Monday, October 31, 2011

JACK-O-LANTERNS

Everybody has seen jack-o-lanterns, and a lot of people have even carved them personally, but do you know how jack-o-lanterns got started?  Well, it's a very interesting story, and I'm about to tell it to you.

A long time ago in Ireland, there was a a man called Stingy Jack, and one day he asked the Devil to have a drink with him.  So they went to a pub and had a drink, but then Jack didn't want to pay because he was stingy, just like his name said.  So he talked the Devil into turning himself into a coin, and that way Jack could use the coin to pay the bill.  After that, the Devil would change back to his usual self, and Jack wouldn't be out any money.



So the Devil agreed to do this, and he changed into a coin.  But Jack decided to keep the coin instead of paying the bill, and he stuck the coin into his pocket, right next to a cross.  And in this way, the devil was trapped, and he couldn't change back into the Devil.  But finally Jack freed the Devil from the coin, except that first he made the Devil promise to leave him alone for a year.  Also Jack got a promise that the Devil wouldn't take his soul, in case Jack died.





Scary cat witch
Then later, Jack tricked the silly Devil again and made him climb a tree to get a piece of fruit.  As soon as the Devil got up in the tree, Jack carved a cross on the tree, and this made it so that the Devil couldn't come down from the tree until he promised not to bother Jack for 10 years.  But Jack only lived a little while longer, and when he died, he was too naughty to get into heaven.  And he couldn't go to hell either because the Devil had promised not to take his soul.





Death Star pumpkin
So Jack asked the Devil where he should go and what he should do.  And the Devil said that Jack must wander the earth forever in the dark of night.  Then he gave him a coal from the eternal fires of hell, and Jack carved out a turnip to carry his coal in.  And after that, Jack roamed around, always looking for a place to rest, and people called him "Jack of the Lantern," or "Jack o' Lantern" for short.









Traditional Irish turnip lantern
from early 20th century
Another meaning for jack-o-lantern was a night watchman, because watchmen carried lanterns.  This term began to be used in 1837.  And pretty soon, the Irish started carving faces in turnips or other vegetables such as rutabagas, potatoes, and beets.  Then they put a candle in the vegetable and put it in their window or by their door to scare away evil spirits such as Stingy Jack.  Scottish people did this, too, and when immigrants came to America, they brought the tradition with them.









But in America, there were pumpkins, which the native Americans had been growing for 5,000 years or so.  Europeans didn't know about pumpkins at the time when Columbus first came here, but when they came here to settle, they found out that pumpkins made great jack-o-lanterns, as well as being yummy to eat.  At first, carved pumpkins were just part of the harvest season, but later they got to be associated with Halloween.




Of course, you are probably wondering what the largest jack-o-lantern ever carved was.  Well, it was made on October 31, 2005 from a pumpkin that weighed 1,469 pounds.  The man who carved it was Scott Cully, of Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania.







And the record for the most jack-o-lanterns ever carved and lit in one place was set on October 21, 2006, on Boston Common, where there were 30,128 of them.








I think more pumpkins
should have dogs carved on them!


People used to just carve faces on pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns, but nowadays, you can carve almost anything.  You can even go on the internet and get patterns and instructions for how to make your jack-o-lantern.  We never make jack-o-lanterns here at our house because Mom is too lazy.  I don't care too much about that, but sometimes I wish that she would make a really big pumpkin pie for us dogs.  I think that would be a very nice thing for her to do!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

CRAZY COSTUMED CATS, by Chloe

Last year, Piper wrote a blog entry about dogs in dorky costumes, and this year she said I should do one about cats wearing costumes.  Well, I scoffed at her, because I didn't think any cat anywhere in the world would stoop so low as to wear a costume.  But when I did a Google search, I was horrified to see a plethora of photos of costume-wearing felines!  Yikes!  I simply cannot imagine how such a humiliating thing could happen to all these poor kitties, but there it was, in full color, right on the internet.

