About This Blog (And Blogger) in 1000 Words or Less

I became a Catholic when I was confirmed at the Easter Vigil in the year of Our Lord, 2008. I was baptized, though, when I was 10 years old in a Non-denominational Christian church located in my hometown. With my family, I attended regularly (pretty much if church was open, we were there!) until I graduated from high school and joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17. [Read more...]

Ziggy Stardust + SRV = An Awesome Near Miss (Music for Mondays)

I’ve always liked David Bowie, even when I couldn’t stand to look at him at times. The Ziggy Stardust look was interesting, no? But man, Space Oddity is great, and so is Suffragette City, We Could Be Heroes, Jean Genie and lots, lots more. Bowie was looking for a new sound in the early 1980′s and he stumbled upon a blues guitarist who caught his ear at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982. Stevie Ray, needing to eat, signed on with Bowie and cut the album, though later he opted out of touring to promote it.

My second SRV album

The album that resulted was released in 1983 and was called Let’s Dance. When it hit the airwaves, I remember hearing Modern Love on the radio and liking it. I didn’t really get to listen to the whole album, you know, with head phones the size of Mission Control headset, until I was in Cairo in late 1984. When I did, I remember wondering, who the heck is this guitar player? He’s got a great sound!

So Let’s Dance was also my very first Stevie Ray Vaughn album. The first of many. How good was Stevie Ray Vaugh? Six Grammys good. What follows are some of my favorite SRV-heavy tracks from this album and a bonus track from a practice session for the Serious Moonlight Tour that Stevie opted out of. It turned out not to have been a career killing idea. We’ll go in order of each songs appearance on the album.

Modern Love.  Whoa, I thought to myself, who is this cat on guitar? And come to think of it, I think “modern love” stinks too. Though I had never met it personally myself, I preferred the idea of “old fashioned” love. So I liked this tune from the very beginning.

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China Girl. Co-written with Iggy Pop (who recorded it in 1977), it’s a neat little story song that Stevie Ray’s blues guitar style brings up a notch, or two. The original video is a cool little short film too, complete with From Here to Eternity scenes in the surf, etc. I couldn’t find the longer album version though. It’s gone from YouTube forever, I reckon. This one cuts SRV’s solo to almost nothing. Pity.

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Let’s Dance.  Now we’re cooking! The original album version with all of its jazziness, percussion filled back beats, and, of course, the unfettered SRV blues guitar, for your listening pleasure. Stevie Ray shows he learned a thing or two from producer Nile Rodgers with his guitar playing style here. By this time, I was searching the cassette tape liner notes for the name of the lead guitarist. For the full MTV effect, go check out the little short film on materialism and its dubious benefits here.  Otherwise, stay here and go long!

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Criminal World. On this track, Bowie covers a tune with fairly dark lyrics. Guess what else? He really lets Stevie Ray spread his wings here. Go get ‘em blues man! He really gets going at the fade into the end. That’s ok, because he picks it up on the next song where this one leaves off.

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Cat People (Putting Out Fire). The first hit on the album was actually the first single released in conjunction with a film of the same title in 1982. Remember Nastassja Kinski? I hope she settled down and had a happy marriage and a lot of kids. Don’t ruin the dream with facts, please. Anyway, he re-cut it with Stevie Ray’s take on it. SRV shines here too, and I remember thinking that the drummer is very gifted too.

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Jean Genie. Stevie Ray Vaugh never toured with David Bowie, though that was the original plan after the studio album was cut. For an idea of how the Serious Moonlight Tour would have sounded like with SRV on the lead guitar, check this out. It’s from the practice session recordings leading up to the tour. The visuals here are awful, but the music? Raucous!

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That’s a print! Say a prayer for Stevie Ray’s soul (he died on August 27, 1990 at the age of 35, and today would have been his 57th birthday) and I’ll see you next time.

To Help Make A Movie, Part Deux!

Ian Higgins writes,

Hi Frank, 

I just wanted to personally thank you and all your readers who have so kindly donated and shown their support for our movie “All That Remains”. It has been overwhelming to witness such support in such a short space of time.

It is thanks to the kindness of all those who donated that we now have enough funds in place to film the crucial interviews in Japan. We’ve managed to raise enough funds to fly out to Japan and film the necessary interviews for the documentary aspects of the movie – thanks to everyone who rallied to our cause!

