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Shouts to Jackie Jones, William Wegman, and the “dog eating with human hands at the table” genre that never gets old to me.

There was a fall at the end of the video, but no children or dogs were hurt. Maybe Robah will get a seat next time.

As I get older, and as time flies faster, I find that my happiest moments occur when my interests converge. The more I can combine the things I love, the richer life seems to be.

Of course, the variables in life often disrupt planned convergence;  a thunderstorm ruins an outdoor concert on a spring night, or a mundane phone call interrupts a meaningful face-to-face conversation.

Nightly, I appreciate one example of happy convergence at our house:

Kids + Books + Dogs

Every night that we’re home, we read for at least 30 minutes (usually closer to 45 minutes). Inevitably, one of the books we read has a canine protagonist. I’m very critical of kids’ books (and ice cream, and sports-celebrity tweets, and car model names, and most all things), and I decided to evaluate a literary genre that gets a lot of run around our house.

I’ve made a list of our top ten kids’ books about dogs, and I already know what you’re thinking — for some strange reason, this guy is putting his favorites in this list and his kids probably don’t care if the books are about dogs or robots or guinea pigs building sand castles. Well, that’s true. But, I’ll tell you the secret requirement that every good young-children’s book MUST have: adults have to enjoy reading it to them. Otherwise, it’s not as much fun for reader or audience.

Our favorite children’s books about dogs

The Best Pet of All

The Best Pet of All
There’s something about the illustrations in this book that I love, even if I can’t put my finger on it…something about the Californian, 1950’s style. More importantly, I never get tired of reading this one. It has some very funny parts, and the moral of the story is evident from the title.


 

 

 

 

Go Dog, Go!

Go, Dog, Go!

If I judge this book by the typical criteria for kids’ or adult books, then it’s a dud. There is no plot, and there are no characters. However, it works as a great beginning and ending to early childhood (bookends, if you can excuse the punny metaphor). It’s simple and colorful enough to engage a baby, and the clear connection between text and images make great material for a child learning to read.

 

 

 

The Blue House Dog

The Blue House Dog
I have read this aloud to my kids only four times total. Each time, I was sobbing uncontrollably before getting halfway through. I mean full-on weeping, unable to speak. Jackie and McLain give me confused looks, and assure me that “it’s okay Dada.” In fact, the last book that sparked this kind of emotional outburst in me was Where the Red Fern Grows. That book, and this one, reveal why dogs are so amazing.

 

Dog

DOG
Great photography, with creative moving parts and simple text. Two GSPs are featured, and the part that reads, “all dogs poop…all dogs pee” never fails to get laughs.

 

 

How Rocket Learned to Read

How Rocket Learned to Read

I’m teaching Jackie to read now, and sometimes she’s really averse to instruction. This book reminds me that nothing worth doing is easy, and that anything worth learning requires practice.

 

 

 

 

Duck Soup
Duck Soup
This one tops the list of all-time McLain favorites. In fact, it was the first book that McLain requested on a regular basis. It’s a stretch to include it in a list of books about dogs, but one of the main characters is a Saint Bernard named Brody (my first family dog when I was a kid).

 

 

The Diggingest Dog
The Digging-est Dog
We all like this classic, but I put this on the list for Katie’s benefit — it’s one of her favorites, and Nana tells us that she memorized it when she was 5 or 6. If you want to overanalyze it, I think there’s a theme in the book about how dynamic (and even fickle) childhood friendships can be in group settings. No? I’m reaching? Well, we’ll just have to ask Al Perkins about that.

 

 

 

 

Pipiolo and the Roof Dogs
Pipiolo and the Roof Dogs

The plot in this one is too complex for McLain, but I read it to them every couple of months for two good reasons:
1) It teaches how important the olfactory system is to a dog, to the point that the lives of roof-confined dogs are changed when they are given uprooted plants to smell. Awesome.
2) Jackie always has lots of questions about other cultures, and this book provides talking points for the role of animals in other places, in other times.

 

 

Skippyjon Jones

skippyjon
Another McLain favorite. This one is a fun tongue-twister to read, and the idea of an imagination-crazed cat pretending to be a dog is plain funny. Add Skippyjon to the list of McLain monikers (along with LOB, John C. McGinley, and Budbud).

 

 

 

Puppies

Puppies
This one is a nostalgic pick for me. The edition we have was a gift from my Grandmother Jones, with an inscription from her, dated 1982. It’s really just a picture book of puppies, and it almost seems that it was created with the sole purpose of making people see pictures of cute puppies so they will want a puppy of their own. Another interesting fact about this and other animal books from this publisher — there are at least 4 different covers.

 

 

 

The Best Pet of All?

