Category Archives: Leisure

A Few Photos

Thought I’d share some of the pictures I’ve been taking of things I’d like to paint.

Clouds in the North at sunset

Spectacular lighting in the clouds.

Tortoise-shell cat

“The extra dog” finally sat still for me to get a picture of her face!

Backlit clouds at sunset

The gate, the road, the mailbox, and those clouds.

A comfy chair in the shade

This just cries out to be painted.

A group of delicate mushrooms

These little mushrooms showed up after a rain, then disappeared. They were so pretty and delicate.

 

 

 

 

Freecell and Stress

I can always tell how I’m doing by how I play Freecell. As far as computer games go, I never got much beyond some really basic RPGs that I played on my old Amiga computer way back in the early 90′s. Yeah. So last century.

Since then, I’ve actually devolved to mah jongg and cards. I used to like Klondike, but since I discovered Freecell, I hardly ever play anything else. I like that all the cards are face up. All you have to do is figure out how to move things around to get all the suits on the Aces. I don’t know if there are configurations that can’t be solved. I know that I can’t always solve every hand, and it’s usually because I’m stressed out and not concentrating.

Once I get into some forward momentum, though, the cards seem to move themselves. Everything flows. And I relax. I figure this has to be good for my brain chemistry, yes? Maybe it is one of those kinds of mental exercises that can help head off dementia and other nasty effects of getting old. Maybe it’s a good distraction that can help with pain management. Maybe it’s a great big time suck and I’m just kidding myself about any possible benefits…

Nah. I prefer to think of it as valuable pattern-recognition skill practice. And fun.

I did at one time have a version of Galaga on my computer, and Centipedes. (Yes, my current computer) But I found myself actually getting more stressed out playing those. Definitely not as relaxing as I was looking for. I wonder why that is. How can anyone unwind playing Doom? (I realize I’m dating myself even further, here. I don’t keep up with games.)

I wonder if it has anything to do with how stress makes different people feel. I want to disconnect – shut myself down, like C-3P0 in the first Star Wars. I guess other people would feel better if they could shoot somebody or blow something up. Not exactly my cup of tea, although I do like explosions on Myth Busters. Maybe I need a game where I can just experiment with explosives. Does anyone know if one of those exists? I’d be interested to know. I can do without the shooting people part.

A Walk in the Park

The verdict on my back is that surgery can wait for now. Basically, because I can walk around without excruciating pain searing down my legs (and I’ve been there) more surgery might do more harm than good. And the procedure would be a lot more complicated, with longer recovery time and more opportunity for infection, etc. Waiting is okay with me. At least now I know.

The doctor told me to stay active, but not to overdo anything. “Arthritis is a disease of motion,” after all, although stopping all motion is not the way to treat it, either. So I guess I’ll keep walking. My new pedometer measured my favorite route this morning at a little over two miles, and said I burned around 230 calories (that’s a Klondike bar!), so I see no reason to try and go farther. I may find a pool where I can swim a few laps a few times a week. I’m not a very efficient swimmer, and can probably burn up plenty of calories flailing from one end of the pool to the other.

But the trail at Park Hudson will be my primary workout. There are more trees, hence more shade, than the “Mile of History” walk at Veteran’s Park, which borders a bunch of soccer fields. And I can go earlier in the morning, since Veteran’s Park (which has gates) doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. when it’s already getting pretty hot around here. Plus, more squirrels for Junior to try and chase.

Ramses at the park

“Did somebody say ‘squirrel’?”

An edge of wilderness

Plenty of places for those pesky squirrels to hide and play.

A little touch of civilization

Lights make it possible to stroll at night…and look for squirrels.

Ramses at the park 2

“Are we there, yet?”

Mule Mo-Jo — part 2

My trip to Houston a few weeks ago to see some of the mule and donkey classes at the Houston Livestock Show was more than just an outing to indulge one of my passions. It was therapy.

