Thursday, January 31, 2013


I have been knitting a scarf since Christmas. I like toknit, it keeps my hands busy. I always have to be doing something. Homework,painting, writing, something. Sometimes it sounds so good to just sit on mybutt and watch Monty Python or the Stargate. But I can’t just sit there. So I knit
The funny thing about knitting and watching TV, is that I alwaysremember what I was watching when I knitted it. Even years later. This scarfthat I just finished, it saw Cloud Atlas twice. Have you ever seen that movie?I love that film. Every time I watch it I discover something new- It’s excitingevery time. And there are still things that confuse me, and that’s great. Ialways have something to learn next time.

Cleo loves watching TV. She comes and sits on the back ofthe couch and bats my head occasionally, asking me to pet her. I have to leanback and contort my arm to comply. It would be so much easier if she sat on mylap. But, she’s a cat.

The rats don’t really watch TV, but they love to hand out onthe couch. I have lots of blankets for them to burrow in. They like to playwith the yarn. They like to play with the yarn more than Cleo. What’s up withthat? I thought cats were supposed to LOVE yarn.

But back to the scarf. Everything was just dandy until itcame to the buttonholes. Now, the buttonholes weren't in the original pattern. ButI just had to have buttons. Buttons are great and all, but buttonholes are fromhell. This was my first attempt at buttonholes. It took me two you-tube videos,and two hours of knitting and re-knitting the same row. They aren't even in theright spot. I don’t care.

For those of you interested in this pattern, here it is:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reading Rats: Pocho

Okay, so here’s the deal. I am going to read 100 books this year. It’s part of my new years resolution. I ended up writing a whole list of things for my resolution, which I am now regretting. But it’s down on paper, in print, on the fridge, so I have to stick with it. There’s something about typing things out, it’s so much more official! If I had just scratched my resolutions out on a little scrap of paper, I could have thrown it in the trash just as easily. But you see, I knew this about myself, so I typed it up. Then I put it on the fridge. There’s something about putting something on the fridge that validates it even more. I have to keep buying more magnets for my fridge, because I never pull things off of it. Once it’s on the fridge, it’s legit. So anyways, back to the books. I’m doing okay so far with a whopping four out of one hundred. Yeah. 
As you may know, I have some reading hindrances named Cathy and Lyra. Speaking of which, Cathy has a little tumor, poor dear. It’s still very small, a little bigger than a pea. It doesn't seem to be bugging her too much yet, and I’m going to take her to the vet to get it removed before it does. She should be getting surgery in two weeks, so keep her in your thoughts!  I’m sure she’ll pull through just fine; she’s a tenacious little one! But back to the book. The rats seemed to approve, for they jumped up on it a lot when Mommy was trying to read! So, it gets a vote from them!
The first book I read this year was Pocho by Jose Antonio Villareal. This book is part of the “broadening” aspect of my new years resolution. I also may have had to read it for school. It still counts. Anyhoo, it was a pretty good book. I don’t think I’ll read it again, but for anyone wanting to learn more about the Mexican-American history, this is a must!
This is a Pre-Chicano/a text, taking place in the early 1900s. In the period of Americanization (1920-1965), Mexican Americans moved away from their culture and language. They became Pochos to their families- speaking English, and possibly losing some or all of their Spanish. The novel follows the early life of on Richard Rubio, who falls into this category. The novel starts off with Richards’s father, Juan and parts of his life in Mexico. Juan falls into the traditional role of the Corrido Hero. Richard is everything a Corrido Hero is not. He is an individual and he moves away from his culture. This clash puts Richard at odds with not only his Father, but the rest of his family as well. In Pocho, Both Richard and his family are influenced by Americanization. Richard especially finds himself somewhere in-between being an American and a Mexican.

I’ll leave it at that, wouldn't want to spoil the end! And I’ll get more reviews up soon!

