Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

Wicked – book review

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Wicked is Gregory Maguire’s back story of the life of the wicked witch of the west from OZ. Watching the movie in TV growing up, I was always scared of the green skinned wicked witch. She represented pure evil to me. I never stopped to think that she had a mother and a father. I never even gave much thought to the fact that her sister is killed at the beginning of the movie and that a valuable family heirloom was lost when Dorothy stole the ruby slippers. She had reason to be upset.

Gregory Maguire must have considered all those elements of the story that most of us just pass over. So he created an entire history for the wicked witch. He even gave her a name. I never realized that we never know the witch’s name in the movie. I have never read the book by Frank Baum but apparently he did not give her a name either. She just went by her title.

Maguire creates parents for her. She is a preacher’s child. I thought that was funny, having known a few preachers children in the past. They did always seem to be the evil ones. Of course they decide that her green skin is a curse upon the family.

The West Witch is the first born and the East Witch is her younger sister who also has a birth defect. The story of how they both overcome their physical limitations is a great character study in the beginning of the book. The briefest mention of her parent’s polyamary lifestyle was also interesting to me. Her actual biological father hood is held secret until near end of the story.

I found the story of her being college roommates with Glinda the good witch to be quite an interesting twist. The fact that they might have been good and close friends until she gave away the slippers had never occurred to me. I had just assumed them to be life long enemies.

The Wicked Witch’s life story seems to be one of failures and near misses. She seems to get very close to achieving her goals and then is thwarted in some way. Even her famous death scene in the movie is more of an accident than an assignation.

I loved how Maguire worked important elements of the original story into his story as well. For example you get to read how her sister was the one who enchanted the axe that turned the tree cuter into the tin woodsman. Possibly it was one of her dear college friends that built the scarecrow. And the lion was one she had helped rescue as a cub.

The wicked Witch is portrayed as an animal lover and a strong supporter of animal rights. The flying monkeys were her biological creation based on her study of life sciences in school. I almost cried when the Tin Woodsman killed her dog that she had sent to welcome Dorothy to the castle.

The troubled life of the Wicked Witch resonates with many people I am sure. Reading the story made me think of my own failings and near misses. There are a lot of religious question posed by the characters in the book as well. These resonate with me also.

I got the feeling that Maguire’s own religious beliefs changed as he was writing the book. Or maybe he was afraid to pose the questions early it in the work for fear of alienating the readers. There is a strong metaphysical tone that underlies all of the religious discussions. My favorite part was the creation theory that involved a Dragon dreaming OZ into existence. I assume Maguire was posing his own personal questions about the nature of life through the voices of the characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading the book. One drawback was the vocabulary. Maguire used a lot of words I am not familiar with and I had to infer the meaning from the context or be distracted from the story to look them up. Then there was his tendency to make up words. So sometimes I was faced with not knowing if it was a word I did not know if it was one he simply made up. I felt like I missed some of the intricate details of the story because I tended to just skip those parts after a while.

I think my favorite part of the story was the time when the Wicked Witch was involved in a rebel movement to help restore the rights to Animals. The thought of the Wicked Witch having a passionate love affair had never entered my mind before reading Wicked. But I was confused by the story of her child. I am not sure why Maguire chose to be so vague about the child. I felt more confused than mystified by the description.

Now, I have to read the original Baum version of OZ. I am sure that when I reread Wicked it will seem like a completely different book. I also thought it was funny that the next book I picked up to read began with a story of someone comparing his boss to the Wicked Witch of the West. I so wanted to yell at this fictional character to tell him that there may be much more to this person’s personality that you see.

Stars

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Stars

Last night as I walked the trash can out our long driveway, I was amazed at how bright the stars were. I had not seen such brightness in the stars since I was last at Harlan.

I walked very slowly back to the house enjoying the view of the sky. I saw both the big and little dippers. I have never been able to recognize any of the other constellations. I just enjoyed the brightness of the little points of light contrasted against the cold black sky.

Back in the yard in the dim light of the icicle lights still n our front porch, my dog Smash took on a sudden playful urge. I had tried to get him to play chase with me when I first got home in the afternoon, but he was not interested then. I almost walked on into the warmth of the house and ignore his playfulness.

But inspired by the stars, I zipped my coat and began chasing Smash around the yard. He was very playful. He would drop the stuffed sheep and pretend to look away. They just as I reached for it he would scoop it up and run off in a circle around me. We played until I could no longer catch my breath.

Later that evening as I was getting ready for bed, I decided to sit up and read a bit. Just as I picked up my book to read, Smash started barking and whining.

I went down to see if he wanted out. He has been staying in the garage on cold nights but he often wants out to go puppying. But instead he went back to the rear bedroom. I lay down on the bed and picked up the book. Smash began barking at me. So, I went back to petting him.

