Friday, November 23, 2012

The Walrus Guy

Pirate? and I met in the seventh grade. We had both lived in the same small town for several years, and both of our families were pretty active in the community. We crossed paths quite a few times before we actually met and became friends. The summer after seventh grade, we discovered that her parents regularly attended the weekly community band concerts in the park. My parents played tuba and flute in the band. These were outdoor concerts where families usually brought picnics and sat on blankets while listening to the band, and having my best friend there was awesome.

With his massive fluffy white handlebar mustache, The Walrus Guy was a fixture at community events. He did have a real name and was just some retired person as far as I am aware, but he was a winning combination of highly-involved and incredibly recognizable. This meant that you were guaranteed to spot him at every fair, festival, and event in town.

The Greek Festival, the Celtic Festival, the Fourth of July Fireworks, the Community Rummage Sale, the Christmas Parade, the Fourth of July Fireworks...he was even at Tallships presentation at the harbor.

I'm sure that plenty of people at these events knew The Walrus Guy personally, but I never asked them. As a kid you don't generally admit to adults that you go around referring to an upstanding member of the community as The Walrus Guy. He died when we were in college, there was a huge article in the newspaper listing the many clubs and groups he was involved in. Guy had a lot of hobbies. No mention of his close resemblance to any pinniped species, though.

Rest in peace, Walrus Guy. Someday I hope to be as notorious among the local children as you were.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The snake-feeding bag

A lot of people feed their pet snake in a place other than the snake's normal enclosure. This prevents the snake from associating hands and opening cages with food. Some people have a specific feeding box or tupperware, but for smaller constrictors a really common method involves sticking the snake in a plain paper grocery bag with the food.

Since neither of my snakes is huge, this would be an ideal feeding method. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to keep a paper bag in the house for more than 30 seconds without it becoming occupied.

I'm pretty good at keeping the cats out of my gift wrap though. I hoard gift bags so that I can reuse them, and I have one that is exactly the right size and shape. It's nice a sturdy, and the top can be secured with a large chip clip. It's the most cheerful place I've ever tossed a warmed-over dead mouse.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Dogs are very useful animals. They make good alarm systems, theft deterrents, bed warmers, exercise buddies, and dish washers. Awesomedog is particularly good at removing every single molecule of edible substance from any surface. This makes him a very convenient alternative to a mop.

I'm pretty sure this cleaning method cannot be used on other surfaces, but there are those who would disagree.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I discovered a few years ago that, when you have birds, people give you birds. This summer I learned that birds aren't the only thing that works like that. It all started when I began teaching my annual Animals and Art class, and got back in touch with a family who brings in their reptiles every year. If you are a weird and interesting person who owns a lot of strange animals, you end up making friends with other weird and interesting people who own a lot of strange animals. Then, when someone tosses you another unwanted creature, you have a whole network of people who might like to add it to their menagerie.

My friends have tortoises and had divided their enclosure to make a space for the box turtle, but she had been sitting in a corner and refusing to eat, and they weren't sure what else to do with her. After reading quite a bit about box turtles, I still had a few questions, so I called the awesome turtle sanctuary in town. I've read about the sanctuary a lot and was dying to visit, but it has been closed to the public for a while.

So we made plans to go visit and I started building a turtle enclosure in my yard. In the interest of being sustainable, green, and cheap, I asked the local Freecycle mailing list for some old boards. I was immediately offered a few 2x4's and also a second box turtle.

When you love exotic animals and someone offers you one they clearly have no clue how to care for, the answer is always "yes". Freed from a life of boredom in a plastic tub with a small dusting of potting soil, Turtle #2 immediately took to a life of burrowing in the yard and foraging for fruit and bugs. I took the turtles to the sanctuary with me and learned that they were both girls, and I got to see all the wonderful turtles, tortoises, snakes, lizards, and birds at the sanctuary. When I described my turtles' enclosure and diet, they offered me a couple of boy turtles to keep them company.

And that is how I ended up with four three-toed box turtles. They are a lot of fun to watch, they each have distinct personalities and favorite spots to hang out. It turns out that Turtle #1 is just grumpy by nature and prefers to spend her time hiding. Now that we have convinced her to each something other than peaches, she has relaxed quite a bit. She still immediately turns into a box whenever I pick her up, though.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mud daubers.

