Unleashing the Writer: Switchbacks, Starshine, and Sunrise

I still exist, denizens. I haven’t holed up in a shopping mall to hide from the zombie apocalypse or gone looking for the Blair Witch or spelunking and never returned.

Apparently, I have been watching a lot of horror movies lately. What? It is October.

Things are running at warp speed on many planes of my existence right now, and sadly, I have had to reduce my time here at the lair in response. Only temporarily, though, I promise. I think about you all often, and I have been working on things to post here. I just need to find the time (and energy) to finish them.

Case in point? I’ve been working on this particular piece for an embarrassingly long time. It’s about our trip to Haleakalā National Park in Maui to watch the sun rise. It was one of the most beautiful natural events I have ever experienced, for many reasons. I desperately wanted to capture some of that morning’s events. I hope that’s what I’ve done with this piece. Even if it’s not that great, you at least get some lovely photos at the end, for your effort 😉

Eyelids begrudgingly slip open, pupils swiftly dilating, as my brain registers but refuses to comprehend the startling electronic trill or the cool blue glow against the otherwise perfect blackness of the room. The digital numbers pulse gently as my eyes struggle to focus and my brain drags itself from the shallows of an uncertain sleep. Those numbers: 2:45. In the morning.

In the morning.

Several fuzzy, futile attempts at addition and I realize that in “our time,” it’s really 7:45 a.m. In another world, thousands of miles out of sight and blissfully out of mind, I’d be at the office, pouring my first coffee of the day and mixing blueberries and cinnamon into my oatmeal. Morning rituals designed to ease my descent into another workday.

Cool blue numbers flicker to 2:46. Morning rituals are temporarily on pause and there’s no way but up today.

Roll out of bed and dress: T-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, jeans, baseball cap, and hiking shoes. Pack a sweatshirt and a hoodie. Try not to feel utterly ridiculous at the incongruity of such a wardrobe when it’s still a solid 75 degrees outside. Paradise should not require hoodies.

She’s already packed Kashi bars and fruit strips in her backpack, plus the water bottles the hotel staff so kindly left when they prepared the room for our arrival the previous day, and is standing next to the door, similarly sleep-deprived yet incongruously wide awake. “Don’t forget your cameras. We’ve got to go.”

Hustle across the softly lit lobby to the sound of waves cresting and crashing against the distant shoreline. We marvel at the fact that we’re not the only ones scurrying about. Families wait in irritable impatience for the valet to pull around their minivans. Other couples slouch toward their self-parked rentals. One young woman unrepentantly drapes one of the hotel’s bed spreads across her shoulders as she traipses off into the darkness. It’s surreal and slightly absurd, but the night-shift staff all smile knowingly at us as we pass, completely unsurprised. Nothing more predictable than the tides or tourists, I suppose.

Finally in our rental car, top definitely up for this excursion, and out on the main highway, I settle into a comfortable speed, roll down the windows and listen to the cadence of tires spinning us toward our destination. No other sounds but that. No other lights but our headlights, piercing the nothingness of night. We’ve left the other tourists behind as I roll through the blackness in this still-unfamiliar beast of a rental that growls obstinately at the slightest press of my foot against the accelerator. He’s seen rough roads, this one, even for a relatively new model. I can’t help but wonder where those roads might be.

I’m about to find out.

The GPS finally directs us off the main highway and onto a narrow road barely visible minus the crisp British voice entreating me to “Turn here.” I obey, and the ascent begins immediately.

The rental’s four speeds dwindle to one–a churlish, lumbering grumble as I force it upward along a seemingly endless parade of switchbacks that float out of early mists and bend onward into blinding blackness. Only the distant glimpse of headlights far behind and below shatter the surreal solipsism of this long night’s journey into day.