I’ve been mooning around worrying about my back, and possible surgery, and all things stressful, for the past few months. It was good to be able to just leave it all behind for a day. I didn’t even have to contend with Houston traffic when I got down there. The Livestock Show and Rodeo organizers had set up a number of satellite parking areas with transportation to and from Reliant Center. I didn’t even have to go inside Loop 610.

It was so un-stressful I might have dozed off on the bus on the way back to the parking area had it not been for the bouncy little girl in the seat in front of me. Her grandmother sat with her, and her mother sat next to me, so, of course, she kept jumping up on the seat and turning around, and had to be told to reverse the process multiple times. She would probably be wiped out for the rest of the day once she got home, but at the time, she was still wound up from the day’s excitement.

On the other hand, I was a little worried that I might want to doze off on the drive home. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I kept myself awake and occupied by re-playing in my mind the events I’d just witnessed.

The second group of classes I watched were the weight-pulling classes. There were four weight classes: light-weight, medium-weight, heavy-weight, and super heavy-weight. The light-weight pullers, as you can imagine, are mighty small mules – or small mighty mules, if you prefer. One team may have even been at or below the 36 inch height cut-off that would classify them as miniatures. Named Jake and John, they were matching dark bays wearing pink halters to match their woman driver’s teeshirt. Absolutely adorable.

Light-weight mule team

Jake and John get set for their first pull.

Just as the jumping mules were awarded points based on how high they jumped compared to their own height, the weight pullers were scored on how much weight they pulled relative to their weight as a team. Jake and John were the smallest/lightest team, and pulled about 170% of their combined weight. Clyde and Sam were the biggest light-weight team, and finished off with a pull of about 190% of their weight.

Light-weight team pull away

Jake and John working with gusto!

And don’t you just love the names? Simple, honest names that sort of roll off the tongue in tandem. The team with the most original names were two blond molly (female) mules named Kate and Kate. Or maybe it was Kate and Cayt. Whatever. How simple can you get?

The entire approach to this class was different. Whereas in the jumping classes, especially the miniature donkeys, the handlers were dressed in Western show ring finery. They begged and pleaded their charges to go over the higher barriers. They hauled on lead ropes and showed signs of exasperation. By contrast, drivers and their helpers in the weight-pulling class were all dressed in work clothes. And it took a team of rather massive young men to move even the small teams of mules into position and hitch them to the weight sled. Their job was to keep the eager haulers from taking off in full pull mode before they were set. It was a little comical, but potentially extremely dangerous, especially with the larger teams.

Light-weight team number two

Another light-weight team waits for the "go."

Light-weight team three pulls away

Clyde and Sam show how it's done.

My favorite team of the day (aside from Jake and John) was a super heavy-weight team of matched, dark bay molly mules named Bella and Grace. They were enormous creatures with great, Roman-nosed heads, feathered legs courtesy of their draft horse (probably a Shire or Clydesdale) mother, and the dainty – relatively speaking – feet of a donkey. During the warm up period, they gave their driver a ride around the ring. He stepped onto the “tree” that was used to hitch their harnesses to the sled, and off they went.

Super heavy-weight team

Bella and Grace give their driver a free ride.

I didn’t wait around to find out who the definitive winners were. There was math involved, and I had left my calculator at home. Who won wasn’t important to me that day. I just wanted to see mules, and take a few pictures, and come home with a few stories to tell. Mission accomplished.

Super heavy-weight team waits to pull

Bella and Grace wait politely to start...sort of.

Super heavy-weight team pulls away

Bella and Grace make it look easy.

 

Mule Mo-Jo – part 1

As I walked into the arena, a pitched battle was taking place. Okay. Not exactly a battle. A struggle for domination. Well, not exactly that, either. Four mules were in an elimination round to determine the winner of the Coon Jumping class. Each time all four cleared a jump, the bar was raised another two inches. The bar was starting to get pretty high, and the mules were starting to get a little balky. Some might say “mulish.”

