Keeping up with the Neighbor?

It was cold for Georgia.  Bitterly cold.  I had just enough daylight to take Abby for a walk.  She greeted me at the front door and I quickly shoved a couple of bags into my pockets and attached the leash to her collar, hoping that the other dogs wouldn't notice.  No such luck.  I looked down to see Charlie at my feet.  I shoved him into his Sherpa coat and found his leash.  Chase hadn't woken and I pushed both out the door.  

Abby and Charlie froze on the pathway.  The cold penetrated their paws.  Undaunted I pulled both across the front lawn, grass crunching beneath my boots.  Charlie sat down refusing to budge.  I looked back at the front windows.  Chase still hadn't realized we were outside and I wanted to keep it that way.  Three dogs were difficult to walk on my own.  I plucked Charlie from the grass and tucked him under my left arm like a football.  I yanked Abby's leash and managed to set the pace as we reached the sidewalk.  I was determined to walk these dogs, even if that meant carrying a twenty-pound oversized dachshund the entire trip.

Three doors down I saw the male occupant of the house poking around the trunk of his car.  Holding back my first thoughts that he had a body in it, I quickened my pace and avoided eye contact.  I hadn't seen his wife in a while, after all.  Reflexively I did a side eye in his direction.  He was no longer in the trunk.  He was now leaned against it and wantonly stared at me.  To be fair, all three of us were dressed in a cacophony of colors.  I was in a burgundy plaid wool jacket with bits of my pink puffy vest visible, Abby was in a bright blue American Apparel retro hoodie and Charlie's beige Sherpa coat oozed out from under my arm like rising bread dough.  I practiced speed walking until I was at the end of the street and out of view.  

I was mildly annoyed.  No other neighbor was outside on this blustery winter day and serial killers really ought to clean out their trunks after midnight under the cover of darkness.  I crossed the street to the library and Charlie kicked me, the signal that he was willing to walk on his own.  We did the usual walk but cut it short and returned to the neighborhood on the opposite side of the street.  I hoped the neighbor had retreated to the comfort of his own home.  No such luck.  Not only was he in his front yard, he had one pint sized Bichon Frise tucked under his left arm, clearly copying my earlier style, and was tossing a ball to his other Bichon Frise.  I was surprised because I thought that this was a one-dog household.  Both sets of canine eyes followed our sidewalk movements and the neighbor paused the ball tossing.  Charlie and Abby watched the neighbor as I led them briskly away.

Charlie and Abby were eager to return to the house and I was equally happy to be inside, doors locked and safe from any neighbor who was trying to keep up with the canines from three doors down.


Up in the Tree Tops

The Tree Top Walkway at Kew Gardens sounded beautiful.  The Englishman and I were in the gardens for the entire day and I was determined to find it.  This took a lot of effort because even with the map of the expansive Victorian gardens, I seemed to be the one navigating.  Map reader I am not. Directionally challenged to perfection, unable to distinguish left from right unless I form an "L" with my left hand, I still clutched the map with no assistance from the Englishman.  

Eventually we stumbled upon the rusted steel structure.  After climbing 118 stairs, I gingerly stood upon the platform and looked down through the holes in the flooring.  The Englishman bounced ahead, pointing out birds, flora and fauna in the tree tops.  I followed carefully behind him, feeling a bit ill and counting the missing rivets in the pathway.  It was a long way down.  The metal was really rusty. I was unimpressed with the "rustic" description in my guide book.  The Englishman turned around and watched as I cautiously stood on the metal frame between two panels.  I tapped the tip of my shoe on the panel in front, testing it's stability.  The Englishman laughed and hopped like a rabbit over the next several panels.  I could feel the structure sway.  "Where is the inspection plate?" I asked him.  "Aren't they required to have one?"  I was too far to turn around so I had no choice but to proceed forward.  I weighed the option of running or crawling and decided to stick with my toe tapping method to ensure that each panel was safe to stand on.  I didn't take a single picture.  I didn't dare.

We finally reached the stairs and elevator.  I opted for the elevator and quickly stepped inside the enclosed chamber. The Englishman asked me why I bothered to climb all the way to the top to bird watch when all I did was look down? I responded with my own question, "Where is the safety inspection plate in the elevator?".  There wasn't one.  The Englishman sighed and the elevator jerked and swayed as it slowly creeped down.  I was grateful when we reached the bottom and I realized that I didn't need to have my head in the clouds.  I simply appreciated being grounded.


Memories of Molly: A Haiku

Soft silver-tinged ears
Wide paw lifting to my knee
Molly says hello.


Insta Dog Meals

My parents bought me an Insta-Pot for a Christmas present this year.  I fought them on it for two years.  They kept telling me how simple it was to use and finally wore me down a week before Christmas when, after days of minimal sleep due to work and decorating and wrapping, I caved.  It was sitting on my doorstep a day later which made me a bit suspicious that it might have already been ordered.  I pulled it inside and pushed it under the tree.

The day after Christmas, hopeful for some support from my sister who was visiting, I opened the box and pulled out the pot and all of the components that came with it.  The manual was thick and I was unwilling to read it.  I pouted and made sad eyes but my sister was built of sterner stuff and refused to help.  I pulled out the crockpot and made dog food the old fashioned way.  Eight hours later, it was ready.

