Tuesday, December 31, 2013

PIPER IS IN THE HOSPITAL! by Dorrie the Chihuahua

My big sister Piper has spent the last two nights at VCA Mission emergency and specialty clinic, where it always costs a lot of money to go, so I'm not sure why Mom takes us there in the first place.  I am happy to say that I have not had to go there yet, and I hope I never have to!

Anyway, what happened was that Piper has been having problems with breathing, and these problems have been getting worse and worse.  At first Piper just panted a little after she came up the stairs, or sometimes when she came in from the back yard.  Mom talked to Dr. Vodraska about this, and they decided Piper was panting because she was in pain.  And the reason she was in pain was probably due to arthritis in her knees, where she had surgery many years ago for luxating patellas.  So Piper started getting more Tramadol, which is a medicine for pain.

But the Tramadol didn't seem to help much, because Piper was still panting a lot after she came up the stairs, and Mom started carrying her upstairs at bedtime.  I've been sleeping with Piper a lot lately because I could tell that something was wrong inside her, and I wanted to reassure her.  Also she is bigger and warmer to snuggle up to than Tristan is.

On Sunday, Mom was home with us all morning, and she kept noticing how hard Piper had to work at breathing.  Piper was even panting after she took a drink of water.  When she was lying still, she went on breathing hard, and Mom started counting how many breaths Piper took in a minute, which came out to 36.  Then Mom went and looked up what the normal number of breaths for a resting dog should be, and the answer was between 10 and 34.

Piper in the deep snow last winter

Piper already had an appointment to go to Dr. Patricia's office for a test of her adrenal gland on Monday.  This test has to be done about every 6 months to figure out if Piper's medicine for Cushing's disease is still the right amount.  So on Sunday, Mom was trying to decide if Piper's shortness of breath was an emergency that meant she should go to VCA Mi$$ion, or if it was okay to wait until Monday and have Dr. Vodraska look at her.

Finally, Mom decided that the situation was an emergency, and she took Piper to the clinic.  A very nice emergency vet named Dr. Scott examined Piper, and then she took x-rays of Piper's chest.  She told Mom that she saw "a mass" near Piper's heart, but she couldn't tell what it was, or whether it was cancer or not.  She said an echocardiogram was needed to get a clearer picture.

Piper stayed overnight on Sunday to be "oxygenated" in a cage with glass walls.  Mom and Tristan and I felt depressed because we were afraid Piper might have to go to the Rainbow Bridge.  Mom said that if that happened, somebody would need to write Piper's blog, and she asked me if I would do it.  I said I would, but it's a huge responsibility, and I don't know if I could ever do it as well as Piper does it.

Anyway, yesterday, a doctor named Dr. Wall did the ECG on Piper, and guess what!  She didn't see any mass at all!  She said that Piper's problem was something called pulmonary hypertension.  This happens when blood that is being pumped from the right side of the heart has trouble getting through the arteries in the lungs.  The arteries and capillaries might have tiny blood clots in them or they might have just become narrower for some reason.  This situation causes the blood pressure in the lungs to rise, which is not a good thing.  The heart has to work harder and harder, and eventually it can fail completely.

Lung tissue showing results of pulmonary hypertension
Image:  Bulent Celasun, MD
The main reason for dogs to get pulmonary hypertension is that they have disease of the heart valves.  And the second most common reason is because of heartworms.  There are also several diseases that can cause the condition to develop, including Cushing's disease, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease, and auto-immune disease.

As you probably remember, Piper has Cushing's, so that might be the reason she has now ended up with pulmonary hypertension.  You can read Piper's blog entry about her Cushing's disease here.

Dr. Wall wanted to keep Piper another night at the hospital because she is starting Piper on some medicine to help her breathe better.  She wants to get the doses all figured out so that Piper's oxygen levels don't fall every time she comes out of the cage with all the oxygen in it.  I really hope Piper can come home today because I miss her, and I miss snuggling with her.  Also, I'm sure Piper feels lonely and wants to be back home again, too!

Sunday, December 29, 2013


There are lots of kinds of coral snakes, living in many countries.  Old World coral snakes include 11 species, and in the New World there are over 65 different species.  I can't really talk about so many snakes in one blog entry, so I'm just going to tell you about North American coral snakes.

