Fabulous Photo Friday: Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania

Hey, denizens, do you know what Loba’s favorite mammal is?

Yes, that’s right. My favorite mammal is the naked mole rat!

Of course, it really is the wolf. I have always loved wolves. I find them to be magnificent, loyal, beautiful creatures. I own numerous books on them, read about them all the time, donate money several times a year to defend them, and just generally think they’re more awesome than even Star Trek.

That’s how much I love wolves.

So when we recently found ourselves heading up into parts of Pennsylvania other than Philadelphia, I took it upon myself to map out how far of a drive it would be from our actual destination to a place that I have wanted to go for many, many moons: The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania in Lititz.

[Loba Tangent: The name of the city is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. I learned this the hard way. I’m trying to help you avoid the same embarrassing lesson.]

Believe it or not, there are states in this country with such lax exotic animal laws that people can actually adopt wolves. As utterly ridiculous and downright stupid as that sounds, it’s even worse that there are people out there who go through with adopting these wild animals, either for the status symbol or just because they’re morons.

[Loba Tangent 2: Actually, I think anyone who tries to bring a wolf into their home for whatever reason falls into the “moron” category. These are wild animals. If you want something domesticated to guard your house and poop in your yard, do what everyone else does and buy a dog. There are lots of them in kill shelters and rescues that would love to be your pet.]

The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania, and other sanctuaries throughout the United States, come to the rescue of these wolves when the people who bought them finally realize that, “Hey, trying to keep a wild pack animal alone in my apartment for 8+ hours a day is a really stupid idea.” The sanctuary takes in these wolves, from places as far away as Montana and Wyoming, who live in that terrible limbo realm of not domesticated enough to be be pets, but too domesticated to survive in the wild.

The staff of the Wolf Sanctuary love their pack, respect that they are not dogs, let them have their space, do not intrude into the natural ways in which wolves interact, dominate, submit, and howl away their days. They do their best to tend to the wolves’ needs in ways that do not require that they enter into the wolves’ zones or impede upon the wolves’…sanctuaries.

I was admittedly worried about how I would feel about these wild animals being placed on display (I even have a bit of a problem with zoos, but I understand that a lot of zoos do worthwhile research that benefits both the captive animals and their free counterparts…so I deal). The sanctuary, however, is doing a wonderful job of protecting these wolves while giving them as much space and freedom as they can.

Of course, I took my DSLR, because…wolves. There really isn’t any need for further explanation, right? I took lots of photos, but only some of them turned out the way I wanted them to. It’s quite difficult to capture constantly moving animals while trying to focus out the chain-link fence that separates you from them. But I succeeded a few times. And sometimes, the fence is there, but the photo came out well enough that I don’t mind.

Here, then, are some of my favorite shots from our visit to the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. Enjoy!










High Flying, Adored

So yesterday was my birthday, denizens. How old did I turn? Well…let’s put it this way: Captain Janeway and her crew once discovered a planet that housed several people, including Amelia Earhart, who all disappeared in a particular year. The name of the episode in which Janeway made this discovery was how old I turned (yes, I’m going to make you work for this, and, yes, it’s going to be in a thoroughly geeky way).

Speaking of flying (Amelia Earhart segue, FTW!), I spent part of my birthday morning in a plane. I then spent part of my birthday morning plunging out of that plane, falling at approximately 120 mph toward the ground 2.5 miles below me. While strapped securely and snugly to a rather lovely man named Mario.

I’m very thankful that Mario was so delightful because Mario and I became very close. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

First, here’s me, properly suited up, rigged, and boasting a bad-ass “Danger” sign on my back:


I had requested a special “BAMF” sign since it was my birthday, but all they had were these signs. I made do. Besides, the Danger sign was way better than the little hat they made us all wear, which reminded me of the line that Jimmy Doogan says to the umpire who tried to correct Doogan when he was yelling at Evelyn Gardner for missing the cut-off:


Second cinematic reference…buckle your seat belts, it’s just going to get geekier…

So, to give you an idea of how high up we were, this was our plane at the halfway mark to our ascent. We circled at this altitude to let some solo students jump. Apparently, you have to jump a certain number of times from the halfway mark before you can do any solo jumps from 13,500 feet. That little cross-shaped speck? That’s our plane:


