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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

 EamesWith congressional midterm elections still months away, there should only be one race on the electorate’s mind this week and that’s who will emerge as leader of the pack and be crowned Balboa Park’s Top Dog for 2014.

Being Balboa Park’s Top Doggie Blogger, I must recuse myself from the voting and from making any personal endorsements — which is just fine with me. I don’t envy voters who are asked to single out which of these 30 photogenic pooches deserves to not only serve as Balboa Park’s reigning Top Dog, but to receive an overnight stay at Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

Not to mention two runners up won’t be left out in the cold either, with the first runner up receiving a voucher to have a professional photo session with Colleen's Custom Pet Photography, a custom dichroic glass dog tag by Chris Stell, and a Family 4-Pack of Balboa Park Explorer Multi-Day Passes. The second runner up receives a Family 4-Pack of tickets to a San Diego Junior Theatre performance and a 4-Pack of tickets to the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

With so much at stake, please be sure to click on the second page of finalists to view four additional worthy contenders before placing your final vote. Winners will be announced on August 15. (Note: only one vote per person/email address is permitted.)

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Real Pirates, gold treasure, San Diego Natural History MuseumMore than any other time of year, mid-summer is when bipedal readers hound me the most for tips on things to do. Perhaps it’s because there is SO MUCH going on in Balboa Park right now, humans, who tend to overthink things rather than follow their instincts, have trouble deciding where to go. Or maybe the approaching “dog days of summer” naturally lead folks to turn to a dog for guidance.

Whatever the case, to get the ball rolling, here is my quick and dirty list of things to do in Balboa Park for those who need an app just to figure out where to go for dinner.

Real Pirates — If you’re like me and consider pirates, who dig up buried treasure for a living, to be kindred spirits, you’ll enjoy viewing over 200 authentic artifacts recovered from a real pirate shipwreck, on display at the Natural History Museum.

Free Weeknight Concerts — Give your house, and your pooch, a chance to cool down after work by enjoying a free evening concert in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion every weeknight, Monday through Thursday.

Take a Plunge — While I continue to lobby the International Olympic Committee to make dog-paddling an Olympic sport, my two-legged readers can practice their stroke at the Bud Kearns Pool during its extended summer hours.

Take a Hike — Extended daylight hours also give workaholics more time to explore over 65 miles of marked trails that crisscross Balboa Park.

Family-Friendly Theater — Whether your pups prefer going Into the Woods (the Old Globe) or In the Heights (San Diego Junior Theatre), or simply want to experience Fairy Tales in the Park (San Diego Civic Youth Ballet), Balboa Park’s performing arts venues can take them there.

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With all the activities going on throughout Balboa Park this time of year, I understand it may be possible for some folks to overlook that it’s also Top Dog Photo Contest season. Accordingly, I would like to use this blogspace to clear up some confusion and offer a few words of advice to my fellow shutterbugs participating in this year’s contest.

I’m seeing an awful lot of pooches right now running around Balboa Park with cameras and smart phones taking pictures of the Park’s lush scenery. And as much as I don’t want to discourage such activity, remember that the annual Top Dog Photo Contest awards the best photos taken in Balboa Park of a dog, not a photo taken of Balboa Park by a dog.

Cosmos Blog, Balboa Park Top Dog Photo Contest, Jedi, 2012 WinnerNow that I’ve gotten that important detail out of the way, here are a few other pointers to bear in mind:

Lighting — As tempting as it is to pose your puppy in a cool shaded area, make sure he or she is lit by adequate natural light – but not too much. For the best lighting, come to the Park in the early morning or early evening. No one, canine or human, looks particularly fetching in a photo taken in direct sunlight during the lunch hour.

Rule of Thirds — Though it may seem natural to perfectly center your pooch in the photo (and some prize-winning photos have done just that), you can create a more dynamic composition by pushing elements of interest to one-third of the picture grid, either top/bottom or left/right.

Frame Your Elements — You can also take advantage of lines in architectural or landscape features to lead the viewer’s gaze and establish a border in your picture.

Remove Background Distractions — Before snapping that winning shot, make sure a park visitor hasn’t wandered into the picture frame or there isn’t a corner of a blanket, camera bag, or trashcan in view that will catch the viewer’s eye.

Take a Variety of Shots — See what happens if you zoom in, step back, adjust the angle, take the shot from above or at ground level. It may take a little experimenting to find Fido’s or FiFi’s best side.

But don’t obsess too much.The submission deadline for the 2014 Balboa Park Top Dog Photo Contest is August 4, which will be followed by an online vote of the top 25 finalists.

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Matilda the hamster writes: G’day Cosmos, Being an Aussie, I sometimes feel my adoptive family here in the States doesn’t quite get me. What do you reckon is the best way to teach them about Australian animal culture and behavior?

Cosmos: Having spent way too many hours watching the San Diego Zoo’s live koala cam, I’ve decided in my next life, I’m coming back as a koala bear. They are the true Zen masters of the art of eating and napping all day!

San Diego Zoo, Nighttime Zoo Entertainment, photo (c) San Diego ZooBut I’m sure you want your family to know that there is more to the Australian animal kingdom than koalas and kangaroos—which is why you should send them straight to the San Diego Zoo’s Koalafornia Dreamin’ Nighttime Zoo.

Like you hamsters, many Australians are creatures of the night, making the Nighttime Zoo summer evening hours the best time to visit the new Australian Outback exhibit to see not only koalas and kangaroos, but also wombats, Tasmanian devils, dingos, and wallabies.

The late afternoon and evening hours (until 9pm through September 1) give pack members of all ages special opportunities to learn all about Australia in entertaining ways. At the top of each hour, beginning at 4pm, pups can go on a jumping journey with the Roo Crew, and then on the half hour, beginning at 4:30pm, the Outback Band hits the Front Street Stage for some super hula hoopin’ fun.

At 6:30pm in the Hunte Amphitheater, acrobatic characters bring to life an Aussie legend in the nightly show Australiana II: Return to the Outback. And lastly, no trip down under would be complete without a “Walkabout”—a special parade at 8pm to close out the evening’s festivities.

If that isn’t enough to give your family a new appreciation for all things Aussie, there are plenty of free Crocodile Hunter videos you can stream for them online.


Photo: Nighttime Zoo Entertainment, (c) San Diego Zoo
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Films in the Garden, The San Diego Museum of ArtFor someone of the canine species, the garden is ground zero for all kinds of fun and mischief. Humans simply have no idea what I can turn up in soft, recently replanted soil: crunchy insects, old bones, missing parts from a child’s toy, and, of course, fledgling flora.

One thing I never expect to find in a garden of any kind is classic films and hundreds of people watching them. But that’s exactly what The San Diego Museum of Art will be “growing” in their sculpture garden this summer when it launches the Films in the Garden outdoor film series on Monday, July 14.

Formerly known as “Screen on the Green,” SDMA has moved its long-running summer film screenings into the cozy confines of the May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden, already home to a number of colorful visual treats in the form of 20th-century sculpture.

The four films in the series will screen under the stars every other Monday starting at 8pm and include Blood and Sand with Tyronne Power and Rita Hayworth (July 14); 1492: Conquest of Paradise, a unique retelling of the Christopher Columbus story (July 28); the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday (August 11); and the Wim Wenders’s sci-fi drama Until the End of the World (August 25).

This family-friendly event encourages folks to bring a picnic basket, though no outside libations are permitted. For packs unable to pack adequate provisions for the night, the sculpture garden’s restaurant will offer a selection of light snacks and beverages, including a full bar.

Be sure to arrive early to mark your territory as seating inside the sculpture court is limited.

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