Saturday, August 1, 2009

Close Your Eyes & Think of Siberian Huskies

Getting through the heat this summer requires a reliable air-conditioner and a vivid imagination. Here are some strategies I've been employing while sitting at home in darkened rooms:

1) Read books set in cold places. This summer, I've taken to reading the mystery novels of Swedish writer Henning Mankell, which feature the bloated, bleary-eyed but always intense detective Kurt Wallander, a cop who regularly pushes himself to the edge of self-destruction in the pursuit of killers. The series is set in a small city on the southern-most tip of Sweden. The narrator, like the main character, is a stickler for details, letting readers know at every turn just how cold it is outside. Wallander wakes up every morning, pours coffee down his throat, and, after looking at a thermometer reading of, say, -4 degrees celsius (that's 25 degrees to you and me), decides just how many sweaters to wear. Plus, it's always windy, sleeting, or raining. Wonderful. (For those who don't have time to read, you can check out the PBS/Masterpiece Mystery versions of three of the Wallander novels, which are already available on Netflix and feature the once-glorious Kenneth Branaugh as Wallander. The shows don't do justice to the detailed plots of the books, but the Swedish scenery is gorgeous. Watch the night scenes--you can see the actor's breath fogging in the cold. Woo!)

2) Watch movies set in cold places. Just by chance, several of my Netflix flix have been set in cold seasons and cooler places. A terrible movie that has great atmosphere is Two Lovers, with the still-angular Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix as a suicidal schlub who manages to bed two beautiful women for no good reason. The story is set in Brooklyn in late fall and early winter. The characters are bundled up in coats and freezing their photogenic heinies off in outdoor scenes. More satisfying are Seasons 4 and 5 of The Wire, set in Baltimore's gritty inner city during fall and winter. In one scene, two corner kids, hustling in big, puffy jackets, discuss global warming. "Where it at? Why is it so cold already?" Answer: "It's not cold. We're just getting old." (No, no. It's really cold. Brrrr!)

3) Refill your iced tea glass and think cold thoughts. Imagine Husky dogs racing across the Siberian tundra. Picture Russia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest, deepest, and once purest lake. Or the snow-covered peaks of the Alps. Whatever it takes. Remember, fall is still officially six weeks away. 

(Again, dog art is by Christine Throckmorton, found at DogArtToday and at

Friday, July 31, 2009

May I Have Your Attention Please?

First, some dog-related fun. This card, created by Christine Throckmorton, made me smile. Do all Huskies get through life with that sly grin? This one certainly reminds me of our Roma, though, for her, the quip would have to read "The treats in Siberia are miles apart; that is why the dogs are so fast." (For more about these beautiful cards and more examples of the artist's terrific dog art, check out DogArtToday, the artist's Etsy store, or the artist's blog.) 

Now for my announcement: I don't want to jinx anything, but I believe that I am on deck to start a month-long, full-time gig as a consultant at the University of Texas. I'll be helping prepare teacher certification materials for the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts. As most of you know, I've been out of work for months, and so this is a great opportunity—even though it means getting up in the morning, putting on clean clothes, and driving to an office, like most working stiffs. The downside for you, dear readers, is that I won't be able to post regularly. I know that you've come to depend on NBUT for that daily jolt of snarky, dog-related humor and timely canine-centric information. I hope you all will understand. The girls and I will, of course, still see you in the evenings at the Park. Ta!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

You Gonna Clean That Plate?

Once again a perusal of the NY Times led me to an interesting Well blog entry by Tara Parker-Pope. Tuesday's topic was a California food and restaurant critic who claims that his dog helps him maintain a healthy weight in a career that often requires overeating and sampling of rich foods. The writer's strategy is not what you would expect. He does not sing the praises of going home after a satisfying meal and taking his dog for walk. Instead, his plan involves the doggie bag. He sets aside specific portions of his meals to take home to his dog, a creature with sad eyes and a watering mouth he can't resist feeding. 

Perhaps I am a curmudgeon, but I do not feed my dogs from the table. Muzzy gets to lick out the little yogurt containers, and both dogs get their pills delivered in bread bits or chunks of cheese. But they both know not to expect anything and do not even bother to visit with me during meals. (When guests come over, however, all bets are off. Both dogs circle like sharks, hoovering for crumbs. Naughty things.) What's more, on the rare occasions when I eat out, I rarely order anything that my dogs would find palatable, even if I had any left over. Spicy Vietnamese pho? Sushi? Migas with hot sauce? Even my dogs would say "No thank you."

