Tales that wag the dogs.

There were 200 days between December 23, 2019 and July 10, 2020. That’s 28 weeks and four days when there was no dog in the house. For the first half of that period I wouldn’t even consider a replacement for Nobby. He was irreplaceable anyway. Nobby really belonged to my husband Peter, but after he moved into dementia care, Nobby and I carried on. He was a big presence, 90 pounds of gentleness who had served, early on, as a therapy dog at nursing homes.

Midway through the period I decided I needed another dog. Easier said than done. COVID precautions meant that adopting a pet from the SPCA is quite difficult. I found several that suited my requirements—20-35 pound range, preferably terrier-like, young-to-middle aged. But all of them—Silo, Toto, Abby, Marvin and Bently to name a few—were either adopted by someone whose meet-and-greet appointment was earlier than mine, or weren’t really suitable for me or, in one case, the owner decided against giving up her pet.

Daughter Leslie shepherded me through most of the choices and disappointments while her sister Carolynn coached me on from afar. She even found a likely candidate, Lucky, who was rescued near her, albeit 596 miles away from me! It was Carolynn who discovered Carolina-based Westie Rescue Southeast had rescued several West Highland Terriers. I’ve loved those little dogs since I met Ben in Yorkshire years ago. He was son-in-law Martin’s family dog.  Carolynn and Bill have two Westies now.

I’ve never had a dog of my own, a dog I chose, named and trained. Quite often Carolynn had a hand in the arrival of the dogs I fed and cleaned up after through the years.

“Mo-o-mmm, please can I keep her?” Carolynn, 18 or 19 at the time, came home from classes at community college, a puppy in her arms and tears in her eyes. “They were going to use her in the lab for vivisection!” Her tear streaked cheeks, hard sell and my guilt were persuasive.

Cupid, the only female we’ve ever had, matured into a sweet dog. She did snack on the weatherstrips around my car windows when she was confined to the garage though. She moved out with her mistress, but returned several years later when Carolynn relocated to an apartment where dogs weren’t allowed.

Cupid’s life and residency overlapped with a shaggy, white terrier-mix. Carolynn and Leslie rescued him from the SPCA. They brought him home as a present for Peter and I two nights before our wedding. They’d already named him PJ…Peter…Judy. My lips said yes, but it had to be Peter’s decision—he’d never had a dog. He nodded his head and said, “His name is Fred.”

Fred was so easy-going he never would have gotten in trouble if Cupid hadn’t led him astray. Even though our back yard was fenced she flew over it as if she had wings. She was a gazelle in Lab-mix clothing. Fred, not an athlete, waited for the four-foot snows common to upstate New York then walked over the fence to join Cupid cavorting around the village.

Years on—Fred was an only dog by then—Carolynn called to ask me to come to her apartment one Sunday morning. She had something to show me. I insisted she come to us since her sister was home visiting. She arrived with a wiggly black bundle under her jacket. “Please, Mom, please keep him. Bill rescued him. They were going to drown him with his litter-mates.” Her eyes overflowed. “I’d keep him but you know I can’t have a dog.” I knew Peter would like this little guy whose outsized puppy feet were a sure sign he’d be a big adult. And he was. Decker was a smart, energetic Border Collie/Golden Retriever mix who, at his heaviest, weighed 118 pounds.

When Fred left us Decker was glum. Months later we met a woman with a little dog who, at distance, resembled Fred. Decker revived. As age crept up, his main ailment, the autoimmune disease pemphigus, led to him being a case study for our local vet, Cornell University and ultimately Virginia Tech Veterinary College. “No more dogs ever,” Peter said when we returned home from our last goodbye.

And so it was for nearly five years. Then, a chance meeting with two Goldendoodles while visiting friends near Seattle and Peter forgot his vow. Around that same time, dementia began to tighten its grip on him. My gift for his seventieth birthday was to suggest he rescue a dog from the SPCA or pick a Goldendoodle puppy from a local breeder’s newest litter.

