The Soothing Power of a Dog on a Tractor

I have mistake-on-the-brain because I made a big one this weekend. The maddening part was Shouldn’t I have seen this coming? The worst part was knowing the work I caused for other people, who themselves are doing me a favor and should not have to backtrack because I goofed and then changed my mind. The good part was that in the end it was a fairly-easily-rectifiable, not-the-end-of-the-world mistake. The best part was the dog on the tractor.

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Sandy called her “Farm Girl.” He took a break from hammering, measuring, sawing and fitting to make some amusement and roped Joe into the plan. Coco has a small brain and I expect this adventure was nothing more for her than Sure, whatever you say. I’ll sit here like a doofus, why not? I did not participate in setting this stage, but was called over when she was propped and perky and please-can-I-get-down-now? I was still, at that moment, in the throes of self-flagellation, beating myself up for not seeing the situation clearly enough in my mind to head off the mistake at the pass.

Nothing like a little silly dog to change the subject and bring a smile! Thank you, Sandy!

Come to think of it, a day or so later, the mistake itself doesn’t matter so much. It’s only a window, right? It’s only the window I’d been waiting more than eight years for (and then five weeks after ordering), the window I thought would be perfect, the window marked on my inside wall with painter’s tape and marked on my outside wall with a full-size template – both of which I had been staring at for weeks. We worked all day to get that window in. It was hot! I wanted to LOVE it!

But I didn’t. It just looked wrong. Too small. How can it look so small? But it was too small. I was up half the night trying to figure out how to make it right, but I knew – though I hated to say it – that the new window had to come out.

Out it came first thing next day. Not a super big deal in the end and thank God for the reverse function on the screw gun, but I internally fussed: Whatever made me think a small window there would be the right window there?

A fishbowl. Now I see. It all comes down to a fishbowl. Here is my five-seconds-or-less Pictionary drawing of one.

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The house I live in is out in the country at the far end of a gravel road. The only other house you can see from it is my own cottage. But my living room did not come with a front window at eye level. The funky 70s triangular window way up high, now removed, did let in light and did sometimes blind anyone sitting in the middle of the room, depending on the sun’s angle, but no one is that tall. I have never been able to look out and see from this room. Likewise, no one has ever been able to look in and see.

Hence, I have never had to worry about being the fish in the fishbowl! Eeks! Adding a window to that wall is a gigantic leap. Nothing partial. No middle ground. No gradually-getting-used-to-this-new-situation. I will go from being unseen and unable-to-be-seen to potentially being seen in one fell swoop! (Whether there is anything interesting to see is another conversation.). Dare I? Do people do this?

My mother is to blame on this one and she knows it – at their house in the woods on four acres she always pulled the blinds at night because “a bear might see me.” No kidding. (I wish I had Sarah’s drawing skills and could draw a bear looking into a window! Her Happy Friday and Purple chinchilla drawings are among my favorites.)

But here I was with a new (small) window with real glass at eye level. How did I think the size would make a difference? Maybe I thought that if it were small it wouldn’t matter? That people would say to themselves Here is a woman who clearly does not want to be looked in upon (otherwise she would put in a big honkin’ window!) – cease and desist! How did I not realize that window glass is window glass and see-through-able regardless? To this point Joe said casually at dinner, “You get something to cover the window for when you need that, a curtain or a shutter or something.”

I do know about curtains and shutters, what they do, how they work, why people use them. Why did it take this simple statement to make me realize that if you can cover a small window, you can cover a big one!

Ah, well, funny creatures, we humans. Fickle sometimes. Not overly able to visualize upcoming realities sometimes. Dense, you say? Thick? Fuzzy? Obtuse perhaps? Lackwitted? Slackminded? Featherheaded? Airheaded? Bubbleheaded? Blockheaded? Myopic? Cabbageheaded? Chowderbrained? Hebetudinous? Out to lunch? Three bricks shy of a load? (Gotta love a good thesaurus!)

Guilty as charged! But a new window is coming – a honkin’ big window! – picked it out and framed up the rough opening already. It will be better!

Second-Day Pasta

I come from a big family, one of four girls, and for most of my childhood either my grandparents on my father’s side or my grandfather on my mother’s side lived with us.

I am also half Italian, which in our family meant a lot of pasta for dinner. We enjoyed my mom’s great “sauce” on our “macaroni” on Wednesdays and Sundays. Please understand that I mean every Wednesday and every Sunday. There are rules and there are rules. This was a rule.

Not to be confused with the non-meat cheese sauce, onion sauce, ceci bean (chickpea) sauce or marinara sauce we adorned our macaroni with every Friday (good Catholics that we were, in that regard anyway), “sauce” was shorthand for what some people would call red sauce, others would call Bolognese – made with onions, garlic and meat (mostly beef but sometimes pork or lamb) browned up together, with tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper (and the occasional lamb bone or pork bone) added before a long simmer.

Sauce was noted simply as SAUCE on countless pieces of masking tape over the years, marking countless random re-used freezer containers like this. (This photo, by the way, marks Mom’s first sending of a photo via text – bravo, Mom! and thank you, Lynn, for walking her through the process.)

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So, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Practically without fail. That’s a lot of macaroni. You try, of course, to make the right amount so you don’t have a lot of leftovers, but it happens. What do you do with leftover macaroni? You make macaroni pie of course!

You take your cold leftover macaroni/pasta, chop it up, stir in a few eggs and some cheese and salt and pepper, put this mixture in a hot, oiled pan, let it brown, flip it, brown the other side and serve. It’s great hot or cold. It’s great as a main dish or a side dish. And it uses up the leftovers in a very yummy way!

Feel free to embellish however suits your fancy. A few weeks ago I made macaroni pie using leftover pasta made with my own “sauce,” but along with the eggs I added some shredded asiago cheese and left it in the pan a smidgeon longer than usual – to the not-quite-burned-but-almost stage – and Samuel said it ranked among the best ever. This weekend I made it using some leftover spaghetti carbonara, which uses bacon, cream and romano cheese in the sauce. That’s the one I’ll show you.

