March of the Pigs

Obviously we like to go on trips, and every now and then we make a special effort to bring The Dog along. But sometimes the dog is just…a little too much Dog, and we want to give some of our other pets a chance to come along and join the fun. Recently, we realized that our The Lizard is nine years old, has been with us for eight years, and yet she’s consistently left out on our trips. So we brought her along on a quick trip to Stone Mountain, hoping that she might be one of only very few bearded dragons who have ever been to the summit.

Lizard and me

stone mountain lizard

And rest his soul, we also made a point to bring out Gordie the guinea pig once or twice. He played angel guinea-pig at a cemetery once:
cemetery

And on New Year’s Day, we took a trip out to Springfield to visit the snow-covered Dr. Suess Garden. Gordie had to bundle up for that one.

gordie bag

Well, yesterday was Jon’s and my 6-year wedding anniversary and to celebrate it, we went off on a mini-trip to see the Icebox Cemetery in northern Georgia. But who to bring with us? The dog? Eh, it’s a little hot for car trips with dogs right now. The Lizard? Nah, her facial expression of constant disdain gets tiresome on long trips. Well, we don’t have a guinea pig anymore, but maybe some other, smiling laughing pig would be good company. So we brought Will.

Pig backseat

What some people don’t know about taxidermed animal heads is that sometimes they get bored staying at home 24/7, staring at the walls. They like to see the world sometimes. Will was so excited that he asked to sit shotgun for part of the trip.

Pig shotgun

He liked telling jokes.
laughing

What do you call a pig thief? A HAM-burglar!

Eventually this got tiresome and Jon’s sense of humor ran out.
serious

Will was sent back to sit in the backseat until we arrived at the Icebox cemetery. He photographs well. Doesn’t move around a lot.

Anniversary

More later about the trip, maybe less about Will’s contribution. I like our wedding anniversaries.

I Don’t Want to Believe

We try to get up to the lake at least once a year, to let me have a good swim and for Giles, who loves it as much as I do.
Day at the lake

His favorite activity is to chase tennis balls thrown into the water. Giles loves chasing balls, but has never figured out the part where you bring the ball back. I guess that esoteric knowledge is more familiar among retrievers. However, the lake is a fun place because it’s the only time Giles will chase a ball and actually bring it back, even if it’s only because he’ll drown if he never returns.

It’s a fact of life that any good lake or pond will attract a lot of people, and so we have to carefully plan these trips to avoid crowds. We go when the weather isn’t all that great, or we get up really early, etc.

This time we got up early and went straight there. The place was nearly empty except for a few kayakers and some guy in a red pickup who was just…sitting in there.

The problem with trying to go to the lake at odd, unpopular times is that while the crowds are greatly reduced, any people who are actually there at those weird times tend to be weirdos. But not all of them. Some lady with an elderly border collie and a bouncy young boxer came along. She’d clearly come to give her dogs a run around, and seemed pleased that her young boxer had somebody to play with.

Lake 3

Lake 2

Lake 4

Lake 5

I wasn’t a fan of going for a swim while a creepy guy sat alone in his red pickup truck, staring at us, but we’d come all this way. Plus, Giles was having a blast. I did my best to ignore him, but that got harder to do fairly soon.

Look again at the “dogs playing” pictures above. Do you see an indistinct, Nessie-like silhouette in nearly every picture? That’s the creepy guy. Eventually he got out of his truck and crawled into a wetsuit. I was curious about the wetsuit- the water had to be over 80 degrees. Who the hell wears a wetsuit in a freshwater lake? In July? In *Georgia*? Ok, we thought- maybe he’s putting on a wetsuit because he’s one of those serious swimmer-guys who’s planning on swimming a mile across the lake or something. Good, because once he set out on his marathon swim, he would be off and stop being creepy.

Except he didn’t swim across the lake. He waded into the area where I’d been swimming before and then just….sat there, crouched in the water for a good ten minutes, not swimming, not floating, just….sitting. And also photobombing all my dog pictures, making it look like we’d found Bigfoot at the lake going for a dip.

