May 31, 2009

Outsmarting a Dog Who Tips Over the Trash Can

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One of the dogs we are fostering likes to nose around through the trash can, and yesterday the smell of a sardine can lid caused him to redouble his efforts to tip over the trash can. Unfortunately for the curious pooch, I developed what I believe to be a fool-proof method of outwitting the canines in my home.

I placed a chunk of cinder block in the bottom of our kitchen trash can, and so far the dog has been stymied in his attempts. He used to jump on the side of the can and knock it over, but he now can only push the can a bit, given the eight-pound weight at the bottom. So long as he does not push the can across the house to a stairwell, the problem should be solved.

Of course, since I am 45 - and I have nearly four decades as a dog owner under my belt - I should hardly crow about my achievement. This is a long time to develop such a solution to a fairly simple problem, and if I were employed as an engineer on designing a new method of dog-proofing the trash can, my employer would have long ago relegated me to janitorial or filing duties.

May 30, 2009

Long Trip for Penguins Fans as Wings Win

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While driving up to Detroit to visit some relatives, we passed a van full of out-of-town folks apparently on their way to Joe Louis Arena for Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately for Penguins fans, their team lost 3-1 to the Red Wings.

The people in the white van also posted adulation for talented Penguins center Sidney Crosby, but he was largely a non-factor tonight, putting up just two shots on goal while racking up exactly zero points.

As the saying goes, there is always tomorrow, and in the case of the Stanley Cup Finals, this is a literal truth. Game Two will be played tomorrow (Sunday) at 8:00 pm EST. The Penguins will need to play their best game of the season to avoid returning to Pittsburgh down 2-0.

On Jim Styro's blog I predicted a 7-game Wings Stanley Cup victory, and I still think that the three-games-in-four-days schedule will result in a 1-2 start for the Wings. This is a team with significant injuries and a decidedly older roster, though admittedly I would be just as happy to see a 4-game, 5-game, or 6-game Wings victory.

Just bring the Cup home, gentlemen, and save the fat burner supplements for the off-season.

May 29, 2009

Sleeping in His Shoes

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I was perusing some older photos in an effort to free up some hard drive space when I came across a picture I took of a homeless man in Bay City, MI. It is odd that I often struggle to remember where I parked my car, but the minute or so I considered this person from a distance is quite clear in my head.

I remember that he had his possessions in a series of plastic shopping bags, and that he did not stir during the time I encountered him. I also remember how shiny his pants were, with that three-week layer of grease and grime reflecting the early morning sunshine.

For a few moments I thought about how he might have wound up living on a stretch of lawn in a public park along the Saginaw River. Perhaps he wound up in the drug life, or maybe he was in between prison stints, or we might consider that he is one of the deinstitutionalized mental patients for whom a life on the street is less expensive to the state than full-time care in a state hospital.

Or perhaps the man is one of those people who simply do not fit in mainstream society and who chooses a life of transient solitude over working a crummy job and paying for an overpriced apartment that doubles as a cockroach haven.

Who knows?

I must admit that I felt no urge to offer the man a few bucks, and this was not only because his face was hidden. Sometimes it is better to leave alone those people who show no inclination toward social exchange.

Besides, I was late for the complimentary breakfast at the hotel in which I was staying. Priorities first - some other schlep might have edged me out for the last raspberry pastry, and the waffle-making dude only works for an hour or two at breakfast.

May 28, 2009

Department of Pictures in Need of Captions

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I do not know why I found this sign puzzlingly amusing, and thus worthy of recording in digital form for posterity. I turn to blog readers for suggestions on a caption for the photograph, since even a second cup of afternoon coffee cannot seem to jar my brain into witticisms.

The city's salt piles, for those unfamiliar with these saline mounds, are located just north of the Veteran's Memorial Skyway over the Maumee River. Michiganders who take I-280 on their way to Cedar Point use this bridge on their rapid interstate passage through Toledo.

Here are some possible thought-provoking themes in your captionary quest:

* Salt as a preservative
* Salt as a seasoning
* Salt as a necessity for life
* Lot's wife, who turned into a pillar of salt
* Salt as a symbol of wisdom
* Spilled salt and bad luck
* Phrases: "road salt," "old salt," "salt of the Earth," "taken with a grain of salt," "worth his salt."


Leave your suggestions in the comments section, and thank you in advance for any captions you create.

May 27, 2009

On Majestic Vistas and Human Insignificance

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Pictured on your left is Cabo da Roca ("Cape of the Rock"), a geological formation that serves as the westernmost point of both continental Europe and the nation of Portugal. Before my trip to Europe last year, this was one of the few places I considered to be a must-see, as I have always been drawn toward such points of no return.

By the way: my wife took this image with her pocket-sized digital camera, and it far surpassed any of the pictures I took with my more professional Kodak.

I stood at Cabo da Roca for at least 30 minutes, feeling the alternating wind patterns and watching the waves crash below. Certainly I stood aware that writers dating back to the Roman era recorded their thoughts at the place onde a terra acaba e o mar começa ("where the land ends and the sea begins"), and yet I might as well have been the first person to ever set foot there, at least in comparison with the history of the planet.

The surrounding mountains, escarpments, and cliffs served notice that my presence produced infinitesimal effects on the region, lands that date back relatively unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years (literal interpreters of the Bible: cover eyes now). Had I decided to defile the natural beauty of the place by etching my name into a piece of Cabo da Roca, I would have been lucky for such a carving to last five thousand years; this is merely a blip in the history of the place.

It is good that we visit places like this, if for no other reason than to reduce our own human arrogance.

May 26, 2009

On Nevaeh Buchanan and Irresponsible Parents

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As a parent I am always saddened by stories of missing children, like that of 5-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan, the little girl who vanished in the parking lot of the apartment complex she shared with her custodial grandmother and birth mother. In some cases of abducted children, the perpetrators went to great lengths to kidnap the victims from vigilant parents.

Then there are idiots like Jennifer Buchanan, the dimwitted biological mother of Nevaeh. Ms. Buchanan just finished serving a two-year sentence for felony home invasion, being released in January. Ms. Buchanan also found convicted sexual offender George Kennedy to be an acceptable friend to bring around the house, despite the fact that his supervision conditions for parole leave no doubt that this creep should never be near children. Both Kennedy and Buchanan failed parts of their polygraph tests, though for people who have spent significant portions of their lives at odds with the law, this should be no surprise.

As I watch the news videos and read the stories, it seems as if Nevaeh Buchanan was surrounded all her life by incompetent adults. Her birth father was 17 years old when Nevaeh was born, and he admits that he has not seen his daughter in over three years because "because me and her mom had issues going on." Some accounts indicate that Monroe County denied Shane Hinojosa visitation rights, but even if these accounts are misleading, Hinojosa certainly failed to be the father Nevaeh needed.

