Big Dogs and Big Storms

You know that line in A Visit from St. Nicholas? The one about dry leaves flying before a hurricane? I always thought it felt out of place in what was, otherwise, a sweet and fluffy poem, but today that line is echoing through my head, as leaves are being blown about outside my house.

There’s definitely a storm brewing, but whether my part of the DFW metroplex will get any measurable rain is still a toss-up. Most of the time, the fact that our little corridor of I-20 seems to live in a sort of weather-proof bubble is a good thing. A couple of years ago, when tornadoes were hitting all around us, my neighborhood didn’t even lose power.

Stalking Maximus

Be very quiet; Max is stalking something.

Sometimes though, like today, I want the storm. We had crisp, cold weather until about a week ago, and then everything crept back into the 70s, which is fine, I suppose, except that it’s  December, we’re twelve days from Christmas Eve, and we still have mosquitoes.

I actually have air conditioning turned on.

Also, rain and fog make all the Christmas lights look pretty – enhancing the sparkle factor. Not that I’ve finished decorating. In truth, I’ve barely begun, and the recent weather is a big part of that. (Finishing my first book, and getting it ready to put on Amazon is another part of that, but that post has already been written.)

I’m not the only one feeling a bit off-kilter because of the weather. Max and Teddy, my two biggest dogs, have been acting kind of spooked since last night. They’re asking for extra attention, being overly clingy (even for them) and then bouncing off to chase each other around the house and yard as if they have to burn off every ounce of energy that they have right this very minute.

Watching big dogs play can be kind of intense. They slam into each other with all the force of football players, and there is much gnashing of teeth and swiping of claws.

Curious Ted

Teddy is always a bit perplexed.

They growl and roooooo! They dance around each other like prize fighters looking for the perfect opportunity to jab or cross, and then they back off, tails wagging, as if to say, “Aww, shucks, I was only playing.”

After a heavy play session, Teddy, who is four years younger and 20 pounds heavier than Max, will go to his brother and lick his ears, as if to say, “I may have bigger paws and sharper teeth, but you’re still my big brother.”

Max turned seven a few days ago, and his age is starting to show a little. The black parts of his face are bearing more and more flecks of white hair, and his stamina is fading a little bit. Of course, he’s always been a bit of a couch potato, sprawling his spotted legs over the arms of chairs, or letting them dangle off the sofa. Ted is more a hunker-down-on-the-floor kind of dog, as if he knows his soft, black fur will pick up every single bit of dust.

One thing both of these big boys have in common is that they never go too long without coming to my side, poking a wet nose into my hand, offering a callow paw to shake, and then heading off to romp again.

The leaves are flying.

The dogs are rough-housing happily.

A storm is brewing.

And I can’t wait for it to come.

Holidailies 2015

Christmas in La Paz: Grasshoppers

On the Banks of Plum Creek cover “Is the wheat okay?” I asked my mother earlier tonight. I was joking, of course. Her house sits on desert soil, and is surrounded by saguaro cactus, not stalks of golden wheat, but in context my jesting query made sense.

You see, we’re being attacked by grasshoppers.

I’m not sure when the grasshoppers began to arrive in such great numbers, but they form rafts across the pool, the living ones stepping gingerly across the weakened corpses of the dead and dying. They also buzz the windows, and cling to the screens, as if they’re peering inside the house and trying to discern whether or not there’s anything edible to be had.

Sadie, the larger of my mother’s two dogs – roughly 35 pounds of Mexican mutt – likes to eat the grasshoppers. She waits for their bodies to dry in the sun, then brings them inside, and crunches on them at her leisure. Sometimes she holds them in her mouth, biding her time until they’ve reached whatever special state means ‘just right’ to her. Sometimes they’re still alive, and the little legs sticking out past her muzzle are kicking and twitching in their insectoid death throes.

I’m sure there are worse fates than being eaten by a small dog.

I cannot think what those worse fates might be.

In the fourth of her “Little House…” books, On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder described the arrival of grasshoppers (locusts, really) like this:

“A cloud was over the sun. It was not like any cloud they had ever seen before. It was a cloud of something like snowflakes, but they were larger than snowflakes, and thin and glittering. Light shone through each flickering particle….”

“Plunk! Something hit Laura’s head and fell to the ground. She looked down and saw the largest grasshopper she had ever seen. Then huge brown grasshoppers were hitting the ground all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms. They came thudding down like hail.”

