Dog Years

Many years ago, we were on our way to take the kids caving. (Caving is the exploration of tight, dark spaces where bats live. What’s not to love?) As we drove through another long stretch of uninhabited desert, I saw an animal running near the side of the road. A deer? No, too small. I made a u-turn and went back to look.

A puppy, alone in the desert. There were no houses nearby so she wasn’t lost. Dumped, most likely, and bound to become coyote food if she lived until sundown. She was terrified but she didn’t bolt, so my son offered up his ham sandwich as incentive. Pretty soon, she was in the van. We already had three kids, three cats, one dog, and a rabbit. What’s one more? We named her Lily.

It's hard to remember Lily (or the kids) ever being this small. June, 2000.

It’s hard to remember Lily (or the kids) ever being this small. June, 2000.

She’s a Whippet, a breed I’d never heard of until Lily arrived. A Whippet looks like a 30-pound version of a Greyhound, with the same lean build and affinity for speed. I have never owned a running breed before but with this dog, the feet are everything. In her prime, Lily was incredibly fast. It was a joy to watch her zoom around in circles, outrunning every other dog at the park and doing what she was made to do.

The joy wore off as soon as it was time to take care of her talons nails. Long nails make for good traction, but they also have to be clipped more often, and this dog said No. She only weighed 25 pounds, but two adult humans could not hold her still for a nail trim. I resorted to sedating her for each nail trimming and after several months, she finally gave in to letting me handle her feet. She still loathes it, but when she sees the clippers she drops her head and trudges resignedly toward me, as if on her way to the Inquisition. It’s just like that, you know — terrible torture, followed by treats.

Because of her foot fixation, Lily is highly suspicious of slippery surfaces. Glazed tile floors are evil. The linoleum at the hardware store is not to be trusted, so she drags behind me through the aisles, stepping gingerly like the floor might burst into flame. Foreign objects in her feet are also traumatic. We live in a desert and stickery things abound. Goat heads, tiny burrs that lodge between the pads of a dog’s feet, are the worst. I always know when Lily steps on one because our walk comes to an abrupt halt while she frantically bites at her paw until she loosens the offender and eats it. It is not enough to remove the thing. It must be destroyed.

Karma & Lily running in the riverbed, 2010.

Karma & Lily running in the riverbed, 2010.

Of all our dogs, Lily is the most sensitive and high-strung. A little weird, even. She dashes  out of the room if I raise my voice, even if it’s not at her. Unlike most dogs, she hates riding in the car and will refuse to eat for a day or two if subjected to a road trip. She will also skip meals if we go away and leave her with the house sitter. Then there are the “babies.” Over the years, she has developed strange attachments to a string of stuffed animals stolen from the children. She will carry the “baby” around in her mouth, drop it at our feet, then pick it up and take it outside. Her current favorite is a stuffed dog nearly as big as she is, missing an eye and part of its nose. Every night, for reasons that only she understands, she takes it for a walk around the yard before putting it to bed.

The baby can also be used as a pillow.

The baby can also be used as a pillow.

Now she is old.



Next month Lily will be 14. She’s given up running circles in the park and long hikes leave her limping, but she still takes a 40-minute walk every day with lots of stops for sniffing. Her eyes are a little cloudy and when I call her, she doesn’t always hear  — or maybe she’s just ignoring me. Her fur is more gray than black, and she’s a little hunchbacked from arthritis. Every evening, in a kind of demented doggy ritual, she stands in the yard and barks incessantly at nothing until our nerves are shot and we bring her inside. In the springtime, while the younger dogs are losing their minds over the baby bunnies hopping across our walking route, Lily shrugs. Like, I’ve already had my bunnies. They’re not that big a deal. 

Old age is not pretty, and it is filled with daily affronts to her dignity. Her eyes are constantly runny, her coat is greasy, and she sheds like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, so she ends up getting twice as many baths as the other two dogs. Once or twice a day, a human stuffs half a Tramadol down her throat for pain relief from the arthritis. And then there’s the halitosis. We love her, but as one of the boys says, her breath smells like butt. So now, in her golden years, she must endure toothbrushing in addition to the hated baths, pill-stuffing, and eye-wiping. And did I mention the sweatshirt? Because she is skinny and arthritic, I have overcome my disdain for animals in clothing and put a doggy sweatshirt on her when the weather is cold. It is so embarrassing. It is also warmer and makes her a little more comfortable.