The world diminishes to the breadth and depth of our high beams as we wind upward, stopping once to pay our entrance fee into the park (even this early, the booth contains a pleasant-faced ranger, donned in forest green and topped by Smokey the Bear headgear) before continuing on to the parking lot at the very end of the line. We glide past a sign that marks our elevation—10,000 feet above sea level—and slip into the first open spot in what seems to be a nearly full lot. Check the temperature gauge: 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Twenty-five degrees colder than when we left the hotel more than an hour ago.

Twist of the key and the whisper of illumination inside the car falls silent against the indigo rush surrounding us. Already the cold presses in around us as well, and in only a few moments, the inside of the car matches the chill of the outside. In that instant, I make my choice: better to roam than sit and shiver. I am alone in this crazy bravery, and I slip out of the car into the shockingly cold night air.

Teeth chattering, I make my way slowly along the slice of sidewalk illuminated by my little LED flashlight. Several yards out and up, fingers so cold I can no longer feel the flashlight, I stop, fumble to click the light off, and look upward toward the night sky.

A misting of stars, like breath released from unseen gods in awe of dizzying heights and freezing winds atop a land forged by molten fire. Sharp, startled awakening within me as I stare upward, struggling to understand, greedily consuming every parsec that I can.

I have never seen stars before this moment.

I stand with head thrown back, no longer certain whether my shivering is from the cold or from the sheer delight of a night sky as I have never seen it…unsure whether my eyes water from the steady, sharp winds or from emotion awakened by this sight so inconceivable. Yes, Inigo, I finally understand what this word means, and my heart feels as though it will burst with the beating of jubilation at the beauty before…above…surrounding me.

Only at the realization that I have nearly lost feeling in all my extremities do I finally look away from the dazzling, dizzying night sky. I make my way back to the car. This beauty must be shared. I lead her back to the same spot, click off my light, and we synchronously stare upward. We came here for one light show and discovered that this morning was going to be a double feature.

Finally, we notice the faintest sliver of color along the eastern horizon, beginning to split the two sides of night right along the seams. We make our way along a lava-formed precipice, taking our place on a rock outcropping, snuggling together against the unrelenting winds, and wait. Let the main event begin…

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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!

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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…

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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:

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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:

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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…and a groovy birthday hug!

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

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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:

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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”:

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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!

The Ablutions of Civility

Do you know what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?

A hot shower and a hairdryer.

I exaggerate, of course. But not really. I know that we like to think of ourselves as highly evolved (or children of God, if that’s how you like to swing), but it’s such a thin sheen, this civility we pride ourselves for possessing over the rest of the mammals.

Remove one of those tenuous threads that connect us to that higher plateau and watch how quickly it all unravels.

We lost our electricity on Friday night, thanks to a jaw-droppingly violent storm known as a “Derecho.” It swept through the area with winds strong enough to snap healthy trees into shards of kindling and rip power lines completely free from their poles. And the rain! The idiom “sheets of rain” would not be hyperbolic in this case. Rain poured down as if dumped from a giant basin, with no delineation of size or shape…just a solid wall of water through which we found ourselves driving. VERY SLOWLY.

It was stunning and frightening and utterly humbling.

And then we reached our neighborhood and the unsurprising though frustrating reality of complete darkness.

This was our reality for almost four days.

Several years ago, New York was hit by a blackout so severe that former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson described us as ” a superpower with a third world electricity grid.” This statement is perfectly applicable to the state of the electricity grid as operated by the Potomac Electric Power Company, known as PEPCO. Although, it’s not really “operated” by PEPCO anymore, which is probably a major part of the problem. PEPCO sold their energy generating assets in 2000. They said that it would benefit customers by giving us lower rates. It was also supposed to open up free-market competition.

Yeah, not so much.

What actually happened has been a decade-plus devolution in service and reliability from PEPCO to the point that if you sneeze too hard near a substation, thousands go without power for days. Granted, Friday night’s storm was fierce. However, PEPCO’s response was the same as every one of their responses to massive days-long power failures (which seem to occur at least biannually anymore): no human customer service; spotty updates to their automated response system that always lack any concrete commitment to timelines; slow decisions to reach out to nearby power companies for help in restoration efforts; and, when finally they do commit to a deadline, it’s offensively distant.

