Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dog Park Smoothie

There's been a lot of talk at Dog Park lately about food and libations. It's the one pleasure left to us during these super-heated summer days, I think. A few weeks ago, one generous soul (Sugar's Michelle) started bringing a cooler of beers to Park on Fridays. (Thanks, Michelle!) Then last week, Dario & Cinzia and Johnny brought lawn chairs (which are technically not food), which immediately led to a discussion of a watermelon party. On Thursday night, we indulged. The melons were sweet and cold, and the dogs made quite a show of being omnivores. It is a tradition I hope we'll continue. 

In the meantime, I offer you this recipe for a Dog Park smoothie. (Admit it, you thought I'd be talking about something else.) Because I generally don't get home from Park until nearly ten at night these days, I need something light to eat before bed. I make this smoothie every night. It's cold, sweet, and creamy. 

What you'll need: 
  • frozen bananas 
  • frozen blueberries 
  • soy milk (or your favorite choice of milk)

How to make: 
In a blender, toss half a cup of frozen blueberries, one frozen banana, and about 1 cup of milk. (I generally don't measure; I eyeball.) Blend until thick. Eat immediately with a spoon. See? So easy.

Note: It's important to have frozen fruit, or the smoothie will be a bit thin and frothy. In summer, I buy bananas just to have them in the freezer for smoothies because they go soft so fast. 

Hint: Peel and break bananas in pieces before storing in a zip-lock bag with the air squeezed out.

Another note: Smoothie traditionalists will point out that most smoothies are made with apple juice and a scoop of plain or flavored yogurt, not milk. I find that juice smoothies are too sweet, but you are certainly welcome to try that as a variation. It really is hard to mess up a smoothie.


Friday, July 17, 2009

In Heaven There Are No Dogs?

I recently read a clever and interesting book called Sum by a fellow named David Eagleman. The book's full title is Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (Pantheon Books, 2009). It is a collection of short scenarios of what the afterlife might be like. The author is a neuroscientist at a facility in nearby Waco, and so the tales have a sci-fi spin to them. In most, the afterlife does not entail endlessly eating chocolate, strumming harps, or meeting dead celebrities. In fact, in most, the afterlife is kind of a grind. One neither experiences relief from the cares of daily life nor gains long-awaited and expected enlightenment. Instead, the afterlife is a disorienting and often lonely place where the dead (and sometimes God, too) feel confused and undergo existential crises. 

Some of the scenarios are fascinating. In one, the newly dead discover that they have jobs—to appear in the backgrounds of the dreams of the living. In another, the afterlife is a sort of purgatory, a waiting area set in a motel lobby where the dead sit until their names are spoken for the last time on Earth. Ordinary folks quickly move on to the next realm, but those who are famous, notorious, or unfortunate enough to have a small college named for them wait forever, in increasing psychic discomfort. In another, God has a crush on Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The most heart-rending scenario, I thought, is the last, in which the afterlife is a replay of life, but in reverse. Life gets relived from death and old age back through youth, infancy, and birth. But instead of providing insight—as one might from viewing a movie or reading a book a second time—the replay only shows how little we learned and how much we got wrong the first time around. And then, when it's over, it's really over. The End. Forever. How do you feel now?

That final story reminded me of those Escher prints that were so popular in the 1980s. At first you are delighted by the cleverness—"See? The birds turn into fish." Or "Hey! The staircases seem to be going up and down at the same time!" Then, after a moment or two, a sense of panic sets in. You realize that the stairs go up and down forever, but they don't lead anywhere, and you will never escape. You are eternally stuck in Escher's crazy, creepy, lizard-infested landscape. Eagleman's tales are clever and thought-provoking in the same way, and they inspire a similar kind of mental nausea, so don't read this book before bedtime. 

I guess because the author is a scientist his scenarios tend to feel like something out of the movie 2001. There are lots of sterile rooms and anxious souls but few natural images or animals—hardly any clouds and, alas, no dogs. (At least in the stories I read. I'll admit, I skipped a few.) Which brings me to my point: "Who wants an afterlife if there won't be any dogs?" I never wonder about life after death. In my mind, it's the black screen at the end of the film, before the credits roll. It's like the deepest sleep—the kind you have when you are exhausted and forget you are even alive. It's dark, it's quiet, and it's forever. But the book forced me to consider a technicolor version—with dogs. You can probably guess how it goes:

In about fifty or sixty years or so, after I die, the elevator doors will open onto the Afterlife version of Dog Park. It will be April, when the grass is green and the wildflowers are blooming. And there, awaiting me, will be all my dogs, with bright eyes, new collars, and wagging tails. Roma will be five or six, the age she was when we hiked the Appalachian Trail and before she developed arthritis and her obsession for treats. Muzzy will be her perfectly sweet, young, post-housebroken self, leaping for tennis balls. And across the field will be all our favorite doggie pals and their owners, too, after their time has come. And we'll just stand there in the evening sun and throw tennis balls for eternity and tell about our days. (It will never be warmer than 80 degrees or cooler than 75.) Best of all, there will be no Animal Control or Crazy Guy or Jesus Guy or any of the people who annoy or perturb.  They, of course, all be experiencing their own satisfying afterlives over there. Waaaaay over there where I can't see them. Dream on, everybody.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Encore Les Wankers

