Saturday, December 20, 2008

Raising a Thief

Not the kid. The dog.

Okay, all puppies steal stuff then proceed to tear their loot to shreds. That's a given. Our beagle, Cha Cha Maru, was no different. But he went through a long stage of not giving anything back. He'd just devour it. Erasers, pencils, magazines, socks, slippers. Poof. Gone. (For awhile anyways. Six hours later some version of the booty would reappear from...well, his booty. Taking him for walks was a lot like Christmas. I didn't know what to expect!)

No amount of discipline, begging, weeping, or trickery worked to retrieve whatever item he had locked in his jaws. I did my online searches, bought my dog books from Amazon. I even sat for over an hour talking to him until he finally got sick of my preaching and dropped the stick of gum he had pilfered. But normally don't have that kind of time. I needed to get him to stop.

And then a few months ago we had a breakthrough. The dog managed to steal a hairbrush and instead of chewing it up, he promptly brought it over to me. Now, being as well-versed in doggy psychology as I am I praised him, scratched his ears, told him he was the best damned dog in the whole world.

My son told me I was over doing it. I said, Peshaw! I explained that if I yell he will have no incentive to return something. If I praise him he'll WANT to bring things back. Well, I was right. But the kid was right more.

For the past few months Cha has taken to randomly stealing things around the house and presenting them to me. Several -- sometimes dozens -- of times a day he comes trotting over to place something on my lap. Post it Notes that have been stuck my the TV to remind my husband what programs he wants to record, pencils that have been securely placed in pencil cups, even remote controls that sit innocently on the table. One of his favorite places to forage is my purse. I couldn't count how many times my wallet has been given back to me.

This is what I imagine he's thinking: "Gee, I feel blue. I'm hungry. Damn cat won't play with me. I need some love. Hey, look, the chair is pulled out. I wonder what's up there. Is that a spoon? Woa, wouldn't mom love that!"

And, of course, he is rewarded with with a "Gooood boy!" And kisses and scratches under the chin. Meanwhile, J shakes his head.

But now it has escalated with some very mixed results.

Here is a picture of Cha posing with a test he oh-so gently rested on my lap. It's an English test he pulled from J's book bag (one that I had yet to see). I learned that the child could not spell "Braille". Gooood doggy!

And just yesterday J was searching everywhere for a kanji notebook he had misplaced. Later the dog was feeling a tad lonely and voila! He trotted over and laid it at my feet. Goood boy!

But recently I'm starting to worry. He has taken to plucking ornaments off the Christmas tree and bringing them over. It's the cutest darned thing. Stars, santas, moutfuls of tinsel. To which my son replies, "You're just turning him into a thief."

And then it happened. I placed two thousand yen on the table for my husband to take to work, turned my head for a moment, and the money was gone. We checked his wallet, the floor. But there Cha was standing in the corner, waiting for me to sit down so he could give it to me, two bills dangling from his lips.
I got sternly lectured by my family for encouraging my kleptomaniac pup. But me? I'm thinking this might be useful.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Puzzle Box

Sometimes things impress me maybe way more than they should. But I don't know. This really impresses me.

In the late 1800s, the good folk of Hakone, Japan (in particular three men named Okawa, Okiyama, and Kikukawa) expanded on an idea and invented something called a Puzzle Box (karakuri bako) or Secret Box (himitsu bako). I had heard of them before but didn't know exactly what they did.

Then just the other day my son received one from his grandparents as a souvenir (this and the black eggs). It is pure awesome.

Here's a picture of what his Puzzle Box looks like. It's gorgeous inlaid wood. Or better yet, this. It's a technique called yosegi.

Here's a close up.

I mean that alone is amazing. But that isn't what makes it 'secret'.

What makes it secret is that you can't just open it. It's impossible. You have to slide the pieced together slats of wood in a certain order and a in a certain direction, before it will open. The order has to be exact. J's box is one that opens in 14 moves. But they make boxes that open anywhere from four moves to over a hundred moves.

To close it you have to slide them in the opposite order or it won't shut.

Here it is after a couple moves.

They say that the art of making these boxes has never been written down and has been instead passed down from generation to generation. One of those links up there say there are only nine craftsmen alive who can actually make one and only three apprentices learning the craft. I'm not sure I believe that. But I do believe the not written down part.

It seems a more primitive version of these were made to only be opened by either the maker or the owner. And valuables were hidden inside.
I finally -- with more than a little help from my son -- was able to open his. Guess what I found?
One game cartridge and a handful of guitar picks.