Thursday, May 17, 2012

"How to Live Unhappily Ever After"

This essay does a wonderful job, to me, of describing loss and grief and sorrow, of describing why it is okay -- even good! -- to be down some times, and why there is so much more to life than a "Pollyanna" chipper response of yay yay yay...


A lovely essay by Augusten Burroughs, published in the Wall Street Journal print edition on May 5, 2012, and the online edition on May 4th. Based upon his new book: "This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike." (St. Martin's Press).

How to Live Unhappily Ever After

Augusten Burroughs on the upside of being downbeat, and embracing loss and anger

"I just want to be happy."

I can't think of another phrase capable of causing more misery and permanent unhappiness. With the possible exception of, "Honey, I'm in love with your youngest sister."

In our super-positive society, we have a zero-tolerance policy for negativity. But who feels 'Great!' all the time?

Yet at first glance, it seems so guileless. Children just want to be happy. So do puppies. Happy seems like a healthy, normal desire. Like wanting to breathe fresh air or shop only at Whole Foods.

But "I just want to be happy" is a hole cut out of the floor and covered with a rug. Because once you say it, the implication is that you're not. The "I just want to be happy" bear trap is that until you define precisely, just exactly what "happy" is, you will never feel it. Whatever being happy means to you, it needs to be specific and also possible. When you have a blueprint for what happiness is, lay it over your life and see what you need to change so the images are more aligned.

Still, this recipe of defining happiness and fiddling with your life to get it will work for some people—but not for others. I am one of the others. I am not a happy person. There are things that do make me experience joy. But joy is a fleeting emotion, like a very long sneeze. A lot of the time what I feel is, interested. Or I feel melancholy. And I also frequently feel tenderness, annoyance, confusion, fear, hopelessness. It doesn't all add up to anything I would call happiness. But what I'm thinking is, is that so terrible?

I know a physicist who loves his work. People mistake his constant focus and thought with unhappiness. But he's not unhappy. He's busy. I bet when he dies, there will be a book on his chest. Happiness is a treadmill of a goal for people who are not happy by nature. Being an unhappy person does not mean you must be sad or dark. You can be interested, instead of happy. You can be fascinated instead of happy.

The barrier to this, of course, is that in our super-positive society, we have an unspoken zero-tolerance policy for negativity. Beneath the catchall umbrella of negativity is basically everything that isn't super-positive. Seriously, who among us is having a "Great!" day every day? Who feels "Terrific, thanks!" all the time?

Anger and negativity have their uses, too. Instead of trying to alleviate some of the uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions you feel by "trying to be positive," try being negative instead. Seriously, try it sometime. This will help you get in touch with how you actually feel: "I feel hopeless and fat and stupid. And like a failure for feeling this way. And trying to be positive and upbeat makes me feel angry and feeling angry makes me feel like I am broken."

If that's how you feel—however you feel—then you have a base line, you have established a real solid floor of reference. Sometimes just giving yourself permission to feel any emotion without judgment or censorship can lessen the intensity of those negative emotions. Almost like you're letting them out into the backyard to run around and get rid of some of that energy.

A corollary to the idea that we must all be happy and positive all the time is that we must all be "healed." When I was 32, somebody I loved died on a plastic-covered twin mattress at a Manhattan hospital. His death was not unexpected and I had prepared myself years in advance, as though studying for a degree. When he died, I was as stunned as if he had been killed by a grand piano falling from the top of a building. I was fully unprepared.

I did not know what to do with my physical self. It took me about a year to stop thinking, madly, I might somehow meet him in my sleep. Once I finally believed he was gone, I began the next stage: waiting. Waiting to heal. This lasted several years.

The truth about healing is that heal is a television word. Someone close to you dies? You will never heal. What will happen is, for the first few days, the people around you will touch your shoulder and this will startle you and remind you to breathe. You will feel as though you will soon be dead from natural causes; the weight of the grief will be physical and very nearly unbearable.

Eventually, you will shower and leave the house. Maybe in a year you will see a movie. And one day somebody will say something and it will cause you to laugh. And you will clamp your hand over your mouth because you laughed and that laugh will break your heart, it will feel like a betrayal. How can you laugh?