Books Read In 2013

1.      Pocho - Jose Antonio Villareal
2.      Do You Speak American? – Robert MacNeil
3.      Hunger of Memory – Richard Rodriguez
4.      So Far From God – Ana Castillo

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How To Photograph Rats

Photographing rats can be a tricky business, but if you follow these easy steps you’ll be a pro in no time!

1.The first thing you need to do is place your rat in the set.  Make sure your rat remains in the set throughout the duration of the photo shoot. 

2.  Now, rats can sometimes be shy, so make sure your rat isn’t hiding behind any of the props. 

3. Make sure that your rat doesn’t blink

 4. Get your rats to look at the camera.

5. When photographing multiple rats, get them both to look at the camera. This is important, because no matter how cute that one furry face is, everyone will be looking at that one furry butt.

6. Chances are your rats are going to try and eat the props. If you are lucky, your rats will decide the props are not to their liking, and go back to posing.

7. However, if a rat finds something that they like, you will have a hard time getting them to stop eating said prop.

8.  One of the main problems of your subjects snacking on the job is that rats like to eat in private.

9.  Another problem you are bound to encounter is that rats are always on the move.

10. When I say always, I mean always. So take the photos quickly.

11. Now, while you are furiously snapping away perfect shots of your rat, don’t forget to focus the camera.  

You are now on your way to becoming a great rat photographer, Have fun!

P.S. If you find a way to follow these instructions, please let me know. Thanks. 

Midnight Snacks In The Dead Of Night

In celebration of the commencement of October, here is a photo of Cathy and Some Pumpkins! 

School is back in session. I remember being really really excited about school starting when I was little. I’d be jazzed up for weeks, impatient for the commencement of the next school year. I would be so excited the night before that I couldn’t get to sleep, and then I would wake up hours earlier than I had to. I’d have my new school clothes all ready; I think I would have slept in them if I could have. Things have changed. On the eve of this first day, I slumped into bed when I got home from work and slept in 'till the last possible moment. When my alarm clock went off, there was not a trace of excitement, just that sinking realization that I had to get up. You know the one. And so my first day of a new school year started not in a whirl of excitement, but in a groggy haze.

At the end of my first day, I found myself slumped on my couch, wallowing in self pity and despair. All the things I had to do were racing through my mind. There’s my forty hour a week day job, all my Etsy stuff, the commission I’m working on, all the reading I had just been assigned, the internship I had to find and apply for, the dishes stacked up in the sink, the two inches of cat hair coving the floors that needed to be vacuumed, the shower I desperately needed to take…. It was at this moment, that I was sure I was about to spiral down to rock bottom, that I heard Adele. To be more specific, it was “Someone Like You”. (for those of you unfamiliar with the musical genius that is Adele, this is a very sad and depressing song).

For a moment, I thought I had lost it. This was it. I was officially bonkers. I was imaging a soundtrack to my life. No doubt, someday soon, someone would begin narrating my every move (preferably Morgan Freeman) and I would start breaking out in song during emotional moments. Then I realized that it was coming from downstairs. My downstairs neighbors had turned on the radio. I looked over at Cleo and laughed. She peered down at me haughtily from her perch on the book shelf as if she had known all along. She probably did. Laughing, I got my butt up off the couch, pulled out a textbook, and started to read.

Cleo, Peering Down From Her Perch

My first reading assignment was Beowulf. Now, I’m not going to bore you all with a long analysis of Beowulf, but I do want to touch on the subject of neighbors. Now Hrothgar sure has some lousy neighbors. A living arrangement where your neighbor comes in the dead of night to crash your sleepover and eat your party guests after tearing them limb from limb is far from ideal. And while I’m not going to condone Grendal’s midnight snacking, I will admit that I can see his side of things. I mean, Hrothgar goes and builds this hall, and then has all of these big noisy gatherings, who wouldn’t get a little upset? Maybe Grendal was a light sleeper. And I know when I get woken up in the middle of the night I’m usually ready for a snack. Grendal also seems like the lonely type- he does live with his mother after all.  Imagine being woken up by the merrymaking of others when you are an outcast. So while I realize I should be rooting for Beowulf and booing Grendal, I seem to have a soft spot for the bugger. Maybe it’s because I’ve had noisy neighbors too.