So, although I am totally ashamed to admit it, there really are some cats out there who have been coerced into putting on clothing, simply for the amusement of their humans.  What were these people thinking?  Don't they know that cats are perfectly beautiful in every way, without the "enhancement" of a costume?  And what were these kitties thinking?  Don't they have claws and teeth?  Why don't they use them?   I will never understand it!  Never!  But anyway, now that I've started writing, I feel I have no choice but to go ahead and show you some photos so that you can see for yourselves how totally asinine a cat looks in a costume.


Of course, the obvious irony is to dress a cat up as a mouse.





At least this poor little kitten can't be blamed for being too young to know what he was getting into when someone stuck a costume on him.



Mon dieu!  It's some kind of silly French-looking cat, and with jack-o-lanterns, too.



And speaking of pumpkins, here's a cat dressed up to look like one.



Okay, it's true that cats don't like getting wet, but this is going to extremes!



This cat actually has the decency to look embarrassed to be caught wearing a costume.




Well, Hello Kitty!



At least this costume has play value.  I'd love to get my paws on those feathers!



And this wig could be a fun time, too!



Do you think this girl will attract a hot tom?



Here are four cats who all agreed to wear costumes and to pose in them too!  It totally blows my mind!



The very rare Cat Penguin.




And finally, the businessman cat.  He doesn't look very happy.  Perhaps his stock portfolio is not performing well.




I don't know who is making all these kitty costumes, but he or she is probably purring all the way to the bank!  At least I have put Mom on notice that if she ever tries to make me wear a costume, I will scratch her eyes out, and I believe she is taking my warning quite seriously!

Friday, October 28, 2011

MOM IS MAD AT ME.....AND OTHER NEWS!

Remember how Mom used to be so worried about me because I didn't feel like doing anything, and I couldn't even jump up on the bed anymore?  And then remember how we finally figured out that I had Cushing's Disease, and I've been taking a bunch of pills and stuff?  Well, guess what!  Lately, I've been feeling soooooo much better, and when I feel better, I'm always on the lookout for something fun to do!

What I found to do that lots of fun -- as any basenji knows -- is tearing things up!  So that's what I've started doing, just whenever I feel the need for some excitement.  So far, I've torn up two dog beds and a pillow.  Here's a picture of me with the first dog bed I ripped up.



I actually ripped it and unstuffed it more than what you see in the picture, but at a certain point, Mom got disgusted and stopped taking pictures.  After that, she just put the whole dog bed in a trash bag and took it out to the garage.  Then the men in the big, noisy truck came and took it away.

There was another dog bed upstairs in the bedroom that I also made a big hole in, but Mom didn't take any pictures of it.  She was going to throw it away, but now she thinks that maybe she can mend it, which will be great because then maybe I can tear it up again!

But the thing that made Mom the maddest was when I ripped up her feather pillow.  This happened last Saturday morning, when Mom was supposed to be going to a satellite adoption for the Humane Society.  Well, first Mom slept later than she meant to, and then when she got up, she forgot to put her pillows away in the closet like she usually does.  And the reason why she puts her pillows in the closet is because a couple of times, many years ago, I might have happened to chew the corners off of one of them.  So for their own protection, she does not leave the pillows on the bed unless she is sleeping there.



Well, on Saturday, Mom went downstairs to let my brothers outside, but I did not go down there because I didn't really need to pee yet, and besides that, I discovered that Mom forgot to put her pillows away.  So when I did go downstairs, I was all covered with feathers, and Mom was Not Happy!  I didn't care, though, because tearing up the pillow was tons of fun!  Wow!  Those feathers just go EVERYWHERE!  And they all smell like geese or chickens or something that would be really yummy to eat.  But you can't really eat the feathers themselves, because they get all wet and weird in your mouth, and they stick to your tongue, and you can't hardly even swallow them.  But they are fun to play with.  At least Jacen thought so.  He got right in the middle of the feathers and started playing and jumping around.