He chose the calmest, shyest little Goldendoodle in the pen. Nobby. Though I’d hoped for a smaller dog, Nobby weighed in at 90 pounds. He was a gentle sweet-tempered and beloved pet for nearly twelve years.

By mid-April I began an exhausting, frustrating search for my dog. I lost count of how many I almost got, how many sites I trolled searching for size, temperament, cuteness. I really wanted a Westie.

My luck finally changed when Westie Rescue Southeast contacted me. Pippa, an eight-year-old female, was ready to be adopted. I’d sent in my application and names of three references weeks before. Next I was asked to send photos of my fenced yard. Promising! Leslie drove me to a meet-and-greet in North Carolina. Two days later her foster mom delivered Pippa to me.

My dog! Pippa. Leslie suggested “Scout”  for Pippa’s middle name. Because was instrumental in helping me get her, and since Pippa loves to “scout” for chipmunks in my flower beds, Scout is her title, Joy, her middle name. She is a joy, a funny, smart scamp, all 18 pounds of her. And she was so worth waiting for!

 

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Kiss your toilet paper goodbye.

Like so many people in my age group I’ve barely gone anywhere this year. Oh, I’ve ordered groceries on-line to pick up at Krogers. I’ve been to the pharmacy and the health food stores. I’ve visited, masked, with a few friends outside and at distance. It’s neither news nor unexpected that now, when states have started to open up, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again thanks, in part, to so many refusing to follow the safety precautions.

Me? I’ll stay isolated as much as possible. Most of us elderly folk remain cautious. I don’t mind being secluded for, well, for as long as it takes. I’ve always been a loner so staying behind my closed doors isn’t difficult.

Early on in this siege I busied myself cleaning kitchen cupboards inside and out, clearing closets, tossing old files, gardening with more enthusiasm and more free time than in recent years, burying my nose in books, and binge-watching Netflix and BritBox series. Um, and I’ll admit to watching hours of dog and baby videos too.

The one thing I haven’t done that I always longed to have the time to do is write. This is my first post here since August 2019. I’ve done very few posts on my other blog either — “Dementia isn’t funny” — because I haven’t been able to visit the reason for my blog, my husband Peter. He still keeps the funny in our lives, even though we’ve lived apart ever since I had to move him to a memory care facility two years ago.

During this virus-enforced confinement — in my case solitary confinement — I haven’t worn my pajamas until noon, left messes throughout the house, or eaten popcorn three meals in a row. I do, however, kiss my toilet paper while it’s on the roll! Heck, no one is coming to visit so who’s to know I blot my lipstick without tearing a square off? That 4″x4″ bit of tissue does double duty. Thrift in in a time when hoarders control the supply.

Grandma was putting on her makeup in the bathroom. Her little granddaughter watched her as she often did. After Grandma put her lipstick on she started to leave the room. “But Grandma, wait, you forgot to kiss the toilet paper goodbye,” she said.

I’ve never been much of a shopper, but I do enjoy a TJMaxx fix every few weeks. With shopping not even pencilled in on my calendar these months, I’ve scratched that itch by shoe-shopping on Zappos.com. Their free returns and easy return process makes it a pleasure. Other online retailers would do well to follow their example.

Since late April another kind of shopping binge kept me occupied: dog shopping. Our Nobby died last December and it was spring before I could think about another dog. I’ve shopped on-line until my eyelids drooped. Adopt a Pet, PetFinder, local SPCAs and Angels of Assisi all know my name, but that’s a post for another edition. Let’s just say it’s a tale with a happy ending.

 

 

 

 

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Once upon a time.

For my fortieth birthday 40 years ago my then-significant other, now husband Peter, surprised me with a trip to England. He’d planned the trip in minute detail. All I had to do was get a passport and bring my own spending money. A lifelong Anglophile, it was a dream come true.