But hey: what does a 17-year-old kid know about being a parent, right?

There is, of course, Nevaeh's grandmother, who seems to be about the only sensible family member in this ensemble cast of poor role models. Unfortunately for Nevaeh, grandmother Sherry Buchanan could not be all places at all times, and she made the mistake of thinking that the birth mother could be trusted for a few hours to supervise her own child.

Much has already been written about the parental inetptness of Jennifer Buchanan, and there is little I can add. I am torn between condemning her as an outrageously incompetent parent and simply shaking my head at the injustice of a person this stupid being fertile.

I pray that Nevaeh Buchanan will find her way home, but I fear the worst after 48 hours have passed. May she find peace, regardless of the outcome, and may God see fit to never again let any of this posse of feeble-minded dolts find themselves in the role of "parent."

Zombie Chicken and Kreativ Blogger Awards

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Admittedly these two awards might be considered the blogging equivalent of chain letters, but far be it from me to incur negative virtual karma. My friend Jim Styro of Speaking in CAPS nominated me for both awards with the provision that I pass along the nominations to other bloggers.

Zombie Chicken

The blogger upon whom this award is bestowed believes in the "Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse." Such bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would "brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words." As recipients of this world-renowned award, bloggers now have the task of passing it on to at least five other worthy bloggers. An added disclaimer: "do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all."

Kreativ Blogger

The rules for this award are quite simple: list 7 things you love (or six things that make you happy, or pick your own set of rules...) and then pass the award along to seven friends whose blogs you love.

First, the things I love. I limited these to secular concerns so that I would not have to put the obligatory "God" first like a TD-notching, camera-aware, finger-to-the-heavens wide receiver. No disrespect intended to God, but I think the purpose of such lists is to provide previously unknown information to blog readers.

1. Spending time with my wife. No matter how crappy of a day I might have had, my wife can almost always cheer me up. On the rare occasions when even her contagious optimism cannot crack the solid walls of self-pity or resentment I erect, she is also able to point out the utter futility of staying angry.

2. Playing with my dogs. OK, this is no surprise to anyone who visits this blog on a semi-regular basis, but my dogs are also able to lift my spirits with their canine empathy.

3. Walking in the woods. Being alone in the woods (preferably with a camera) is an exercise in catharsis for me. I am able to let go of most worldly concerns, turn off my blasted cell phone, and regain my perspective. Also, I get to avoid idiots in the woods, except the time that I unwittingly wandered into a stretch of woods known for its lure as an isolated man-on-man sex facilitator. Sorry, fella: not my idea of "fun."

4. Writing that accomplishes something useful. Occasionally I write as a blogger or a journalist in a way that resonates with people, and their letters, emails, or comments thanking me for voicing their thoughts is quite rewarding. Now, if I could just figure out in advance the "valuable" pieces, I could make millions.

5. Performing a secret act of random kindness. There is a special satisfaction from knowing that you anonymously helped another person and your motivations were without self-interest. Of course, if I listed some examples, I would be cheapening the intrinsic rewards, and heck - just mentioning the fact that I practice RAK might be seen as a form of self-promotion.

6. Planting things and watching them grow. Often the fruits of gardening do not match our springtime dreams, but every year I learn new techniques and chunks of horticultural wisdom. Still, there is a Zen-like peacefulness associated with watering plants and pulling weeds that few hobbies can match.

7. A-HA moments in a classroom. I enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulbs light up over a student's head during a discussion, but I secretly learn as much from my students as they do from me: the lighting travels in two directions.

The following bloggers have been nominated as recipients of both the Zombie Chicken and Kreativ Blogger awards:

1. Hooda Thunkit
2. Lisa Renee
3. Tim Higgins
4. Roland Hansen
5. Valbee
6. Microdot
7. Man With the Mud Rake

Ignore the Zombie Chicken at your own peril, folks.

May 25, 2009

Lilypalooza!

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Sure, there are only a half-dozen lilies in this patch of garden, and some of the blossoms have yet to open, and my fence needs painting, but I still enjoy the contrast between the fuchsia and orange hues in these lilies. Unfortunately, any flower that cannot stand up to the paws of a charging 25-pound Puggle must be located in the front yard, as my dogs have worn down some of my less-hardy flowers this year.

Lilies fall into this category, and several lilies that had the audacity to sprout in the most frequently traveled Puggle paths found themselves pounded into the ground this year. I will relocate said flowers to a better location for next spring, or instead I might install an automatic shower faucet to spray the pooches if they stray into protected areas.

May 24, 2009

Selling Bird Bath Water

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Yes, it was a bit sneaky of me to photoshop out the cooler below the sign that contained bottled water, but I had to recreate the mental image that popped into my head when I passed this vendor at the Toledo Farmers' Market today. I am sure that the 50 cent bottles of water were a good investment for the thousands of people milling about the Market for the annual Flower Day.

Anyways, there were quite a few vendors with plants for landscaping and gardening, as well as a wide variety of crafts and food items (yes, I resisted the bratwurst). We listened for a few minutes to an acoustic bluegrass band, and we purchased a few lilies for the gardens.

I also resisted the coney dogs, Polish sausages, and kettle corn that called out to me, promising me gastronomic pleasure at the cost of a few millimeters of waistline. Get thee behind me, festival food, lest my skin break out and I have a middle-aged need for acne treatments.

May 23, 2009

On Industrial Parks and Great White Egrets

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While meandering around the suburban industrial park known as Ampoint, my wife and I came across what I believe to be a pair of great white egrets. Now, it is true that Northwest Ohio was once the Great Black Swamp, and there remains a fair amount of wetlands in the area to this day, but I was surprised to see the majestic pair taking up residence in a trash-strewn, watery corner of a vacant industrial lot.

The posted image looks almost idyllic, but I cropped out the old tires near the resting place of the birds. There are a few small lakes and larger ponds nearby, so perhaps these egrets only paused in the shade for a few minutes.

Yet there were also a few dozen geese and ducks splashing around, so it is possible that the vacant lot is slowly reverting back to a natural state. To the north side of the lot is an industrial thoroughfare with heavy truck traffic, and to the south are such businesses as sheet metal fabricators and truck rental firms.

The egrets seem to be unconcerned with the industrial zoning designation.

May 22, 2009

Rapid Rhetoric: DECRUDESCENCE

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

decrudescence (day-croo-DEH-sense) n. a decrease in the progression or symptoms of a disease.

