Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How would you spell it?

Living with a six year old you realize how many words SHOULD be spelled. Take, for instance, pirates. Lucy's spelling makes much more sense (pierits). I also like her stylized skull and cross bones. She also makes pirate hats to go with this flag, constructed of a giant leaf petiole and construction paper.

Three Things

1. Yes, let me say it again, I still love OBAMA and so should you. Read this HILARIOUS article from SF Gate on Obama and what he needs and we all need.

2. Mitch got the highest compliment ever yesterday. At lunch, one of the second graders who was in Lucy's class last year asked Mitch if he would come to his birthday party and bring science demos! Mitch is his own Just Ask Why? I'm the Science Guy and has become something of a cult hero to the little people of Open Classroom (especially the extra nerdy little people...although i must say that things like rockets do resonate with all)

3. Mitch just learned a new song on the acoustic guitar. Can you believe it? Just now while the girls were in the bathtub. He just busts out with a lovely and rocking rendering of Whats So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding in honor of an article he read on Nick Lowe in the New York Times. Rock on Mitch!

Monday, September 5, 2011

4 out of 4 Brigham Allens Still Strong on Obama

L.A. Times headline today:

Obama strongly leads GOP candidates in California poll

Allie and Tom come for a visit

Allie and Tom took the train up for a day long visit yesterday. It was great to see them - we haven't seen them since they came back from their Seattle sojourn. Lucy called most of the shots for the day so we all spent time at the mermaid store, played at the playground on the beach, read stories, had tea, played at the neighborhood playground, played a quick game of chess, and played Don't Let The Pigeon Ride the Bus. We also went out for a yummy sushi dinner.

Allie and Tom are such good sports that they played several board games with the girls which can be frustrating since JoJo never actually knows the rules and Lucy frequently conveniently "forgets" them...

Allie and I talked gardening and both she and Tom listened to me rant about all my many issues. We all spent some time deconstructing climate change and talking peak oil (one of Tom's many specialties).

Good times were had by all.

Some Things Never Change

On Saturday we went to our friend Evan's fifth birthday party. It was a great party and the girls had tons of fun jumping at the bouncy place for two hours on a Saturday (a rare treat since the place isn't open to the public on the weekends). As we were getting ready to leave and the girls were looking in their goody bags, all of a sudden Josie realized that her goody bag did not contain army men, like the boys goody bags did. So JoJo asked Mary (Evan's mom) if she could have some army men too and Mary gave her a whole handful.

So JoJo is now happily playing with her army men (she has divided them into "lookers" - ones with binoculars, and "shooters" - ones with machine guns and bazookas).

It is amazing how similar these army men are too the ones that we used to melt against our bicycle tires, turning them into piles of plastic goo. Army men are apparently frozen forever in WWII era garb and weaponry. Fine with me. I prefer playmobile pirates anyway.

The Family Jewels

Growing up I loved to go downstairs to my parents bedroom, open the accordion doors to their closet, and get out my mom's two jewelry boxes off the top of her orange dresser. I would set them on my parent's bed and spend a good half hour to an hour looking through all the shiny rings, the charm bracelets with my mom's high school graduation date, the cupid bracelet with hearts with red jewels, the brown seed necklace from the sixties, the flower pins. It was all marvelous. My mom hardly ever let me wear any of her jewelry because she was afraid that I would lose them or break them (and I probably would have). After my mom died, I inherited all the "jewels", none of which are actual jewels.

Now the girls love to look through all the rings and necklaces and bracelets. Last Sunday I let them wear some necklaces and pins around the house while they were playing dress up. It is so strange and nostalgic to watch them doing the same thing that I did 30 years ago...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

JoJo Says

To Mitch as he leaves for a garage sale that Jojo has decided not to go to,

"Please bring me back a beanie baby of any kind."

To Mitch while riding in the van,

"Cobras squeeze people up and then eat them."

Mitch to Josie, "No they don't. You are thinking of boa constrictors. Cobras are venomous snakes. They bite animals and inject them with venom and then eat them."

JoJo, "NO!! They squeeze people and eat them up. My friend in the green shirt at the park told me so."

Lucy Says

While out hiking with her buddies and her dad at Arroyo Verde Park,

"Raise your hand if you think this is TOTALLY AWESOME"

To Josie while riding in the van on Saturday, "Witches and ghosts aren't real. And most certainly not mummies."

Feeling the Love

Tiffany gave me this painting last Thanksgiving. I believe I may have made derogatory remarks at the time and tried to get Elise to switch with me since her heart painting had more orange in it. But now I found the PERFECT spot for it. It is a most excellent addition to my ofrenda for my mom.

Sorry for being such a heel Tiff and thanks for the wonderful painting.