The blog entry is quick to point out, of course, that not all leftovers are appropriate for pooches, and it provides a link to another article (by a writer for Today/ that identifies foods one should never give to dogs. It covers the usual suspects—grapes, raisins, chocolate, beer—but also two foods that surprised me greatly: avocados and nuts. Avocados are generally too pricey for me to even think of sharing them with my dogs, but I guess I thought that their oil content might be good for skin and fur. Don't do it, the writer of the article insists, because a chemical in avocados poses a serious danger to most pets, especially dogs and cats. Who knew? 

But I have to differ with the writer's claim that all nuts are bad for dogs. He does not identify the particular substance in nuts that causes problems, but he says that walnuts and macadamia nuts are particularly toxic for dogs. Yet, as any Austinite knows, dogs love to munch on pecans. My two spend hours hunting them in the backyard, cracking the shells, and eating the meat. Nothing gets their attention like the sound of my boot smashing a pecan shell. I often feed them the pieces that I harvest. I have never seen my dogs react badly to eating the meat of a pecan (the shells, of course, are another matter altogether). What's more, I don't know how on earth I would prevent them from eating nuts that fall by the bushel in our yard nearly every year. 

Check out the links if you have a chance. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Too Hot to What?

Q: I have a pooch that happily naps in front of the AC vents during these dog days. Are she and I wiener dogs because we drag our feet when Dog Park temps reach 100 and above? Are serious Dog Parkers oblivious to heat, or are they just made of stronger stuff than me and my fair-weather pal? I'm just wondering.

Too Hot to Hoot

A: Hoot, my dear, the Dog Parkist fails to understand your apologetic tone. Is this a Texas thing—this expectation that one should be able to handle record-breaking heat while roping dogies and sashaying the two-step 'round the sawdust-strewn dance floor? Ridiculous. The fact is that Texas has not seen prolonged heat and intense drought like this in decades. Many of the temperature records that have fallen recently were set in the late 1920s. Now if you had survived that summer, my friend, in the age before climate control, fiberglass insulation, and double-paned windows, then you'd have a reason to boast that the rest of us are weenies for not drilling for oil or mending fences in the midday sun. But I doubt that you are a fogey of that magnitude. And if you were, I'd submit that you were remembering a scene from Giant rather than any actual lived experience.

What you are suggesting, my dear, is completely reasonable. Both you and your animal are cooler and therefore healthier and safer than if you were to venture outdoors any time between say—let's be generous here—10 am and 8 pm. If someone has been nervy enough to suggest that Dog Park is a whirlwind of doggie action between those hours, then your source is sadly mistaken. Like vampires, roaches, and New York City trannies, Dog Parkers only come out when the shadows are long, even if the temps still hover perilously near 100 degrees. You should do the same and do it proudly as a Texan, as a wiener dog, as a Parker. Thanks for writing.

Dear Readers: The Dog Parkist hopes that all her readers are able to stay cool during these gruelingly hot days. She would submit, however, that the hot weather is no excuse for your lethargy in sending her queries. Please remember that the Dog Parkist has pledged to dispense her advice during any weather event, including hell and high water. And please note: if you are writing to other advice columnists, the DPist will find out and there will be some sharp words spoken! Ta!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Dog Parkist: Birthday Blues

Q: I have a friend who recently called to get out of a social engagement with me. Her excuse? It was her dog's birthday. I think she may even have been planning a party. Now I'm a dog lover, but I think it's a little excessive to make a big deal over an event the dog itself isn't even aware of. Do you agree?
They Say It's Their Dog's Birthday

A: My dear TSITDB, you are a brave one, wading as you are into the uncharted and emotionally charged waters of dog owners'  feelings for their animals. Isn't the problem, really, that you were not invited to the dog's party? Or is it that the dog has more pull than you do when it comes to the social calendar? Or are you offended on the dog's behalf since it appears that the owner forgot until the last moment that the birthday and your social engagement occurred on the same day? 

In any event, the Dog Parkist will concede that you do have a point. The owner made a terrible faux paw by treating you as if you are less important than the dog. Any socially adept dog owner knows that it is important to give fellow human beings the impression that they are more significant than dogs, even though the opposite is true. You human beings can't hold a candle to a dog, whose presence on earth is the one true sign that God exists, but it is rude to even hint otherwise. Tsk, tsk.