In my previous living situation, I must admit that the thought of ripping my neighbors limb from limb in the dead of night did cross my mind. Now, if I had been asleep, as I should have been in the dead of night, the thought would never have crossed my mind. But awake I was, due to the nightly fights my neighbors had, and I was grumpy. Not grumpy enough to fly into a homicidal rage, but as I said before, I can see why Grendal snapped.

Luckily, my current neighbors are great. The ones downstairs have excellent taste in music, and my neighbors across the way, well, they’re very quiet. The neighbors across the way are sedentary types; I never hear a peep out of ‘em! In fact, they’re the best neighbors I’ve ever had!! 

The Not-So-Curiouse Case Of The Vomit On The Bathmat


Let me set the scene for you. Its dark, you’ve just come home from work, slipped off your shoes and removed those cold wet socks. You wiggle your bare toes on the carpet, relieved to be out of the damp shoes. With a happy stride you head to the bathroom to change into your pajamas. As you step through the door, you feel an inexplicable wet gooey mass between your toes. You look down. Yes. Yes, that’s cat vomit. Yes. Yes, you’re barefoot.

Does this ever happen to you? I happened to me last night. It happened to me last week too. Cleo throws up a lot. I have her on this special food and everything, and she still vomits about once a week, if not more. Sometimes it’s just hairballs, which are gross enough, but it’s usually full on vomit. I think she does it as a little reminder that she holds the power. I mean, she sits up on the bathroom counter and stares down at me regally while I’m cleaning up her half-digested meal. This has to be part of her world domination plan, I just know it.

So, back to my story. If you’ve forgotten where we were, I was barefoot in the bathroom and had just stepped in a pile of cat vomit and it had already oozed between my toes. Lovely. Luckily I was in the bathroom, so I hopped over to the tub on my clean foot and quickly washed off the extremity that was covered in the offending substance. Then I turned around with the sinking realization that I would have to clean the bathmat, on which the vomit lay. I grudgingly got the trash can and some paper towels and transferred the up-chuck from the mat into the trash. I then set to scrubbing the mat, attempting to remove any traces of my cat’s breakfast.

When I was done, I was still not convinced that I wanted to stand on that mat with bare, clean feet. “Ah”, I thought “I’ll flip it over!” I proceeded with my plan, but as I did so, another sinking realization descended upon me. I realized that that was what I had done the last time. Come to think of it, I think that’s what I did the time before that too. With this realization, there came another. I would have to do laundry.

My apartment complex has a laundry room, which is nice except for the part where it's coin operated. Coin operated laundry is evil. Yeah Yeah, I know, I should probably just be thankful that I don’t have to drive to a laundromat, but I’d prefer to complain about it. Let me tell you, $1.50 for a wash and $1.25 for a dry will add up pretty darn quick. So, while I wanted to wash the bathmat by itself, seeing as it was encrusted with vomit, the miser in me decided that there was no way I was going to spend $2.75 to launder a single bath mat. So, while the squeamish Rachel was writhing in agony, the miserly Rachel was making a pile of my sheets and towels to wash with the bat mat.

Miserly Rachel won, and this morning I coughed up $2.75 and washed the mat, my sheets, and all my towels.  How exciting! Stay tuned next week- who knows what I’ll have to wash next! 

Rat Speak

Lyra and Cathy

Rats are very social and intelligent animals. I have been owned by many rats over the years (currently I am owned by three), and have had lots of firsthand experience. They are always interacting with each other. Whether they are eating, grooming, or sleeping, they do it all together. Their social nature is one of the elements that contributed to the evolution of their complex communication system. Rats are able to communicate very effectively with both audible and ultrasonic squeaks, which are combined with facial signaling.

So, what do rats talk about? Well, the semiotics, “the symbolic sign or value of an acoustic signal”, of rat calls are “usually related to a general situation, condition, or psychological state, rather than to a specific object, feature, or function” (Brudzynski “Principles” 86). These communications lack many of Hockett’s design features of a language, but these intelligent animals are able to understand the semiotic content of these calls and communicate effectively. Rats communicate with vocal signs, and there are a lot of things that they can talk about.