20% yoga 20% rock and roll 40% kids 10% work

This is my current hypothetical ideal recipe for a happy life (20% yoga 20% rock and roll 40% kids 10% work). Don't get me wrong, I love all the things listed above (yoga, rock and roll, my family, my job). Last week I went to a Old 97's concert and it was so AWESOME it made my head explode. That got me thinking that all lives would be better with more rock and roll, especially more live rock and roll. The head exploding aspect made me think well, it's probably good to have head exploding balanced out with a little grounding, which is what the yoga asanas do for me. Once I had yoga and rock and roll on the list, I had to add family and work.

I think really 50% work and 50% kids would be ideal but then it all adds up to 140% which just isn't right. And that's not even including reading books, tea, petting dogs, gardening, eating cookies, making cookies, and all that jazz.

So I guess I'm really saying, here's for more rock and roll. Here is a short list of the bands I would LOVE to see in concert over the next couple of years:

1. The Pixies
2. Bruce Springsteen
3. Ozomatli
4. No Doubt (Mitch says they aren't together any more so low probability on this one)
5. Gomez
6. Rancid (see number 4)
7. David Lindley (could happen in Ventura this summer)
8. Go-Gos
9. Lucinda Williams
10. The Rolling Stones

Addressing the maintenance backlog, buying down the deficit, etc.

Last weekend I finally got some of my historic burdens off my plate. Here is a list of the things I FINALLY accomplished in the better late than never category:

1. Caught up on the two birthday letters that I was behind on for Lucy. I didn't write one last year and had not written one for this year yet (I write her a letter on her birthday every year to help her remember what she was like as a little person). Now I just have to write the one I am behind on for Jo-Jo.

2. Finally mailed my dad's birthday presents. They have all been wrapped for about a month but I just couldn't get to the post office. Yes, his birthday was in June.

3. Refilled the bird feeders. We've had lots of young birds eating out of them and I have felt guilty that they have been empty for several weeks.

4. Paid all the bills. None of these had been sitting around for too long but still I do feel good about getting the bill paying out of the way for another month.

Sleep Gets in the Way

I keep meaning to write some posts on my day to day existence but falling asleep between 9 and 11 every night gets in my way. Then once I wake up I end up only being awake for an hour before going to bed. Hmm not sure what that is all about. World weariness? African sleeping sickness? Fainting disease? "female troubles"? Or perhaps just genetics. When I was growing up my mom would come home from work every day between 1 and 3 PM and immediately go into the living room to take a nap on the couch (I would go play in my room for "quiet time"). My dad also immediately retired to his bedroom for an hour nap before dinner every day after work. So I get my need for extra sleep from both sides.

Anyway, I'm trying to stay up tonight and write a few posts to catch up. So here we go.

Friday, August 12, 2011

They Picked These Outfits Themselves...

Big thanks to Chloe and Hannah for the hand-me downs. The girls love them!

Speaking of Gandhi...

Growing up with two intellectuals for parents, we occasionally played games as a family or with friends. Games like scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. And when we visited our friends the Bushells on Camano Island every summer, we played lots of games like Hundred Thousand Dollar Pyramid and pen and pencil games where you write a word and think of as many words that start with each letter as possible. Perhaps because this week on Camano Island was always one of the most fun of the summer, with lots of kick the can, shell collecting at the beach, crabbing, blackberry picking, book reading, back scratching and eating of chocolate turds (waxy chocolate donut sticks), I have fond associations with these types of word games even now as an adult.

And now I have a group of friends from graduate school who are similarly enamored of these types of games. When we get together every Thanksgiving we typically play a round or two of Celebrity (where you write down the names of famous people and then play three rounds of guessing them - one round where you can say anything but the person's name, a second round where you can say one word, and a third round where you can only pantomime) or some other game. But we have had to take a hiatus for the past couple of years due to the deep rancor that can develop over who, exactly, is a celebrity. Is Elvis Schmeidecamp, the local used car dealer with billboards along highway 80, a celebrity? What about the author Ann Patchett? Similarly folks have gotten seriously pissed during the game over mistakes such as describing John Wayne as a fictional cowboy. Needless to say it took a long time to guess that one.

Among a bunch of competitive, overly educated, obstreperous ecologists, these things can get ugly. But they can also get very, very funny. Here for your amusement are two of my favorite ever moments from Celebrity:

1) Who wears a Diaper?
One year someone put Gandhi's name into the pool. When it came time for the round with a single word, my friend Rob chose, not India, not peaceful, not non-violent, not bald, or many, many other things. But in the spur of the moment, Rob chose "diaper". And then, for the entire remaining 59 seconds (you only have a minute to guess), he basically grabbed his crotch to simulate a diaper. If you guessed that we never correctly guessed Gandhi from this display, you would be right. But when we found out who he was imitating, I literally peed myself laughing and to this day, merely thinking the words Gandhi and diaper put a huge smile on my face.

