Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Counting My Blessings

When I stepped into the shower today, I started imagining how differently my day would unfold were I headed to the Oscars tonight. My anxiety over my appearance, my self-consciousness over my demeanor, my fear of the Fashion Police, my worry that I’d lodge my foot in my mouth (after catching my heel in my hem).

No, thank you.

My grooming today was nothing more than making sure I didn’t smell and was fully clothed. I’m grateful that my attendance at the Oscars remains firmly in my imagination and I’m free from worry tonight.

What are you grateful for today?

[Photo of Piguet evening dress by Richard Avedon.]

See Your World

Walking home one late afternoon last fall, my husband spied the creature pictured above on the sidewalk. The praying mantis would have been easy to miss, for s/he blended well with the surrounding detritus. My husband scooped her up in a nearby cup.

By the time they reached our living room, the mantis had consumed the beads of Coca-Cola that had clung to the cup’s interior. The mantis seemed cramped in the cup, so I encouraged a move to the backyard with our guest.

My husband sat on the ground and invited the mantis out of the cup. While my husband morphed into the mantis’s playlot—allowing her/him to explore his arms, his shoulders—I ran back into the apartment for some nourishment for the insect.

I sliced open a pawpaw and took it to our guest. Before I could deposit the fruit on a leaf, though, the mantis grabbed the knife I held. Forcibly pulled the knife toward him/her.

My heart stopped. I was sure the blade had injured him/her.

But s/he was fine.

Though the mantis didn’t eat much, s/he certainly savored it for a long while, licking every last little bit off her/his legs.

We continued watching our guest, likely to our guest’s annoyance. It was a delightful way to spend an evening—better than any other way we might have chosen to fritter away our time.

As the sun gave way to a night sky, we chose a tree the creature could seek sanctuary in and bid our praying mantis goodnight.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
—Henry Miller

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pop Over to POPVOX Today

Yesterday I discovered this is National Justice for Animals Week, sponsored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Fortunately, I did my part without even realizing it.

On Thursday, I attended (by invitation) Humane Lobby Day in Frankfort, Kentucky, the capital of the Bluegrass State. Most states have a Humane Lobby Day, which is a brainchild of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). It’s the annual designated day when animal welfare advocates from across a state gather to persuade legislators to craft laws that protect animals from neglect, cruelty, and abuse and to support those laws with tougher sentencing and better law-enforcement training. At least, I thought that was our mission.

Instead, I found a disheartening small number of attendees (though the event organizer announced it was the largest turnout for the event in the 10 years it’s been held), speakers who couldn’t hold the audience’s attention, and too many under-informed, first-time advocates (like me) sent to speak one-on-one with legislators (the three people I was assured would do all the talking in my meeting with a Congressperson didn’t show!).

The clear (yet unintended) message of the day: As you were, legislators. Go ahead and keep doing whatever agribiz lobbyists and “sportsmen” want you to do. Most Kentuckians don’t care about animal welfare, and the few who do may easily be ignored.

What the legislators didn’t know was that the event was by invitation only. Or, more specifically, you had to RSVP to attend. This is understandable for the folks who agreed to meet with legislators at appointed times. But as far as networking with like-minded people (another goal for the day) and rallying in front of the press and Capitol visitors, the event should have been widely publicized—should have pulled in as many supporters as possible to show Frankfort and the media that animal advocates are a force to be listened to.

“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”
—Abraham Lincoln

The refrain I heard again and again on Thursday regarding humane animal treatment was “It’s just common sense.” It’s just common sense that after animals have been abused, they shouldn’t be returned to the abuser. It’s just common sense that farm animals should be able to turn around in their pens. It’s just common sense that sick cows that can’t even stand up for slaughter should not become the beef served to schoolchildren in the U.S. It’s just common sense that a double-decker truck built for pigs shouldn’t be used to transport horses. It’s just common sense that animals need food, water, exercise, shelter, medical care, and attention.

Newsflash, folks: It isn’t. It’s not at all about common sense, which is apparently in short supply in the Bluegrass and Washington, D.C. Animal advocates aren’t fighting unused common sense. They’re fighting GREED and a LACK OF COMPASSION—the driving forces behind the Iraq War, the housing debacle, and the new Sandhill Crane hunting season in Kentucky. Animal advocates are up against the Dark Side of Capitalism and the free rein given to sociopaths. The battle is fierce. It requires wit and wisdom and patience and perseverance—and every single compassionate human we can persuade to join us.

Today is the last day of National Justice for Animals Week, but it’s not too late for you to take part. With a click of your mouse at POPVOX, you can voice your support of animal welfare legislation being considered by Congress. Yes, you’ll have to register, but it’s short and easy. Plus you can see how legislators across the country voted on other issues important to you. Or go to and sign a petition.