The conversation topics include predators, arrival and departure, emotions, attention calling, and food, as well as others. Some examples include being able to locate other rats, such as a young rat calling for its mother, warn each other of danger, or announce whether they are happy or un-happy. While some calls made by rats have only one meaning, many of their calls are polysemic, allowing for a complex communication system (Brudzynski “Principles”).  

The use of ultrasonic communication between rats is a trait most likely selected for because many predators cannot hear ultrasonic noises. This allows rats to communicate secretly, under the radar so to speak. Using ultrasonic communication, rats are able to alert others of a dangerous predator without alerting said predator to their location, or to that of their companions. Ultrasonic communication also comes in handy in keeping the den location secret from predators. Since rats live in communities, all their chatter could attract attention if it was audible. The social aspects of rat communities were also a factor in the development of their communication system. Rats are extremely social animals, with lots to talk about. (Brudzynski “Communications”).

There are two different ultrasonic frequencies used by rats, 22 kHz and 50 kHz. Calls made at the frequency of 22 kHz are made by rats when they are anxious, and feel that they are in danger. These calls are fairly long, usually lasting 300-3400 ms. Rats emit these low frequency ultrasonic calls when a predator is in the vicinity, in order to warn other rats. These calls are also made during confrontations with other rats, or any instance in which a rat feels threatened.  While I do not have a bat detector with which I can listen in on the conversations of my rats, judging from their actions, I imagine that my rats make these calls whenever I vacuum. (Brudzynski “Communications”)

When rats are not being threatened by vacuums, or any other predators, they converse on a frequency of 50 kHz. 50 kHz high frequency calls are used in safe, friendly social situations between rats. These calls would be made while rats shared food, groomed each other, or during mating. These calls are also made when rats recognize the scent of another rat that they know, even if the rat in question is not there. The length of these calls is much shorter than the calls made at 22 kHz, lasting only 30-40 milliseconds.

There are two types of calls made by rats at the frequency of 50 kHz. The first calls are of a constant frequency, or flat calls. These calls are made during social interactions in which the rat is not particularly happy, but not in any danger.  The rat may be ambivalent to the situation or its companion. The second category of 50 kHz calls are called step-trill calls. These calls are made by happy rats, and are “analogous to human laughter” (Brudzynski  “Communications” 47). Laughter, something that seems so human, is practiced by rats as well.

Not only are these social ultrasonic calls made during rat to rat communications, but rats use them with people too! During safe interactions with humans, such as playing, grooming, or feeding, rats emit squeaks at the frequency of 50 kHz. (Brudzynski  “Communications” ). These calls made to humans are the same as those made to other rats. I can just imagine what my rats say about me when I bring them lima beans, when they asked for cream cheese.

Rats also use audible calls to communicate. Audible squeaks are made by rats when they are in pain. However, there are some other instances in which they are used. They can also occur when a rat is surprised. More commonly, audible calls are used when submissive rats are dominated by other rats. These calls by submissive rats can occur during serious confrontations, or during play confrontations (Brudzynski  “Communications”).

Facial interactions also play an important part during rat communication. Facial interactions, or facial signaling, is a combination of many factors. Rats use their whiskers, secretions of pheromones from glands in their cheeks, movement of the ears, and smell when engaging in this form of communication. Whiskers are very important in introductions to new rats and aggressive behavior between rats. The smell component of facial interactions is a key element when rats are communicating about food. These facial interactions can also be accompanied by biting, or a type of shoving that resembles body-slamming. These actions can be signs of aggressive behavior, but are often used when rats play with each other. Facial interactions are used in combination with ultrasonic and audible calls (Brecht 259).

Lyra and Cathy enjoying a treat.

