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okay…so now I want a pet tarantula

IMG_1043No joke.

We did the coolest thing after school yesterday! Our local library hosted a session with Travis Potts, local “Spider Man.” Not the kind that swings from building to building rescuing damsels in distress and battling villains, but a hero to the public, just the same. He’s a tarantula fanatic, and he brought his pets to share with us.

I have a morbid fascination with spiders. I think they are super creepy, but, yet, I can’t take my eyes off of them. Kind-of like a train-wreck. And there’s Charlotte. Who doesn’t love Charlotte? Spiders are completely enchanting. So when we heard that there were going to be spiders at the library, I was completely pumped. Porter, my six-year-old son, was excited, too. And Campbell, my four-year-old daughter, told me she didn’t want to go, but I made her, anyway, and when they opened the door to allow us to approach the spiders, she shriveled and cried, but, because I’m such an awesome mom, I drug her in. Yeah, I suck a little. SPOILER ALERT: She lived. And she loved it.

Travis brought four live tarantulas, and we got to view them and ask questions.

He shared all sorts of information about them that I didn’t quite absorb because I was keeping my eye on the creepy buggars, but as he talked about them and answered these crazy kid questions, the spiders became less creepy to me, and to Campbell. Porter dove right in. He asked tons of questions, and then when Campbell finally let her curiosity get the better of her, she asked more than tons of questions. I think she may have driven Travis insane. He got a small taste of what I deal with every day:

Excuse me. How much venom do they have? Excuse me. How many spiders do you have? Excuse me. Do they bite? Excuse me. What are their names? Excuse me. I think the baby one is really cute. What is her name? Spidey? Excuse me. What do they eat? Excuse me. How old is this spider? Excuse me. What is her name? Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me…

My daughter is a total chatterbox, but at least she’s semi-polite. With the excuse me bit. The first question of hers that Travis addressed was “how many knees does a spider have?” I chuckled a bit because spiders don’t have knees. So I made eye contact with Travis to let him know that Campbell was so naive to ask about spider knees. How cute.

Travis answered Campbell’s seemingly absurd question and explained in all seriousness that spiders have eight knees. And, better yet, if a leg gets caught in something, they can purposely separate at the knee to preserve themselves and then grow back the leg gradually with each molt. Huh? Yeah, that’s what I was totally thinking. I learned today that spiders have knees! Wow!

Porter asked some really valid and well-timed questions. So between the two of them, we learned a lot. And then I asked some questions, too, like how he got into this whole mess. He chuckled a little bit and explained that he took his son to a reptile show about four years ago and ended up with his first tarantula, Rosie. I loved hearing how he just stumbled upon being the local spider man. He taught us about their warning signs…how they “kick their hairs.” Porter was fascinated with that.

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Porter questions Travis while Campbell tries to edge in.

The spider with the knees that Campbell asked about was his first, named Rosie, because she’s a Mexican Red-Knee (the official name to officially slam it home to me once again that spiders have knees). She was really beautiful, once you got to know her. According to Travis, her breed is one of the ten most docile tarantulas, and a great one to start with, if you’re going to go arachnid. We even got to see her feeding.

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Rosie.

There were others. L.P. was an abbreviation for his scientific name–it escapes me–as well as being a “little Potts,” and he will someday be 12″. Wow! He ate a cockroach right in front of us and spun some silk to make himself more comfortable while he ate.

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L.P. eating a cockroach.

And, then, there was Max from Argentina who was named after Travis’ friend, Max, from Argentina. Max was huge. Impressive.

Max

Max from Argentina.

Campbell’s favorite was the “so cute” baby one who hasn’t been named, yet, because Travis wants to get to know her, first. Well, that’s awesome. Campbell took it upon herself to attempt a name, but I think Travis is looking for something more original than “Spidey.”

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Baby no-name.

I am beyond thankful that my children and I had this opportunity to experience tarantulas up close. What was once creepy is still creepy, but not quite so much. Travis talked about how he can hold Rosie, and it made me want to hold her. And for the first time in my life, in the presence of spiders, I didn’t have the urge squeal as if I was in a horror movie.

So I asked one last question, which, is of course, the ultimate FAQ: “Have you ever been bit?” His response: “Not yet. But I know it will happen.” And it’s worth it to him. And that is completely awesome.


The Animal History Museum: Understanding and Celebrating the Human-Animal Bond

Animal_History_MuseumII_biggerThe grand opening date may still be in question, but the mission is not.

The Animal History Museum is the first museum dedicated to understanding and celebrating the human-animal bond. Its purpose is to serve and educate the public through the creation of a museum in Los Angeles County, California, for the collection, preservation and exploration of the history, culture, science, and law relating to the relationship between human and non-human animals; by presenting exhibitions, lectures and other activities that are consistent with, and supportive of, the museum’s educational goals and purpose.