Q: As a cyclist, I object to your characterization of bikers in a previous post. You called us  "wankers." I'm hurt and dismayed. All we're doing is enjoying ourselves and celebrating the Tour de France. Where's your spirit of international competition? What did we cyclists ever do to you? 
—Wish I Were Wearing Lance's Tour de France Pants 

A: My dear Lance's Pants, the Dog Parkist will let you in on a little secret. Sometimes when she wants to exercise without benefit of canine supervision, she rides her bike. It's nothing special. It's black. It's sleek. Most importantly, it moves when she turns the pedals. For her excursions, unlike most wankers, she doesn't get all kitted out in a fancy team jersey, padded shorts, and special clippy-toed shoes; instead she hits the pavement in a pair of old sneakers, t-shirt, shorts, and, often, unshaved legs (quel horreur!). If she's lucky, she remembers to wear a helmet, apply sunblock, and fill up a water bottle, when she can find one. She finds the act of pedaling along the bike lanes of central Austin to be relaxing and meditative. Today, in fact, while trundling north on Shoal Creek Boulevard, she was considering the possibility that she had perhaps— peut-etre—been too hard on you and your cycling confreres. 

And then, mon cher, some of your cycling amis ruined it for you. The Dog Parkist just happened to look up and see four spandex-clad lads riding side-by-side in a pack just inches from the back end of a Volkswagen Jetta, all trying to take advantage of the updraft created by a car moving less than 20 miles per hour (32.19 kilometres par heure). And, of course, at least two of those pikers were sporting a maillot jaune, a yellow jersey (Mon Dieu! Quel chutzpah!). You realize, of course, that with one tap of the VW's brakes, those guys would have been street pizza (quiche du boulevard). The Dog Parkist could not have been more annoyed and disgusted. And that, Lance Pants, is what she holds against you and your fellow pedal pushers—your self-destructive and foolish insistence on doing horrifically stupid things while riding on two skinny wheels and dressing in offensively bright synthetic fabrics. Even the French would call those guys on Shoal Creek les stupides, idiots, cretins, imbecile, boufons! The Dog Parkist simply calls them wankeurs. So, adieu. Now go away, please. Merci beaucoup pour ecriver. Thanks so much for writing! 

Dear Readers: The Dog Parkist abhors conflict. Sustaining outrage is so draining! So please do remember to pose your questions in the nicest way possible so as to ensure that everyone has a pleasant day. Thank you kindly! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Dog Parkist: What Is Rain?

Q: Dog Parkist, will it ever rain again?
—Rainless in River City
A: Rainless, of course it will rain again. It always does; however, will it rain in any significant amount before the lakes run dry, the pavement melts, and the people run stark raving mad into the streets? Possibly not. The Dog Parkist has no way of knowing. Yes, there are rumors afoot at the Dog Park about a possible savior in the form of El Nino, which in the fall, with its western winds, may deliver much needed moisture and low air pressure levels that will wring rain from the sky. In the meanwhile, the Dog Parkist and all the other conscientious people of Austin will stare in dismay at their parched, barren lawns; their shriveled tomato plants; and their ruined rose bushes and consider the place in hell reserved for the neighbors who stand barefoot on lush, green lawns and admire their promiscuously blooming hibiscus. (In hell, they shall drink and drink until their bladders are fit to burst and only then discover that there are no bathrooms. Too cruel? I think not.)

Rains will come, my friend, but perhaps not until after you have moved back to Portland or Seattle or Minneapolis or Boston or Syracuse, or some other cold, wet place whose weather and bland food drove you here to Austin in the first place. Think of us fondly as you pull on your waders in order to reach the mailbox. Drink a tall glass of tap water for us, too. An ice cube would be appreciated. Thanks for writing!

Q: The writer of this blog solicited her readers for their opinions about monetizing. I still don't see any ads on the blog. What's the deal?
—Gentle Reader
A: Gentle Reader, the Dog Parkist has been authorized to provide the following answer. Readers' responses in regard to monetizing was overwhelmingly in favor of putting ads on the space. Still, the Writer hesitates for these reasons: 1) the advertising content would not be under her control, 2) the ads posted on other Blogger sites are truly ugly and distracting, and 3) the likelihood of generating any meaningful revenue from readers' clicks is pretty slim. Plus, 4) reading the fine print on the agreement has nearly rendered her blind. While the Writer is deeply grateful for your feedback, she has decided at this point in time to keep the blog free from advertising. How she will afford to reimburse the Dog Parkist for her services remains to be seen. 

