Archive | June, 2011

Today’s resolution: Stand out

30 Jun

“The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.” — Lorraine Hansberry

Solitary tree (Chatsworth, Calif. 2011/RO)


Today’s resolution: Notice the unnoticeable

29 Jun

This image is familiar to all watchers of The Lone Ranger television series.

“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver!’ The Lone Ranger rides again!”

At the beginning of every episode of The Lone Ranger television series,  the masked hero galloped up to this rock on his white horse, Silver.

Silver and the ranger are long gone, but the rock remains. It was never on a movie set but in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley in California, an area that was the setting for many television and movie westerns.

The rock sits on the edge of a residential subdivision in the Chatsworth community, where I photographed it yesterday. Unless you know the rock is there and know exactly what to look for, you’d miss it.

But that’s the thing about these bits of Hollywood history. They’re everywhere in the Los Angeles area, many of them unmarked, undistinguished and unnoticed in commonplace surroundings.

So I’m fortunate that my brother-in-law John, a native Californian, enjoys sharing his vast knowledge about the area and its cultural history.

In addition to the Lone Ranger rock, he pointed out the exact point on California highway 126 where a scene in one episode of FX’s Sons of Anarchy was shot. Being an SOA fan, I recall that scene. And he drove me by the sound set of crime drama NCIS, which is an ordinary-looking office park in Santa Clarita. Again, unless you knew it was there …

Watching television with him is always interesting because he can identify the locations used in shows past and present. Just now, while watching an episode of original Outer Limits that aired in the ’60s, he pointed out that a dirt road shown in it is near the Vasquez Rocks in northern Los Angeles County.

Too fun. Thank you, John.

Lone Ranger rock at Chatsworth, California (2011/RO)

Creature Feature: Stink is in the nose of the beholder

29 Jun

Published May 5, 2010, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

My daughter has a beautiful, huge black Labrador-Golden retriever mix. We have kept Ricky several times for her. When we keep Ricky, he likes to play in our large backyard. The trouble is that he quickly gets out of the fenced-in area, goes immediately to the yard next door and rolls in the worst-smelling something you have ever smelled! He goes to the same spot every time. Why would a smart dog get into something that smells worse than anything?

What smells stinky to you may be a scent from heaven to a dog because he’s a creature of smell. Dogs — who have 220 million scent receptors in their noses compared to humans’ mere 5 million — live to sniff and snuffle.

They also love to roll in the objects of their olfactory delight. But why? I asked animal behavior consultant Arden Moore, the author of 19 books on dogs and cats and the founder of, for her thoughts.

“No one really knows why dogs roll in smelly stuff, but there are several theories,” Moore says. “One is that this is an instinctive behavior harkening back to pre-domesticated days when hunting dogs would bring back information about available food to the rest of the packs. The thought was, if they found decaying fish, perhaps fresher fish would be found nearby. Some modern-day dogs may have retained this behavior even though it has lost is once-necessary function.”

Another theory, she says, is that dogs roll in stink to provide a disguise that will improve their hunting opportunities.

“What better way to catch a rabbit, say, than to smell like one, even a dead one, rather than like a dog? This canine camouflage technique also may be employed to hide their doggy scents from other predators.”

While a pet dog doesn’t need to hide from predators or hunt for his dinner, he still retains the instinct and desire to roll in smelly things. Sometimes, fortunately, the object of his stop, drop and wallow behavior isn’t discernible to the human nose. Other times, as you’re well aware, the smell is so bad it’s as if you can see it — a dense, angry miasma of stink.

Unfortunately, no matter what you do, a dog will roll if he feels the need. But you can try to eliminate or make an prime rolling spot unattractive to the dog or restrict his access to it.

If Ricky is getting out of your yard while he’s unsupervised, you may need to consider letting him outside only when you can stay with him. You may also try to create a more effective barrier to the neighbor’s yard.

Another possibility is to enlist your neighbor’s cooperation. You could ask if he will allow you to treat Ricky’s rolling spot with an unappealing scent that will lessen the dog’s attraction to the spot.

“There are some scents that dogs don’t like very well. Among these are citrus smells, such as lemon, lime, and orange, and spicy smells like red pepper,” Stanley Coren says in his book How Dogs Think (Free Press, 2004). “They particularly dislike the smell of citronella, which is why it’s used in sprays to keep dogs away from certain areas.”

Dogs are so put off by the scent of citronella that it’s used in anti-bark collars; each time the dog barks, the collar releases a spritz of citronella. Coren says this deterrent does work, but only briefly. When the dog becomes acclimated to the scent, it’s no longer effective.

But since Ricky won’t be around the citronella scent often enough to get used to it, it could be effective in your situation.

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Family section.

Today’s resolution: Big fun with little sis

28 Jun

I’m in sunny southern California visiting my little sister, Sherri. Let the fun begin!

Here I am with Sherri during a previous visit.

Today’s resolution: Find the fun

27 Jun

Fun is what you make it. (Chicago 2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Ready, set, time!

26 Jun
iphone timer

Time value

Social media, while useful, is a time sucker. I sit down to check my email, FB, Twitter or whatever and before I know it, I’ve bounced all over the web in a dizzying, dazing game of link tag.

The iphone (or whatever smart phone you own) makes this even easier. I can be “efficient” about it, too, by using apps that allow me to simultaneously post messages over multiple platforms. That helps me shave seconds off the social media time suck.

Working for myself has made me very aware of how much time can be lost when I’m wandering a linked-in labyrinth.

Frankly, I don’t have time to waste. Time literally is money. So social media time-suckage must be managed. Actually, all my time must be managed, and my iphone has become the instrument for this.