One instance when rats use facial signaling is when communicating about food (Galaf).  I’ll use two of my rats, Cathy and Lyra for an example. If I introduced Kathy to a new food, let’s say, brie, and then return her to her cage where Lyra is waiting, Lyra will interact with Cathy. Using a combination of facial signaling (especially smell) and ultrasonic calls (most likely at 50 kHz, unless Lyra is really upset that she did not get a treat but Cathy did) Lyra will interact with Cathy and become aware of the existence of Brie.  If I then took Lyra out of her cage, leaving Cathy inside, and exposed her to a sample of both Brie and Cheddar, she will most likely choose the piece of brie for a snack, because she knows that it is a safe food from her facial interactions with Cathy.

These food conversations can be helpful for rats, but they can also be harmful. Sometimes, these interactions can help rats find new, safe foods. However, researchers are now using these behaviors to kill rats more effectively with poisons. They are using these interactions against rats, hoping that rats that get into poison will come back and interact with others before showing symptoms and dying (Galaf).

Rats have evolved into social, talkative creatures. They use various forms of communications including facial interactions, ultrasonic calls and audible calls. Though their communication does not have all the features of a language, they are able to locate each other, warn each other of danger, talk about food, and even express if they are happy or un-happy. I was already a lover of rats, but I appreciate them even more now that I know the degree to which they communicate, and that they laugh.

Works Cited

Brecht, Michael, and Winrich A Freiwald. "The Many Facets Of Facial Interactions In Mammals." Current Opinion In Neurobiology 22.2 (2012): 259-266. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 May 2012.
Brudzynski, Stephan. "Communication of Adult Rats by Ultrasonic Vocalization: Biological, Sociobiological, and Neuroscience Approaches." ilar. 50.1 (2009): 43-50. Web. 21 May. 2012.
Brudzynski, Stephan. "Principles of Rat Communication: Quantitative Parameters of Ultrasonic Calls in Rats."Behavior Genetics. 35.1 (2005): 85-92. Web. 25 May. 2012.
Galef Jr., Bennet G. "Norway Rats' Communication About Foods and Feeding Sites." national Wildlife Reeaserch Center Repellents Conference 1995. (1995): 185-201. Web. 25 May. 2012.

Cleaning Tails

Rats are not afraid of vacuums. Cats are. When cleaning day rolls around and I pull out the vacuum, the cat goes into hiding, and the rats press their little noses through the bars of their cage. The rats love cleaning day. I always start with their cage- they love this, because I put them in my bed while I clean, and they get to run around and make tunnels in the sheets. I usually hide some treats up there for them to find. I always have to do their cage before I vacuum, because the bed is one of the places that Cleo hides from the vacuum, and two rats and a cat sharing the same bed just isn’t a good idea.

When I’m done cleaning the rat cage, I usually leave Cathy and Lyra out. They are out of their cage for at least an hour a day, usually two- but on cleaning day they are out for four or five. They usually just end up curled up together in the bed, just as if they were in their cage, but I like the thought of them out and about. I think they like it too.

After the cage comes the bathroom, kitchen counters, sweep, mop, and then out comes the vacuum! I keep the vacuum in the coat closet. I love saying coat closet. I’ve never had one before, and I’m quite proud to have one now. It makes me feel sophisticated. Oh, and speaking of vacuums and closets- let’s look back three years to my first apartment viewing. I was with my soon-to-be roommate and we were touring the first apartment on our list. The woman giving the tour stopped at a very short, skinny closet and said “And this is obviously the vacuum closet.” Now, before she said anything, I was thinking what an absurd size for a closet- but I definitely wasn’t thinking, oh, this is obviously a vacuum closet. I’m sure she began saying that after the millionth inquiry as to the purpose of the absurd little thing.

Anyways, Cleo does not like the coat closet. Notice, that I am saying coat closet, because this is a full sized closet. It does contain a vacuum, but it’s size and shape does not limit one to storing a single vacuum within. Now, Cleo knows the sound of that vacuum coming out, and off she goes. (By this time the rats are back in their three story cage in case she makes a break for the bed). The bed and the back of my closet are Cleo’s two vacuum refuges. I always start in the living room, so she chooses these places because they are in my bedroom, and as far away from the vacuum as possible. But, after the living room, I bring the vacuum to the bedroom. At this point Cleo usually makes a break for the living room. I turn off the vacuum to make her more comfortable, but even if it is off, she will avoid it like a snarling dog and get out of there as fast as she can.

