Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Talking Dogs, TikTok, Instagram Reels, Facebook Stories—Wait, What About Talking Dogs?

Acknowledging that we all waste at least an hour a day on social media (mostly Facebook) is the first step to Acceptance. Every time I’m in a long line at a drive-thru is my signal to jump onto Facebook and see what I’m missing.

Then, I’ll power through Instagram and check in on friends and family. And then I’m done. Not a TikTok-er for several reasons.

[Left: Bunny the Sheepadoodle and her Mom, Alexis. Photo credit: Seattle Times]

Trends on social media move quickly and what was once hot stuff cools off faster than we realize. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were all attempting the Walker Hayes “Fancy Like” Applebee’s “1 shake, 2 straws” dance? Then we embraced the arm retract, extend, and point moves to Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon”—you know, “Noise, Noise, when sun go’ downnnn on my side of townnnn” (phonetic Southern accent added for those who need it).

But forget those dance videos—you want to pull up your chair, grab your coffee and meet Bunny, the talking black and white precious sheepadoodle and self-described “conversationalist.” Bunny has an extensive vocabulary, which she announces using her paw to press programmable buttons assembled in her home (both downstairs and upstairs) to communicate with her Mom and Dad.

There are countless one-minute videos of Bunny and her multiple-word sentences formed in conversations with Mom and Dad. Warning—you could lose an hour of your time just watching all of them. She reasons, she announces if she hurts, she asks Mom to take her and her new sidekick, Otter, to the park, or to sit on the couch and “settle” with her, or to go upstairs to sleep (even if Mom isn’t ready to sleep yet).[Photo Credit: Wide Open Pets]

The communication device she is using is a floor-based assembly of buttons. If you remember the 1960s TV show, “Concentration,” you had to remember which numbered covered spaces held matches. Similarly, Bunny has learned to use her talking board to form some fairly reasonable sentences without the use of any articles. She knows which buttons say which words.

There’s science behind all this. You can learn more about the system setup that uses what’s called the Fitzgerald Key of arranging programmable buttons. It’s based on a system called AAC, or augmentative or alternative communication. Bunny’s owner and teacher is a Tacoma, Washington-based artist named Alexis Devine, better known as “Mom.”

About 22 months ago, Alexis began working with Bunny to learn words one-by-one and then how to form brief sentences. Here’s an introductory video that explains the education principles:

Bunny, of course, is a superstar communicator across social media. As of 2020, she had over 3.4 million TikTok followers and more than 300,000 fans on Instagram. Today on Instagram, she has 1,000,000 followers.

Follow her on Facebook at @whataboutbunny or on Instagram at @whataboutbunny.

Now, I’d already lost my heart to a little French bulldog named chatterbox Walter Geoffrey. If you haven’t seen him before, he lives in Austin and rules the roost (there are ‘other’ dogs in the family) in his custom car seat, home, and position in life. He has, of course, two names, because he’s a Texas dog, possibly.

Walter lives in Austin, Texas, and stars on Facebook as “Walter Geoffrey the Frenchie.” Per his owner’s bio on him, he says “I’m just a Frenchie living my best life in Meltdown City at the corner of Unstable and Emotionally.” This little guy has cracked me up for at least a year because he stares right through his owner, backtalks, and grumbles when he doesn’t get his way.

He talks right to the camera and barks with enthusiasm as his owner adds captions. The one-minute videos shared on Facebook (and now TikTok) and they’re a scream because his Mom (Amber who refers to herself as “Bish”) argues with him and offers corrective action recommendation and chastising him for complaining.

Walter Geoffrey melts down if he doesn’t get to go to the park. It would be sad if it weren’t hilarious. Here’s one example:

He’s perfectly serious in his complaining and he’s not exactly content unless he’s allowed a car ride in fancy style (then he’s stylin’ and delightful), but he has a better-behaved little sidekick named Charlotte (Char), who is light brown and not a complainer. It’s the hashtags Bish adds to the posts countering his rants that are especially fun. Walter’s first live, local appearance is coming up Dec. 4th at Barton Creek Mall. His fan club on Facebook has over 580,000 followers.

Let’s face it…all dog lovers believe their fur babies can talk and understand; some of us use buttons and others use words. Communication is about willingness to send a message and have it received, understood, and validated, and to know back that we were heard.

So, you can keep your Walker Hayes “Fancy Like” Applebee’s Dance

And, you can keep your Brooks and Dunn remix (“Noise Noise”) of “Neon Moon”

If you need me, I’ll be online at What About Bunny, catching up on how she is coping with her little pal, Otter, who apparently is learning to talk, too! Two talking dogs may be more than Alexis and Johnny (Mom and Dad) bargained for.