He eventually got out and went back to sit in his truck. I went back for a swim, but he came out shortly again to take pictures of the dogs with his phone. And Giles, ever the open-hearted, affectionate one, ran over to him to tell HI YOURE A CREEP I LOVE YOU IM THE DOG. At this point I was unhappy about the prospect of being photographed by a creepy stranger while I was wearing a bathing suit, so I asked Jon if he wanted to leave. The boxer-lady said bye to Giles and moved her dogs along, and the creepy guy packed up his wetsuit and took off while Jon and I were drying off and getting our shoes on.

Ah, well. Putting up with one creepy fella was a small price to pay. I wonder if there’s some blog out there with Giles’s pictures, taken by that guy.

Time stands still

Something Jon and I have fallen into doing, without even really planning it, is to make series and repetitions of themes in our photos, particularly during our travel photos. Ultimately I think I like this so much because it forces us to be imaginative, but also because there’s something about these same-but-different pictures reminds us that time is happening, yet many of the things we love most are still there for us.

Museums are a great place for things to stay the same, even if we don’t. I’ve always loved the Harvard Museum of Natural History. I remember the first time I ever saw their Kronosaurus skeleton. I was 11 and on a school trip. I’ve seen it many times since, and in 2004 a friend of mine- it happened to be Jenny Wood- snapped this picture of me admiring it.

Krono-me

I’m sorry I don’t have a better picture- I didn’t realize that it would be an important one in years to come. It was taken before I met Jon, but it wouldn’t be much longer before I would.

Also in 2004 I fell in love with the coelacanth. The coelacanth is an ancient Devonian fish, of which 300+-year old fossils have been found. This fish was always believed in the western world to have gone extinct after the age of the dinosaurs, until a research assistant traveling in Madagascar found a dead one at fish market while traveling in 1938. Absolutely shocked, she purchased the fish and sent it over to her boss, and they eventually determined that this fish that had been presumed extinct for 65 million years was alive and well. It’s been called the Lazarus fish, and the Harvard Museum has a nice specimen of one. I also have a nice tattoo of one now.

Coelacanth 2004

The first time I ever went to the Harvard Museum with Jon was in 2007, where I thought it would be fun to recreate the picture of me admiring the kronosaurus, this time with the man I would marry.

Krono 2007

And in 2010 we paid another visit to Old Man Kronosaurus and posed again, but not remembering off the top of our heads who was standing on which side in the 2007 picture. I also confused the “hands behind back” pose of 2004 with the 2007 picture, but it’s still pretty nice:
Krono 2010

And again on our most recent trip we saw the Kronosaurus again, this time taken at a better angle because someone was there to take the picture for us. The other two times we had to prop up the camera on a bench, making the photographer look like a midget with balance issues.

Krono 2014

We’ve also tried to keep up with the “me contemplating the coelacanth” pictures, but I think we forgot that in 2007. Maybe we presumed it was extinct. I don’t like them as much as the Kronosaurus pictures, but they’re still pretty fun.

Here’s 2010:
Coelacanth 2010

and 2014:
Coelacanth 2014

My guess is that our repeat-theme pictures are a cooler equivalent to those class photos that kids had to take every year in elementary school. They change every year, but they always have that silly backdrop. We don’t get to take class pictures anymore, so we improvise.

Dildo Memories

Flickr has shown me for year that anyone, in the act of doing anything, can be a fetishist’s dream. Every now and then some picture I have posted on flickr gets an unusually high number of views and favorites, and 10 times out of 10 the picture I posted had no intention of being sexual or suggestive in any way- in fact they’re usually pretty tame. I’ve ceased being overly creeped out and offended by it. Nowadays, I’m mostly curious when a picture of mine seems to fall under a Flickr Fetishist’s radar and marvel at all the bizarre things a person can have a fetish for. One question, though- why is it always men? Always. It’s not simply because I’m female, because plenty of guys have favorited my pictures of Jon with a fuzzy beard, Jon putting on deodorant, a picture where Jon’s feet are visible, one close-up of Jon’s teeth, etc. To date no lesbian has ever favorited a weird fetish picture of me, nor has a straight women ever favorited a weird fetish picture of Jon. It’s just men, straight or gay. What is so apparently masculine about being sexually turned on by typically non-sexual things?