“The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers.”

The grasshoppers here sound like popcorn as they plummet onto the marble patio or plink into the screens or splash into the pool. If enough of them worked together, I’m fairly certain they could open the sliding doors and hop or fly right into the house.

It’s a good thing we have Sadie to crunch them to bits for us.

I hope the wheat survives.

This Is the New Year

2014

Happy 2014.

I woke this morning to the crying of a puppy who was in dire need of marking the New Year’s start by, well, marking, but once I left our bedroom I was greeted by the first rays of true dawn, and the intoxicating smell of nearly-cooked brisket (We marinated it in espresso and JD BBQ sauce, and it’s been in the oven at 225 since midnight (The coffee helps tenderize and provides a smokey undertone.).).

I spent yesterday feeling overwhelmed by having so much to do and learned several small lessons, the most important being that even when the Parking Goddess smiles upon you it is far wiser to avoid CostCo on New Year’s Eve.

Between cooking and chatting and shopping and wrangling dogs I wrote 5,000 words of a story. It’s just fanfic, but it made me happy to write it, and it was posted just after midnight, and I consider the fact that I greeted the new year at my keyboard in a happy, writing groove to be an incredibly auspicious sign.

Well, I would if I believed in signs.

Today, in just a few hours, we’re having friends come over to celebrate with us by sharing food and laughter. And possibly the champagne we never bothered to open last night, because by the time midnight rolled around we were exhausted, and couldn’t see the point in opening bubbly for three adults when one of them doesn’t even drink.

Instead, we toasted the arrival of 2014 with glasses of Mexican Coca-cola, and went to bed with smiles on our faces.

The puppy and the chihuahua have now finished outside, and the big dogs are having their morning romp. I’m going to go take a shower before I feed them.

Happy New Year.

Have a song to get you into the spirit of things, it’s a recent favorite of mine: “This Is the New Year” by Ian Axel:

Image Credit: Yulia Glam

A Day Without Coffee

meteor coffee

I posted the other day that I was feeling blechy but not really sick, but last night – this morning really – that changed. I finished my column for All Things Girl just after midnight, and was watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.

(By the way if you haven’t seen Call the Midwife, do so. It’s a well-done BBC drama about midwifery in the 1950s and there are tons of fantastic female characters.)

And then my stomach, which had been tender all day, impelled me to go worship the porcelain god.

I must be very devout because I continued my bended-knee worshiping until nearly six AM, at which point I FINALLY, BLISSFULLY, was able to sleep.

I woke around 8 am to tell Fuzzy the dogs were fussing, and woke again around ten-thirty because I was sure they were fussing again, only to find out that they weren’t even in the room, because he’d fed them and taken them out…without being asked.

I made some tea and toast, and, somewhere, found the energy to start a batch of chicken soup in the crockpot and crashed again, woke up later, starving and somehow thought a peanut butter and banana sandwich would be okay for a lunch…and got lucky. I think I was craving comfort foods.

Went back to sleep, with Max and Perry in the bed with me…their doggy breathing is so relaxing to listen to…and slept til 6:30 or so.

And now? Now it’s nearly midnight, and I’ve had no coffee, and I’m not sure if I still feel SICK or if I’m just TIRED, but it’s probably both, and so I shall say Good Night.

Bubbles

Bubble Glass and Candles

In the china hutch in my dining room is a collection of bubble glasses, each originally a pale pastel, though the tint has aged into mere hints of color. They were my grandmothers, then my mothers, then mine. I used them a few times a year, mostly for special occasions: Egg nog on Christmas Eve, brandy on New Year’s Eve, sometimes champagne because I don’t own flutes. Well, I do, but I like the bubble glasses better.

At times, they seem as fragile, these hemispheres of translucent colored glass, as soap bubbles. There are times when I think they might just float into the air, tinkling as they meet each other in a gravity-defying toast, and then settling back into the waiting hands of myself and a few carefully chosen friends.

* * *

I can’t imagine soaking in a bubble-less bath. Ever since childhood, with the exception of a few flirtations with the “blue water” created by Vaseline Intensive Care Bath Beads, I have loved bubble baths, and longed for a deep tub, full of soft piles of white bubbles.