Finally, the day...err night...had arrived.  I had forgotten to taken the ground lamb out of the freezer that morning.  I eyed my silver and shiny Insta-Pot.  I gathered my brick of lamb and layered other ingredients into the pot.  I did a quick check on Pinterest and located someone who was already making dog food in the exact model and I borrowed the settings that she used.  I pushed a couple of buttons, and muttered a prayer while Chase and Abby retreated to the next room, cowering in a corner.  I had twenty-three minutes to waste so I cleaned the kitchen.  

The time went by quickly.  I wasn't sure that I should open the pot right away and had visions of overheated cars on the side of the road.  I knew, from experience, that you did not open the radiator cap until the car had cooled down.  I thought it might hold true for this gleaming contraption.  I sighed and pulled out the manual.  I needed to wait 10-40 minutes longer.  That was about as specific as it got.  I washed and dried the floor, did a load of laundry and applied a mud mask to my face which required 15 minutes of drying time.  I finally felt brave enough to untwist the cover and peek inside.  I worried that if something went horribly wrong, I would have to crawl down the hallway and into the bedroom to blindly call 911 from my cell phone.  Holding my breath, I looked inside.  What I discovered was perfectly cooked lamb, rice and veggies with a bit of a banana smell since I tossed three of those in there.  Dog food cooking time slashed.  No gunk stuck to the sides of the pot.  Easy cleanup.  Overactive imagination.  I should have listened to my parents sooner.


It's a Nod Dog

The Englishman and I were enjoying a cup of tea on our new love seat.  A record was playing on the turntable and the sun was streaming through the windows on the beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Chase and Charlie were snoozing on their dog beds and Abby was staring at me blankly from the door.  

"What?" I asked her.  She cocked her head to one side and approached with slow deliberation.  She placed her head in my lap and looked up with her chocolate brown eyes.  I stroked her head and reached for my tea.  She nudged my hand.  "What?" I repeated.  She allowed me to scratch her ears for a few seconds and then nudged me again.  "Do you need to go out?" I asked.  Abby lifted her head and nodded it up and down as an answer to my question.  I got up and followed her to her leash and took her outside.  Indeed, she did have yard needs to fulfill and I had my first experience with a nodding dog.


Playing Possum

I needed a battery replaced in my key fob and the only business in town to do it was the locksmith.  The building was old and the site of a former restaurant.  The black and white floor tiles and curved counter of the soda fountain bar added a sense of nostalgia.  A parrot greeted customers from the corner with shy shouts of "hello" and avoided eye contact.  A curling paper sign announces the bird is not friendly and will bite.  

My favorite part of the store is the beautiful mixed cattle dog with wavy mottled fur and the palest ice blue eyes I'd ever seen.  I have enjoyed Possum's brief companionship over the past five years and he enjoyed a head scratch and belly rub.  When he heard me, he greeted me with a nudge of his pink and grey nose.  I scratched his ears while speaking with the store owner.  When I stopped, Possum plopped down on the floor and rolled onto his back, exposing his underside to me.  Quickly, I crouched to the floor and rubbed his belly while Possum's head lolled back and forth over my black patent leather wedges.  I bid Possum adieu and reluctantly returned to work, wishing that I could have a work "possum", too.  I was certain that my own three pack would be highly suspicious from the fur on my pants that I had been playing possum today.


The Nose Knows

My morning breakfast consisted of eggs and Trader Joe's chicken maple sausages.  Three dogs waited patiently, yearning for a taste.  I didn't have a bit left and I settled in to finish my coffee on the sunporch.  Abby snoozed next to me on the couch, her head on my lap. 

Chase circled the room, stopping in front of me with each round.  I patted him and he left the room, pausing to see if I was watching him.  Several times he repeated this routine.  Finally, it occurred to me that he wanted me to follow.  I did and was led to the kitchen and he pointed his nose at the counter.  There was still a sausage link on a piece of paper towel.  I cut it into three sections and each dog received a treat.

This year we realized that Chase was completely deaf from advanced age.  In the past, I would tell him "show me" and he would lead me to the door, the water bowl or the counter.  While it's taken some time, we have all worked out new ways to communicate and this was his version of "showing me".  There is clearly nothing wrong with his sense of smell and for Chase, the nose always knows!


Oh Lollipop!

It was two days after Halloween.  My yard decorations were packed away, the skeletons were back in the closet.  I returned home to three dogs dancing at the door, eager to go outside into the inky, moonless yard.  I broke my rule with Abby and did not put her on a leash.  I praised her for how well she was behaving.  I peered closely and noticed as she sniffed an azalea bush, she was giving me the side-eye.  Soon the side-eye turned into stealthy side walking.  Just as I was preparing to step forward and snatch her, she made her move, bolting into the blackness of the yard.  

A mostly black dog with a black hoodie is hard to find.  I caught movement near the street and I blazed toward her in my high heels, soon running smack into her side.  Abby had abruptly stopped and I could her crunching something in her mouth.  I worried that she had a chicken bone or other unsavory object in her mouth and began to pat her snout with my hand.  I found a stick.  A stick?  It wasn't wooden.  It was a lollipop stick.  I tugged at the stick and she tugged back.  A battle ensued and soon after I was rewarded with the stick and she still had the candy.  I looped my hand through her collar and pulled her toward the house.  She happily complied, all the while crunching and munching on her leftover Halloween treat.