This term is derived from the Latin word crudescere, which means "to become worse." I came across decrudescence in a 19th century medical reference textbook that I purchased on eBay a few years ago. The passage was as follows:
After a period of several days, more or less, during which the symptoms mentioned, or some of them, have manifested themselves, the characteristic exanthem shows itself, and runs through a fixed cycle of development, acme, and decrudescence.
The passage, which dealt with herpes zoster (shingles), seemed overly wordy, but the medical profession has a tradition of writing in ways that laypersons struggle to understand.

You would never catch a historian writing this way.

May 21, 2009

God is Watching Me ... in the Restroom

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While using the restroom at a local fast food restaurant, I noticed a business card taped to the mirror. It was one of those religious tracts, and the headline read: "'You Say: No One Sees Me.' GOD SEES YOU."

Yikes.

I am not sure if a fire-and-brimstone patron deliberately put the card in the restroom, or if some prankster employee found it funny to tape it to the mirror, but I doubt that the folks at Old Paths Tract Society ever imagined this use for their cards.

The photo is a reenactment, by the way. It was strange enough to have divine accompaniment when I engaged in my business without fetching my camera to catch the original placement.

May 20, 2009

On Freakishly Intelligent Squirrels and Seed Aroma

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I have been planting seeds most of the week, and today I finished off the last of the flowers while starting the vegetables. In one section of my yard I planted some zucchini seeds, which require a small mound of loose dirt for best germination.

Pictured on your left is one of the mounds after it had been ransacked by a squirrel intelligent enough to know that a half-dozen zucchini seeds had just been buried. The image came out with lower definition than I intended, so I photo-shopped six red boxes to indicate the original hexagonal placement of the seeds in the mound.

The sneaky bastard rifled through this mound within 20 minutes of the seeds being planted. My question is this: did the squirrel watch me plant the seeds, or do zucchini seeds have such a powerful aroma that they attract squirrels within a 100-yard radius?

I ask this because this is not the first time that squirrels have scavenged through planted seeds like zucchini, squash, and pumpkin. There is a common denominator, of course, in that all of these plants belong to the plant family Cucurbitaceae.

In doing a little Internet research, I came across a gardener with a similar plight. Interestingly, the thieving squirrel buried the seeds elsewhere on the property, and the squirrel's buried cache produced better butternut squash than did the seeds of the gardener.

My new strategy is simple: I dumped a half-pound of bird seed a few yards away from the zucchini mounds. I figure the squirrels will be too busy the next few days eating the unexpected bounty to bother with a few dozen buried seeds. If not, perhaps the squirrels might be interested in obtaining online insurance quotes instead of raiding my gardens.

Bearded Iris

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Just as I was about to lament the end of tulip season, a group of bearded iris (Iris germanica) began to flower this morning in one of my gardens. These particular flowers have rather muted hues and petals that look more delicate than they really are.

It must be the frilly edges.

In a few days the number of blossoms will likely approach two dozen in this small space, bringing a toned-down change in color after several weeks of bright tulip hues. That is as it should be, since I might get bored with bright colors if I faced a non-stop barrage of tulips and crocuses year-round.

May 19, 2009

On Symmetry in Nature and Landscaping

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While reviewing some images I took of a local swamp, I came across the accompanying photograph. I did not intend to achieve the photographic symmetry I achieved, as I was instead trying to get some images of a mother duck and a half-dozen ducklings. However, these days I am trying to simply take the images that come my way instead of grumbling too much about missed opportunities.

Symmetry appeals to some deep-seated intellectual compulsion in my head. I tend to plan out my gardens with an eye toward symmetrical growth and display, though as any gardener can tell you, planted designs rarely match the eventual march of natural forces.

My wife, on the other hand, gravitates toward randomness and aesthetic unpredictability in landscaping. She prefers creating the effect of accidental beauty, as opposed to my grids and shapes. I think she has started to wear me down, though, as I planted a flat of red impatiens the other in a series of arbitrary splotches instead of my usual rows and geometric patterns.

However, I reserve the right to revert back to eye-appealing patterns: I think it is hard-wired in me.

May 18, 2009

Miracle Tree Cross of Toledo

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While traipsing through the woods the other day, I came across the pictured perpendicular tree trunks that evoked an image of a certain crucified deity. Much like my Miracle Statue of St. Francis of Assisi, this natural phenomenon stimulated the synapses of my brain that are devoted to recognizing profit opportunities.

I imagined spreading the word about the Miracle Tree Cross I discovered, and I thought mentioning the peace, serenity, and good health I felt while in the woods near the Miracle Tree Cross would not be an overt deception on my part. On eBay, such an image might represent hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars in a bidding war between devotees of the Miracle Tree Cross of Toledo.

Proceeds from the auction and healing tours, of course, would go to charity, though a modest management fee for me to cover the costs of publicizing the Miracle Tree Cross and administrating the pilgrim tours would be reasonable. I would also need to negotiate with the owners of the land for the rights to market the Miracle Tree Cross, as well as to compensate them for wear and tear on their property. They would be free, of course, to manage parking and concessions associated with the thronging crowds of the faithful.

Then there are the merchandising opportunities to consider: T-shirts, bumper stickers, and slivers of the Miracle Tree Cross of Toledo. I imagine this might represent a million dollars or more in the first year of the campaign, and when we document the miracle healings that occur near the Miracle Tree Cross, this might skyrocket into Fatima or Guadalupe proportions.

One of these days I am going to stop joking about these potentially profitable apparitions I encounter, and I will load my pockets with the filthy lucre of miracle marketing. When I do, I will forget this post (and probably delete it), and in my greed I will forget every moral lesson I ever learned. Then I will hire myself the best frigging therapist available and get over my guilt. Money may not buy happiness, but it will buy a really expensive yacht, and you can sail that damned boat right up to the Island of Happiness, then dock and hop off there.

But first I gotta sell this Miracle Tree Cross idea. Let's see what it can do for a tough disease like mesothelioma.

May 17, 2009

On Garbage Picking, the Sheeny Man, and the American Rust Belt

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Left: How long before this discarded ceiling fan gets picked up from the street?

While visiting with my grandparents the other day, my grandfather mentioned an expression I had not heard in some time: "the sheeny man." Originally "sheeny" was an ethnic slur used to describe immigrant Jews, but in the Detroit area "the sheeny man" referred to anyone who patrolled the alleys looking for value in the trash of residents.

In other words, a "garbage picker," though these days such people are more likely to be referred to as urban foragers, curb shoppers, or recycling entrepreneurs.

In Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s, the sheeny man was just as likely to be black as white, and this was one of those expressions passed from generation to generation that lost its ethnic connotations. While being called a "sheeny man" was certainly less glamorous than being called a "rock star" or "MLB starting pitcher," in the blue-collar Detroit neighborhoods in which I grew up "sheeny man" was just a work-oriented moniker, nothing more.