This is the leftover, which was about 4 cups total, chopped up in a bowl with my three eggs. You can use any sharp knife to cut it up – it cuts easily when cold.

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Adding some extra cheese (a handful or so, grated, whatever kind seems to go with whatever kind of pasta you have) and salt and pepper at this point is a good idea because once it has a crust, it’s harder to season.  After you’ve mixed it all up, put about 2 Tbsp oil in a frypan and turn on the flame to get the oil hot. Mine looked like this.

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Wait about one minute before using a rubber spatula to guide the mixture into the pan . You want to wait that minute because you want the sizzling sound. The sizzling sound of the cold pasta mixture hitting the hot oil is one of those kitchen thrills you cannot explain to the those who have not yet joined the Kitchen Club, made up, of course of those of us who get a thrill from sizzling sounds, gleaming egg whites, bubbling edges (see below) and other such marvels.

Let it cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes. You are not only heating the mixture, you are letting the eggs, which bind it all together, cook through. You’ll see a little bit of bubbling around the edges. Zoom in on the edge if you want the thrill.

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The tricky part of this operation is “the flip,” but a plate makes it easier. Use a spatula to peek at the browned bottom of the pie. Decide if your optimal brownness has been reached and make sure the entire bottom of the pie is loose. Run your spatula under it if need be – but if your pan is nonstick and you have used a bit of oil, there shouldn’t be any problem. The pie should be able to move as a single unit in the pan as you move the pan back and forth.

Then plate a plate on the pan like this.

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Take the handle of the pan with your one hand and place your other, open hand on the plate. Lift the pan to about chest height away from the flame.

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First time trying this – not that I expect disaster! – perhaps move over to the sink 😊.

Tilt the pan/plate while holding the plate tightly against the pan…

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…then quickly flip the whole thing so that your hand holding the plate is now under the plate and the pan is on top.

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Remove the pan from the (now) top of the pie and put it back over the flame. Slide the pie off the plate and back into the pan so it can brown on the other side.

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All this time you are of course oblivious of the begging dog (poor Coco!!) hoping something will fall. Nothing did — this time!

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Give the second side about ten minutes to brown up, then slide the whole pie onto a plate. The crispiness on both top and bottom is as good as the moist and tasty pasta inside.

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Enjoy!

Bouldering? Really?

The things we do can be divided into four categories:

  1. We did the thing and we’re glad it’s over. High school comes to mind. Potty training. Ill-fated relationships. Recipes that bombed. Escapes from terrible danger. Costly mistakes. Profound embarrassment.
  2. We did the thing and would love to do it again. We maybe even do it again, or do it over and over again. Being on a grand adventure with someone wonderful. Making a new friend. Spending time with an old friend. Listening to favorite music. Reading masterfully written words. Creating something to be proud of in the kitchen or workshop or garden or studio. Reaching a physical or athletic goal. Making someone smile.
  3. We never did it and would like to. We all have a bucket list, even if we don’t call it that. A place to go, a food to try, a goal to reach, a person to meet, a book to read, a concert to attend, a wound to mend, a house to build, a difference to make.
  4. We never did it and we have no interest, desire or compulsion. This is the category that interests me today. For everyone, just as there is a wish-list, there’s also a no-wish-list. Just as there’s a magnetic attraction to some things, there’s a repelling with others. Just as some things call our name, others appeal to us in no way, shape or form.

Like Mom with superhero movies. I say Mom, really, the characters are interesting – some are even well developed. The graphics are amazing, the story lines engaging/ hilarious/ thrilling, the settings larger than life. She says Nope.

Like Samuel with building stuff. I say, Samuel, really, the sense of accomplishment you feel from making this precise cut and watching the board fit perfectly next to the one before it – it’s great! He says I’m going for a run.

Like Lynn with a good movie. She says I’m going to bed.

Like Fred with blogging about golf. He says Writing’s not that fun for me. I’d rather just play.

Like me with climbing, a.k.a. bouldering. Samuel loves it. Lincoln loves it. Julia loves it. Rise loves it. Even Eppie, who’s not quite big enough, loves it.

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I’m happy to watch – I loved watching them! How are they all that strong?!

But I don’t get the thrill. I’m not interested. It doesn’t jazz me. I need to remember this the next time I try to convince Mom to watch the latest Spiderman, or the next time I imagine Samuel is helping because he wants to, or the next time I suggest a movie to Lynn or tout all the blogging benefits to Fred.

Yes, yes, the beat of their own drummer, all that. However, I also need to remember that when I was younger, I didn’t help my mom in the garden. Now I wish I had – I would have learned a lot that would help me in my own garden! This photo is from last year – the strawberries weren’t anywhere near as good as these this year. Help!

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Not very long ago, I didn’t get anywhere near power equipment, which would include any shop tool that was plugged in. Mainly I made food and acted as gopher for those who were building anything involving lumber. Now I use the chop saw and the drills/drivers on a regular basis and I can usually get the nail hammered in with fewer than 20 hits! (And wow! We’ve come so far on the porch since June 4!)

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I didn’t like small dogs. Now I smile big when I look at Coco! Ridiculous dog!

 

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I won’t use names here, but you know who you are — you who didn’t used to eat Mexican food, you who made naan bread recently because of your success making pizza, you who wore a sundress and a big funny hat to a Derby party — y’all did things this year that you’ve never done before. Bravo! Who else braved the newness of a thing? Who else pushed the envelope? You know you feel good about it! 🙂

I can’t imagine being interested in bouldering, but down the road, hey, you never know… And even if I never climb those walls, that’s okay. I’ll do something else!

