Thursday, October 30, 2008

A PSA for You and Your Dog: Xylitol and Halloween

Have you heard about a food ingredient called xylitol?

Do you know it can kill your dog?

If not, keep reading.

Halloween is almost here. Friday night, the goodie bags are gonna come home full. Saturday, I—and thousands of veterinarians across the country—will be at work, fingers crossed that this year, we won’t see any poisonings.

First on my hit list: Xylitol. Xylitol isn’t the most common pet poisoning out there. But it made the top of my list because it's the least known, and incidents are increasing at an alarming rate. In 2002, only 2 cases were reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. In 2007, that number jumped to almost 2,000 cases.

Xylitol is a sugar substitute, found in a wide variety of sugar-free foods, gum, candy, toothpaste, mouthwash, and other products. It’s harmless to people. But in dogs, even a tiny amount causes severely low blood sugar, which can lead to seizures, coma, and possibly death. A slightly larger amount can lead to liver failure, which can also be fatal. How much is a tiny amount? Only one to two sticks of xylitol-sweetened chewing gum can poison a 20-lb dog. One stick of gum killed this little 9-lb terrier.

Since dogs, like us, have a sweet tooth—and since the number and variety of xylitol-containing products is growingplease, please, please keep these products far out of reach. (When I say far out of reach, keep in mind my clients' dogs have rifled purses, wormed into cabinets, chewed open plastic containers, climbed on counters, and--in one case--figured out how to pry open the refrigerator. As one very wise veterinarian I worked for said, “They’ve got nothing to do all day but figure out how to get what they want!”)

And please—spread the word. Here’s a great article that sums up xylitol poisoning, symptoms, and treatment. If you suspect your dog has gotten into xylitol, get off this blog and call your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Minutes are critical in poisonings. Don’t delay!

Next up: Chocolate. A lot of people do know about this one, but did you know why it’s toxic? The ingredient theobromine. At high enough doses, theobromine causes vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, and heart arrhythmias. Severe poisonings are potentially fatal. How much chocolate triggers these signs depends on the size of the dog and the type of chocolate. About 8 oz of milk chocolate is toxic for a 20-lb dog, compared to less than 1 oz of baking chocolate.

How common is chocolate toxicity? I don’t have any hard numbers, but I can tell you it’s one of the most common poisonings we see, and it’s surely the number one holiday-associated toxicity. For more information, here's a good article. Although lots of people know about chocolate, lots of others don't, especially kids. So again, keep those Halloween bags way out of reach and spread the word! And again, if you think your dog has ingested chocolate, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately at (888) 426-4435.

Okay, enough spooking of the blog folk! Here's wishing you all happy—and safeHalloween. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

I, Claudius

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up in a famous family? What privileges and riches you might have, and—more ominously—what expectations you’d have to live up to?
What if you were born to one of the most famous families in history? What if your grandfather was Mark Antony…your step-grandfather, Augustus Caesar…your uncle, Tiberius Caesar. Yeah, no pressure there. Not to mention your father, brother, cousins, and even nephews, all of `em busy morning til night trouncing Germans on the battlefield, being appointed to high office, and generally running the whole damn Roman Empire. While you…oh, my. How to put this gently?
You’re the family idiot. Your own mother treats you as an embarrassment. In a family of massive overachievers, you stammer, your head twitches uncontrollably, you have a congenital limp, and you can’t enter a room without breaking or tripping over something. Your uncle Tiberius quips you could wreck the empire simply by strolling through it.
Unloved by all but a few, the butt of every family joke, and the least likely person anyone can imagine ever ascending the imperial throne, you are Claudius…the fourth emperor of Rome.
Never heard of him? Neither had I, until the first time I saw the BBC miniseries I, Claudius on DVD. I loved it so much, I immediately 1) bought the DVD set for myself, and 2) read the novels on which the series is based: I, Claudius and Claudius the God, by Robert Graves.
Imagined as an autobiography, Claudius tells the story of his family and his own role in it. And what a story! He begins before his birth with Augustus Caesar and his wife, Livia. You think Scarlett O’Hara was sassy? You think Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington was a bitch? Claudius’s grandmother Livia could eat both of them for lunch and not break a sweat. Sweet grandma she was not. Oh, she’d bake you cookies, all right…and then cry convincingly at your funeral. Her one goal: to have her son, Tiberius, succeed his stepfather Augustus as emperor. Here is Tiberius belittling her grand plans:

Tiberius: Anyway, where does all this get us? There's not only Marcellus, there's Agrippa too. And Augustus prefers both of them to me.
Julia, Marcellus’s wife: [Screams off stage] No, noooo!!
Tiberius: Ye gods, what's that?
Livia [calmly serene]: It sounds as though there is now only Agrippa.
And that’s just the first episode. I, Claudius is packed with intrigue, betrayal, passion, and a galaxy of unforgettable characters—the most compelling, Claudius himself*. His only goal is to survive his murderous family and live quietly as a scholar. (Hard to do when one of your nephews grows up to be the infamous Caligula). Not only does Claudius not want the throne, he’s opposed to the very idea of the monarchy. He longs for the vanished days of the Roman republic, when the people ruled themselves, free of king or emperor. How he ends up exactly where he doesn’t want to be—and what happens when he gets there—makes for 10 hours of some of the best television ever made.

Senator: You're not fit to be Emperor.
Claudius: I agree. But nor was my nephew [Caligula].
Senator: Then what difference is there between you?
Claudius: He would not have agreed. And by now, your head would be on that floor for saying so.
Having seen it now approximately eleventy-three times (I’m watching it again as we speak) I can tell you with authority: I, Claudius is a gem you cannot miss.
*Claudius is played by the amazing Derek Jacobi (before he was a Sir). And yes, that is Patrick Stewart—Captain Picard himself—in one of his early roles, the ambitious and dastardly Sejanus. If I ran the universe, though, the biggest award ever made would go to Sian Phillips. Her Livia is a masterpiece: pure ruthlessness seething under a fa├žade of grace, modesty, and impeccable moral rectitude. Livia insists everything she does is for the good of Rome. She truly believes she is right…and that, somehow, makes for the most heart-chilling evil of all.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pop Quiz: Romance Novel Edition

OK, everyone, quiz time: What's wrong with this cover?
If you figure it out, and you want a shot at winning the actual book (or a gift certificate to the online bookstore of your choice) then skip on over to Smart Bitches Trashy Books and enter their caption contest. (Think fast...entries close tomorrow). Best caption gets the book. Second and third best get the gift certificates. (Which begs the question: If you're not a romance novel fan, how do you engineer a caption to be the almost funniest?)
If any of you win, let me know and I'll post it on the blog!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Word a Day...Here to Rock Your World

If you’re a word nut like me, you need to know about A Word A Day. Sign up for its newsletter, and every morning a new word arrives in your email inbox. (yay! hands clapping)

The subscription is free, and it runs forever until you tell it to stop. AWAD is a veritable fountain of verbal fun—plus, you learn stuff you never suspected. Take yesterday’s word:


MEANING: noun: A design feature copied from a similar artifact in another material, even when not functionally necessary. For example, the click sound of a shutter in an analog camera that is now reproduced in a digital camera by playing a sound clip. (boldface mine).

That familiar, comforting click…is a sound clip?