I recently remarked on another blog that I have spent almost the entirety of my life (with the exception of vacations and a brief stint living in Dallas) in the middle of the American Rust Belt in cities like Toledo and Detroit. I do not know if urban foraging is as prevalent in wealthier cities, but it is clear that plenty of people in decaying Midwestern cities derive a significant portion of their incomes by sifting through the trash of others.

What I find especially interesting is the rapidity with which items I discard get snapped up by folks driving through the neighborhoods. At times I scarcely return to my house before a rumbling old pickup appears to take away an item I place at the street, hauling away material that I considered trash but which has value to another person.

Of course, I am not immune to the lure of someone else's unwanted materials, and over the years I have procured from the trash objects that still possessed value and utility. These ranged from bikes to lawnmowers to snowblowers, though my wife will argue that much of the "wealth" I brought home merely collected dust until a yard sale or an inevitable garage-cleaning.

So pick away, ye dumpster divers and refuse gleaners: our landfills are less full and our garages are less cluttered for your efforts.

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

The pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder.
-- Morrissey (The Smiths), "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before"

May 16, 2009

Dog Training on a Limited Budget

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While spending time in Wildwood Preserve today at an event for Planned Pethood, I came across the pictured Great Dane. The dog's face is buried in a plate of pancakes and sausage, courtesy of his owner, who is also enjoying a tasty breakfast in the park.

In actuality, this dog appeared to be well trained and appropriately behaved, and my inclusion of this picture is not meant to suggest otherwise. Even the most dedicated and well-intentioned of dog owners spoil their dogs from time to time, but experienced owners are able to communicate to their dogs the special nature of moments like eating pancakes in the park.

A blog reader posed an interesting question today:
From your blog, I know you work with shelter animals, so I was hoping you could provide some advice.... We have a puppy who rivals Marley in the book, not the movie. He is shorter and has broad shoulders and is completely out of control. Not having 300 dollars to drop on training him, I could use some help in figuring out where to take him ... Any suggestions on training? Any dog training videos worth it?
Given the weak state of the economy, many people are likely experiencing the same difficulties balancing their needs to better train their dogs with the financial constraints of a limited budget. It is my experience that a well-trained dog is a happier dog, since it knows the expectations and wants to please its owner, the pack leader.

Here then are a few low-cost suggestions to help folks inexpensively train their dogs. I am far from an expert trainer, and I admittedly spoil my dogs sometimes, but I have learned a few things after owning and fostering over 50 dogs. Feel free to add any other suggestions (or to bash me as a blithering imbecile) in the comments section.

1. Squirt bottle: Get one of those plastic bottles and fill it with water. When the dog is engaging in an undesirable behavior (jumping, excessive barking, or whatever) squirt him in the face with a firm "no" or other reinforcing sounds (I use a sort of aspirated "AH!", almost like the German "ACH!" to reprimand). Several of my formerly rambunctious dogs now cease and desist merely with the mention of the water bottle, as in: "Do you want me to get the water bottle?" Two of my dogs immediately stop what they are doing whenever they hear these dreaded words.

2. Poke in the haunches: This is useful for distracting a dog from a fight or some other activity in front of him. Once you have distracted the dog, you can re-focus him on more important activities. However, make sure this is a gentle poke and not something that will hurt the dog. I never recommend beating, striking, or hitting a dog as a training method, since they need to see the human hand as a source of earned affection and dinner.

3. Knee to the chest: It sounds cruel, but dogs who jump can quickly be cured of this annoying behavior by moving your knee in front as they jump. Ideally, you want the dog to sort of jump into the knee (natural consequence), as opposed to some sort of violent, martial arts, sternum-crushing move on your part (physical punishment). Ultimately, though, the dog needs to learn that the pack leader (you) will not tolerate being jumped on.

4. Coins in a Coke can: This worked well with a Lab we once owned. When the dog would engage in undesirable behaviors, a shake of the can with coins in it and a firm "No" worked pretty well. The sound of the coins is apparently a sonic irritant to many pooches; however, I do not recommend squirt bottles AND coin cans simultaneously. Perhaps save the Coke can for a particularly annoying behavior, such as rushing at the door when people come in.

5. Assert authority: Until the dog respects you as the leader, he will behave only when it suits him. Make him sit for his food, as opposed to simply dishing it out. If he gets aggressive with toys, take them away until he learns that you control when he gets to play, especially if the dog snarls or gets possessive of toys. Any time that you make the dog sit still for a few moments while waiting for something he wants, you reinforce the notion that you are in control, not him.

6. Short leash: Going for walks is an excellent way to establish authority. Keep the leash as short as possible to make the dog walk slightly behind you. This reinforces that you are in charge, and you only give him more leash when he acts appropriately (no lunging or pulling). As soon as he starts to pull or lunge, shorten the leash.

7. Consistency and immediacy. Dogs thrive and behave best in routines and schedules, especially with meals and going outside. The same is true for discipline: you have to consistently reinforce the rules with dogs to get them to believe you mean business. Typically it takes a solid week or so for behaviors to become established, but it only takes one or two lapses by a wishy-washy owner to get a negative behavior entrenched again. If your rule is "no dogs on the couch," better stick to that 100%, because the one time you give in, the dog will take advantage of the lapse. Also, reprimands and praise need to happen within seconds of the associated behavior, or else the dog has no clue of why you react the way you do.

8. Use simple commands. Related to consistency is the idea that owners use the same simple words each time they want their dogs to behave in a certain way. Do not say "sit down" one time and then "cop a squat" the next, as this is confusing to the dog. Again: dogs are more relaxed when they understand what is expected of them, and most dogs really just want to please us. Keep it simple for them to do.

9. Watch videos. I became a fan of the Dog Whisperer after trying out some of Cesar Millan's techniques. While the show occasionally over-dramatizes situations and Cesar tends to highlight especially dimwitted owners (along with the problem pooches that result from these ill-informed people owning dogs), the man knows his dogs. Many public libraries have his tapes, and some video stores (including online video retailer Netflix) also stock Dog Whisperer. Remember: the biggest part of training is teaching the owner how to be responsible.

10. Praise good behavior. Dogs by nature want to please their owners, and owners need to remember that there are two sides to the behavioral coin. Phrases such as "good sit," "good boy," or my favorite: "good girl go potty outside" help reinforce what you want the dog to do, as opposed to the dog merely learning how to stay out of trouble.

11. Do not confuse love with being a pushover. Some owners are afraid they will hurt their dog's feelings by reprimanding them, but this is misguided and potentially dangerous. Dogs need us to look out for their best interests, and just like we do not toss car keys and whiskey bottles to teenagers, we should not let our dogs do as they please. Your dog will love you more when he looks up to you and trusts that you will protect him, and consistent discipline is your tool to build that trust.