As you probably know, coral snakes are POISONOUS.  They live in warmer places such as the southern U.S.  Their favorite habitats are pine and scrub oak sandhills, or maybe hardwood areas that get flooded every year.  Some types of coral snakes even spend almost all their time in slow-moving water where there are lots of plants.

Coral snakes don't have fangs in the front of their mouths, like rattlesnakes do.  They have small fangs in the back of their mouths.  This means have to sort of chew on their victims in order to get the venom flowing.  Coral snakes prey on smaller snakes, lizards, frogs, nestling birds, and rodents.  Baby snakes are about 7" long when they hatch from their eggs, and they are already poisonous.  Adults grow to be about 2' long.  In captivity, they can live to be 7 years old.  Nobody knows how long they live in the wild.

The venom of a coral snake is very toxic, and it can kill a person if the person does not get treated.  Luckily, since the snakes like to hang out under ground or in leaf debris or other such places, people don't meet up with them very often.  Coral snakes are not aggressive, and they will only bite if they are cornered or handled.

A coral snake bite isn't very painful, and it might not seem like a big deal at first.  But within a few hours, symptoms such as slurred speech, double vision, and muscle paralysis begin.  Eventually, the victim will die of respiratory or heart failure.

In 1967, an antivenin for coral snake bites was released by the Pfizer company.  But fewer than one percent of U.S. snakebites are from coral snakes, and only one human death was reported during the past 40 years.  So Pfizer stopped making the antivenin because it was too expensive to make something that almost nobody needed.  The last of the stored antivenin expired in 2010.  Luckily, people (and dogs) who get bitten by coral snakes can usually recover by being put on breathing machines in hospitals.

Coral snakes are red, yellow, and black in color, which makes them easy to identify.  Except that there are some other snakes with the same colors, and these snakes are not poisonous like coral snakes are.  These other snakes include the scarlet snake, some kingsnakes, and some milksnakes.  To tell these snakes apart from coral snakes people have made up little rhymes like these:

Red on yellow, venom fellow; 
red on black, safe from attack.

Red on black, venom lack; 
red on yellow, killer fellow.

Or you can just remember that if the yellow touches both the other colors, it's a coral snake.

My own philosophy is that if you see any snake of any size or color, you should just run the other way. That's much easier than trying to stand there and figure out if the snake is poisonous or not!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Everybody knows that Santa Claus has elves that live with him at the North Pole and help make toys in his workshop.  But a long time ago, when Santa went by names like Father Christmas or Sinterklaas, he didn't have any elves to help him out.  I don't know how he got all the toys made back in those days, but I guess he managed somehow.

Then in 1856, Louisa May Alcott wrote a book called Christmas Elves.  Except that this book was never published, so I'm not sure how the idea of elves helping Santa at Christmastime caught on.  Earlier, in 1823, Clement Moore wrote a poem called A Visit from St. Nicholas, in which he called Santa himself "a right jolly old elf."  In this poem, Santa had flying reindeer to help him out, but nothing was said about a workshop or elves.

Artwork 1881.  I couldn't find the artist's name anyplace.

In 1873, Godey's Lady's Book, which was a popular magazine for women, had a cover engraving of Santa, with a bunch of elves busy making toys.  The caption said, "Here we have an idea of the preparations that are made to supply the young folks with toys at Christmas time."

A Tomte
The idea for the Christmas elf probably came from a character in Scandinavian folklore.  He was called a Tomte in Sweden, and a Nisse in Norway and Denmark.  The Tomte was usually about three feet tall, had a long white beard and wore colorful clothes.  He would live secretly in a family's house and keep bad things from happening to children and animals.  He might help with chores or farm work, but he had a bad temper, so you had to be careful not to offend him.  If you did, he might play tricks on you or kill your livestock.

The Tomte delivered gifts through the door, and if you ask me, this makes lots more sense than bringing them down the chimney.  Families would leave a bowl of porridge with butter out for the Tomte to eat when he brought the gifts.

The Christmas Magazine
For Big and Small Children

John Bauer, 1910

Before the Tomte, Christmas presents used to be delivered by the Yule Goat.  Often a male member of the family would dress up as a goat and bring the presents to the house.  The main reminder of this tradition now is those little straw goat ornaments that Scandinavians put on their Christmas trees.