One mule, named White Lightning, was only 40 inches tall at the whithers (the point on the shoulder where the mane ends). Since he was over 36 inches, he was technically not a miniature mule, so he was competing against much taller individuals. And he was still in the running for first place. Four or five mules had already been eliminated and were standing around watching the battle/struggle/jump-off. I was glad I had arrived in time to see some of the action.

A small mule eyes a large jump

White Lightning sizing up his next jump

Small mule goes over big jump

...and he makes it with room to spare.

Coon Jumping is one of those activities mules and donkeys, but not so much horses, are uniquely qualified to perform. A little like fox-hunting, raccoon hunting in some areas is a mounted sport. Hunters ride mules, and when they come to a fence, they dismount, climb the fence, and then the mule follows them over. Mules can jump from a flat-footed standstill, and are able to clear impressive heights – when they feel like it. The world record jump (by an equine)of over eight feet was set by a US Army mule. But a mule won’t jump a fence it feels is too high. Its sense of self-preservation will root it to the spot.

As is natural with any sport, a spin-off sport was soon born. Contests to see whose mule could clear the tallest fence rose from the bragging sessions following the coon hunts. Then somebody had to make up some rules. And formal events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo began to include Coon Jumping classes in their Mule and Donkey Show every year.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is kind of a big deal in this part of Texas – and maybe all of Texas. It’s been a fixture as a late-winter event in Houston for the past eighty years. The only year it wasn’t held was 1937, after the facility it had been using was torn down and the new Sam Houston Coliseum was being built. Since 1966, the event has been held at its present location, first in the Astrodome, and later in a series of buildings funded by proceeds from ticket sales – the Astrohall, Astroarena, etc. Now the whole area is “Reliant Park.” Astrohall has been replaced by Reliant Center, and the Astroarena was re-named Reliant Arena. Whatever the name of the place, the livestock show/rodeo built the places to have enough room for their ever-expanding programs, and they’ve done a great job.

I was only there for part of the afternoon to see some of the mule and donkey classes – I didn’t go over to Reliant Center to see how much bigger and better it was from the old Astrohall I remember from ages ago – but I’m sure there will be other chances to go see events there.

To get back to the jumping class, I’ll just point out a few things in some of the photos I took. The boxed area behind the jump is all the room the mule is allowed to use to approach the barrier. Obviously, it’s not enough room to get a good running start. Most of the mules would stand with their chests nearly touching the bar before they would rock back onto their hind legs, fold their front legs under, and launch themselves over the fence. The rules say the mule can’t step outside the box, or it’s a “fault,” which, after two, eliminates the mule from the class. After the first fault, the mule gets a second try immediately. They also have a time limit. Over 90 seconds is a fault.

Those mules knew just exactly how long 90 seconds is, and some of them would draw out the drama and suspense by refusing to budge toward the jump until the last split second, and then would go over just as tidy as you could want. Drama queens. I kid you not. There was as much laughter, if not more, as applause and cheering from the audience. The mules were obviously playing to the crowd.

The miniature donkeys also had a coon jumping contest, which was equally hilarious.

Mini donkey clears the jump

Bob the mini donkey clears the jump for his mini handler

Obviously, mules get their jumping technique from the donkey parent. Horses run and jump and keep running, while donkeys and mules can approach the barrier at a more leisurely pace. Why is that, do you wonder? I’m glad you asked. One of my Facebook friends related something one of her professors told the class about equine evolution, and I found the same explanation in a book titled The Natural Superiority of Mules, by John Hauer.

Horses evolved on the North American continent, and eventually migrated across the Bering land bridge into Asia, and later Europe and North Africa, before becoming extinct in their home ranges. The equine family tree was a bushy one for a long time, before being pruned down to the modern horse and its evolutionary offspring — the zebra clan and the asses. Ah, ha! So, donkeys and asses are actually younger than the horse, more evolutionarily advanced in some ways. In other ways, they have been shaped by the environments they occupied.