2) Old Candy Eye
It is round two of Celebrity that brings out all the gems. One time someone put Sammy Davis Jr in the hat and during round two, my friend Tiffany said as her one word clue, "Candy" hoping to jog our memories with a reference to his nickname, The Candy Man. Unfortunately, candy, in and of itself, was not enough to remind us of Sammy Davis Jr. from round one. Then Tiffany started vigorously pantomiming and settled on pointing to her eye as the best clue (because he had a fake eye). Yep, we couldn't figure out who "old candy eye" could possibly be.

Pearls Before Six Year Olds

The following conversation took place yesterday as reported by Mitch:

Josie to Lucy, "I love Hannah more than you."

Lucy starts to cry.

Moments later, Lucy to Josie, "I love Dylan more than YOU."

Mitch to Lucy, "Gandhi said, "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

Lucy to Mitch, "Who is Don?"

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Roborovskis

I was leaning towards guinea pigs, Mitch was leaning towards nothing. The Roborovskis seemed like a perfect compromise. They are the size of a furry marshmallow and they live in a ten gallon aquarium that thus keeps their paper strewing capacities to a minimum.

Although I cannot explain why I wanted even more pets, especially ones that need their cages cleaned, I fell in love with these little guys at the pet store a couple of weeks ago as did Lucy. I think Lucy would have forgotten about them but she had her mom to advocate for her position. JoJo is agnostic on the mini-hamsters and declares that they are "too jumpy and fast." Honestly I think guinea pigs would be better pets for the little people because they are larger and calmer (and they make all those adorable squeaking sounds) but they need a lot more room (modern guidelines say several square feet of cage per guinea pig and you shouldn't have just one given how social they are) and their cage has to be cleaned daily. So with limited room and limited time for cage cleaning, mini hamsters it is.

I have had several moments where I thought, "I am crazy. What have I done? Why? why? why?" But overall they are super cute, soft, fun to watch, fun to hold, and very low maintenance. The girls and I take them out of their cage at least twice a day for handling and exploration time, I give them small amounts of fresh fruit and veggies, and I watch them redesign their bedding every day or two. The sound of their running on the wheel at night is actually soothing and the dog thinks they are dog t.v. for her. I am teaching her they are only for looking at, not touching (there's a lot of "off" right now. no dogs on the bed while the hamsters are running around on the bed).

I will keep you posted on the comings and goings of the world's smallest hamsters. If you live near Ventura and are thinking of guinea pigs, there are many nice ones up for adoption here. If you want to learn more about Roborovski hamsters, look here. If you want to know why I am so crazy and like to have so many pets, I blame my grandma who lived on a farm with chickens, cows, cats etc.

And if you are wondering what their names are - I pushed hard for Charles and Alfred for the fathers of evolution by natural selection but Lucy picked Rocket and JoJo named hers Cutie. I call them Charles Rocket Darwin and Alfred Cutie Wallace. Yes, they are both boys.

Ruby Pancake Eating a Pancake

Every Sunday the girls and I make pancakes and we always save one for Ruby.

More Backyard Upgrades and the BBQ

I couldn't resist the little owl with a snail on his head - Lucy does love the snails...
My new bird house from Tiffany. Isn't it awesome! Mitch is going to climb the tree for me this week and hang it up in the backyard.
The flower lights were joined this weekend by a string of small paper lanterns, not pictured here.

Well I think I have finished my attempts to jazz up the backyard for this time around. Bird feeders are all up, candles are in the trees, the small yard decorations are scattered about and that is enough for now. Eventually we want to replace the astroturf and the patchy grass with a small area of sod but not for awhile (too much digging for now and too much little people foot dragging for the stuff to actually survive). And I still need to hang up my new super awesome bird house from Tiffany (see pic).

This Saturday Seth and Elise had a big biologists barbeque that was hosted in both our backyard and theirs so we got to sit around in our mini-paradise and drink beer and talk to folks. It was very nice. Of course most of my conversations were interrupted by either the girls needing something or Ruby trying to lick someone but it was still nice to see folks and hang out.

Although I still wish the backyard was more filled with flowers of all shapes, colors and sizes and had more of the feel of a Balinese courtyard garden, it is good enough for now.

When Wilson Came to Visit

Day One: Ruby isn't sure about this guy - he needs to stay in the living room...
"I'm not looking at you," they both say to each other.
Here's Wilson! Look at that handsome devil. He says, "This is what a real beagle x basset hound looks like!"