My favorite bathtub was in the apartment where I lived with my mother when I was nine. It was in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and it was a claw foot tub, and if you craned your head in just the right way, you could see the ocean through the tiny window.

My second-favorite bathtub was in the house Fuzzy and I rented in Sioux Falls, SD, our last year there. It was a prairie cottage, and it, too, had a cast iron claw foot tub, in a bright, airy bathroom.

My third-favorite bathtub is in the house we have now, in my (well, our) bathroom. The tub upstairs, the one guests use, is a plain old tub-and-shower combo with glass doors (I detest sliding doors on tubs). But in our bathroom, the master bathroom on the ground floor, we have a garden tub. It’s wide enough for two, and deep, and it’s set in a window (though, sadly, that window can’t be opened), and I spend many, many hours there, 40 minutes at a time.

Sometimes, when I’m soaking in the tub, one of the dogs comes to say hello, and I will catch up a handful of bubbles and blow them into the air. Teddy often ends up with bubbles on his head, and he tries to eat the ones that float. Max is more cautious (though he has a taste for scented (flavored??) bathwater. Perry lingers at the edge of the room. Cleo used to sit on the step into my tub and wait for me to finish. I miss her at bathtime.

* * *

When you’re in the ocean, you pay attention to the bubbles because they tell you which way is UP. I remember a couple of times, when I was a kid, and reckless, being rolled in whitewater when I misjudged where a wave would break. It disorients you. It makes you understand how people can drown in shallow water. Breakers are rough, even when the sand is less than a foot below you.

As I write this, I’m watching Blackfish, the documentary about the killer whales at Sea World. (I hate that we do this to animals. It’s one thing to have zoos to preserve species, it’s quite another to imprison animals solely for our entertainment.)

I shouldn’t be watching this right before sleep.
I keep watching the bubbles.

Image credit: limpido / 123RF Stock Photo

Dear Santa…

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

It’s that time of year again – the time that I write you a letter. I’ve been doing this for as long as I could read and write…do you remember?

When I was little, my mother served as your elf, writing my name in glitter on packages signed from you, and once, even leaving a trail of red construction paper footprints leading from my bedroom to the back of the couch, where the stockings were hung (we didn’t have a fireplace).

It’s because of her that I’ve managed to retain the ability to suspend belief, to find the bubble of magical delight that exists deep inside all of us, and to send it forth, sharing it with the world through words – essays and stories and songs – and yet, I never write these letters to my mother, Santa. I write them to you.

I don’t have a long list of “I wants” this year, Santa. Oh, there are tons of things I’d like to have – like the hoodie designed to look like a Star Trek: The Next Generation uniform, and this set of mugs I really like, but those aren’t things I need.

Other people, though, have real needs, so if you could transfer whatever allotment of North Polar magic I’m due to them, I’d really appreciate it. I even have some ideas:

I’m fostering two pit bull mixes right now, Santa. Madison is a two-year-old spayed female, and she’s as sweet as can be, though she prefers to not be around other female dogs, or any cats. Marco is a male puppy, who was born in a shelter and lived his whole life there, until he came to stay with me a week or so ago. I’d love for them to find forever homes with people who will love them as much as I do, but they’re safe for now.

More than that, I’d like for there to never be an unwanted puppy or kitten in the world. I’d like breeding mills and fighting rings to become things of the past. I’d like it if senior pets were either taken care of until they died naturally, or eased out of the world in the arms of the people who loved them.

I had a whole page and a half of other things to discuss, Santa, but I deleted it because I realized I was using my letter to you as a soapbox, and that wasn’t my intent.

And really, everything I wanted to talk about, even the animal issues I’ve already discussed, boils down to one thing:

COMPASSION

Compassion for each other, compassion for ourselves, compassion for the animals in our care, and those who exist in the wild, and compassion for this planet we call home.

We’re not, as a race, being very good stewards of the Earth or of each other. We’ve become cold and callous, embracing a “me first” attitude that is more than a little unpleasant.

It will be the end of us, Santa.

Already, friends and family members cease communications because they disagree with something they see in social media.
Our government representatives don’t cooperate with each other, and are smug about their non-cooperation.

It’s really sad.

And really scary.

So, Santa, please, bring us all a box of compassion this year. You can make my parcel a bit smaller than some, maybe a tiny bit larger than others, and I promise to share it, because the whole point of compassion, is that you do extend it to others.