Dog moms (and dads) can get their own programmable buttons here at FluentPet and they offer three levels of kits (Get Started, Basic Vocab, and They Can Talk), but they also offer a Tester Kit ($29.95), all of which are currently available at great savings. Just in time for Hanukkah and Christmas gifts for your gifted and talented pups.

And, if you want them quickly, the Tester Kit is available via Amazon.com also! Oh, and in case you were wondering, cats have been trained to use these buttons, too. Here’s an example of a veterinarian, Kendra, and her cat, Billi, and the buttons.

Just wait until they learn how to FaceTime you or Skype you one day when you’re at work. That day can’t be too far away!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Grateful: Memories of Music, Football, Basketball, and Friends, Neighbors

Thanksgiving 2021—Last night as I went to sleep I wanted to write something to remember this Thanksgiving by…I fell asleep amidst of sea of memories of present-day loving friends and neighbors as well as those from my earliest childhood…the flood of smiles as I recalled the scenes in my mind gave me restful slumber, until my alarm went off at far-too-early o’clock today.

I’d probably spend the entire day compiling the full list of happy times but I’ll remind myself that dear friends tease the length of my memories, as I remind them I type quickly, but I get their drift. [Left: Two of my 'boys' who are now grown men.]

I grew up on an “almost” cul se sac in San Antonio, except that it had no circular ending with houses in a horseshoe at the end. It was likely more accurately known as a Dead End street, Dawnview Lane. There were five consecutive streets that dead-ended into a sea of barbed wire fence parallel to our solid chain-link fences creating the barrier between our homes and the cattle and horse or two that were our nearest neighbors on the other side of us. It was the best of country living in the midst of suburban San Antonio and I thought everyone had that scene at there homes, for a while at least.

Country living and country music, though, were two different things. I was, without a doubt, born to live and love for rock music, first the fun pop rock and later, with an appreciation for more intense music. An early concert at the Municipal Auditorium introduced me to what would become “package shows” where 10 different stars of the music on the radio traveled together across the country performing their current radio hits for the “kids” assembled in the audiences, generally for the low ticket price of $3.00 per person.

My first concert was the tour of the Grand Ol’ Opry at which I saw (and got to meet) Skeeter Davis, and that’s a story of its own for another day. It made my entire childhood to do that and I remember how she told me she was really ‘ok’ when she sang “The End of the World” and for me to remember her smiling as she sang it. You’d had to have known my mother for how that came about, but then that was just Mama being a Mama.

Not all of country music appealed to me, but some of it took hold. My ears were fixed on KTSA and KONO with DJs “Cousin Brucie” and “Howard Edwards” introduced me to the latest songs on the pop charts, but I also loved Easy Listening and KITE radio (the AM sister station to the future rock station KEXL on Doubleday Broadcasting) too. For the record “My” Cousin Brucie wasn’t the one of New York fame, Bruce Morrow; it was Bruce Hathaway…there was also Captain K, Sheldon Kosharek, the helicopter pilot who flew the KTSA safety bird.

A U.S. Marines Toys for Tots concert would be another trip to the Municipal Auditorium and on that package show were The Buckinghams, Your entrance fee was a new toy for children as the U.S. Marines took care of the entertainment fee for you.

San Antonio’s own Sunny & the Sunliners,

Archie Bell and the Drells (from Houston, Texas, who dance just as good as they walk!)

and many more.

Even though I was usually listening to Howard Edwards on KONO (dial 86, 86, 86) (“Hey, how you, fair dinkum?”) and then you’d hear the drag races being advertised on KTSA coming up, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” you’d just start assimilating the little jingles of the station IDs in your head as part of the songs you loved because they were being brought to you by the DJs (so you thought before you ever knew about A&R guys, promo men, and other unseen forces who helped radio programming along back in the day).

All these memories bring me to my final topic of the morning: football. In just the last year or two, it seems some people have come to discover that deep within the heart of this music lover lies the heart of an abiding sports junkie. On the dead-end street I grew up, all my neighbors had sons except for one, and she was a mean girl.

I remember on Saturday mornings we would all ride bikes or just play in the front yards of our homes until noon, where everyone went in for lunch. When I would come out after lunch, the guys were all gone and stayed that way until after church the next day. I couldn’t figure out where they all went. This went on for about three weeks, until I asked Douglas (one of my five neighbor guys) where they all went to on Saturdays. “We watch football,” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. He explained it was what guys enjoyed doing on Saturdays and Sundays. “Oh,” I answered. “Will you teach me how to watch it?”