I took away a valuable lesson in keeping her leashed and she took away a lollipop.  Abby 1 Me 0.


Old Dog, New Tricks

It was ten o'clock at night and the Englishman was already in bed.  I had just settled in for an episode of American Horror Story when I heard a knock on the front door.  I quickly muted the television and listened intently.  Another quick but distinct knock came again.  I looked behind me and could clearly see Chase sleeping soundly on the couch.  He was the only door knocker in the house.  Charlie was at my feet and didn't react to the knock.  I crept from my chair to the fire place which shielded me from view of the two large windows on either side of the front door.  I had a decision to make:  lunge to the right and into the dining room where I had left my concealed weapon or dive to the left and into my bedroom in order to wake the Englishman and have him take care of things.  I knew that if I woke him and it was nothing, I would be subjected to his version of the night at parties and family gatherings for years to come.  Another loud knock could be heard on the door.

I took a deep breath and gracefully used my limited gymnastics skills to enter the dining room with cat-like stealth.  Weapon in hand, I recalled episodes of Charlie's Angels and Law and Order: SVU and peeked bravely around the corner where I glimpsed a fluffy black tail in the window.  A dog tail.  Abby's tail.  Relieved, I opened the door and praised her.  She pranced into the house, panting heavily.  Abby must have exited the house via the dog door and returned via the front door.  I pondered over how long she had been gone, where she went and what she did to cause her to drink the entire dog bowl of water.  I returned to finish my program and hoped that the only person she terrified on this dark and spooky night was me.


You Can Ring My Bell

The dogs are always on alert with the comings and goings in the neighborhood.  They loathe skateboarders coasting along the sidewalk. Mothers pushing strollers evoke snarls.  Runners, joggers and speed walkers require violent barking and saliva drips down the front windows.  They can watch me walk out the front door to the mailbox but as soon as I turn around, it’s like I transformed into someone else and the clamor begins.  Selling Girl Scout Cookies?  Oh no you don’t!  Trick or Treat?  No, no and no.  Meter reader, pest control or any service worker? Nope, nada, no way Jose.  

And then there are the Mormons.

They approach from the street.

They walk to the front door.

They ring the bell.

Silence of the dogs.

I open the door and all three push past me and hang out with the two young men dressed in crisp white shirts, perfectly pressed black pants with shiny official name tags.  The dogs offer paws, heads and bellies.  They sit nicely next to their newfound pack as I listen to the young Mormons in quiet awe.  They glow a bit and I’m not sure that it is simply the summer heat and humidity.  It could be a halo.  Maybe something only the dogs can see.  Every six weeks or so, the names on the tags might change but the behavior of the three-pack is always the same when the Mormons come calling.


Dear Abby

Thank you for reminding me to keep my kitchen counters clear of things.  Even if I believe it is out of reach, nothing is ever out of your grasp.  Including a wicker basket of twenty fresh eggs.  I appreciate that you made sure no trace of egg remained and I learned so much about what happens when a dog consumes twenty raw eggs.  I also learned that I was not the first person to use a search engine when their dog ate twenty raw eggs.  Some ate more.

Thank you for helping me each morning with my upper body workout.  I sure wish you would tell me why you are reluctant to do your morning business in the backyard but my arms are becoming quite sculpted by carrying sixty pounds down two flights of deck stairs at 6:00 AM.  I am certain that this also is a great conversation starter for the neighbors.

Thank you for protecting me from every vehicle that passes us as we walk on the sidewalk in town.  I cannot imagine how I ever managed to walk in my town without the added benefit of your snarling and lunging.  It’s probably best that it’s hotter now and we restrict our walks to night.  You, know, like midnight.

Thank you for enjoying Charlie’s old toys, especially the ones that he had forgotten.  Of course he is interested now and the two of you seem to have such a great time tearing them to bits.

Thank you for being tall enough that you check to make sure I’m still alive if I haven’t roused from my sleep.  Weekends aren’t for sleeping in after all and you are so sweet for making sure I don’t miss any part of the day.

Thank you for encouraging me to pay attention to you.  I love the wet toys you gently place in my lap and when you steal my blanket, well that just helps me to get up faster, right?

Thank you for insisting that you are a family member and not a dog.  You absolutely should sit on the couch or chair even when we remove the cushions.

Thank you for your joy at bath time which is twice weekly for you due to your romping and rolling in the yard (after I carry you down).  I’m not sure if my favorite part of this routine is the dragging you down the hallway, the lifting you and attempts at fitting you through the bathroom door as you spread all four legs as wide as possible, or the heavy leaning you do once in the tub which inevitably gives me a bath, too.

Thank you for chewing up a Duracell battery last night.   Double A to be exact.  And we learned something.  You aren’t the first dog to do this.  So I washed your mouth out, checked that tongue and you got a nice bowl of milk.

Thank you for teaching the duck and chickens that there are dangers lurking in the yard.  It’s important that they stay vigilant and not become too relaxed.  It’s always better to stay at home, isn’t it?

Thank you for catching the flies that get trapped in the house.  It’s been such a very long time since we had a dog help out with fly catching and I do enjoy watching your efforts.

Thank you for keeping the squirrels out of the yard and ultimately out of the bird feeders.  I really do believe that one day you will catch that squirrel.  You are a flash of black and white across a great expanse of green.