I don’t feel like posting the pictures right now that have attracted them, but some examples that have caught the fetishist’s attentions have been:

-me in knee socks
-me in glasses
-me in wet socks because I couldn’t wear shoes in the Indian temple and the elephant blew water all over the floor
-me wearing a surgical mask
-me wearing nitrile gloves
-me with a snail on my foot

But here I want to show what so far has been the weirdest couple of pictures that have a disproportionate number of views. They’re two pictures of me, one in London and one in LA. I’m posing with Robert Wadlow, the Tallest Man Who Ever Lived.

Wadlow LA

Wadlow London

Both of them have several hundred views, and the first one- the LA one- I just thought some creeps were just collecting pictures of girls, any girls. But the second one isn’t very flattering- it was taken on the last day of an exhausting Europe trip and I was tired from hauling my backpack and suitcase around a dozen different countries. Why would the second picture be so popular among so many guys? You can easily find out just what’s so exciting about a particular picture when you get a notification that says “Creepy_Guy1972 has just added this photo to his favorites!” You just go to Creepy_Guy1972’s page and see what his other favorites are. In the case of the Robert Wadlow pictures, the guys who had favorited either or both photos were obsessed with pictures of girls standing next to unusually tall guys. They had vast collections of girls standing with tall guys, and some had a lot of pictures of girls standing next to Robert Wadlow statues in particular. Man, that’s mighty specific.

So on the last day of Northeast/Canadian roadtrip, we drove through Kentucky, and stopped at the site of the world’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken. They had a museum there with a replica of the kitchen, and some comic books, a ghostly Harland Sanders- that kind of thing.

Harlan Comic

Jon Weathervane

Sitting with Harlan

Also amusing was the barrel of INGREDIENTS. I’ll bet the formula hasn’t changed.
Ingredients

But what I really wanted a picture of was me standing with the life-sized statue of the Colonel! I didn’t realize he was so tall.
Giamt Harland

Aww, who am I kidding? The reason I insisted on posing with the giant Harlan Sanders, and tried to recreate the pose I did with Robert Wadlow in LA, is to see if the Robert Wadlow + Girl fetishists would pay attention to me. Let’s see how many views it gets.

Although…

If I’m going to venture a guess as to which pictures from our past vacation are going to receive the most views, my guess is it’s going to be some of these, taken in Newfoundland:

Dildo Sign

Dildo Me

Dildo Jon

Dildo Dory

They already have a few hundred views apiece, compared to the half-dozen or so views I got from any other pictures on the trip. Believe it or not, the locals in Dildo, Newfoundland, didn’t seem pleased with us skipping around the small seaside town taking pictures of anything with the town’s name on it. There’s at least one resident who has a sense of humor about the town’s name, though- we saw a boat in the harbor named “Dildo Pleasure.”

Our Most Fruitful Voyage

One thing we really like collecting on our trip is pictures of The World’s Largest Anything. There are a lot of big things in this really big world. What I found intriguing is that not only does Cananda have a lot of big roadside attractions, but they’re especially fond of fruit.

Our first giant piece of fruit is a favorite and familiar one, a local. That would be the Peachoid in Gaffney, SC, now famous for its prominent appearance in House of Cards and for its resemblance to an ambiguous set of genitals. As usual, it seemed to be growing out of Jon’s head.

Jon Gaffney

Me Gaffney

I had packed up the Eyeball of Size Comparison to use in our future Maine Solar System project, so we figured as long it we were looking at large round things, the Eyeball could feature in all our large fruit pictures as well- even if it can only barely be seen in most of them. The fruit we saw was way bigger than the Maine planets.

Our first Canadian large fruit was The World’s Largest Strawberry, in Nova Scotia.
Strawberry

Next was Harvey the World’s Largest Potato in New Brunswick, not actually a fruit but still vegan. The picture was rushed because the second we got out of the car we were assaulted by a dark cloud of mosquitos, some of which followed us back into the car and we spent the next hour flushing them out through the windows.
Potato

Then we visited the World’s Largest Blood Orange in Montreal- unlike the previous fruits, this one provided nourishment. In our case it was an orange Julius and poutine.
Orange

Several hours later we hit The World’s Largest Apple in Colborne, Ontario. This one provided a bounty of apple-related treats and also our dinner. This day was unique because not only did we see two gigantic fruits in one day, but we were able to eat all our meals for the day from them.
Apple

Mr. Gigantic Apple was especially friendly among our huge Canadian fruit pals. He tried to engage us in bocce ball and shuffleboard,
Bocce

or perhaps some mini-putt:
Mini Putt

His offer of a suggestive train ride was getting a little creepy, and we politely declined and went on our way.
Train Rides

Our final fruit of the trip was in Leamington, ON, to see the World’s Largest Tomato. I was unimpressed- not every World’s Largest Fruit is actually that big.
Tomato

It wasn’t completely without its charm, though. The World’s Largest Tomato had a family of tomatoes living nearby.
Tomato Family

See, we have Momma Tomato and Daddy Tomato, Brother Tomato, Downs Syndrome Sister Tomato, plus Bulldog Tomato. They still haven’t broken it to Dachshund that he’s adopted.

