Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How's That Again?

I thought I heard the man on the radio say, "The authorities are concerned about the increasing number of vegan houses." He actually said, "The authorities are concerned about the increasing number of vacant houses."

It sounded on NPR as if the title of Harry Reid's new book was: " The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from SEX LIFE to Washington." The title is really "The Good FIght: Hard Lessons from SEARCHLIGHT to Washington."

I heard about the attacks by the "the nutty army" instead of "the Mahdi Army."

I was astonished to hear that they "wanted to improve anthrax service along the Northeast Corridor." Actually, it was Amtrak service they wanted to improve.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good night, Sweet Dog.

When Arlo first showed up on Memorial Day Weekend in 1996, we weren't sure that he really was a beagle. He had the long droopy ears and lovely kohl-lined brown eyes of a beagle, and he was black, tan, and white. But he was also short of leg, long of body, with a pointed "witch's hat" of a nose. He was a great scent hound. He spent many hours happily tracking rabbits and squirrels in the back yard, wagging his white-tipped tail and broadcasting the news far and wide. Once, when we were out on a walk, a woman who lived two blocks away remarked, "This must be the dog I hear baying all the time."

The neighbor who found this 6-month-old stray asked us to keep him while he was away on business. He planned to take him to the pound when he got home. The first night, not knowing whether the puppy was housebroken or not, we made him a bed in the garage. Soon we heard much scrabbling and scratching. The determined little beagle was squirming his way into the house through the cat door to take his place in our hearts.

Phil always said that Arlo "wore his heart on his sleeve." When we returned home from work, he would greet us with joyful howls. He loved nothing more than snoozing on the couch beside anyone who was watching TV, but especially Phil. He slept in bed with us, absolutely the first and last dog to enjoy that privilege. His "whirling and twirling" was very annoying. He would plunk himself down in the middle of my side of the bed--never Phil's--and try to weasel his way onto my pillow.

As a young dog, he loved to run like the wind. We used to take him and Violet, our daughter's shepherd mix, to an empty field, where they would race wildly round and round in circles until they were exhausted.

He loved to follow his nose. One hot and humid day in late August, he slipped his collar while we were on a walk and disappeared into a tangle of vines, brambles, and briars. Phil called him, but Arlo ignored him. So Phil waded into the thicket and emerged later, all scratched up, lugging a headstrong, unrepentent beagle. While vacationing in Door County, Wisconsin, we once let him off the leash while we loaded the car, thinking that the rocky, overgrown terrain around my sister's vacation home would confine him. Silly us. Pretty soon six adults and three kids were looking high and low for the little escape artist. Another time, he barreled down a path in the woods. We heard a yelp. He returned with a muzzle full of porcupine quills. Fortunately, my brother-in-law-the-doctor, deftly pulled them out.

He was dominant. When Phil took him to obedience class, Arlo tried to walk out front on his hind legs as if to show who was really in charge. We are not sure what he learned in obedience class, if anything. Some folks will tell you that beagles are stupid, but we always felt that he was weighing the pros and cons of obeying an order.

He had a dark side. As Phil observed, Arlo had "eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil." He was insanely jealous and possessive of his food dish, even though, unlike typical beagles, he was no glutton. It was the principle of the thing. Soon after moving in, he attacked poor Joey, our 16-year-old beagle mix, laying claim to the old dog's dish. He got a severe scolding. In Door County, he rudely challenged Cassie, the resident golden retriever, over her own dish. He got scolded for that, too. He even snapped a few times at our daughter's pit-bull mix when Ramsey ventured too close to the dish, tripping a switch in the hapless pit-bull's brain. He got off relatively easy, and didn't even need stitches. Yet, when food was not an issue, he was best friends with all these dogs. He got along with the cats, too.