Anyway, Mom just shut the bedroom door and said she would clean up the feathers later, and she was hurrying to get ready to go to the satellite, but then Aunt Jana called and said some of the dogs at the shelter had kennel cough, so they couldn't go to the satellite, and Aunt Jana asked Mom if she wanted to not come there, and Mom said yes, because she needed to stay home and clean up feathers.  Which is what she did, and it took a long time, but now our house is mostly feather-free.

Okay, well, here's some other news.  Mom has been meaning to buy a new sewing machine for like a year or more, and she finally went out and bought one last Thursday.  I think she might have been inspired by all the mending she thinks she will be doing, now that I'm feeling lots better.  And of course, Barry is still busy tearing things up, too, so between the two of us, there's always plenty for Mom to do.

Here's a picture of Mom's new sewing machine, with Jacen checking it over to make sure it is a good kind of machine for making dog beds and cat beds.  Mom already used the machine on Tuesday to mend the bedspread that got a little chewed up and de-stuffed.  Then she mended two old dog beds that got torn up somehow last year.  So now we have a few more soft things to sleep on, which is good because the weather is starting to get colder.


Now I will tell you an interesting mystery about a bowl that Mom bought at a thrift shop.  This bowl looks sort of like a cantaloupe on the outside and like a grapefruit on the inside.  Mom says she thinks it was made in a mold, and then painted by hand.  The original price that was on the bowl was $2.98, but this price was marked out, and there was a new price of $.50.  So that's what Mom paid for the bowl.



At first, Mom was going to take the bowl to the Humane Society, so the kitties there could eat out of it.  But then she decided that it might get tipped over by kitties, so she kept the bowl herself.  Anyway, here's what is interesting about the bowl.  On the bottom, it says "To Eileen From Janet."  So of course, now we wonder who these two people were, and why Janet went to all the trouble to make a bowl for Eileen, but the bowl ended up in a thrift shop, where it only cost $.50.



Were Eileen and Janet lovers, and did they break up, and then Eileen got rid of everything that reminded her of Janet?  Or were they sisters?  Or maybe just friends?  Did Eileen die, and somebody cleaned out her house and took a bunch of her stuff to the thrift store?  I guess there is no way to find out the answers to these important questions, which is kind of sad.  A person could write an entire fictional story about this bowl, but I'm not going to do it because I will be too busy taking a nap or ripping up a dog bed!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

EL CHUPACABRAS

The chupacabras is a Very Scary Creature!  Its name means goat sucker in English, and it got that name because it likes to suck all the blood out of its victims.  Ooooh!  Are you getting scared yet?











The first place that people started seeing this spooky animal was in Puerto Rico, in 1995, and since then it's been seen in lots of other parts of the world, including even Russia and the Philippines.  People who got a glimpse of it said that it had leathery skin, like a reptile, with sharp spines or quills on its back.  It was 3 or 4 feet high and it had a face like a dog or a panther, with a forked tongue and large fangs.  People said it would hiss and screech when it was alarmed, and its eyes glowed red.  And besides that, it smelled really bad, like sulphur.





When the chupacabras first appeared in Puerto Rico, it killed 8 sheep and then drained out all their blood through puncture wounds in their chests.  Later that year, lots of other farm animals and pets were found dead with their blood also sucked out.  At first people thought this was the work of some weird Satanic cult, but later they decided it had been done by a vicious animal.







Soon people in other countries in Central and South America, plus the U.S., started having their livestock killed by a strange creature.  In many cases, this killer was described as hairless and doglike.  In Texas in 2004, several of these creatures were shot, trapped, or found dead.  In each case, the chupacabras turned out to be a coyote with a really bad case of mange that caused it to lose all its hair.






In August of 2007, a woman found three strange-looking dead animals on her property.  This was after more than 30 of her chickens had been killed and exsanguinated over the years.  (Do you like this nice, big word that I just learned, exsanguinated?  It means to have all the blood drained out you.)  Anyway, this woman took photos of the weird animals and saved one head in her freezer to give to the State Mammologist for study.  The mammologist thought at first that the animal was a gray fox with mange, but then DNA showed that it was really a coyote.  But this coyote wasn't like normal coyotes because its skin was grayish-blue, and it had really large fangs.