You can't see her head, but Ruby is making sure Wilson doesn't get her bone.
Day three: now Ruby is watching Wilson chew on her bone.

Day Four: Ruby is sleeping on Wilson.
Day Four: More watching.
And finally, Ruby decides to give Wilson a kiss.

A couple of weeks ago we dog-sat for our friends dog Wilson. Wilson is a real beagle basset mix (not a total potpourri of breeds like Ruby). Wilson is extremely sweet and soulful and was the perfect house guest. At first Ruby wouldn't let him leave the living room (there was no barking or growling, Ruby just stood in his way any time he tried to go down the hall). But after a few days she really warmed up to him and he was given full permission to roam the house and yard.

At first he was such a good house guest that I started thinking, "hmm, what a good dog. Maybe I should look for a beagle basset mix to keep Ruby company." But Ruby kept getting more and more enamored of Wilson until the last two days they would spontaneous break out into neck chewing sessions in the evening or how full blown chase games up and down the hall which is all fine and dandy until Ruby accidentally knocks down JoJo while she's chasing Wilson and then Ruby accidentally chews on Lucy's foot while she is chewing on Wilson's neck under the coffee table. You see how it is - Ruby's enthusiasm for Wilson overwhelmed her good sense.

Lucky for all of us, her craziness help eliminate my craziness of considering getting another dog. The anti-dog-bite book, "Living with Kids and Dogs" analyzes the dog bite statistics and finds that families with two dogs living together are more likely to have kids bitten than families with just one dog (there are many other interesting statistics and good advice in the book). I think this is because with more than one dog you are more likely to get caught in the middle of the dogs fighting over something or inadvertently get knocked down or bitten in the middle of dog horse play.

Anyway, we had a great time dog sitting Wilson and the whole family loved him. Even our elderly cat ignored him. Even Mitch (who isn't always the biggest fan of adding to the chaos with more animals) loved Wilson and said he could come visit any time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Best Dad EVER v.2

Yesterday Lucy called out to me that Josie had ripped off Tinkerbell's wing. I hoped that it was a wing that was meant to come off and could be easily re-attached.

When I got home from work tonight, what was sitting on the table but one superglued Tinkerbell with two wings back in place...


On Friday I took Ruby, Wilson (a totally sweet Beagle x Basset Hound that we were dog sitting), JoJo and Lucy at RSV. A great time was had by all. We saw lots of birds (the girls brought their binocs) including the Lazuli Bunting (I swear it is the same one), white tailed kites, black Phoebes, and we heard bush tits. We climbed to the top of a hill (Jojo's request), visited the pond (Lucy's request) and smelled some good smells (the dog's requests).

The girls also enjoyed playing in the Ap (a replica Chumash village house) although we really need to finish it. It is kind of disgraceful sitting their half-finished as it gets older and older...

The only downside was that the small deer trail that we took to the edge of the pond was rich in ticks. I picked 6 off Lucy, 2 off Ruby, 1 off Wilson, 2 off of me, and 1 off of JoJo. We later saw one roaming in the car that eventually got on Mitch's leg on Sunday (not embedded just crawling around).

Hopefully this won't put Lucy off hiking forever...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Best Dad EVER

You may not recognize Mitch Allen, guitar player, rock climber, bike rider, ecophysiologist, science educator, and much much more in this photo. You may ask yourself, what, pray tell, is that man doing? What is he, some kind of girly man playing with dolls?

He is, in fact, combing the hair of Lucy's baby doll so that he can braid it for her. Only the best dad EVER get out an actual brush to brush his daughter's doll's hair so he can braid it for her so it doesn't get tangled.

A couple of months ago he actually took the time to make NEW hair for some cheap ass mermaid doll that Lucy got at the dollar store and then promptly ripped all her hair out while brushing it. I would have just thrown the damn thing away as her tears streamed down but Mitch got out some pale yarn and cut and GLUED new hair to this piece of junk doll. He didn't want Lucy to be part of the throwaway society and he wanted her to have her precious mermaid doll restored.

All I can say is this guy is honing some new skills with this whole parenting two girls thing. There are few lengths he won't go to as super dada.

Rock on super dad.

Rhode Island

Somehow in all the rhapsodizing about the cruise, I failed to mention the fabulous week we spent in Weekapaugh, Rhode Island. Yes, this is a real place. Seth's family had a summer house built here in the 1950's and he grew up going out to visit for a couple of weeks each summer. Although the house rents for a fortune, Seth used his Riley credentials to get us all a week for FREE! Well, Seth and Jake did some door sanding but the rest of us just sat on our butts and worked on the impossible jig saw puzzle pictured above.

