Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Best SNL skit. Ever

Good times at Shady Thicket..

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New home, new name

Sorry again for the posting lag, especially given how willing everyone has been to help me name our new pony. But it took me a couple of days to recover from the 300 mile round trip to pick him up and get him down to the stable.

I'm pleased to report that it went remarkably well. For a horse who hasn't been worked much, he loaded up and rode the 150 miles to the equestrian center like a champ. And through the whole ordeal, which included the kids literally hugging and hanging on him, he was incredibly patient. Not once did he pin his ears back or show any reaction other than alert curiosity. We were especially impressed by how quickly he bonded with John, whose autism often makes him remote and detatched. Horses are among his favorite animals, and he spent a lot of time petting our new guy, and even though his attempts were clumsy at times, the pony didn't seem to mind. Even Larry, who isn't really a horse person, was impressed with this one. The trainer is, too. She called me the next morning to say that she'd never seen a horse so mellow after coming to a new place. The verdict is unanimous; he's a real gentleman and we've high hopes for his training.

Per the name suggestions, you guys came up with some, well, interesting ones. To Ayman -while "Jihad Warrior" is unique, I don't think the military-supporting, conservativestable owner would have taken kindly to having a horse with that name housed in his barn. Luke's suggestion of "Bombshell," while appropriate since Haflingers have been called the Blonde Bombshells of the horse world, might have been similarly sensitive. Big Gay Al? Ditto. I don't think gay horses are allowed in the barn, either. Elan was a beautiful suggestion, Crowdcat, but my husband thought people would think we were saying Ellen, regardless of how we pronounced it. Mitzibel's suggestion of Elmer (like in the glue) is one we might consider if he goes against our expectations and doesn't want to be trained. I appreciated Suspect's suggestion of Shadowfax, except for the "fax" part. Of course, there were no fax machines when Tolkein was writing LOTR, so he couldn't have known that later the name of Gandalf's horse would make one think of office equipment. We came really close to using Margaret's suggestion of Merlin, but for some reason he didn't look like a Merlin. Lord Omar would have made a fine name, but alas, the horse just isn't pretty enough. ;-)

We knew we wanted something from legend or history, so almost all the way home we bandied names about. It was Alex who came up with the winning suggestion based on our earlier study of a pre-Arthurian legend made into a recent movie. I'll leave it up to you to guess which story it is, but in the meantime, here is our decision:

His name is Tristan.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Name that horse

I am quite giddy and have little time to blog as I prepare to welcome a new member to our menagerie. He's a registered Haflinger and his acquisition comes via a stunning act of grace and generosity by a dear, dear friend.

We go to pick him up on Sunday but it will be a month before he comes here to live, since we're trailering him straight from his current home to an equestrian center for a month of professional training. After that, he will serve as a not only a family horse but will work part time giving pony rides to visiting children. He will also participate in a therapeutic riding program.

So all the plans are in place. The only thing he lacks is a name. His current owner calls him "Ajax" but that's a bathroom cleanser. Surely we can think of something else.

Any suggestions?

Monday, April 16, 2007

For Andrea

This one goes out to my big sister, who also happens to be one of my favorite conspiracy theorists. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In defense of Sharpton

Forget what all those posers and playas' are are saying. I understand you, Al Sharpton.

I understand why you called for and got Don Imus’ Stetson-wearin' head. Calling a group of female college athletes “nappy headed hos” is wrong. It’s not nice to pick on a disadvantaged class, particularly when that class is part of a minority too stupid to understand the word “irony.”

If it makes you feel any better, today’s guilt-ridden white liberals are just as stupid since, apparently, they don’t understand irony either. Not that it matters. At this point they're probably too weak to try, having been whipped into slave-like submission by you and that other self-appointed Grand High Negro Jesse Jackson.

Of course, like the KKK, every mindless group needs a leader, and if black people are going to blindly follow you, who am I to judge?

I’m just Whitey. And like I said, I understand.

I understand that it’s easier for you to beat up on Don Imus and declare victory than it is to have an honest dialogue with someone like Bill Cosby. Remember him? That other black guy whose success blazed the very trail that has allowed your smug, puffy face to be all over the news lately?

In 2004, here’s what Cosby told a group of black parents:

"Let me tell you something, Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and calling each other [the N-word] as they're walking up and down the street. They think they're hip. They can't read. They can't write. They're laughing and giggling, and they're going nowhere."