He said, “I don’t know much yet, I’m still learning, but my Dad can help us!” So the next day after church, Mom and I were invited and went to their house. The two Moms visited while I was a willing pupil with the boys (Jefferson, Douglas, and Andrew, all named for American leaders) and their dad, Ray. He was a wonderful teacher. It started to make sense. I liked music more but the game was starting to take shape for me and I learned enough watch a few weeks in to understand who the best players were on some teams.

Then the house across the street from me sold, and Susan and Stacy were the two daughters who moved in, and I lost touch with football for a while. They were sweet and fun to play with and we usually played "school." Eventually they moved, and a young Army widow with four daughters moved in, ages 5 to 18, and they were great to play with, too.

My bff Ronnie would ride his bike over from 5 streets away and he taught me how neighbors could fix things around the house. There was always some little thing that needed doing at my house and Ronnie set about early to showing me how easily it could be done (it was when he did it. I was encouraged by his example.) When he got a Mini-bike to ride over on, my rules were that I could ride on it only in the driveway and not the streets.

I followed my rules and he patiently drove me up and down that driveway, then there was a go-cart he had (same rules), and back then the driveways were actually long enough to enjoy the ride. Then Ronnie grew up and played drums professionally in addition to all the other jobs he had; hardest working guy I've ever known! Eventually we all grow up and move away somewhere.

Flash forward to my discovery of professional basketball and professional bowling on TV! I fell in love with basketball because it moved so fast, and the players jumped so high in the air they were like acrobats. And there was nothing more satisfying to watch than a good slam dunk.

I loved the voice of Chris Schenkel as he built suspense for various tournaments. It was all about the voice…and then there was professional golf…and the voice of Jim Nantz. Oh, heavenly days, Jim could read the phone book and I’d want to buy a copy. By Sunday afternoons, I discovered the NFL on CBS and immediately I loved the backstories of players and their pathways to professional football. The Cowboys and Coach Tom Landry became my benchmark to how a professional football team should comport themselves during and after the games. Things have changed “slightly” since those days.

But the good news is those grand old days of the NFL on CBS have been beautifully and carefully preserved by my friend, Rich Podolsky, in his new book, “You Are Looking Live!: How the NFL Today Revolutionized Sports Broadcasting.” This book is exciting, insightful and a perfect behind-the-scenes look at how this groundbreaking show began and transformed through the years.

These days my neighbors are still among the things in life I’m most grateful for. Some live on the same block as I do. Others live just a “few” blocks or states away, but thanks to Facetime, Skype, and other means, we are all “together.”

My 9-yr-old pal Facetimed me two days ago of his own accord. He said, “It’s been too long since we last talked. How are you doing?” I love that boy. And his little brother and his little sister. We discussed important topics (basketball, of course) like the Golden State Warriors. For a 9-yr-old, I’ll bet you’re thinking that he’s all about “I like the so-and-so team because they have a cool mascot.” Nuh-uh. Forget it.

We discussed upcoming team acquisitions and possible trades during and after the season and why he thought ‘x’ was a good decision and why ‘y’ was a useless trade to make because he mostly rode the bench and wasn’t much of a team player. It’s just one reason I love him, we have such intelligent conversations, but I’m the one learning from him. He’s picked up my vast years of knowledge by absorbing ESPN One-on-One documentaries and YouTube videos. And he has been known to correct me (politely) when I’m wrong. He and his little brother and youngest sister are a joy to watch grow up and they bring me love, hugs, and joy.

These days, I have “holiday” cherubs who are special to my heart from two families, older and younger. My older boys came from when I moved in on this block and they were all under the age of 5 and their older sister had started school. Watching them grow up and seeing them at the holidays playing in the yard or showing up at my front door in some new cool Halloween costume (with their friends).

I loved watching them grow up. Today they tower over me, but they’re still “my guys” of whom I’m incredibly proud. Older brother is in Colorado, and next brother just completed his tour of duty in the Navy and next brother is a semester away from his degree in HVAC and welding certifications.

My newest “neighbors” are precious, three in elementary school and one in pre-K (going on 22!), and I’m having fun all over again watching them grow and learn and love each other. I think I’ve found the Fountain of Youth again. Watching the children all get along so beautifully fills me with joy and happiness that is unparalleled.

Of all the things I give thanks for this year, wonderful colleagues at work locally and around the country by e-mail, dear friends around the country who are as close as AT&T and Skype bring us, neighbors whom I adore, and the chance to see happy families grow up loving God and loving life…my cup runneth over.

And now, it's time for the Cowboys to beat the Las Vegas Raiders. I have plenty of work to do while it plays in the background...I'm thankful for Jim Nantz broadcasting today and for Tony Romo telling me what the QB is thinking he'll do next. Some things never change! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and may you have a day to remember forever, over and over again.