Please speak up for the voiceless. If not today, soon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Better Late than Never

My new reading habits are beginning to bear fruit (that is, they’re driving my cheerier disposition). Especially my latest read: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Though I’m only halfway through it, I recommend it.

I know, I know. This is old news to most of you; I’m late to the party. The movie is already in production with Kate Winslet. But when the book was first published, my workaholic tendencies prohibited me from reading for pleasure. I missed out when everyone was talking about it and recommending it to me. On the other hand, I confess I didn’t make time for it either. The era it is set in—post-WWII—didn’t appeal to me. Has never appealed to me.

Thank heavens I finally forced my nose into the book. It’s full of sweetness and smiles.

First, the story is conveyed in letter format, a structure I’ve always been fond of. Second, though the war details are grim, they’re tuned to the daily routine of civilians (as opposed to the mechanics and strategies of military personnel), which I found intriguing, and (third) the details are buffered by the engaging, quirky characters who share their lives. Fourth, the whole plot is a tribute to readers and reading. What’s not to like?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is pure charm and a welcome reprieve from my animal welfare reading. It could easily be your welcome reprieve from whatever burdens you.

[Art by Henry O’Hara Clive.]

I.Q. Reexamined

“If a rabbit defined intelligence the way man does, then the most intelligent animal would be a rabbit, followed by the animal most willing to obey the commands of a rabbit.”

—Robert Brault

[Art by Bunny Griffeth.]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hug A Hamster Today

I don’t often pay attention to the “lesser holidays.” The sheer number of oddball celebrations and observances overwhelms me. Some come around annually, others come and go according to the whims of their originators and sponsors. For instance, you probably know that March is Women’s History Month, but did you realize that it’s also National Umbrella Month and National Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month?

Periodically I stumble across a special date worth sharing. (Alas, I apparently missed January’s Squirrel Appreciation Day. My apologies to Stubby.) Today is Love Your Pet Day.

Of course, I don’t believe we need a set-aside day for this, nor should loving our pets be relegated to only one day out of the entire year. However, the book I just finished, An Unspoken Art: Profiles of Veterinary Life, contains a story about a devoted (affluent) pet guardian who spent around $50,000 in 1990s American currency on two years’ worth of vet care for her beloved cat. Just when you think the woman might have gone over the edge, she says this:

“A relationship with an animal is like having a terminal child, because you know from the beginning that their life span is short. The reality of it is that you better enjoy every damn day you’ve got with them because your time together is so fleeting.”
—Pauline Wilson

Isn’t that the truth? If you have a pet, give him or her a little extra affection today.

[Art by Jo Chambers and Andy Warhol.]

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beyond the Divide

by Miller Williams, from The Ways We Touch: Poems

Have compassion for everyone you meet
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

[Photograph by Gordon Parks.]

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Contraceptives Controversy

The recent brouhaha over religion and contraceptives brings to mind our youngest cat…

She was a wild little tortoise—tiny enough to stand atop any doorknob and paw it until she opened the door—a nonstop action figure until bedtime. She’d wait for both my husband and I to get settled in bed, the lights out, and then, regardless of what we may have had in mind, she’d pounce onto the bed and burrow between us beneath the covers.

She had rules, too:
1. She demanded constant contact with both of us.
2. Once she was comfortably snuggled between us, we weren’t supposed to move. At all.

The first few times this happened, we thought it sweet and cute. Thereafter, we found it annoying. We dubbed her nightly ritual “catraception.”

[Art by Jessica Hische.]

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Atlantic City Horse-Diving Idea Tanks

From the 1920s to 1978, horse-diving acts were the main attraction at Steel Pier in Atlantic City. They were revived for a couple of months in 1993 by new owners of the pier, but abandoned after protests by animal rights groups.

Horse diving got its start in the late 1800s with William “Doc” Carver, a former performer in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. The act consists of a horse and rider diving from a 40- to 60-foot height into a 10- to 12-foot deep tank of water. Carver’s act became an entertainment staple at Steel Pier in the 1920s; it also spawned similar acts around the world, a memoir from one of the divers, a Disney film, and a Broadway musical.

As Steel Pier undergoes a multimillion renovation in the New Millennium, its owners (the same owners who closed the act in 1993) want to resurrect the nostalgic equine act. Naturally, animal welfare groups cried foul.

I signed a petition against the decision recently and was about to ask you to do the same. But good news arrived today instead! The owners have decided to abandon their idea. But not because of the outcry.

“We just felt that since Atlantic City is moving forward, we should move forward with it,” said Anthony Catanoso to the Associated Press, speaking on behalf of his family who owns the pier. “We should create new memories for visitors instead of re-creating old ones.”