Case in point: We lost power on Friday, June 29. Sunday, July 1, PEPCO finally committed to the “promise” that 90 percent of the people without power would have full restoration by 11 p.m. on Friday, July 6.

This is customer service? Did I mention that temperatures have been in the mid-90s to low 100s since the power went out? And there’s no sign of relief all week?

This is how civility’s sheen sloughs away: Under the oppressive pressing persistence of heat and humidity that leave patience in shreds and tempers inflamed. Major intersections become free-for-alls as people abandon lawfulness and common courtesy. You think this area’s traffic sucks and blows as it is on a normal day? Try making it down a major roadway when every stoplight is dead and there are no police officers available to direct traffic. Mad Max would be left in tears by sweaty, enraged D.C. area commuters unfettered by the superfluity of traffic rules and simple human decency.

Then there were the lines at the gas stations that still had power. I wasn’t alive during the 1973 oil crisis, but I’ve seen photos of lines of cars snaking down roads, around blocks, waiting to get to a pump. Believe it or not, this was the scene this past weekend at the few stations that still had power. You’d have thought that we’d gone weeks without access to gas, the way people were behaving. Horns blaring, tempers flaring…I honestly question and fear what would happen in an actual gas shortage. Good thing I like to walk as much as I do.

By Sunday evening, our third-world power grid problems sparked a first-world worry regarding…our wine fridge. We’d just gotten back from a very prosperous adventure (about which I had planned on telling you all prior to PEPCO SUCKS 2012!!!11!!) that left our wine fridge fully stocked with some amazing new discoveries.

Discoveries that were now beginning to warm up.

Have you ever heard the phrase “like looking for a needle in a haystack”? That, denizens, might have been easier than looking for a bag of ice in a blackout. I drove around for almost an hour in search of ice. The closest I came were random shards and cubes abandoned at the bottoms of empty ice bins and one incredibly questionable offer from a gas station attendant who looked almost exactly like Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov, for me to “come back in few hours and I will have for you two bags of ice.”

Uh. No.

Thankfully, I found a 7-Eleven with a full ice case, the wine was promptly cooled down, and I even got to enjoy a glass of non-tepid tap water that evening.

Monday morning brought with it another round of frustration: My office building had no power. No electricity at work, no electricity at home, I suddenly found myself in full nomadic form, netbook in tow, standing outside the local Barnes and Noble bookstore with two goals in mind: free wi-fi and a giant cup of coffee. Possibly two. At the same time.

Caffeine withdrawal is an ugly thing to witness, denizens.

Thankfully, the B&N staff understood the desperation that rolled off us all in waves (as well as a bit of funk, I’m sure; cold showers are great for cooling off but you cannot convince me that they are suitable for successful hygiene). The Starbucks cafe was ready with hot coffee and the promise of quiet tables and no pressure when we camped out well past the point when our cups were drained and nothing remained of our muffins beyond crumbs and blueberry-stained napkins. Actually, B&N was a lovely oasis of civility in an otherwise calamitous experience. The staff were kind, the store was quiet and cool, the wi-fi never faltered, and I ended up leaving with the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft for $20.

Win.

Now, I sit here in the cool comfort of our house, listening to the appeasing sounds of our mist-thin civility once more humming around me. I suppose I should be thankful to PEPCO for restoring our electricity well before their estimate. However, I can’t help but chafe at the thought that they set the bar so impossibly low that I can’t really find it in myself to thank them for anything. Yes, I appreciate the workers who are out there, busting their asses in this heat to fix what went wrong; but I can’t forgive the arrogance of the upper management who not only act as though they are above answering to their customers for remarkably poor service but actually have the audacity to want to discuss the possibility of imminent price increases.

Right. Perhaps I should approach such an increase with the same reliability and responsiveness that they approach these regular power failures…

Mind All Traffic Signals…

…even the ones you can’t see.