We didn’t reach our total, but we still consider our campaign a huge success and have decided to launch a second campaign – this time with the goal of raising the necessary funds for the drama sequences that will help bring this amazing story of a remarkable man to life with all the emotional power that a film has.

I would also like to add, to all those who chose to contribute anonymously on our previous campaign, remember to please get in touch with us at info@majoroakentertainment.com with your email addresses (that information is not given to us when you donate as anonymous) so we can send you the links to your perks as and when they become available. Your personal details will be treated as strictly confidential.

Thanks again for your kindness and support!

Huzzah! Ian and Dominic can wing it over to Nagasaki now and get some digital film in the flash drives! Very cool. Guess what else?

Frank, Dominic and I also would like to give you a producer credit on the movie. I know it’s not on the perk you purchased (Ed. a cheap one!), but I think as one of the job descriptions of a producer is to help raise funds for a production – that qualifies you.

Warmest regards,
Ian Higgins

Gulp. Know what that means? I’m now no longer just the chief fan boy or über cheerleader, but an honest-to-goodness movie producer now!? I gotta tell you, the Lord works in mysterious ways because I sure didn’t see that title landing beside my name EVER. No way, no how.

But this is a remarkable story that needs to be told, and told again. It never crossed my mind that I would be denominated with a title like producer on my résumé. And it never would have happened without the generosity of giving readers like you. Folks who live out the words penned by St. James (2:14-17) two thousand years ago,

What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.

Know what else it means? That’s simple: I need to make some more rain for the project! And I’m a beggar-thy-neighbor type, long on faith and prayer, but short on cash. But God will provide, and of that I am sure. And it looks like I’ve got some new stuff to learn. Maybe Tom Cruise can help.

Takashi Nagai, praying the rosary

Remember that little post I shared with you about how Words Matter? Well they do. As I thanked you for your generosity before, I will thank you for it again and ask that you share the news on this project via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. Heck, by any means possible. And give, give, and give some more —in any amount!

But I won’t brow beat you about it either. Shakedowns? We don’t need no stinking shakedowns! Instead, you can keep track of the fundraising progress right here at YIMCatholic. If you have a gander at the right-hand sidebar (up topside), you’ll see I’ve added a little widget showing the All That Remains Phase-2 IndieGoGo page where you can easily share it, see how many shekels are in the jar, how much time is left to give, etc., etc. How neat is that? Here’s an idea: put it on your blog too!

With prayer, action, faith, hope, and love,  I’m sure that Phase-2 of fundraising for this project will be a rousing success. All it will take is the following…

Because I Asked, I Prayed, And You Helped This Pro-Life Cause

Dr. Nagai and his children praying.

Thank you YIMCatholic Readers! On the last day of this past August, I shared a post about helping to make the movie All That Remains. When completed, it will be a docu-drama about the life of Dr. Takashi Nagai, survivor of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki. I called it “rattling the tin cup” for a good cause, and I shared the post with you all. I threw a few shekels in myself and prayed that others would respond too.

When Ian Higgins sent me the information about the project, the fundraising page he had built over at IndieGoGo set a lofty goal of $24,000 dollars and had a whopping $45.00 in the kitty from three kind donors. Did I mention that there is some kind of time limit on this campaign? The clock was ticking down with 14 days remaining and that goal seemed all but impossible.

It still seems like a stretch. But who knows? Well, God knows. And maybe Ian and his brother Dominic can get an extension. But the good news is that 1082 folks read that post (according to Blogger’s internal counter) and 22 of them have contributed $4155 dollars towards the completion of this inspiring project. Isn’t that great? I’m thanking everyone who contributed, as well as everyone who forwarded the post, shared it on Facebook, Tweeted it, and linked to it. Thanks for all your help!

Now, the counters over at IndieGoGo say that 4 days is all that remains (pun intended!) on the fundraising campaign and I’m rattling the tin cup once again and praying for a miracle. Of the 1082 folks who read the post the first time around, 22 contributed in various amounts; from as little as $15 to as much as $1000(!).  Remember me and my calculator? That works out to 2.03% of readers contributing to the cause. Which is about 17.97% shy of the 20% the Pareto Principle would have predicted would have given.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Pareto Principle? The 80/20 rule? Basically it means 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. Or,

80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers
80% of your complaints come from 20% of your customers
80% of your profits come from 20% of the time you spend
80% of your sales come from 20% of your products
80% of your sales are made by 20% of your sales staff
80% of your comments come from 20% of your readers

I just made that last one one up. Or put another way, as Our Lord said,

The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.(Matthew 13:33)

I wonder how close the percentage of meal to leaven in the parable is to 80:20?