But anyway, Santa's elves came from the Scandinavian traditions and also from the elves of Germanic and British folklore.  The European elves were usually thought to be tiny creatures that were immortal and who had magical powers.  They could be male or female.  In pagan times, people believed that elves guarded their homes from evil.  If you treated them nicely, the elves would be good to you, but if you were mean to them, they would play tricks on you.  They could also give you nightmares by sitting on your head while you were sleeping.  The English word elf came from the Old English aelf.  This word was used to make the words aelfadl ("nightmare") and aelfsogoõa ("hiccup"), both of which were supposedly caused by elves.

Modern elves are much nicer.  They are little people who wear green or red outfits.  They have pointed ears and wear pointy hats and shoes with curled-up toes.  Their jobs include designing and making toys, taking care of Santa's reindeer, and keeping the sleigh in good shape.  Also, they help Santa keep his naughty-or-nice list up to date, and they guard the secret location of Santa's village.

I think Santa must be very happy to have this workforce that he can delegate lots of jobs to.  With the elves taking care of so many things, Santa can save up all his energy for Christmas Eve, when he has to deliver all those millions of gifts to all those millions of children!

Sunday, December 22, 2013


First of all, Mom said I should apologize for not writing very many blog entries lately.  She even said I could blame her, if I wanted to, which I do want to, because it's totally her fault.  And the reasons why it is her fault are (1) she has that stupid job now, and she's gone for three whole days a week, and (2) when she gets home, she complains about being tired because of standing on her feet all day at work, and (3) when I ask her why she doesn't just sit down while she's working, she says it's against the rules, and she will lose her job if she does.  Also (4) sometimes she says she just wants to sit in front of the TV in the evenings and not do the in-depth research she should be helping me do as my Chief Research Assistant.  So there you have it, and I can't really fix the problem, even though I wish I could.

But anyway, since Mom was feeling guilty about not being able to help me more with my blog, she decided she could at least take some pictures for me to use, so I'm going to use some of those pictures today.  Mom took these photos on Thursday, when she was working in the gallery called Abstract Expressionism.

The Abstract Expressionist Gallery

I will just start by saying that I am a dog who has never taken any art history classes, but I know what kind of art I like, which is the kind that has dogs in it.  Sadly though, it seems like lots of art doesn't have dogs in it  But I am trying to learn to like some of that art, too.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, the Abstract Expressionists tried hard to make artwork that doesn't really look like whatever the subject matter is supposed to be.  So I guess that even if they painted a dog, you might not recognize it as a dog.  Sometimes you have to read the little cards on the wall in order to find out what is in the painting.  And even then, you might think the person who wrote the card was making stuff up.  

Woman IV, by Willem de Kooning

Here's a painting by an artist named Willem de Kooning.  It is called Woman IV, and it was painted in 1952 or 1953.  At least when you look at this painting, you can see that there really is a woman in it, even though she is ugly and not anybody I would personally want to meet.  This woman is supposed to represent some things like ancient fertility goddesses and Venus and traditional nudes and 1950s pin-ups, but none of these things spring into my doggy mind when I look at the painting.  Instead, it looks to me like she has fangs and maybe some blood around her mouth, so I think I should stay out of her way!

In the same gallery, there is a painting called Boudoir, also by Mr. de Kooning, and that painting supposedly shows a woman sitting in front of her dressing table, but Mom said she looked and looked, and all she could really see was a sort of flesh-colored slug-like thing where the woman is supposed to be.

No. 6, 1952, by Jackson Pollock

Okay, now here is a painting by Jackson Pollock, who was a very famous artist because he invented a new way of painting.  And the way he painted was he just dripped paint onto the canvas instead of using a brush.  Except that in this No. 6, 1952 painting, it looks like he might have used a brush to spread some of the dripped paint around.  Usually, Mr. Pollock put lots more color in his paintings, but then he went through a period where he just painted in black on an untreated canvas, and this painting seems to be one of those.

©Arnold Newman, photo taken for Life Magazine

The thing that's nice about this painting is that you can look at it and and decide for yourself what pictures are in it, kind of like when you look at clouds and see shapes, or at a Rorschach ink blot.  The card on the wall by the painting said there is a "she wolf" in the upper left-hand corner.  I can see the wolf very clearly, but I don't know why the card said it was a "she."  Also there is a hand in the upper right-hand corner, and a foot in the lower left-hand corner.  At least that's what the card said.  I think there's also a face in the center, close to the top, but the card didn't say anything about that.