In a few minutes he began to get antsy again. He paced around the room and then put a paw up on the bed. I tried to get him to jump but he would back away. I finally scooped him up and placed him on the bed beside me. He settled right down as I continued petting him. He calmed right down and went to sleep.

I was beginning to drift off to sleep when I felt the bed move. I looked up and saw the cat crawl up o the foot of the bed. Soon I was snoozing between the dog and the cat. It was very peaceful just laying there enjoying the warmth of my furry friends. All my cares, worries and fears seemed to melt away in to their fur.

I lay there a while before Janice finally came to check on me. She laughed when she saw me snuggled up between the cat and the dog.

Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum

For my parents 50th anniversary, we made a family trip to Savanna, Georgia and Tybee Island. While there, we toured the Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum.

The drive along Hwy 80 provides and interesting view of the narrow channels and grassy marshes that make up the area. At times, the road was very busy and always windy. We enjoyed looking at the boats of all sizes and the long wooden walkways to the private docks on the canals.

The Tybee Lighthouse has 178 steps that we climbed to take in the view from the top. This is still a functional lighthouse, although the electric light bulb means that constant maintenance is no longer needed. The light house keeper’s homes are now on display.

The entrance is through the gift shop where you may be greeted by one of the two Tybee Island Light House cats. There is a white one named Michael and a yellow one named Miss Kitty. Michael just lay there and yawned at us. Miss Kitty wanted to be petted. The signs there warn that the cats do not always want to be petted however and that visitors should use caution when approaching the cats.

The 178 lighthouse steps are steep and the circular nature makes it hard to pass people who are climbing in the opposite direction. It seemed best to wait on one of the landings to pass. The view from each landing provides a different perspective as you climb so they are good places to stop anyway.

The view from the top was well worth the effort to get there. There is a narrow platform that goes around the top of the lighthouse where you can get a view of the surrounding area. You can see the beach and the shipping channel that the light house marks. You can also look out across the island and see the homes and condominiums that make up the north end of the island.

After climbing the light house, we toured the former keeper’s home. Before 1933, the light house had an oil lamp that had to be refueled often. This meant the keepers had to be onsite to constantly climb the stairs and keep the oil light burning. The renovated homes on the site are where these people used to live.

One of the homes is now a movie theater and the other has been restored to see what life might have been like for the keeper and his family. The home is furnished in period fixtures and decorated with old toys and curios that might have been found there.

The distinctive black and white stripes of the Tybee Island Light house were first put there in 1916. The black at the top helps the light house be visible in the day time from the sea. In 1965 they changed the paint scheme but it was restored in 1999 to the 1916 pattern that has become the Tybee Island Lighthouse we are familiar with.

The light house is closed on Tuesdays but open other days of the week. It cost $7 to tour. There are various discounts available. Parking is ample and free in the Museum parking lot. You can also park across the street in the beach parking area but you have to pay the parking meters there.

The ticket price also includes the Battery Museum across the street. I seemed to be the only one in my family that expected to see batteries in the Battery Museum. It is actually an old fort designed to protect the island and the river from enemy attack. I don’t think it was ever used for that as most attackers simply went somewhere else to enter Georgia.

Inside the battery however are several interesting old photos of Tybee Island or Savanna Shores as it was know previously. In the 1920’s and earlier Tybee was a playground for people looking to escape. Before Hwy 80, there was a train track to the island playground. There were huge resorts, dance clubs and carnival type places on the island. Not much remains of the former glory days on the island now.

After our tour of the museum, we hit the beach right behind the Battery museum. For lunch, we noticed the local Shriner’s Lodge was selling hot dogs. So, we ate hot dogs and chips on the back bumper of our Suburban while every one changed into their swim clothes.

The beach is accessed by a wooden walkway across the marsh grass. The sand is nice and wide with plenty of space even on the busy Forth of July Weekend when we visited.

For more information about the Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum see: http://www.tybeelighthouse.org/
Tybee Lighthouse Marker
Tybee LightHouse
Keepr's House
Kids on the Beach
Strawbridge 2010
Michael the Tybee Lighthouse cat
Top of the Lighthouse
Winding stairs
Miss Kitty the Tybee Lighthouse cat
Old toys in the Light House Keepers home
Lighthouse from the Battery
Carousel horse in the Battery Museum

Training Your Cat?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

– Training Your Cat –

When most people think about animal obedience work, cats aren’t usually the first candidates to spring to mind.

We tend to associate cats with words like aloof, independent, and laid back – they seem to focus on doing what they want, pretty much as and when they feel like it.

You might be excused for thinking that this isn’t really ideal training material!

However – there’s an ever-increasing number of people who are deriving a great deal of pleasure from training their cats in basic and advanced obedience work and tricks (from sit, stay, come to jumping through hoops, twirling, and high-fiving) – and what’s more, they’re convinced that their cats enjoy it, too!

The benefits of training your cat

Just because cats typically lead solitary, individual lives doesn’t mean that they necessarily want to do so.