Here is the link to the fundraising site (Phase 2!) again, as well as the awesome trailer,

All That Remains – Feature film Trailer from Ian & Dominic Higgins on Vimeo.

For those who think that using nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified, Joe Six-Pack, USMC would simply remind you that doing so in the future would not be justified in light of Catholic teaching. See Guadium et Spes (§80),

80. The horror and perversity of war is immensely magnified by the addition of scientific weapons. For acts of war involving these weapons can inflict massive and indiscriminate destruction, thus going far beyond the bounds of legitimate defense. Indeed, if the kind of instruments which can now be found in the armories of the great nations were to be employed to their fullest, an almost total and altogether reciprocal slaughter of each side by the other would follow, not to mention the widespread devastation that would take place in the world and the deadly after effects that would be spawned by the use of weapons of this kind.

Urakami Cathedral, 500 meters
from Ground Zero.

All these considerations compel us to undertake an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude.(1) The men of our time must realize that they will have to give a somber reckoning of their deeds of war for the course of the future will depend greatly on the decisions they make today.

With these truths in mind, this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes,(2) and issues the following declaration.

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

Nor was it an open and shut case among many folks involved in the war effort at the time either, not that that matters now. Never Again!

Thanks again to all who have helped out and thanks in advance for those who will! If you can, throw the Brothers Higgins a few shekels, but if you can’t, please share this with others and pray for the successful completion of this important Pro-Life film project.

P.S. Here’s a bonus earworm from Dweezil and Moon Unit…

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Recognizing Grace in a Manual Transmission

This past week, I’ve been on vacation. Actually, it’s been a “stay-cation,” with me working on little projects around the house. The repairs to our home after the hail damage (from the storms back in April) needed to be managed as well. And then there was my car.

My car had been damaged pretty significantly by the hail storm too. Early in May it was inspected by my insurer, and the body shop scheduled it for repair in the third week of July. They said it would take one full week, and instead, it took three. It also cost them twice as much to repair it as the insurer estimated.

Did I mention my oldest son received his “learners permit” back in July too? And he has been driving under supervision since that time and doing a fine job. That is, until my car came home from the shop. You see, my little car has a 5-speed transmission, which helps it get 40 miles per gallon on the highway. I informed my son that he must learn to drive it.

It’s one of those unilateral “Dad Edicts” that I announce from time to time, as it is my prerogative to do. Anyway, to make a long story short, my son has been re-learning how to drive this week while I am on vacation. School starts next week for him, so now is the time.

What does any of this have to do with grace? Maybe nothing. Or maybe everything.

When talking about grace, I mean what Merriam-Webster marks down as definition #1(a) & (b):

1a: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.

1b: a virtue coming from God.

You see, when you live in the world of automation, everything seems easy. And you can start to take for granted that ease, and completely miss out on all the wonderful, and sometimes difficult, things that actually take place in order to accomplish things as simply as shifting gears in a car. Or like drafting this message.

Now as long as I’ve had children, they have known that manual transmissions exist. But my oldest is realizing now how something that I (and his mother) make seem so effortless is actually downright tricky to duplicate.

He has learned how even the most modest of inclines is a fearsome challenge. He has been humbled, and amazed, by the ease with which a car can stall when trying to get started in first gear on level ground. And he’s learned:

How unforgiving the clutch is if you let it out too quickly. How three pedals and a stick shift have to be manipulated, all while steering and keeping track of all these other cars on the road too. He has learned how little patience other drivers have when he inadvertently stalls when at a red light.

These moments were all lost to him when he was a passenger only, or when he was driving our automatic transmission car. It really never crossed his mind that driving a car with a manual transmission is a form of work. It’s not, really, and after he gets the hang of it these tasks will be second nature to him as well.

So, as I’ve been sitting in the passenger seat as his instructor pilot this week, thoughts of recognizing grace have been popping up in my mind. Because if we don’t look for it, we can forget that it is occurring all around us, all the time. We run the risk of being numb to it, just like we forget, or never really even knew, how an automatic transmission works.