When we first moved into our current house, I was horrified to find a wasp nest stuck to the wall above the back door. We sprayed it with poison and knocked it down. Later I was dismayed to learn what makes this type of nest.

You see, this is the nest of the most magical and wonderful member of the order Hymenoptera, the mud dauber.

This noble beast is truly the greatest of all wasps. What makes the mud dauber so beautiful and special? It eats spiders. Especially black widows. Mud daubers are also solitary, so one wasp doesn't mean there are dozens more somewhere plotting your demise., and they aren't territorial either. Our mud dauber can be spotted hanging around the pond in the turtle pen, her nest is once again above our back door, but we've never actually seen her up there. It has at least six cells now, each filled with an assortment of horrible arachnids that will never bother anyone ever again. Thank you mud dauber!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What kind of dog?

If you live in an area with a lot of chihuahuas or a lot of people with Mexican heritage, you are probably aware that a lot of people from Mexico absolutely love chihuahuas and enjoy pointing them out to their children when they would ignore any other type of dog. I imagine this is somewhat similar for dogs with other readily-identifiable nationalities, and I am simply not around when someone from Australia spots a kelpie or an Australian cattle dog. In my mind Irish people like to point out Irish setters and Irish terriers, and people from Japan are quick to point out akitas  to their kids. (I could be completely wrong about this and it's just a chihuahua thing...)  Anyway, this morning we passed a probably-Hispanic guy and matching kid.

I've been laughing my ass off about this all day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The saddest thing at daycare.

This is easily the worst thing I have ever witnessed while working with kids. I know for certain that the kid was just really happy that his mom was officially in remission and wanted to announce it to his friends...

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I occasionally do transports for the local seabird rescue. This usually involves driving down the coast and picking up the birds from animal shelters, coast guards, and other agencies. Most of the time somebody else has already picked up the birds and driven them part of the way. When I've got several birds to transport at once I like to say I have a car full of pelicans, because it conjures up this sort of image:

The truth is that the birds are always transported in cardboard boxes; the dark makes them feel safe and secure, and they can't accidentally poke out anybody's eyes. So far I've transported pelicans, cormorants, and a grebe. Even in boxes, seabirds make my car smell like fish.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Awesomedog does not exactly play "fetch". Sure, he loves to play ball like any herding dog, but we have to play it his way. Awesomedog is absolutely unimpressed by a ball on the ground. Once it has been thrown, his one mission in life is to catch that ball and bite it. He doesn't actually gnaw the ball, he isn't a recreational chewer and has never really been interested in destroying non-edible toys like Nylabones and Kongs. Awesomedog just loves to bite things, and after catching a tennis ball he likes to stand around biting it really hard for a bit.

And then he spits the ball out and ignores it until I catch up and pick the ball up again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Permanent pink hair dye.

I have pink hair. I only dye it about once a month, and the color lasts pretty darned good in between dyings. When I first determined that I wanted pink hair, I set out on a quest to find some permanent pink hair dye. While such a product does not truly exist, there are definitely ways to get the effect of permanent pink hair dye for permanently pink hair. Done properly, the whole process is a lot kinder to your hair than actual permanent hair dye.

1. "Permanent" is relative.

If you've ever tried to maintain a different hair color before, you know you have to keep dying your hair regularly. Hair grows, colors fade, and even permanent dyes need to be redone every month or so. There is no way to change your hair color without maintaining it regularly.

2. All dyes are not equal.

All dyes are not created equal, and not all colors of a certain brand are equally effective. Pirate? uses violet Pravana dye and it lasts months and months in her hair. I tried their "wild orchid" color and it washed out in a week. I use "fuschia shock" by Manic Panic and it lasts for weeks, but their "cotton candy pink" shade washes out much faster. I have found that the Manic Panic colors that look black or nearly black in their jars (in real life, not on the website) are the ones that have the most pigment and last the longest. It helps to try several different products to see what works best on your hair.

3. Say no to burny chemicals.

Permanent hair dye has a dark side, it's full of chemicals that burn your scalp. Leaving this type of dye on for too long can totally destroy your hair. Likewise, bleach or lightening agents can also dry out your hair and leave it horribly frizzy and gross. Unless your hair is really dark, you can completely forgo "lightening" it and just put your colors on over it. Pick a nice dark shade of your favorite color, you'll most likely end up with a nice vibrant tint over your natural hair color. Semi-permanent dyes like Manic Panic and Pravana's Vivids are non-toxic vegetable dyes that won't fry your hair and can be left on long enough to color almost any hair (or pet).

