Tuesday, June 30, 2015

'Toon Tuesdays - now on VIDEO!

Yeah, this is the kind of *cough* WORK *cough* that gets filmed at our mom's studio.
(Does she, like, do "real" work, ever? We just wanna know....)


Toon Tuesdays feature animal (and sometimes human) humor created by the peeps over at Shoebox Greetings (a tiny little division of Hallmark) - where our mom works, too!

Monday, June 29, 2015

In Celebration of PINK

Allie: Who knew there was actually a day set aside to celebrate my favorite color?

And what better way to celebrate with my newest collection of fab Pink Toys?

Oooooh, you lovelies, we'll have so much fun together....


Don't you worry, my pretties. No Brat slobber will touch your felt hide.

My word on that.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Relentlessly Inqiusitive: A Tribute

This is the kind of post that is very difficult to write. After all, where do you begin when you wish to honor a person so influential in your life?

I lost my dad last Friday. For the past five years or so, he'd been suffering from Parkinson's disease. It stole him from us at 9:30 PM, June 19th.

I was there. I fed him his last meal. I held him when he struggled to breathe and was there when he breathed his last. I'm so very thankful for those last 5 hours we spent together.

I wish you could have known my dad. He was fun, he was goofy, he was intelligent. He was relentlessly inquisitive.

And if I ever wanted to understand how something worked, he’d patiently go through the theory – and often show, hands-on, how things worked in practice.

One of my favorite preteen memories was how he would make a game of grocery shopping. "Keep a running total of what our bill will be," he'd say. "And don't forget to add tax!" Not so easy in Texas: only non-foodstuffs like toothpaste were taxed.

Oh and the rules of the game prohibited you from writing anything down. Can you imagine the charisma it took to make something like that fun?

Then there was the time we 'bonded over bondo' - and a whole lot of rust that came along with my very first car. And yes, as a matter of fact, I do know what a butterfly valve on a single chamber carburetor looks like, thank you very much.

My dad was one of the very first aerospace engineers. Ever. Aerospace engineering wasn’t a curriculum or degree path back then. At that time, it was in its infancy, still being invented. And he was one of the ones who helped define what that would be, along with the others of that era who paved the way.

The Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal, Hunstville, Alabama
He was part of the team that moved from Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama in 1961 to open the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. He was responsible for flight safety during NASA’s Project Mercury and the Gemini and Apollo Programs.

The astronauts and media darlings such as German scientist Werner Von Braun might have been the face of space exploration, but quiet men like my dad who worked tirelessly in the background and ensured that it actually happened - they were its soul.

Some of my favorite memories were of the times my dad took me with him to work.

I was – and still am – in awe of everything they accomplished back then. With not much much more than their brains, a pad of paper and a slide rule, they figured out how to split the atom and sent men to touch the surface of the moon.

And when things went wrong, they pulled those slide rules out and did on-the-spot calculations that would amaze engineering students today (you know, those kids who can’t part with their TI-86s…?).

It's hard to grasp that the computing power available to all of NASA in its entirety back then was less than that of the cell phone I hold in my hand.

To this day, I cannot fathom why he trusted me to keep my grubby little hands to myself and actually allowed me inside Mission Control. Not on a day while it was in use (!!) but still, those computer consoles ... I was leaning against them, touching them!

And then there's the massive Anechoic Chamber at the (now) Johnson Spacecraft Center. It's a huge room, filled with microwave material that absorbs all electromagnetic energy. The best I can describe it is that it sounds “dead” in there – all sound is absorbed by the cones fastened to every surface.

Running tests in the Anechoic Chamber on one of the first moon suits :-)
The entire back wall is a bay door that slides open. To this day, I’m fascinated by how they are able to extend their testing range beyond the chamber's four (five? six?) walls. Even the grass is mowed to a specified tier of heights!

The Anechoic Chamber today - still in use, still testing antennae & other equipment.
This photo was taken from the big sliding door, looking back into the room.
He knew tons of cool trivia about the space age, things not worthy of any major publication but interesting nonetheless. Like the reason there were 3 astronauts in the Apollo capsules. It began in a brainstorming session, when a coworker and architect named Bob Moody sketched it that way.

No one told him to do it, there was no task force that was charged with determining the best number of men to send to the moon. Just an idle sketch while brainstorming. No one ever saw a reason to change it or I'm sure it would have. But that's how it happened.