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Amy Breyer

I spoke with Amy Breyer, Executive Director and President of the museum’s Board of Trustees, about how the museum was conceived, what it’s all about, and what the status is on the grand opening. Ms. Breyer has spent most of her career in Chicago practicing animal law, and I got the feeling from her that however stressful working on a museum opening may be, she feels like it’s a breath of fresh air. She said that though she didn’t wish to practice litigation any longer–after opening and running Illinois’ first animal law practice–she wanted to “bring up these concepts in a non-confrontational setting.” Her passion for the project is insatiable, and she’s humble as can be. Though the museum is her brain-child, she was much more comfortable talking about the elite team of “pioneering individuals in all disciplines related to animals” that she has surrounded herself with. “It’s a privilege to know these people,” she said.

Ms. Breyer began working on the Los Angeles-area (a specific site is still in the works) museum with her founding board, and though the museum is not yet a physical building, after speaking to Breyer and looking over their online exhibits, I feel as if I’ve already visited it. Breyer is warm and smart and informative, which is exactly what I imagine the Animal History Museum to be.

So what’s the scoop? Breyer and her team are in various stages of discussion regarding pinning down a site for the physical museum. She’s not exactly sure when it will open, but projects that we won’t have to wait much longer. In the meantime, the online gallery her team has curated is nothing short of spectacular. The online gallery currently has six exhibits including fine art, historical photography, and even art and stories culminating from social media.

I asked Breyer about these non-traditional exhibits that were curated from social media. She explained that the exhibits Breaking Stereotypes: America’s Pit Bull Rescues & the Human-Animal Bond and Single, Experienced Animal Seeks Mature, Loving Relationship: Stories of Older Animal Adoption were a surprising result of Facebook contests. The Animal History Museum received such an overwhelming number of quality submissions that the sensation evolved into a community, of sorts, from which the exhibitions were born. I found this fascinating both in the role that social media can play in the development of such an exhibition and how open Breyer is to taking advantage of societal trends to create exhibits that people will not only be naturally drawn to, but that they can participate in, all in the name of animals.

Both these innovative exhibitions and the museum’s more traditional exhibitions will be featured online and in the museum, some on a rotating basis, and some permanent. Even when the physical museum opens, Breyer plans to continue to grow the online gallery, both as a support to the museum and as its own entity with separate, unique content. Upon entering the online gallery, the museum’s Web site states:

The Animal History Museum plans to make its online gallery an important part of its mission–both as a way of giving you, our guest a taste of what the brick-and-mortar museum will offer once it opens–as well as growing along side it once the museum opens its doors as a vibrant, integral complement to our physical collections.

Like our brick-and-mortar plans, the online gallery will feature both permanent collections as well as rotating ones. We believe it to be the first permanent, virtual museum collection dedicated to all things animal anywhere in the world.

Throughout my conversation with Breyer, she was reluctant to toot her own horn, and quick to highlight the efforts of her contributors, scholars from all over the English-speaking world. “No one person is a museum all to themselves,” she stated. Aside from being pioneers in their chosen field, these initial contributors–now two dozen individuals–”didn’t have a place to put their work in front of a mainstream audience,” Breyer explained. Some of these individuals are highly specialized and are doing groundbreaking work, so to have them contribute to this collection and to be able to see all of their efforts come together is quite special.

Piers Locke

Piers Locke

Breyer holds all of her contributers in high regard and mentioned Piers Locke as an excellent example of the pioneering work these people are doing. She explained to me that Locke is instrumental in creating a new field, that of elephantology. Though Breyer is well-versed in Locke’s work, she spoke about this emerging field like an excited little girl as she shared information with me regarding these studies in human/elephant interaction, including the elephant’s role as worker, protector, and companion. Her passion shone. As a New Zealand-lecturer in Anthropology, Locke has found a new audience with the Animal History Museum. The museum Web site describes that Locke

is pioneering the nascent field of elepantology, through his efforts conducting historical and ethnographic research involving elephant and human communities in Chitwan, Nepal since 2001. This research raises issues in: apprenticeship learning and expert knowledge, practice and identity in total institutions, human-animal intimacies and the ritual veneration of elephants, and the role of captive elephant management in nature tourism, protected area management and biodiversity conservation.

It’s no wonder Breyer is so excited about the work contributors such as Locke are doing.

What’s next? The museum is currently working on an exhibit of Seth Casteel‘s Underwater Dogs, scheduled to open this month in the online gallery.

In it’s quest to open the facility, the Animal History Museum is offering the public opportunities to contribute. An especially exciting and attainable opportunity is to become a “Founding Member.” By joining for as little as $30 per year, you can help this museum and receive gifts available to only to members who join during the initial fundraising drive. And your annual membership won’t begin until the doors open. Large donor opportunities and corporate sponsorships are also available.