I know in the past I’ve asked you for other intangible gifts. Love, generosity, patience – those are all things we still need in massive amounts.

But they come within the guise of compassion.

So, thanks, Santa, for listening, and considering my request this year. I wanted you to know that I’m completely over the whole wanting-a-pony thing. I mean, I have two huge dogs who are roughly the size of ponies already, and it costs a small fortune to feed and vet them. (Not that I would trade them for anything.)

But, if there’s a little extra Christmas magic, maybe whisper in the ear of my muse? My writing has been kind of hit-or-miss this year, and I could use some extra help.

Okay, extra help and the Star Trek: The Next Generation hoodie. In command red. Because even though Data was my favorite character, ops yellow makes me look sallow.

Image Credit: The Messy Desk of Santa Claus

Gone to the Dogs

It’s nearly eleven PM, and I’ve been awake since 4:45 AM, except for a brief nap from 7:30-8:30 this morning. Why? Because this was my day:

3:45 AM: wake from a really awesome dream with undeniable need to pee
4:30 AM: wake to raucous alarm from my husband’s side of the bed. Send him off to shower.
4:45 AM: admit that I really can’t steal another few minutes of sleep, and get up.
5:15 AM: actually get out of bed
5:45 AM: drive with my husband and housemate to take the former to the airport
6:30 AM: arrive home, have breakfast and coffee and let the dogs out
7:30 AM: admit that I’m really not all that awake, and go to lie down for an hour
8:34 AM: get back up, get dressed again (this time, with makeup)
8:55 AM: go to church
11:00 AM: leave church, go home, let the dogs run around, give them water, contain them again, and put foster-dog in the car to go to adoption fair
12:00 PM: arrive at adoption fair, say we’re only going to stay a few minutes
5:08 PM: leave adoption fair, bringing foster-dog Madison, who did NOT get adopted, and foster-puppy Marco, who would have had to go back to the shelter since he also did not get adopted.
6:37 PM: housemate and I have dinner
7:40 PM: housemate and I go grocery shopping
8:53 PM: get home with groceries (note to self: BUY DOG FOOD)
9:30 PM: email stuff from upstairs computer to downstairs computer
9:40 PM: go outside to play with the puppies.
10:15 PM: come in to write this post end up watching the end of a cheesy Christmas film instead
11:00 PM: finally write this post

So, no pictures. In fact, no complete sentences. Just…me…being exhausted. Yeah.

The Love/Hate of Holiday Rescue Memes

Homeless Pooch

I’m not using a cute Santa picture tonight, even though my collection probably seems endless to people who don’t know me (and possibly to a few who do). Instead, I want to draw your attention to the photo in this post. I stole it from Facebook, and I think it’s lovely. A hopeful dog face, a Santa hat, a wistful wish for a home.

As an animal lover, a dog person, the human “mother” to three fur-kids and foster-mom to a fourth (not including my own former pets who have gone to the rainbow bridge, and the other fosters who have passed through my home, usually to forever homes of their own), this image makes me want to adopt one more, or hug my own pups super tightly, or buy bones for the entire shelter.

But, as an animal lover, a dog person, etc., it also makes me a little bit angry, for two distinct reasons.

First, it makes those of us who work in rescue sound like hypocrites.

On the one hand, we’re urging people to adopt homeless dogs and cats so they won’t have to be stuck in shelters, or worse, in line for euthanization, over the holidays, holidays, I might add, that they neither understand nor appreciate.

On the other hand, we’re reminding people left and right that puppies and kittens should never be adopted, purchased, or otherwise acquired as gifts. We know, of course, that there’s a difference between parents bringing home a longed-for puppy or kitten, or adult dog or cat, on Christmas Eve, and people buying or adopting animals for other people (boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.) but it’s still a mixed message, especially since every reputable trainer will tell you that the best time to add a pet to your home is when your life is at its most normal, most mundane – a time the holidays are most assuredly NOT.

The other reason I hate images like this is the same reason I dislike the annual holiday drives to remember homeless people, children in need, or soldiers who are deployed overseas. It’s not that I don’t believe these people should be remembered or cared for. I’m a strong believer in supporting those in need (whether it’s emotional or physical need), and my tax returns will prove it.

It’s that we seem to think of them ONLY at the holidays. But what about in January, when our goodwill has been replaced by the grudging return to work and school? What about in July when the summer sun is baking those homeless people?