May 15, 2009

On Golfing, Used Clubs, and Father-Son Camaraderie

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My youngest son spent quite a few hours this winter playing the Playstation golf game Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09. He became quite proficient at the virtual world of golf, regularly scoring in the 40s for 18 holes, and as a result my son expressed an interest in playing the real game.

"C'mon dad - we can bond and stuff," I believe his sales pitch went.

Indeed, since starting graduate school in 2005, I spent less time with my son than I would have liked, and how can any father waste an opportunity to connect on some level with his son? We decided that first we would spend some time at the driving range.

Now, it has been a few years since I last golfed, in part because my kids wrecked a quite a few of my clubs by whacking rocks and leaving them out to rust in the winter. I thus needed to procure two sets of clubs, and I headed straight for the Goodwill store.

In short order I rifled through the rather sizable selection of donated clubs and pieced together two sets with bags for about $40 (pictured in the accompanying photo). As any sane parent will tell you, it is better to start a new sport on the cheap in case the eager teenager quickly loses interest.

Besides, even in my prime I was a ho-hum golfer, and I think I broke 100 on an 18-hole course exactly once. A round usually finds me in the 105-110 range, but I play for relaxation and not for blood or money, and not like a CEO or a Pleasanton motorcycle accident attorney. Then again, I suppose that is what a crappy golfer would say, but at least I do not wrap my sense of self-worth in my golf game, or I would have long ago stuck my head in a gas-filled oven.

So off we went to the driving range, me to shake off the rust and my son to learn why so many people hate the game. He quickly became a little frustrated with his inability to smash lengthy drives, though after 40 balls or so I coached him ("lock your left elbow!" and "keep your eye on the ball" and "knock off the Happy Gilmore shit") to the point where every other drive went 150 yards or so.

Me? I played my usual golf: lots of straight-and-true 200-to-250-yard drives, so-so putting, and God-awful work with the irons. "Drive for show, putt for dough," they say, but I only have the first part right. However, as any parent of teenagers will tell you, if you can wow them once in a while, you have their attention, and my son's fascination with my ability to look halfway-decent from the tee resulted in him giving me his last yellow balls to crush into the stratosphere.

As long as I never leave the driving range, I am once again deified in my son's eyes.

May 14, 2009

On Home Improvement Projects, Snafus, and Obligations

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My wife and I volunteered our services yesterday with the installation of a new toilet for my grandparents. My 93-year-old grandfather, you see, has a pair of knees and a hip that are giving him some problems, and he finally took us up on our suggestion to replace his ancient toilet with one of those new taller toilets. Even though the gain in height was only 3-4 inches, this makes a significant reduction in joint strain.

I thought that the swapping of toilets would be a relatively simple project, since we have performed this task several times. A clarification: my wife is the degreed engineer, and she takes the lead on most home improvement projects. I am typically the grunt-work half of the team: lugging the heavy stuff, pounding the nails, or other duties that do not require the "vision thing." My wife is the whiz with mitered saws, levels, T-squares, and really any construction activity in which an engineering mind comes in handy.

We first noticed that we neglected to take into account the height difference for the water inlet line, as we needed another few inches of water line to reach the tank. Making a note of this, we continued removing the old toilet.

Our second problem manifested itself when we lined up the new toilet, as there was a large gap in the linoleum right in front of the new toilet. This meant that we needed to put a new layer of linoleum in the 5' by 5' bathroom space (no, a set of area rugs would not cut it). Ninety minutes and two trips to some Home Depot stores and we were back in business.

The flooring project took about four hours, being hampered by the removal of some stubborn caulk around and under the bathtub. After my wife roughed out and trimmed the linoleum, we were ready to hoist the new toilet into place.

Alas - we had managed to strip one of the old toilet bolts while removing it, and we needed to put a new bolt and nut in place. I estimate that we lost almost an hour in trying to re-tap the old bolt, cussing (me, of course), and digging out the old bolt to put in a new one.

Amazingly, nothing leaked when we powered up the new toilet. For me this is a shining moment, as this makes two straight plumbing projects in which my connections did not spring a leak, and this streak comes after a near-lifetime of leaky pipes and drains when I first finished a plumbing project (remember: my wife is the smart one with detail work).

Then came the most difficult part of the job: refusing payment from my proud grandparents. Oh how they insisted, and oh how we declined - you know how this dance goes. I argued that as a young grandchild I must have wrecked three times the value of the toilet and the labor, and they argued that there was no way they could let us pay for a project that cost the incredibly expensive sum of $250 or so. Finally my grandfather insisted that I take with me a large box of his machinist tools, which I felt was a fair compromise (and allowed both of us to "win"). He no longer uses the tools, and who knows: perhaps someday I will demonstrate enough mechanical competence to actually put these tools to productive use.

This is what families do, and there was no way I could take the proffered money. What I have learned from this wise man in 45 years is priceless, and far beyond any meager attempts to "pay back" my grandfather. Besides, since he absolutely refuses to consider an assisted living facility, I can at least help make his home a little more comfortable.

May 12, 2009

Jumpstarting the Global Economy and Warming the Earth, One Chimenea at a Time

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We formally retired our rusted outdoor fireplace today, and in its place we purchased a cast-iron chimenea for our outdoor gatherings. I trust that this fireplace will last a decade or more, especially given its considerable weight and sturdy moving parts.

Any global warming activists in my neighborhood will no doubt be disappointed at my decision to burn dead tree branches and kindling for the bourgeois activities of marshmallow-roasting and hotdog-toasting, but alas: I am a person with lengthy traditional ties to such behaviors.

The chimenea, despite its historical origins in Mexico, is typically manufactured in lands with cheaper labor. Ours was no exception, being produced in China, though some American import, distribution, and wholesale businesses likely helped drive up the price I paid at Menards. Still, in a globalized world, any manufactured widgets I buy mean that I am stuffing less cash in the proverbial mattress and pumping more into the consumer-oriented economies of the world.

But for the moment I prefer to warm my hands in front of the chimenea and enjoy the company, rather than become weighted down with the global ramifications of the purchase of a farking fire pit.

On License Plate Paint and Red Light Cameras

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I utterly despise on civil liberty grounds those red-light and speeding cameras that states and municipalities install to fleece motorists out of even more revenue. At the same time, I have not seriously entertained the thought of tampering with my license plate to reduce the likelihood that I will receive one of these expensive automated tickets.