4. Longer is better.

The cool thing about using vegetable dyes is that they don't fry your hair, so you can just go ahead and leave them on indefinitely. I leave mine on for at least four hours, and often more than eight hours. The dye has to stay wet in order to keep working, so it helps to wrap your head in plastic wrap. Beauty supply shops also sell some nifty cotton ropes that you can stick around your hairline to help keep the dye off your skin.

5. Heat helps.

Heat is recommended by a lot of dye manufacturers to help set the color in your hair or make it brighter. I usually blow dry my hair for 10-15 minutes or until I get bored. Rinse well in cool water, and your color should last for several weeks.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Cat Room.

The tiny dining room off our kitchen is the Cat Room. It didn't start out that this, and it's really all a matter of coincidence. We never intended to have a designated cat room, it just turned out that way.

We never really eat at the dining table, the room itself is super-tiny, and trying to fit more than a couple of people in there is a little silly. We do, however, feed the cats on the table, and although it is tiny, the dining room has two extremely sunny windows that are usually open. Evilcat's litterbox issues and pawprints on the table led to a few more additions.

The stools we keep under the table turned the tablecloth into a perfect place to hide. When the dogs decided to start raiding the litterbox, we put a tall babygate across the door and ended up with this:

It's a perfect dog-free cat habitat, complete with food, water, litterbox, places to hide, and sunbeams. Someday I'm going to add some shelves so they can climb/fall a bit. Yes, the dining room also has a doorway with a rounded top. It is way too cute. (When I'm outside I like to poke the cats through the window screen.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Flying dolphin.

I often tell the kids I work with that I have so many animals because my mother used to tell me that I could have as many pets as I wanted when I grew up. This is easily the best response I have gotten.

This is why five-year-olds are awesome.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Compelling reasons not to acquire a bird.

We currently own 15 birds. Most of them were given to us by people who could no longer keep them for one reason or another. Parrots are all horrible demonspawn hellbeasts, but even finches have their serious downsides. Here are some good reasons to not own a bird.

1. They live forever.

Most people know that big parrots are a 50+ year commitment, but even cockatiels can make it well into their 20's. Budgies (parakeets) are a 10+ year commitment, and a finch can be around for 8 or 9 years. Changing families can be very hard on social birds, so people considering a parakeet, lovebird, cockatiel, conure, or parrotlet should seriously consider their plans for the next couple of decades.

2. Birds are evil.

Parrots are jealous little beasts and have a tendency to fall madly in love with one person and hate all potential rivals for affection/attention. Even cute, cuddly baby parrots will eventually hit puberty and develop a passionate hatred for your spouse, your children, your parents, your other pets, your friends, or anyone else who visits your home. Not every bird does turn into a feathered machine of pain and anger, but any parrot can suddenly decide to terrorize the people you love. Alternately, your bird may fall madly in love with your spouse/child/other family member and suddenly decide they hate you.

3. Birds are messy.

Smaller birds tend to be the worst mess-makers, but even big birds love to fling food and stuff everywhere. It's a major form of bird entertainment. Even through careful engineering I've only ever managed to direct the mess rather than contain it. Daily vacuuming is pretty much unavoidable, if birdseed falls in damp places it tends to put down roots and sprout, and you will still be finding petrified crud years after you cease to own birds.

4. Birds will tear up your stuff.

In the wild parrots spend pretty much all day shredding things in search of food and nesting materials. In captivity this desire for massive destruction cannot go unquenched. Even provided with an infinite quantity of shreddable-toys intended for shredding, parrots will occasionally decide to sample your library, data cables, or something else that you love. This is usually accompanied by innocent and adorable behavior intended to throw you off your guard.

Do not be fooled. Birds are monsters. Birds are descended from carnivorous dinosaurs, and they have not forgotten this. Birds will destroy your home, your marriage, your family, and all of your possessions. Do not let them into your house. Say no to birds.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tea time.

I don't normally drink coffee, but I do like to drink tea.

So do various other members of the family.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Cats are Stupid: Exhibit D

The Hellions are not allowed outside for a variety of reasons. We live in a very urban area with a lot of traffic, I don't want them getting into fights or picking up parasites or diseases, and I want to protect the local wildlife; however the primary reason is that the Hellions are far too stupid to survive out there for more than five minutes. They have had brief encounters with the great outdoors, I take them outside on leashes, and once in a while they escape. Right after we moved to our current place they pried open a window. I came home and found them in the driveway.