Remember what you said about that, Al? You said you had a “mixed reaction” to the remarks of a man who encouraged blacks to clean up their own acts by eliminating the denigration of their women, the fuck-and-go mentality of their men and the idea that being education is only for white folks.

If you can’t get behind the message that blacks should educate themselves, support their children and respect their women the irony (there’s that word again) is that you’re condemning black females to be hos. And not just in theory, either. With no education, the woman impregnated by the drug-dealing nigga’ whose resume includes prison time and three other nappy-headed bastards may have little choice but to turn to prostitution to support her own.

People like that have hard lives. Sad lives. Miserable lives. On the other hand, broken and hopeless people make damn good followers, don't they. That’s why stupid, uneducated white people still join the KKK. Hating others makes them feel empowered and keeps them from focusing on their hick, trailer park existence. When some Bubba comes along and offers them false hope and a chance to be respected, they take the bait. Note that the KKK leader never tells them how to really help themselves. He won’t tell them to clean up their yard, take literacy lessons, find a job and get to a dentist. He just tells them that if they stay in the fight and keep hatin', one day life will be glorious. They only need to follow him.

And what works for the KKK Grand Dragon also works for the Grand High Negroes, as you well know. That’s why you won’t condemn the rappers who have reduced young black women to a pair of gyrating buttocks. It’s why you won't criticize rich black singers who remind young poor blacks over and over that they are just niggas and hos. It’s why you have “mixed feelings” about Cosby’s message that black parents make education - not expensive tennis shoes - a priority. Educated, self-respecting people wouldn’t follow you. They wouldn’t have to.

Living in the south, I understand you because I’ve seen the white face of those black oppressors in the KKK. Now I’ve seen the other face of that oppression - the black face. It was on CNN and FOX today and it was yours. The only difference was that you weren’t wearing a sheet.

Disclaimer: If anything I wrote here made black readers feel offended or oppressed, please realize I’m simply trying to help Rev. Sharpton. And really, what's good for him is good for you so Yo, shut up.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The ethics of Bear Keeping

Meet Cherry Bomb. She's a one year old grizzly and tips the scales at about 200 pounds. Isn't she cute? I think so, and I love photographing her every chance I get.

Cherry Bomb is owned by our neighbors Howard and Monica, who also have two Malayan moon bears, Teddy and Bruno. Teddy and Bruno weigh about 500 pounds
each. They're equally photogenic, but for different reasons. Where Cherry Bomb recalls images of the wild frontier, Teddy and Bruno are the comic relief. With their over sized ears and ruff-framed faces, they look like clowns. But there's nothing funny about an animal that can kill you with one swipe and Teddy and Bruno can. And it won't be long before Cherry Bomb is equally capable.

Howard and Monica love the bears. They rescued all three from roadside zoos and are turning the 12 acres they own into a Bruin Utopia. When the bears aren't in their roomy enclosures,
they romp free in an area surrounded by a stockade fence fortified by electric fencing that will all but knock you down if you hit it. They've put in a hill called Bear Mountain and a pond for the bears to swim in.

When we visited Saturday, Cherry Bomb was out in the play area, romping with the dogs. We watched from a safe area behind the wire, chatting with Howard and Monica as I snapped
pictures of the action with my zoom lens.

Even though Cherry Bomb is only the size of
Josie, the couple's German Shepherd, it's obvious from watching the dog's body language that she appreciates her playmate's superior strength. Howard and Monica appreciate it as well and work daily with the bears, teaching them to be gentle and respectful of their keepers.

But can they? As much as I admire our friends for rescuing the bears, there's something about people keeping apex predators in captivity that makes me nervous. I'm not saying it can't be done - there are people out there like Doug Seus whose knowledge of bear behavior and body language is so thorough that they can safely handle the animals. But I think people like that are rare, and that it takes much more than a good heart to take in an animal who tops us on the food chain.

Larry and I disagree on the issue. He thinks given the surplus of animals dumped on the exotics market by circuses and zoos, anyone with means should be able to take them in and provide for them. I think so, too, but believe it should be done under the supervision or guidance of an experienced expert. Just because you can afford to house a bear doesn't mean you have the smarts to keep it.