Thank you for enjoying endless amounts of tennis ball tossing.  You are the only dog I have ever had that brings the ball back to me, placing it just so in my hand.

Thank you for catching my elbow and bumping it upward with your head.  I once had a black and white dog who did that to me and I miss him terribly. 

Thank you for being a dog that can be content to lie at my feet while I watch a movie.  I knew you felt at home the night you turned around the requisite three times with your favorite shark toy in your mouth and as you plopped down on the dog bed, a sigh was heard above the volume of the television.


Mini Me

My dog is my mini me in every way possible.  He’s hyper and bratty and talks entirely too much.  He’s itchy and wheezy and has allergies and asthma.  He's easily distracted and does not like to be woken from his naps. He’s a little on the fluffy side and his fur dries in waves.  

A few weeks ago I took him to the vet for a knee problem and had x-rays and blood work done.  Hours later he was very ill and couldn’t eat.  I spoke with the vet the next morning and she told me that a virus was going around.  Days passed and Chase didn’t improve.  While I was out of town on business, the Englishman brought him back to the vet and he needed fluids, antibiotics and a shot of anti-nausea medicine.  This time, the blood work showed a thyroid problem and he was promptly put on thyroid medicine.  I joked with the Englishman that I should take the medication, too since Chase and I had a history of the same medical issues.  After weeks of worrying and an extra round of antibiotics, the worst seemed to be over and Chase was back to his normal self with a twice daily new routine:  pop open his mouth, insert tiny pill, close mouth and give him a kiss on the snout.  It was a super quick routine and he didn’t appear to mind.  

I began to wonder about hypothyroidism and searched the internet. I found a checklist of symptoms that sounded very familiar.  I wondered how that conversation with my doctor would go:

Me:  Can you please run blood tests to check me for hypothyroidism?
Doctor:  Why?
Me:  Because my dog was just diagnosed.

I thought about lying and telling the doctor it was in my family.  I had to schedule a visit for severe allergies / cold / the crud and during the visit asked about a thyroid test.  The doctor asked me for a reason.  So, I bravely explained that I was experiencing numerous symptoms but while they had my blood, they might as well test for other things, too.  Days later I received a call from his nurse.  I had hypothyroidism and medication had been called in to my pharmacy.  Before hanging up the phone, the nurse asked, “How did you know?”  I hesitated and then told her, “It was just a guess”.  As I hung up, I thought, I would never share the true story with anyone…except my vet.

So now the morning routine has changed for me and my mini me.  Pop open his mouth, insert tiny pill, close mouth and give him a kiss on the snout, open my pill bottle, and down my pill with water, except there's no one to kiss me on the nose.  


A Tennis Ball Haul

We have a route that we walk with our four-legged family members each evening:  down the sidewalk, across the street to the library parking lot, through the front of the library to the side garden with the sundial, down a small access road that is hardly used and around the town’s tennis courts, over a small wooden bridge, across another parking lot and back to the library.  The dogs know it well.  

Our walk takes about thirty minutes with plenty of time to sniff trees, grass, bushes and sign posts.  On very special evenings, when no one is on the tennis courts, the dogs run free throughout the fenced-in areas.  The best time to visit the courts is after a storm when the players have quickly vacated, leaving behind sodden, yellow tennis balls.

Charlie loves tennis balls.  He clutches a ball between his paws and peels the fuzzy material away.  He chases the balls, he catches the balls, and when we won’t play with him, he bats the balls as hard as he can with his nose and scrambles after them.  

On this evening, in the pause between storms, Charlie happily collected fourteen precious tennis balls.  The Englishman and I counted them each under Charlie's watchful eyes and put them in a shopping bag.  As we strolled home, Charlie stayed by my side, nose up and happily leaping toward the bag that was dangling from my wrist.  April 3rd was the best haul yet.


Chicken Run

I watched videos.  I read blogs.  I did my research and felt that I was ready.  I knew that I could sex baby chickens.  I just knew it.  I drove to my favorite hardware store in Wrens, Georgia and the owner helped point out the Americuana chicks in the pen stuffed with hundreds of balls of day-old fluff.  It was a straight run of mixed chickens but I was assured that the Americaunas were easy to identify.  I gently spread the wings and counted feathers and soon had a box of six female Americaunas.  After a month, I convinced myself that a couple of them were just bossy…the way females could be.  After two months, I compared the crests on the tops of the heads with pictures on the internet.  I figured they were just bigger chickens.  Healthier even.  After four months, one began to crow and it was hard to ignore this, even for me.  I could not have a crowing rooster in my back yard.  Roosters do not just crow in the morning.  Oh no, they crow all day long.  I did the research and fashioned a Velcro collar to stop this imposter chicken from crowing.  It worked but a week later, on the day the Englishman and I were to leave to tow a truck to Florida for the younger English boy, two more “chickens” began to crow.  I knew two things at once.  I could not sex chickens.  Half of my flock was male.  I also knew we needed to find a solution and quickly.  The Englishman called the older English boy for help and his wife’s grandmother agreed to take the roosters.  The Englishman was in charge of packing our vehicle and hitching the truck and my mother and I were in charge of catching roosters.  This was not as easy as it sounded and it didn’t help that my mother gave a play by play narrative on everything I was doing wrong.  I finally had three angry roosters and one hen in the crate.  “Fine,” I thought.  “They can have the hen, too”.  The crate went into the back of my mother’s minivan and we followed my husband to the interstate.  He pulled over at the rest stop a mile after entering the interstate to tell me he had left our luggage at the house.  The new plan was for him to wait at the rest stop while I dropped of the birds, returned to the house, picked up the luggage and then returned to the rest stop.  I thought that he had the easier task in his plan.  