And, in the meantime, the rats are standing up, hands and noses through the bars, just watching the show. Maybe that’s why they like the vacuum- because it scares Cleo. Now that I think of it, I bet they’re standing their laughing, just watching her squirm. Rats laugh, did you know that? We humans can’t hear it (it’s at a frequency of 50 kHz), but sometimes the way they look at me, I just know they’re giggling. They talk to us too (50 kHz is their social frequency) the same way they talk to other rats- but alas, we just can’t hear them. That just amazes me.  Laughter seems like such a human trait, but we’re not the only species that partake in a chuckle now and then. There are, as I mentioned, rats, but also dogs, chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans. Isn’t that amazing? It just blows my mind. And if you need any help believing that rats do in fact laugh, just take a look at this picture.

Reading Rats: White Oleander


Last night, I finished reading White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I picked it up at the Goodwill for $1.50. The Goodwill is the best place for buying books. I never buy new books, even if I really really want to read them. In my heart, I know that every book I want to read will eventually come to the Goodwill. Sometimes I have to wait two or three years, but the books I am dying to read always come to me via the Goodwill. Chances are, If there is a book I think I will love, somebody else won’t like it. Or they will die, and none of their relatives will like it. And presto! It will end up at the Goodwill.

The day I bought White Oleander, I was Goodwillin’ with a friend (who recommended the book to me), and we were going completely nuts in the book section. Unfortunately for my wallet, there were a lot of excellent books there that day. Books I wanted to read, books I had read but didn’t own, and okay, books I already owned but still wanted. I have this disease… The books I really really love, well, I have multiple copies of them. When I see them in the Goodwill, I just can’t stop myself. I want it. I have this idea that no one will love them like I do. So I buy them, and then I hold onto them until I can find them a good home. I wait for people who I think will love them as much as I do, and then I hand them out with a silent tear, and hope that they will continue to be loved as I have loved them.


Okay, so now that you all think I’m bonkers, it’s time for a book review! While enjoyable, White Oleander is not a book that I would buy a second copy of. The first two thirds were quite exciting, and I didn’t want to put it down. The last third of the book dragged a little bit, but was still enjoyable. There are books, like White Oleander, that I read through quite quickly, and then there are books that I savor. For me, an excellent book is one that I read more slowly (or, if I absolutely have to know what happens and can’t stop myself from reading too fast- I immediately start over from the beginning and take it slower the second read through). I love it when a sentence stops me. Sometimes I will re-read sentences ten, twenty times, to ingrain them into my brain. These are beautiful, powerfully, wonderfully constructed sentences that I want to remember forever. This was a quick read with an exciting plot, very interesting characters, and quite a few insane ones. But there were no sentences that made me stop.

But, it was an interesting book none-the-less. One of the most interesting things in the book was the relationship between the main character, Astrid, and her Mother. For me, that relationship was the core of the book. I’ll try not to spoil anything for any readers, but suffice it to say that Ingrid (the mother) had a strong, and quite destructive influence over her daughter. Her parenting choices were far from ideal. In the beginning of the book, Astrid worships her mother, completely dependent and willing to do anything for her. Throughout the book, Astrid comes to hate her, despise her, and then finally comes to understand her. It is an interesting look at what constitutes a Mother and Daughter relationship, and what we will endure for our blood.

Cathy and Lyra

Now Astrid went through some crazy shit. She lived in some very intense foster homes, with some very intense people. It was in those scenes that I sometimes stopped, and wondered if some of the actions of the secondary characters, Astrid as well, were a little too extreme. Some of these actions conflicted with how I perceived the character from previous actions. There were times when I felt like this about the Mother's actions as well, but these believability concerns did not distract me too much from finishing up the novel.