Pfish Food, Cyrus the Great, Heinz Glass and Other Bits of My Day

What an odd-mix of a day so far. I visited an inmate at a local jail, listened to Dan Carlin bringing alive again the Assyrian battles of old and the Persian conquest of Babylon, enjoyed a few bites of Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food, edited and spoke into a recording device (as articulately as I could) a five-minute oral presentation about Heinz Glass for a German student, meditated on the gorgeous color and superbly graceful flight pattern of a bluebird, let Coco lick off a plate of mine after lunch (not the ice cream, but still, don’t tell Samuel!)…

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It turns out that talking by phone to a person on the other side of the glass in a small room designed solely for such meetings is not as unsettling as it has sometimes been portrayed. Most recently I watched the character of Jon Stern talk to the character of Daniel Holden in Rectify, a Netflix drama about a man who served twenty years in solitary for a crime he didn’t commit. You might have the idea, going into this situation for real, that there will be drama or confession or something shocking, and maybe there sometimes is, but in my case there was eye contact and softly spoken words that seemed (benefit of the doubt) to come straight from the heart.

Maybe listening to Dan Carlin’s intro segment of “King of Kings” on the way to and from the jail mollified my jail impressions. There was no blood or filth at the jail, no yelling, no bars (that I saw), no cruelty. The way Dan paints them, the Assyrians, Medes, Persians and others of the before-common era were as nasty and as bent on conquest and power as any 20th century villains we know much more about. They were not opposed to, say, luring an unlucky thirteen-year-old to a banquet only to cut him up, roast him and serve his parts to his father as a form of punishment. This documented historical fact makes you want to learn more, right?

Yes, I want to learn more, but all that travel and talking through glass by telephone and hearing about the Battle of the Eclipse and the surprising rise of Cyrus the Great made me hungry, so I had lunch when I got home and then treated myself to the most decadent and delicious of treats. When I was a child, Hershey’s had a chocolate and marshmallow swirl ice cream that my father particularly liked. In my decidedly chocolatey way of seeing things, I have decided that with Pfish Food, Ben & Jerry’s took the chocolate-marshmallow idea to its zenith, using the creamiest of ice cream with the richest chocolate flavor and adding not only perfect marshmallowy goo, but also fudgy fishes that have just the right amount of crunchability/meltability in your mouth. For a few minutes (only a few because you can’t eat much of it) I was in Pfishy heaven.

There would be a better segue right now if Pfish Food came in a glass container, but it doesn’t, so bear with me on this pfishy transition here between the ice cream and the speech on the manufacturing process behind Heinz Glass, “one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass bottles and caps for the perfume and cosmetics industry” (who knew?). My friend Claudia, who lives in Germany, was helping her daughter prepare a school project – a speech in English on this very topic (not the topic of Katja’s choosing, but when in high school, we generally do what our teachers tell us to do). I found out that this company goes back to 1622 (!!) and that glass is made primarily of sand (for strength) with some limestone and soda ash mixed in (to make it all easier to work with) – I think I knew about the components of glass before but how much in the way of random manufacturing trivia can we be expected to keep in our heads anyway?

I also found out that “One position in the manufacturing process doesn’t exist anymore. A woman used to bring a light beer to the workers to quench their thirst and keep them from getting dehydrated due to the heat of the glass-making process.” Why a light beer and not a dark beer or some other kind of beer, I can’t say. Some things you leave alone. My job was simply to help tweak the speech (for grammatical correctness and fluidity) and then speak it into a WhatsApp message so that Katja could use my pronunciation for reference on any troublesome words. A technical topic is not so easy to deliver. She has to say “technical development,” “industrial revolution,” “annealing,” hydraulic,” “pneumatic” and other words that don’t roll off the tongue so easily when English is not your first language.

As I sat typing and recording at my standard spot on the more smooshy end of the couch, as I also mentally processed the jail visit and the beneficent (if you want to believe it) or the just-as-cold-and-conniving-as-the-rest-of-his-ilk version of the Cyrus story, as I looked out the window at green leaves of giant trees speckled with perfect sunshine in my quiet and peaceful (at the moment) world with its little lizards scampering vertically on the red oak, I thought about the bluebird that had crossed my path when I was coming home down the driveway – one of the two, presumably, that have set up house in the birdhouse just for them near my chicken coop.

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The hole in this house is the exact size for a bluebird, small enough so other would-be lodgers don’t even consider trying to squeeze their rounder selves through it. How is it that the blue of a bluebird is so distinctive? That they fairly dance through the air rather than fly? That they found this place to raise their family, come to it again and again, squeeze through that hole?? I hope the day never comes that I don’t find something in the amazing natural world to marvel at.

Ah, something else to marvel at – the love and purity of children. I went out to get a picture of the birdhouse to be able to share and in doing so I passed through the front door, on which Rise and Eppie this past week taped various messages and pictures including the one that says I (red heart) you Come on in. (Dang! The red heart icon I put between the I and the you didn’t transfer to this platform — know I tried!)

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These two girls are precious beyond words to me. Drawing with colored pencils, doing back-porch yoga and spreading straw in the chicken coops occupied them here and there during their visit, as did making “sawdust glitter” (every kid whose dad is currently building their house should make sawdust glitter sooner or later!) and making designs with my colored stones on the coffee table.

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Lastly there’s Coco. There’s still Coco, there’s always Coco. This is zonked Coco, still in recovery mode perhaps, following the week of the Alien Invasion, a.k.a. Pimm and Polly, the Pugs That Went Back.

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Thunder rumbles in the background now. Some time has passed and rain is on the way. I wish I could zonk as easily as Coco does. I’m a bit in recovery mode myself. Maybe a cup of tea and a little more about the Persians…

“Honey, I Need a Real Dog”

Last week I was wrestling fiercely in my head and heart about two sweet, invalid pugs I had tentatively opened my home to. Here are Pimm and Polly on my couch, a favorite spot. All they wanted to do was snuggle close, which is not a bad trait if you spend a lot of time sitting. Coco clearly regarded them as aliens, choosing to keep a distance apart.