Finally, we reach our altitude and I’m second in line to dive. We hunker down and kind of duck-walk to the door because: A) Mario and I are now properly attached to each other, and B) the plane was not big enough to allow us to stand up. Here’s a shot of me looking down at the ground before Mario put my head back in the safety position. I love looking out the windows of planes as we fly places. I could have stood at the edge of the plane’s door, just staring down at the earth for hours…


But that wasn’t the point of this adventure. And so it was 1…2…3…and away we go! Take a look at Mario in this shot. I might have wanted “BAMF” for my sign, but Mario actually is a BAMF. He’s been a tandem instructor for 16 years now, and he’s done this particular move more than 6,000 times. He was awesome in every sense of the word:


Those first few seconds are astonishing and breathtaking and completely disorienting, as you watch earth and sky trade places several times while you tumble away from the plane:


But then you right yourself (or rather Mario rights you both) and you regain your senses enough to be able to flash your “gang” signs for the camera:


I told you it was just going to get geekier.

You know what draws my attention more than the scenery in this shot? The fact that my shoelace is untied!


But I hadn’t realized this fact at this point in the jump…probably because I was too busy having my breath stolen away from me every single second we were falling by glorious vistas like this:


I just love this shot. You can be King of the World all you want, Leo. Mario and me? We’re way above all that:


Did I mention that in addition to being totally bad-ass, Mario was also supremely silly?


Also, I would like to point out that, yes, I do realize that wind rushing past my face at 120 mph makes me look like an extra from the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder.” There’s really nothing I can do about that. I just wanted to acknowledge my awareness of this fact. And now that I have pointed this out to you, you cannot unsee the comparison. You’re welcome.

Meanwhile, Mario is still silly:


But he’s still fully aware of where we are in our descent and totally in control. It’s at this point, he’s checked his altimeter and he’s now getting ready to signal me that I should pull the release to deploy our parachute. But not before I finish giving a final thumbs-up:


And…boom. I’m now aware of the fact that my shoelace has come untied. Yes, it does drive me a little crazy the rest of the way down:


Actually, all I do is keep my one foot under the shoe that is untied so that it doesn’t have the chance to come loose, and then I spend the next several minutes having a great chat with Mario and getting to steer the parachute a little before Mario treats me to a few awesome spins and swoops over absolutely gorgeous landscape. As much as I loved the adrenaline rush of the freefall, I think this was my favorite part of the jump. It was so serene, so beautiful, so unbelievable.

And here we near our final destination. I love how this photo makes it look like we’re leaving a contrail behind us:


Mario gives me excellent instructions right up to the end and we have a perfect landing…


…and a groovy birthday hug!


And, to wrap it all up, I receive a certificate of achievement and the LARGEST bumper sticker I think I’ve ever owned:


This was, by far, the most amazing birthday gift I have ever received, and a million “thank yous” would cover only the first second of this fantastic journey. I have wanted to skydive for many years. Now that I’ve finally done it? I would do it again in a heartbeat. It is incomparable in exhilaration and in beauty. I would also highly recommend Skydive Orange if you are anywhere near Virginia and feel the need to plunge out of a plane while harnessed to someone as awesome as Mario. Every single instructor I met there was astounding and totally adept and totally professional…while still being totally silly and totally groovy. None of them was as astounding as Mario though. He rocked. And if you do decide to do this, and you’d like documented proof that you did, I highly recommend Christian for your photography and videography needs. He’s the brave soul who hung onto the side of the plane and jumped with Mario and me, to get every moment of my momentous descent. He rocked, too.

And when you’re finished? Get thee to a winery. There are several around Orange, Virginia, including my absolute favorite, Keswick Vineyards, which provided both the refreshment and the scenery for this perfect ending to a perfect morning:


A Decade of Howling

On July 15, 2003, I wrote the following on my newly launched Web site’s blog, which I had originally named “incite.thought”:

I suppose this part of my site now makes me a blogger. I’ll try to be pithy and poignant in my ramblings. Sometimes I hope I’ll even be funny or provocative. This entry, however, is for something that’s been driving me crazy all summer: The Dixie Chicks. I have three things to say about this “issue,” and then I’ll let it rest: 1) The First Amendment to the very American Constitution reads in part, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…”; 2) Theodore Roosevelt stated in 1918, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public”; and 3) French philosopher and writer Voltaire stated, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.”

So, rage more, Natalie…

And thus I began what has turned into a decade-long, rip-roaring road through politics, geekery, PhotoShop trickery, Flashback Fridays, Poster Picks, BookBins, DVDDregs, snarkiness, weirdness, writing snippets, travels, photos, MOAR RAMBLING, and all variety of loopy lupine craziness.