 

 

Someday in the near future, Baxter and Robah will die. I love my boys (and often refer to them as “boys” rather than “dogs”), but I don’t allow myself to ignore the difference between their mortality and my own. They’re middle-aged dogs who have fewer days left than this approaching-middle-aged human.

I don’t even want to speculate about life after Robah, but I have been thinking a lot about Baxter dying lately. He’s the older of the two, and goodness knows he’s injury-prone. After I have him cremated and fill a Penn #2 with his ashes (which will have a prominent mantel resting spot), I’ll think often of what I miss about him.

I’ll also think about Baxter memories that I don’t miss. For example, taking Baxter to the vet.

https://vine.co/v/bT5jzvIiqbK
https://vine.co/v/bT5tBbxwjEd

Notes:

  • Baxie especially hates the bordetella vaccination that gets applied to his nose. I meant to get some footage of the part where the vet put the hard plastic muzzle on Baxter during this part of his exam, but I figured that being the “master” of a crazy dog was bad enough; being the master of a crazy dog and recording video of the dog getting muzzled is shameful.
  • These are my first Vines, but I really see a lot of potential in this medium/tool. The six-second of video limit should be enforced on other parts of the web and other social networks.

In every orderly house, the members follow a set of conduct guidelines. We try to be good people, and Katie and I practice and enforce the moral standards that we inherited from our parents. But, the golden rule and other tenets don’t always apply directly to certain situations (especially if you are three-and-a-half or almost two years old).

How does a family deal with these situations, that often occur daily, on White Oak Road?

We’ve come up with the following set of principles and accepted truths to help keep our household happy and productive:

  1. Be sweet to Robah… he never done nothin’ to nobody (and when you recite this rule, use Robah voice). All the rest of us have been mean or rude one time or another, but Robah never done nothin’ to nobody. Here’s McLain, mouth full of eggs, proving why this rule is necessary as he comes close to crossing the line.

    McLain tests the limits of rule #1

  2. At any time, in any place, JAMS will be played on request. For example, let’s say Cokie Roberts’ Monday segment is on NPR when we get in the car to go to Ms. Rose’s house, and Jackie says, “Play some JAMS, Dada.” Then, it’s goodbye Cokie, hello Bear in Heaven, Guided by Voices, J Dilla, etc.
    Note: “Dada” is the keeper of the JAMS, and this is the only situation in which a “please” is not required (see rule #4).
  3. Always thank Katie/Mama for dinner; we’ve got it really, really good. On the rare occasion that Dad cooks, try washing it down with your milk.
  4. Manners matter; good manners is an easy way to show respect to your co-eaters. Exception: good manners are postponed if McLain is practicing for his future in competitive eating.
  5. If Baxter brings you something, and you throw it he will fetch it and return it to you. If you continue to throw it for him, the result will eventually be Baxter passing out or maybe even perpetual motion.
  6. Every story told to Jackie at bed time must feature at least two of the following characters: a mean witch, a nice witch, a family, mean or nice animals, and girls with pretty dresses (including, but not limited to princesses). The more of these characters you work into the narrative, the more positive her post-story review is likely to be.
  7. Try not to show off at the playground, even though Jackie might swing better by herself than an older boy being pushed by his mom.
  8. Any statement that begins with, “I want…” automatically gets the following response: “Oh, you want something? Okay, well, I want a new custom-built home computer and compatible wireless music system.” Please ask nicely for something that you want, and understand that you might not get it.
  9. If McLain takes off his shirt and runs around the house or yard, don’t be alarmed. He has been possessed with his alter ego, Party Boy. In extreme situations, you can change Party Boy back to McLain by putting him in a bubble bath.
  10. As you go through life, assist other people (the Kendall Marshall rule). When you’re the recipient of an assist, be grateful and give credit to anyone who assists you (the Dean Smith corollary).

I won’t even begin to list my reasons for not updating this blog sooner — there are more important things to talk about. In fact, I’m considering holding this blog hostage until my demands for a new home computer are met by my wife. Maybe it will take a Lion to convince her.

Before I get to the visuals, the past month brought us two major developments:

My grandmother died at age 97, early on Saturday, May 29. Her funeral was Wednesday. I want to write about that in a different post.

Holly and Scott Freeling gave birth to Robert Joseph Freeling (R.J. for short) about a month ago. They will be excellent parents, and I can’t wait to meet R.J.

Now, about this post. I was flipping through the photos I’ve taken with my phone over the past six months, and a few weird ones jumped out at me. I’ve also included some not-so-weird images, just so you don’t start worrying about me unnecessarily.