He had a mind of his own. One evening, in Door County, after a week of picnics on the beach, boatrides, and hikes, we were all unwinding in the living room, watching a movie. Cassie and Arlo were dozing on the rug. Arlo suddenly got up and marched resolutely up the stairs to bed, alone, The week of fun had worn him out. The kids laughed and called out, "Good night, Arlo."

Good night, sweet dog. We will never forget you.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hello, New Paint

For several years, we watched the house next door deteriorate. The absentee owner let it run down and rented out the four bedrooms to half a dozen unrelated people. Apparently he gave a couple of them a deal: he would reduce their rent if they would paint the house.

Before they started, the house was grey. By the time they finished, it was mostly turquoise. They started in back, but ran out of paint by the time they reached the front. They left a large grey patch under the double window facing the street. We waited for them to complete the job. And waited. Several months passed. When I could stand it no longer, I sneaked into their yard and picked up a paint-spattered leaf. I found a can of spray paint at the hardware store that matched their turquoise close enough. Waiting until no one was home, Phil and I hurried over and spray-painted the grey patch. Later, we saw the tenants inspecting the newly- painted spot with puzzled looks on their faces.

Happy 99th, Mom

Today my mother is 99. She is doing all right for a 99 year old. Her main complaint yesterday was that the day was so long. No wonder. She's bored.

She is nearly blind and rather hard-of-hearing. She can no longer read and has complained for some time now about her difficulty in understanding the library's Talking Books. She's given up on television, except for Charles Stanley and the late D. James Kennedy, two evangelists. A hearing aid? Not on your life. This is a woman who still spends an hour a day at her dressing table, rolling up her long white hair and securing it with a bow coordinated with her outfit. Appearances count!

When she moved here from Meadville, PA, nearly nine years ago, my husband and I were afraid that, being somewhat of a loner, she would grow to rely too much on us for companionship. This is exactly what happened. One of the few activities she enjoyed while still in her own home was leading a weekly Bible study. With her approval, I made a few phone calls and found out about a small group that met at a nearby Lutheran church. It comprised eight elderly women and one man. The man even offered to stop by and pick her up. It was all set. She seemed pleased.

A few days before the first meeting, I looked at the calendar. "Oh, no," I said. "You have a doctor's appointment on the day of your Bible study."

"I'm not going," she said.

"What? Why not? I can cancel your doctor's appointment."

"I've changed my mind."

"But why?"

"I just have, that's all."

She soon came up with a couple of reasons:

1. "Even though those women are Christians, I know women and how catty they can be. They'll say, 'She's blind, so why is she coming to BIble Study if she can't take her turn reading?'"

2. "When the weather turns bad, I'll have to lean on that man's arm when I get out of the car. If it's icy, we'll both go down."

Nothing I could say would change her mind.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Good Bye, Old Paint

It's spring, and our house is badly in need of painting. What was once a tasteful colonial-Willamsburg green has faded into a garish Ocean-City-salt-water-taffy-silly-looking green.

It reminds me all too well of a previous paint job. The lady next door had approached us, saying that if we were interested in having our house painted, she had a friend who "was in a bit of a jam" and would do it for a reasonable price. She was a realtor and began talking about "curb appeal." We took the hint. It seems that her friend, Ray (not his real name), had just landed a teaching job in Florida, but had no money to get there. It would be a huge favor to her and to Ray if we said yes. We said yes.

Ray came over that evening with about 500 color chips on a metal ring. "You oughta find something here that you like," he said, "but you gotta pick your colors right away, because I have to leave for Florida in about ten days. I'd like to start tomorrow, so that I can take my time and do a real good job." Actually, I didn't care for any of the colors very much. Something about them didn't seem quite right, but, feeling pressured, I selected an innocuous green, with gold for the shutters. Ray had the paint mixed the next morning and set to work with gusto.