It was little things like that, I think, that fascinated me the most.

One of my earliest memories is going out to watch the astronauts skydive. I think it was then that my love of flight was born.

My dad knew all the astronauts. Usually, he claimed, because they were in his office yelling at him for grounding them for one reason or another.

Astronauts in a classroom at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston
My dad told me he once marched an astronaut out to a test craft he'd refused to allow the man to fly, because the explosive bolts on its ejection seat had passed their “expiry date.” He blew them, just to make a point. Only half of them fired.

One of the many reports sent to my dad regarding Flight Safety
Speaking of fires….

Astronaut Ed White was a man my dad enormously respected. He also happened to be Senior Pilot for the fated Apollo 1 mission.

Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee - Apollo 1
His death at the Cape impacted my dad tremendously. Flight Safety was involved in the discovery task force to determine the cause of the accident that killed Apollo 1’s crew. Listening to what they labeled the “Seven Minute Tape” – the length of time it took for the astronauts to perish – took a heavy toll on everyone involved.

He taught my mind to be nimble, he taught me to view numbers and mathematics as a fun puzzle, and – beyond all else – he instilled in me the unshakeable faith that if I could dream it, I could do it.

For me, there never was a glass ceiling. He shattered it and ensured it remained that way throughout my formative years. (It was quite a shock to get into college and experience it for the first time!)

We spent countless summer nights in the backyard, on lawn chairs or in hammocks, looking at the stars - just looking. Only I suppose it wasn't really "just" looking, because that's where he taught me about trajectories, how to tell time by the stars, to identify all the constellations and how to recognize space junk as it passed in the heavens above. And we had "Skylab dates" - my mom, my sister, my dad and me - where we tracked its progress overhead.

Those were such wonderful memories. And to this day, one of my favorite things to do is to seek out a dark night sky, and just sit back and stare up at the stars.

In the 1970s, he moved from NASA to Tracor, a defense contractor best known for developing the Aegis ballistic missile defense system and the Minuteman penaids for the Department of Defense. Most of his work there was classified.

And in the 80’s and 90’s, he was at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin. He was one of the very last men there, shutting off its lights when he left – and it closed – in 1993.

We shared a deep love of books and it was my joy to send his Kindle fresh stories every few months. In our talks during these last several years, he’d often want to know if I’d begun reading a certain book yet. Or he’d want me to let him know when I came to a certain part in a book we were both reading – he could hardly wait to discuss them with me.

He was disappointed, I know, when I switched my curriculum mid-stream from engineering and ended up majoring in radio/television/film instead. I suspect he hoped I’d follow in his footsteps, but he never gave me anything less than his full support regardless of the path I chose for myself. And when I went back to school to study Physics, he loved it. (Although, I think he loved it more that I ended up married to a physicist!)

He and Marty hit it off from the start and my stepson has many fond memories of engineering projects in our garage: my dad, my husband, my stepson...and me watching!

And when I completed my first solo flight, no one cheered louder.
He couldn't wait to fly with his daughter, the pilot.

So much of a person’s sense of self and identity is wrapped up in what they accomplish in life, but it’s equally important to know the character of a man.

Me and my fun, goofy, amazing dad
My dad was kind, endlessly patient (okay, almost endlessly!).
He was gentle and he loved animals. He was faithful.

There is a verse in the Tanakh that describes, I think, how he lived his life:
“O man, what is good,
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk modestly with your God”.
(Micah 6:8)

His life has had a profound impact on mine. He taught me that a woman’s reach, too, should extend her grasp. And that, if I wished, I could touch the sky.

One of the last things I told him last Friday was that it looks like he was going to get to experience faster-than-light travel first.
And that soon, he could touch the stars.

I love you, daddy.
I always will.

Ralph Latta
April 16, 1930 - June 19, 2015

Sunday, June 21, 2015

As we mourn

Our mom lost her daddy Friday evening.
We'll be away this week as we mourn his passing.

Sometime next week, we hope to share with you what an amazing person he was.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Box Day...FAIL?

Maxwell: doot dah dum-de dummmmm...
Nice box.
Nice view.

Allie: Maxie. You're on my box.
Maxwell: Don't see your name on it.

Maxwell: Nope, nothing says "Allie."

(fulminating silence. Oh my, is that steam coming out of her ears?)

Allie: You know I can't let this kind of insubordination stand, Maxie. What kind of example does this set for the Brat?