True, recent changes have currently made it a bit more difficult for me to find the time or creative energy to visit the lair with as much frequency as I used to (or still want to), but I love my little corner of teh Interwebz and I love all my wonderful denizens (especially those who have been visiting here so long they remember when I used to call you all my “snoggees”) for continuing to be interested in whatever it is I’ve got on the menu here at Chez Loba.

Thank you all for sticking with me, for finding me anew, for stumbling upon me and not wanting to leave just yet, or for just passing through. I have no plans to stop rambling just yet, so keep me bookmarked and keep that RSS feed loading!

You’d Lose Your Head If It Weren’t Attached

That was one of my mother’s favorite things to say. She had other preferred idioms, but none of those quite fit with the point of this post. Yes, this is one of those rare moments when I do actually have a point.

This is quite a familiar topic here at the lair…and quite possibly one of my favorite topics in all the world: Dr. Crusher. Remember Doctober? I don’t know why I even bother asking…of course you do! It was AWESOME. Also? I bring it up all the time. Because it was AWESOME.

Talking in circles? You’re so ouroboring, Loba.

On Doctober 2, I wrote a post called Losing Her Head, in which I blathered on a bit about Beverly Crusher action figures and gave fair warning that I would be making more action figure entries throughout the month. I also paid tribute to one of the earliest Dr. Crusher-centric Web sites I ever found when I first hit teh Interwebz: BevHeads. I also lamented the fact that I couldn’t remember the name of the person who ran the site.

Until he found me…through my post about his site. AND HE WROTE ABOUT MY POST IN HIS POST ON BEVHEADS.

[Insert “Circle of Life” in 3…2…1…]

Seriously, it’s moments like this that make me love these silly interconnected tubes all the more. Thank you, Mr. Thiel, for reaching out to fill in the blanks on your groovy site and for the equally awesome shout-out. I happily return the favor.

I would also like to take this moment to let you all know that Gates McFadden is now on Twitter! Even better? (Could there be anything even better, you wonder!) She has a wonderful Tumblr blog for the Ensemble Studio Los Angeles (of which she is the director), through which she shares the “exploits” of a Dr. Crusher action figure.

Sometimes I forget about the beauty within the world. And then things like this happen:


Click the photo to embiggen it and you’ll be able to see Ms. McFadden’s reflection in the wine bottle as she takes this shot.

Yes. Yes, I did study this photo that closely. You know you’re not surprised…


Little break from all the drinking that’s been going on here at the lair. I carved a pumpkin last night. I haven’t carved a pumpkin in a very long time. Too long. I used to love doing this every year (remember, Halloween is my favorite holiday). So when I learned that there would be a pumpkin decorating contest at work, I decided that I would get back to something that used to make me incredibly happy.

I need a little extra happy right now.

Truth be told, I don’t even mind if I don’t win anything for this little cutie. I had a blast carving him. This was also the first time I’ve ever used linoleum cutters for the task. Not bad for my first go, eh?

I snapped a couple photos of my wolfy pumpkin with a candle, but they came out incredibly dark (duh, right?). Therefore, forgive the graininess of this photo, which I had to take into PhotoShop for some level adjustments:

Even though it’s early, Happy Howloween, denizens. Hope you all get your scare on in the best ways possible.

Flashback Friday: Star Trek: The Next Generation

It’s not going to be a surprise to anyone who knows me, either in person or through the interactions I’ve shared with you here at my lair or my other online haunts, that today is particularly special to my little geeky heart. Twenty-five years ago, on September 28, 1987, one of the most influential shows of my life debuted.

I’m not going to bore you with statistics about the show or tell you about how I think TNG changed pop culture FOREVAH or even try to convince any of you who might not be Star Trek or sci-fi fans in general that this is mandatory viewing. Truth is, I can’t honestly say that. If you don’t like sci-fi, you don’t like it and that’s the end of it. Also? This isn’t a perfect show by any means. Ask any Trek fan who can be honest in their observations and they’ll tell you that there are several painful stretches of viewing displeasure (I’ve even heard some of my friends contend that the show didn’t really hit its stride until the fifth of its seven seasons; I would contend that it started dramatically improving somewhere around the third season, but I can see their point).