Funny, but now that I think about it, The World’s Largest Tomato and the Tomato Family was the last site we stopped at before crossing Ambassador Bridge back into the States. The Tomato Family waved at us and told us thanks for stopping in Canada and to come back and visit again some day.

War of the Worlds

Have you ever heard of a scale solar system model?

It’s when a university or a museum or just some space enthusiasts make a model of the solar system, scaled both in size and distance. It means that the four inner planets are fairly close to one another, but the gaseous and icy out planets beyond the asteroid belt are far indeed, some requiring a visit by car. Jon and I have had bad luck with solar system models in the past. Both times we enthusiastically went into it, only to find missing planets and lame representations- in the case of Atlanta, both.

Our first attempt was in Boston in late 2009/early 2010. We thought we would shake things up by visiting the planets in reverse order, starting with Pluto (classified as a planet back in the 90s when the project was started) and working our way in toward the sun. We though our pictures would be more illustrative if we had a constant sphere with which to compare all the planets’ sizes. We chose the Eyeball of Size Comparision, then set out on our way to Pluto, which was in Newton, MA and several miles from The Sun, which would be at the Boston Museum of Science.

me pluto

The chilly, icy day complemented the chilliness of the edges of our solar system. We had success with a few of the planets, eyeballing Jupiter at South Station:
Eyeball Jupiter

Unfortunately, Boston’s Community Solar System project was not well-maintained. I called the Museum of Science to ask about the missing planets, citing that we were doing this as a winter break project with our son. For some reason I thought the lady on the phone might take me more seriously if a cherubic, wide-eyed junior scientist was involved. No dice. Feeling stubborn, Jon and I found ways around the missing planets, and took pictures at the locations where they should have appeared.

Jon Saturn

Eyeball Neptune

Even the Museum of Science was missing Mercury. I had to dash off into the gift shop to find a sphere that was about the same scale as Mercury should have been, and came up with a beetle-ball.

Jon Mercury

When we moved to Atlanta, we looked up to see if Atlanta also had a solar system project, maybe a more complete set. I found a project started by Agnes Scott College, and we set off to find these planets- Eyeball of Size Comparison in hand, this time in order from the sun.

Eyeball Mars

Earth Me

But we gave up after Mars. This solar system project was even worse than Boston’s! For one, instead of 3D models of the planets, they just had dumb cardboard pictures of the planets scattered around the Atlanta area. It was harder to be enthusiastic about them. But what was worse is that this solar system was also missing a number of planets. The worst was when I e-mailed Agnes Scott College and asked about the missing planets, saying that my daughter was very excited about the project and really wanted to find them. The secret is that my imaginary children aren’t really much into science. They’re more into sports and fashion and feel like I’m just dragging them along. My imaginary children are a real disappointment. The Agnes Scott guy who answered my e-mail said “…Uranus is at the airport, the others are missing.” Really, the airport? The busiest airport in the world has an anus in it somewhere? Well, that narrows it down a bit. This whole idea was my fault though, for thinking that something that doesn’t completely suck could ever originate from Agnes Scott College.

But on this roadtrip that Jon and I have just returned from, our planetary needs were satisfied. Among other places, we went to Presque Isle for the Maine Solar System Project. Because we’d been heading in from New Brunswick, we decided to copy our Boston mission and start with Pluto, working our way inward. Pluto was at a highway rest stop just over the Canadian border, 40 miles away from the sun. Pluto’s forever-pal Charon was with him.

Maine Pluto

Funny how the world works- I don’t have the original eyeball, but where I work now has an abundance of them. The one I borrowed is used as a model to demonstrate how to position a mouse eye in paraffin for embedding and tissue sectioning. But it did the trick nicely for my purposes.