Another thing the card said was that the painting was "a labyrinth of expanding linear forces."  I don't know what that means, exactly.  Mom says it doesn't mean anything at all, as far as she is concerned.  She thinks it is just a bunch of fancy words strung together to make the curator sound really intelligent.

Anyway, the sad thing about Mr. Pollock is that he was an alcoholic and maybe bipolar, too.  He was only 44 when he died in a single-car crash when he had been drinking.

Turin, 1960, by Franz Kline

This painter, whose name is Franz Kline, made really huge paintings, and a lot of them were black-and-white, like me.  Sometimes Mr. Kline just used ordinary house paint and five-inch-wide brushes.  When you look at this painting, you are supposed to see the energy of the Italian city of Turin, plus architectural things such as bridges.  The card on the wall says that Mr. Kline's goal "was to create a dynamic equilibrium through asymmetry and the interaction of black and white."  Mom says it doesn't seem to make sense to use asymmetry to make something balanced, which is what an equilibrium is.  Which makes me wonder if this is what Mr. Kline was really thinking about when he started painting.  Somehow I don't think so, but what do I know?

Pink and Indian Red, 1946, by Adolph Gottlieb

Here's one I like a lot because it is kind of like petroglyphs.  Mom liked it, too, and she really tried to get "into" the art, instead of just admiring it from afar.

Mom's selfie with Pink and Indian Red 

And then, because Mom liked the idea of posing with artwork, she did it again.  This painting is called General Assembly, and a Belgian artist named Pierre Alechinsky painted it in 1960.   The painting shows a lot of weird-looking angry faces, like in a political meeting or something.

General Assembly, 1960, by Pierre Alechinsky
This picture came from the Nelson gallery site, and that's why it's so small.
Mom does not like to get into political arguments, but she can get very grumpy sometimes about how things are going in Congress. She told me not to talk about politics or religion in my blog, though, because that could just get me into trouble!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


The Black Hills

Some people think that the Black Hills are little "hills" because that's what their name says.  But they are actually very tall hills, which makes them mountains.  The tallest of the Black Hills, Harney Peak, is 7,244 ft. (2,208 m) tall.  This is taller than any peak in the Appalachian or Ozark Mountains.

The reason the Black Hills are called "black" is because they have lots of dark green trees growing on them, and from a distance, they look black.  "Black Hills" is a translation of the Lakota words Pahá Sápa.  The Lakota took over this mountain region in 1776, after they conquered the Cheyenne.  The Black Hills then became a sacred place for them.

The U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868, which said that no white people would ever settle in the Black Hills.  Of course, as soon as gold was discovered there in 1874, the treaty got broken by all the miners going there to get rich.  The Lakota were herded off to some reservations in another part of South Dakota, which did not make them happy.

Harney Peak

Chop Suey

One of my in-depth sources said that chop suey was in no way a real Chinese dish because it was just a bunch of leftovers thrown together by a Chinese cook in a California mining camp.  But another source said the dish probably came to California with Chinese immigrants from the South China Coast, especially the town of Toishan.

In the 1870s, these immigrants moved from California to Eastern cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, where there was not so much racial violence.  One of the things they did there was start restaurants, and chop suey was on the menu.  Chop suey is a transliteration of two Chinese characters that are pronounced "tsa sui" in Mandarin or "shap sui" in Cantonese.  The meaning in either language is "mixed small bits" or "odds and ends."

In the 1880s in New York, a group of artists and writers who were called "Bohemians" decided to go to Mott Street to try out the Chinese food.  One of these people wrote this description:  "Chow-chop suey was the first dish we attacked.  It is a toothsome stew, composed of bean sprouts, chicken's gizzards and livers, calfe's tripe, dragon fish, dried and imported from China, pork, chicken, and various other ingredients which I was unable to make out."  These brave eaters not only liked the food, but they were very happy when the bill came to only 63 cents.