As compensation, there are no rules for Lily. Like a 500-pound gorilla, she can have anything she wants. The other dogs have to sit and wait before coming into the house. Lily just walks inside. The others are expected to sit or lie down before getting meals or a treat. Not Lily. She gets treats for being alive. Yay, you woke up this morning! Good job! Dogs here do not beg at the table, yet tonight I ate my dinner with one hand while petting Lily with the other as she rested her head on my leg. According to a BBC calculator, she is about 88 years old in human age. She’s in pretty good shape, but we’re on borrowed time. She doesn’t know it, but I do. Anyway, there ought to be some perks for getting to be that old.

Published in: on December 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm  Comments (13)  
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Holding Pattern

Dear Reader,

I just wrote another new post. Then I moved it to the trash, as I have done with each of the posts I’ve written in the past month. It’s a little hard writing for an audience at the moment because I’m focusing on some matters that are too close to the bone for me to share here. Given that my earliest posts were nothing but too personal, it may be hard to believe that I’m drawing this line, but I really do have some boundaries. When my mind is so occupied and I try to write something for you about a different topic, the result is a rambling mess that has no point. The only thing worse than reading lousy writing is writing it.

So for now, this blog is in a holding pattern. I’m not giving up. I’m just turning my attention in another direction right now. When I’m done there, I’ll be back. I hope you will be, too.


Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 8:45 pm  Comments (7)  

Big Kids



A lot of things I believed to be true when I was young have not played out. At 18, I moved beyond my parents’ reach but discovered I still couldn’t do everything I wanted, whenever I wanted to do it. Despite the optimism of the speakers at my graduation, I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be, either, mostly because I didn’t know myself well enough yet. Over the years, I have learned that love doesn’t conquer all, that my dad was wrong about — well, a lot — and that no moisturizer yet invented will get rid of wrinkles.

Here’s another one. Several years ago, during our kids’ adolescence, I clung to the idea that if I could just get them to their 18th birthdays, my work would be over. This notion, too, has proven false.

Our three younger children are all living away from home. One more is married with children of her own. I imagined I’d be wiping my brow and calling this a job well done by now, but truth be told, parenting is not over. It’s just different.

One of the hardest things about adult children, at least for me, are those minds of their own, which we intentionally fostered. Mike and I have over a century of wisdom and hard knocks between us. We can see pitfalls from a mile away because we’ve already fallen into them. We could save our kids a lot of pain and aggravation if they would only learn from our mistakes. But guess what? Our insights are worth exactly nada. The kids still call us for advice. They even listen to our opinions when they haven’t asked for them. But unless we are confirming what the kid already believes, our great advice goes nowhere.

To adapt to this new phase of parenting, Mike and I have devised a strategy. When we feel frustrated by our adult children’s choices, we ask ourselves, “Does this decision affect me directly?” Usually, the answer is no. If a kid takes a job that doesn’t pay enough, then s/he will have to find a way to supplement that income. When one of them decides not to take antibiotics as prescribed, I give a brief warning about superbugs and then try to remember whose health will be affected — as in, not mine. After one of them adopted yet another dog, I had a few things to say about priorities, but then I let it go. Why? Because that extra dog doesn’t affect me directly. Car registration lapsed? Not my car. Sheets not changed for months? Gross, but still not my problem.

Much as we’d like to save our kids the trouble of learning everything the hard way, the hard way seems to be a necessary part of becoming an adult. Despite all the knowledge we have to share with them, they have to experience the grownup  world for themselves, not just take our word for it. I am positive that their lives would be infinitely less messy if only they would follow our helpful suggestions, but I also know it would be weird if they did. We want our adult children to stand — or fall and get up again — on their own, without looking back over their shoulders for our approval.

One of our sons is currently mourning the end of a long-term relationship, going through all the misery that comes with that kind of loss. A few days ago, I offered some (solicited) advice about how to meet new people. He came over for a little extra moral support last night, and I heard myself repeating what I had already suggested.

“Hey, I’m getting deja vu here. Didn’t I say all of this the other day?” I asked.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “I don’t remember.”

I was a little peeved. “Why should I even bother talking to you if you’re not paying attention?”

He grinned. “I don’t know, Mom. Maybe I feel better just listening to the sound of your voice, as it goes in one ear and out the other.”

Published in: on August 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm  Comments (11)  

What the Body Knows

In some recent posts, I wrote about the back pain that had begun to dominate my waking hours. Its onset in June was not precipitated by any event or injury. It just showed up. By the time I wrote about it in July, the pain had pretty much unpacked its bags and settled in, demanding constant attention and crowding out most of the activities I normally enjoy. After several unproductive visits with the physical therapist, I started seeing an acupuncturist. Acupuncture lessened the pain but didn’t get rid of it completely.

In early August, I went to the pain specialist to see if my symptoms warranted an MRI. No, he said, what I was describing didn’t sound much different from the episode that had sent me to him two years ago. He recommended that I continue with the acupuncture, and I left feeling both relieved and frustrated. Great — it’s not getting worse. Hurray, I can still feel my legs! But it’s also not going away.