I want you to just look at this photo for a moment or two, denizens. Ponder it:

Do you notice anything off about the positioning of the crosswalk signs? Want a closer look?

Yeah. Pretty awesome, right? The one sign is positioned RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER ONE. Result? Total visual blockage.

The signs have been like this for probably three months now. The county had sent a crew out to regrade the sidewalk crossings, and they installed a couple of new crosswalk signs while they were at it. What I want to know is, how did they not realize while they were installing this sign that they were screwing up?

It took me all of five seconds to deduce the DERP of the sign placement. The work crew was there, futzing around with the sidewalk and the signs for more than a week. Did none of them at any point not look up and say, “Hey! Hey, guyz?!!?!11! I think we need to re-evaluate this game plan.”

Or did they all notice it and just not give a damn? Who’s to say. All I know is that I’m very glad that my parents taught me to always look both ways before crossing the street…

Farfle Falafel Fat Pillow

Well, that’s a bit of a ridiculous title, isn’t it? And yet it fits perfectly with the ridiculously lovely little dog to which it once belonged.

Meet Fahrvergnügen:

Yes, that’s correct, her real name was Fahrvergnügen. My cousin named her that. Truthfully, though, we don’t know what her real name might have been, since my cousin brought her home after finding her at the local dump. We also never really knew what kind of dog she was, with her Blue Tick Coonhound markings, her Beagle baying, and her stumpy Basset Hound legs (and trademark Basset Hound stubborn streak). She was skinny and mangy and riddled with fleas, a bit surly and confrontational with the other dogs. But she was also loyal to every member of our familial “pack.” So we accepted her, although we all mutually agreed that “Farf” was a far easier name to yell from the back porch than “Fahrvergnügen.”

So Farf it became. For a summer, I called her “Hava Hava,” because of the strange predilection she had developed for wandering around my grandparents’ living room, entreating people to play with her by making a guttural, growly noise that sounded like her saying “Hava Hava Hava” over and over. Then, when she started to get to be a little chubby in her later years, I crowned her with this post’s title: “Farfle Falafel Fat Pillow.” Alliterative and silly, but meant lovingly.

My grandmother adored Farf, and the feeling was most assuredly mutual. Farf would sit quietly next to my grandmother on the couch, letting her stroke her long, silky ears. One of the last things my grandmother held onto from her North Carolina days was the memory of her “puppy.” That was how my parents ended up inheriting Farf; they were closest to where my grandmother was, so that she could still visit with her puppy until even that memory faded from grasp.

Farf returned to North Carolina when my parents relocated. She loved both my parents and trained them both well when it came to giving her treats. When my mother became bed-ridden, Farf stayed close, sleeping by her bedside, keeping watch. After my mother died, Farf became my father’s shadow. Even though she was getting up there in age and her joints protested the effort, she would follow him wherever he went in the house, upstairs, downstairs…didn’t matter. He was her duty and devotion.

The photo with this post? It’s a shot of her watching my father moving around the living room, waiting to see if she could stay where she was or if she’d need to get up to follow after him to another room.

By the end, Farf had gone completely deaf (but definitely never lost her ability to bark), nearly blind, and it had gotten to the point where my dad needed to help her get up and down even the few stairs on the back deck. Kidney failure, however, was something that none of us could help her overcome, and so my dad had to have Farf put to sleep last week.

We’ll never know how old she really was since she, like so many others from the cadre of amazing canines who have padded their way across our hearts, was a random rescue. Whatever her age, she was a part of our family for nearly 15 years. She made us her pack, she gave her devotion to us, and we did what we could to give her the best home and plenty of love.

I hope it was enough.

Good girl, Farf. Good girl.

Come On, Baby, Light My Fire

Admiral, this one’s for you.

I nearly brought an end to LobaBlanca this weekend, through hot sauce-induced self-immolation.

Okay, that might be a tad bit hyperbolic…but it sure felt like the truth while it was happening.