Sigh. I wish Tony and his family were equipped with the intelligence and compassion necessary to see the inherent danger that diving poses to horses. But I’ll take victory however it comes to pass.

As Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the U.S., said, “This is a merciful end to a colossally stupid idea.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love the One You’re With?

For some, this holiday serves up only unpleasant memories of the unrequited and the solitary. But they forget that Love manifests in all shapes and sizes, to all types of creatures. Love travels on Perception, and sometimes there’s no easy explanation for how and whom it touches.

Take Precious, my first animal companion of my very own. Her first love was a black version of the sculpture she’s photographed with here. She cooed at it, nuzzled it, slept with it, cooed more, pawed it, cooed from afar, cuddled it … you get the picture. There was a whole lotta cooin’ going on.

As you may have guessed, her efforts were never reciprocated. But she persevered, and when at last she met a real black cat (my husband-to-be’s female Burmese), Precious simply transferred her campaign to the living specimen. She must have thought her perseverance was being rewarded.

Sadly, the Burmese thought otherwise. She tolerated Miss P’s advances as long as she could stand it, then arched her back or hissed or screeched or left the room. This went on for years. (The Burmese was the ONLY feline to ever gain my cat-loathing mother’s sympathy. “Poor thing!” my mother said. “My God! How would you like to have somebody stalking and crying after you all the time?” She had a point.)

I just saw my lovestruck kitten for the brain-damaged but charming spirit she was. The world she inhabited was always a bit to the left of the one the rest of us understood. She couldn’t help how Cupid had entangled her. And frankly, I couldn’t argue with her taste.

Love, be loved, and honor Love today, for as Nikki Giovanni wrote:

“We love because it’s the only true adventure.”

Happy You-Know-What

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Follow Your Dreams?

Stranger In A Strange Land – No. 22

Lots of self-help “gurus” tell us to Dream Big to get what we want out of Life. “Follow your dreams and the money will follow,” they advise.

There are plenty of people who have done just that. We know this because they’ve taken the extra step of flaunting their stories across the media to remind us of their success.

But I suspect there are plenty more folks who took off after their dreams while the money fell far behind. Maybe didn’t even bother following. So I’ve little faith in the advice of the self-help experts.

Until today. My husband woke this morning and said he’d just had the strangest dream.

This is nothing new. My husband often relays the vivid alternative life he leads while asleep. So I presumed I was about to hear a variation on a theme.

But no. This time, instead of dreaming the fantastical or improbable, what unfolded was more anchored in reality. My husband had established a successful new business. It was a cafe where you could buy a gun and an artful cupcake, too. The business’s name was “Protect and Serve.”

If you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line, you’re probably shaking your head right now. But I have to tell you that sugary-sweet food is as popular in the Bluegrass as firearms. Guns and cupcakes could be a perfect combination here. That zany dream might just be my husband’s ticket to a new career and financial security.

Cue the orchestra: “To dream the impossible dream…”

How sweet it is.

[Cupcake pic from Travel Gal; Tiffany & Co. Smith & Wesson from Rock Island Auction Company.]

This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, just select Stranger in a Strange Land from the right of Lull, under “Choose a topic that interests you.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

Silver-Lining Thinking

You’re going to see 420 Characters on my “Current Reading Lineup” for a while. Not because I’m laboring through it—far from it.

It would be easy to fly through the little book, devouring it. Instead, I’m allotting time and space and imagination to each mini-world Lou Beach created for readers. I’m trying to live in each alternate universe for a bit before moving on to the next one.

Here’s a line from the opening page of 420 Characters. It’s a lesson in keeping your chin up and your hopes high:

“I watched lightning hit the apple tree and thought: ‘Fritters!’ as we packed sandbags against the flood.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Compassion: Yet Another Endangered Species?

I’ve been reading Ian Parker’s “The Story of a Suicide: Two College Roommates, a Webcam, and a Tragedy,” a New Yorker article about the Rutgers freshman who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, leading strangers to jump to conclusions about his motivation. The author includes numerous e-mails and text messages that the players in this drama exchanged, and I was struck again and again by a common theme in their banter: compassion. Or, rather, a lack of it.

I realize these exchanges were private and written in techno-haste by kids who easily fall prey to the rhythm of peer-bashing—us vs. them. But words impart meaning and if used repeatedly, become a kind of truth. Homosexuals weren’t their only target. The kids expressed disdain for violinists, computer illiterates, people of inferior intelligence, people who don’t have Gmail addresses, and, most especially, poor people.

Poor people?

I thought I knew what I was up against in my mission to generate compassion for animals from the general population. But this New Yorker article indicated a societal mindset foreign to me.