It’s the same with shelter pets. Of course I don’t want any animal to spend winter in a kennel without a family of his or her own, but that need doesn’t end when the holidays do. It’s ongoing. It will continue to exist as long as we humans refuse to spay and neuter our pets, as long as we purchase pets from retail stores, as long as we treat them as disposable objects to be cast off when they are old, or ill, or grow too big to be ‘cute,’ or become bored, destructive, or aggressive.

There’s another meme going around Facebook, one that suggests that there should be a pound where pets could send bad owners. That meme, I’m completely behind.

As for holiday pet drives…if you’re looking for a pet, consider an adult dog or cat from a shelter or rescue. Many rescue groups are having pet adoption fairs this weekend, not because we’re pushing pets as presents, but because the colder the weather gets, the more lost and unwanted animals show up at shelters that are already overstuffed.

If you aren’t ready to commit to the care of an animal, donate time to a local shelter – help them with social media, with taking pictures of the animals, etc. Donate blankets or pop by CostCo and get a couple huge bags of food, and donate that. Maybe consider fostering a pet – you aren’t responsible for the expenses, then.

This message is approved by Maximus (adopted Feb, 2009), Perry (adopted March, 2009), Teddy (adopted Feb 2013), and Madison the foster pooch, who is available for adoption. For more info, check out her Petfinder profile.

Happy Birthday, Maximus

Max, age five

Oh, my dearest doggy, you are FIVE years old today. That’s middle-aged for a breed like yours, a breed we think is pointer/boxer, but could be most anything, really.

How well I remember that windy day in February, 2009 when we met your then-tiny little self. You were ten weeks old, and I kept telling Fuzzy we didn’t want a puppy, but he thought your black and white fur looked like your sister Cleo’s, and we knew Zorro didn’t have much more time with us.

I remember how Fuzzy snapped your picture through the bars of your crate at PetCo, and said, “Come see this puppy,” and I remember how the first time I picked you up you gnawed on my neck until you finally fell asleep in my arms.

I remember when you were so small you slept in a cat bed, and so tiny you couldn’t climb the stairs. You used to pick up Cleo’s leash and make her follow you around the house. You weren’t quite certain of what to do with Zorro, but he left us a week after you came. I think he waited to be sure you were right for us.

We didn’t always get along, my Maxi-taxi. You were my first big dog, and I had to learn a whole new language with you. It wasn’t until you were three months old that I knew we’d be alright. You’d escaped from your crate, and even though Fuzzy’s side of the bed was closer, you came right to me, and put your cold wet nose in my hand. I knew, then, that you were MY dog, just like Zorro and Cleo had been. Perry had joined us by then, but he’s never as obvious about who his people are as you always have been.

In the first year of your life, you ate rocks and razor blades, water bottles, entire pairs of Keds, and more paper towels than I care to count. Once, I even found you chewing on the side of the house! I was convinced something you’d swallowed would lacerate your esophagus or perforate your intestine, but except for allergies, you’re remarkably healthy.

And now you’re five years old, and the quiet gentleman of the house, except when you do your post-dinner show, roo-ing and galloping up and down the hall.

I love that you wake up half an hour before you really need to go outside, just so you can come into the bed with me and snuggle while Fuzzy showers. I love your raspy-tongued kisses, and the way you can eviscerate a squeaky toy in five minutes, then carry the empty fleece carcass around for months.

I love that every night when I go to bed to read, you come and curl up with me. I love that you’re patient with your adopted brother Tedasaurus Rex, even though he had the nerve to grow taller than you, and that you make the foster brothers and sisters who rotate through your life feel like part of the pack.

I love the way you, my 80-pound darling, can manage to get lost in our postage stamp of a back yard, and I love that you still think an empty paper towel roll is the best toy ever.

I love the way you’ll chase a ball til it stops, then turn around and give me that look that means, “If you’d wanted it back you should have adopted a retriever,” and I love that even though you’re a gentle giant of a dog, you have a basso profundo bark that makes me feel safe when I’m alone.

I love that you’re as happy to sit on the deck and just WATCH the birds and squirrels as you are to chase them, and I love that the last thing I hear at night is your deep, restful, doggy breathing.

So, happy fifth birthday, my Max.

You can’t really be called a Monster Pup any more, but in my heart you’ll always be my puppy.