Soon thousands of non-Chinese were going to Mott Street to eat chop suey.  The dish started being made more for American tastes, especially in restaurants outside of Chinatown.  It had meat that was easy to identify, plus bean sprouts, onions, celery, and bamboo shoots.  By the 1920s, it was popular all across the U.S.

But eventually, people got tired of chop suey, and they started eating stuff like pizza instead of Chinese food.  Then when President Nixon went to China, everybody got interested in Chinese food again.  But this time they wanted "real" Chinese food such as Mandarin Duck or Kung Pao Chicken.  So now Chinese food is popular again, but chop suey not so much.

Cabbage Chop Suey

Ostriches Burying Their Heads in the Sand

Ostriches don't really do this because if they did, they would suffocate.  But this myth got started thousands of years ago, and it's still around.  One theory about why people believe this is because of an optical illusion.  Ostriches have small heads, so if they are picking at something on the ground, it kind of looks like their head is actually down in the sand.

Also, ostriches dig holes in the ground to lay their eggs in.  Then the eggs have to be turned over several times a day to make sure they stay warm on all sides.  When an ostrich sticks her head in the nest to do this, she really is sort of burying her head.

Or maybe people don't really believe ostriches do this behavior -- they just like having a good way to describe anybody who doesn't want to see the truth about what's going on.  And I'm sad to say that there are plenty of those people who need to be described!


Some people think that strawberries get their name because they are grown in straw, but this is not true. Strawberries grew wild for thousands of years, and they did not have any cushy beds of straw to grow in.  The truth is that nobody is totally sure why strawberries are called "strawberries," but there are a couple of pretty good theories.  One is that it's because the word straw can mean "a particle of straw," "chaff," or "mote," which is what the little yellow seeds sort of look like.  Another theory is that the plant's name comes from "stray" or "strow" because of the way it spreads out on runners across the ground.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Most wild cheetahs live in Africa, which is where my distant cousins, the basenjis, live.  I think that a cheetah would be happy to eat a basenji, and a cheetah could catch one, too, because cheetahs are the fastest land mammals in the whole world.  A cheetah can go from standing totally still to running 62 miles per hour (120 km/h) in three seconds flat.
Cheetahs hunt in the daytime, and they hunt by sight, not by scent.  The way they hunt is they stalk their prey until they are 100 feet or even closer to it, and then they suddenly start running.  About 50% of the time, cheetahs catch what they are hunting.  They can only keep up such a high speed for about 500 yards, so if they haven't caught their prey by then, they usually give up.  They may need to rest for a half hour or more after a chase because running so hard puts a lot of strain on their bodies.

Photo:  Paul Souders/Stone/Getty Images

The animals that cheetahs hunt most often are the Thomson's gazelle, Grant's gazelle, springbok, impala, hares, and guineafowl.  They also kill the young of larger mammals like wildebeests and zebras, but usually they do not not hunt anything that weighs more than about 90 pounds, unless a group of cheetahs are hunting together.

Photo:  Corbis
Cheetahs make their kills by tripping the prey during the chase, then biting the throat to suffocate it or cut an artery.  They aren't strong enough to break the neck of their prey.  After making a kill, the cheetah has to drag it off someplace and eat it pretty quickly.  Otherwise, some bigger predator such as a lion might come along and steal it.

Cheetah with an impala.
Photo:  Nick Farnhill

The scientific name for cheetahs is Acinonyx jubatus.  The word cheetah comes from a Sanskrit word that means "variegated."  Cheetahs are the smallest of the big cats, and they are the only ones who don't roar.  They can purr, but only when they breathe in.  Other big cats purr when they breathe out.  House cats purr when they breathe in and out.  So this is one way you can tell all these different cats apart.

Scientists think that cheetahs started out in Africa and then spread to the Middle East and India.  Back in 1900, there were more than 100,000 cheetahs living in their historic range, but now there are maybe 9,000 to 12,000 in Africa and only about 200 left in Iran.  So because their numbers are now so small, the cheetah is classified as VULNERABLE.

©Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Cheetahs don't adjust to living in zoos as well as other big cats do.  Mostly, it's hard to get them to have baby cheetahs in captivity, but some zoos have had success in this.  One thing that seems to help a cheetah feel happier in a zoo is to give it a dog as a playmate.  The dog can also guard the cheetah and make it feel safer.