It was beautiful and relaxing and reminded me of a combination of my grandma's house in Battleground, WA (yes, another real place with a ridiculous name), and the Bushell's place on Camano Island, WA. Both were wonderful places that I used to visit with my family in the summer and both had overgrown tangle of yards. The house on Camano Island was, similar to Weekapaugh, a short walk from the beach.

For our R.I. week, our family and Seth and Elise were in residence for a few days and then we were joined by Becca, Rob, Ava, Max, Tiffany, Jason, Jake, Katharine, and even David Riley for a glorious lobster dinner. It was really fun to convene everyone on the east coast and it was wonderful of Seth to share his family treasure with us. The girls loved it - all the shell collecting, the playground equipment in the yard, the bugs, the birds, etc. It was very relaxing for us because there was so much for the girls to do that required little supervision (like playing in the yard).

I had a great time shooting the breeze with everyone and working on this puzzle with mainly Tiffany and Elise. Somehow I managed to take almost no photographs the entire time although I did take some video footage that someday may appear at a Thanksgiving get together.

We had a great time. Big thanks to Seth and his family for sharing their summer idyll.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ruby the Best Dog EVER

Ruby helping JoJo open her presents on Lucy's birthday.
Ruby "creeping" in the living room. One of her many hilarious features.
Ruby says, "I am a good dog!"

I feel I have given Ruby a bad wrap with my post on her swath of destruction while we were gone on vacation. Two mea culpas here. First, the photos of her with all the stuffing are actually taken after she chewed up a completely approved, given to her for chewing, stuffed animal from the thrift store. They were just too illustrative to resist for the post. Seth, Elise, and Mary actually cleaned up the vast majority of the filling and paper left from her binge while we were on vacation.

Second, all of her destroying was done while we were gone for 18 days on vacation. She hasn't chewed up a single thing since we got back (except see dog bed comment bel0w). She does love to rip the stuffing out of things but never does that activity unsanctioned. I give her one or two thrift store stuffed animals a week to eat up (60 cents a piece). She will go into the girls room when it is littered with stuffed animals and retrieve her one toy buried in there to bring to the living room and chew up. I've tried lots of expensive dog chew toys and she destroys them in minutes.

Also, aside from the one time right after we got back, she has also not peed inside since we got home.

So she really is a good dog (as you can tell from her photos!). We had a second incident of a dog biting a child at our local park so I am more thankful than ever for my tolerant and licky mutt. I have been pinching her like crazy lately as I pick fleas off of her (she still has some fleas despite two different flea treatments) and all she does is look at me with concern as I poke, prod, pinch, and move her around trying to get any fleas I see. She is currently sleeping peacefully on her dog bed (which we did have to glue back together two weeks ago after a bout of chewing but really, she is a good dog! that was the only thing she has eaten since we got back and since we fixed it two weeks ago she hasn't done a thing!).

Here is a list of some of Ruby Pancake's wonderful attributes:

1. does not bark at, growl at, or bite people
2. licks the girls faces when she wants them to stop doing something (a very gentle way of saying, "hey, could you stop doing that?"
3. also licks girls faces when they are covered with peanut butter
4. loves, loves, loves people
5. submissive, rolls over immediately upon greeting people
6. gets along great with 99.9% of other dogs (she did boss Lisa's dog Shasta when Shasta came to visit)
7. does not chase the cat
8. does not eat food off table or counters
9. Anyone can take anything away from her - you can even take food out of her mouth if you don't want her to have it and she just looks at you as if to say, "hey, aren't you going to give that back?"
10. humorous body shape and personality - likes to lay on back and kick legs into the air, likes to creep across the floor.
11. not very big - fits well in our house and could be carried in medium suitcase or very large pocket (o.k., maybe not a pocket, but check out these hamsters that I am thinking of getting - they definitely fit in a pocket).

I don't really need a list - ask Lena, I love this dog. even if she did eat three pillows while we were out of town.

The Mermaid Store

Today the girls and I ran errands which included a visit to "The mermaid store". We call it the mermaid store but it is really called Sea Things. Lulu, Jojo and I love this place. We visit about once a month and I always let the girls pick out a shell or a small plastic fish to buy. It is never a quick stop as it takes Lucy 15 minutes MINIMUM to make her selection. Meanwhile Josie will be on her fourth version of what she wants.

Lucy loves all the shells and the various paintings, christmas ornaments, and statues of mermaids. Jojo loves the little plastic fish and starfish and more recently has gotten into the shells.

For me it is a total walk down memory lane as it really reminds me of little shops that I would visit with my family whenever we went to the Oregon coast or Olympic peninsula during the summer. Tiny shops packed with shells and turtles made out of shells and plastic dolphins and salt water taffy.