What I liked about the Maine Solar System Project was that the scale was 1:93,000,000, which is an astronomical unit, or the actual real-life distance of the earth from the sun. But it meant that each planet was way far away from one another, and this larger scale meant that the Eyeball of Size Comparison was too small to be useful, except compared to Pluto. But we took it along anyway, holding it up as we posed.

Next stop Neptune, with Eyeball in tow:

Maine Neptune

And that Jon, can’t stop giggling every time I say Uranus, even though I no longer use the embarrassing and suggestive pronunciation. The modern pronunciation, as everybody knows in New New York, is Urectum.

Uranus

Saturn’s park was definitely the most well-groomed. I felt plain posing with and I took out my umbrella to try to impress Saturn.

Maine Saturn

Then I had an opportunity to make Jupiter appear to be growing out of Jon’s head. Jupiter also came with the Galilean moons, which were also to scale and were too far out to fit into the shot.

Jupiter

We drove through a harrowing asteroid belt, then found Mars.

Mars

Mars was also where the town of Presque Isle actually began. The inner planets would be closer and come faster now.

Earth was Earth, but also as a nice touch, included the moon.
Maine earth

Maine moon

Pretty Venus, named after the most beautiful goddess in Olympus. Funny that actual Venus is a literal hell of sulfuric acid and punishing heat.

Maine Venus

Mercury was also blazing and sauna-like. Whewf. We missed it at first and had to backtrack after The Sun because it was hard to see between those huge bushes. What are they, dark matter?

Maine Mercury

And finally we pulled into the University of Maine, Presque Isle at Folsom Hall to look for the sun. Given the scale, the sun should be enormous and impossible to miss. Nevertheless, we had trouble finding it until we realized that the big yellow arch was meant to represent the sun. The dolphins orbiting nearby threw us off.

Maine Sun

And thus concluded our first complete, non-lame scale model of the solar system. I think Presque Isle Maine deserves a lot of credit for pulling off something that neither Boston nor Atlanta has been able to do.

The light- it blinds me

I am pretty fond of the dissecting microscope we have in the lab. It’s good for dissections, but it’s also good at examining any new insects I might find.

The other day I was absentmindedly scratching at my collarbone. It kept itching, and I figured a mosquito must have gotten me at some point. The itching started to migrate though, until my other collarbone was also itching, and I kept scratching until I came away with a tiny, unknown creature in my hand. I put it in a vial and brought it to work to look at up close.

Green Lacewing Dime

Green lacewing larva

Ugh. Nasty jaws that little guy had. No wonder both my collarbones were now dotted with welts, one was as raised and as large as a jellybean.

Bug Guide told me that this was the larva of a green lacewing. They look rather pretty when they grow up.

Green lacewing

The message board on Bug Guide said that they don’t attack humans and rarely bite, and what on earth must you be doing in order to be getting chewed on by one? I pulling up English ivy vines and must have rudely ripped up this one from his burrow. Sorry.

We also have a good light microscope and sometimes I actually do real work with it. I learned to section and stain optic nerves. I cut the mouse’s dissected optic nerve into a million tiny little slices, then stained them. When I took a look, I saw this:

Big Heart

We look at them under a high power than this when we’re trying to assess optic nerve damage, but under the low power I could see something kind of charming. The nerve sections look like little hearts!

Little Hearts

It’s like the mouse’s nerve was designed by a second grade girl. When I discovered this, it was a cheery little surprise to my day.

Tote ’em to the backyard

Taxidermy gets kind of smelly sometimes, so every now and then I like to try some other project. Every time I throw tennis balls to Giles in the yard, I get a little bored and start aiming for the trees, trying to make the balls ricochet and making it harder for Giles. So one day I spray-painted a small target on one of the trees, thinking it might be fun to improve my aim and practice a skill while entertaining the dog at the same time.

The target kind of looked like an eyeball to me, and the next thing I know, this happened:

First Totem

Jon Totem

I liked it so much that I read the wikipedia article about totem poles, and was surprised to learn that the animal’s height position on the totem pole has nothing to do with the animal’s importance or ranking. The animals are supposed to tell a story, though. Another thing I learned is that there are very few totem poles over 100 year old, because traditionally you’re supposed to let the pole rot and return to the earth, not preserve it. And in the dense mists of the pacific northwest, it doesn’t take that long for a pole to rot away. I also liked the part about shame poles, which were totem poles carved and placed in a neighbor’s yard to shame them if they screwed you over in some way. Often the person being shamed in a shame pole is depicted as a frog. So armed with some inspiration and new knowledge about totem poles, I set about to make a better one.