This year, for my eightieth birthday, daughters Carolynn and Leslie planned a special weekend in Washington, D.C.  Granddaughter Samantha, who lives there, was tour guide, arrangement-maker, Uber-getter, personal chauffeur and laugh-inspirer. The three of them planned everything perfectly. All I had to do was pack my bag. I wasn’t even allowed to spend my spending money for anything!

From Friday check-in at a pretty boutique hotel to check-out Sunday afternoon the weekend was perfection. While my daughters got the room keys at the desk, I made friends with a miniature golden doodle named Bronx on the opposite side of the lobby. Suddenly, Look at our mom. She’s eighty today! echoed across the marble clad lobby. My raised left eyebrow didn’t shush them, but they are now 57 and 55. My evil eye hasn’t worked in years.

Our room, indeed the entire hotel, was sleek, sophisticated and so comfortable. I felt like a princess sleeping in a bed so soft. The bathroom mirror even seemed to have similar properties to Snow White’s magic one. Such luxury was a far cry from the motels we stayed in years ago where we shared towels and took our own soap.

Our early dinner, at the Kennedy Center’s Rooftop Restaurant, prior to seeing the New York City Ballet, was golden. No, really, I swear, the light was liquid gold infused with pink. Helped that Carolynn and Leslie, unbeknownst to each other, both wore shocking pink. They glowed. Our waiter, a sweet little man with an eastern European accent, took special care of me, probably cued by Samantha. Not only did we get an extra bottle of champagne, but he brought me a chocolate confection with a candle.

The curtain-up lights were blinking as we dashed through the crowds to the Opera House and our third row orchestra seats. The performance was an eclectic program that featured music from Bernstein to Chopin to Kanye West and Jay-Z. I loved “The Night” danced to Chopin. Though I am a traditionalist balletomane, I shocked myself, my daughters and granddaughter when I actually enjoyed “The Runaway,” featuring the two rappers’ music!

Saturday morning during a walking tour of the D.C. neighborhood near our hotel, we ogled beautifully refurbished old houses, strolled quickly across Meridian Park, then zipped off to a tasting and tour at the Guinness brewery in Halethorpe, Maryland.

Nearly ten years ago, I developed a taste for Guinness when Peter and I were in Dingle, Ireland. Samantha, who loves Guinness too, organized the trip to the brewery. That creamy delight, stored and poured the way it should be, was the perfect accompaniment to my brunch entree, avocado toast with a poached egg. Carolynn enjoyed the same entree, but with a tiny glass of Guinness Garnet, an experimental brew.

That evening the four of us, plus four of Sam’s good friends,Lydia, Clare, Hannah and Bridget, met for an earthy Ethiopian meal in Georgetown. Carolynn and I opted not to join the others for after dinner drinks at a nearby wine bar. It was already after eight, nearly my bedtime!

A cherry blossom pink Sunday.  After brunch and books at one of my favorite places in the D.C. area, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, we “Ubered” to the National Mall to bask in warm pinkness. The cherry blossoms did not disappoint, nor did seeing the Martin Luther King monument for the first time or one of our favorites, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial,again. Goosebump-making! We were four among thousands enjoying the perfect April spring day.

That once-upon-a-time fairy tale April weekend had a happily ever after vibe. Turning 80 wasn’t so bad after all.

Thanks to Carolynn and Samantha for the photos. For a woman who has always taken hundreds of photos on trips, I was too agog, and possibly too old, to take many on this adventure. Thanks, too, to grandson Miah who called, as he’s done for years, to sing “Tommy Turtle” to me. Maybe you’d need to be there, but he makes my day.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Mead high and caffeine buzz.

In recent months, I’ve developed an almost unquenchable thirst for good coffee. Even though I long ago stopped drinking it after midday, I still crave it. Wakeful nights? Yes, but!

In August, I drove all the way to Central New York to find, coincidentally, some of the best coffee I’ve had. Better than the Starbucks Morning Joe I brew for myself at home, and on a par with Our Daily Bread’s coffee.