Maxwell: Seriously, Allie, not my problem.  Z-z-z-z-z.....

(inarticulate girlcat ninja howl)


Allie: And now for a restful moment or two to settle my nerves.

Honestly, confrontation is not good for a Fashionable Feline's constitution!


Friday, June 19, 2015

Fashion Faux Paws: Box Day

Allie: Friends, Kitties, Countrymen.

This month's Fashion Faux Paws is quite simple, really. After all...it's all about boxes. A Girlcat of Means simply musn't pass up the opportunity to celebrate an occasion as auspicious as International Box Day.

So without further ado, I present to you:

Fashionable Box Poses 101
The Dangle.

This Expert Level position poises one paw elegantly on the Precipice.

Practice this with care, kitties. And consider using a Spotter during your first few attempts.

The Debutante Toe-Curl.  

This requires subtlety, and the slightest flex of ones claws to achieve just the right "edge of box" effect.

The toe-curl is demure and unassuming, paws together. Hussies need not attempt.

This concludes this month's Faux Paws Lecture.

Have a Safe and Responsible 
International Box Day.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

5 Tips for New Cat Parents - with help from petMD #sponsored

This post is sponsored by petMD and ARM & HAMMER™, and the BlogPaws Professional Pet Blogger Network. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about The petMD Cat Care Center, but A Tonk's Tail only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. ARM & HAMMERand petMD are not responsible for the content of this article.

We can't let Adopt a Shelter Cat Month pass by without mentioning it!

And our connection with the petMD Cat Care Center gives us a perfect excuse to discuss loads of things that'll help new cat parents be good cat parents.

Here are five things to help ensure a smooth transition for your new family member: 

1. Provide Safety
In petMD's article on introducing a new kitten to your home, they mention "kitten proofing" it. it's very similar to the way you'd "baby proof" your house when you bring that new child home from the hospital: make sure that anything that can do them harm, such as electric cords, rubber bands or thread is safely stowed.

Anything they might topple that could harm them - whether it's because it contains a harmful chemical, is made of breakable glass or simply because it's a heavy or sharp object - also needs to go.
Potential hazards here: heavy falling objects, shattered glass, and poison!
And don't think you can ignore this if you happen to be adopting an adult cat. (oh, and by the way: Go, you! for looking past the kittens and adopting a deserving adult!)

Seriously, adult cats have been known to chow down on thread, costing a certain pet parent hundreds of dollars in emergency surgery fees.

2. Provide the Necessities
Water. Food. Litter. A place to scratch. A place to sleep.

Water is an absolute necessity, and because some cats are more finicky than others, we recommend getting a water fountain. Running water tends to encourage cats to drink more and the aeration provided by a pump and filter keeps it fresher longer, too.

We talk plenty about food over here! Good nutrition can pay off big as your cat reaches his golden years, and since cats are obligate carnivores, that means meat, meat, meat!

Let's talk litter for a minute. Cats are creatures of habit (see #4 below). So start off by using the same litter they were using before you adopted them.

Faraday made it quite clear to me that he disapproved of his new litter the day we brought him home. That boy had attitude from Day 1: he hopped into his new litter box, squeaked at me (yeah, he squeaked back then!), waited until he had my full attention, then deliberately stepped out of the litter box and squatted next to it.

*smug look* Yeah, I totally won that one!
Message received, dude!

3. Provide Entertainment & Enrichment
Faraday and Maxwell both heartily approve this talking point.
And they want to leave you with two words.
WAND Toys.

There are lots of simple ways you can keep a cat entertained, and they don't have to be terribly expensive or complex, either. Just take a look at this simple idea - all you need are a few dixie cups and some treats.

4. Go Slowly
Doctor Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, and one of the highest-functioning autistic persons in the world, tells us that animal cognition and autistic cognition are very similar.

One of the things this translates to is a high resistance to change. (Hah. Just ask Maxwell about that. He refuses to stop eating dry food. Grrrrr.)

Uh...sorry, Momma...
This also means that introducing a cat into a new home should be done very slowly. It could take weeks to properly integrate a cat. And in some cases, as with Ryker and Allie, it can take 6 months or longer.

5. Recognize Special Needs

There are so many senior cats in shelters, and they're not so easy to place in homes.This is why I liked seeing petMD's article on how to bond with a senior cat. It mentions things such as a litter box with lower sides that an arthritic kitty can more easily get in and out of, and ensuring that food and water are at ground level.