One of my readers suggested a book titled Healing Back Pain by John Sarno, and since I was spending so much time lying on the couch, I had plenty of time to read. The author is a physician, and he believes that most low back pain is emotional, not physical, in origin. He proposes that unresolved pain in the body serves as a distraction, keeping us from dealing with “unacceptable” emotions that have been repressed, like anger and resentment. I read with great skepticism. I finished the book thinking that he might have a point, but I still didn’t buy it entirely. Or at least, I didn’t think it applied to me.

Here’s why. To the dismay of those who know me, I don’t repress much. When Mike and I were newly married, a woman we knew was in the process of ending her 14-year marriage. When I asked her what had gone wrong, she shrugged. “Shit builds up,” she said, like resentment was an unavoidable pitfall of any relationship. I took her words as a warning, so I try to address problems and aggravations as they arise. My loved ones probably pray every day that I might become a little more repressed, but one thing is true: very little shit builds up around here.

Shortly after that doctor’s appointment, someone criticized me during an argument, and the words hit so hard that they practically left a mark. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt. The person apologized, but days later, I still could not let it go. My reaction didn’t feel proportionate to the insult, so I asked Mike if he would sit and listen to me as I tried to talk my way through it. (Some people have therapists; I have an excellent husband.) I had to do my talking from the couch, though, because my back was killing me. Again.

It took about an hour of saying the same things over and over until I got to the root of what was bothering me. It’s typical of women, I think, that we start off feeling upset about one thing and find, after some circular conversation, that the origin of the problem is something else. That’s not news. What did surprise me was the realization that I had been carrying around a load of resentment for several years, one that I hadn’t even been aware of, and the earlier criticism had struck right at the core of it.

The other surprise was that when we finished talking and got up to make dinner, my back pain was gone. G-o-n-e. Like your basic Jesus-type miracle. For the past two weeks, I have been pain free. There used to be a chronic ache in my right shoulder and one in my right foot, too, and now they’ve disappeared as well. Over the past several days, I have moved furniture, repainted a desk, sewed, and sat through a two-hour movie without having to get up. I find this sudden resolution a little eery and unbelievable, but I’ll take it.

It would be simplistic to credit this recovery to one thing. I tried several approaches to managing the pain, and each probably contributed incrementally to its improvement. Still, it’s hard to ignore a dramatic change like the one I experienced. We already know that chronic stress impacts the body in a variety of ways, from cardiovascular health and the immune system to hormone levels and digestive problems. It’s not too large a leap, then, to make a connection between emotions and physical pain.

We don’t like emotions much. They’re not rational, they arise at inconvenient moments, and their intensity makes us uncomfortable. We don’t trust them, so we train ourselves to put them away where they can’t bother anyone, including ourselves. And some of this is necessary. A little teeth-clenching goes a long way toward the functioning of a polite society. I shudder to think of the awful consequences of expressing all our feelings. We have to keep some things to ourselves so that other people will let us hang around with them.

But now I wonder about the emotions we bury so deep that they’re hidden even from our own awareness. After half a century or more of buildup, they probably start to wear on the body. I’d have sworn that I didn’t have anything tucked away like that, that I knew everything about how I felt. Apparently, my back knew something different.

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm  Comments (13)  
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Another Milo Update


I don’t usually allow the dogs to use the computer, but I’m thinking of letting Milo get his own Facebook page. Of all the topics I blog about, our new dog is one of the most popular, running a close second to “Where Do Peas Come From?” Since it’s been a couple of months since the last post about him, I wanted to let you know how he’s doing.

After the effectiveness of the prong collar wore off, Milo continued to let his worst self show while walking near other dogs: lots of barking, growling, and lunging. Very unattractive. The trainer suggested that we only walk him in areas where he wouldn’t encounter other dogs. Where might that be, we wondered, and how far would we have to drive every day to get there? This didn’t seem workable. She also thought that an electronic collar would be the next step if he wasn’t responding to correction with the prong collar. I’m no expert, but it didn’t make sense to punish him for having never learned good  manners.  I thanked her for her time and decided against her advice.

We were winging it on our own for about a month when we finally met another dog trainer who works at our local Petsmart. For obvious reasons, Milo was no candidate for group classes, so we signed up for individual lessons at the store in early July. After evaluating Milo’s history and seeing him scare the bejeezus out of a couple of tiny dogs, our trainer Jeremy thought that the best way to get Milo to listen to us was first to work on all those basic commands that he’d never been taught. This would train him to focus on us and help develop his trust in us.