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I realized, among other things during this enlightening week, that I do not sit a lot. (My inability to post more often on anunboringpath attests to this!) I sit when I write and I sit when I am tired or eating. Sandy says I have two speeds: Off and high. Maybe he is right? Maybe this is another good reason two very inactive, nearly blind dogs are not the best choice for me?

Almost a week into my attempt to be a rescuer, Friday came around, the fiercest day of all, the day I knew I had to make the yea or nay, stay or go, here or somewhere else decision. Friday is also the day I read to Evelyn, who will be 102 in August and has been completely blind for about eight years. If anyone might be sympathetic toward these needy dogs, I thought it would be Evelyn.

Not even close. She was adamant that I should not keep them. First was the you-should-know-this declarative: “They’re dogs.” Meant, I’m sure, to assuage any lingering emotional connection I might have that would lead me to keep them for the wrong reasons. Meant, I’m sure, to suggest that they would be fine in some other place, such place being, in fact, better on account of no potentially deadly stairs that they might fall down. To top that, she – the blind lady who lives in a nursing home – said with as much vehemence as you can imagine her mustering: “They don’t need your home. They need a nursing home.” I was paying attention. She seldom has this strength of opinion.

That evening I sent the note that resulted in the pugs’ departure on Sunday, back to the foster family that bought them (and sent along to me) a suitcase full of cutesy doggie clothes. Anyone who would buy sailor suits, sundresses, raincoats and parkas for pugs, and mark them with their names in permanent marker along the lining of the collars no less, has fond affection for them. I knew Pimm and Polly would be okay. I did not have to be their savior.

Exactly a week after Evelyn told me in no uncertain terms to send the dogs back, I showed up again with To Kill a Mockingbird (our current read) in hand, and had hardly said hello when she said, “Tell me you sent those blind dogs back.” I wonder if she could have paid attention to the story if I had decided to keep them.

When Mom came for her turn to read, and to give me back Rise and Eppie who had been baking chocolate chip cookies with her during my reading hour, I decided to take a picture. Here are my little sweeties, my wonderful mom and happy, relaxed Evelyn enjoying Coco, who chose this moment to be a lizard with her tongue.

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Pimm and Polly helped me see my doggie needs differently. A week with dogs that couldn’t find their food unless you put it smack in front of them and gently positioned their flat little faces in their bowls, a week picking up dogs who couldn’t do stairs every time it was time for them to get a little outdoor time (and picking them up again after they’d had sufficient time to explore nature and do business), a week stepping over the temporary, please-God-let-them-not-take-a-tumble barriers in front of my open spiral staircase – can anyone blame me if I was right ready for a real dog?

Pre-Pimm-and-Polly, while still in the maybe-they-are-a-good-idea stage about a month or so ago, my son Bradley had said to me, “Mom, you have ten acres. Why do you want a dog that can live in an apartment? Why don’t you get a dog that can enjoy all this space?”

Around the same time, I was in Lowe’s, a store that allows you to bring in your dog(s). From a few aisles away I saw a man with a golden retriever on a leash. I am drawn like a magnet to a beautiful dog, so I approached and he gladly let me pet her. In his shopping cart was another dog, a dachshund I think, something small anyway. “She’s so beautiful,” I said about his golden as I stroked her gorgeous fur, glancing up at the other dog as well, as if some of my praise could waft in that dog’s direction. Nice little dog I’m sure. Fair’s fair after all. Well, sort of fair. I continued petting the golden.

“Thank you,” he said, clearly pleased that his gorgeous animal had been noticed and admired. Motioning to the smaller dog he said, “My wife and I always had big dogs, and then our last one passed and we were without a dog. Some friends of ours were getting one of these and there was one left in the litter and my wife and I said, Okay, sure, let’s get a small dog. About four years later I told her, Honey, I need a real dog.”

Much as Bradley’s advice and this incident might have (should have?) weighed into my initial decision to get Pimm and Polly, neither did. I did recall it all later, however, while trying to fall asleep late at night as the two of them on the floor of my bedroom groomed each other like baboons with incessant licking that sounded like wild, snorting boars foraging for truffles at the roots of giant oaks in an ancient forest.

Right after Pimm and Polly left, Lincoln and the girls had arrived. With them came Willow, their six-month-old golden. She is not exactly a lap dog, though Samuel gave it a try.

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She is however – let there be no doubt about it – a real dog. She was as cute as a golden retriever puppy can be when she was six weeks old and enduring January in Vermont.

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She even fit in their (standard size) mailbox!

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By six months old she fetches a tennis ball or a stick over and over again…

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…astonishing me with her grace, speed, energy, stamina and strength. Everything in this young body works! Her fur is soft as silk, her teeth white as snow, her eyes clear and bright and happy. She is picture-perfect and real-life-perfect.

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A dog like this doesn’t come along every day. She brings me the gooky tennis ball with that look that says You know you want to whack it down the driveway! I’ll go get it! I will! I’ll bring it back to you and you can whack it again! You know you want to! And I get to watch her run after that ball. I stare in wonder at her perfect form and perfect face. I think she’s happy to be alive, and I found myself happy to be near her and with her.

I think someday I need a dog that needs and wants to walk and run and play, a dog that follows me to the chicken coop and the garden, that learns to come, sit, stay and heel, that makes me stare in awe. We’ll see. One of these days the right dog for me will come along.

 

Rescue Reflections

I want a dog. I need a dog. I should get a dog. How hard is that? The time is right for me to get a dog of my own again. I think. I thought.

I was never much of a small-dog person, but Coco changed my mind. After she became a nice dog due to Samuel’s efforts, I grew to like her. I grew to enjoy her snuggling next to me on the couch. I grew to find her adorable. Don’t you?