I worry about the shells and wonder if we are contributing to ocean decimation by buying our monthly snail shell. And then I hold out hope that people somewhere are eating these mollusks and that we are basically buying their trash. The truth is somewhere in between.

During today's visit, Lucy took so long to make her pick that I actually shopped. I decided to spend some of my combined Dad/Jim/Barbara birthday money to get a couple pieces of shell jewelry. I picked a super cool shell choker and then I selected a neat silver ring with a big piece of shell. I looked at the ring and read the price tag as $8. When I was checking out the super nice shop lady said, "oh I'm going to give you a deal on this ring. I think it was priced wrong and it has a little stain on it here. I'm going to charge you $28" And I thought "$$28?" And then I saw the full price tag on the counter and it said $48 (the $4 had been wrapped around the back). While there was no way I was going to pay $48, I decided it was worth $28 to me to support our funky local beach store and take home my funky beach ring. I'm not sure how to evaluate the deal though - as a super great bargain - $28 rather than $48 or as a crazy splurge at $28 instead of $8.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ah, the soccer

Mitch and I just watched the women's world cup soccer semi-final game between France and the U.S. It was a great game and France outplayed the U.S. for a large portion of the second half. France dominated the mid-field and showed a lot of skill in ball handling and maintaining possession. Somehow, through will, a much better goalkeeper, some key substitutions in the mid-field during the second half, better defense, better training and endurance, and the amazing head of Abbie Wambach, the U.S. managed to win the game 3-1.

It was a super fun game to watch. The players were very collegial to one another, the refereeing was decent and there was plenty of excitement (not always true in a soccer game).

Mitch, Lucy and I watched the quarter final game against Brazil on Sunday and that was quite a nail-biter. It wasn't as fun to watch as tonight's game because the teams got aggravated with one another and the refereeing wasn't that great and really interfered with the game. It was still an exciting game to watch and it was one that the U.S. seemed to deserve to win (better overall play, some bad calls against us), looked like we were going to lose, and eventually won in penalty kicks after 122 minutes of playing time (much of which we played with only 10 players since one of our fullbacks got red carded during the second half).

All this soccer watching plus Lucy taking soccer at the YMCA for the first time ever this summer takes me back to my own long personal history with the game. I do love soccer even if I spent much of my early years of playing standing in the back field picking flowers, much to my dad's dismay. I played from age 5 through fifth grade then stopped in middle school when all the good players left the city league to play on select teams. I started again in high school in the very first years of the girls soccer program at Pullman High. The program was kind of a shambles since very few girls had ever even played before but it sure was fun to have a focus for all my teen angst. We pretty much sucked as a team and I don't think we won very many games but it was a great outlet for my personal ferocity and I'm glad I played.

I didn't play in college although the Evergreen women's coach asked me if I wanted to. My skill level was nowhere near that of the team players but I probably could have practiced with the team and been a bench warmer. Sometimes I wish I had done that. At the time I thought, "Oh when I'm in my thirties I'll get back to soccer by finding a groovy group of adults to play pick-up games with." But here I am almost out of my 30's and still no soccer as an adult. Hmm hard to say what the future holds but I will say that it is harder to find a group of groovy adults to play with than you might expect.

Anyway watching the world cup games has been great fun and I'm looking forward to Sunday's final game between the U.S. and Japan. I hope Lucy keeps playing if she likes it and that it anchors her teen years as much as it did for me. Big thanks to my dad for introducing me to the game and encouraging me to keep at it even though I was never really a natural (not to say that I was a complete soccer moron either dudes, I can still pass, dribble, and pound one into the goal on occasion - I'm just not a master of the fancy footwork...).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Barn Owls and Shifting Baselines

I just heard a barn owl call twice while I was out with Ruby for her nightly pre-bed stroll (to hear a typical barn owl call on youtube click here). It made me realize that while I used to hear barn owls and horned owls calling all the time in my neighborhood growing up and regularly heard barn owls calling in Davis, I haven't EVER heard them calling in all my night dog walks in our current neighborhood in Ventura. It might be the lack of mature street trees for nesting and perching in our neighborhood (we only have scattered crappy palms as our street trees and some smaller deciduous trees scattered about). Or maybe its the lack of abandoned lots, grassy meadows, or other areas with abundant small rodents for them to eat.

I don't know why they aren't here but two things struck me tonight. First, until now, I never noticed their ABSENCE. It is so much more difficult to notice the absence of something than its presence. It reminded me of a slightly related concept in ecology called the shifting baseline. With a shifting baseline a change in the ecosystem happens so gradually (sometimes over several human generations) that people don't even notice that a shift has occurred. The classic case of shifting baselines is in ocean fisheries where if you look at historic photos from fishing contests the prize winning fish are all huge but in modern photos they are wimpy little things. Yet despite this major change, people didn't really notice because it occurred gradually over decades. So the baseline value of the biggest fish may have gone down by an order of magnitude in terms of length or weight but we don't even notice.