In time, to your friends, you will appear to have recovered from your loss. All that really happened, you'll think, is that the hole in the center of your life has narrowed just enough to be concealed by a laugh. And yet, you might feel a pressure for it to be true. You might feel that "enough" time has passed now, that the hole at the center of you should not be there at all.

But holes are interesting things. As it happens, we human beings are able to live just fine with many holes of many sizes and shapes. Pleasure, love, compassion, fulfillment; these things do not leak out of holes of any size. So we can be filled with holes and loss and wide expanses of unhealed geography—and we can also be excited by life and in love and content at the exact same moment.
This is among the oldest, deepest, most primal truths: The facts of life may be, at times, unbearably painful. But the core, the bones of life are generous beyond all reason or belief. Those things which ought to kill us do not. This should be taken as encouragement to continue.

The truth about healing is that you don't need to heal to be whole. And by whole, I mean damaged, missing pieces of who you were, your heart—missing what feels like some of your most important parts. And yet, not missing any part of you at all. Being, in truth, larger than you were before.
Human experience weighs more than human tissue.

—Adapted from "This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike," by Augusten Burroughs. To be published Tuesday by St. Martin's.
A version of this article appeared May 5, 2012, on page C3 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How to Live Unhappily Ever After.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nasty buggers....

Frankly, "nasty buggers" could describe a lot of things -- and a lot of people -- but I'm going to stick with one topic: Ticks.

Yup. I have arrived in Delaware on my "Grand Adventure" just in time for one of the worst tick seasons in the area. And I am learning more than I ever wanted to know about these nasty little buggers -- as are my poor pups.

But really, why should I talk when I can point you to the experts:
Emedicinehealth: Which points out:

Ticks are small bloodsucking arthropods and are composed of two families, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), that each contain different genera and species of ticks.
Ticks are the leading carriers (vectors) of diseases to humans in the United States, second only to mosquitoes worldwide. It is not the tick bite but the toxins, secretions, or organisms in the tick's saliva transmitted through the bite that causes disease.
Two families of ticks, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), are important to humans because of the diseases or illnesses they can transmit or cause. Hard ticks have a tough back plate or scutum that defines their appearance. The hard ticks tend to attach and feed for hours to days. Disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal, as the tick becomes full of blood.
[Hard ticks include the "blacklegged tick" (also known as the Ixodes species, a species that includes "deer ticks" -- the ticks known for Lyme disease), the "lone start tick", and the "dog tick". Most diseases we worry about come from hard ticks.]
Soft ticks have more rounded bodies and do not have the hard scutum found in hard ticks. These ticks usually feed for less than one hour. Disease transmission from these ticks can occur in less than a minute. The bite of some of these ticks produces intensely painful reactions.
Outbreaks of tick-related illnesses follow seasonal patterns (about April to September in the U.S.) as ticks evolve from larvae to adults. Mild winters with an early spring often result in a high number of ticks and an increased frequency of the diseases they transmit.
Ticks live and hide in low brush; this location allows them to physically contact a host. One study suggested that leaning against a tree or sitting on an old log was the quickest way to acquire ticks (about 30 seconds) in tick-infested areas. Ticks require a "blood meal" to grow and survive, and they are not very particular upon whom or what they feed. If ticks don't find a host, they may die.
  • Once a tick finds a host (such as a human, a pet dog or cat, a deer, or a rabbit) and finds a suitable site for attachment, the tick begins to burrow with its mouthparts into exposed skin. Tick mouthparts are barbed, which helps to secure them to the host.
  • Often the tick secretes "cementum" to more firmly attach its mouthparts and head to the host. Ticks may secrete or regurgitate small amounts of saliva that contain neurotoxins. These nerve poisons cleverly prevent the host from feeling the pain and irritation of the bite. Consequently, individuals may never notice the tick bite or its feeding. The saliva may contain a blood thinner to make it easier for the tick to get its blood meal. Some people are allergic to these secretions and may have a quick and severe allergic reaction to a tick bite; a few may develop other symptoms listed below.
And perhaps most important is how to remove the tick, the most fun of tasks.