As I related my concern to my husband, he found “What, Me Care? Young Are Less Empathetic” by Jamil Zaki. It’s a summary in Scientific American of long-term studies conducted on empathy in humans—how we apply it and how we think about it. In the U.S. college population, empathy has been on the decline in the last decade.

After watching the Super Bowl ads and halftime show this past weekend, I can understand why. It seems as if harshness and snarkiness and loudness are easy to come by in the media; for softness and kindness and quiet, we have to actively search for examples. All too often, most of us take whatever comes to us. I thought this indicated that our emotional world is out of balance with our multimedia world, especially for younger generations. For compassion to gain importance, we simply have to try harder to achieve equilibrium.

Then I read the comments to the Scientific American article. Here’s one that stands out:

“Perhaps low empathy levels could be improved if people were given the time and space to find each other interesting. … If it were somehow necessary for people to depend on the kindness of strangers, they might find reasons to care about them.”

Ah, it all makes sense now. If poor people could just be more interesting, they might rouse compassion from others. Poor people (like exploited animals) vie for our attention in the same media muddle as do displays of glamour, sexuality, affluence, athleticism, and trendiness. Is this a level playing field? How can we make society’s invisible more interesting?

I was about to give up on humans until I read this in Poetry magazine:

“If I can only be horrified by my species, then I will have to kill myself. If I find others recognizable, I guess I will continue. It’s as simple as that.”
Fanny Howe

I guess it is as simple as that. I must do what I can as I can. I urge you to do the same.

One difference between empathic individuals (children and adults) and
those with little compassion: Those who read more fiction have more empathy.

[Pics from top to bottom from Dog Files, Have Dog Blog Will Travel, and Dog Eat Dogma.]

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It…

Ol’ Man Winter is back in the Bluegrass.

That’s okay. I’m going to replay a sunnier day last week when my husband and I communed with a couple of paddocks of yearlings. They were curious about us—stormed over to check us out, jabbered a bit to us, then frolicked with each other.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Add The Lost Pet Chronicles to Your Reading List

If you care for a cat or dog, or work with or around canines and felines, or feel like you’re the only one who regularly notices stray pets as they dart past or peek out from hiding, this book was written for you.

The Lost Pet Chronicles is a quick, easy read yet profoundly useful. Author Kat Albrecht details her rescue work with animals and provides important information every cat and dog lover should know. With Albrecht’s step-by-step instructions, anyone can recover a lost pet—without hiring a detective and search hounds.

Some of the information is counterintuitive: Cats and dogs are generally skittish when lost. Finding a dog who appears afraid of humans doesn’t mean she’s been abused by humans. More likely, she’s responding only to the trauma of her current circumstances. Your first question should be, Who lost this pet and how can I find them? Cats and dogs are generally silent when in hiding. Your cat may always answer your call, but don’t expect her to once she’s lost. A cat keeps quiet so predators don’t get her before you do. Once a cat is in hiding mode, everything and everyone beyond her shadow becomes a predator.

Albrecht established a nonprofit, Missing Pet Partnership, to help train new pet detectives and search dogs for the cause. If you don’t have cats or dogs but want to read about their rescues, go to Albrecht’s blog for stories. Since The Lost Pet Chronicles predates iPhone apps, a visit to the Web sites it recommends is sure to uncover updated tips.

Don’t wait for Fido to disappear before reading this book. Prepare yourself now, then keep the book within reach should the worst happen. And remember: The worst can happen to anyone.

[Photo: Birdy was a lost, very sick dog on the streets of California, until someone who cared noticed her and took her to Bad Rap. Now she has a cushy home and a great blog, Birdy Flies Home, where you can follow her new life.]

Saturday, February 4, 2012

In Case the Groundhog Is Right…

I’ve been under the spell of Springlike temperatures and bursts of color here in the Bluegrass.

Crocuses have popped up everywhere and honeysuckle bushes have bloomed. Taller bulb flowers—jonquils, daffodils, tulips—have been ever-so-slowly pushing their way toward the sun since December. The bees seem as thrilled as I am about the early blooms.

I realize none of this guarantees Old Man Winter’s departure, so I’ve been making the most of the interim. Yesterday, my husband and I ate an early picnic dinner in a nearby park filled with towering old trees and alive with tennis players, skateboarders, dog walkers, and toddlers on swings. And squirrels, one who discovered a special fondness for our malt vinegar chips.

The whole scene was scrumptious.

A Sheepish Correction…

As I wrote earlier, Shaun the Sheep has been my mood-altering substance of choice recently and I encouraged you to follow suit.

However, the second season of the television series brought some disturbing changes to the flock. The characters are revealing some deviousness and meanness, likely because they’re under the influence of new writers. So-ooo-oo disappointing.

Just wanted to warn you.
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