My world is rocked. I know the word for those useless metal rivets on my jeans. Hmmm. We'll call it a draw. (Apple fritters are still real, right? I can deal with fake clicky noises...just tell me the apple fritters are still genuine.)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Cybils

So you know all those kidlit blogger types I’ve been telling you about? Seems that a couple of years ago, they organized an award for children’s literature. Called the Cybils (Childrens’ and YA Bloggers’ Literary Awards), the competition is designed to incorporate the populism of the internet with a celebration of literary merit. The public is invited to nominate their favorite children’s or YA books, but to keep the award from being a mere popularity contest (like the late Quills), panels of children’s and YA lit bloggers then read the nominated books and choose the ones they feel are the best. I checked out the 2007 list and found books I’d never heard of—but which look amazing. (My next trip to the bookstore, I have my list, and Boy Toy by Barry Lyga is at the top.)
The Cybils is only in its third year, so if you or someone you know is a fan of kidlit, spread the word. And if you read a children’s or YA book this year that you adored, skip on over to the nominations and let them know. Nominations close October 15th!*

(In case you’re wondering, Ten Cents a Dance has already been nominated—thanks for asking, and whoo hoo!)

*Here’s the Official Fine Print, but in short (read the following very fast, in the tone of one of those prescription medication commercial guys): To be eligible, the book must have been published between Jan 1, 2008 and Oct 15, 2008, must be in English (or bilingual), and only one nomination per genre per person. Books may be nominated in these genres: Easy Readers, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Novels, Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books, Poetry, Young Adult Novels. The Cybils will not cause drowsiness, headache, intestinal distress, hair on your palms, dropsy, or myopia.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kidlit 08, Part II: In Which Our Heroine Imparts an Epiphany

In no particular order, here are some things I absorbed at the Kidlit Bloggers Conference last week. This is far from a comprehensive rundown of All I Witnessed, as I didn't want to go all book-report-y on you…but it’s a pretty good sampling of what the conference was about.

From Mark of Just One More Book on podcasting:
Most people have 3 concerns that keep them from podcasting: content, context, and delivery.

Podcasting is simple and doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment. In fact, Mark and his wife, Andrea, record their podcasts at a local coffee shop.

From Gregory K. of GottaBook on self promotion:
Set yourself up for the happy accident. Meaning, small things can lead to big results—you just don’t know when or how.

When titling your blog posts, use strong words that people might be searching for. For example, Gregory posted a poem about soccer and titled it “Goal: A Soccer Poem.” This post gets 8000 hits a year from people searching for soccer poetry. (Which leads to a whole different set of questions…but I digress).

Above all, add value for others. Offer something without expecting anything in return.

From Pam of MotherReader on kicking your blog up a notch:
Blogging is about being part of a community. In order to foster conversation, bloggers should be reading and actively commenting on other blogs in their community. (In other words, don’t ignore everyone else, then complain about how nobody comments on your blog.)

That said, MotherReader noted that overall, comments are way, way down. Theories abound, but she speculates it’s due to the mushrooming number of blogs out there.

Focus on: “I have something of interest to offer,” not “I’m interesting—look at me!”

Discover your niche. Who are you, and what can you bring to the conversation?

Of all the topics at the conference, this is the one that resonated most for me. I’ve blogged before about the purpose of an author blog, how I got started, why I keep going. But I felt that the blog lacked focus. I’d heard the advice “find your niche," a dozen times, but it hadn’t really clicked. This time—maybe because I was spending the entire day with people who think about this a lot—it did. Who am I…besides veterinarian or writer? Underneath those things— the rock-bottom reason I ended up in both those careers—I love to learn. When I come across something that interests me, I get all fascinated and geeky and start talking really loud and waving my hands, because it doesn’t ever occur to me that everyone else won’t be just as thrilled as I am that dinosaurs turned out to have four-chambered hearts, which is HUGE evidence that they are the ancestors of birds, not reptiles (because reptiles have only three chambers in their hearts. AHA! God, that’s cool.)

I love to share what I learn, too, which is how I ended up teaching part-time at a community college for ten years. And the best thing is, I can think of at least a dozen different ways to take that sharing into the blog, which is good because, while I am easily fascinated, I am also easily bored. (My posts will not all be about dinosaur hearts, I assure you).

We'll see what happens. Don’t be shy about letting me know what you think.

What better way to close out this post than a kidlit fashion video, from Betsy of A Fuse #8 Production? (No, I’m not in it. Maybe, by next year, I’ll have learned something about fashion. Doubtful...but stranger things have happened.)