Near the end of the summer, when the remaining two hens began to lay their first eggs, I realized that I had white eggs instead of blue and these were not Americauna chickens.  I wasn't sure what kind of chickens they were but they were laying eggs and I was happy.

Fast forward two years.  My flock of hens consisted of two Americaunas and one chicken unknown that I named Willow.  All three were cranky due to the winter and refused to lay eggs.  All through December and January, I had to buy eggs and continue to feed my egg-less chickens.  In February, The Englishman brought me six Red Star chickens he rescued from a commercial chicken farmer.  I knew that there would be a period for both new and existing chickens to establish the “pecking order” but it quickly became clear that Willow was the top chicken.  She bossed the new chickens around and kept them isolated in a corner away from the food.  She perched on the highest roost in the chicken house to lord over the others.  Finally, she held vigil at the door of the house from the inside, refusing entry to the new chickens until the automatic door closed and six chickens were locked out. I was at a loss.  I tried removing her for a few hours.  I tried letting her roam free while I worked in the vegetable beds.  I finally put her in with the ducks.  “They like her.  Let her live with them,“ I thought.  That was my solution for three days and then she learned how to crow.  Once again, the Englishman and I were able to reach out to the older English boy's grandmother-in-law and once again we were headed on the road with a chicken.  

First, I needed to catch her.  Easy, peasy.  She was perched on the roof of the duck house happily crowing at the top of her lungs.  I wrapped a tea towel around her and carried her to the Jeep.  The Englishman chose that moment to clean out the back of his SUV and required my assistance.  I looked at the chicken in my arms and he instructed me to put her in a large cardboard box.  “It won’t work,” I said.  “She’s smarter than us!”  In the box she went and seconds later she effortlessly flew out.  I had to catch her again.  A flying, cranky, crowing, angry chicken.  It took a while and the Englishman helped by offering useful tidbits on how to catch a chicken and critiqued my method from afar.  Finally, we were on the road, and I had a chicken sitting in my lap.  She looked out of the window at all the cars that we passed and the trip took thirty minutes longer than it should have because the Englishman refused to ask the exit number from his son.  We tried three before we got it right.  I had some observations from our road trip:  Chickens have tongues.  Chickens pant.  Chickens bite.  Chickens salivate and when chickens collect enough saliva and then violently shake their chicken head like a dog, drops of saliva are flung all over the car windows, the Englishman and me. 

After locating the correct driveway, the Englishman parked and did not help me by opening my door.  Instead he played with the Labrador that greeted him at his door.  I carried Willow, still in a tea towel, into the back yard and saw the most beautiful rooster.  His name was Buster and he was once my “chicken”.  His best friend was the Labrador and they rubbed up against each other in greeting.  Willow had a new home with a rooster she once knew and I hoped she would be happy ruling her new kingdom.


The Daffodil Relocation Project

Once again it was February and as I was forced to take a back road due to construction on the interstate, I saw the daffodils springing up in ditches on the country roads.  I lowered my window and felt the cool spring air blowing across my face and I craved the freedom of dirt paths long forgotten and absent from my GPS, passable with the help of a pickup truck.  I missed the slow navigation of crumbling bridges and the discovery of ancient homes held up in each corner by old trees that were still younger than the weathered planks entangled within their hold.

The Daffodil Relocation Project was founded nine years ago with several shovels and buckets in the back of my old green Ford Ranger.  The Englishman and I would follow the roads less traveled, sometimes bringing along a passenger or a dog for the ride.  We have seen peacocks and Shetland ponies and abandoned railroad tracks and houses filled with history and ghosts.  We have discovered old cemeteries and reverently traced the worn names fading from the headstones.  We halted the truck at a deep puddle of water and watched butterflies play in the sunshine, wings dipping and sending rings of water to the edges.  We rescued flowers from deep ditches that kept the roads from eroding and filled the bed of the truck with daffodils, irises and lily of the valley.  We snacked on food that we had brought for our adventure:  Girl Scout Cookies, chips, apples, granola bars and bottles of water.  And as the sun began to lower in the sky, we headed toward paved roads with yellow painted lines down the center which welcomed our reentry to civilization once more.  Our work was far from over and when we reached home, the remainder of the weekend was spent finding new homes within our garden for each bulb.

February had returned once more, and as I glanced out the window of my house, I saw the delicate yellow petals stretching gently toward the sunshine.  I saw the tiny white flower bells dangling from lush green fronds ringing the cherry trees and the distinct leaves of the irises peeking out from the mulch.  Yes, it was February and I felt my wanderlust return and I longed for another beautiful day of relocating daffodils.