He made great progress at first, but as the week wore on, we worried that the job wouldn't be finished by Monday, when he had to leave. By Saturday, the job was only 3/4 complete. Ray didn't show. Phil went next door, where Ray was staying, and rang the bell. No answer. Sunday morning, the same thing. Late Sunday afternoon, Ray appeared. "Oh, I heard the doorbell, " he explained, "but I've been laid up with a tooth ache. Don't worry. I won't leave tomorrow until I'm finished, even if I have to leave a little later." The next morning, Phil wrote Ray a check. We left for work.

Phil came home at noon. Ray was gone. The back of the house was only half painted. Open cans of paint stood baking in the sun. Paint trays, rags, stir-sticks, rollers, and brushes were scattered about. Phil immediately stopped payment on the check. Soon we got an aggrieved phone call from Ray in North Carolina. "Hey, Buddy, I really need that money. I have a friend of mine, a professional, who's gonna come over and finish up at no extra charge to you."

So Ray got his money. His friend finished the job.

I still wasn't happy about the color. It looked like green salt-water taffy. I took the color chip to the paint store. The clerk said, "Oh, that's really an interior color. Here's our exterior colors." He showed me a brochure with a dozen exterior color schemes.

Ray used interior paint on the outside of our house?

"Not necessarily," said the clerk. "You can custom-mix any color you want for the exterior."

A couple of summers later, Ray was back, having lost his job in Florida. "Say, Phil, " he said, looking at our house, "you guys really gotta do something about that color."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fat Cat

Yesterday I took Mom's cat, Georgie, to the vet. Mom came along to supervise. Mom adopted Georgie last year after Sadie, her 16-year-old kitty-companion, had to be put to sleep. Georgie, a five-year old tuxedo, came from a shelter. She weighed 10 pounds a year ago February, when she moved in, 11 pounds when she got her shots last May, and 13 pounds at yesterday's visit. The vet strongly advised cutting back on her food. Mom said, coyly, "I will ask 'the boss' what she thinks about that. Anyway, she's gained only two pounds."

I should point out that Mom will be 99 on April 19th and is nearly blind from macular degeneration. Last May, she insisted, as she had with all her cats, that Georgie's shots be divided between two visits. Back home in Meadville, her vet would say, "I've been a veterinarian for 30 years, and I've always given all the boosters at the annual check-up." "Well," Mom would say, "that may well be, but you're not putting all that medicine in my little cat!" This year, Mom didn't hear the vet say, "Her distemper shot is not due until the first of May, but if you like, we can give her both the rabies and the distemper shot today." Sounded good to me. I scribbled a note: "It's OK with me, but don't tell Mom." On the way home, Mom, who crossly informs me every day that she can't see, said, "They gave Georgie two shots, one in her neck and one in her hip. What were they?"

Suburban Silliness

Used to be, when you approached the white-spired Mormon Temple on the outer loop of the Washington Beltway, you could see a message spray-painted on a railroad overpass: " Surrender, Dorothy!" Too bad it got painted over.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Heavens Are Telling. . . .

I'll say this about our trip to Ohio.
My heavens, what stars!
There was no moon the night my husband called me to come see the blackest of skies dotted with a thousand brilliant stars. "This is why I didn't want a roof over the whole porch," he said.

Small Miracle

He was a month old yesterday and he is wonderful. His name is Nathaniel, which means "Gift from God." He's a gift, all right. I remember when we brought our older daughter home from the hospital. We lived in a duplex then, with our landlord and his lady. Mr. Wilson had a grown stepson, but never a baby of his own. He used to annoy me mildly in the early weeks of our baby's life by repeatedly saying, as if to reassure us, "Any day now, she'll start doing things." It seemed to us that she already "did things" every day. She opened her eyes. She closed her eyes. She flailed her tiny hands about. She sucked her thumb. She kicked, she squirmed, and I swear she laughed out loud twice during her first stroller ride. (The canopy blocked my view, but I know I heard a loud chuckle). She gazed out at the world soberly, with big, blue eyes. Her nephew has the same sober gaze, and every once in awhile, his face crinkles into a merry smile. We think we've heard him chuckle, too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bumper stickers Faves # 1

Be nice to America or we'll bring Democracy to your country, too.