Peter and I arrived at daughter Carolynn and son-in-law Bill’s home in Clinton early afternoon on a Friday. (We now split the long drive into a two day event, going and returning home. I’m the lone driver now, and 596 miles is more than I can manage in one go.)

By Saturday morning I’d revived enough so that when Carolynn suggested the two of us go to the Farmer’s Market at Utica’s revitalized train station, I was ready. Gorgeous morning, lovely offerings by various vendors — vegetables, soaps, breads, jewelry — but none more so than the Heartsease Hill mead we found. We tasted a number of owner Joe Kappler’s varieties, too many as it turned out, because by 9:30 we were tiddly.

“Coffee,” Carolynn said, “we need Utica Coffee. Bagg’s Square Cafe, you’ll love it, Mom,” she said. And I did. Aging, long-declining Utica is coming back, and Baggs Square is an example of that.

Luckily for me, Utica Coffee has a cafe in Clinton, smack on the corner across from the village green. We went there three more times during our visit.

Coffee drinking isn’t all we did on our annual trip north, but it created the most buzz.  The final morning, when Carolynn suggested iced coffee with an espresso shot, I agreed, never dreaming I’d “go to the moon” like “The Honeymooners'” Alice!  To say I “woke the hell up” is to understate. I could’ve driven back to Virginia fueled soley by caffeine.

‘Thinking today about yesterday.’

My friend Bonnie sent an email this morning: “Thinking today about yesterday.” We were together most of yesterday in Lexington, Virginia, midway between our homes.

The day was beautiful for its ease, companionship, and welcome change in weather. Bonnie and I have always said, no matter how much time passes between our get-togethers — years sometimes — we always pick up and carry on as if we’d seen each other just the day before. Such is the nature of a friendship that spans nearly fifty years. We’ve shared  life’s joys, heartaches, triumphs, secrets, and laughs…so many laughs.

Yesterday was no exception. It was ten months since we our last visit. We talked through lunch at Kind Roots, a delightful little cafe, and we talked while we strolled Lexington’s quaint downtown. We talked about children and grandchildren, books and poetry, gardening and bees. We didn’t dwell on our lives’ nasty stressors, instead we spent considerable time in one shop deciding which teapot we’d buy if we could buy only one. We grumbled about ever-changing, mind-numbing technology and the hobbling effects of age.

Everybody should have a friend like Bonnie. Over the years she has stared down personal issues that would have crippled a lesser woman. Recently, she built herself a tiny house (she was the mastermind, not the builder) and shed all the stuff she’d accumulated over the years.

She loves her newly unencumbered life in a perfectly tailored little house that is set in a field spread wide with buttercups.

‘Sweep of easy wind and downy flake.’

To awaken yesterday to snow, HOORAY, was as much a thrill as if I’d fulfilled the last item on my bucket list: go to Antarctica.

As soon as I caffeinated myself I headed out  along a pretty trail through a strip of piney woods. As I crunched along, I recited phrases from Robert Frost’s “Whose woods these are I think I know,” one of my favorites. I didn’t have a little horse to stop, it wasn’t dark and deep, I had no promises to keep, and I do know who owns the woods: the town does.

Overall, a mere inch of snow fell, but vigorous squalls added to it throughout the day. I was glued to the windows pretending I was encased in a snow globe. Snow and cold make me absolutely giddy, the way sunshine and blistering heat please others.

My collection of snow globes increased by four this year. Daughter Leslie gave me a set of miniatures that depict the four seasons. Winter pictured at the top. The second and fourth photos, moose and bunny, show gifts from daughter Carolynn more than twenty years ago. Our grandson Miah, now 23, made the woodsman globe when he was in elementary school. And the bottom one, a deer enduring an Ivory blizzard, was a Leslie creation when she was a little tot.

Good memories all, these still, silent little worlds where my dreams of winter live. Give me snow any day and lots of it. Please.

 

After the turkey is soup.