Here is that information in more detail, from the Centers for Disease Control:

Tick Removal

If you find a tick attached to your skin, there's no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.

How to remove a tick

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
outline of tick Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible--not waiting for it to detach.
tweezers grasping a tick close to the skin's surface
tweezers pulling a tick away from the skin in an upward motion


If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Another fun resource? The Tick Encounter Resource Center website, from the University of Rhode Island.

Or there is the website from WebMd. 

Or, if you prefer a government resource, you may check out MedlinePlus website from the National Institutes of Health.

As really, isn't it all about being fully informed?


Well. Consider this Public Service Announcement over.

And um, yeah. I don't know about you, but I have the creepy crawlies again from pulling up this research.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Be the Coffee....

A lovely philosophical piece I happened upon recently:


Carrot, eggs and a cup of coffee...  

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up, she was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil.  In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last, she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, 'Tell me, what do you see?'  'Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft.  The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.   Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter then asked,'What does it mean, mother?'

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting.  However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

'Which are you?' she asked her daughter. 'When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?  Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?  Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor.  If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrows to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy!  The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.  The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.  When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling.  Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.  

May we all be the COFFEE of our future......! 

~ Author Unknown

Friday, April 27, 2012

Other Things I Never Thought I Would Need to Learn...

They say life is all about the journey, and about the new things and lessons learned each and every day...

Well, that's for certain!

It's been an interesting past month certainly, while I've been traveling around the country, but I have learned a few things in that period, most of which I never thought I'd have to learn about or how to do:

  • How to film a celebrity (Michael Caine) shooting a movie scene while corralling two dogs and talking sweet to the cop blocking the way...
  • How to handle one's dog and complete strangers who are absolutely convinced your dog is a wolf, yet thinking it's the smartest thing to go rushing up to said wolf to pet it...
  • How to rush a dog four blocks through the French Quarter before they go potty to reach any semblance of grass...
  •  How to explain one's dogs going nuts at the base of trees: "They fancy themselves expert squirrel hunters"...
  • How to manage when one's dogs corner and kill a squirrel in front of the public tennis courts where a group of children are receiving a lesson, which splatters blood on your shorts and hands, and which requires continuing one's walk with blood dripping from one of the dog's jaws and snout, past the police station....
All in all, some pretty important lessons there I think!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Things I Never Thought I Would Need to Learn...

It's been a pretty hectic couple of weeks, allowing for both the start of a "Grand Adventure" where I might hit a few of my "bucket list" type of things, as well as quiet reflection. Mostly though, it means I've ignored my blog while I paid attention to a lot of other things....

Like processing some of the things I never thought I'd need to learn, or ever thought I would do. Like figuring out how to remove blood stains.

Yeah, you read that right. And yeah, it's a good story.

I am presently on a bit of a "Grand Adventure" and "Solo Sabbatical" all wrapped into one. Mostly it means I departed Murphy's Cabin and am on a long meandering road trip. I've always believed road trips were good for the soul -- not to mention I clearly have it in my genes as my mother never seemed to NOT be on one or planning one.

So the night before I was planning to start this Grand Adventure, I let the dogs out for their usual last-of-the-day potty breaks, with strict instructions that it had to be relatively brief as we needed to get up early the next morning.

An hour passes, and I got nothin'. Which, while this may seem like a "duh" moment towards me, was actually surprising: the past several weeks the dogs had been going out for their last potty break and returning within a half an hour. And with no stolen toys in sight either! (A good thing considering my "Brown Eyed Thief".)

Yet the one night where the timing and length matter? They ignore me. I start grumbling -- something about "kids these days" and "damn teenagers" -- and decide to go upstairs and get ready for bed. If they want to stay out late, fine. But I need my beauty rest.

~ snort ~

Just before midnight, as I'm upstairs following my usual night-time routine, Hollow shows up. I interrogate her about where her brother is, to no avail. I go back upstairs and continue my routine.