Canine Couture

It was sweater weather once again.  Of course living in the South, this statement could change on a daily basis.  On Monday, it might feel like a beautiful autumn day, on Tuesday the temperature would drop to near freezing, by Thursday, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and the daffodils were timidly displaying hints of lemon petals. Suddenly on Friday, it was time for T-shirts, flip-flops and air conditioning.  I would pull out the hoodies, sweaters and jackets, wrestle the dogs into their outfits just to tackle them a few days later and attempt to strip them once again.  On Saturdays, when the Englishman would do the laundry, dog clothing would be added to the machine, carefully folded and placed on top of each dog's crate until the next clothing appropriate day arrived.  Dogs in clothes.  It still can make me smile.


Throw Back Thursday - George

George had to carry something in his mouth.  He would greet me at the door when I got home and something was always in his mouth.  Sometimes it was a toy, other times it was anything that was nearby:  safety glasses, a shoe, an empty Fanta box.  He could also communicate to me that it was time for a walk and would carry his leash in his mouth.  He even tried to walk Chase by taking his attached leash and pulling him toward the door! I've discovered that it is the little things I miss now that he is gone.


Dog Paddling

Kayak…check.  Paddle…check.  Life preserver. ..check.  Dog life preserver…check.  The Jeep was loaded, kayaks were secured on the top and the Englishman, Charlie and I were off to the Augusta Canal for our first kayaking trip.  It was Memorial Day.  It was hot.  The canal was crowded with kayakers of all skill levels.  The Englishman dropped the kayaks, our gear, Charlie and me at a grassy area that sloped to the shore of the canal.  He left to find a shady parking spot and returned by foot fifteen minutes later.  I fitted Charlie into his life preserver and the Englishman launched us off in my kayak.  I paddled in a few circles until he joined me.  

Initially, the plan was to kayak for an hour in one direction and then turn around and head back to our launch spot.  This plan quickly changed due to the strong current in the canal.  Instead, we decided that the Englishman would take the shuttle back once we reached the end of the line in three hours and return with the Jeep.  Charlie sat on my lap and occasionally dangled his head over the edge of my green kayak to look into the swirling water.  The sun pounded on us relentlessly and we would paddle toward the banks of the canal to take a break in the shade.  We passed fellow kayakers along the way and others passed us.  An hour into the trip, the Englishman paddled toward a floating dock and we pulled the kayaks onto the weathered wooden planks for a sandwich and a break.  Charlie wandered on the path leading away from the canal and explored the shady underbrush and trees.  With some difficulty, we launched ourselves directly from the dock into the surprisingly chilly canal water.  

The Englishman took Charlie as his passenger.  Much braver, Charlie perched precariously close to the edge of the kayak, front paws resting on the orange plastic and back legs on the Englishman’s lap.  I nervously watched from my position behind them and then it happened.  Charlie leaped.  The Englishman lunged for the handle on the life preserver and missed, the swift current moving the kayak further from the dachshund.  I watched as Charlie rolled like a log several times going under then emerging with a quick pop.  I quickly paddled my kayak toward my dog who finally realized he was floating with the help of the preserver.  I aimed the boat, tucked the paddle inside and stretched my arm as far as I could….finally grabbing the handle on the top of the life preserver and pulling the shivering, wet mess right into my lap.  The Englishman pulled up next to me and handed me a beach towel.  I covered Charlie with it and we continued to float down the canal.  It was a long time before Charlie ventured from beneath the towel, his little brown head sniffing the air to see if we were still in the boat.  Gathering up courage, Charlie curled up and dutifully remained inside the kayak, content to watch from the safety of my lap.  I smelled like the canal, a musty, earthy and quite unpleasant smell.  I watched the Englishman with envy, fully aware of the two hour drive home and the fact that I did not bring extra clothes.  

When we reached the docks to exit the canal, we dragged the kayaks under a tree that did not provide nearly enough shade.  The Englishman sweet-talked his way into a ride back on the shuttle (apparently you have to sign a waiver with them at the starting point) to retrieve the Jeep.  When he returned, we loaded the kayaks, the gear and the dog and began our trip home.  Charlie slept at my feet, paws twitching and I wondered if he was dreaming of the one time he went for a swim.


Owl Adventures

Owl Adventures is a mobile zoo and educational business which has a static display on the grounds of the Museum Gardens in York, UK. While visiting York with the Englishman, we wandered across the display of owls in the garden.  I veered from the path so I could watch all of the owls, each sitting atop a stand.  The Englishman’s father generously paid for me to hold an owl while learning about it.  There was a variety of owls of all shapes and sizes and I had difficulty choosing just one.  The Englishman picked out the tiniest owl for me.  The falconer placed a colossal leather glove on my hand and presented me with George, the American ground owl.  We had to move slightly away from the larger owls because they were making George nervous.  Apparently George could be a “meal” in the real world.  Not only could I hold George and stroke his soft feathers under his head, I was given a lesson on him, too.

American ground owls or burrowing owls eat insects, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and other birds depending on the time of year and what is available. The beetle is a favorite meal.  A burrowing owl is most active at dawn and dusk. They live in burrows dug by other animals in open, treeless spaces, and in the United States and they are often found in burrows of prairie dogs.

I was smitten with the bitty bird.  He was calm and seemed to enjoy being touched just as much as I enjoyed having the owl perched on my gloved hand.  So, while I did so many touristy things in York including exploring York Minister, walking a part of the wall, strolling through the town and floating down the river on the tour boat, the best part was the chance to hold an owl on a beautiful fall afternoon.