Horses evolved on the plains and grasslands with a variety of predators. They evolved to run away. Where they developed, running was always the best option. Think about it. Horses don’t have built in weapons, like bison, cattle, antelope, and all those other critters with horns and antlers. They just have escape velocity. Knowing when to run doesn’t take a lot of intellectual prowess – or a whole lot of sense. See a lion. Run. Hear a lion. Run. See a paper bag blow across the road. Ohmygod! Run and run and run! You get the idea.

Asses, on the other hand, evolved in more rugged terrain. A wild ass has to assess a threatening situation and decide whether to run or stand its ground, based on which is the safer choice. They had to learn to think, and think quickly. And they pass this ability to their hybrid offspring, the mule. When a mule is acting stubborn and hard headed, it’s much more likely that it has decided going through with whatever action its human companion wants it to do would be potentially harmful to itself. Duh.

To quote John Hauer: “People often ask me, ‘Why do you like mules?’ I say to them, ‘If you knew a man who would rarely start a fight, but was always capable of finishing one, who had very good judgment, high intelligence, a tremendous work ethic, but would never allow himself to be taken advantage of or overworked, what would your opinion of that person be?’” According to Hauer, that perfectly describes the character of a mule. Sounds like a good reason to like mules to me.

I, of course, think they are also cool looking, and like most other equines, make great subjects for drawing and painting. There will be mule portraits in the Crazybasenji gallery some day. In the meantime, look for the second part of this post, and a few more blurry photos from the show.

 

Source: The Natural Superiority of Mules Hauer, John 2005 Lyons Press, Guilford, CT

I was a teenage leper.

Growing up as I did with a Catholic grade school education, I heard a lot of stories about lepers. It seemed like they were everywhere. As unlikely as this probably was, there always seemed to be a bunch of them hanging around wherever Jesus might be taking a walk (so that he could heal them, I assume). Be that as it may, the idea of “the leper” – someone so horrifically disfigured by a disease that was seen as a curse that no one wanted to let that person anywhere near – was the lesson that I actually internalized. And when I was in high school, I was that leper. Or so I thought.

I was cursed (or blessed, depending on who you asked, or the prevailing style) with naturally curly hair. Unruly stuff. Silky, fine-textured and unwilling to conform to any alternate configurations – I suspect unless I applied some really strong chemicals, which I never did. As it grew it expanded out from my head at the same time it encroached more and more into my face and eyes, and would still do so today if I let it. (Most of it grows forward from the back of my head.) But I struggled with it, since long hair was in then. My hair was the stone around my neck. I figured everyone (especially those blessed with long, smooth, shiny tresses) had to hate me. Like it was contagious, or something? What was I thinking?

I was a teenager. Obviously, my brain was malfunctioning, as teenage brains are wont. I stumbled through my high school years avoiding interactions with all but a few of my classmates, positive of their censure. Dummy. I’m so glad I’m several decades older and wiser now. If I felt like a leper for having curly hair, what horrors might the “cool kids” be dreaming up to make themselves feel inadequate? Duh. Although I’m sure there were those among them who were completely confident of their coolness, I’d bet there weren’t as many as I’m sure I thought at the time.

Now, thanks to the internet, and FaceBook, I know a lot of my classmates a lot better than I ever would have imagined. And they’re a cool bunch. But now I know I’m cool, too. Who’d’ve thought that? I have written about this before , and it just so happens that some of us are getting together again this weekend for a pre-Christmas party and maybe a little reunion planning. And maybe some of us will swap “I was a teenage leper” stories. It could happen.

Judy and Puppy

Now I prefer to copy the hair-style of my dog

 

 

Happy Holidays

It is considered bad form to refer to the amount of time one has been ignoring one’s blog, or to apologize for doing so, or to say anything at all about not letting it happen again. So I won’t. Although I must confess that, while I’ve had good ideas for topics to write about, the sitting down to write them has been somewhat problematic.