Later, a taxidermist who was asked to mount an animal that was supposedly a chupacabras said that he thought it was a coyote with strange mutations and also a bad case of mange.


About a year ago, in October 2010, a biologist at the University of Michigan, whose name is Barry O'Connor, said he thought that all chupacabras were actually coyotes that had sarcoptic mange.  This would explain why they have very little fur, leathery skin, and why they smell bad.  Mr. O'Connor also said that a coyote with a bad case of mange wouldn't feel like hunting rabbits or deer, so that's why it would prey on livestock.



Anyway, what this means is that the chupacabras isn't real.  Instead it's what you call a "legendary cryptid."  The word cryptid come from the Greek word krypto, which means "hide."  A cryptid is a creature or plant that there seems to be some evidence that it exists, but scientists are pretty sure that it doesn't.  Other examples of cryptids besides chupacabras are Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster.

Of course, if you want to believe in the chupacabras, you are free to do that, but I choose to think that it's really a coyote with mange.  I would like to believe that a coyote would be less likely to kill me and exsanguinate me than a chupacabras would, but I could be wrong about that.  So just to be on the safe side, I think I will mostly stay inside after dark.



But here's an idea, if you are looking for a Halloween costume:  you can dress up as chupacabras!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

THE MINORCAN KING OF RABBITS

Today I am going to tell you about a real rabbit whose scientific name is Nuralagus rex, and I am sad to say that this rabbit is now EXTINCT.  But maybe that's okay, because Nuralagus rex was the biggest rabbit ever to live -- at least that we know about -- and I think it might be scary to run into one.

This picture shows how big N. rex was
compared to a European rabbit now.
Most people first heard about N. rex this past March, when a study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.  This animal lived about 3 to 5 million years ago on the island of Minorca, which is in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain.  We don't know how these giant bunnies got to Minorca, but it turns out that the island is a popular tourist spot for Europeans because it has really pretty beaches.  So I'm thinking that maybe the N. rex rabbits went there on vacation and liked it so much that they just decided to stay.

Minorca is that island way over on the east,
where the red dot is.

Anyway, these rabbits weighed about 26 pounds each, which is 6 times the size of living European rabbits.  The reason why they got so humongous is because of something called the "island rule."  And what this rule says is that big mammals living on an island may get smaller because of the lack of food, and small mammals may get larger because there are no predators to eat them.  So the N. rex rabbits probably started out the same size as the rabbits on the mainland, and then gradually, during thousands of years of happy island life, they got bigger and bigger, until they were "king-sized" rabbits.


And another thing that happened, since Minorcan king rabbits didn't have to worry about predators, was that their spines got shorter and less flexible, so they couldn't hop anymore.  Which means that they probably just waddled around, sort of like a beaver on land.  And besides that, their eyes and ears got smaller, because they didn't need them so much to listen and watch for predators.  N. rex had curved claws, so it is likely that they dug up lots of roots and tubers to eat.

One of the beautiful Minorcan beaches
where the giant rabbits used to hang out.

The man who found all these N. rex bones was a paleontologist named Josep Quintana, from the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona.  It took him about four years to get the bones out of the hard red stone where they were.   And the way he got them out was by using many gallons of acetic acid, which is like a very concentrated vinegar.  It was hard work, and it took a lot of patience, but Mr. Quintana said it was totally worth it.  And I think that the best part of all was that Mr. Quintana published his findings during the Year of the Rabbit.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

WILD ANIMALS MAKE BAD PETS

Here are a few examples of animals that I think you should never keep as pets.  Some people may have different opinions on this subject, but I'm pretty sure my opinion is the best one, and people who disagree can just go write their own blogs!

Some of Mr. Thompson's lions
  1.  Lions
  2.  Tigers
  3.  Bears
  4.  Elephants
  5.  Chimpanzees
  6.  Wolves
  7.  Bison
  8.  Bulls
  9.  Elk
10.  Dinosaurs
11.  Alligators
12.  Crocodiles
13.  Poisonous snakes


Mr. Thompson's bear
These animals might be cute when they are little, but then they grow up to be wild animals, because that's what is in their genes, and they can't help it.  And after they get grown up, they eat lots of food and they need really strong cages or fences, so it's expensive to keep them around.  Plus someday they might suddenly bite your arm off or even kill you.  I have watched Fatal Attraction on the Animal Planet, and I know these things!