Camp Run-A-Mutt

Here's an ad we ran recently. Ramsey, the urban street dog our younger daughter acquired while living in Baltimore, applied for a scholarship and got it. He returned home yesterday much Wiser in the Ways of the Woods.


Rediscover your inner wolf at CAMP RUN-A-MUTT.

Sure, you love your human pack leaders,
but you have to play by their rules.
You have to eat “organic” dog food, heavy on vegetables. You have to pee or poop where
they think it’s OK. You hear “no” all
the time, especially if you chew up a cushion
or growl a little.

This is a dog’s life in the 21st century,
and it ain’t pretty.

That’s why we’re offering this Springtime Retreat
for reconnecting with your inner wolf
at beautiful Camp Run-a-mutt in Knox County, Ohio
during the first weekend in April.

• Hiking
• Campfires, with smores
• Howling at the moon (weather permitting)
• Wading in clear, clean streams
• Workshops led by Calvin “Fullmoon” Coyote and Singing Wolf
• Transportation and meals included in cost of the weekend.
• Scholarships available.
• Vet certificate required
• Call today to make your reservation now. HURRY. Space is limited.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

With Mallards Toward Some

My husband, the tree hugger, feeds the birds. Finches, blue jays, hummingbirds, cardinals, mourning doves, woodpeckers, sparrows, wrens, tufted titmice, chickadees, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and starlings. He wishes the latter three would stay away because he regards them as flying pigs, but what can he do?

He doesn't like squirrels helping themselves to heaps of sunflower seed, but squirrels will be squirrels.

He doesn't like neighborhood cats stalking "his" birds, but cats will be cats.

He doesn't like hawks scoping out the songbirds from a nearby tree, but hawks will be hawks.

He's played host to the occasional raccoon, possum, and fox.

This morning, we had a pair of newcomers. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were out there shoveling in--nay, vacuuming up--seeds by the heaping cupful with voracious little bills. I was surprised to see a bright flash of blue on Mrs. Mallard's dull brown wings. I called the tree hugger at work with the news.

Weekend Get-Away

It's been nearly a year since I've gone to our cabin in Ohio.

Mom will be 99 on April 19th. She's still pretty sharp, despite near blindness and increasing deafness. She gets around fairly well. I urge her to use her cane, because she wobbles, but she insists that she doesn't need it. She bathes and dresses herself, rolls her long hair up in a bun, sets it off with a bright bow, makes her bed, gets her breakfast, feeds her cat, scoops out the kitty litter, and does 3 loads of our laundry each week in addition to her own.

We are blessed.

Nevertheless, for over a year now, it's become increasingly clear that I can no longer leave her alone for hours at a time. Recently, I asked an old neighbor of Mom's from Gibsonia, PA, to spend Friday through Tuesday with Mom while we are in Ohio. Barbara works as an aide in a nursing home. We'll pay her bus fare and the going rate for live-in eldercare.

When I told Mom that we were going away for a long weekend and that Barbara was coming to look after her, she was not pleased. “Look,” she proclaimed, “I lived alone for years, starting in 1962 when your father died, until eight years ago when I (at your insistence) moved down here! I am perfectly capable of staying by myself.”

Yeah, right, I think. Every day you ask me how to unlock the sliding door so that you can let your cat out. You nearly set fire to the house last summer while gabbing on the phone with none other than Barbara. You think someone stole your drapes and replaced them with better ones. You somehow threw away your engagement and wedding rings. Two days ago you wanted to know the name of the other woman who lives here and is married to Phil. At least once a week, you tell me that the washing machine is broken or that the dryer isn't working.

“Well,” I said, “Barbara needs a little vacation. She wants to spend it with you.”

Mom brightened. “Oh, I’m so glad she’ll be getting a rest.”