Essentially what we have is a puppy in the body of a full-grown dog. Labs are notoriously slow to mature anyway, and at four years old, Milo is even goofier than most. His behavior problem is not so much aggression — it’s ignorance about proper dog etiquette. Instead of calmly approaching another dog and sniffing, he barks and growls like a maniac, which makes a bad first impression. It reminds me of a kid at school who picked his nose in public, burped and farted out loud,  and then couldn’t figure out why no one wanted to play with him. Poor Milo. He’s that kid.

Well, we worked on sit, stay, down, back up, let’s go, drop it, wait, and leave it like it was our new religion. Contrary to that old saying, you can teach a grown-up dog new tricks — if you have really smelly treats in hand. He loves food, which makes it easy to motivate him. Down is one of the most challenging commands, no matter the age of the dog, but even that one didn’t take more than a few days because he thought the treats were so worth it. At dinnertime now, he flings himself onto the floor before we even ask because he knows it makes the food come faster.

But on walks, he was still barking, growling, and lunging at objects real and imagined. Mostly at other dogs but also cats, birds, rabbits, and once or twice — this is so embarrassing — rocks that looked like rabbits. (He really has led an awfully sheltered life.) Sometimes Mike could distract him with the leave it command and a treat, but usually only for a few seconds. To work on Milo’s social skills, Jeremy brought one of his own dogs, a Mini Pinscher named McKenzie, into a recent training session. This dog is so small that she would fit nicely into your jacket pocket, and still Milo acted like a jerk. He improved a little before the session was over, but by then McKenzie had already developed a low opinion of him.

At the beginning of our next session, Jeremy brought McKenzie again and suggested we try a product called Stop That. It’s basically a can of compressed air with a few doggy pheromones in it. Maybe a noisy whoosh of air in Milo’s face would encourage him to compose himself in the presence of other dogs.

Stop That!

Mike and Milo made a few passes by McKenzie and as the growling started, Mike gave the leave it command. When Milo ignored him, Mike sprayed the Stop That about a foot from Milo’s face. And it worked. I don’t know if it’s the sound, the pheromones, or what, but the lunging stopped immediately. Within a couple of minutes, Milo was sniffing McKenzie politely, licking her face, and then — unbelievably — walking next to her quietly around the store. It worked for other encounters with dogs in the store during that session, and the few times we had to use it on a walk this morning, it settled him right down. They need to make this stuff for humans. I would buy stock in it.

Of course, it’s early yet. He could adapt to this product like he did the collar, and if that happens, I’ll let you know. Still, we will take all the successes we can get, since house training seems to be the only part of puppyhood we bypassed by taking in an adult dog. Even after we get this situation in hand, we’ll still have the sibling rivalry to deal with.

Can't we all just get along?

Can’t we all just get along?

I stopped traffic yesterday for a tortoise that was crossing the street. I waved several cars around mine until she determinedly made her way across my lane and started to climb the curb. As she struggled to get her back legs up, I put on my emergency brake and was just about to give her a boost when she figured it out. She moseyed across a yard and into some bushes, and I never once thought about taking her home with me. I don’t know anything about tortoises. I do know that every time I bring an animal home, it takes way more time and money than I think it will. Anyway, I’d never get this from a tortoise.


Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm  Comments (11)  
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Hanging Up

Not being possessed of great patience, I hate being put on hold. I especially resent being ignored by a company’s automated phone system, with its impersonal assurances that my call is important, even as it leaves me stranded in Nowhereland. Note to businesses everywhere: filling the void with a 30-minute loop of Barry Manilow’s greatest hits doesn’t make me feel more loved.

Being stuck on hold frustrates me because there is always a long list of things I want to get done, most of which cannot be accomplished while carrying a telephone. I have learned to use the speaker feature on the handset so I can move a little, but when someone at XYZ Company finally gets around to me, I’ll have to drop what I’m doing. I may be able to throw in a load of laundry or feed the dogs, some activity that doesn’t demand much focus, but it’s hard to get much done creatively when I’m on hold.

This peeve of mine, then, takes on a shade of irony when I confess, Dear Readers, that I have been keeping myself on hold for the better part of the past four months.

It started when I had a close brush with employment. The position was at the hospice where I have volunteered for years, and I heard about the opening in March, nearly two months before it was posted. This allowed plenty of time for indecision to eat me up, one bite at a time. It’s been 25 years since I’ve worked for anyone else. I like to run things, so how would I tone down my natural bossiness in order to function in a large corporation? Then there are the hours! Forty of them, sometimes more,  every single week, and they all start in the morning. Still, the extra money would be good. Perhaps this is the universe’s way of sending me in a new direction, making me stretch beyond my limits. And I can do anything for a few years. Right?