Just as I decide to go ahead and get in to my pajamas, about half an hour later, I see the outside sensor light come on. I start grumbling -- something about "damn dog" and "I'll teach him a thing or two" -- and holding my pjs to cover my chest, lean over the stair railing to check the front door and see if it is indeed Rilke.

It is. Completely covered in blood. As if someone had gripped his back and dipped him in a pool full of it. It's awful, it's frightening, and oh -- did I mention I don't do blood?

Last time someone got hurt, and was bleeding profusely, I almost fainted while trying to bandage it. Because that's really useful and productive.

I drop everything and race down the stairs, and outside. Oh my god. My first thought: did something attack him? My second thought: did he attack something? My third thought: Oh my god there is so much blood....

I check him quickly, and I can't tell where the blood is coming from. I grab him up, somehow get the door open again and rush him inside to the kitchen sink. I start trying to rinse him down to figure out the extent of the injuries.

As the thing is? When there is no one else to do anything -- to cover for you -- to pick up the slack -- to save the day -- you have no choice but to suck it up.

And let me be honest, it was a pretty brutal and crazy scene. As yes, if you caught it earlier, I'm now half naked, covered in blood, half sobbing, half sternly telling Rilke to not move just let me do my job, using a kitchen faucet hose to rinse down a blood covered dog. There is blood all over him, all over me, all over the floor in a trail from the front door, and all over my deck by the door.

Yeah, it was fun. A write home to mother or father kind of moment.

I finally get most of the blood off of him so that I can ascertain he has a huge gash in the bottom of his right rear paw. It's flowing heavily though, so as I rinse blood down the drain, the sink just fills up again. I finally grab the phone and call the vet.

Horribly for me, being in a more rural area, the vet's office is NOT open 24 hours and there is no automatic "forward" on their phones to an on-call vet. Instead, there is a phone number on the recording, which directs you to a different vet's office. Then on that recording? There is another phone number directing you to the cell phone number of the vet who is on call. After several minutes of fumbling, trying to dial numbers, and then new numbers, I get through to leave a message.

So at 1 am, I am standing in my kitchen, covered in blood, sobbing, trying to hold a shaking and bleeding dog still and in the sink while also trying to apply a paper towel with pressure onto his wound, holding a phone and hoping it will ring. Ring Dammit! Ring!

It finally does. After much discussion, the vet tells me he thinks I should be fine to simply bandage the wound myself to get the bleeding to stop, and to wait until the morning. Easier said then done of course.

I hang up the phone, try to clean myself off while still applying pressure to the wound, then tell Rilke to "stay" while I run upstairs to fetch the bandages. Half way up the stairs, I hear a thump, know he's jumped out of the sink, yell at him, grab the bandages, grab a t-shirt and race back down.

Fresh blood is now mixing with the already dried blood on my kitchen floor. I scoop him up again (as much as one can scoop a nearly 40 lb dog) and throw him back in the sink. I put the t-shirt on, rinse him again, and realize a bath would probably be a good idea.

So I race back upstairs (yelling "Stay! Stay" the entire time) and grab the dog shampoo. The bleeding, which has slowed, of course starts up again during my attempt at a bath. But suffice it to say that I eventually got him bathed, dried without too much blood continuing to flow and spatter, and then bandaged up.

He's been shaking the entire time -- I'm not entirely sure if it was pain or fear, as both seemed to be registering on his face -- and his big brown eyes are as wide as saucers. I carry him to bed, lay him down and spend the entire night half awake, with one hand on his chest in the hopes that if he suddenly stops breathing, I'll sense it.

Beauty rest indeed.

Needless to say, an early vet visit and drop off for surgery to fix his pad and apply stitches later, I'm back at the cabin, trying to pack the car up, and wondering how to get blood stains up.

And wondering how I ever found myself needing to wonder about that information.....

A bucket of bleach and water and some hard scrubbing later, I now have dark brown stains on the deck "wood" (it's a Trex deck), where the sun dried the blood deep into the boards while we were at the vet. It appears bleach does not handle blood quite the way one is lead to believe from watching hours upon hours of crime shows.