Katie got an interesting awesome Mother’s Day present, and Jackie and I have since been hunting down winged intruders in our house. Our hunting is done humanely — we’re all about catch and release around here. Here’s a picture of a fly, post-catch and pre-release.

Photo of a trapped fly, taken from the mouth of a discharged Fly-Goodbye vacuum canister.

Here are a couple choice images from our 20 minutes inside the Amococo exhibit at Artsplosure a few weeks ago.

Katie and Jackie breaking on through to the other side.

Jackie taking a break from all the psychedelia.

This is one of many ways Jackie likes to help out with McLain.

Jackie strolling McLain, somewhere downtown.

Jackie and I met and chatted with a real falconer for awhile.

Here’s an unintentionally spooky picture of Baxter quivering with fear in the bath tub. Let me explain. We had some heavy weather in Raleigh this past spring. As in other parts of the country, a lot of people in Raleigh and the rest of NC were victims of tornadoes. You would think by looking at him that he’s waiting out a storm. He’s not. Whenever Baxter hears a lawnmower outside, he gets completely terrified and goes to his safe place.

Here’s McLain and me. If you haven’t met him, trust me when I say he’s extremely cool.

I took this one right after Christmas. It’s the kind of picture you could hand to students in a creative writing class and say, “Write the short story. You have one hour to complete this final exam.” My father and I were attempting to show Jackie a real (and dead but frozen) bird up close. She wasn’t sure what to make of the brief experience. I love the picture though. Note the portrait of Rich, Maggie, and me hanging on the wall. Also note the small rubber chicken under Jackie’s hand.

Learning about birds

Katie entertains us before lunch at Busy Bee Cafe.

Prosthetic Play Doh nose

Here’s a pic of the two drooliest and downright sweetest members of the Jones family.

Slobber buddies

Our daughter has had sushi a few times now, and has willingly tried whatever we put in front of her at mealtime. She tells us she likes tuna, amberjack, eel, and even various roe, but her favorite food on the Japanese menu is clearly edamame. Beans in a pod present a challenge that she seems to find rewarding. Robah and Baxter like it too, because roughly 40% of the soy beans end up on the floor. My guess is that it’s comparable to a stingy piñata for them — as treats fly out one by one, the closest dog gets a tiny snack.

Jackie is not just the source of intermittent treats dropped on the floor; she also provides their real food. Twice a day, after breakfast and dinner, she is eager to complete her first real chore of filling the dogs’ bowls. I look forward to the day when she teaches McLain how to feed the dogs and is promoted to the bigger task of back yard waste management. I’m ready to pass the torch, as well as the official title of Head Pooper-Scooper.

Some two-year-olds are capable of providing for their younger siblings. At least, that’s how the following video begins. Around the two-minute mark, Jackie is eager to escape the awful racket that our mini food processor makes. In fact, Jackie says she wants to get far away from the food processor, “so it doesn’t kill me.” Dramatic? Maybe a bit. But in her defense, that food processor makes a harsh and ghastly noise.

McLain just started eating food other than breast milk last week, and there’s no better place to start than with what I believe to be the perfect food: the North Carolina sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). He’s since tried banana and avocado, but if he shares his sister’s tastes, a large part of his diet during the next year will consist of sweet potato.

 

Oh, and it’s March 8, 2011, which marks the sixth birthday of Baxter Burns Jones. Goodness knows we thought our reckless and crazy dog might kill himself long before now, so we have much to celebrate. Baxter is the eldest (and certainly weirdest) of our four dependents. He’s been with us during some drastic changes to our family unit. He usually listens better to the voices in his head than he does Katie and me, but we love him.

Textbook pointing form -- probably hunting a tennis ball

Even though our family is now well beyond the transition from only two dogs to two kids and two demoted dogs, the title of this blog remains the same. When I started this little thing, that transition was on my mind.

The adage that says one picture equals a thousand words doesn’t need validation, but it if did, I think this photo by Jessica Lobdell would do the trick. This image is a visual equivalent of this blog’s title.

The holiday buzz has us busy lately, but I will post Burns Thanksgiving and Jones Christmas content soon. Oh, and I’m already plotting my impressions of the best music of 2010.

As you might guess, the Burns Family Reunion in Vogel State Park (in north Georgia) is about spending time with family. Katie and Jackie are blue bloods; they are genetically obligated to hang out with the other Burns blue bloods all day. Robah, me, and any other spouse, pet, or guest are outlaws. We outlaws are made to feel accepted and loved; we truly feel honored to be a part of this week-long family gathering.

But once in awhile, outlaws like to spend a little time away from the throngs of blue bloods. Maybe the outlaw retreats back to an empty cabin and reads a book. Maybe a couple of outlaws drive over to Helen for a few hours. Robah and I chose to walk through the woods every morning. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my other dog, who didn’t make the trip. Baxter doesn’t travel very well, so he was left behind at Camp Canine (which he seems to really like).