Full disclosure: I received a red-light violation about five years ago, but they sent the ticket to my wife since that particular vehicle was in her name. In a spirit of chivalry, I should have insisted that the court reissue the ticket in my name, but since her record was spotless, it made better financial sense to keep the ticket in her name and prevent our auto insurance from rising (I had a speeding ticket at the time, and we worried that a second ticket might trigger a premium hike).

On Sunday we pulled up behind a vehicle whose plate is in the accompanying image, and I could tell that some sort of photo-blocking paint had been applied. In the evening light the plate's letters were visible, while the numbers were obscured. However, when my flash hit the plate, the letters became obscured and the numbers lit up.

The civil libertine that lurks within me applauds such efforts to keep the state at bay, though I suspect that a sharp-eyed and bored police officer might issue a citation some day for tampering with a license plate. I find that those blasted red-light cameras make motorists paranoid, and that people lock up their brakes too quickly rather than avoid getting a ticket. The net result, according to numerous studies on red-light cameras, is that rear-end collisions actually increase as a result of these devices.

What most surprises me is that angry citizens have not vandalized red-light and speeding cameras more frequently. While I do not advocate violence against the state (and certainly not on a public forum), I would think that this would be a more frequent occurrence. Someone in Tuscon took more of a civil disobedience approach, simply re-aiming the cameras instead of smashing or spray-painting them.

Hey man: people gots to do what they gots to do in the face of state tyranny, even when the affront to liberty is an automated camera.

May 11, 2009

Bashful Cardinal

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I had a difficult time yesterday getting a decent image of the Northern cardinal pictured on your left. The garrulous bird seemed to taunt me as I wandered around my grandparents' property up in Michigan, and no matter where I moved, the cardinal repositioned himself away from the lens.

Perhaps the semi-rural nature of the property means that the local birds are a bit skittish, or perhaps there was something suspicious in my bearing that heightened the bird's anxiety. At any rate, this cardinal refused to cooperate, and I eventually returned to taking pictures of low-flying aircraft as they approached Detroit Metro Airport.

Left: A different sort of bird

As a kid I used to stand in the backyard of my grandparents' house and watch the incoming planes roar overhead. As an adult, well, I do the same thing. And no: I did not use a laser-guided camera sight in snapping airplane pictures, as I prefer my own bed to a government-issued prison cot.

May 10, 2009

On Mother's Day and My Wife

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While ours has not been a perfect marriage (if, that is, such a theoretical concept could actually manifest itself with a pair of imperfect human beings), my wife and I have cultivated a much stronger relationship as we approach the midpoint of our third decade in marriage. As I watched my wife sleeping early this Mother's Day morning, I started to think of some of her quirks that people in a struggling marriage might identify in a negative fashion.

I am a loud snorer. When I say "loud," I mean industrial-level noise, probably somewhere in the high 90s in terms of decibels. My wife not only tolerates my snoring, but her gentleness in rolling me over to another side can be documented by the fact that I never remember being moved.

So I take her word on that one.

My wife also makes a few sleeping sounds, but I find her quiet snoring to be a calming, rhythmic sound that helps me fall asleep, like crickets chirping or raindrops on the roof. She is always the first one to sleep, and the sound she makes as she breathes helps me relax as I toss and turn from after effects of the evening coffee I gulped during night classes.

Another quirk I enjoy that others might find irritating is the morning paper my wife reads. It is not the fact that she reads the paper, mind you, but rather that she shares the paper with me: "Oh, look - they started demolishing Southwyck Mall" or "Uh oh - there was a robbery nearby last night." To my wife, the newspaper is an interactive and social event, not a solitary act.

As a person who is a slave to his routines, I am leery of changing my plans on short notice. My wife, on the other hand, is quite spontaneous by nature, and likes to pull me away from my work to walk the dogs, drive to the ice cream parlor, or go to the theater watch a movie. While I put on the curmudgeonly face and grumble sometimes about these last-minute whims, I enjoy all of the time I spend with her, and she is always a good enough sport to give me six minutes or so to finish a paragraph or answer a few emails before we leave.

So on this Mother's Day, I want to say that I love my wife, but most of all I love the person that she is. Perhaps it is a testimony to our marriage that we have learned not only to tolerate but to embrace each other's idiosyncrasies.

May 9, 2009

Namigoro Rashomon

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Namigoro Rashomon, Kannuki the Giant, 羅生門綱五郎 Left: Namigoro Rashomon as Kannuki the Giant

While watching Akira Kurosawa's 1962 film Yojimbo last night, I became fascinated with the presence of a particular actor. It took me a few minutes to figure out the character's name, which was "Kannuki the Giant," at which point I learned that the actor's name was Namigoro Rashomon.

Since the Internet search engines have only a few thumbnail-sized images of Namigoro Rashomon, I used my laptop's screen-capture function to create this image. I now expect this blog to be flooded with Namigoro Rashomon's many adoring fans around the globe.

Unfortunately, little information exists in English on Namigoro Rashomon, so I had my Japanese-speaking daughter translate some of the Japanese Wikipedia article on him. Born in 1920, the 7-foot tall Namigoro Rashomon had a career as a professional wrestler before landing a few film roles between 1957 and 1964. He won an important Japanese wrestling title in 1946, and the literal English translation of his ring name is "Giant Horse-Man."

The hulking Namigoro Rashomon stands out in this film not only for his size - unusual by standards of the 1960s and especially so for Japanese actors - but for his menacing countenance. He soundly thrashes the Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the antiheroic character of lead actor Toshirô Mifune, and the scenes where Namigoro Rashomon walks around with an oversized wooden mallet remind me of one of the gang scenes in A Clockwork Orange.

That is about all I could dig up on Namigoro Rashomon. In the comments section please feel free to fill in any other details on his life and careers that you can discover.

May 8, 2009

The Greatest Rock Songs about Other Bands or Artists

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I have always enjoyed hearing songwriters make references to other music or artists in their work, like John Fogerty tipping his cap to master poet Chuck Berry with the "brown-eyed handsome man" in the song "Centerfield" or John Lennon quoting the duck-walking guitar god with "here come old flat-top, he come grooving up slowly" in "Come Together."

This post lists some of my favorite songs that reference other artists or groups. Generally these are at least partly tributes, though some take a wry look at the musical names dropped in the lyrics. The songs are in no particular order beyond the way that they popped into my head this afternoon.

Carry on.

"Alex Chilton," The Replacements. Paul Westerberg and company pay homage to one of their favorite influences, bringing Chilton to a wider audience. A testament to the lasting endurance of this superb song is the fact that the tune has been selected for Rock Band 2. My jaw nearly hit the floor when my son clued me into this fact - perhaps there is yet still hope for popular music.

"We're the Replacements," They Might Be Giants. Carrying on the tradition of praising under-appreciated artists, TMBG captured the essence of the Minneapolis band in this deadpan tribute to the best rock group that most people have never heard of.