I, for one, can’t wait for the Animal History Museum to open! Until then, my family and I are enjoying all that the Web site galleries have to offer.

Follow the Animal History Museum on Facebook and Twitter for information and updates.


free entertainment for you and your pet

photo source: animaldiscovery.com

photo source: animaldiscovery.com

When I was growing up, our little dog, Chipper, loved lights and reflections. I don’t even think the pet laser pointer for pets had been thought up, yet. Instead, he had a collection of flashlights in a designated drawer, and he was so obsessed, he would bark in anticipation if we even approached the drawer. Eating dinner was an issue because we had track lighting that bounced light off the silverware. We’d have to take a bite and then quickly bury the silverware under the plate or napkin or food. Nevermind the large serving utensils. Pizza night, with that spatula, was an event.

I still haven’t figured out why some animals “see the light” and some don’t. Or maybe they do and don’t care.

I’ve always been entertained by animals who do border on obsession with this entity that can’t be caught, and this week, I accidentally found one in a client. We were enjoying the cooling weather outside, and my watch shot a beam of light into the grass. Piper pounced. The game was on. Her big sister, Ava, couldn’t be bothered. What a great form of exercise for this pup! And what a great way for a little sister to pester her big sis–just part of the job.

So grab that flashlight you have lying around, or just use the sun and something reflective. Free entertainment for the whole family!


cat bearding…making me crack up, and you have to enter this contest!

I honestly only heard of cat bearding recently, and I guess that goes to show how uncool I am, because it’s apparently all the rage. I’ve been missing out. Never mind the fact that I don’t have a cat. I need to get in on the act.

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photo source: gawker.com

These crazy cat people seem to be calling it “that thing where your cat is also your beard.” Hilarious. I love it. I don’t know how, exactly, they get their cats to pose like this. So great! I see a few dogs in the mix, too, so maybe there is hope for me to have my very own genuine bearding photo.

My good friend, Heather, of Brie Brie Blooms is working with Fresh Step on a Cat Bearding Photo Contest. I can’t even believe how great the contest is. You totally have to enter. Yes, you. Aside from all the fun and gorgeous scratched-up face you’ll have, the winner receives a professional photo shoot with their cat (this is where me having an actual cat of my own would be handy) and a year’s supply of Fresh Step Litter, which is redeemable in the form of a $700 Sam’s Club gift card (okay…I’m running out do adopt a cat, now).

So have you been cat bearding? If not, can you whip out a prize-winning photo real quick (hurry up…contest ends on September 30th)? Meow. Come back and tell me how it goes…I can’t wait to see those photos.


the wild horses of the Arizona desert

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There is a stretch of road–the infamous highway 347–that stretches between Phoenix and the city of Maricopa through the Gila River Indian Reservation. As a day-in day-out commute, the desert’s beauty can sometimes lose it’s luster, but there is one main attraction. If you’re lucky enough, you can catch a glimpse of the wild horses.

We’ve all seen horses, so it may not seem spectacular, but it is rare to see so many at once in the wild. They come out predictably just after the rains that stimulate the brush to be as lush as it can be in this parched climate.

Since it rained a lot last week and we had to drive that stretch of highway a couple of times this weekend to visit some animals, I thought we had a pretty good shot at catching a glimpse of them. Searching for them keeps the littles occupied during what would otherwise be a long, dull trek. There are only so many cacti a kid can take.

Typically, the horses appear as tiny figurines in the distance, their movement and grazing barely perceptible. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to catch them running. The tell-tale dust cloud is easy to spot, but when it’s so hot, they are usually still, conserving their energy.

What a fantastic surprise it was to see them grazing just yards from the road yesterday!

Since I’m always telling the littles that it’s far too dangerous to stop on the 347 if they’ve dropped their shoe or graham cracker, they were amazed when I pulled over. They could see just fine from the safety of the air-conditioned minivan, but I braved the spectacular danger of standing inches from cars blazing past, commonly at 90 mph. There were several of us parked by the road in awe, and I’ve seen some fantastic pictures–far better than mine–posted on my friends’ social media feeds. What a treat!

We could see their sinew and ribs, but they seemed strong and powerful. And so calm, considering they had human spectators and screaming-fast cars just yards away. The sight of them was truly spectacular.


the lesson in Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow”

Chipotle‘s newest thought-provoking film is every bit as good as the last, in my biased opinion, and this time, there’s an app to go with it. I declare myself biased because my husband works for Chipotle, so some may discount my opinion based on that. Thought I’d better throw that tidbit out there right away.