In fact, many cats are incredibl affectionate and loving by nature – they just need you to demonstrate your leadership and initiate the rapport-building process.

Cats are often underestimated when it comes to the training process, simply because the average owner has very little need to attempt any sort of training at all. Unlike with dogs (whose ability to learn is very well documented) there’s no need to train cats in the basics of pet protocol like house training and bathing.

Consequently, relatively few people are aware of their cat’s abilities in this area.

Training your cat is a fantastic way to enrich your cat’s life:

– It builds a strong rapport between you and your cat
– Because training underlines your authority (your cat has to do what you want to get what he wants), it helps to curb dominant behavior
– It keeps your cat’s mind active and stimulated
– It’s great interactive play, and teaches good social skills
– Anxious and highly-strung cats are reassured and soothed by the repetition and routine of training

So how do I train my cat?

There are two popular methods of training a cat: target training and clicker training. A brief rundown of each:

– Target training is where you attract your cat’s attention and then obtain desired behaviors through the use of a designated tool. For example, during the ‘beg’ command, a particular target training tool called a training wand is used to attract the cat’s attention upwards, and to encourage the cat to rise up on his haunches and ‘beg’.

– Clicker training is a form of operant conditioning (which is where the animal is taught to form a conscious association between a specific behavior and a result.) A small mechanical noise-maker (the ‘clicker’) is used by the trainer to create a short, distinct noise. The clicker is clicked at the precise moment that the cat performs a desired behavior – for example, during ‘sit’, the clicker is clicked at the very instant that the cat’s bottom touches the ground. Directly after the click, the cat is fed a small and tasty treat. With repetition, the cat grows to associate the click with the food, and recognizes his own ability to earn treats by performing the desired action on command. The clicker is a particularly valued training tool because it allows the trainer to pinpoint the exact behavior that’s being rewarded: without the clicker, it’s too easy for the cat to form associations between the treat and a completely unrelated behavior (since it’s impossible to feed the cat a treat at the precise moment that he’s performing a trick.)

Practical tips for training your cat

– Remember to be patient. Your cat is an individual, with his own abilities and preferences. He will pick up some tricks quickly, but may struggle with others. Make allowances for his personality, and don’t lose your temper if it doesn’t go exactly according to schedule.

– If you’re free-feeding your cat (leaving food out at all times for him to eat as and when he feels like it), stop doing this. Enforcing a feeding schedule has two main benefits: it increases the reward-value of food treats as training devices, and also introduces a semblance of routine into your cat’s life (which, believe it or not, most cats actually prefer.)

– Train smart. If you’re using food treats (which is highly recommended to achieve the desired results) then schedule training sessions for just before mealtimes: your cat’s natural desire for food at his regular mealtime will sharpen his focus and increase his desire to obey you (so he can get a treat.)
– Take baby steps. When training your cat, it’s best to build up a solid foundation of the basics before attempting to expand his repertoire.

– Cats have pretty short attention spans, and low boredom thresholds. Keep lessons short and interesting – and always try to end on a positive note.

An example of successful cat training in action

Training your cat to ‘sit’ on command

‘Sit’ is a great basic command for your cat to know, because it serves as the foundation for a number of other, more advanced tricks and commands (for example, ‘stay’, ‘beg’, and ‘high five’.)

– Make your training wand extra-effective by smearing the tip in a little tuna oil, and use it to attract your cat’s attention (wave it around, trail it past his face, etc.)

– Once he’s come over to you, place the wand just over his head, so that it’s slightly behind the crown of his head.

– He will tilt his head back to keep his eyes on it. When he does this, he will naturally sit down (since otherwise, his neck can’t bend back far enough to allow him to keep watching the training wand.)

– As he sits down, say the word ‘Sit’, which will be the verbal cue for this command (your cat will grow to associate the command with the act of sitting, and eventually will learn to sit down whenever you ask him to.)

– As soon as his bottom touches the ground, click the clicker. It’s important that you time this precisely.

– Directly after clicking, give him a small food treat. Make sure it’s cut up very small – if it takes him more than two seconds to eat it, he’ll forget why you gave it to him.

– Repeat this process a few more times, and over the next few weeks, keep doing so until he’s comfortable with what’s expected of him. When he’s able to sit down on command, you can phase the clicker out – but still give treats sporadically (interestingly, if you treat every single time that he performs a command, he’s actually less likely to reliably obey that command. Keeping him on his toes seems to increase the likelihood of obedience!)

Further training

For step-by-step advice on how to train your cat in a huge variety of other obedience commands and tricks (from ‘stay’ to ‘play dead’ to ‘fetch’), check out the Complete Cat Training book – it’s full of training how-to’s, as well as a huge amount of detailed information on solving problem behaviors, cat psychology, and how to develop a more rewarding relationship with your cat.

To visit the Complete Cat Training website, click the link below:
Complete Cat Training