The book contains quite a bit of profanity, and sex. While this is not a deterrent for me, I would not recommend this book to you if you are uncomfortable with that sort of thing. For all of you sex-loving, profanity spouting readers out there, I would recommend this as a quick, entertaining read. 

Roommates, Or Don't Touch Me If You Value Your Eyeballs

This is Cleo, my roomate. 

Simply Put, Cleo is the queen of the world. The world of my apartment at least. It’s really her apartment actually- she just allows me to live there, and pay rent.

Like me, Cleo has a set routine. She waits to come to bed until I have put the rats away, set aside my book, and turned off the light. She waits for me to stop squirming around, rolling this way and that, trying to get comfortable. She waits until I’ve finally settled down, and I’m just about to drift off. Then I feel her tongue on my cheek, or perhaps my arm, and I hear her purr. And I must wake myself, and pet her- or face the consequences. I’m not allowed to touch Cleo unless she gives me permission first. Any attempt to pet her without an invite is a bad idea. Likewise, refusing to pet her when she asks for it is a bad idea.

Cleo with her "I may be asleep, but i'm still watching you, so don't touch me if you value your fingers" face. Prints available here:

So no matter how tired I am, I sit up for a bit, and pet her until she bites me (which is her signal for “stop now if you value your eyeballs”) It’s like the NowWhattian boghogs from the planet of NowWhat. (For all of you non-Sci-Fi nerds out there, this is a reference from Douglas Adams  book Mostly Harmless, the fifth book of the series The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.) Now, the boghogs of NowWhat communicate by biting each other very hard on the thigh- the left one I think. Cleo has similar aspects in her language- though there is no specific body part involved in communication- the nearest available bit of flesh will do. While biting seems to be Cleo’s go-to form of communication, there are other aspects as well. She uses cute little meows, and lots of body language as well. She communicates quite effectively with me, a fact that never ceases to astound me. I think animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. I don’t communicate near as effectively with Cleo as she does with me- or I suppose, she only cares to understand me when I am telling her something she wants to hear, which is a definite possibility.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t always do as she would like. Each night, after petting her too long, and receiving a nice bite for my troubles, I go back to sleep and Cleo curls up on my pillow, right atop my head. More often than not, Cleo ends up with the whole pillow, and I have to resort to using my secondary pillow, which I keep between my knees. Once these territorial disputes are settled, we both fall asleep, until we are both woken by my alarm. Now, on numerous occasions Cleo’s bed (my pillow) has lain between the shrieking alarm and I. Sleepy, and quite unaware of my surroundings, I reach for the snooze button, unknowingly brush past Cleo, and WHAM!!! Cat Attack. Now, a cat leaping up, hackles raised, and sinking her teeth into your arm is a sure fire way to wake up in the morning. On Cat Attack mornings, there’s no more snooze button pushin’ for me.

I’m still trying to figure out how to market this. Just think about it. Everyone has those days (some more than others) where, half asleep, they push the snooze button a few too many times, resulting in a late morning. If everyone had a Cat Attack alarm system, no one would ever be late to work again.

However, Cleo isn’t always a very reliable snooze button deterrent. I don’t always manage to irritate her upon waking. Take last Wednesday for example. As usual, Cleo took up residence at the top of my pillow, and pretty soon she had it all, and I was left pillow less, curled up in the bottom half of the bed. However, when I woke, I discovered that at some point during the night I had reclaimed my pillow again. I also realized that I had woken up by myself, as I could not hear the alarm clock. I was really excited, I was feeling awake, and I was going to have extra time to paint before work. Then I realized I actually could hear my alarm (sc-fi tone wooo-weeee wooooo-wooooo). I looked around, and realized it was coming from Cleo.