Mr. Thompson's lions
Probably you heard that story last week about the man in Zanesville, Ohio who let a bunch of his exotic animals loose and then he killed himself.  This man's name was Terry Thompson, and it sounds like he probably felt closer to his animals than he did to other people.  His neighbors didn't like him much, and they were always complaining to the police about the wild animals.  Mr. Thompson had been in trouble before whenever one of his animals would get out, but he was only fined $75 each time, so it was no big deal.  Also he had been accused of animal abuse and neglect because the cages weren't very clean, and the animals weren't being fed enough.


Then Mr.  Thompson got arrested for having a whole lot of automatic weapons without the proper registration.  So he had to go to prison for a year.  When he got out of jail, he and his wife were in debt for at least $68,000 in taxes that they hadn't paid, which likely made him feel depressed.  No one knew how he even got enough money to take care of the animals anyway.


So he killed himself, but before he did, he let all the animals loose.  No one knows exactly why he did this, but maybe he was getting some kind of revenge on the community.  Anyway, all these animals started roaming around, and people saw lions and bears in their back yards, and they called the police.

The police rushed right over to Mr. Thompson's house, and they would have liked to save the animals, but there were tigers and grizzlies coming right at them, so they ended up shooting the animals.  Some veterinarians with tranquilizer dart guns came from the Columbus Zoo, but it was almost dark by the time they got there, and it was raining.  So it would have been pretty risky to try to tranquilize the animals, since they could have got away before the tranquilizer made them sleepy.

One of Mr. Thompson's leopards
that was captured
By the next morning, 3 leopards, a grizzly bear, and 2 monkeys had been captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo.  The other 48 animals got killed, including 18 Bengal tigers, 6 black bears, 2 grizzlies, a wolf, a baboon, and 3 mountain lions.  The saddest part was the Bengal tigers getting shot because Bengal tigers are endangered, as I told you last year, during the Year of the Tiger.  The animals who were killed got buried on Mr. Thompson's land.







A very sad slaughter
Anyway, maybe you are wondering how a person gets so many exotic animals in the first place, and why there aren't more laws to keep this from happening.  Well, it turns out that there are 5 states that have very weak laws, or none at all, about owning wild animals, and one of these states is Ohio.  Since 2005, at least 9 people in Ohio have been injured, and one person was killed, by exotic pets.  Another state with weak laws is Missouri, the state where I live.  So that's kind of scary!  The other states are Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.






In Missouri, you just have to get a federal, state, or county permit, and then you can own an exotic animal.  For $8,000 you can buy a baby tiger, or if you prefer a snow tiger, you can get one for $30,000.  One place these animals come from is traveling petting zoos.  But the baby lions and tigers are only safe and cute to have there from ages 8 to 12 weeks.  After that, the petting zoo owners want to get rid of the animals because if they don't, they are stuck paying $10,000 a year to take care of each animal.





A Thompson bear that was captured
and sent to the zoo
So people buy a tiger cub or a baby chimpanzee, and then it grows up to be an adult, and the people can't really deal with it anymore because it may be destructive and dangerous.  This is when the people try to find a sanctuary for their exotic animal, but the sanctuaries are all full.  Also some of them have shut down because of the economy.  So there's no good place to get rid of your lion or your python.  In Florida, people started just letting their pythons loose in the swamps.  The pythons loved this environment, and laid lots of eggs, and now they have become an "invasive species."




Anyway, it seems to me like all of these problems could be avoided by making laws that say you can't have exotic pets.  If you want a nice pet, you can just go to your local shelter and adopt a dog or cat.  Or if you want something bigger, you can get a goat or a horse.  That's what I think everybody should do, and I don't have any more to say about the subject right now.