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It’s okay if you don’t. She’s a ridiculous creature, but if you love a dog of your own, you know that doesn’t matter. If you don’t, then there is no use my explaining it. Dogs work their way into your heart. The thing is, she may be small, she may be ridiculous, but she is not foo-foo. I cannot do foo-foo. And she is nice. Nice matters. Coco made me consider a small dog instead of the larger breeds I’d had and been comfortable with: German shepherds (Jesse, then Adam), golden retrievers (Lucy and Candy), a St. Bernard (Mona), then another golden (Bridget).

We knew for the entire duration of Samuel’s Lambda (computer coding school) experience that when he finished and got himself a job, he would be leaving this house and finding a place of his own. I am exceedingly grateful that he found a job locally, but still, he will be leaving, and there will go my snuggler Coco. If she wasn’t such a nice dog, I would not be in such a fix right now. I had a problem to solve. Toward the end of my CASA training, right about when the tragedy of Micah’s death occurred and the 5K hospice race was happening and Max died, I distracted myself by thinking about my next dog.

Coco is nice. Pugs are nice. I looked up “pug rescue” and discovered an organization that currently had a mother-daughter bonded pair available. The description said:

Pimm & Polly are a bonded pair that must be adopted together. Both are up to date on vaccines, microchipped, spayed, and heart-worm negative.

Pimm & Polly are a super sweet bonded mother & daughter. They were surrendered to our rescue because their former owner passed away.

They both get along great with other small breed dogs and kids. Both are around 14 and 15 lbs silver pugs. Polly (Mother) is with limited vision having lost one eye as a puppy. She also has some alopecia from a skin condition during her puppyhood. 

Pimm is her daughter, she is playful liking stuffy and chew toys. Both are potty trained. Pimm takes a daily eye drop for dry eye. Both are very sweet ladies perfect snuggle pugs. 

We recommend gentle older children due to Polly’s vision. A fenced in first-floor home would be ideal for her and her daughter Pimm. Other small breed dogs like another pug would be best suited for these little ladies. 

Pimm & Polly are looking for a loving family that will have the time to give these sweet girls lots of love and snuggle time!

Based on this description, it seemed reasonable to keep going, so I did. Two dogs are generally better than one anyway, so I started the ball rolling – sent in the application, retrieved old vet records, opened my home to inspection. One thing led to the next. I passed their rigorous process. Last Saturday, a week ago, Mom drove with me to Williamsburg to meet them.

We waited in the parking lot next to Pet Smart. Pimm and Polly approached via stroller, pushed by smiling rescue folks doing an admirable thing trying to find these poor little dogs a home. The pugs were dressed up to meet me: full-fledged matching tutus with polka dots, shiny blue nail polish too. In this photo taken just before I took them home you can see we took the tutus off. And in case you are wondering, Pimm’s tongue hangs out that far because there are no teeth to hold it farther in.

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I can look beyond the trappings, beyond the shall-we-say unattractiveness of Polly’s hair loss and one eye. (Never mind that some people told me I could enter her in the Ugliest Dog contest and probably win.) I could see that they are sweet dogs, older dogs that have had a rough time. Their former owner did not detect (or blatantly ignored) mange in Polly to the point where the hair follicles are irreversibly damaged. There will never again be hair on the top of her head or on her belly or legs.

But okay. I signed the contract that included numerous points in regard to their well-being, medical care and safety, including promises that I would inform the rescue organization of any change in address or phone number and never allow the dogs to ride in the back of an open pickup truck. It was unequivocally clear that I was never to transfer ownership and that the rescue organization would remain the second contact on the microchip. The pugs would be mine or theirs, no one else’s. Not that I would re-home them, but that all felt a little like Are they really my dogs then?

Just as I put them in my car, I got what is for me an uncommon thing. Some people would call it intense anxiety. I paused. My heart beat faster than usual. I struggled to remain composed. “I don’t know why I have such cold feet,” I told the rescue folks. “But I have such cold feet.”

“Don’t worry,” they said. “Take them home and give it a week. Take two if you need to. Consider yourself a foster family for now until you are sure.”

“What about my money?” I asked, referring to the $425 adoption fee, which I understand helps cover the costs incurred during their year-plus of foster care.

“We won’t cash your check until you tell us you are sure,” they said. Mom didn’t say anything, didn’t want to interfere. I did not remember the words Samuel had said before I left: Make sure, if it’s a yes, it’s a strong yes. It wasn’t a strong yes, it was far from a strong yes, but off we went with stroller, food, meds, bed and a suitcase full of other clothes – matching sundresses, raincoats, fleece coats, parkas, sailor outfits, etc, all marked Pimm or Polly.

Okay. For two days I watched them exploring my house, enjoyed their very sweet natures and the facts that they eat well, do their business in appropriate places (i.e. not in my house) and really just want to snuggle almost all the time. I noticed that Polly only occasionally moved beyond her familiar bed and that neither was able to walk up or down stairs, even on a leash. But they are only about 14 pounds each, not heavy pugs. I carried them when we went outside, picked them up when they wanted to be with me on the couch.

Right away on Monday morning I called my own vet and made an appointment for that afternoon. Dr. Stewart is seasoned, wise and sensible. I trust her judgment and wanted her assessment. The “limited vision” referred to in the description is apparently an understatement. Polly is not only one-eyed to begin with. The best way to imagine the extent of her vision in the remaining eye is to imagine what you can see by looking through a straw – an extremely small field of vision, my vet said, and even that, we can’t be sure how clear it is. She is essentially blind. Pimm’s vision is quite compromised too. A kind of pigmentation happens in the cornea, which should be transparent. Neither cornea is close to transparent, so for her too, the world grows darker and darker.

I chide myself that I did not, as soon as the vet pronounced this factual state of affairs, put two and two together. I was perhaps in the thrall of their sweet, quiet pugness, perhaps heard the voices of our age commending me for this rescue effort. I did not remember how I assist Evelyn (101 years old and completely blind) from her chair to her couch every week when I go there to read to her, how tentatively she steps as she feels along the table in between, how she cannot simply put a fork into her food because for her the world is dark. I did not think about my house, the pugs’ new environment. I did not think about the danger of the open landing at the top of my spiral, cast iron staircase.