"The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band," Randy Newman. Part parody, part tribute, Newman's melodic anthem to the Electric Light Orchestra is one of those rare musical moments when the composer and subject seem to merge.

"All The Young Dudes," Mott the Hoople. This generational call to the glam world included references to T. Rex, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. David Bowie co-wrote this song, and while glam never became the future of rock, it's still a cool tune.

"The Seeker," The Who. True, this song is really about a person on a spiritual journey, but the references to asking Bobby Dylan and The Beatles (along with Timothy Leary) for answers to life's questions are important enough for this song to be included. Hey: it's my frigging list.

"Glass Onion," The Beatles. This song is actually by The Beatles and about The Beatles, and it contains references to such Fab Four songs as "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Lady Madonna," "The Fool on the Hill," "Fixing a Hole," and "I Am the Walrus." The "clue" in the song that "the Walrus was Paul" references the urban legend that Paul McCartney died and was replaced by some look-alike, and I still chuckle at the idea of John Lennon jerking the chain of the conspiracy theorists with this song.

"Creeque Alley," Mamas and the Papas. The mid-1960s LA music scene is the subject of this autobiographical song, and artists mentioned in the song include Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian (of the Lovin' Spoonful), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Barry McGuire, and The Mugwumps (a precursor to both the Mamas and the Papas and the Lovin' Spoonful).

"Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" and "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," Neil Young. Ostensibly an ode to Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols written at a time when Neil began to think he was becoming irrelevant, the bookended songs gained a deeper significance when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain included the lines "it's better to burn out than to fade away" in his 1994 suicide note.

"All Those Years Ago," George Harrison. A sad tribute to the murdered John Lennon, I still get goosebumps when I hear lines like "you point the way to the truth when you say: All you need is love." Heartfelt and poignant, and not to be missed.

"Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence," Pavement. A tribute from one indie-rock band to another, REM, this song is part homage and part Southern Gothic defiance, although how guys from Stockton, California can come across as Confederates makes as much sense as Bakersfield's John Fogerty mystically channeling Louisiana bayou rock with that howl and vibrato guitar. Only in rock, baby: only in rock.

Honorable mentions: "When We Was Fab," George Harrison (The Beatles); "Tweeter and the Monkey Man," Traveling Wilburys (Bruce Springsteen); "Thunder Road," Bruce Springsteen (Roy Orbison); "Smoke on the Water," Deep Purple (Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention); "American Pie," Don Mclean (practically every major act in the 1960s plus Buddy Holly get oblique references); "Don Henley Must Die," Mojo Nixon.

Songs that will never make this list because I detest them: "Rock and Roll Heaven," The Righteous Brothers (shameless name-checks to dead-rockers ); "R-O-C-K in the USA," John Mellencamp (ditto); "Night Shift," the Commodores (ditto); "I'll Be Missing You," Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, and 112 (write your own music - I can never hear "Every Breath You Take" without thinking of this idiotic tribute).

Feel free to leave suggestions of songs I carelessly overlooked in the comments section.

Update: Missy, a Rescue Terrier

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Several folks have emailed me regarding the status of Missy, a female terrier mix we are fostering. You can read the earlier posts about Missy's abusive former owners if you want to know the background of this abused dog.

On the left is a picture I took just a few minutes ago as Missy raced around the yard with the other dogs. She is still learning about sharing, and occasionally gets into spats with our youngest Puggle Chauncey over toys, but she is gradually becoming a more social dog.

At the vet appointment today Missy weighed 15 pounds, which is a gain of over three pounds in one month. Much of her hair is growing back, or at least in the fuzzy stage, and you have to get up close to her before you can see that she still has a few bare spots.

We are especially heartened at Missy's return to higher energy levels. In the first week she was with us, she mostly laid around, and her leg muscles had begun to atrophy from a lack of use. Today she is bounding around the yard after squirrels and birds, and she can jump up to three feet in the air when she gets excited.

Anyways, thanks to all of you who have donated to Planned Pethood - especially regular blog visitor MadJack and several anonymous donors - as every donation helps dogs like Missy get a second chance on life. With the economy the way it is, we are seeing a tremendous spike in dogs being abandoned and winding up at local pounds and shelters, so any dollar you can spare is helpful.

May 7, 2009

Meet Atticus Finch, a Rescue Puggle

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On your left is Atticus Finch, a 26-pound male Puggle who was rescued from an abusive environment and turned over to Planned Pethood. Atticus is a bit shy when he first meets people, and flinches when a hand moves suddenly toward him, but he is a gentle and friendly dog after he gets to know you.

Atticus gets along well with other dogs, and he is not a dominant alpha-type. As far as Puggles go, Atticus is on the calmer side, and his shorter legs and slightly longer body suggest either a Dachshund or Basset hound somewhere in the family tree.

His new owners will need to continue to reinforce housebreaking routines, though Atticus seems to know that outdoors is the best place for completing one's business. As of this point we have not seen any significant negative behaviors with Atticus, though his prior training appears to have been minimal at best.

To learn more about adopting Atticus Finch, or to help financially support Planned Pethood's mission to rescue dogs and cats in Northwest Ohio, visit the Planned Pethood website for more information.

Rapid Rhetoric: INDAGATE

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

indagate (IN-duh-gayt) v. to investigate; to search into; to inquire; to research.

The archaic word indagate comes from the Latin indagatus, which is the past participle of indagare ("to search"). There are also related derivatives of indagate, including the nouns "indagation" and "indagator" and the adjective "indagative."

I came across the word while wasting time in the 1828 edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. Johnson suggested that indigate can also mean "to beat out," presumably in terms of a suspect's confession.

No Guantanamo Bay jokes, please.

May 5, 2009

Awaiting My Doom in the Frigid Portuguese Coastal Waters

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I flipped through the pictures on my wife's digital camera the other day when I came across a few dozen images still on her SD card from our vacation to Europe last summer. The picture on the left is me braving the extremely cold waters just north of Cabo da Roca.

Portugal, you see, lies between the North Atlantic Drift and the Canary Current, and for much of the year the water off the northern coasts of Portugal is quite chilly. I found this fact difficult to reconcile with the warm temperatures in Portugal during the month of August.

Yet the water at the Praia das Maçãs was as cold as that found in Lake Superior during the month of April.

And there I stood, waist-deep in the icy surf, too stubborn and proud to admit that I drove an hour on winding roads through the Serra de Sintra only to find a beach that no sensible person would leave for a swim.

Oblivious, of course, to the eight-foot sea swell that loomed just overhead.