I’d never written a resume but managed to pull one together that wasn’t half bad. It must’ve looked good to HR, too. Despite my lack of recent (as in, not in this century) work history, I still warranted two interviews back in May. I was assured that I would receive a decision, one way or the other, by the beginning of June.

Meanwhile, that screeching sound you might have heard was my life grinding to a halt. Not knowing if I was about to undergo a major lifestyle renovation, I was too distracted to start anything new. I stopped writing except for the occasional blog post. I wouldn’t make summer vacation plans — what if I got hired? I couldn’t even let myself buy clothes because I didn’t know if I’d need to construct a work wardrobe or just pick up some more gym shorts. Whenever a question arose about plans for the future, my answer was the same: I don’t know yet.

As it turned out, I repeated that phrase for almost six weeks, which was how long it took for the position to be filled. The new employee, as you may have surmised, was not me. My first reaction upon receiving the rejection email was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Pushing myself to apply and interview was a good exercise. Now I could get back to doing what I do well.

Except then my back went spastic with sciatica, and that became the new obsession. I can’t sit at the computer to write because of my back pain. I can’t finish that quilt because it’s too hard lean over the sewing machine. I can’t go to the movies because the theater seats are uncomfortable. I’d like to repaint a couple pieces of furniture, but I’m afraid it might make my back hurt more. This constant preoccupation with one’s limits is even more boring than being trapped on hold with Barry Manilow.

“You know what, Mom?” my son said when I turned him down for a lunch date the other day. “I’m getting a little sick of your back.”

“We all are,” I agreed. “It’s a major killjoy.”

In a weird way, this pain reminds me of growing up with a volatile parent. Some days, it acts almost normal. Other times, despite your best behavior, it gets in a foul mood and cannot be appeased. Since you don’t know what you did wrong or how to fix it, you try to stay very still so at least it won’t get worse. I didn’t like living like that back then. I like it even less now.

I have been waiting four months for my circumstances to settle down so then I could get back to my creative life. That’s an entire season. Nobody has that kind of time to waste. Laura Hillenbrand has written  a couple of bestsellers, including Seabiscuit and Unbroken, from bed. Philip Roth, at 80, continues to crank out one novel after another while living with chronic back pain. They have figured out how to do what they love, despite life getting in the way. I find that inspiring.

Four months is far too long to be on hold, so I have decided to hang up now and get moving, even if it hurts. The wait might go on for a really long time, and I have things to do.

Published in: on August 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm  Comments (10)  
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Some Nerve

Pardon the long lag between posts. A visitor arrived at my house several weeks ago and has not left yet, making it hard to concentrate on writing or much of anything else.

It showed up unexpectedly and settled, uninvited, in my low back and hip. From that position of power, it began making demands. The only break I get from it is in the first few hours after I get up. Apparently, back spasms like to sleep in. But shortly after breakfast, as I’m sipping my second cup of tea, it starts complaining.

“These chairs are too hard. Why are you still sitting here anyway? I want to lie down. Put something under your knees. Where’s the heating pad? You know I like it warm.”

I try to do a few of my own activities, but it insists on having my full attention and doesn’t want to do most of the things I enjoy. It yells at me if I work at the computer for more than half an hour. It doesn’t like sewing, either. “Fine,” I say, “we’ll go into the kitchen and cook something. Wouldn’t you like a nice meal?”

“No,” it says, “no standing either.”

I do all the exercises that are supposed to make backs happy, but they have no effect. Unlike everyone else’s back pain, this one doesn’t even like swimming. It complains after I get out of the shower. If I take it shopping for necessities like food, it yells at me all afternoon. The grandchildren came for a visit last month, but it wouldn’t let me pick up the 2-year old. I guess it doesn’t like kids.

It hates all but one of the chairs in our house, and that’s the only place it will sit quietly. It whines about every other seat it encounters, from waiting rooms to restaurants to movie theaters. It’s like trying to go somewhere with a colicky baby — there’s almost no chance of getting through the entire event without having to get up and pace.

Until last week, it also hated the seat in my new car. I bought it a very pricey cushion and it seems to like that, so now there are exactly two places in the universe where it will allow me to sit.

When I realized that this visitor had no intention of leaving on its own, I went to my physical therapist for an exorcism. The P.T. straightened out all the structural disorder that had generated the spasm to begin with, but by then, the thing had unpacked its bags and would not budge. Now the muscle spasm is impinging on the nerves, causing the muscles to tighten even more, and the unhappy cycle is tough to break. Over several visits, we’ve offered it a whole menu of treatments including ultrasound and electrical stimulation. It gives a brief nod to our attempts and then ignores them.