Yes, I'm familiar with the arguments. I know more people are killed by escaped dogs than by escaped bears. I know from working with horses how easily they can hurt you. But if my horse or dog exhibits dangerous behavior I can easily find an expert or a trainer to help me. It's not so easy to find someone to come over and help me tame my bear. On the other hand, after visiting Howard and Monica and seeing how they house the bears, I'd feel safer living next to them than I'd feel living next to someone who houses their underfed pit bulls in a ramshackle fence.

It's obvious that the bears are smart and interact well with our friends. All three bears have learned to do tricks, like sitting in chairs, walking upright, high-fiving and the "happy bear" dance. But the mock-attack trick makes me nervous. Howard says he's training Cherry Bomb to bite him with a soft mouth. But what if she gets carried away and hurts him?

And like all "children," Cherry Bomb doesn't like it if she doesn't get her way. Her latest prank is to
scale the outside of her enclosure, something her owners discourage because the little grizzly is much better at going up than she is at going down, and it's not like the local volunteer fire department will help get your grizzly down from the top of its cage.

Monica's strategy is to rush over and scold Cherry Bomb until she gets down, which she eventually does. Again, I wonder how long it is before the bear realizes that she doesn't have to listen to anyone. If she can learn tricks, surely she can figure that out.

I believe that Howard and Monica are working diligently to educate themselves and are striving to train the bears in a manner that will minimize the possibility of danger. If anyone is capable of being responsible bear-keepers, it's certainly these people. And from a personal standpoint it's gratifying to meet two folks so committed to education and the conservation of what may be a vanishing resource.

I hope that what I have observed - the appearance of a genuine human/bear kinship- will continue for the couple and their unusual pets, and that their efforts will evolve into the kind of advocacy work Howard and Monica seem born to.

But do I think just anyone should have the opportunity to do what Howard and Monica are doing? I'm not so sure. What do you think?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring Break

They're not just for kids and college students. They're good for entire families and we enjoyed a mini one, of sorts, this week when friends visiting from New Jersey invited us to spend a few days with them at the house they rented on a quiet little nearby island.

Even though we live on the coast, I've never been much of a beach person. I practically lived on the beach as a child; my mother, an avid beach-combing shell collector, would take us out to spend long days on the sandy local strands. Sometime we'd all go out camping as a family; one summer our very thrifty father brought an old hearse to haul his growing brood around in. That went over well.

One of my strongest childhood beach memories was of the day my dad took us to see Robert Harrill, the Fort Fisher Hermit, who turned his back on civilization to spend 17 years squatting in a bunker on Carolina Beach. I couldn't have been more than three years of age, but I can still remember looking in awe at him, standing there in his tattered cutoff jeans and trademark frayed straw hat. Harrill was quite the tourist attraction and attracted so many visitors that in reality this "hermit" probably had more of a social life than many people in suburbia enjoy. After he died in 1972, it was rumored that his death had been the result of foul play.

Yes, those trips were memorable. But time has changed the local beaches. Most are so commercialized or restricted that parking and access is limited, and going there results in more headaches than fun. But the island, which has resisted the kind of growth that has infected surrounding beaches, reminded me of how the beaches used to be, and it was really nice to watch my children play and enjoy themselves like I used to. I think that we'll spending more time on the island this summer. For now, here are some other picture from our adventure. Hope you enjoy them!

I went out at dawn one morning and saw a crab in the surf. I was just about to get a picture of it when a wave washed it out into the ocean. I was disappointed but then, to my delight, saw another crab wash up about a hundred yards away. I rushed over and the same thing happened three more times! Every time I got close the crab in my sites would get washed away and a another one would pop up down the beach, forcing me to rush to set up the shot. Then about half a mile I realized it was the same flippin' crab. Oh well, at least I finally got some pictures. This one's my favorite, even though the surf is blurred it looks way cool the way the foam is washing over him.

Here's Alex peering out of a hole in a shell she found while beach combing. We gathered enough shells that we may never come up with enough craft projects to use them all.

Lucas hugs John, ignoring the clear message of big brother's "I Hate Cuddling" t-shirt.

Gratuitous shot of kids' feet in the sand. If you don't have kids you probably don't understand the parental drive to take such pictures. Left to right: Lucas, Beth, Alex and John.

I took a lot of close-up shots of shells. The one at the top of the page is my favorite for presentation, but this one is close seconds because of my fondness for mermaids' purses.