A continual mental flagellation has been happening all week, a little bit like the way President Kennedy reportedly walked around the White House after the Bay of Pigs fiasco saying over and over How could I have been so stupid?

The day after the vet visit, I was in the kitchen when I heard an unusual sound, a creaky thumping coming from the front foyer. Yes, the front foyer where you find the spiral, cast iron staircase. Polly was at the bottom, miraculously standing, miraculously with only a small cut on her head.

That night at the dinner table I had a light bulb moment and announced, “Polly fell down the stairs. It’s all very plain now. I just don’t have the right house. It’s not safe for them here.” I sent a note off the next day to the rescue folks, expecting them to come running with supreme concern – if they wouldn’t want them in the back of an open pickup, they wouldn’t want them falling down stairs, right? They didn’t. Instead I got “Is there a way to keep the girls in area with a pet or toddler gate?… At some point any pug you adopt will develop vision issues or issues getting around.”

Vision issues, she said. Um, blindness.

But she gave me pause and okay, maybe a gate, maybe a barrier. But I can’t create a hazard while trying to block a hazard. We go up and down those stairs all the time. And there are stairs on the back deck, stairs on the front deck. A saloon-type barrier might work across a small space but wouldn’t work everywhere.

Several things happened along with the incessant self-flagellation that continued, along with the constant undercurrents of stress, with the voices in my head saying one shouldn’t give up… one should make these things work… they really are very sweet… every dog needs a home… but it’s not safe here…  it’s mostly good here… but what if someone forgets to close the gate?

I did my best to set aside other considerations, to remember the central question drilled into us at CASA training, the foremost goal of the volunteer work aimed at helping abused and neglected children: figuring out what is best for the children. I tried to focus on What is best for the dogs?

I also did what I do when a weight is on my shoulders.  I consulted. I sought the wise counsel of those I trust and respect. I laid out the facts and got a resounding chorus in reply: This is not a good situation. They need a different home.

It pained me to write the note last night, but I did it. So far I have not heard back….

Maybe the time is not quite right for me to get a dog of my own again.

Fang??

Everyone needs a job. Everyone’s got a job. Think of it this way:

“See, I think there’s a plan. There’s a design for each and every one of us. You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird’s got a job, shit’s got a job, seed’s got a job. And you’ve got a job.”

So says the caring old woman Inman meets in the forest in the film version of Cold Mountain.* I recalled her words yesterday as Samuel and I walked with his ridiculous little black dog on a leash into the health care unit to visit mom.

Coco’s got a job.

We had hardly stepped off the elevator when a resident in a wheelchair noticed her as she was sniffing along the floor (imagine the assault on her senses!!), oblivious to the turning heads and sudden smiles she invokes. “Oh, look at that!” exclaimed the man, clearly enamored and delighted with the unexpected encounter. I stopped and let Coco investigate his chair and the floor around him more thoroughly so he could study her comical shape, flapping ears, short legs, tight body and smooshed face with some leisure. She’s lean for a pug, with well-defined shoulders that taper such that she could boast a waistline if she could boast. Her fur covers her frame as tight as sausage casing, her face says “what?” flatly, her brain is clearly clueless as to why the humans around her are so intrigued.

You’ve seen this silly face before, this sleek body.

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It’s ridiculous. Mom likes to say she’s ugly enough to be cute. My favorite photo is with incognito Samuel. I think it’s her best what-face.

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Jim in the wheelchair smiled big, asked her name, told us about the dog that comes special to visit him sometimes. I picked Coco up and brought her closer to him. What is it about an animal’s warm, lovely, silky fur that is so soothing? He reached for her head instantly and stroked around her velvet ears several times. Much as I wanted to give him a little more time to enjoy her softness, her silliness, her perkiness, her ridiculousness, delighted as I am to provide him these bright and pleasant moments, Samuel’s time was limited. Thinking of Mom’s recent back surgery and ongoing recovery, I closed the conversation with a well-wish. “We’re off to visit my mom. I wish you all the best in your own recovery.”

“Oh, I’m here for the rest of my life,” he said with as broad a smile as he’d had for Coco. “I knew that coming in.” Oh! How I wished protocol didn’t prohibit me from giving him a hug!

Coco’s job is to make people smile. She doesn’t even have to try. Walk her through a health care unit where some people are hurting, some are sad, some are harried, some are lonely – and a remarkable, involuntary thing happens. People smile. They stop in their tracks and smile. Coco doesn’t smile, mind you. She just sticks out her tongue. People smile. Starting with Mom.

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We prepared ourselves for a little jaunt and got on our way with Miss Princess perched on a pillow on Mom’s lap. One man we passed in the hallway on our way to the courtyard looked down, beamed, pointed, laughed and said, “Fang!” Somewhere in his memory bank lives a dog named Fang? Or she looks like she has one? (One fang?) Maybe her tongue incessantly sticking out to one side looks like a fang? We had no time for the backstory but ….  Fang??

Smiles happened every step along the way. Long hallway, elevator, lobby, mail room, corridor leading to courtyard… Every step brought smiles.

Every step except one. You know as well as I do: There’s a grump in every group. Along came Kathy, hunched and cranky. She scrunched up her nose (unknowingly imitating Coco?) and peered toward the object on Mom’s lap as if her disgust reflex had sent a red flag up the pole, the unspoken question being “What is it?” Mom volunteered, “Her name’s Coco.” Grumps are good at grunting, and that’s about all we got in return, making us eager to part company. Grumpy, Grunty, Crusty Kathy shuffled off, obvilious to the pall she took with her, and Mom and I proceeded to the courtyard.