Totem 3

Totem 1

Ta-da!

Totem 4

Sure, it’s no Kayung totem pole of the Haida people, but this was my first attempt at using spray paint ever. I’ve always daydreamed about being a graffiti artist, but no doubt I would only be a toy.

More crappy taxidermy

Just to catch up, I have here a quick collection of all my most recent taxidermy projects that haven’t yet been showcased. I made a bunch of them over the winter when everybody was sequestered indoors to escape the block of ice that was The Outside.

My first inspiration was while watching Oddities. That douchey guy from the show, Ryan, was making a shrunken head out of a sloth the traditional way- filling the head with heated stones. His finished product looked like a smaller version of a sloth’s head. That was nice and all, but while watching it I wondered if I could make a shrunken head that looked like a shrunken human head. Out of um…rat leather. Here’s what I ended up with.

Shrunken Head

Not bad, huh? Normally you’d wonder what to do with a disembodied head, but of all the silly coincidences, I happened to have an extra body floating around that required a head. Many years ago, a worker at an oddities/taxidermy shop/artsy shop was cleaning out the excess and he said to me “Hey I have a taxidermed kingfisher. It doesn’t have a head, but do you want it anyway?” I said sure I would, then made a mental note to make the kingfisher a new head. That was 15 years ago. Better late than never.

Shrunken Kingfisher

This rat was Jon’s idea and I really appreciate the suggestion. I’d just happened to have a little snake fixed in a jar, waiting to be put to good use.

Snake Charmer

This next rat was also Jon’s idea, although when he jokingly suggested it, I don’t believe he ever expected this mythical creature to materialize. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off either. It took forever to make.

Ratipede

I called it Ratipede, scientific name Rattus brachipoda. I posted it to Flickr and haven’t done anything with it since. Sometimes you get lucky, though. The owner of the blog Crappy Taxidermy found it and wrote me to ask if she could use it in her book. Ratipede would be honored. So am I.

There was a side effect to creating Rattus brachipoda. I ended up having a lot of extra rat heads and rat butts that I didn’t know what to do with. I tried my best to get rid of a butt or two or four.

Butsy

I call that one Buttsy. Still more butts, though. Fortunately, just like I’d happened to have a headless animal in need of a head, just like I’d happened to have a small snake for my snake charmer, I did have something I could use for all these rat butts.

Squirrel

I am aware that these underpants were intended for squirrels only, but they seem to fit Buttsy II just fine.

Undapants rat

That’s all for now. I still have a pile of heads and a fish lying around, so we’ll see what happens.

Who you callin’ crappy??

On Friday night I got an e-mail from a name a didn’t recognize. The gist of the e-mail was “Hey, I’m making a book based on my blog, Crappy Taxidermy, and I think your Ratipede would be a perfect fit! Can I use it in the book?”

I read this right before I was going to bed and my brain was a little fuzzy at the time, but my first impulse was anger. Was she being cheeky, making fun of my Ratipede and then having the audacity to ask if she could use my picture, blah blah blah just because you think it’s crappy doesn’t mean that I didn’t work hard on it and nag nag nag….

At least that was the response I wrote in my head that I had enough restraint not to write at the time.

I let it go for a few days, and now it’s a dreary and rainy Monday morning. I read the e-mail again. This time I realized that this was THE taxidermy blog, Crappy Taxidermy! And the blog’s owner contacted me personally about my rat! I probably would want the book even if one of my things wasn’t in it, but now I’m going to be a crappy taxidermy superstar!

I wrote back a few minutes ago, saying “Sure, thank you. It would be an honor!”

Man, I’m so glad I didn’t respond right away. My sense of humor must have been broken late on Friday night, but I’m glad it came back in time.

The rat in question is Ratipede, scientific name Rattus brachipodia. It was the most involved and time-consuming piece I’ve made so far.

Ratipede 1

Ratipede 2

I still have a few heads left over from making that. No ideas as to what to do with those yet.