Friday, June 23, 2017

Mue Mue, A Talent for the Ages

I have a ferocious little friend, my gray kitty Mue Mue.

My cat Mue Mue is a feisty, playful, funny, quirky and an extremely talented cat. He is almost 14 years old, which  means he is a senior kitty, although you'd never guess by his confidence, which more resembles the confidence of the fancy-free youth. His energetic charisma also gives him the illusion of youth. One thing you should never tell Mue Mue is that you can't teach old cats new tricks because he will quickly dispel this notion. My genius kitty is learning new tricks left and right! Here he is preforming his latest trick.....Stand:


While it is quite evident that my little monster Mue Mue is extremely talented and brilliant, most cats really can learn tricks. The main quality that the cat must possess in order to learn such amazing skills is that he be food motivated. My other little goofball Wendel, is not at all food motivated. So I have not worked with him on learning tricks. A delicious treat is not enough to convince him to shake or stand. He is a little bit of a free spirit and prefers to daydream and be cute.

If you have a treat motivated cat yourself, here is how you can train your own little darling to do amazing feats of trickery and talent.

What you need: A cat, a clicker, a bag of treats.
  1. First, teach your cat that a click gets a treat. While hanging out with your cat, click! and give a treat. Click! and treat. He will quickly make the appropriate associations and know that that happy click will get him what he wants. 
  2. Decide what trick you want to teach your cat. I recommend starting with shake. Gently pick up your cats paw and immediately click and give a treat right away. The power of the clicker is that it marks the exact moment of when the cat does something that you want. Cats, unlike dogs, are less evolutionary conditioned to respond to praise or changes in human voice or expression. So if you say "oh what a good kitty!" this will not be as effective as the click. The click is a distinct noise, associated with them doing a behavior that you find good.
  3. Make sure you clearly communicate to your cat what you want from him. When I ask my cat to shake, I say "Mue Mue, shake" while simultaneously placing my hand palm up in front of him. This way, he can associate both the word and the hand gesture to what I want. For stand, I say "Mue Mue, stand" and move my hands in an upward motion. I really think Mue Mue pays more attention to what I am doing with my hands then the words I am saying, so I do think it is quite important to have a helpful hand motion. 
  4. Spend about five minutes a day doing this with your cat. Spending too much time working on tricks is exhausting, frustrating and irritating to your furry feline friend. Devoting a solid five minutes a day is a good way to spend quality time with your kitty, enrich their mind through something new and novel and help them progress without making them dread trick practice time by overdoing it.
  5. Be cautious with the treats. You don't want training time to lead to an unhealthy and overweight cat. Read the back and count out how many you can use. A lot of treats you can break up into smaller pieces. 
  6. If your cat is unhappy and hates training time, STOP. While I do think cat's learning power is underestimated, not all cats are the same and if learning tricks makes your little feline unhappy, no reason to worry about teaching him tricks as I am sure he has a whole barrage of cute quirks, mannerisms and habits that delight the heart. With Mue Mue, he got a little irritated with me when I first started training, but the irritation rapidly dissipated when he realized treats were involved. If he had continued to behave as if he was irritated, we would have retired his training. Now, whenever he sees me pull the clicker out, he gets really excited!
  7. If you cat does seem to enjoy training, still make sure you are paying attention to what he may be communicating to you. Mue Mue sometimes has grumpy days and we will stop training time early if he seems extra frustrated or disinterested. While cat training is super fun for the humans, it should be something fun for your kitty too. It is a chance for enrichment and a way to use their brain power in an interesting way. If training ever becomes something that isn't fun for your cat, it is not worth it!
If you and your cat keep up with practice, before long, your own little guy or gal will be preforming amazing tricks! You will be glowing with pride!

Standing isn't Mue Mue's first trick, here he is shaking: Mue Mue, Shake!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Secret World of Trains

Sometimes I really dislike trains because there is a train track near my work, and sometimes when a train come, it blocks me from actually getting to work and I will have to wait up to 40 minutes! But, I am able to forgive this inconvenience because trains are romantic and their very existence encourages the mind to wander into daydreams.

I like imagining where they are going and imagining the people who have train hopped on them and are watching the world pass from their stowaway location. I also like how talented graffiti artists use rusted old trains as their canvas. Then the trains become like touring museums, featuring work from all around the country. Maybe on one car an artist from Kansas paints a beautiful graffiti mural and on the train car next to it, an artist from Delaware paints something else.

In Ballard, we have an old train track that isn't used anymore. There are weeds covering the tracks and people walk along them without fear of being run over. There are also some decommissioned trains that sit peacefully in the sun.

Although train culture is not what it use to be, hobos still exist today, wandering the the country on a rattling, railroad journey. One thing that is interesting about hobos is they have their own secret hieroglyphics so the can communicate important messages to other hobos. Here is what some of the pictures mean.