Monday, November 15, 2021

California Outdoor Venues Add Magic to Concert Evenings, but Hidden Beauty Resides in Intimate Concert Settings

Something hit me while watching the Adele music special on CBS tonight, her lovely songs ringing out against the backdrop of a perfect night sky behind LA’s majestic Griffith Observatory.

It reminded me so much of the evening of June 3, 2017, outside the Pasadena City Hall in California. On that evening, three acclaimed vocalists Kiki Ebsen, Valerie Perri, and Christina Saffron, sang the music of Ella Fitzgerald on the occasion of her Centennial, supported by the exquisite Pasadena Symphony POPS Orchestra, led by renowned conductor Larry Blank, backed by the JPL Chorus.

As the sun set on the magnificent California sky, the backlighting of City Hall lighting up the night, it hit me there was magic in the air on both occasions. Just as the sea of colors accompanied Adele on her musical journey of the evening, so too were the residents and visitors enjoying the beauty of exquisite voices as they rang out in the night. When you stare up at the magnificent buildings that hold business by day, there's a feeling of magic at night that's hard to quantify. The band is actually an orchestra, and performers are surrounded by a virtual sea of people who've trained all their lives to perform their instruments who've come together under a gifted musical director whose job it is to create the perfect musical evening.

Singers project their hearts into the lyrics they sing and the harmonies they feel when in a group setting. All the years of training, rehearsal, and practice produce the quiet confidence they have when in front of thousands of people in front of them, and countless others who watch either livestream or some other source later on.

What's it like for these same performers when they sing inside a charming, intimate venue such as Feinstein’s at Vitello’s, as compared to, say, the Hollywood Bowl? It's an entirely different world when audiences have a close, personal view of the performers. Whatever message the performers send can always be received, but in intimate gatherings, there's an even more special feeling of being present as the music is shared that creates memories you carry with you for years.

In the earliest decades of her career, Kiki Ebsen has been that sultry spot-on vocalist that you wanted to have in the studio or on the road with you, bringing her keyboards and her harmonies to whatever you’re doing. Just having her there promotes a sense of calm and security that she’s got your back and the songs you wrote so long ago will remain as new and fresh for their 3500th performance as they did the first year they were new. In fact, the majority of her early career focused on her work as a backing performer. But, as a singer-songwriter with a wealth of diverse compositions, for the past many years now, Kiki has found joy in her work as a solo headliner, backed by musicians she has selected to bring those songs to new life.

For musicians who also write their own songs, they can serve as mentors to other songwriters, as they inspire someone to create their own songs, just the way they did. If there comes a time when your favorite songs cease to be performed for audiences, to some people, it becomes really important to have those special, inspired compositions, the thoughts of their composers lives and souls, be heard as well. For the past six years, Kiki Ebsen has found great success in the reception of her Joni Mitchell Project band as she and her band have performed for years in California. That initiative began simply from realizing that it had been years since Mitchell's compositions had been performed and Kiki's determination to keep her music alive.

But, on Friday, November 19, audiences will be treated to an evening of Kiki Ebsen’s original songs that showcase her creativity and vocal gifts that have defined her talent over the past three decades since she and her band won a national collegiate talent competition and she had the chance to record her first single, “Dreaming” (1986).

At Feinstein’s at Vitello’s in Studio City, Kiki and her band will host “A Night of Original Music,” featuring Grant Geissman, Bernie Dresel, and Steven Lawrence:


Grant is a widely sought-after composer, recording and ensemble artist with several of his own solo projects. Grant was nominated for an Emmy for the theme song of "Two and a Half Men," and his iconic guitar solo in Chuck Mangione's "Feel So Good" has cemented his name in music history. www.grantgeissman.com


Bernie Dresel has performed with multi-Grammy award-winning artists including The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band. He is the drummer you hear on the score of "Whiplash," and you've heard him on dozens of soundtracks in movies and TV. His big band, The BBB performs regularly at numerous venues around the country. www.berniedresel.com


Steve has been a performing musician all of his life. His dad was a sought-after vocalist and choral conductor and his mother was also a musician. Steve carries on the family tradition by playing his red-hot bass guitars. He is a world-class musician with a killer ear and adds his expertise to every song.

The evening will include songs from her 1994 album, “Red,” as well as songs she also started writing about that same time, which she finished some 20 years later in time to be included on “Fill Me Up” (2020).

Audiences have loved and have favorites among songs on her 2011 album “The Beauty Inside” and they’re part of the evening’s set list.

General Admission Tickets are available for $20 and reservations can be made here. VIP tickets are $35 and include a full set of Kiki’s CDs. The show starts at 8:00pm and doors open at 6:30pm.