Allow me to set the scene: To satiate a craving for barbecue that I’ve been fighting for a while, we decided to have lunch at a local barbecue chain that does some pretty decent brisket and pulled pork. As part of my plate, I ordered a side of collard greens. The only way I know how to eat greens is with hot sauce. If you’ve never tried it, you simply don’t know what you’re missing.

Mind you, I love spicy food. I will add hot sauce to practically anything, but I particularly love it on collard greens. Therefore, I didn’t think twice about going over to the condiment shelf and looking for an appropriate hot sauce. Several of the bottles had kitschy labels like “Fart Machine” or “Ass in a Bucket.” I’m sorry, but I couldn’t bring myself to select these options. Kitsch or not, anything pertaining to someone’s posterior is simply not appetizing at all.

Dogs, however, are always the way to hook me in. I’m a sucker for a cute dog cartoon, especially a cute, smiling dog in a chef’s hat…which is what was on the bottle of Mad Dog 357 Magnum that I ended up choosing. Because of the dog on the bottle.

BAD DOG. BAD, BAD DOG.

I opened the bottle, poured what I thought was an appropriate amount of hot sauce over my greens, and stirred it all up to give everything a chance to marry. I’d mostly mixed it, but there was still a nice, shiny dollop of sauce (about the size of a chocolate M&M) right on the top. So I scooped up that section of greens and popped them into my mouth.

Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to carry Satan’s baby inside you? I don’t have to wonder anymore. See, what I learned (regrettably too late) was that the 357 in the name stood for this sauce’s level on the infamous Scoville Scale.

No, not 357 on the scale. More like 357,000.

357,000. You can see it right there, printed on the label. I would have seen it if I’d been paying more attention to the words and less attention to the cute Hell Hound.

I think the highest range to which my preferred spiciness has heretofore reached is maybe…maybe into the 100,000 range on the Scoville Scale. (I do loves me some Thai chili peppers).

The scale range of this hot sauce? I can’t say with absolute certainty since I’ve never actually been stabbed in the stomach, but I think this is as close to such a feeling as I ever want to experience.

AND I NEVER WANT TO EXPERIENCE THIS AGAIN.

It started out okay, slightly hotter than what I was used to, but not too terrible. This is a slow build of the worst kind. Next came the tears, trickling out of my eyes uncontrollably. Next, my lips turned the brightest shade of red they have ever turned. It was like I was spontaneously transforming into Pennywise the Clown. Without the awesome fangs, of course. Then came the myriad trips to the soda fountain, for water refill after water refill after water refill…to the point where I just wanted to shove everyone out of my way, wrap my mouth around the spigot, and flick the switch until the hell fire brewing in my gut melted the entire machine.

Then came the true agony. I struggled through the rest of my lunch (minus the collard greens, which had gone from tasty side dish to cruel and unusual punishment that should be banned by the Geneva Conventions), but when I stood to leave, I was struck by searing pain. My first thought? Oh dear prophets, that hot sauce is eating its way through my stomach! Ironically, my second, third, and many subsequent thoughts were the same.

It was horrible. And unending. And nearly unbearable. As long as I was sitting, I was somewhat fine. Movement, however, made the earlier knife wound analogy seem almost preferable. This was like that creepy “intestines wound around a barbed spool” scene from The Cell. Although honestly? I think having my intestines reeled out of my body onto a barbed spool might have been slightly less painful. This pain took the better part of Saturday evening to finally recede to a point where I could once again stand upright.

What lesson did I learn? READ THE LABEL. Don’t be swayed by the cutesy dog cartoon. The cutesy dog is actually trying to kill you, especially when he appears above the words “MAD DOG.” I also learned that there is a distinct limit to my own personal enjoyment of hot sauce. This surpassed that limit by about a thousand light years.

Here’s a review of Mad Dog 357 Magnum. Please note that I’m one of the doofuses (doofi?), not for want of showing off but for lack of general awareness.

See, Admiral? We all make spicy mistakes 😉