  • Cat: A kind woman lives here
  • An X with two eyes: Safe camp
  • A frowning crescent moon: A dishonest person lives here
  • A number 2 over the number 10: Thieves roam about
  • A symbol that looks like a child's stick drawing of a lady next to three triangles: Tell a pitiful story to elicit sympathy and get something good 
Hobo culture seems like a close knit community, despite being spread out far and wide across the country, always moving, always traveling. But the way the hobos communicate via these symbols is sweet, they are all looking out for each other.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Annabelle in the Woods #7: In the Brightest and Darkest Corner of the Woods, Annabelle Discovers the Forest Monsters

Here is the seventh of the Annabelle in the Woods series. I used acrylic, drawing ink and gouache.

Annabelle is drawn by a flash of color into the darkest corner of the woods. Carved into a bent tree dripping with sap were the words “Here be monsters.”

Annabelle had always been fascinated by monsters. She’d always wanted to meet one. She imagined having tea with bigfoot, or ridding upon the back of Nessie. When she was little and thought there were monsters under her bed or in her closet, she would ask them politely to come out and join her in a bed time story.

Annabelle descended into the dark and colorful woods. She began to hear howling and roaring. “The monsters!” She thought. Suddenly, she was seized with nerves. She never expected that she would feel such unease at finally experiencing something she’d always wanted to experience: meeting a real life monster.

Then, she saw them! The monsters! They gathered together in the clearing. They rumbled and growled. When she listened closer, Annabelle realized they weren’t rumbling and growling so much as having a conversation, a deep conversation about the meaning of life.

 Annabelle was fascinated as she eavesdropped upon them. It seemed over all the monsters had an optimistic view on the meaning of life. After the meaning of life, the monsters moved onto a new topic: what happens after we die.

“We turn into birds.” One monster said.

“We’re transformed into stardust.” Another monster chimed in.

“We go to a magical place.” One last monster said.

“Ahem” Annabelle said and came from behind the tree.

All the monsters looked at her, surprised and fascinated at the small humanoid creature.
“I’m Annabelle. I’ve got all sorts of theories about this topic!”

“Why lets here them then.” One of the monsters said.

Annabelle smiled, and began telling the monsters all her fantastic theories about life, death and the universe.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: Ufology by James Tynion, Noah J. Yuenkel, Matthew Fox and Adam Metcalfe

I recently checked out a new comic book from the library. It wasn't a book I had been seeking out. I was in the mood for comic books and exploring the comic book section for something that looked interesting when I came across 'Ufology.'

This comic book reminds me a bit of ET, Super 8 and Stranger Things. It shares with these stories intrepid young protagonists, encounters with the strange and hints of conspiracy.

Becky is a dissatisfied young woman who feels disconnected with her peers, her family and school. But one day she decides to hangout with a classmate after school. While wandering the outdoors, Becky and the classmate explore a seemingly abandoned house. But the house harbors something strange. The encounter in the house leads Becky to aliens and conspiracies and to a friendship with an paranormal obsessed classmate named Malcolm. The action and the mysterious twists that Becky and Malcolm encounter lead them to uncover mysteries from the past. Together, the two try to solve the mystery of the strange encounters and the stranger occurrences.

I like this book for several reasons: Good artwork, interesting, well-paced story and a fun subject matter. Alien stories are endlessly interesting! Being a child of the 90's, I am very much influenced by alien lore. Aliens were all the rage in the 90's from X-Files, to that so-called-real (but actually fake) alien autopsy video.

Ufology really captures the feeling of being young and seeking out answers in the world. Becky and Malcolm represent two different common mindsets of the teenage years. Malcolm is hopeful, still holding on to the hope of mystery that fills all of childhood. Becky is disappointed with what the world has shown her thus far. The encounter that both teens share with aliens and conspiracy work to alter both characters views so Malcolm becomes more jaded and Becky more enthused. But both characters become wiser.

When I checked this book out, I thought it was a stand-alone novel, but apparently there are more! I will definitely check out book two of this series. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Nature from Songs

  When I just barely miss the bus, it is the worst! Watching the bus pulling away from the curb as I dash toward it in a frantic and useless attempt to catch it always fills me with disappointment. Then, having to wait twenty or more minutes in the rain, huddled under a nearby roof eave squished next to a bunch of restless strangers. Sigh! Not fun. But just barely missing the ferry is full of delights. Once, when D and I were off on an island adventure, we missed the ferry by probably thirty seconds. At first, we were filled with utter disappointment! But then we got to spend a couple of guilt-free and indulgent hours exploring and lounging at the beach.