It's worth noting that our front yard and therefore our front door are enclosed inside a chainlink fence. Instead of a backyard there is another house with another family, and the driveway runs alongside our house and back to the garage that we share. The cats had emerged from a window facing the driveway and once they descended to the ground they could not get back in. Tortie Hellion was sprawled on the driveway so I just crammed her back in through the window. Tabby Hellion was frantically running in circles, and when I went to grab him he fled in terror towards the only recognizable route back into the house: the front door.

Of course, there was a chainlink fence between him and the door, and neither of the Hellions is particularly good at solving problems. After running facefirst into the fence he backed up and tried again, then ran a few feet down the fence and did the same thing. I watched him bash his way all the way around the fence and then followed him while he bolted around the house. Once he was within sight of the front door he again ran facefirst into the fence and repeated the entire performance. While he was dashing around the house for a third try I helpfully opened the gate, allowing him to reach the front door and run indoors to safety.

Of course, the first thing he did was try to jump out the window again.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


My parents are both musicians and I grew up playing the clarinet. It was always a little frustrating and kind of boring.

High school marching band directors inevitably seem to be brass players.

I still play the clarinet and also own and play E-flat alto, E-flat soprano, and bass clarinets, but until I started playing the tenor saxophone I didn't realize what I had been missing. I enjoy playing the sax far more than any type of clarinet because I finally have what I can never have on the clarinet.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012


When I was in college I worked in a western clothing store. We get a lot of tourists in our town, some from out of the country.

And then my shift ended and I handed him off to another salesperson and I never found out what he was looking for. In retrospect he could possibly have been looking for jeans, but we were standing in a room that was literally wall-to-wall jeans and I kinda figured he would have pointed or something if that's what he was there for.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dog in a Dress.

Before we acquired Tinydog, I was intending to get a second dog. It was going to be a cattledog or cattledog mix like Awesomedog, and it was totally going to be a girl. I had been checking rescues and sheter websites, looking for the perfect new dog. She was going to be friendly and athletic and I would put pink collars and ribbons and tutus on her like I did with my late cocker spaniel.

Then we brought home Tinydog, who is a boy. It's already pretty tough to find a landlord who will rent to people with two dogs, so a third dog is definitely out. No girl dog for me. Initially I had decided that Tinydog was going to be a Real Dog and sleep in a crate and compete in obedience trials and not wear stupid sweaters. Then I discovered that Tinydog's lack of hair or body mass made him incredibly cold all the time and his first night in the crate he shivered until I let him sleep in bed with us. Turns out a chihuahua isn't a Real Dog after all. Within a couple of weeks I had sewed him a blanket coat and a pretty dress.

Tinydog proudly demonstrates that gender is a social construct and that boys can wear dresses too. He is our pretty princess.

Friday, August 24, 2012


A couple of years ago we had to move very abruptly. We found a place that would let us rent with three cats and a dog, but unlike many other rental homes this one lacked a refrigerator. We were pretty broke after the move, but I was reasonably certain I could find a fridge for free on Craigslist of Freecycle, having used these resources before. Within a couple of days a free, working refrigerator was posted and we snapped it up.

Note: Free refrigerators are often free for a reason. This particular specimen functioned perfectly well, but probably dated from the early 90's and smelled horrendously of fish no matter much bleach was applied. It was also equipped with a padlock and covered with bumper stickers advertising various conservative politicians, firearms, and outdoor sports that are all somewhat unusual here on the coast of southern California. We named it Bubba and planned to equip it with a gun rack and a pair of antlers, but our living situation changed before this plan came to fruition. Since the new place had a fridge, we needed to find Bubba a new home.

Do you know what sort of people respond to that?

Now look, I understand that hillbillies exist. I've read about them in books, I've seen them on television. However, I have lived my entire life on the furthest edge of California with the massive urban bulk of Los Angeles insulating me from anything resembling country folk. Even in the inland deserts of California people generally look and sound just like people in the urban and suburban areas. These guys...apparently drove their spray-painted truck out of the Appalachian mountains and right to my door. They may have had an entire set of teeth between them, one was actually wearing overalls with no shirt and the other wasn't wearing shoes.

It was not unlike spotting a polar bear in the neighborhood.