Drawing by David Levine

It’s all the fault of Karl Rahner, SJ. I’ve been reading Volume One of his Mission and Grace. In it he says stuff like,

There cannot be any grace which does not imply a quite definite putting into action of nature; nor can there be any human, responsible putting of nature into action, which is not subject to the demands of grace, amounting in concreto, with no avoidance of it while life lasts, to a Yes or No to grace.

Got that? If it sounds kind of highfalutin, pardon Fr. Karl. He probably didn’t recognize that this sounds a lot like shifting gears with a manual transmission. See, without the grace (see definition 3c) of easing out the clutch, there will be a failed action called stalling, and not the beautiful action of going.

But the grace that I am referring to is that which resides in the interactions I have been having with my son while teaching him this new skill. The grace of helping him to see he can do this seemingly impossible task. The grace of giving him encouragement. The grace of expressing my faith in his ability to succeed. The grace of helping him overcome the dejection of failure. The grace of watching him mature before my eyes. The grace of his confidence rising from the rocks of failure.

It reminds me again of what Fr. Karl writes when he says,

The Christian knows that he will constantly be sent by God upon courses which he cannot by himself complete; that tasks will be laid upon him which cannot be finally performed while the fashion of this world remains; that he has always to fight, without, as yet, being able to see final victory, indeed that it would be a danger-signal of the most appalling defeat if he so much as wanted to fight in such fashion as to achieve a once-for-all victory. And yet the Christian does not despair of this world. He works, he keeps on beginning again, he does not give up.

Yes. Recognizing God’s grace is a lot like learning to drive a stick shift. One day soon, I’ll be able to use these experiences to teach my son this higher truth. And I can only hope that recognition and gratitude will be the result.

Um, that’s my seat Cody.

 

Because of the Protestant Reformers Beliefs On Mary

Another Marian post as we are ten days from the Feast of the Assumption. This one was first published back in December of last year.


Back when I first joined YIMCatholic, I was going to write posts about my conversion. I hammered out seven posts in pretty rapid succession and then, I stopped writing them until recently.

Many of my posts now are simply my observations of the world which are colored through the lens of a convert to Catholicism. It would be difficult for them not to be. Other posts I’ve written are of the “look what I just found!” variety, and the “I want to share this with you” type. Call them the discovery posts if you will. [Read more...]

To Visit Provence Again, As A Catholic

It’s the Feast of St. Martha, you know, “the Dragonslayer” today. Yes, you read that right. Father Steve of Word on Fire has a few words about that and they prompted me to dust this off and bring it to the top today. Enjoy!

I ate at a McDonald’s in Avignon once. I like to see how Mickey D’s adapts to local tastes abroad. My wife and I also walked around the streets briefly too, before we had to get back on the tour bus that was taking us from Nice to the Burgundy country. See, we rewarded ourselves with a European trip after we graduated from college. It was the Summer of 1993.

It was one of those whirlwind tours. You know the type, right? Eleven countries in 21 days. At the time, I thought we spent way too much time in Rome. It’s amazing I wasn’t arrested there. But that is another story. After Italy, the tour moved on to France. We both loved France ( she still enjoyed Italy, whereas I only approved of Florence). To me, arriving in France was like arriving in Heaven after leaving Hell. I didn’t believe in Purgatory at the time, you see.

Two McDonalds in Avignon!

Provence was especially lovely as I recall. And I hope to go back someday, now that I am a Catholic. Why? Because of this little piece of history/ folklore that I stumbled across this morning. I saw on a Christianity timeline that St. Martha, in the year 48-49 AD arrived in Avignon, France. Where I had pommes frites at the Golden Arches? And she brought Lazarus and the gang with her too. Who knew?

I didn’t at the time. So I did a little digging over at Google Books and found about 100 more reasons to head back to Provence. First, I ran across this story in an old magazine named The Century, long since out of print. Why do I want to go back to Provence? Take a look at Exhibit A,

from “The Churches of Provence”, by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer (November 1894)

“Everything here is on a smaller scale than in Italy — historical facts, as well as those of nature and of art; but thus we are offered a more intimate quality of charm, while we are not saddened by the tragedy of a world-possessing empire gone to wreck.”History meeting legend with a kiss,” we feel ourselves happily enchanted as in a land of pure romance; and the beauty and the gaiety of its living people do but complete the illusion.