So what is the enduring legacy of this show? I could say something like its hope. Its optimism regarding the future of humanity and the human condition. Its progressive predictions about how far we could go if we could only unlock ourselves from the shackles of prejudice and ignorance. And if I did say these things, I would be telling the truth. These are just some of the factors that made me fall in love with TNG.

If I were to be completely honest, however, the reasons that I fell in love with TNG (and most of its subsequent Trek iterations) are purely subjective and purely personal.

I was an awkward, painfully shy adolescent, uncomfortable in my own body for many reasons. I had friends, but never really felt as though I fit in, even with them. I guess I could have tried harder, but I never really learned how to fake interest in the things I was “supposed” to enjoy. I remember all my girl friends leaving me behind as they began to show more interest in things like make-up and dating…while I just wanted to sit in my room and read all weekend and maybe get in a little batting practice after school before I had to do my homework.

TNG was one of the first TV series to show me something that I didn’t even realize I was missing: inclusion. It didn’t matter if you wore a banana clip over your eyes or had a turtle shell glued to your forehead…you were the galactic cheerleader with a chocolate addiction or the perpetually pissed off navigator with the crinkle-cut nose…even if you were the nerdiest, most annoying person in the universe (coughcoughWesleycoughcough)…there was a place for you on the NCC-1701-D.

While I was with the crew of the Enterprise, I wasn’t the outsider. I knew them. I knew that Captain Picard didn’t like children and that Commander Riker loved to throttle his trombone. Worf enjoyed a tall glass of prune juice after shift and Data’s whistle sounded like a vibrator stuck inside a toaster. Deanna couldn’t read your mind but she could state the obvious with deadly acumen, and Geordi couldn’t even figure out how to program a holodeck woman willing to spend more than a few hours with him before she was lulled nearly comatose by his presence.

These characters were my escape, my sanctuary, my dismissal from the unhappiness of reality.

And then there was Dr. Crusher.

It’s actually kind of a sad reason why I love this character above all others from this series, and one that now carries with it the added gilding of guilt for me. My mom was never well and things were particularly rocky for all of us throughout my teen years. She spent a lot time in hospitals and I spent a lot time feeling angry and alone in that wonderfully hyperbolic teenage way. I say that because deep down I knew that I wasn’t alone. My dad was always there for me. So were many other family members.

Looking back with a clearer perspective, I understand that my mom was there for me as well, as best as she could be. At the time, however, I found refuge in the “if only” maternal potential of Dr. Crusher’s constant presence (minus that awful second season, the existence of which I tend not to willingly acknowledge). She was there in ways that I couldn’t bring myself to allow real people to be there for me. She became and remains the most important fictional character I’ve ever known.

Like I said, it’s a rather sad reason I suppose. And I do feel guilty that, while my mom was alive, I spent such a large part of my adolescence wishing that a fictional character could take her place. Hindsight shouldn’t be so painfully in-focus.

So, there you have it. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the most influential television series in my life…and not solely for the reasons you might have expected. It’s been with me for so long that I can’t even remember a time before its existence. I think I once figured out that at the height of my TNG addiction, I watched more than 20 hours per week. When I wasn’t watching it on television, I was reading its novels, listening to its audiobooks, playing its computer games, wearing its T-shirts, drinking coffee from its mugs, going to its conventions, collecting its merchandise in ways that probably could have inspired a very special episode of Hoarders.

Happy anniversary to Captain Picard and his extraordinary crew. And thank you to the Great Bird of the Galaxy who planted the seed from which this galaxy-sized series grew.

Fabulous Photo Friday: Sarah McLachlan

Know what makes this past week of power outages, extreme heat, sticky-sweaty-ickiness, and general WTFery all better?

I was this close to Sarah McLachlan last night:

All your arguments are now invalid to Loba.

Seriously, this was the perfect way to make up for the hella week we’ve been having here in the D.C. area. I’ve loved Sarah McLachlan since my college days (all those many moons ago, right?), and she is only one of two musicians I will gladly pay top dollar to see in concert whenever they come to town (can you guess who the other is?).

Speaking of Tori (guess I gave that answer away), McLachlan seems to be taking a page from Amos’s current play book. Just like Amos, McLachlan is currently touring with orchestral accompaniment, from the National Philharmonic.

As with Amos’s music, McLachlan’s often down-tempo, haunting songs are perfectly suited for this type of musical enhancement. Regardless of the swelter that surrounded us (she played at Merriweather Post Pavillion, which is an outdoor venue), McLachlan’s voice, strengthened by strings, winds, and percussion was well worth the sweet summer sweat.