Canine Carts and Clearance Conundrums

Charlie loves to accompany us on quick shopping trips.  Last year, after his rabies vaccination, we brought him into Home Depot with us so we could keep an eye on him in case of an adverse reaction.  He rode around happily in the child seat at the top, his brown body wedged perfectly inside.  Since then, we have brought him with us to Home Depot, Lowe's and Tractor Supply as pets are welcome.  

A few weekends ago, Charlie insisted on riding along when we took a quick trip to the local Lowe's.  I spread a towel on the bottom of the cart to make it more comfortable for him and he peered through the metal grid of the cart at things that interested him.  I headed to the garden center and found the dangerous clearance section.  I pushed Charlie to the front of the cart and started filling the back of the cart with plants.  Quickly I realized that I was running out of room and would soon need to make a choice.  Charlie was worried that my choice would be to add more plants and he looked up at me with big pleading brown eyes.  The Englishman suddenly appeared, chastised me and plucked the poor dachshund from the flowers that were surrounding him.  "Don't worry" he said stroking Charlie's head, "Dad's got you".  He left the garden center with Charlie in tow.  I headed to the cashier and realized I was stuck with the bill, once again.


Window Shopping

The Englishman and I were spending the day in Richmond, United Kingdom wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The gardens are located outside of London and preserves thousands of plants, trees and other botanical specimens within 300 acres.  It is considered the largest and most diverse collection in the world.

There were several places to eat and have a cup of tea within the gardens and we chose the Victoria Plaza Shop which was a cafĂ© and gift shop before heading to the Treetop Walkway.  The Englishman and I picked an outside table to sip steaming mugs of peppermint tea and share a sausage roll and an orange plum cake between us.   Birds scampered about hoping for a dropped crumb.  I heard a rustling in the bushes lining the path and watched with quiet fascination as a male peacock appeared in the courtyard.  He walked across the cement slabs, oblivious to the tourists walking nearby and approached the automatic glass doors to the gift shop.  Too small to trigger the door to open, the peacock waited patiently for a person to exit.  All of the outside tables became still as we waited to see if the peacock would gain access.  Alas, it was just a window shopping adventure and the peacock soon strutted to another part of the garden.  We waited until he departed before continuing our own adventures in the gardens.


Crafty Canines

The Englishman was up very early.  He let the dogs out, placed a steaming mug of coffee on my bedside table and shut the door so the dogs wouldn't disturb me. The bliss lasted for the time it took for him to back out of the driveway, watched carefully by Chase and Charlie from a front window. Then the torture began.

Knock, knock.  Scratch.  Low whine.  Medium whine.  Loud whine.  BARK!

I dragged myself out of bed, clutching the cup of coffee.  It was early and still dark.  I shuffled to the kitchen.  The dogs tap-danced on the tile floor begging for me to feed them.  I pulled the plastic container of food from the refrigerator.  I frowned at it, thinking it looked less full than the day before.  "Did your dad feed you?" I asked the two dogs who were wiggling around my legs.  They barked.  I looked on the floor but did not see any dog bowls.  I looked in the sink.  Nothing.  I grabbed two clean dog bowls and put a small amount of food in each.  Chase and Charlie both nibbled delicately at their meal.  This was unusual dining behavior for them and deviated from the typical "two bites and done" tactic.

I went back to the bedroom to dress for work, still bothered by the dogs' strange eating etiquette.  I searched the kitchen again and I finally found the evidence I needed:  two bowls were pushed deep under a counter.  Two used bowls.  The Englishman had fed them before leaving the house and these two dogs had once again proven themselves to be much smarter than me.


Old Dogs are the Best Dogs

The Englishman was not excited when I announced that Ollie’s Bargain Outlet was opening in our small town.  I wasn’t sure if it was the word “Ollie” or “Bargain” or “Outlet” but he snorted when I dragged him to the grand opening.  He vowed never to return.  So, I dragged him back into the store several weeks later.  I pushed the shopping cart and he feigned the three disses that are apparently in the English DNA: displeasure, disdain and disinterest.  When I reached the cash register and unloaded the items onto the counter, I realized there was a book in my cart that was not placed by me.  The Englishman avoided eye contact.

Old Dogs are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten was a black and white tribute to old dogs and was filled with pages of stories.  Truths such as “Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy.”  My three-pack was all of that and more.  The stories were funny and heartbreaking and reminded me of many of the pet companions I have had throughout my life and their special quirks that I realized I now missed.

Poppy was my childhood cat from Mahwah, New Jersey who loved water.  She might beat you to the bathtub for a swim.  She was a fiercely loyal companion who would always wait on a boulder near our driveway at 3:30PM when my sister and I returned from our school bus stop.  She would roll on the surface and wait for one of us to scoop her up and carry her back to the house with us.

Drummer was my childhood dog who had an unusual begging ritual for popcorn.  He would flip onto his back and kick his legs violently into the air as he grunted with noises we dubbed “herf-a-lating”.  He tolerated us using him to pull our sleds down the driveway in the winter to make a path, worried glances behind as the sled moved faster until my sister or I reached forward and pulled him on board for the ride of his life.

Sebastian was my Persian cat who adored shoes.  He slept in mine until he outgrew them and then transferred to one of my father’s work shoes.  He loved to snuggle and would place a paw on each shoulder to knead me.  Happiness came in the form of purrs and drool.