The cities

“Every foot of this country, every name on its map, is romantically suggestive of Greeks or Romans, Saracens, Visigoths or Franks, Aquitanians or Spaniards, hermits, crusaders, heretics, inquisitors, exiled popes, famous poets, or earliest Christian martyrs. With Petrarch you may go to Avignon and Vaucluse, with Dante to the ancient cemetery called Les Aliscamps in Arles, with Dumas to the islands of the coast, and to Aix with René of Anjou —king, poet, painter, and historian of tournaments. The first monasteries of Gaul were founded upon Provençal islands, and one of them, St. Honorat, long played the prominent civilizing part that was played in Britain by the island of Iona.

“And Christian legend, calling to you at every step, carries you as far back as it could to Palestine itself.

“There is a real town in Provence with the impossibly poetic name of Les Saintes Maries. By the time you reach it on its ultimate point of sea-coast, you should be in the right Provençal mood; and this is the mood of him who saith, “Surely these things are true, else they had not been told.”

The countryside…Lavender!

“Just here, we are told, there landed a little company of the friends of Christ, set adrift by their persecutors from the shores of the Holy Land. They were Mary Jacobi, the sister of the Blessed Virgin; Mary Salome, the mother of the apostles James and John; their servant Sarah; Maximin, to whom Christ had restored his sight; Lazarus with his sister Martha; and Mary Magdalene.

“Where and why they had left behind them Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, or whether Provençal belief confounds her with the erring and repentant Mary — this I could not get explained. But I know that Mary Jacobi and Mary Salome remained at their landing-place, for the beautiful name they bequeathed it is a witness. St. Louis caused their bones to be fittingly honored: you may see their tombs today in an ancient church tower, as, in the crypt beneath, the tomb of their servant Sarah; and the medieval pilgrimages still continue, in crowding streams, on an anniversary day in May.

Bad dragon!

“I likewise know that Martha journeyed to Tarascon, between Avignon and Arles, for there she slew the tarasque, a terrific dragon that was devouring the land: the name of the town is again a proof, and the name of the old church of St. Martha, the effigy of the tarasque, which you may behold, and the festival which year by year is celebrated yet in honor of the prowess of the good housewifely saint. Then at Arles you will learn that Christ himself consecrated for Christian burial the famous pagan Aliscamps (its name is a corruption of Efysii Campi), and at Vienne you will be informed that St. Paul brought thither the first Christian tidings when on his way toward Spain, and will be shown a Roman tomb under which the body of Pontius Pilate was laid.

“And you might just as well have stayed in America as to doubt that such things, told in such ways for nearly two thousand years, must be veritably true.”

****

Dragon slaying? Sign me up! As if that wasn’t enough, her article goes on to describe the church buildings throughout the region with photographs and drawings that magazines of today just don’t take the time to do anymore. I love this story about the early Christians coming to France though and wanted to know more. Here is another taste of Catholic Provence,

from Cathedrals and Cloisters of the South of France by Elise Whitlock Rose (published in 1906)

“Few of the Cathedral-churches of the Midi are without holy relics, but none is more famous, more revered, and more authentic a place of pilgrimage than the Basilica of Apt. It came about in this way, says local history. When Martha, Lazarus, and the Holy Marys of the Gospels landed in France, they brought with them the venerated body of Saint Anne, the Virgin’s Mother; and Lazarus, being a Bishop, kept the holy relic at his episcopal seat of Marseilles.

“Persecutions arose, and dangers innumerable; and for safety’s sake the Bishop removed Saint Anne’s body to Apt and sealed it secretly in the wall. For centuries, Christians met and prayed in the little church, unconscious of the wonder-working relic hidden so near them; and it was only through a miracle, in Charlemagne’s time and some say in his presence, that the holy body was discovered. This is the history which a sacristan recites to curious pilgrims as he leads them to the sub-crypt…

“To the faithful Catholic, the interest of Sainte-Anne of Apt lies in its wonderful and glorious relics. Here are the bodies of Saint Eleazer and Sainte Delphine his wife, a couple so pious that every morning they dressed a Statue of the Infant Jesus, and every night they undressed it and laid it to rest in a cradle. There is also the rosary of Sainte Delphine whose every bead contained a relic; and before the Revolution there were other treasures innumerable. During many years Apt has been the pilgrim-shrine of the Faithful, and great and small offerings of many centuries have been laid before the miracleworking body of the Virgin’s sainted Mother.”

