl.com

The most usual predators of garter snakes are hawks, crows, raccoons, crayfish, and other snake species.  Frogs and shrews will eat baby snakes.

Common Garter Snake
©Wild & Natural/Animals Animals
Anyway, if you find any garter snakes in your yard, you should probably just leave them alone.
They are not really going to hurt you, and they may even help you by getting rid of annoying things such as slugs and mice.  I never thought I would say such nice things about a snake, but now I've done it, and that's my final word on the subject!

Saturday, November 23, 2013


There were two robberies in the neighborhood last month.
The suspect is known and waiting to arrest.

A gas line raptured under the street.

This breed of cat has hallowed cheekbones.

That event was really an awakening for my eyes.

They presented the proposal again with mortifications.

This event has caused the collision of two lightning rods.

Blowing snow is a concern with northwest wind guts of 30 mph.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Bombay cats are always black.  They are never any other color except black.  So if anybody tells you they have a white Bombay cat, you will know that they are lying to you.  The reason why Bombay cats are black is because the whole idea behind developing the breed was to make cats like Burmese cats, except black.  Bombays are supposed to be little "parlor panthers" with copper or gold eyes, like the panthers of India, only smaller.

The person who invented the Bombay breed was Nikki Horner.  In the late 1950s, Ms. Horner set out to make a Burmese-type cat that was black.  She crossed a Burmese with a black American Shorthair, and then she keep trying different matches until she finally got the type of cat she wanted.

But then it took a long time for any cat associations to recognize the new breed.  Finally, in 1970, the Cat Fanciers Association accepted the Bombay for registration.  Then Ms. Horner had to form at least one breed club and register 100 examples of Bombays.  On May 1, 1976, cats in this breed could finally start competing in Championship classes.

The Bombay is a medium-sized cat whose body is stocky and compact.  Males weigh more than 12 pounds, and females weigh between 8 and 12 pounds.  Everything about the Bombay is round.  Its head is round; the tips of its ears are round; and the eyes, chin, and feet also have a roundish shape.  The coat is sleek, glossy, and black all the way to the roots.  The Bombay's eyes are gold or copper.

If you are looking for a very social cat who likes to snuggle, then you might want to get a Bombay.  These cats love people and are always asking for attention.  They are intelligent and very playful.  They are not as talkative as the Oriental breeds such as Siamese, but on a YouTube video I watched, the person said that Bombays like "to conversate."  I had never heard this word before, and Mom said there was a very good reason for that, but she did not explain what the reason was.

We used to think that my kitty sister, Latifa was at least part Bombay, but now that I have learned all about the breed, I don't think she is a Bombay after all because (1) she is too slender and small, (2) she does not have all those round body parts, such as chin and ears, and (3) she has a white spot on her chest , which Bombays are not supposed to have.  She does like to purr and make little trilling sounds to Mom, but I am not sure if this qualifies as "conversating."  She really, really likes to snuggle with Mom, but she doesn't snuggle with us dogs or even with the other cats.  At least she and Jason have stopped getting into squabbles all the time, so that's good!

Monday, November 18, 2013


Well, first of all, I will tell you that our little Adrian finally got adopted last weekend.  He was Anderson's brother, and he was the last of the "A" litter to find a home.  Here's a picture of Adrian sleeping.  He had a funny habit of sucking on the end of his tail.  You can see in this picture that his tail looks wet on the end, and that's why.

Our big black kitten, John, did not get adopted yet.  Right now he is at the Petsmart in Belton, which is  south of here a little ways.  John has been there for a week, and if he isn't adopted in another week, Mom will go get him and bring him back home for a while.

Chief went to the shelter to be a Humane Society cat, so he won't be coming back here anymore.  We hope that if a bunch of volunteers can play with him there, Chief will stop being so afraid and skittish.

Nebula is still here.  She has been out to Petsmart once to spend the day, but she did not get adopted, in spite of being really pretty and having soft fur and that cute, stubby tail.  Nebula is all healed up from her broken pelvis, so she runs around like a regular kitten now.  She can jump on some things, but not all the way up on the kitchen counter, like the other cats and kittens can.

Two or three months ago, Mom bought a new kitty condo, and it's the Beverly Hills model, so it's really big and fancy.  But then Mom was afraid to try to put it together, so it sat in the box for a long time.  Finally, Mom asked Aunt Barbara to come over and help put the kitty condo together.  It took them more than two hours, but they got the whole thing assembled.  Afterwards, they agreed that Mom could not have done it all by herself, so it was a good thing she called Aunt Barbara to help her.