Steve Bloom Images/Alamy

Everything about cheetahs helps them be fast runners and good hunters. Their chests are deep and their waists are narrow.  They have claws that retract partway, which helps them get better traction.  Their  heads are small, with the eyes set high up.  There are black "tear marks" running from the eyes down to the mouth.  These marks help keep the sunlight out of the cheetah's eyes.  The long tail is used like a rudder to help the cheetah make quick turns while chasing its prey.

Photo:  Bernhard Sedlmaier

When female cheetahs are about 20 to 24 months old, they start thinking about making baby cheetahs.  Males don't usually do this until they are 3 years old.  Mating can happen anytime during the year, and then the cubs are born after about 90 days.  The average litter size is between 3 and 5, but it can be as big as 9.  Cubs are born with spots and with a mantle of soft hair along their backs.  They leave their mothers when they are between 13 and 20 months old.  The life span of a cheetah is about 12 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.


The Ancient Egyptians used to tame cheetahs and keep them as pets.  They also trained the cheetahs for hunting.  The cats were taken to the fields blindfolded, in carts or by horseback.  They were kept on leashes while dogs found the prey.  When the prey got close enough, the cheetahs were released to go chase it.

Other people who used cheetahs in this way were the Persians, Indian princes, Genghis Khan, and Charlemagne.  Akbar the Great, who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605, kept about 1,000 cheetahs.  In the 1930s, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia used to like having pictures taken of himself with cheetahs.

I asked Mom if we could get a nice, tame cheetah of our own, but she said we have enough cats here, eating us out of house and home.  I think there are plenty of squirrels and rabbits in the back yard to feed a cheetah, and Mom would not have to buy any special cheetah food.  But she still said no.  Darn.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Today I am going to talk about a rock group called "Cleopatra and the Asps."   Hahahaha!  Okay, that's not really the name of a band, but don't you think it would make a good one?  Anyway, what I'm really  going to talk about is someone named Cleopatra, who was the real queen of Egypt a long, long time ago.  And she killed herself by letting asps bite her so that the Romans wouldn't capture her.

The Death of Cleopatra, by Jean André Rixens, 1874
Musée des Augustins, Toulouse

At least that is how the story was told by Mr. William Shakespeare in his play, Antony and Cleopatra.  He was not making this stuff up, because everybody already knew about Cleopatra and how she died.  Plutarch, who was an ancient Roman guy, wrote about how Cleopatra used to test different poisons and venomous snakes on animals and condemned prisoners to find out which ones were the best and fastest and least painful.  And what she decided was that the asp was the best way to go, so to speak.

You might be wondering, like I was, what sort of snake an asp is.  It turns out that the word asp comes from the ancient word aspis, and that word could mean any of several poisonous snakes in the Nile region.  But mostly it referred to the Egyptian cobra, which lives in much of Africa and also the Arabian Peninsula.

©Alamy, Daily Mail

The average size of the Egyptian cobra is between 3 and 6 feet, and sometimes they are more than 9 feet long.  They have large, depressed heads, and they also have hoods, just like other cobras do.  Their color varies, but usually they are a shade of brown with some mottling.

In mythology, the Egyptian cobra was represented by the cobra-headed goddess Meretseger.  Pharaohs usually had a stylized Egyptian cobra on their headdresses, which showed that they were powerful and divine.  Also, the cobra protected the pharaoh from evil by spitting fire at his enemies.

The snake goddess of Lower Egypt
and the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt

So getting back to Cleopatra, the legend says she killed herself with a couple of Egyptian cobras that were smuggled into her room in a basket of figs.  One bit her on the arm and the other on the breast.  As you now know, we are not talking about little garter snakes here, but about very large snakes that would be hard to hide in a basket.  Also, the asps supposedly bit Cleopatra's two handmaids, besides biting Cleopatra herself.  And all three of them died quickly enough so that the Romans didn't figure out what was going on.

The Death of Cleopatra, by Juan Luna, 1881

Because there are several problems with how this story might have happened, there are some people who think it might not be true.  So they came up with other theories, and one of them is that Caesar Augustus simply had Cleopatra killed.  Another idea is that she drank a mixture of poisons.  In 2010, the German historian Christoph Schaefer said that after studying historical texts and consulting with a toxicologist named Dietrich Mebs, he had decided that the bite of a cobra could not have caused a quick and pain-free death.  So the two men came up with a new theory, which was that Cleopatra actually killed herself by drinking a mixture of hemlock, wolfsbane, and opium.