****

Do you see what I mean? Tidbits like this “Lazarus, being a Bishop…” just give me a thousand more leads to follow up on, and more reasons to go broke heading to Provence. I want to know all about that tradition! As I’ve said before, it will take an eternity of lifetimes to ponder what God has wrought by the Incarnation as well as with the founding of His Church. Unfortunately, it would take a bottomless bank account too. Sigh.

Obviously, Elise’s book is available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, though, for unlimited access to all at no charge. I could get lost in this particular book for hours…

Cathédrale de Notre Dame des Doms,
Avignon

Thoughts on Obedience and Reading Maps without Guidance

Today, while making the rounds around the blogger neighborhood, I saw a great quote on a subject that is not near and dear to the heart of modern mankind: obedience. Deacon Greg Kandra shared the thoughts of a modern saint on the subject,

Your obedience is not worthy of the name unless you are ready to abandon your most flourishing work whenever someone with authority so commands…Oh, the power of obedience! The Lake of Genesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again into the water and they caught ‘a great number of fishes.’ Believe me, this miracle is repeated every day. –St. Josemaria Escriva [Read more...]

Let Me Tell You About “Herding Dogs”

Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf 

Without a strong master, they are worthless. Destructive. Bored. Good for nothing but trouble. These descriptions, for those who have owned (or do own) herding dogs, would be the end of this post. Their experience with dogs like these would make the truth of these statements self-evident. Frank knows herding dogs.

For those of you who have not owned dogs bred to herd animals, you may need a little more convincing. And where has Frank gotten his bonafides on cattle and sheep herding dogs? Experience. Since 1993, I’ve owned three dogs: two of them were Australian Cattle Dogs, and now I own a Border Collie. None of them are “black sheep dogs” with malevolent stares, though they all have had black coloring in their coats. Yes, this is a post that is tangentially about the Corapi kerfuffle. Because you need to know.

Put down your pitch-forks and torches for a second and come meet my dogs. Besides, that kind of stuff (scary Hollywood style mobs, milling about earnestly looking to lynch someone) doesn’t scare Joe Six-Pack, USMC. Nor does it scare my dogs.

St. Davy at age 12

First up is Davy, also known in my household as “St. Davy of Queensland.” Why, pray tell? Because Davy, my first Australian Cattle Dog, could do no wrong. He simply was Our.Best.Dog.Ever. Davy was my and my wife’s first born, see. We bought him the same week we bought our first home, back in the Fall of 1993. He was six weeks old when I brought him home to surprise my wife less than a week after moving in.

Mad Max & his dog

At the local pet store, the sign in his cage said he was a “Queensland Heeler.” I had no idea what that was, but he looked a bit like a Corgy as a little pup and I wasn’t enthused about that favorite of the Royals. I headed to the local library (yes, this was before the days of Google) and did a quick bit of research on this breed. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was the dog that Mel Gibson had at his side in Road Warrior. Cool!

Here’s what I learned about the breed from the Readers Digest Illustrated Book of Dogs,

The Australian Cattle Dog was developed to be a strong biting dog, one able to drive cattle over long distances. Its speckled coat camouflages it when nipping at bovines’ legs. Its punishing jaws are essential to a cattle dog in mustering and moving wild livestock. Protecting its master’s family and home is a responsibility the Australian Cattle Dog takes as seriously as driving cattle.

When Australian stockmen required a herding dog to help control half-wild cattle and sheep, they set out to breed one. The process began in the 1830′s when a stockmen named Timmons crossed a Smithfield, a tough but noisy working breed, with a Dingo. The resulting “Timmons Biter” had the Dingo’s silent ways but proved difficult to manage.

A further cross with Border Collies enhanced tractibility, but barking became a problem once more. Again, the Dingo was used. Later, to improve temperament, Dalmatian stock was introduced. To further develop working ability, the Australian Kelpie was interbred. This final cross produced just the versatile canine the stockmen were searching for. Their creation, possessed stamina, reliability, and uncanny intelligence.