It’s simple. I use the iphone timer function to time everything from how long I read the newspaper to FB breaks to writing sprints to doing research to interviews to gazing out the front door with Simone.

The timer has saved me many times from getting so lost in work that I miss an important phone call or leave the office too late to arrive at an appointment on time. That last is especially valuable because I hate being late. If I want people to respect my time, it’s imperative that I value theirs.

The timer solution is so easy that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier. But I never had an iphone. This little thing has changed my life beyond the obvious. It’s my alarm clock, off-the-cuff camera, organizer, calendar … and so much more.

iphone with hourglassBut the timer … what a tool! When I set it, for example, for a 3o-minute writing sprint, that means that I won’t stop to check FB or my email or do anything else off task until that timer sounds. (I have 5:44 minutes left to finish this post.)

The timer takes away the pressure to multitask — the method of time management that more often than not decreases rather than increases productivity.

But the real key to the success of the timer is that I’m the timekeeper. If someone else — say, an employer — were timing my work, I should hate it.

But timing myself makes me feel in charge, in control. Of course, I shouldn’t need a timer for that. But it’s a great reminder as well as a timely tool.


Today’s resolution, by Simone: Keep your friends close, but your toys closer

25 Jun

Let's play! (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Retreat, nurture, renew

24 Jun

Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.Joseph Campbell

Kona, Hawaii (2009/RO)

Today’s resolution: Restore enchantment

23 Jun

How can the soul or the world be re-enchanted once it has lost the enchantment? Only by returning to the story of the soul and retelling it up to the point of fracture; only by placing our own story into the context of the greater song. — Caitlin Matthews

Flowers at Millenium Park, Chicago (2011/RO)

Creature Feature: Naughty torties & fiery gingers

22 Jun

My two girls, Missy and Carrie, loved curling up together for a snooze. I wouldn't call Missy a 'naughty tortie' but she was mischievous, hence her name. Carrie, who had the look of a Balinese, was a cuddler and liked to be carried around on my shoulder. (Photo/RO)

(Originally published 7/29/09 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)


Does the color of a cat’s fur say anything about its temperament? Is an orange cat calmer than cats of other colors?

Some people believe that you can predict a cat’s temperament by the color of its fur, but just as many others are quick to dismiss the notion. The fur/temperament issue is probably like the stereotypes we apply to people based their hair color — blondes have more fun, redheads have hot tempers, brunettes are even-tempered — in that sometimes they’re valid, but more often they’re not.

Animal scientist Temple Grandin would seem to be among the believers that fur color is significant. The Colorado State University professor says in her 2009 book, Animals Make Us Human (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt), that people looking to adopt a cat with a “friendly, bold temperament” should consider one with black fur. 

“Shelter workers in England call black cats ‘laid-back blacks,” Grandin says, noting that conversely the workers describe tortoiseshell cats as “naughty torties.” The description of black cats “is supported by a handful of studies showing a relationship between fur color and behavior. Black cats especially are friendlier than other cats, more able to deal with crowding and urban life, and have greater aggregative tendencies, which means they’re more inclined to live in groups of cats.”

She also mentions orange male cats, saying that they are more aggressive than black male cats. “That’s logical because orange cats are shyer than black cats and you would expect fearful cats to have more fear aggression. I’ve noticed that neutered orange males and females can be very affectionate,” Grandin says. “Some orange cats will rub on you all day. However, orange cats can startle and scare easily.”

After making these statements, Grandin backpedals: “Fur color isn’t a guarantee that a cat will have one kind of personality or another. When you choose a kitten, you have to go by the individual personalities of the kittens regardless of color.”

Sarah Hartwell of UK’s Cats Protection writes on that she’s one of those shelter workers who refers to black cats as laid-back and torties as naughty. She also says that “ginger cats” (orange cats) are “said to be spirited and fiery (and sometimes mean-spirited and sly) — very apt considering their fiery color.”

There are other stereotypes, she says: White cats are “dim” or “a little timid,” black-and-white cats like to wander, and “blotched tabbies” are homebodies or curl-up-by-the-fireplace cats.

“Most color/personality ‘information’ is anecdotal,” Hartwell explains, “but there have been studies where owners or veterinarians were asked to associate particular colors with particular personality traits. Profiles are only available on two particular breeds and these ignored the breed-specific traits and concentrated on traits associated’ with the color/pattern.”   

Other sources offer similar explanations about possible or imagined links people make about fur color and temperament, but they also note that genetics and, perhaps more significantly, early socialization of kittens play more of a role in shaping a cat’s personality.

I’ve had neutered and spayed cats of different colors and most conformed to no stereotypes. I’ve had two black cats: the female was skittish, the male never met a stranger. Both of my male tabbies (one orange and one gray) were aggressive and tried to dominate the other cats in the household. My blue-eyed female Siamese mix was a love, as was my female tortoiseshell. The black-and-white male was spirited and extremely sociable.

The skittish black cat was dumped on a busy street when she was about 6 weeks old, so I assume she didn’t come from a friendly and loving environment. The same goes for my gray tabby. The other cats, however, all came from shelters or homes and had lived the first couple months of their lives with littermates, and had been handled gently and often by many people. So my vote for what affects a cat’s personality and temperament goes to early socialization rather than fur color.

Is it OK to walk my dog on pavement in the summer or will the heat hurt his paws?

Arkansas summers can be brutal, so it’s recommended that dogs be walked only in the evening or early morning when temperatures or cooler. Walking on hot pavement can burn their paws, the same way it can burn your feet, so the general rule is: If it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot on the sidewalk or street, then it’s too hot for your dog.

Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Family section.