Before I moved to Washington, I liked to listen to the band The Microphones. There is something very dreamlike and wistful about their music. The band is from Anacortes (where this beach and the ferry terminal is located) and now that I have lived in Washington and visited Anacortes, I feel like I understand more of their inspiration. Just like this little beach, The Microphones music is beautiful, whimsical and a little lonesome.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Annabelle in the Woods #6: Annabelle Meets the Wild Children Raised by Wolves

Here is the sixth painting of the Annabelle in the woods series. I used tea, gouache and acrylic paints.

On the edge of the woods there was once an orphanage of sad and lonely children. The children’s lives were bleak and consisted of dreary days of cleaning and crying. Slowly, the children started to disappear. In the evening, they would all go to sleep together, but when they woke up, Greta’s bed would be empty, or underneath Martin's blankets there would be pillows and not a boy. Eventually, the entire orphanage was completely empty. People living nearby marveled at the tragedy and wondered about the mystery, but the children were parentless, and the orphan keepers were merciless, so no one mourned for the children individually as little human beings.

If anyone were to learn what truly happened, they would not be sad either. The children had not perished, but instead had been spirited off to a better life by a pack of loving wolves. The wolves who lived in the woods nearby heard the cries of the children and could no longer bear the idea of the horrid life the children lived. So the wolves sneaked in to the orphanage, gently plucked the children up and took them to their wolf village.

The children grew up loved by their fur covered mothers and fathers. They frolicked with their fur covered siblings. They learned how to howl, how to frolic, how to appreciate the beauty of a butterfly or wildflower and how to survive with joy in the woods. So in the end, all the orphans were adopted and raised with love by their lupine families. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Baby Bunny's Harrowing Ordeal With (Spoiler!) a Happy Ending

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a sad and strange squeaking coming from behind the building where I work. I looked through the cracks in the fence, and saw that it was a crow terrorizing some innocent, fuzzy creature! I bellowed loudly at the crow "Hey, stop" or something similar. The crow was startled by my voice and stopped engaging in his blood-thirsty scavenging, leaving the little creature alone. With help from my coworker, we were able to find the little creature. It was an itty bitty baby bunny! The little bunny had run across the way from where the crow had attacked her. In her frenzy to escape, she got her head stuck in a fence. Luckily I work at an animal rescue with vet staff on duty, so I ran to get someone from the vet clinic. With help from them, the bunny was safe and her intimidate medical needs were tended to. We named her Rocky because she is a survivor. The vet clinic we work with deals with domestic animals, so while they were able to do a lot to make sure she was safe and warm, Rocky wasn't in the right place for rehabilitation and reintroduction into the wild. Little Rocky was transported to the local wild life rehabilitation center. A couple of weeks after Rocky's near death experience, we got an email saying she was reintroduced to her natural habitat where she can enjoy her life as a little bunny. They also identified her as a cottontail rabbit. How precious little cottontail Rocky is!

A lot of times when you come across an injured animal, it is difficult to know what action to take. I was lucky in this situation that I was able to get help from trained medical staff. I also knew the bunny was in distress because I saw it terrorized by a crow. But sometimes, it is hard to know the best course of action when coming across an animal that appears to need help. Here are some helpful tips:
  • A no nonsense approach to helping an animal in distress is to immediately contact your local wildlife rehabilitator and describe to them the situation. Their knowledge and expertise are invaluable. 
  • Before interacting with the animal, make sure the animal actually needs your help. For example, on the beaches of Puget Sound, baby harbor seals come to shore. This is natural for them and their mothers will come back to take care of them. But humans often think the animal is in distress and will needlessly interfere. The humans with good intentions end up jeopardizing the seals well being rather than promoting it. Sometimes it is important to observe the animal first. Another such example is when a bird flies into a window. Often times, they are stunned shortly after the incident and will appear harmed. But after they are able to regain their barrings, the bird flies off to a happy life.
  • Make sure you are safe. For example, don't try to save a ferocious bear that is growling and snarling at you. But even small animals can be dangerous, so remember it is important to be both compassionate and practical in these situations. 
  • If you handle an injured animal or abandoned baby animal, wear gloves.
  • Find a safe way to transport the animal to a wildlife rehabilitation center. A cardboard box with air holes is a good tool to use. 
  • The goal should be to get an abandoned or injured animal to someone that can provide the best care for them. Here is a handy list from The Humane Society: List of Wildlife Rehabilitator Resources
  • For more in depth advice and species specific tips, read this, another helpful article from The Humane Society: How to Help Injured and Abandoned Wildlife
In the area I work around Seattle, we have lots of bunnies. Sometimes the dogs bark at them when they see the bunnies during walks, but the bunnies seem unfazed! Sometimes I see them on the way to my bus stop. They are beautiful little creatures.

I always feel lucky when I spot a bunny in the wild.