The recent twelve-days-in-a-row work week marathon might have had something to do with it. By about day eight I was feeling a bit brain damaged. And I had this loathing of all things keyboard-related. My job entails a certain amount of time entering student information into the database we keep in the testing center where I work. Student’s name, Instructor’s name, Check-in time, Check-out time, On-line course, On-line exam, Time limit. Of course, most of the choices involve merely clicking a check-box, but when you are trying to enter 14 at a time (at least it seems that way) it gets a little harrowing. Yes, there’s nothing like finals week in the testing center. And although a lot of them have been taking exams there all semester and know the drill, there are always those students who are there for the first time (Really? I mean, where do they take all their other exams?) who need to be led by the hand through the routine — “turn your cell phone off, put it in your back-pack, put your stuff in a locker, lock the locker, take the key.” These stimulating conversations were finding their way into my dreams by about day ten.

But, oh well. It’s all over now, and I’m off until Spring Semester begins next month. Time to get my brain functioning again, and think about sharing what’s in it. And time to read some more books and write reviews, paint some paintings, and moosh together some polymer clay to make things wondrous and strange. That’s what the holidays are for. I hope you all enjoy yours.

Riding the Carousel of Time

Senior class photo. Urp.

This Saturday, I’m going to meet up with some of the people I graduated high school with. It’s not exactly a reunion, more of a “pre-union,” to find out if there is enough interest to plan a forty-year reunion for 2013. Ugh. That many years? Okay, moving right along.

Reunions are not that unusual for high school or college classes. But I would not usually consider myself the type of person who would attend. I remember an episode of “CSI” when members of the team were asking each other, “which kid were you in high school?” The jock, the cheerleader, the science nerd? Grissom’s answer was, “I was a ghost.” And that came closest to how I would describe myself. For the most part in high school I kept my head down and tried not to call attention to myself. Apparently it worked, because I don’t have any memories of being teased or bullied for being different, for which I feel lucky, and grateful.

Of course there was that time I brought my Great Dane to school for a biology class project, but still.

The point is that I didn’t stay in touch with even the few people who were my closest friends back then, and I don’t know if they’ll be among the people I’ll be seeing on Saturday. But a funny thing has happened. I found one classmate I sort of remembered on Classmates.com, because she had posted a yearbook picture on her profile and I recognized her face, if not her name. And she also said in her profile that she was on FaceBook. So was I. So I looked her up. That led to a whole list of new friend requests shooting back and forth, and eventually the idea of this little get together was proposed. So instead of going into a situation where I don’t know if I’ll remember anyone at all and won’t know if I’ll have anything at all to talk about with any of them, except stuff we did in high school, I now have an idea what some of their interests are and which ones have the kind of oddball sense of humor that I can relate to. In short, the “popular kids” that I would never have had the nerve to try and be buddies with as a teenager, are now adults that I could quite easily be friends with for the rest of my life.

And one of them has a basenji!

More wonders at HMNS

What with all the blogging and tweeting about last Saturday’s WordCamp at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS), I suddenly realized that I had never written an account of my trip to Houston last September to see the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at HMNS. I was spending a hell of a lot of my time back then firing off job applications, and the rest of my time I spent wringing my hands and wondering how long before I’d be living on the street if I didn’t find a job. Not exactly conducive to generating the kind of energy to write a bunch of upbeat blog content. Nevertheless, I knew I would hate myself later if I passed up the chance to see that exhibit, in spite of how much it might set me back in groceries.

While it didn’t register in my mind at the time that there was any particular significance to the date, I went to Houston on a Wednesday, September 9 (yeah, 09-09-09). (Oh my, oh my, oh my. If stuff like that is supposed to mark significant changes… well, we got some rain here a few days later, after several months of drought. But my job drought continued.)