So consulting my checklist, Smart? Check! Medium sized? Check! Not too yappy? Check! Cool looking? Check! I headed back to the store and bought him immediately.

When fully grown, Davy weighed 45 lbs, so he was indeed medium sized. If there is a MENSA equivalent for dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs would be one of the most numerous members of that society. Davy was simply the smartest dog I have ever had (and my family had several dogs while I was growing up). He was house broken in one week, and for the rest of his life (and he spent all 13 years of his life with us) he never had an accident indoors. He’d let you know when he needed to go out. And be advised, he was an outdoors dog. We lived in Southern California for most of his life and he lived and played in our fenced-in backyard, sleeping in a wooden kennel outdoors.

Within his first six months, he could pee and poop on command. My wife and I went to the Universal Studios tour and among the attractions, we saw the animal talent show there. I took the tricks I saw performed there back home to Davy and in a matter of weeks, he could sit, shake, roll-over, and speak (bark) with hand signals alone. Dogs like these make their masters look like professional animal trainers (think “Cesar Milan“). Life was very good.

Davy died about a year after we moved back to my hometown. I still get teary-eyed thinking about it because he was such a loved member of our family. He was great with our kids when they arrived. He would herd me along when I came out with the laundry heading to our washer and dryer out in the garage. He loved catching frisbees and loved going on walks on the two mile circuit my wife and I staked out around our neighborhood. He loved the water. Quiet? He only barked when something was out of the ordinary.

True story time: Once, when he was about a year old, he saved our neighbors car from being stolen. One morning, about 1:00 o’clock, Davy awoke and sounded the alarm by stationing himself at the gate to our backyard, barking his head off. When Davy barked, you knew something was up. It turned out someone had smashed the window of our next door neighbors car in a bid to steal it. Davy saved the day.

Bull Mastiffs love me too.

Here’s another one from when Davy was 5 years old. I had just rejoined the Marines as a Reservist and was getting ready to head to Colorado for annual training with my artillery battery. The Friday evening right before I left, Davy started barking. Herding dogs are smart, and vary the pitches of their barks in a way that is difficult to explain, but you know it when you’ve experienced it. He had this higher pitched barking sound whenever a possum wandered into our yard along the top of the fence, for example.

So I went out back to investigate. He had boxed something into the far right-hand corner of our back yard, somewhere between the block wall that fronted the back of an apartment building, and the oleander bush in the corner, next to our cypress trees. As such, he was sweeping in an arc around that back corner and barking with his “I’ve caught a possum” bark. He wouldn’t stop, so I went back in the house to get the flashlight and a broom (to knock it off the fence, and the flashlight because it was about 10 PM). When I came back out, Davy still had it cornered. When I flashed the light toward the oleander, a man’s voice cried out with “Man, can you call your dog off?!”

My hackles immediately went full tilt and I said “Hell no, I’m calling the Police!” and I scampered back inside to do just that. I knew this dude would never get past Davy. He evidently climbed back over the back wall and ran away, because Davy quieted down and the cops found nothing when they arrived shortly thereafter. My wife was less than pleased that I was leaving her alone with my 2 1/2 year old son for two weeks the next morning, but we were confident that Davy would guard my family’s safety. That is how life is with a well-trained Cattle Dog.

After Davy passed on, I didn’t want to get another dog for a while. But I missed having one around. So I went looking for another Australian Cattle Dog and found one at a Cattle Dog rescue place about an hour from our home. This is where Riley came into our life, a few short weeks after St. Davy left.

Riley, loyal to Frank (only).

It turns out that one of the reasons Davy was so saintly is because a) he was six weeks old when I bought him, and b) I spent a lot of time with him. I trained him, and he was very obedient to me and my wife. We both worked outside the home at that time, and Davy was fine when left to himself in the back yard, foraging avocados, and figs, and the occasional squirrel. When we came home, he was with us the whole time, you know, fetching frisbees, learning new tricks, and hanging out until bed time. Riley’s story is completely different.

First off, he was about 1 1/2 to 2 years old when we got him. You see, he had run away from his owner in Kentucky and the owner had never come looking for him at the pound. So the Cattle Dog Rescue place swooped in and saved him and we adopted him. As a result, training Riley was a bit tougher than training Davy, but the characteristics of the breed still won out. Though he was crate-trained (something I had never had to do with Davy), house breaking him was a chore.