Apparently after I had re-claimed the pillow, she had taken up residence atop my i-pod, which is also my alarm clock. Now, as it turns out, alarms don’t penetrate cats very well. As it also turns out, sleeping cats don’t really like it when you reach under them to retrieve an i-pod. Ouch. Wounded, sleepy, and quite shocked, I retreated to the opposite corner of my bed, warily eyeing the vicious hissing beast with raised hackles. Then, she sat back down, began to purr and meowed with a confidence that said, “I’m the cutest thing in the world, pet me. Pet me now.”

Now satisfied that the beast had retreated, and that Cleo was once again a cute little kitty cat, I looked down at the hard won I-pod to discover that not only had I not woken up early, but forty minutes late. 

Cleo with her "all hail the Queen of the World" Face. Prints available here:

So, it’s safe to say that Cleo and I have our rows, but we are roommates after all. And no matter how angry she gets at me, she’s still there beside me every morning when I wake up.

If You Give A Horse A Carrot


“If you give a horse a carrot, keep your fingers flat.”

 When I was first given this advice by my Mother as a small child, I would flatten my fingers, and then try to bend them down, quite terrified that one of the horses would mistake one of my fingers for a carrot. And while the loss of a digit did have some charm, as it would get me out of practicing my violin, I decided that it really wouldn’t be worth all the hassle. 


“Let the horse know you’re behind him. Run your hand across his butt when you walk behind him. That way he’ll know you’re there, and he won’t kick you.”

I took this advice as seriously as the bit about the fingers, and have never failed to touch the butt of every horse I walk behind. My Mother knows these types of things, she’s a horse person, a rat person, a cat person, a dog person- she’s an animal person. I take after her.  

I went home recently for the first time in oh, eight or ten months. What did I do? I went down to the barn and mucked out paddocks with my Mother. Okay, alright, I confess. I scooped up five piles of shit, and then started taking pictures. But I was there for moral support. And, my dog Alasse, who came with us, didn’t scoop up any poop either, though I think she would if she could. She loves poop, and she loves going to the ranch. There are all sorts of smells, horse hooves to chew on, turkey poop to roll in. She loves turkey poop more than any other poop in the world. Unfortunately turkey poop happens to be one of the smelliest substances known to man, and so far the one thing that seems to really work on the pungent odor is a good scrub with Victoria’s Secret “So Sexy” shampoo. Lucky dog. However on this particular trip there was no turkey poop to be found, so we didn’t have to break out the shampoo, or deodorize the truck. Phew Heh.

Alasse (Now dogs are some photogenic creatures. Especially my Alasse. She is cooperative, She looks where I tell her too, she smiles, she looks cute. Is there one of those tv model shows for dogs?)

On this particular turkey poop-less trip, Alasse ran around with a stick, and was generally happy, and excited, and always managed to find the best bits of shade. I was out in the sun working on my tan- and taking photos of the horses. I take photos of animals whenever I can. Not because I’m a great photographer, but because I want reference photos. My mother is great with horses. She can get a horse (mind you, we’re talking about an animal that weighs about a ton) to do anything she wants. She just asks them to do it (she speaks horse by the way).  So after she finished scoopin’ up poo, she got the horses to pose for me.  She also asked them to run for me, which resulted in some great photos. This was great for me because photographing animals isn’t always easy- they don’t exactly know the meaning of “cheese!”

Mum Speaking Horse With Ira. 

Ira (this is how he communicates with me) 
When it comes to horses, without her help, most of my photos would look like this.

After several hundred posed shots, my mother sprayed down the horses and then let them roll. This is a great fly deterrent, and really fun to watch. I got some great shots of the horses on their backs, legs up in the air. I’m not sure if any of these will work for paintings, but they make me laugh. Ira sticking his tongue out at me made me laugh too. Ira and I are the same age, we were born in the same summer. He’s my Mother’s other kid. So it’s okay if he sticks his tongue out at me- but the rest of you, don’t get any ideas now.

I haven’t sifted through all the photographs I took, but so far there are a lot of good ones (horses are easier to photograph than rats if you have horse whisper to help you out). I have done one watercolor painting of Ira from one of the phtos (for sale here There will be many more paintings to come, so all y'all horse lovers better keep an eye ou!