I took my brother’s camera, and then found out I couldn’t take pictures in the exhibit. I don’t know if taking pictures would be harmful to the terra cotta figures, or whether there are just different policies set up by the owners of each exhibit (I would have been allowed to take pictures of the fossils in the Archaeopteryx exhibit if I’d had the camera with me then). There was a whole little shop full of T.C. Warrior merchandise at the end of the exhibit, so that might have been the deal — don’t let people take their own photos and they’ll buy books and miniature figures, etc. However, there were two figures at the entrance to the exhibit that it was okay to photograph, so I did. Then I proceeded to go around to other parts of the museum and take some more pictures, which I have been meaning to share.

I failed to write down the scientific names for the stuff I was taking pictures of, so we’ll all have to be content with names like “really big geode,” etc. Sometimes I get caught up in being an enthusiast/tourist and forget to be anything else (like scientist, journalist/photojournalist, whatever).

Kneeling terracotta archer

Terra Cotta archer

Terracotta Official

Terra Cotta Official

Marlin "trophies" and mural

Marlin "trophies" and mural

Armadillo ancestor

Really big 'dillo

Ankylosaur and his groupies

Ankylosaur and his groupies

 

Part of the seashell display

I love seashells. The more the merrier

Giant snail shell

Imagine if you will, a snail the size of a six-year-old

Giant amathyst crystal geode

Really big geode

A cube of quartz

Really big quartz crystal

The Texas Shootout

Right off the bat, when you read that title, what do you think? Yeah, I know. But it’s not about guns. Oh, no. The Texas Shootout — billed with the tagline, “Where East meets West, to see who’s best,” has nothing to do with guns. Or shooting. It’s a mule and donkey show. Or a donkey and mule show. Depending on which critter you favor more. Yeah. So, of course, I had no idea there was an annual mule and donkey show right here in my own back yard, as it were, and I only found out about it this year. But better late than never, as the saying goes.

The event was held last weekend in the newish Brazos County Expo Complex, and I found out about it on Saturday evening. In time to go see some of the event on Sunday. By which time a lot of exhibitors had already left. No matter. I took my camera and got myself over there to see me some mules.

I walked through the barn area and watched some riders walking and jogging their mules and donkeys around the exercise ring, and saw this overly excited guy standing outside his stall.

Maybe a bit too highly strung

…or maybe he just had his eyes closed so he could concentrate on whatever he was listening to.

When I went into the arena, there was a class being judged. A donkeymanship class. Not only is the name a little whimsical, but the donkeys in the class were putting their own interpretations on the exercises. I thought, “how basenji-like.” So no wonder I like these alternate equines. Like basenjis aren’t your daddy’s Labrador, donkeys aren’t your daddy’s quarter horse. They have their own way of doing things. Sometimes it’s the same as your way, and sometimes it ain’t.

At another point in my peregrinations around the barn area, I stopped to watch another mule in his stall, munching on some grain in a sack.

mmmmule noms

And I heard this incredible noise start up from somewhere close by, but all the other stalls were empty — or so I thought. When I peeked over the solid wall part, I realized why these guys were making so much noise. They just wanted to make sure I’d see them!

We gotta make noise cuz we be short

I couldn’t stay for the rest of the show because I had to take the camera to my brother, but I watched a couple of mulemanship classes (yeah, I know), which were also pretty entertaining. The mules were all sizes and colors. One probably had a quarter horse mom, because he walked with his head down at cow-eye level, another could have had a Belgian (draft horse) mom — it was big and muscular. And there was one I was sure had an Arabian mother because she had the prettiest face. I found out from her rider that her mother was a mustang (I bet there’s some Arabian blood in that mustang herd).

A very pretty mule

So when I got home I looked up some of the mule and donkey farms on line to see if there are any close by, and maybe I’ll be able to go visit some of them and get some more photos. Turns out most of the farms I found listed close to home have miniature donkeys. Criminally, insanely cute little creatures. And miniature mules, too. Oh, I am in trouble.

We're coming for YOU!