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No one is under obligation to like this dog, pet this dog, smile at this dog. But most do. That’s what makes me think Coco has a job whether she knows it or not. Which makes me think we all have a job whether we know it or not. We might think of a job as the work we get paid to do, or got paid to do, or wish we got paid to do. But let’s hope that’s not all it is. Let’s hope that no matter how we occupy our days, we take a lesson from Coco and somehow bring what she brings – at least here and there – into the often hurting, sad, harried and lonely days of others. Who’s to say even Crusty Kathy didn’t grin as she walked away from us? I’d like to think so! Coco surely worked her magic even if we didn’t see it. 

__________________________

 

*Charles Frazier’s outstanding Civil War novel is one of my all-time favorites for not only its story line, but mostly for Frazier’s artful and amazing era/person/region/situation-appropriate use of English. This quote is not in the novel. The old woman, given the name Maddy in the film, says it as she mercifully slaughters one of her beloved goats to provide a meal for Inman, the main character, a soldier on the run, perhaps to lessen the blow of her sacrificial act for today’s sensitive viewers, perhaps to give him a gentle reminder, a renewed understanding of the why of his heart wrenching journey. In the book she remains nameless but infuses her time with Inman with many other thoughtful, wise and helpful words. Do get yourself a copy and slowly work your way through this exceptional book.  Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier, Random House, 1997

Yummy Yammy Cheesy Galette

When you first come home from having been away for a week, there’s not much in the fridge. But I did not feel like going shopping yesterday or today, and anyway I was playing tennis this morning, then flipping the cottage, then waiting for guests to arrive – honeymooners(!), repeat visitors Sally and Ryan – how wonderful to see them again!! I was wrapped up in Sarah’s book for many hours as well (while waiting for Sally and Ryan), so it was after 6pm by the time I thought about dinner. Earlier I had taken a chicken out of the freezer, thinking to roast it, thinking we haven’t had one with a teriyaki sauce in a while and that might be nice, but it was too late for that. Maybe tomorrow.

Hmmm, very limited choices then. I could always make mac and cheese but didn’t feel like that either. I said to Samuel, “Can you make a dough?” He is good at making dough even if he would rather amuse us by hemming Coco in with pillows and blankets on the couch, from which she did not care to move so we concluded that she liked it.

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By “dough” he knew I meant a pizza dough. I knew we didn’t have any mozzarella so a conventional pizza was out of the question, but my daughter Marie has a recipe for a savory galette that came into my mind. Only it’s been five months or so since I made it at her house and couldn’t remember it well.

I remembered her recipe started with a pizza-crust-type crust. Thus the dough I asked Samuel to make.

I remembered it had butternut squash, but I didn’t know I had one/forgot I had one/didn’t see the one I had till I was all done. But I knew I had yams. That would work.

I remembered it had fresh sage. I knew I didn’t have that, but I do (always) have dried sage.

I remembered it had fontina cheese. I knew I didn’t have that, but I did (miraculously, considering how nearly-empty my cheese bin is right now) have asiago. That would work.

I knew it didn’t have ricotta cheese on it, but I had some of that, and thought it might be good to include.

It might have been good to look up Marie’s recipe then and there but I didn’t (or I would have added more onions).

Samuel made the dough, a regular pizza dough. He grated a big chunk of asiago. I cut up two big sweet potatoes (a.k.a. yams) into small cubes and put them in my cast iron skillet in butter and a bit of water over a medium flame to roast (forgetting that Marie’s recipe calls for the squash to be oven-roasted), then remembered the half onion sitting in my fridge and something in me said Add the onion to the roasting yams. I sliced it up thinly, added it to the yams in the pan and covered the pan till the yams were soft, stirring them once or twice with a good spatula; they were done in about ten minutes.

Samuel rolled out the dough, I put olive oil on it and spread it all over the surface with my hand (just enough to cover the surface, not enough to pool). He then salted and peppered the surface. I put small dollops of ricotta cheese on next, using teaspoons to push grape-sized blobs onto the dough (you see the white blobs?), reasonably spaced. Cooked yam cubes and onion slices went on next (well distributed of course), then some dried sage, then the asiago.

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Into a hot (450F) oven the two galettes went for a good half hour until the crust was nice and brown. It was totally delicious. The combination of cheeses with yams with the sage and onion – oh, yummy! Did I need two pieces?? I enjoyed two pieces! And the crust this time! The crust was especially good. We think it might be because Sandy bought King Arthur bread flour last time I was out of flour, which has more protein, which is supposed to make a better crust. We agree it is better. If you can, buy this kind of flour for your crust.

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After we chowed down on this delicious stuff while enjoying Iron Man 2, I found Marie’s recipe, which I will happily share because 1. It has actual measurements and 2. It serves as a springboard to my altered version. You will see that the “pastry” for Marie’s Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Galette is not a pizza dough. I guess I forgot that too. There are various ways I veered from this recipe. But the basic idea is quite the same.

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It all goes to show that you can look and see what’s in your fridge and maybe not have to go to the store in order to make something yummy for dinner!

Girls and Aprons: Straight Out of Another Time

Two little girls. My world is more wonderful this week because Rise and Eppie are here. By the time they are six and four, there’s more they can do on their own. I do not have to accompany them to the chicken coop every time, but can suggest there might be eggs, and off they go.

If you look carefully, you can see the chickens at the door of their run waiting for Rise. Food! Food! Humans approaching! They bring food! Not this time, ladies!

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That’s my hat she’s wearing, and she loves it because it’s purple. The love of purple applies universally. In other words, if it’s purple, she loves it. This one is especially appealing because besides being purple, there’s a flower on the side. She likes it so much, she wears it indoors sometimes.

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(Yes, that’s Edward Tulane sitting on the table next to Rise on my raccoon skin. They loved reading through it with me the first two or three days they were here. Imagine, as soon as Edward was thrown overboard, Rise said, “I want him to get back to the little girl!” Do you remember what happens at the end of the story? Do you think the author anticipated that a six-year-old would want that?)