My failure to notice the lack of calling barn owls felt like an unnoticed shift in my personal night time ecology.

My second pondering re:barn owls calling is regarding my recent interest in soundscapes - their value to people (especially soundscapes in our park), how they may have changed over time, and questions about how to monitor and manage soundscapes as a resource of the park. Hearing the owl calling at night made me realize (duh!) that one of the possible reasons why people are so interested in being out in the park at night may be because of all the cool sounds you hear at night. Plus the added value that you hear sounds more clearly at night (at least I think you do but I'm not sure why. If this is actually true I'm sure Tom or Mitch could explain it to me but I would likely either a) immediately forget the explanation or b) not really understand it in the first place. so take this bit with a grain of salt).

Anyway regardless, night sounds are AMAZING and natural sounds in general are one of the resources of the park that both people and animals value (animals need to be able to hear each other calling, hear predators approaching, etc.). I am struggling with how to monitor and manage our soundscapes as development occurs around us. I also think soundscapes are another area where shifting baselines could sneak up on us and our resources could be degrading without us even noticing.

One last random thought before bed - thinking about animals needing to hear predators approach takes me back to when I had a job walking through the sagebrush in the dead of night with a tape player playing snow mobile engine noises so I could sneak up on sage grouse and they wouldn't hear me bashing through the underbrush. Urban noise can really throw off the creatures, that is for sure.

P.S. Did you know that barn owls are in their own family (Tytonidae) and that they are the only species in that family? Also their cool facial disk (the crazy feathers around their eyes and bill) is designed to focus sound to their ears so they can hear the quiet squeaking of mice and their tiny footsteps (or so the ornithologists think anyway). All the better to hear you with my dear (and then to eat you!).

P.P.S. Mitch asked me once whether there are any cases where the female is showy than the male in birds. Typically females are inconspicuous and if anyone is going to be colorful it is the male. Ecologists think the bright colors of males both make them visible to mates and are a measure of their fitness. For females, who typically have to sit on the nest, blending in is key. At the time Mitch asked me I said I didn't know of any cases where the female was showier and there might not be any for the reasons above (in many raptors the female is bigger than the male, but not typically more colorful). It turns out that barn owls are one of the rare cases where the females are "showier" than the males although it seems like a bit of a stretch to me (the females have more rusty coloring and more distinctive spots). Check out pictures on the cornell lab web page and judge for yourself.

Here birdy birdy

I like birds and cats and plants and bugs and beasts. I like watching birds and I like the convenience and the natural history charm of having a bird feeder in my yard. However, I used to have cats that ate the birds that came into my yard and hopped down on the ground to eat the seed that spilled out of the feeder. So no bird feeder for us for the past 15 years.

Now my addled senior cat is an indoor only cat and one upside to that situation is that now I can have bird feeders again (downside - cat pee smell in bathroom - see previous post). So about three weeks ago Lucy, Josie and I went to Lowes and bought two bird feeders to hang in the trees outside their bedroom window. Lucy also had a make your own bird feeder kit from a past birthday that she and Mitch put together. So we got our bird seed and our sunflower seeds and filled up our bird feeders and waited. And no birds came and no birds came and no birds came.

We went on vacation for two weeks and when we got back, all of the bird feeders were empty. I wondered whether a squirrel or opossum or other creature had come along while were gone and snarfed up all the bird seed. So last weekend I refilled all the feeders thinking we would see who came to visit.

And in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday I heard this, "Mom! Mom! Mom! Come quick, there's a bird at the bird feeder." By the time I got there it was gone. But Lucy was very excited. I missed another bird visit on Sunday. But after Sunday's visit I said, "Lucy, what did the bird look like?" And she goes, "it had red on its belly and some red on its head." And I asked, "What color was the rest?" And she goes, "Oh kind of a dull brown/black" Then I told her it was a house finch and I congratulated her on her fine powers of observation that she noticed enough about the bird that I could tell her what it was. Mitch asked her if she wanted to look at a picture in a bird book and she said, "No. Why would I want to look at a picture? I saw the real bird."

I am seriously digging her powers of observation and her keen interest in nature. Even if both of these attributes totally disappear later in life, I can still enjoy them now.