The Dog Parkist will also concede that she does agree with you on principle. Her own two dogs are spoiled almost to the point of putrefaction, but she has never yet celebrated their birthdays for the simple fact that she does not know when they were born. (Vets have randomly assigned dates, but there is no convincing this writer that Roma is Libra rather than a deep Scorpio, thank you. And Muzzy is far too genial to be a Taurus.) But even if she had papers that certified the very instant of her dogs' entrance into this world, the Dog Parkist would be unlikely to Make a Fuss because, my dear, it would blur the boundaries of the dogs' time-space continuum. Dogs live in a timeless void. They exist in a twilight world in which there is always another walk, nap, or meal on the agenda no matter the hour, day, month, or year. One day is pretty much like the next, which means dogs remain unfazed by things that freak out the human race, like the aging process, holidays, family gatherings, and work or lack thereof. To impose birthdays and parties on them seems to defeat the very point of their existence. It is a strike against the Universal Order of Things.

Still, let's consider your friend's action in another light, shall we? First, while the dog does not care about its birthday, the owner's actions show that the dog is central to her life, always a good deal for the dog. Second, unless your friend is the type who expects guests to bring expensive and frivolous gifts, the party is in effect an excuse to host a gathering, to bring friends of different species (except cats and ferrets of course) together in a moment of celebration, which is benign at least, self-involved at most, neither of which is Against the Law.

So, my dear, do the right thing. Call your friend and wish her dog a happy birthday. Then make note of the date on your calendar and avoid making engagements with her during this time next year or for the next fourteen years. Thanks for writing!

Dear Readers: Many of you have thoughtfully asked after the Dog Parkist's well being, citing the recent dearth of her postings on this blog. You are so very kind. The Dog Parkist would like to remind everyone that mining the social sphere for moral dilemmas and their solutions can be exhausting, especially in this heat. Please bear with the DPist. Those of you who really care might help a girl out by submitting pertinent and interesting questions.  Ta! 

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dog Days

I think that it is safe to say that we have are mired in the dog days of summer. The days have started to grow shorter, but the heat is still intense. Folks and dogs alike look weary and dismayed as they stand around on the parched grass, in the dark, sweating out temps locked in the mid-90s. The talk often turns to speculation on the question, "How much longer till the heat breaks?" Optimists say six weeks. Realists say at least two more months. Optimistic realists say, "At least we are halfway through."  

So it was with a little annoyance that I read in the New York Times last week an article about people around the country who have decided to face the recession and protect the environment by giving up their air conditioning. Say what? The reporter interviewed folks from Florida and Tennessee as well as Brooklyn and other places who have decided that paying $2,500 a year for air-conditioning was a budget breaker; they'd rather sweat instead. (Never mind giving up cable or that unused gym membership or simply turning the thermostat up a few degrees.) Although their children have come to hate them, these brave souls have discovered the old-fashioned joys of seasonal life. They live outside in the evenings, ignoring TVs and computers (and mosquitos and roaches, too, apparently). They say they get used to the heat after a few days and cope by drawing the shades, drinking more water, sitting beneath fans, and dressing down. The implication of the article is, of course, "Imagine how much better the world would be if we all gave up that evil modern invention of artificially chilled air." 

My initial response to the article is unprintable in a family blog, but you can guess it I am sure. Every year the Times prints some article disdaining the climate control that makes life in most of the southern and western sections of this nation bearable for modern living nine months out of the year. And I never notice articles that suggest the benefits of giving up, say, refrigeration and the flush toilet, inventions that wield an equally large impact on the environment. I don't care how hot it gets in Memphis; I'm pretty sure that it is not regularly 105 degrees in the shade as it has been here for weeks. 

That said, the reporter smartly gave herself an out by thinking of the pets. Animals, it turns out, can't handle extreme heat. Sitting in front of a box fan with a glass of tea with melted ice cubes won't cut it for them, she says, providing as proof an anecdote of a cat that had heat stroke while living in an unair-conditioned flat in Brooklyn. The message being that A/C is, of course, essential if you have pets. Well, thank you very much. I'm glad we can agree on something. 

I live in the vain hope of someday seeing an article about northerners who give up heating their apartments and condos in winter because it's the noble thing to do. And the animals won't offer any good excuse in that case. (My Roma was perfectly content to walk around in 20 degree weather when we lived in Massachusetts. She hated our stuffy apartment, heated to a roiling 65 degrees unless one of the tenants opened the foyer door. Then the temp plummeted to the 50s.) 

So the lesson is, of course, keep cool however you can—whether this means sitting by the A/C or giving up reading annoying articles in the Times or waiting until dark to walk the dogs. See you out at Park.