On another day, a colder day, Rise got the first 13 eggs of the day and Eppie went out later by herself to get one more. (Don’t rush me! Don’t rush me! one hen said.) Yes, another hat of mine under her hood. If you are an Oma, it is best to have a selection of hats available when the little girls come to visit.

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There’s nothing like a good Ravensburger puzzle to occupy Eppie for a few minutes. She had both 20-piece puzzles together in no time. (I have a puzzle with chickens on it. Imagine that!) I hope kids everywhere are still doing puzzles. 

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I hope they are still eating apples too. I cut up two different varieties and put them in separate bowls and suggested they might do a taste-test to see how they compared. Rise said one was tart and one was sweet. Fair enough. Looks like they each found a favorite.

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Eppie likes reading aloud whether anyone else is listening or not. My mom gave them a marvelous reprinted Dick and Jane set for Christmas, which has adorable drawings and easy story lines. Here she is reading Green Eggs and Ham without prompting. Once in a while she needs help with a word. But only once in a while.

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“Oma, I found paint downstairs…” Ah, yes, children’s paint, supposedly washes out of clothes. But let’s not take that chance. I pulled out the aprons I still had from when my own kids were little, set an old shower curtain liner on the floor and gave them gloves to wear (which did not work on Eppie at all and I had to take them off and take my chances on how well the paint would wash off skin – it did!).

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After this, they did not want to paint again but Rise wore the apron nonstop. I didn’t realize till later that she was wearing it in this photo of all of us.

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Which got me to thinking. Of course. She should have one of her own for when she goes back to her house. They both should have one. While Eppie was sleeping one day, Rise and I went into my newly reorganized fabric scrap boxes (I knew I did all that last week for a reason!) and found some pieces that would be big enough for an apron. Rise settled immediately on a pale pink calico, but we didn’t want to decide for Eppie, so we found several. Eppie chose blue over green, which was a surprise.

Today was a good day to sew. While they played quietly in another room, I got to work, modeling the new ones after the old one. The girls were right there to measure when I needed, so it was easy. Waist to knees and height and width of bib, that’s all I need. The rest was gathers and ties. The girls were a little too quiet at one point. Hmmm. I found an abandoned mess of crayons later. When I asked about it, they said, “Oh, we like to clean!” Good thing, because I’m not cleaning it up.

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They were tickled with the aprons. And I was tickled when Kim said (in response to this photo I sent her), “Oh gosh – straight out of another time.” Indeed they are, though I didn’t think about the fashion era they represent until she said that. You see, girls (these girls anyway) love twirling, and if the skirt is full, the twirl is greatly enhanced. And the ties are long enough to make a bow in the back. Rise always wants a bow.

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If you know anyone who wants one (and I don’t mean Coco!), just let me know 😊 All I need is measurements!

Foo-Foo-Fication

I learned a new word today as Samuel and I started out on a walk with Coco. I put the hyphens in the title for clarity, but probably they don’t belong, and probably foofoofication isn’t in the dictionary.

This funny new word came up because it’s a beautiful sunny day after too many cloudy days, a good day for a walk with the dog.

This dog loves the sun. She likes it indoors by herself

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and outdoors anywhere near her favorite human.

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She doesn’t care if he is paying attention to her or not. All right, maybe she cares sometimes. But in general, if there is a sunny spot, she’s going to find it. So let’s take advantage of a sunny day and get us all a little exercise.

Oh, but where’s her leash? I’ve been out of town so I don’t know. It could be hanging up on a coat hook. It could be in one of the drawers in the foyer. While we rummage around, I see the leash I got from Jerry a few weeks back when I went over there with her but without a leash (just forgot, it happens). Jerry had said, “Use this one,” and pulled a perfectly fine leash and collar (left from his dear corgi) out of a drawer in his foyer.

See what I mean: a perfectly fine leash and collar.

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No, we can’t use that, Samuel said.

Why not?

Foofoofication, he said.

Are you kidding me? What’s wrong with this leash?

Come to find out (and you learn something new every day, don’t you?) it’s not about what’s wrong with Jerry’s leash. It’s about what’s right about Coco’s leash, which by that point in the conversation he had found (hanging on a coat hook).

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This is rope, he said, with an emphasis on rope. I’m sure you can see that. Coco’s black leash is a piece of rope fashioned into a leash. The alternative, a vaguely feminine-colored purchased leash, is obviously inferior and unacceptable.

How could I not have anticipated this? How could I have assumed that the choice of which piece of equipment to use for this walk matters? Both exist exclusively for making sure you have control of a 16-pound, arguably foo-foo dog, in this case along a road which offers lots of woods on either side but only the slightest chance of seeing another human. But one choice is made with rope, not some skinny, shiny, ribbed nylon. Samuel already has Coco, whose origin story (as they say with superheroes — have I been watching too many of these movies??) was told in another post. He can’t possibly go any farther down the foo-foo road.

While I laugh inwardly at the silliness of today’s leash selection, I look down at said cutie pie, attentive and hopeful as always, surely singing (in her funny little head):

There might be food,
there might be food,
if I am cute enough,
there might be food!

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And I think about the material things that I myself have an attachment to, some for reasons I couldn’t even say, such as the cup I like best for my tea in the morning, the scarf I grab most of the time, the furnishings and artwork I’ve surrounded myself with. Maybe some people would think the stuffed lamb propped against a pink lacy pillow on my bed is foo-foo.

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All right, yeah, that probably qualifies.

Until this moment I never thought of it that way. I just like the lamb because my daughter Marie gave it to me. It seems my foo-foo line is in a different place than Samuel’s.

The subject of foofoofication makes me think about those lines, about how we all draw different lines in different places, reserving the right, of course, to redraw our lines on a whim. I think about the complexity, the hilarity, the wonder of us humans. However do we manage to get along as well as we (usually) do??