I hesitate, but ultimately decide against warning the handy man or cleaning lady I have hired to clean the cabin after I've departed so a friend may use it during my trip. Maybe they'll freak out, maybe they just won't notice. I decide ignorance is the best policy.

And bloody water thrown away, and brush cleaned, I put Hollow and the last of my things in the car, and head to go pick up Rilke and start our Grand Adventure.

Not exactly an auspicious start. And not exactly something that I had on my bucket list. But I have at least learned what does not work when trying to remove sun-baked blood from a Trex deck....

And that's something.

UPDATE:  A friend reminded me that now is a good place to highlight to people you can take first aid classes for your pet, both dog and cat -- and order manuals to have at home. The Red Cross happens to offer both, but there are many other options, and they are worth exploring.... 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Brown Eyed.... Thief?

Since I dedicated an entire blog post to Hollow, my "coydog"... er, husky -- I thought this time I might dedicate a blog post to Rilke -- my "first born".

Of course, first born is a matter of interpretation since no one seems to have any idea how old Hollow is -- or, frankly, what she is. But, I consider Rilke my "first born" as he is the one I first adopted. I have had him for more than a year now, and he is indeed my darling brown-eyed boy....

Cue the soundtrack

As really, he has the most adorable brown eyes....

My Brown Eyed Boy on the Porch

I mean, seriously -- can you resist these eyes?

The Rilke "beg" -- which also looks a bit drunk
He has a certain sweetness and adorableness that is hard to resist -- even when he's jumping on you. (As I still have not cured him of that.) He truly, simply, has "Soul" -- and yes, I say that understanding I implied in my last post about Hollow that I was not sure she does...

But honestly, you look in his eyes, and I feel like I can see a thousand lifetimes that have been, and a thousand life times that will be.

Yet, despite all this deep talk? It turns out that deep down, my boy is ... well.... all boy.

As it appears he may also be a thief...

Yes, you read that right. A thief. I have a frickin' master criminal on my hands! 

A few weeks ago, I started waking up every morning to new discoveries on my drive. Now, under the circumstances of where I live, this could clearly be worrisome in a very negative and bad way.

Well, it is worrisome, and I suppose in a negative and bad way -- but not as bad as one would think.

It appears my boy is a toy thief.

The first toy was a clearly hand made doll -- that he picked up on a hike we were on, so I just assumed some child in one of those back pack carriers had dropped it, the parents had never noticed, and now my dog had a new toy.

Then suddenly a decapitated stuffed bear showed up. I will not dare to surmise whether my dog did the decapitating or not.

Yet still, I did not worry -- it was a few toys, here and there. Most likely dropped and / or abandoned on the trail. This sort of stuff happens.

Shit happens.

But then it seemed to happen more often, and suddenly my attention was caught. Especially when we left for our morning hike, and Rilke is happily playing with a stuffed Goofy...

Rilke and new toy: Goofy
And then the next morning, when I woke up -- looked out on my drive and saw this:

Is that what I think it is?
And upon closer inspection, discovered this:

Yep. Exactly what I thought it was...
And then the next day? I left at night to drive down to the nearest city to visit friends, and as I'm attempting to make my way up my snowy, icy drive, I hit the portion of my drive where it levels out for a bit. For fear of losing momentum, and not making it up the rest of the drive, I start to gun it just a bit -- and just as I do, I notice at a bunch of toys scattered across the drive....

Unfortunately, I couldn't stop for a photo (for fear of not getting out of my drive!), but holy crap. There was at least 6 toys lying there!

(All of which are now buried in a snow drift, as while I was gone, it snowed, and my plow guy simply plowed up the snow and the toys -- though Rilke did manage to dig one out upon our return.)

Either my brown-eyed boy has found a toy chest to raid, and has been methodically doing so -- or a pack of coyotes has taken a shine for him, and is presenting him with toys....


And really? Does any one think coyotes are so generous or thoughtful? I.Think.Not.

So yes. I have no choice but to accept that my darling, soulful, sweet puppy has become a thief. A master thief. What does one do with that???