I also found it strange to see myself in images, not necessarily in a narcissistic way, but because I take thousands of pictures of subjects other than me. My wife had dozens of these pictures of my pudgy self, and looking at all these pictures of me was kind of like seeing the world through a different pair of eyes, or like reading someone else's diary. God only knows what she sees in me, but I am thankful that at least one person on the planet is not repelled by my love handles.

On Deserted Islands and Social Isolation

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Pictured on your left is a small island in the Maumee River near the land intersection of Copland and River Roads. I could pretend to be snooty and mention that I took the picture from the grounds of the Toledo Country Club, but I am sure most of you would not fall for such trickery.

Besides, I was a guest at a catered event there.

There is a part of me that craves solitude, and I have often daydreamed that a deserted island might be just the place to go. That is, not a deserted Pacific Ocean island a thousand miles or more from the nearest human habitation, but rather a small patch of turf somewhat isolated from Westgate
traffic, cell phones, and door-to-door salespersons.

The pictured island appears on maps, but I do not see a name listed for it. Certainly I would not be traversing the island for the first time in human history were I to row across the Maumee and set foot on terra firma, but the idea of camping out on this chunk of land appeals to the Huck Finn lurking inside of me.

Left: location of the unknown island

I snuck outside several times during the fancy event I attended to gaze at the island, wondering what it would be like to live there. The evening air resonated with the sounds of agitated geese, and the Maumee River was all but free from boaters at dusk Saturday. The only urbanized sounds I heard was the distant hum of vehicles across the I-80/90 bridge a mile or so upstream, along with the occasional noisy car stereo up on River Road.

The trips outside were reinvigorating, as I am the type of person who finds large parties to be energy-draining experiences. I can smile, shake hands, and converse in a social setting for just so long before I get antsy and look for a place to get away from the crowd.

A nearby deserted island would serve well this purpose when I desire the peace of extended solitude.

May 4, 2009

Crabapple Tree in Bloom, Redux

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I admit that I have probably taken more pictures of this crabapple tree in my backyard than any other tree on Earth, especially when it blooms. I also admit that bloggers taking pictures of their landscaping have loaded the Internet with hundreds of thousands of similar pages of blooming trees.

I apologize to no one.

Once again the spring air near my house is redolent with the intoxicating fragrance of the lowly crabapple tree, and the bright fuchsia blossoms make for an impressive burst of color.

Yet how can a plant which produces such beauty in the spring create such all-but-inedible fruit?

Blog Remodeling

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After switching to Blogger's newest platform, I am tweaking and reconfiguring this website. Thus, if you see some bizarre formatting or design problems in the next day or two, know that I am playing with the HTML coding to customize the site away from Blogger's cookie-cutter template choices.

My decision to update to the new platform owed much to the fact that the older "classic" templates seem unstable when using Java and CSS scripts, and the classic templates cannot support newer widgets like the "Followers" function.

BTW - does anyone else find the use of the term "Followers" to be a bit unsettling? I typically use this word in cult contexts, like with Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre. Also, it seems a bit egotistical for bloggers to refer to their "Followers," doesn't it? Heck, I would not even recommend following me to a parking lot, as we would wander for twenty minutes to find the car, let alone "follow" me in any other connotation.

But it is only a word, only a word, right?

May 3, 2009

On the Phenomena of Roadside Crosses, Highway Memorials, and Ghost Bikes

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I pass at least once a week the pictured roadside cross on Interstate 75 just south of the I-475 split in Toledo. I have no idea who is being memorialized by this freeway commemoration, nor even the details of the death of the deceased, though I assume this was a vehicular fatality.

I have been thinking about the reasons that we erect these roadside memorials, and why vehicular accidents in particular merit such attention. If an office worker suddenly died of a cerebral aneurysm while standing at the copier machine, we would be saddened, but I suspect that a copier-side cross would not appear. Yet if the same worker died on the freeway after being crushed by the auto a drunk driver, at least a few family members and friends would consider creating a roadside memorial.

Perhaps it is more than the suddenness of death that moves us to erect these funereal monuments. I think that the seeming injustice of the taking of life by the responsible motorist - whether by accident, neglect, or will - serves to motivate people to find a means of expression in order to facilitate their grief. The aforementioned hypothetical brain aneurysm - while tragic and unexpected - at least offers evidence of an undiagnosed problem, while a traffic fatality is a moment of shock that defies explanation to surviving friends and family.

An interesting parallel to the roadside memorial is the recent permutation of the commemorative genre ghost bike. When a cyclist dies in a vehicular accident, loved ones paint white a junked bicycle, chain it to a nearby post or pole, and leave a memorial note about the cyclist and the circumstances of the accident. These tend to be more political in nature, and are designed to raise awareness of cycling safety and the need for laws to protect cyclists.

We might also consider that roadside crosses represent some belief that the spirit of the dead lurks in the area. I personally do not spend much time pondering the possibility of the paranormal, yet I also recognize that there is also much I am incapable of conceiving about dimensions beyond the one in which I reside. My dilemma is akin to the two-dimensional residents of the fictional world of Flatland, who are perplexed by the appearance of a three-dimensional sphere. Flatlanders could only visualize a point that moved in ways they could not comprehend, and the possibility of a third dimension was both terrifying and heretical.

Some states and municipalities have enacted bans on roadside memorials, citing public safety as the overriding concern. The states of Colorado, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts ban roadside memorials, while states such as California not only place onerous restrictions on roadside memorials, but - in California's case - charge fees up to $1,000 for a small metal sign commemorating accident victims on state highways. You can follow this link to learn state-by-state programs to limit roadside memorials and add money to state coffers by fleecing grieving survivors of traffic fatalities.

Leave it to state bean-counters to find a way to profit from tragedy.

To our late traveler, the focus of the roadside cross: know that you are cherished and missed, and that your loved ones long to one day be reunited with you. And to the memorial creators: the public thoroughfares belong to everyone, and do not let heartless bureaucrats dictate how and where you remember the dead. If state workers tear down your memorial, build another. And another. And another.

May 2, 2009

Puggle Diggery

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I am not sure what sort of creature my 18-month-old Puggle Chauncey smelled, but I had to chuckle at the furious effort he put forth in an attempt to unearth his prey. If you peer closely, you can see the fast-action flying dirt clumps from Chauncey's busy paws.

Normally I discourage such hole-digging by my canine friends, despite the fact that my backyard is far from an award-winning work of landscaping. Yet I admit I admired the sheer determination of Mr. Chauncey Gardiner, and proper doggie discipline had to await the arrival of my wife, who quickly reprimanded both me and Chauncey.

This must make me an excavation enabler, or a codependent cavern creator.

May 1, 2009

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Color in certain places has the great value of making the outlines and structural planes seem more energetic. -- Antonio Gaudi