The Death of Cleopatra, by Reginald Arthur, 1892
Roy Miles Gallery, London

Of course, if you especially like the story of Cleopatra's death by asps, you can go right on believing it.  Painters seem to have liked the idea of Cleopatra and the asps because it made a nice, dramatic scene to paint, especially if they showed the queen and her handmaids wearing very few clothes.  I'm not sure why anybody would want to die without their clothes on, but maybe Cleopatra was lacking in modesty.  Or maybe several generations of painters just wished that she was.

The Death of Cleopatra, by Guido Cagnacci, 1658

Anyway, my suggestion is that if you are planning a death by Egyptian cobra venom, you should make yourself look as sexy and naked as possible while dying.  That way you will be the subject of many famous paintings for centuries to come.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Maybe you remember when Mom got a job for a while last spring working at the Soil Service Nursery. During the summer, Mom didn't work at all, but now she got a different job, and it's at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  The reason she got this job was so we could have money to buy more dog and cat food.  Or at least that's what she said.  I don't like it when Mom is gone all day long, but I do like the idea of buying more dog food.

The Nelson-Atkins Gallery
The original building is on the right,
 and the Bloch Building is on the left.

Anyway, Mom will only work 3 days a week, and then she will be home 4 days, so that's good.  Mom just finished her first 3 days of work, so now she mostly knows how to do her job.  The title of this job is Visitor Services Officer.  Which really means that Mom is a security person who watches to make sure nobody touches the artwork or steals it or plants a bomb under it.  Also, she helps visitors by answering questions such as where are the restrooms and does the museum still have that painting by Caravaggio, which it does.

On Wednesday, the first day Mom was working at the museum, she spent a lot of time filling out papers and forms and stuff.  Then her boss took her and a guy who is training for the same job on a tour of the basement and all the places under the new Bloch Building where regular visitors don't get to go.  Mom saw the loading dock, and big wooden crates that artwork is shipped in, and lots of pipes, and extra tables and chairs that are used for banquets.  Later on, Mom got fingerprinted and had an ID badge made.

Outer coffin for Meret-it-es
in the Egyptian collection

On Thursday, Mom followed one of the other security officers around all day.  This man was being a relief officer, which means that he went to each post and took over for them while they had a 15-minute break or a 30-minute lunch.  The area where they did this was in the original building where the Ancient Egyptian and Greek art is.  Also, there is Medieval Art and a gallery of English ceramics.

Yesterday, Mom went with a different officer who was also doing the relief thing.  This time, they were in the new Bloch Building, which is very modern in design, with walls of translucent glass.  Mom will be working mostly in this building because she was hired to work in special exhibitions, and they are almost always in the Bloch Building.  Right now there is an exhibit about Impressionist France going on.

Bloch Building

One exciting thing happened yesterday while Mom and the other officer were in the Impressionist exhibit, which was that the fire alarm went off.  It was very loud, and there was an announcement that everybody should leave the building.  Nobody wanted to leave the building because the temperature was only about 10º outside, and lots of people didn't have their coats on, including Mom.  But they had to leave, and they all stood around shivering, and then everybody finally got to go back in because it was a false alarm.

Fields in the Month of June by Charles-Francois Daubigny,
(on loan from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art)
This is one of Mom's favorite paintings from the Impressionist exhibit.

Another exciting thing happened, and that was that a woman who works in food service got really sick, and the security office called an ambulance to come and get her.  Mom did not see any of that happen.  She only heard about it.

So what Mom is mostly learning is how to stand around a lot without getting too tired or falling asleep. Also she has learned how to tell people in a nice way not to touch the artwork or do anything else that might hurt it.  And she has already answered some important questions, such as how to get to the information desk or whether photographs are allowed.

Cattle Pasture in the Touraine, by Constant Troyon,
from the Nelson's permanent collection.
Mom also likes this one a lot, even though it has cows instead of dogs in it.

So anyway, that's Mom's new job, where she will be getting lots of new culture, just by going to work. But of course, Mom's most important job will always be taking care of us dogs and cats!