As always, for me, Thanksgiving was too soon over, the excellent meal a memory, with leftovers the stuff of Friday’s dreams. I’m not one to rush to Christmas before the November holiday, nor even after the turkey is soup, but this year, the little tree beside the door of Leslie and Martin’s woodsy retreat changed my mind.

Trekking to the river was a bit of a last minute rush. We’d made plans that, in the end, we couldn’t work out and alternate plans changed almost hourly as November 24 approached. I was in a muddle, but not Leslie. The previous weekend she’d planned ahead and, just for fun, added a touch of Christmas beside the front door, in case we ended up there for Thanksgiving.

And, in the end, we did.

It was a lovely holiday, even though we missed family who’d been there the two previous Thanksgivings — Carolynn and Bill, Jayne and Marc.

Wednesday was cold. Would it snow? No-o! Thanksgiving day dawned cool, but bright, and heated up along with the oven. The chef, Leslie, can’t stand the heat but she didn’t have the luxury of getting out of the kitchen. Once again, she engineered a turkey feast masterpiece. For the second time this year I failed pie-making. The from-scratch pumpkin was very good, the mixture of three kinds of apples, yummy, but the crusts could have been Play-Doh and were just as inedible.

Friday was warmer still. Samantha and Martin dug up potential Christmas trees, one for Sam to take home, one for me, and another for Leslie. I didn’t fuss about Christmas-rushing as I usually do, because it just seemed right. Sam left early to visit a friend in town. She drove her dad’s convertible, top down, with the tree riding shotgun. Wish I’d thought to take a picture.

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Road trip.

The furthest we go from home these days is 596 miles to visit daughter Carolynn and son-in-law Bill in upstate New York. September is the perfect time . Warm days, crispy mornings, leaves getting their reds and oranges on, pumpkins beaming sunny smiles along the roads.

Before we left home mid-month, Carolynn wanted to know what I’d like to do while there. Easy answer:
1. Sit on the porch and do nothing.
2. Sit on the porch and read.
3. Sit on the porch and play canasta.
4. Eat at Symeon’s, our favorite restaurant.
5. Spend a day in the Adirondack Mountains.
6. Get together with a young old friend, Lisa

 

Lisa, #6, drove two hours to meet me in the little village where Peter and I lived for seventeen years. We reckoned it had been twenty years since we’d seen each other. That time, we met at the Utica Zoo, me with grandchildren Samantha and Jeremiah, screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-4-42-25-pmthen two and seven, and her with daughter Kristin, five. Her son Eric wasn’t on the horizon then. Twenty years! We’d worked at General Electric at the same time, she a recent college grad about Carolynn’s age, me, old enough to mother her, though she said I mentored. We talked Wednesday afternoon away. That evening sheimg_4140 texted to say she’d forgotten to give me the small gift she’d brought along. I’d already pulled away when she remembered, so she gave the package to the bartender at Nola’s to keep for me. When I went to pick it up there was an boisterous crowd at the bar. A couple of young women had heard the story of our meeting after so many years and begged me to open the gift right then so they could see it! The little box contained earrings made from old typewriter keys. Perfect.

That day was a bright note that week, along with a glissando of other bright notes. Carolynn, friend Robin and I went to lunch, to shop, and to watch Bridget Jones deliver her baby. We did everything on my list, and more. Our day in the Adirondacks, #5 on my list, was picture perfect. What more could anyone ask of a road trip?

 

 

A rose by any other name.

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There! Down an alley where I’ve walked for years, peeking into back gardens as I go.

There! A white picket fence, leaning with their weight.

There! Fulsome, cascading, blushing, palest pink roses. Their delicate scent wafts bringing childhood memories.

Likely, the rose has been there a very long time, but if so, I never noticed. Did the springtime’s flooding rains cause extra bounteous blooms?

VanDyke is the name of this beauty. When I was a little girl, the same rose climbed a trellis on the back of our house, then lolloped over the gate and along our picket fence. I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life, I once announced solemnly. I would stand beneath its fragrant shade for hours, strange child that I was.