It really can’t be appeased by much except heat, massage, and lying down. Oh, and this really strong Chinese liniment that smells like locker room. It does like that. Like that weird guy who corners you at a party, it talks incessantly, making it hard to concentrate on other things, like writing. All day long, I hear the same refrain over and over. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Nag, nag, nag. It is the most boring guest I’ve ever had.

By now, you’re wondering why I don’t try to banish it with medications. I’d love to, but then I’d be hearing from my stomach lining instead. I’ve jokingly said that my only hope may be medical marijuana, but as the weeks wear on, the joke isn’t quite as funny.

Yesterday, I took my nervy, spasm-y back to meet the acupuncturist and she spent nearly an hour on it. Today it didn’t start yelling until almost noon and it let me write this post. I am cautiously optimistic, enough to make a second appointment.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and she was telling me about someone in her family who was always dissatisfied. No matter what she tried to do for this person, he either didn’t respond or found something to complain about.

“Have you ever known anyone like that?” she asked. “Someone who just couldn’t be made happy no matter what you did?”

Yes, I assured her, I knew exactly how that felt.

Published in: on July 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm  Comments (12)  
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A Really Stupid Day

Yesterday started with such promise. I had found a desk and hutch on that was just what I’d been looking for — and of course, it was free. We borrowed a friend’s trailer and arrived to pick the desk up shortly after 8 a.m. It was already getting hot outside but all we had to do was load and go, which we figured wouldn’t take long.

The desk was beautiful, practically new. It wasn’t real wood, just particle board and veneer, but in great shape. It was sitting at the bottom of a steep driveway, so at first we thought we’d leave the trailer parked at the top of the driveway and carry the desk and hutch up. However, the owner hadn’t been able to detach the hutch, and together they weighed a ton more than we’d ever be able to carry that distance. After a few false starts, Mike maneuvered our borrowed trailer down the 45-degree incline and parked as close to the house as he could get.


It took three of us to wrestle the beast down the steps from the porch to the patio, up a couple more steps to the driveway, and onto the trailer. Since we had to transport it as one big piece, Mike spent another half hour securing it with straps. Then we drove v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y back down the hill to our house and called our son to help us move it inside.

I was nearly useless throughout this process. I am a fairly fit woman and still could not carry one end of this desk by myself. I could make suggestions, though, which everyone always enjoys, particularly when they’re working hard in the heat and I’m not. I also did a great job of propping the door open and keeping the dogs out from underfoot. By now, we’d been dealing with this project for almost two hours.

In order to get the desk/hutch combo into Mike’s new office, we decided to tip the thing on end so it would fit through the doorway. Sam lifted the other end and Mike readied himself to set the piece down on its side. Maybe we should’ve thought longer about shifting all the weight of the hutch and desk onto one edge of particle board, but none of us did — until the side of the desk snapped under the strain and the whole thing collapsed.

Desk minus its supporting right side.

Desk minus its supporting right side.

Closeup of broken particle board.

Closeup of broken particle board.

There is no fixing broken particle board, so we went from major score to junk in seconds. It was such a shock, I couldn’t even swear. In fact, I couldn’t speak. It was like the time one of the boys was learning to drive, and while pulling into the carport, he hit one of the supporting posts — with his dad sitting next to him in the car. Then he tried to back up and in the process, pulled the front bumper off — with his dad still in the car. That day, I went for a long walk. When the desk went down, I drove to the Y and got on the hated treadmill, listening to the voice in my head that thinks I should be able to foresee every misstep, every possible rotten outcome, and blames me when I can’t. You should’ve seen that coming, it said.

Shut up, I told it.

Blame, even self-blame, is so tempting. It helps us make order out of chaotic events, and we like that. That’s why some people have been able to make lengthy public careers out of finger-pointing. But being able to analyze in retrospect why something bad happened is not the same as being able to predict it in advance. If we had this move to do over again, now we would know that a particle board desk + hutch = too much weight for that maneuver. But we didn’t. By the time I’d worked up a good sweat at the Y, I was over it. So I granted myself absolution, then went home and did the same for Mike. Shit happens. This time it happened to a very nice free desk.

Later that day we had a couple of tea lights burning while we watched a movie. We do this not for romantic ambiance but in defense against the dogs, who can be — what’s a nice word? — gassy. Toxic. Think “weapons of mass destruction.” At a particularly noxious moment, Mike picked up one of the tea lights and tried to move it closer to the offending dog.

“Dammit,” he said suddenly.

“Please tell me you didn’t just spill wax on the ottoman.”

“I wish I could,” he said.

Wax stain on microfiber ottoman.

Wax stain on microfiber ottoman.