“The Scarecrow,” with it’s simple, clear visuals and haunting remake by Fiona Apple of the song “Pure Imagination” from the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” challenges how we think about fast food. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will challenge you to throw off a bit of the denial the next time you take your family to the restaurant with the golden arches. By all means, what you eat is your choice, but no matter your choice (and I’ve been known to make some pretty poor choices), at least understand what you are putting into your body and what the industries you are supporting do to the animals you are eating. There ARE better choices out there. Chipotle is one of them.

Please check out “The Scarecrow.”

The littles and I have watched “The Scarecrow” a couple of times. The first time, I let them just watch it to see what they would pull from it on their own. They understood that it was sad, and they felt bad for the animals.

Porter (6) asked “Why are these Chipotle things always so sad?”

It’s hard to explain it to a six-year-old. You can’t really go into the politics of it all, so I did my best: “They are supposed to make you feel sad, because they want you to feel so strongly that it changes the way you think.”

The second time we watched, I did some commentary and paused it if they asked questions. Porter seemed to understand as I explained that the people are just eating the food, and they don’t know about all of the chemicals in it, and they don’t know how badly the animals are treated. All they see is the cute little store front and the yummy-looking food, so they buy it, and they eat it. What “The Scarecrow” is showing us is what goes on in reality. “Oh, so that’s why you won’t take us to McDonald’s and fast food very often,” he concluded, then asked “but why can’t we just eat the good kind of animals, and why can’t the fast food places use those?…Chipotle does.”

So he got the message perfectly. “Exactly, Porter.” I said. “They don’t because it’s cheaper to buy the yucky stuff, so that means they make more money.”

“That’s just wrong,” he declared. Bingo.

Campbell (4), my little self-proclaimed vegetarian, had a few more questions and had some very strong feelings: “The poor cows need us. And the pigs. And the chickens.” Yes. “Mommy, I want to save a cow.”

I asked her how we could do that.

“We could make a home for it at the farm.”

“That’s a great idea. But we don’t have a farm,” I reminded her.

“So what can we do?” she asked.

“Well, how about we don’t buy the animals from the factories. If we don’t eat many animals, and the ones we do eat come from little farms that treat them right–rather than factories–we’ll be helping the farmers who are doing the right thing. If everyone does that, then the guys that are doing the wrong thing will go out of business and they won’t be able to hurt us or the animals any more.”

She thought for a minute and then spoke again. “But how do we get everyone to do that? Mommy, can we change the world?”

And that’s just the question. Can we?


i want to pet sit for Sizzles

Don’t pets in books, movies, and on TV always steal the show?

tigeraspect.co.uk

Photo source: tigeraspect.co.uk

I have quite a few favorites, but my current celebrity doggie crush is on Sizzles, from the Charlie & Lola books and TV series. My littles introduced me to the Charlie & Lola books by Lauren Child, and soon after, we saw the characters come to life on the small screen, much to our delight. Honestly, it’s the only kids show I actually enjoy watching with them.

For me, the books and episodes shine because of the dialogue and the illustrations/animation. And it’s quite impressive how closely the animation keeps with the books’ illustrations. The characters are charming and adorable and creative, and they make the most mundane thing seem like an adventure. Every book and episode starts the same way in Charlie’s voice (he’s British, so don’t forget to imagine the accent):

I have this little sister Lola. She is small and very funny…

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Photo source: laurenchild.wikia.com

Charlie is the sweet older brother, and all of the stories are told in his voice. Lola is his adorable (and small and funny) little sister, who he often must rescue from one thing or another. Nothing too dramatic. Things like not being able to find her favorite book at the library or spending all her money at the zoo so she can’t purchase the seal bath toy she had her heart set on. Charlie always makes things right for Lola.

So what about Sizzles? Sizzles is their friend, Marv’s, dog. Lola loves Sizzles, and so do I. Sizzles is part mischief and part love, and has a knowing look almost all of the time, though he doesn’t seem quite as smart as Lola thinks he is. He appears in only some of the books and episodes. Just enough to get you to fall in love and beg for more. And his bottom is just the cutest!

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Photo source: curiousbookfans.co.uk

My favorite Charlie & Lola book is We Honestly Can Look After Your Dog, so, naturally, my favorite episode is We Do Promise Honestly We Can Look After Your Dog, which is, of course, based on the book. I won’t debate which is better, but I will say I love to see Sizzles in action. Lola, and her BFF, Lotta, beg Marv to let them look after Sizzles. The girls are in a bit over their heads, but it’s jolly good fun, and *spoiler alert* Sizzles makes it out of the experience just fine. If you are a dog lover who wants to smile right now, please click here and watch the episode. I completely absolutely promise you will love it. Watch with your dog-loving kids, too. Okay, go ahead…let me know what you think, and let me know how madly in love with Sizzles you are.

But you can’t have him. He’s mine. Sizzles can do anything.