But he is awfully cute with his stolen toys, especially his stolen Goofy -- which he daily brings with him on our morning hikes....

~ Sigh... ~

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wild Thing....

I have been doing a lot of contemplation about my new dog Hollow in the past few weeks. As let's face it: This is one confounding dog!

The truth is, she is an incredibly sweet dog, who has shown incredible patience with a friend's toddler and her pretty annoying 4 month old puppy. She could have killed me when I was yanking out the porcupine quills, and instead she simply tried to stop me. She's affectionate and sweet. She loves the base of her ears being scratched, and her belly rubbed. She has the "Dog's Lament" perfected.

Puppies Offering their best "Lament"
She's also sometimes unpredictable, in a relatively predictable way: if she's overwhelmed, she freaks out. This usually means when meeting new people, if there is an "odd person out" (ie, someone who comes in solo), she will act out against that person by growling, snapping, etc. It's clear she will not hurt them, but she continues to make every one jump with the repeated sudden vocalizations.

And really -- as beautiful as her light blue eyes are, they are pretty frickin' unnerving too!

Hollow's Eyes
Yeah, imagine waking up every morning with her weight on your chest as she stands on you and stares at you.... Um, yeah. Now that's a wake up call.

She's also quite, well.... "independent". (Yeah, I worked in politics for more than a decade -- I know how to spin....) She does what she wants to, on her terms -- particularly when we are outside.

As that seems to be the issue: inside the house, she listens to me, mostly obeys me, and is affectionate and even charming. Outside? I'm pretty much chopped liver for 95 percent of the time. Originally it was 100 percent of the time, so I do appreciate the gains in the last few months!

But still, the truth is, that once we go outside, Hollow seems to turn a bit, well, "wild" -- certainly at least a bit feral. It's as if I don't exist any more to her, and she barely looks at me, let alone heeds me -- not exactly typical behavior for a dog, who look to their pack. 

What does this mean? Well....

Let's start here: I was told when I rescued her from the shelter in the next county over that she was a "purebred husky" of perhaps two years old, that she was rescued by ranchers who almost shot her because they thought she was a coyote.


You decide.

Here are some photos of Hollow:
Hollow on a hike

The very rare moment Hollow is not moving on a hike
 Here is a link to some images of "brown huskies" -- click here.

 With a few images chosen:

And here is a link to some images of coyotes -- click here.

With a few images:

If you'd like to read more about coyotes in general, you can do so here.

As you'll note, they describe coyotes as follows:

The color of the coyote's pelt varies from grayish-brown to yellowish-gray on the upper parts, while the throat and belly tend to have a buff or white color. The forelegs, sides of the head, muzzle and paws are reddish-brown. The back has tawny-colored underfur and long, black-tipped guard hairs that form a black dorsal stripe and a dark cross on the shoulder area. The black-tipped tail has a scent gland located on its dorsal base. Coyotes shed once a year, beginning in May with light hair loss, ending in July after heavy shedding. The ears are proportionately large in relation to the head, while the feet are relatively small in relation to the rest of the body.[3] Certain experts have noted the shape of a domestic dog's brain case is closer to the coyote's in shape than that of a wolf's. Mountain-dwelling coyotes tend to be dark-furred, while desert coyotes tend to be more light brown in color.[4]

They also note the following about the concept of hybrids:

Coyotes will sometimes mate with domestic dogs, usually in areas such as Texas and Oklahoma, where the coyotes are plentiful and the breeding season is extended because of the warm weather. The resulting hybrids, called coydogs, maintain the coyote's predatory nature, along with the dog's lack of timidity toward humans, making them a more serious threat to livestock than pure-blooded animals. This crossbreeding has the added effect of confusing the breeding cycle. Coyotes usually breed only once a year, while coydogs will breed year-round, producing many more pups than a wild coyote. Differences in the ears and tail generally can be used to distinguish coydogs from domestic or feral dogs or pure coyotes.[27] Breeding experiments in Germany with poodles, coyotes, and later on with the resulting dog-coyote hybrids showed that, unlike wolfdogs, coydogs exhibit a decrease in fertility, significant communication problems, and an increase of genetic diseases after three generations of interbreeding.[28]

With this wonderful picture of a "coydog":



So what does this all mean?