He had trouble obeying my wife, but since I was around, I ignored this warning sign. Because in short order, Riley was catching frisbees with the best of them. He was so athletic, and jumped so high, our next door neighbor would invite folks over just to watch him go. He too loved the water, and throwing frisbees into the lake nearby, he would happily swim out for them 25-30 yards from shore, swim back and demand that you throw it out there again. He was an Olympian.

Riley was silent for the most part too, much to the dismay of UPS truck drivers and the post office letter carriers who brought us packages. He would not bark until he was right on their heels. So we were added to the “do not deliver to” list promptly. Our neighbors happily received packages for us whenever they came.

As long as I was around, all was well. Then I went back to work outside of the home again about a year after he joined the family. He took this hard. See, when I went back to work, the master who kept things on an even keel with him was gone. Riley tried then to take my place on the Alpha Dog roster, growing ever more disobedient to my wife and children while I was away at work.

When I got home, all would be well. But when I was gone, which was 5 days a week, for close to 10 hours a day, he tried to fill the void. Loyal only to me, he started growling at my family, and when he snapped at my daughter, he went right back to the farm where I had picked him up. Our relationship with Riley lasted 2 years. Then we went without a dog for about 1 1/2 years of decompression. Enter Cody, the Border Collie.

Cody at 6 weeks old.

The long dog-less dry spell ended last June. My youngest son and I picked up this dude when he was six weeks old, just like with Davy. Unlike Davy, and Riley, Cody has grown up with a family of 5 from the get go. House trained pretty rapidly, and only a few mistakes since, he’s a fun addition to the family. Spirited, he barks more than the Cattle Dogs ever did, but look at that face! Look at those eyes! Not a malevolent stare capable in this brown-eyed handsome dog. Don’t let them fool you though, because though a pushover with his family, he’s fearless with outsiders.

And he’s as smart as his Cattle Dog cousins, and has a whole vocabulary of sounds. I’m learning to translate them now. Sam Sheepdog (see the photograph at the top of this post) is really a Bearded Collie. Lots of training and supervision have been needed by Cody, and we have provided it. That and lots of exercise, which he gets mainly by running around the borders of our yard. Want to see the effect of genetics on a breed? Ride a bicycle in the yard and he will herd you around like you are a lost sheep. Your bicycle is alive, as far as he’s concerned, and he will not stop trying to get you to go where he knows you need to go. No matter how fast you pedal, or for how long.

And that brings me full circle to the point about herding dogs that I started this post with. Left to themselves, they aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Bored, they will be destructive, troublesome and worthless for their intended job. They need strong shepherds. Period. Someone to tell them what to do, and where to take the flock.

Which brings me to the part of this post where I’ll share these wise words written by Fr. Joseph Jenkins about the Corapi kerfuffle entitled Black Sheep Dog or Black Wolf? He covers everything that anyone needs to know about this situation.

As you read it, keep in mind what I have shared with you from my own long experience with herding dogs and how important their relationships with their masters are both to their own happiness and to that of their families (the pack). Light your torches and bring your pitchforks if you must, but you won’t make it into my yard. That much I can assure you of.

Pax!

Cody, the next generation

So There I Was Driving Home…

from work. Glad the week was over. Looking forward to a busy weekend (a birthday, weeding, cutting the grass, preparing to send a child to camp, etc.) It’s been a busy week, both at work and here on the blog. Lots of news to digest.

But maybe it doesn’t need to be digested. Oops, lookie there. My little yellow fuel tank light just went off. Looks like I need to stop in at the gas station. Ease up on the throttle and set the cruise control to double-nickels.

Slow-lane time. Hey, how about some tunes? Nah, I don’t want to listen to Matt Maher. I did that on the way into the city. What’s on the radio? Do you think the Holy Spirit works through the radio? With God, you know, anything is possible. Here’s what came on,

Foo Fighters, My Hero. This band is led by the former drummer of Nirvana, Dave Grohl. Dave can play every instrument, and did so on his first solo album after Kurt Cobain committed suicide. What event do you think this song made me think of?

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Guess what came on next? I kid you not. Dig the background color.

Duran Duran, Hungry Like the Wolf.

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And then I said a quick prayer, stopped for gasoline, and continued on home.


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