Checkers was the family cat while I was still in college.  Black and white and super fluffy, we eventually nicknamed him the “Quilting Cat”.  As my mother and I placed pins through material, Checkers would work behind us, methodically pulling every pin.  If we banned him from the room, he would race outside and sit in the window, miserable howls echoing through the neighborhood.

Madison was my cat when I first started teaching.  He was sound asleep when I chose him from the shelter and he never forgave me from waking him from his cat nap.  He could hold a grudge.  Retaliation might not be immediate but it was sure to come when I least expected it.  He would not tolerate the snooze button on my alarm clock.  Once the alarm buzzed in the morning, any attempts at hitting snooze was foiled by teeth and claws.  He loved anything that rolled and stole bottle caps, lipstick and plastic Easter eggs as his toys.

George was a quirky English Cocker Spaniel.  He didn’t trust my athletic abilities.  I had terrible aim.  I still don’t understand how I managed to bounce the tennis ball off his head but George would flinch and duck if he saw me with a tennis ball after that incident.  I have never seen another dog flinch and duck.
George howled.  He taught the other dogs to howl.  He howled to go outside.  He howled to come inside.  He howled at sirens.  He howled when he was bored.  It has been nearly two years of silence and I really missed the howls.

There are things that I miss with my current three-pack.  I miss Chase digging in mud puddles and snapping at the rain.  I miss Molly greeting me at the door with a treasured stuffed toy in her mouth.  It didn’t matter if I had been gone for five minutes or the entire day, the greeting was the same.  I miss Charlie dancing in his dog bowl to signal it was time for dinner.  I miss the dogs making me late for work because they decided to explore well outside of their boundaries.  I miss the joy of throwing tennis balls on the court after hours and watching the boundless energy of the dogs racing after them.  But I have gained so much, too.  I love the contentment of the dogs to be near us doing absolutely nothing.  I love my newest ritual of carrying Molly to bed because she is sound asleep and it takes her too long to wake up.  Charlie waits for me at the driveway gate each day at six o’clock without fail and we spend a few moments alone before the others realize I am home.  All of my companions are still very much alive in my memories or right now in the present.  So I read through the book with laughter, tears and joy and must agree with the author:  old dogs are the best dogs.


Banning the Bag

When Chase was just a puppy, he had several conditions that affected his immune system.  He was the sole litter survivor of parvovirus, and then promptly caught the mange.  He was so small that I used an Igloo cooler to dip him twice a week into a medicated mixture that didn’t seem to work.  The vet suggested a diet rich with immune boosting foods so I cooked for my puppy for several months until he was fully recovered.

Thirteen years later mealtime was becoming a battle of the wills.  Molly and Chase were fine with kibble but Charlie refused to eat it until we layered shredded cheddar cheese on top.  If the other two saw us garnish Charlie’s meal, they demanded the same treatment.  Charlie usually abandoned the bowl once the cheese was gone and Molly and Chase would finish it off for him.  Older dogs, dry dog food plus days filled with napping caused serious weight gains.  The vet declared Chase chunky in April and I hurt my back trying to give Molly a bath.  I knew they needed a change.

I threw out the dog food and headed to the grocery store filling my cart with ground turkey, chicken, spinach, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, zucchini, brown rice and light red kidney beans.   Then with my crock pot I assembled a meal that would last three dogs a week.  Very quickly, the three-pack began to associate the crock pot with their meals.  They watched me each Saturday evening as I chopped and assembled layers within the large appliance and they smelled the meal cooking all night long.  They waited very patiently, until at least six in the morning when they barked until I fed them.  They became excellent judges of time.  Meals were at 6:30 in the morning and 6:30 in the evening and they would not allow a deviation from the schedule.

I also explored sweet potatoes as dog treats (sliced and tossed with olive oil and cinnamon and baked for 3 hours at 250 degrees).  These were also a success.  The best indicator, however, was a vet visit at three months.  Molly and Chase had lost ten pounds each and Charlie was down by two.  The vet was very pleased, the dogs were content with their new and improved diet and I was now the official crazy dog lady.


Dog Bowl

It was the end of “YEAR TWO OF HOUSE RENOVATIONS”.  So much had been accomplished yet there was still so much more to achieve.  Before we had turned the sun porch into part of the main house, there were two Papasan chairs in faded orange at one end.  The frames were made of rattan and they looked like a big bowl.  You could purchase a Papasan chair at Pier One Imports or World Market or several other places online.  At the start of “YEAR ONE OF HOUSE RENOVATIONS” both chairs were lugged down to the basement and stacked into a corner where I hoped they would be forgotten.

On the occasional trip to the Goodwill, I would suggest to the Englishman that we rid ourselves of the chairs.  His reaction varied from glares, to pouts to ignoring my presence entirely.  After changing the older English Boy’s bedroom into a computer room, the Englishman moved the Papasan chairs to their new location.  He was courageous and waited until I was away for the weekend.

I must admit it…they are comfortable.  They are also comical, especially when The Englishman lost his balance and fell onto the floor.  The one thing I never counted on was how much our dachshund, Charlie, loved the chairs.  When they were located on the porch, he never slept in them.  Now, if I was searching for Charlie, the first place I looked was the computer room.  Most of the time, the little dog had curled up into one fast asleep.  Ugly or not, this was one battle that I didn't think I would win.