Speaking of Pee

You may know that we used to have two cats, Katafanga and Kathmandu. Kathmandu is the nice one and Katafanga was the one with lots of personality (who also bit people a lot). Both cats were fifteen years old. Katafanga died of cancer in his face about six months ago. About three months ago poor little Kathmandu had a major stroke that left her lying on the ground pedaling her feet in circles in Seth and Elise's yard. After approximately $1200 worth of vet tests and two months of intravenous fluids, we discovered that her stroke was apparently idiopathic (they don't know what caused it) and she has regained 98% of her mobility.

So that is all great - we have our sweet little old lady cat back. The bummer part is that she is still a little addled from her major brain episode. She used to be an indoor/outdoor cat and although she spent much of her time inside, she did all her pooping and peeing outside (and has for the past 14.5 years). When we tried to let her outside after her stroke, she wandered around looking confused and the one time she got out accidentally she was gone for two days and we only got her back by scouring the neighborhood and crawling under a nearby apartment building to retrieve her.

So now Kathmandu is an inside only cat. Which means that not only is she inside but her poop and pee are also inside. She has been great about using the litter box but we have a tiny house and there is no "out of the way" place to put the litter box. Thus it is in our bathroom. And even though I try to clean the box every day (I don't always succeed), there is always scattered about cat litter on the floor of the bathroom and it constantly reeks of cat pee in there. It doesn't help that Kathmandu is old and addled and basically walks into the box and immediately pees with her butt facing the door (she often misses and ends up getting pee all over the floor). It also doesn't help that with her balance being slightly off since the stroke, we took the door off the litter box and have just left the opening open.

If any of you more experienced indoor cat people have recommendations for how to reduce the litter scatter or the pee smell... let me know. I love Kathmandu dearly and I will continue to put up with a bathroom that smells like pee and a situation where I get cat litter on my feet after a shower or during my midnight visits to the loo. But my quality of life would significantly improve if someone had a genius solution to this problem.

Yours in pee,

Ruby the Destroyer

Three couch pillows, a dog bed, two shoes, a packing envelope, two books, an Xbox game, and much more went down under the wrath of Ruby.

We have only had our new dog, Ruby, for about eight months. She was a year old when adopted her from the animal shelter in Camarillo last October. She is a hilarious little dog and has many wonderful qualities (can you hear the but...coming?). Before we left to go on vacation for two weeks last month we had to decide what to do with Ruby. The past two times that we had left town and could not take her our friends Sarah and Rick dog sat her at their house. Both Sarah and Rick are big dog people and Ruby loves their dog Choco. Despite the fact that Ruby pooped on their rug one time (it was raining outside...) and ate one of their son Jonas' toys, overall her visits to Chez Rutherford went rather well (perhaps I stretch the definition of the term "well" but they did have her back after the pooping incident and on the second visit there were no other accidents).

However, this time when we were gone Sarah and Rick were also going to be gone to Nicaragua. With my two previous pound dogs, taking them to a kennel proved to be too stressful for both me and the dog - too reminscent of their stay in doggie prison. Also both of my prior dogs were so depressed to be left at home alone with a visiting dog sitter that they mainly slept on my bed and moped. So when left with the decision of what to do with Ruby for two weeks, we asked our friends Seth and Elise to come over and let her out twice a day for the first week and our friend Mary to come over with her dog Chelsea twice a day during the second week.

I would definitely say that we are still learning a thing or two about Ruby Pancake and she occasionally sends messages loud and clear. With respect to the whole plan to leave her alone at home with twice and even thrice daily visits, she was clearly not a fan of that plan. Her jack russell terrier components came out very clearly as she systematically ate/chewed/destroyed anything she could get her teeth on including DVDs, books, couch pillows, her dog bed, shoes and more. Thankfully she didn't eat any of the actual furniture nor did she ingest anything that resulted in a trip to the vet.

Clearly while we were gone she got bored, possibly pissed off, and found ways to entertain herself. Poor Seth, Elise and Mary were at their wits end trying to put up anything she might chew up and trying to come over with enough frequency to keep her busy. Mary made herculean efforts to come over three times a day and bring her dog Chelsea for half hour play dates. Still the Destroyer reigned. By the end of the two weeks, Ruby was peeing on the floor after just having been outside - sending a message perhaps?

Now we have been back three weeks and we've got the potty issue reigned in again (knock on wood). She also hasn't chewed up anything she wasn't supposed to in at least five days (she did eat round two of her dog bed but Mitch glued and sewed it back together). Mitch did a yeoman's job shampooing our carpets so I think we may not have to spring for new carpeting for another couple months or so. And I even replaced all the couch pillows. The only remaining task is to go to town with the Nature's Miracle to try and get rid of that last remaining lingering pee smell (not the fragrance I really want to be greeted with at home).

Suffice it to say that next time we go out town and can't take Ruby, she's either going to stay with friends or she'll be visiting the k.e.n.n.e.l.