The highlight of the evening, as it usually is (for me, at least), was the new arrangement of “Possession,” one of McLachlan’s songs from her third (and my personal favorite) album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.

The story behind this song is actually quite a dark one. McLachlan wrote “Possession” in response to rather disturbing letters received from some fans, including one “self-admitted stalker” named Uwe Vandrei. Vandrei sued McLachlan, saying that his love letters to her were the basis for “Possession.” The case never went to trial, however, because Vandrei committed suicide not long after filing his suit.

With lyrics like:

And I would be the one
To hold you down
Kiss you so hard
I’ll take your breath away
And after I’d wipe away the tears
Just close your eyes dear

you can’t help but wonder what kind of memories this song must invoke for McLachlan each time she sings it. Yet to watch her sing it is to watch her become the possessed and the possessor

Photo Fun Friday: Community Coffee House

Other than being re-sized for posting, this photo is completely unaltered in any way:

A rarity, indeed, denizens. Typically, I always do something to my photos before posting them, whether it be something simple like cropping it in a certain way or tweaking the color levels, or something…a bit more dramatic.

I can’t help myself. I am a PhotoShop devotee, to the very depth of my CMYK/RGB soul.

That being said, the moment I saw this photo, I loved it just as it was, without one plea. We’d gone out walking early on Sunday morning, our last full day in New Orleans (in case you were wondering, that’s part of the reason I barely made it to the lair in April…prep work followed by onsite support for a conference in the Big Easy, after which I played tourist for a few days).

It was already in the mid-70s and the sun was just reaching the point where it could cast its light down into the magnificent maze of the French Quarter. We were already heading to a place for breakfast, but I couldn’t resist stopping and filling my lungs with the scent of coffee wafting from this corner Community Coffee House.

As I stood, watching the light cast shadows of street lamps and signage against the wall, I was struck by how so many of the aspects of New Orleans that I love were right there in front of me: the cast-iron quaintness of the lamp posts; the bilingual street signs, each pointing us deeper into the tangle of delights that the Quarter willingly offers up to everyone who wanders through; the local brew house, churning out yet another delicious aroma to cancel out Bourbon Street’s unseemlier smells; the strong glow of sunlight, pouring down on it all, bright and bounteous.

The entire tableau made me so happy that I couldn’t resist snapping a shot before moving along to our breakfast destination. I didn’t even review the shot after taking it…simply slung the camera back over my shoulder and ambled on down the Rue Royale, thoughts of coffee and fried green tomatoes and biscuits and gravy taking precedence once more.

Imagine my surprise when I finally saw the shot.

True, the longer I look at it, the more ideas flood my mind regarding what I could do with it in PhotoShop…age it, fade it, bolster the color, crack it, rip it…the temptation is engulfing. However, for this post, I give it to you in its simplest, truest form.

Welcome Home, Discovery

Something extraordinary just happened, denizens. I’ve been driving people crazy all morning about it. The Space Shuttle Discovery has come to her new home.

She left Kennedy Space Center early this morning; I heard her departure during my commute into work. I had wanted to take the morning off, join the rest of my geek peepz down at the Udvar-Hazy to watch her arrival, but I’ve got too much going on at work right now for that to be feasible.

Welcome to the Digital Age.

I still got to watch her arrival, thanks to a streaming video provided by NASA. Here are some screen captures, in case you missed the video:

Even better? My cousin was able to snap this shot of Discovery on her fly-by up the Potomac River:

Want better still? I got to see her on her fly-by. Totally unexpected. I didn’t think that my office would be anywhere near her flight plan. As I was waiting for the coverage video to start back up, I heard a group of my coworkers running around the corner toward our conference room. I swiveled around in my chair…and there she was, gliding across the cloud-dappled sky on the back of her chaperone.


I have no photo of this moment…she was there for but a moment before streaking off into the ether…but I can still see it, replaying in my mind.

Silly as it might sound, this has made my morning.

Such bittersweet emotions right now. She shouldn’t be moth-balled for museum fodder, but I’m so thankful that I live in an area lucky enough to have been selected to give one of these beautiful shuttles a new home. I can’t wait for Udvar-Hazy to reveal her glorious debut. I’ll miss the Enterprise, but now it’s time for others to enjoy her.

Welcome home, Discovery.

Commemorative poster designed for Smithsonion National Air & Space Museum