John, Anderson, Adrian, and Charlie
on the new kitty condo
Okay, so just when we thought we had got rid of most of our foster kittens, Aunt Tania asked Mom last Wednesday if she could take 4 more kittens, which Mom foolishly said she would do.  These 4 kittens had been in a different foster home, and they just got spayed and neutered.  But then the lady who was fostering them took in 6 bottle babies, and Tania thought that woman had more kittens than she could deal with, which is probably true.  So we got the older kittens.

The kittens' first foster mom gave them all Irish names, which she always does because she has Irish ancestors.  And she uses the Gaelic spellings, so it is hard to know how to pronounce the names sometimes.  Meanwhile, Aunt Tania gave the kittens a whole different set of names, so the name situation is very confusing.  Mom is only trying to learn the names that Aunt Tania gave the kittens, and those names all start with "K."

Also, Mom needs to take pictures of the kittens and write up little bios, so they can get posted on Petfinder.  So far, Mom has some fairly good pictures of two of the kittens, but not of the others.  It's hard because it's best to have three photos of every kitten for Petfinder.  But here on my blog, I only have to show you one photo of each kitten, which means I have an easier job.  So here they are:


Kirby is the only girl.  The rest are all boys.  Keane looks a lot like Jason, so we hope he gets adopted before he gets big like Jason.  Otherwise, we will have to look twice to tell them apart!

Well, that's all the news, really, except that it's getting really cold some days.  When that happens, Mom makes us dogs wear our sweaters or else we have to find a sunny spot, or both.  Now that I'm getting older, the cold weather makes my joints hurt, so I'll be glad when it's spring again!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Last week Mom went to an estate sale, which is something she does sometimes.  I can't seem to cure her of this bad habit, which is a shame because when she goes to a sale, she often spends money she doesn't have for stuff she doesn't need.  If it was stuff for us dogs, that would be different, but usually all she gets for us is some blankets or something fairly boring like that.

Anyway, last week's sale was in a regular suburban neighborhood, with houses that Mom thought were probably built in the 1950s.  There were no sidewalks on either side of the street.  The house where the sale was had maybe been there longer than a lot of the other houses because it looked different, and it had more land around it.  Here's a picture, which is kind of hard to tell anything about, but the house had weathered wood siding, which is not the kind of thing people usually put on their houses in suburbia.

In my opinion, the very best thing in the sale was this great big teddy bear.  I wish Mom had bought it for me because I could have had an extreme amount of fun ripping it open and unstuffing it and eating the pieces.  But Mom does not like me to have much fun, so she didn't buy me the bear.

In fact, Mom didn't buy a whole lot of anything.  She bought some little blankets for kitties and a small quilt and 4 pencils, and that was about all.  She only spent $12, so I guess I can't complain too much about that, but for only $20 more, she could have got the bear for me.

Mom saw some interesting antiques at the sale, though, which was mostly what made it interesting.  In the house, there were three apple peelers.  What you do with one of these is you screw it onto your table, and then you stick the apple on a little spiky part.  After that, you turn the crank, and the  cog wheels go around, and a blade peels the apple.  You can also peel potatoes with one of these devices.

Here's what it looks like when you are actually peeling an apple with one of these.

Photo:  Bob Kelley

But most of the interesting stuff at this estate sale was outside in the big yard.  There were several things that would make a person's work easier back in the old days, like for example, a corn sheller.  This one is lying on its side, so Mom wasn't totally sure what it was at first, but then I did some research on hand-operated corn shellers, and we found out that that was what Mom had seen.

The yellow part with the blue handle is the crank you turn.
Then you feed ears of corn in at the top.
The toothy wheel knocks the kernels off the cob.
Here's a picture from an 1869 magazine of a corn sheller made by a Mr. J.P. Smith.  As you can see, if the sheller is mounted on a bench, you can sit and shell your corn in perfect comfort.  You can even do it one-handed while wearing a suit and hat.  Mom thinks this picture is funny because it is "phallic," but I'm not sure what she means by that.  I just think the hat is pretty silly-looking.

I was surprised to learn that you can still buy brand new corn shellers today.  They are much prettier and shinier because they haven't lost all their paint yet.

Another type of corn sheller that was at the estate sale was the type that runs with a belt that is turned by a motor.  I think if you have a lot of corn to shell, like maybe a whole field of it, you would want to use a bigger machine like this.