Of course, I’m not really sure if this one is a VanDyke rose, nor am I sure I even remember the name correctly. I could knock on the front door. Ask. But I want to believe I remember the strange-sounding name my daddy told me more than seventy years ago.

If it isn’t the same rose, it’s as pretty as the one from my childhood and it smells as sweet.

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Pies are round like my hometown’s square.

Every time I travel this way, driving north from Columbus…I feel that I’m entering another country…”

I’m an Ohioan, a buckeye, rooted in Mount Vernon just a few miles north of the geographical center of the state. My father never lived anyplace other than Knox County, nor any town other than Mount Vernon, except for the first four months of his life. He was born seven miles northwest in tiny Fredericktown.

Now we come into Mount Vernon … With its cobbled brick streets, Civil War monument town [round] square, block after block of handsome turn-of-the-century housing… And yet, there is something congenial about the place: stately houses, modest bungalows, backyard gardens, quiet streets…” 

That my dad lived such a long life — ninety — is attributable in part to pie. That’s what he would say anyway. In Ohio, pie is a meal, a food group!

The man never met a pie he didn’t like, with the possible exception of coconut crème and butterscotch. Fruit was his filling of choice: apple, cherry, peach, rhubarb, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, elderberry, grape, plum, banana, and even raisin. Now he didn’t bake the pies — women’s work, he said — but he did pick, clean, sort and chop the fruit.

My mother rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. After mom died, dad remarried and Martha rolled out a pie every few days: flakey, crusty, aromatic, lip-smackingly good. I never asked, but I’ll bet in addition to “Love, honor, and obey” there was a clause in their marriage vows that promised, “pies to last you the rest of your days.”

It is difficult to say no to a home baked pie warm from the oven. Dad never even tried to resist as his waistline proved.

When my daughters were small and visited during the summer, their gramps let them have pie and homemade vanilla ice cream for breakfast. “You got your fruit, you got your dairy, perfect breakfast,” he’d say.

I wondered at him letting them eat pie every morning. When I was their ages I had to eat Shredded Wheat, Cheerios or Cornflakes. Sometimes I got a sliced banana.

Last Thanksgiving, our granddaughter Samantha wanted me to show her how to make a pie from scratch. She was a quick learner, and her first pies — apple and pumpkin — were excellent. I’m sorry to say that she’s as messy a baker as I am. Her great-grandmas would be horrified to see the mess she made. But her great-gramps would have loved the results.

 

Quotes from Alma Mater, A College Homecoming, P.F. Kluge, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1993.

P-o-z-y-n-y-i spells Xmas.

As the years go by I get more and more Scrooged-up about the holidays. This season my mood has been especially glum. The weather is just too darned warm for December. If I wanted warm I’d head to Florida.

But I’m not a warm lover. I need snow and cold and fireplace aglow. If I were to light my fire now, I’d have to sit outside and enjoy it through the window.

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S-n-o-w spells happy on our tree, ’cause when mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Yesterday though, the tiniest scintilla of spirit crept in when I tackled the traditional Hungarian pastry I learned to make when I was pregnant with my youngest, Leslie. Fifty-two years — with three lapses — I’ve been doing this.

As I shoveled the four cups of flour onto my big board, I thought how much it looked like snow, softly drifting. And as I proofed the yeast that had passed its sell-by date seven years ago, I marveled at the miracle that it was still active. In fact, that dough didn’t double in size, it tripled.

The smell of the yeast, the whiff of vanilla, the mysterious face that loomed out of my yet-to-be-mixed raisin filling, evoked the scent of happy holidays remembered…happily.

 

 

Gallery

Christmas comes once a year: October to December 25!

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I hate to admit that I’m just not into Christmas anymore. I took heart this year when a few major retailers decided against staying open on Thanksgiving. And, too, Black Friday was a bit of a flop.  That’s reason enough for Scrooges like me to celebrate. The last few years I’ve dragged my chains about decorating for Christmas. I’ve always […]