Dear Readers: Please limit your questions to the Dog Parkist's areas of expertise, which include dogs, the Dog Park, dog care and grooming, personal relationships, the fine arts, medieval Russian history, American domestic and foreign policy, global warming, world religions, and baking. Ta! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Stick It on Your Bumper

Q: One of my favorite bloggers recently wrote about how much she despises those "wag more, bark less" bumper stickers that she's been seeing everywhere lately. My sister brought me one of these when she visited last summer. As committed design junkie, I don't consider myself a bumper sticker person, but I have to say I love this one. My sticker is actually a magnet, and it would be on my car except that I'm afraid someone would steal it. I think the sentiment is a fun, gentle reminder to lighten up already people—we aren't going to get any cooler or richer any time soon, and no one else wants to hear your bitching. Plus I think it's extra funny when you see the sticker on a car with a dog face in the window. What do you think ? —Sir Wags-A-Lot

A: Dear Sir, the Dog Parkist is in completely agreement with you. The stickers and magnets you refer to are charmingly benign, and tasteful. (Illustration below.) Their sentiment is, as you point out, a metaphor more than a statement or command, and perhaps that is the problem. Most people expect bumper stickers to provide information about the driver ("My child is an honor student at XYZ Elementary School."), to tell them what to do ("Honk if you love Jesus."), or to make a misguided political statement ("W" or "Nader for President"). 

"Wag more bark less" expresses a simple wish for Zen-like calm that rarely resonates with drivers who are so intent on getting to Starbucks for caffeine they clearly do not need or dropping off their precocious children at a highly regarded institution of learning or navigating SUVs whose sales were encouraged by an administration populated by oil industry cronies that they cannot even fathom what life would be like if everyone were a little quieter and a little more content—in other words, if people were more like dogs. 

The Dog Parkist did deign to read the blogger's entry and was all amazement that the writer whose ire was inflamed by a simple bumper sticker is a person who reveals too much intimate information about the position of her underwear and who reaches inexplicable ecstasy while gazing upon her own drooling, food-encrusted, foul-diapered offspring. Sir, need I remind you that people who collapse in fit of narcissism at the sight of their own children are hardly likely to be moved by the Zen of dogs? For some, the child-versus-dog debate is even more highly charged than that of cat-versus-dog. The Dog Parkist sees no grounds for debate, and she encourages all her readers to wag and vote more and to drive, complain, procreate, drink cheap beer, and shop at big box stores less. Much less. Thanks for writing! 

Dear Readers: Please be sure to thank Sir Wags for providing such an insightful question next time you see him or her at Dog Park. And please do use the time you will save by not participating in useless, time-wasting activities, such as complaining, to send the Dog Parkist a query. Ta!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Third Place

A while back, Erica (Joey and Coco) said that she'd heard or read about a concept called "the third place," a place that is neither home nor work, a gathering spot for people of similar interests and concerns. She thought that Dog Park qualified as a third place, so I checked out a book called Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories about the "Great Good Places" at the Heart of Our Communities (Marlowe and Company, 2001). It is introduced and compiled by Ray Oldenburg, a sociology professor who introduced the concept of third place in the first place. 

Here's his definition of third place: " . . . a setting beyond home and work (the "first" and "second" places respectively) in which people relax in good company and do so on a regular basis. Many Americans, though not nearly enough, still give allegiance to a place they visit before or after work and when home life permits. Some have coffee there before work. Some have a beer there after work. Some stop in for the Luncheon Special every Thursday. Some drop by whenever it's convenient. It is their version of the once popular television series Cheers." (p. 2)

In Oldenburg's view, the third place is a physical space where not only good times are had but also good works get done by people who want to make a difference in their community. Oldenburg is clearly a softy for the pre-World War II era—pre-television, pre-computer, pre-A/C, pre-global economy, and pre-suburbs—a time when people knew their neighbors and shared enough values with them to want to socialize at the local watering hole. He mildly excoriates government (for poor zoning laws and highway building), corporate America (for its sterile restaurant and coffee shop franchises), and personal electronics (but not, interestingly, rising crime or a global economy) for distracting Americans from their community meeting places and the simple pleasures they provide. Each chapter in his book focuses on an old-fashioned third place—coffee houses, bars, bookstores, and churches—that still exist around the country (mostly the Midwest) and is written by a member of the third place community. 

Frankly, it's a little too Lake Wobegone for my taste, but I concede the point. Dog Park is certainly a third place. We go there before and after work. We have fun. We see a few people and a lot of dogs that we like. Are we doing any good through our community? Despite breaking leash laws (something which I think Oldenburg might actually approve of), we do look after one another. We help out if someone is sick or can't walk his or her dogs. We race to the vet if a dog gets injured. We pick up poop and trash and try to make sure that we don't annoy the people who work and live next to the property (Dog Park is their second and first place). But we are not a cohesive community. People arrive from all over town. They come for a while; then they stop coming. Months later, someone says, "Whatever happened to so-and-so?" Maybe somebody else remembers. There are alliances among us, certainly, but also animosities, too. In Oldenburg's book, everybody gets along, but that's not true at Park, among people or among dogs. 

However you want to label it, Dog Park exists. The state can't change that fact. The neighbors can't change that fact. Animal Control can't change that fact. We'll keep bringing our dogs there every day until somebody physically throws us out and erects barriers that keep us out because that third place is the first place I want to bring my dogs in this town. See you there.