Here's a diagram of what all the openings and parts are for.

The biggest antique tool at the sale was an old plow.  It was made by International Harvester, and the price on it was $600.  Mom did not buy this plow because (1) we need the $600 to pay for a fancy filter system that is being put on our furnace today, and (2) if we bought a plow, we would have to buy a tractor to pull it, and (3) we don't have space for either a plow or a tractor in our yard, and (4) we can't think of anything we need to plow up.

Here's a picture of the plow.  We think it was pulled by a tractor and not by a horse, but we don't know much about farming, so we could be wrong.

This is the plowshare, which is the part that cuts into the earth.  And while that is happening, the little round wheel marks where the next furrow should be, so the farmer can follow that mark on his way back across the field.  The blue trash can is not part of the plow, so don't be confused.

If you have iron wheels, you don't have to worry about your tires going flat, so that's good.

Here's a picture I found of a antique plow hitched by a antique tractor.

Photo by Stephen Swinney
There was also an above-ground pool at the sale.  Mom wasn't sure if it was actually for sale or not.  When I saw the picture of the pool, I wanted to stay far, far away from it because I hate water so much, as I might have mentioned before.

The last thing I'm going to tell you about is the Kwik Kerb Continuous Concrete Edging van.  For only $10,000 a person could buy this van and start a whole new career putting concrete blocks around the edges of things.  What I thought was very interesting was that this van used the British spelling of kerb. Also, the side of the van mentions car parks, which we call parking lots in this country.

Okay, that pretty much covers the highlights of the estate sale.  This week, Mom is going to a sale in a ritzy part of town, so they probably won't have any rusty old plows in the back yard!

Monday, November 11, 2013


One of the better-known Civil War dogs was Jack, who served as the mascot for the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry.  Jack's regiment was made up mostly of firemen who had already adopted the brown-and-white bull terrier after he wandered into the Fifth Avenue Firehouse in Pittsburgh one day.  When the men decided to enlist, they just took Jack along with them.

Since he was really smart, it didn't take Jack long to learn what all the different bugle calls meant.  He was very gentle and obedient with the men of his regiment, but he supposedly hated rebels, and he wouldn't have anything to do with them, even when they offered him yummy food.

The 102nd Pennsylvania was organized in August, 1861.  Their first job was to defend Washington, D.C., which they did until March, 1862.  After that, they fought in a lot of battles, including Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Rappahannock, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, Sailor's Creek, and Appomattox.  The 102nd mustered out on June 28, 1865.

Out of the original 2,100 soldiers that joined up, 10 officers and 169 men were killed or died from their wounds; 23 officers and 518 men were wounded but didn't die; 1 officer and 37 men died of disease; and 5 officers and 131 men were captured or went missing.  This added up to 39 officers and 905 men.

Jack did several very important jobs in his regiment.  If the men were marching and got really thirsty, Jack ran ahead to find water, and then he hurried back to tell them by barking loudly.  If the men didn't have any rations to eat, Jack went out and caught chickens for them.  After a battle, Jack searched the field for wounded soldiers from his regiment.

Monument to 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry
at Gettysburg 

At the Battle of Malvern Hill, Jack got wounded, but he recovered.  Rebels captured him at Savage's Station, but somehow he escaped from prison.  Jack was wounded again at the Battle of Fredricksburg, and he almost died, but the soldiers in his unit managed to nurse him back to health.  Later, during the Chancellorsville Campaign, Jack was taken prisoner again, along with 94 men, and this time he was held as a POW for six months at Belle Isle.  After that, he got exchanged, just like any other soldier.

When Jack returned to his regiment, he went with them through the Battle of the Wilderness, the Spotsylvania campaigns, and the siege of Petersburg.  His men were so grateful to him that they collected $75 to buy him a fancy silver collar as a tribute.  They gave the collar to him in a special ceremony.

On December 23, 1864, while the 102nd was on furlough at Frederick, Maryland, Jack disappeared.  The men looked everywhere for him and offered a big reward for his return, he was never seen again.  It's very possible that Jack was stolen or killed by somebody who wanted his silver collar.  Or maybe he had some kind of accident or just wandered off and died someplace.  There's really no way we will ever  know what happened to Jack, and that's kind of sad, if you ask me.

An article about Jack that was published in a newspaper
or magazine during the war, but I couldn't find out where it came from.