Some cats lose sight or hearing as they age. We understand all about hearing-impaired kitties, and can tell you that adopting an older cat with one of these conditions is no big deal. (oh, and did we mention? Go, you! for adopting a differently-abled cat!)

But as the petMD article on senior cats mentions, you can help them out by sticking with a stable routine. Familiarity (and in the case of fading eyesight) furniture that doesn't move!) can be a huge help.

Are you planning to add a feline family member to your home sometime soon? Tell us in comments!


Our thanks to the folks at ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™  LightWeight litter (50% lighter and with 7 day odor control, guaranteed!) for sponsoring such a wealth of information for our four-legged family members.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Time to 'fess up!

When we first posted about the Tonk's Tail B&B being open for business, loads of folks here and on Facebook raved about how gorgeous our home was.

So many, in fact, that we began to feel a bit guilty about misleading you.

Confession time: this lovely Victorian thing...is not our home.

No, our mom was too lazy to get a real B&B shingle for us to set out in our front yard, so she used a stock photo to create one in Photoshop instead.

Alas, we're stuck with your run-of-the-mill, Midwest suburban home.

But there really is a Green Room. (It was painted a very dark green when the home was purchased, but the name stuck)

And there really is a Blue Room. Though it's more of a blue-and-brown room, come to think of it....

And far from something lovely, large and Victorian, we have blue and stone ... and big monster oak trees!

(and a cherry tree, four apple trees, two plums, a peach and two pear trees. But we digress!)

Oh yeah, and for a few days...THIS.

@Snoftace_Critter of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram fame!


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

'Toon Tuesdays


Toon Tuesdays feature animal (and sometimes human) humor created by the peeps over at Shoebox Greetings (a tiny little division of Hallmark) - where our mom works, too!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Allie's Guided Photography Tour

Yesterday's photo - the one that embarrassed Allie so much - came from her guided photo tour of our backyard in honor of today: National Nature Photography Day,

Lead on, Allie!

Allie: This is called a checkerboard garden: broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and CATNIP!

Lacy cIlantro leaves in front of Mother's onion chives plant

A new plant this year: Mexican sweet herb.
It can be used sparingly to sweeten, though not as safe as stevia.
We have a stevia plant, too! Great for steeping in tea!

This is an asparagus patch against our house. Very fern-like leaves.
And asparagus spears make the best toys! I carry them around everywhere!

Mother's cold frame is housing a crop of arugula and mustard greens.

Chive flowers are a lovely lavender. not pink, but then again, I suppose not everything can be....

The view at the end of our backyard.Mother calls it a "visual feast". They enjoy morning tea with this view.

But of course, the next best thing to catnip in our garden is the luscious grass!


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday's Shelter Sweetie: Arthur George

"Hi, I'm Arthur George, or as my friends here call me, The Prince of Purr!"

"The humans here at Great Plains SPCA tell me that I'm pretty special in the personality department. They say I'm super sweet.

Hey, all I know is that I love people! To give and receive affection is my idea of a day well spent.

And I'm a cute little guy too, if I do say so myself.... *modest look*

If you come to Great Plains' Merriam Campus, ask the folks if they can arange a meeting - just you and me. I promise I'll make room on my calendar for you - even if I have to cancel a few appointments (you know, nip chasing or wand toy play).

Again, the name's Arthur George, and nothing's more important to me than a meetup with you!"

Arthur George is available at the Merriam Campus of Great Plains SPCA!



Embarrassing #SundaySelfie

Allie: Mother! You weren't supposed to use this photo!!!!!

Faraday: Hey, you were right, Maxie. That was Mommy's password!


We're entering this in the Sunday Selfies blog hop, hosted by the kitties over at The Cat on my Head.

Head on over and see all the other great entries!

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Maxwell: Allie's always telling me to 'tend to my knitting' whenever I ask her to go easy on the Bra-- uh, I mean Faraday.

I dunno. This looks like a job for someone with Opposable Thumbs....

But it does match my eyes. Maybe I could give it a go.
Let me see if I have this right: is it 'fang one, perl two'?

Though why they say you have to do it in public is beyond me.
Especially when the instructions say there's slipping involved.

Wait. Is this one of those dangerous Contact Sports???

Happy National Knit in Public Day!