There are several trailheads in the middle of the park. On our first morning at Vogel, we hiked the four-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail. Every subsequent day, we hiked a little farther. Our goal was to work our way up to a long hike on Friday — the Coosa Backcountry Trail, a 16-mile trail through the Chattahoochee National Forest that begins at Vogel, crosses the summit of Duncan Ridge, intersects the Appalachian Trail, and takes the hikers near Blood and Slaughter Mountains (not as violent as they might sound).

Coosa Backcountry Trail from Google Maps

It’s not the distance that makes it daunting. Rather, it was the 7,735 feet of aggregate elevation gain that really wore us down. As you can see from the graph below, the elevation gain during the first half is a tease for the climbs and descents in the second half.

Elevation, by mile

Here are the final stats of our hike. By the way, I captured this data using the GPS receiver and My Tracks on my EVO phone. My Tracks is an incredible tool that is especially helpful for a directionally-challenged guy in the woods with nothing, and no one, in sight or earshot. Here are the hike statistics that My Tracks captured:

Now that you’ve seen the objective data about the hike, let me tell you about a few things that my smartphone couldn’t assist me with. Except for a few guys camping near the trailhead, Robah and I saw no one else anywhere near the trail all day. Thinking that the unfamiliar part of the long trail would have about the same amount of creek water access as the familiar part, I decided to travel light and carry only enough water for me. I had about 70 ounces for me, and Robah could drink from the many creeks along the way. This was a potentially dangerous mistake on my part.

Finally, it seemed to me before we set off that 85 degrees in the north Georgia mountains would feel cooler than 85 degrees in Raleigh, because we would be shaded for almost all of the hike. We were shaded, but we got hotter and hotter the more we walked. I didn’t bring enough water, but I did bring changes of shirts, shorts, and socks. Despite the dry changes of clothes, my pack was dripping wet when we finished.

Here’s a list of highlights from the hike, in order and marked on the map:

  1. Robah and I embark around 9:30 a.m., fully hydrated.
  2. I drink my first bottle of water (24-oz.) at Burnett Gap. Robah drinks from a creek, as planned.
  3. We come upon a recently-vacated campsite. A red Toyota pickup is parked next to a boombox that is playing an unfamiliar Red Hot Chili Peppers song. No one is there.
  4. GPS notwithstanding, I think we’ve taken a wrong turn after the Coosa trail intersects a couple of different Appalachian Trail spurs. After some backtracking and worrying, we figure out the right direction and keep moving.
  5. We meet a deer and Robah goes into berserk mode. I finally convince him to forget about it.
  6. After hiking the last few miles soaked in sweat, I change shirts, get out a fresh sweat towel, and eat half a sandwich and some carrots I brought. Robah scarfs a few Pupperonis (his favorite).
  7. There is no creek anywhere in sight, but Robah is thirsty. I give Robah some water and finish off my last water bottle. We’re officially out of water with approximately eight miles to go…not even half-way. The dry socks I put on are heavenly.
  8. We reach the second crossing of Highway 180, and I realize that the next ascent is just as high as the previous one. In about 20 minutes, we’ll both be hiking (or struggling) on all fours as we climb the mountain. We take breaks every fifty feet during the climb. It’s getting a little hard to swallow.
  9. At the top of the incline, we are greeted by a sea of ferns. Relief and natural peace help us carry on.
  10. A tall man in a white lab coat appears to be gathering rocks from the ground. After a few confused seconds pass, I realize it’s a minor hallucination. It’s actually a half-dead tree. Robah looks at me like I’m weird.
  11. The trail (if you can call it that) is barely recognizable. Bees are swarming in a couple of places. I hurry Robah along, pretty sure that the bees are not just in my head.
  12. I’m feeling better about things now that we’re heading downhill. We scare several quails from their ground nests as we go.
  13. More bees.
  14. Gorgeous, delicate red wildflowers align the trail. I decide against picking some illegally for my girls.
  15. FINALLY, a creek. Robah and I find our respective spots in the water and lie down. We each drink a couple of liters from the creek.
  16. Rain falls on us as we reach familiar territory. I’ve been soaking wet all day, so the rain is no inconvenience. After 16 miles of up and down, we get back to our cabin around 2:30 p.m.

Here are a couple of pictures of my hiking partner. If you’re going to be out in the woods for awhile, there’s no better dog in the world (nothing against Baxter — he has other virtues).

I finally sorted through the video from the Burns Family Reunion. A lot of good footage ended up on the cutting room floor, but I managed to post some of the highlights from the week.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.

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