Google to the rescue again. According to the results of my search, lots of husbands, as well as male friends and offspring, spill candle wax on microfiber upholstery so there’s an abundance of helpful information available. (Mike said he didn’t know whether to feel better about that or to be embarrassed for his entire gender.) It took about an hour to get most of the wax out and I wasn’t going to do anything important with that time anyway.

Warm, dry iron over lots and lots of paper towels, followed by Goo Gone and Oxy Clean.

Warm, dry iron over lots and lots of paper towels, followed by Goo Gone and Oxy Clean.

As we were getting ready to fall asleep last night, I rolled toward Mike and patted him on the shoulder.

“Today was a really stupid day. Let’s not have another one like this for awhile.”

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 5:19 pm  Comments (9)  

The Devil Has Floppy Ears

Milo gets ready for another long day of napping and keeping track of the humans.

Milo preps for another big day of napping and keeping track of the humans.

It’s been ten weeks since we took Milo in, and he’s starting to feel like “ours.” Now that I have a better sense of his personality and how he’ll respond to situations, I generally trust him. He still looks across the street occasionally to see if his people have come back, but most of the time he follows me from room to room and seems pretty happy here. I move around the house a lot during the day, so he does too, and sometimes the Brown Dog brings up the rear of this little procession. No wonder I’m humming “I Love a Parade.”

Milo’s charm lies in two qualities. First, he has the softest fur of any dog I’ve ever met. Really, it feels more like a rabbit’s and makes humans want to pet him all the time. This fits in nicely with the second thing: his utter disregard for personal space. When I’m sitting, he’s got his head on my leg, offering up his ears for rubbing. He’s equally affectionate with visitors and will lean himself against the new person, presumably to help them feel more at home and also to get more petting. When I lie down on the floor to do back exercises, he’ll join me and plop his head across my chest; or if I’m on my side, he’ll spoon. I can’t move at all with this big lug nestled against me, so not much exercising happens, but he is irresistible.

He’s not as smart as Karma, but he has caught on to a few things since he’s been here. He knows how to use the dog door to let himself in and out, so he’s stopped smearing up the sliding glass door with his dirty paws. Instead of rushing me as I put the food dish down, he has learned to sit and wait for his meals, strings of drool dripping from his mouth in anticipation. He comes when we call him by his new name — except at bedtime. I want him to sleep in the back of the house with the rest of us, but he prefers the rug in the TV room and feigns paralysis when we try to get him to move elsewhere. It’s a minor point, so we let him have it. He’s such a good dog.


Milo, like many Labs, cannot be trusted around people food. Our other dogs do not have this weakness, so we’re having to train ourselves along with Milo. Even if the food is not at dog level, it’s still not safe if he can reach it by standing on his back legs. So far, he has eaten two sticks of butter, snagged some chicken off my plate, and absconded with half a loaf of homemade bread from the kitchen counter. The bag containing the bread proved no obstacle — he just ate through it. I never did find the butter wrappers.


It was wrong, but it was so worth it.

He is particularly powerless to control himself in the presence of cheese. I think he needs a 12-step program. My husband once caught Milo heading for a piece of cheddar on a plate, and even as Mike was saying, “No, bad dog!”, Milo sort of shrugged and munched it down anyway. A few weeks ago, I left an eight-ounce bag of shredded cheese on the counter. I found the remnants of the bag in the living room later but no trace of the contents. Then there was the time he sidled up next to me while I was holding a delicious piece of gruyere and licked it while it was still in my hand.

“Don’t you have any shame?” I asked him. He does. It just doesn’t last long.

"I'm really, really sorry."

“I’m really, really sorry.”

And despite my earlier enthusiasm about the new training collar, walks are still a little more exciting than we’d like. It seems that Milo has adapted to the “pinch” of the prong collar. We have much better control with him than before, but a correction doesn’t startle him the way it first did. After four years of living behind a fence and getting all his entertainment from barking at other dogs as they walked by, that adrenalin rush is a hard habit to break.

So, for 40 minutes a day, the snuggly loving dog we know at home turns into Cujo. He’s gotten less reactive to dogs inside houses or behind fences, but those walking quietly past him on the street send him into a barking, drooling frenzy. So do cats sitting on walls and bunnies hopping out from under bushes. And for a couple days, he became absolutely hysterical at the sight of a gas meter in the alley. The third time he started hackling and getting worked up as we passed it, I walked him up to it, where he barked frantically for a few seconds and then looked embarrassed. Oh. Never mind.

But he’s better than he was, and so am I. Now I’m trying to take the long view about this behavior. The great outdoors is still a very new and scary place for Milo, and a four-year long habit will not disappear in a few months. Change is hard for people and dogs alike, and old habits are comfortable even when they don’t make sense anymore. Meanwhile, we try to limit Milo’s walking routes to ones not so heavily trafficked with canines. We praise him when he manages to keep a grip on himself, and when he loses it, we just keep walking, correcting him as we go.

Mike brought him home from a walk the other day. “How’d he do?” I asked.

“Mostly okay. He got upset at a chihuahua.”

Milo took a long drink at the water dish and dripped the rest of it on me as he rested his head in my lap. I kissed him on the nose.

“I bet this is one of Satan’s disguises,” I told Mike. “Big brown eyes, a charming personality, and really soft ears.”



Published in: on June 10, 2013 at 11:54 am  Comments (16)  
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I Hate to Mention It

Several years ago, Mike and I were sitting in a packed auditorium, waiting for the speaker to arrive. The cooling in the room was inadequate, so I fanned myself with my program like an old lady at a tent revival. Pretty soon, I noticed that the woman next to me was leaning closer to catch some of the breeze, in addition to the one she was generating with her own program. I foolishly made some comment about the heat.

The next thing I knew, I was getting an earful about her hot flashes. We were complete strangers, but that didn’t stop her from  regaling me with tales of menopausal woe. When I tired of the topic, the woman leaned across me to discuss her hot flashes with my husband. Her own spouse looked at me, shrugged, then pretended to be engrossed in adjusting his wristwatch.

Call me old fashioned, but I think medical symptoms should be off-limits when chatting up strangers. Except maybe if you need to say, “I think I’m having a heart attack. Dial 9-1-1.” That’s okay.

It’s not that I’m squeamish. My work with hospice patients has provided plenty of firsthand experience with conditions far more gruesome than menopause. I just don’t think we need to tell each other about every twinge, and I was determined not to be one of those women who bitched and moaned her way through midlife. Well, not any more than usual.


I am in my early 50s and I would like my brain back.

Two months ago, the blues landed like a wet wool blanket on my normally pleasant life. Objectively, I have nothing to feel sad about so this weepy nonsense is really annoying. Some days, the blanket lifts and is replaced by worry, worry, worry. Which causes me to be awake at 3 a.m., and the resulting tiredness makes me — how else to say it? — stupid. It’s hard to focus and harder still to learn something new. Then for several days I feel like myself until, for no reason at all, the whole thing starts over.

I have a pretty good brain. I use it all the time and would like to have access to it again without this hormonally-induced haze. In terms of lifestyle, I’ve done all I can do. My weight is appropriate, and my diet is light on animal fat. My alcohol intake is minimal, and the dogs make me exercise every day of my life whether I want to or not. In search of professional advice, I went to see a nurse practitioner who specializes in perimenopause (the phase that leads up to menopause). After the usual undignified examination and some blood work, she declared me healthy, offered up some literature on topical estrogen options and a sample thereof. I left the office feeling downright hopeful.

That optimism might’ve last longer had I not actually read the literature she gave me. All the pamphlets said the same thing.

Estrogens increase the risk of cancer of the uterus.

Using estrogens may increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, blood clots, and dementia.

Both my parents suffered from blood clots, as did my grandmother, who experienced multiple strokes before a fatal one in her early 60s. And you don’t have to be old for a clot to develop. There is no age restriction and no good place in the body for a blood clot to lodge. I have a family history, and even if the risks are low, the possibility of ending up in that small group is unacceptable to me.

I am disappointed that this roulette wheel is the best modern medicine can offer perimenopausal women. You can get relief, but the medication could also cause you to develop a life-altering or fatal condition as a result of the medication. I personally know two women who lost that gamble, one of whom spent months recovering from a pulmonary embolism.

But the dearth of good solutions is also not a huge surprise. Until the second half of the 20th century, a woman’s life expectancy didn’t extend much beyond menopause, so few resources went into researching that phase. “Female troubles” were considered trivial and were often attributed to mental instability. Consequently, we’re a little behind in coming up with ways for women to manage the very real effects of hormonal changes. Until recently, nobody cared.

Back in the 21st century, I perused the internet, googling for alternatives. Vitamin B6 and Omega-3s were mentioned, along with herbs like ginseng, St. John’s wort, black cohosh, and dong quai. None of the articles suggested potencies or dosages, so I guess I’m supposed to wing it. I read about stress management as a way to control my symptoms, but the only stress in my life these days is coming from my symptoms, so that didn’t help much. I am waiting for a call from the nurse practitioner to see if she has any other ideas. I need my brain and I want it back, so I am willing to try just about anything that doesn’t threaten to kill me.

Published in: on June 5, 2013 at 7:25 pm  Comments (15)  
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