I think I've got a "wild thing" at home -- but I gotta admit, I still love her....

Cue the soundtrack!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Essay: Crowning a King: On Washington During the Election Season

A bit belated due to poor internet connection, but another of my "professional" writings...

On George Washington, on public service, on campaigns and elections....


Crowning a King: On Washington During the Election Season
By Jana Novak
February 20, 2012 12:31 P.M.

As we celebrate Presidents’ Day, it would be wise to reflect upon politics, civic engagement, and the campaign season upon us. Even more important, we should reflect upon the president this holiday honors.

No matter the candidate or party this year, all seem eager to grasp control, rather than reluctantly take on the mantle of power. This is a far cry from our first president and his attitude toward holding the highest office in the land.

Let us contemplate the father of our country — and why he earned that moniker. Washington never put himself above the goals of the nation. He understood that every action he took, every example he laid out, would be the guiding principle of his day, and of the future. His beliefs held firm, even in the face of the greatest prize: total power.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with power. We differentiate ourselves from others and their dreams of conquest, seeing ourselves not as an “empire upon which the sun never sets,” but instead as a “shining city on the hill.” Washington’s understanding of Americans’ trepidation about power was better than anyone’s.

Consider how we almost crowned a king instead of electing a president. At the end of the War for Independence, the country was in complete chaos. The colonies fought bitterly over how to unite, and the financiers worried about such things as paying soldiers, overwhelming debts, and institutional direction. Our future was a frightening question mark.

Monarchy was the prevailing mode of governance throughout the world, typically providing stability and control — things desperately needed. So the leaders at the time decided that a single, all-powerful ruler — a dictator or king — was required to ensure the nation’s survival.

In the spring of 1782, as the war was ending, Washington received a letter from one of his officers. The letter quite bluntly urged Washington to become king, assuring him of his army’s total loyalty. Washington was stunned. Normally a very diplomatic man, you can hear the horror in his tone as he responds:

With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment I have read with attention the Sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured Sir, no occurrence in the course of the War, has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the Army as you have expressed, and I must view with abhorrence, and reprehend with severity.

Amazingly, his tone then turns to sorrow and shame: Washington not only could not imagine seizing power, he was worried he had done something to encourage that thought. He continued:

I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my Country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable.

Rather than calling for royal robes and a crown, Washington said no. Even more important, despite his own dreams of glory, he was horrified that he had somehow inspired the idea in the first place.

Today, most politicians would be calling for the tailor and jeweler: Politicians at every level seem more worried about personal glory than public service. It is not that ambition is wrong or incompatible with a sense of duty to one’s country over one’s self; it is that ambition must be properly channeled and understood.

Many of our Founding Fathers, including Washington, were very ambitious. Yet despite their personal vanities and desires, they ultimately believed foremost in the duty and honor they owed their country, in wielding power for the good of all. Washington was an ordinary man who reluctantly took on the mantle of power to fulfill the need of his nation, and always kept in mind that it was not for his glory, but for his country’s glory. In that, he was extraordinary.

Today, we cannot blame the politicians alone. We are fortunate to live in a free, democratic country, where our voices can be heard. Unfortunately, too many Americans do not bother to be engaged or informed about issues, and do not even bother to vote.

This means the blame for the tone in Washington and the caliber of our politicians lies on us. In countries around the world, people are sacrificing their lives to achieve what past Americans already gifted us. We owe it to those who came before us, to those fighting for “Spring” elsewhere, and to ourselves, to be involved and to lead from home.

So as February marks both the celebration of our first president and the middle of this interminable election season, take the time to study our past, consider what is the best for the nation, and what it really means to be a “leader.” Goodness knows our nation is deeply in need of a George Washington–type leader right now.

— Jana Novak, who spent more than a decade working in national politics, is a freelance writer and author of two books, including Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty and the Father of our Country (Basic Books).

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hollow & Rilke's Excellent Adventures...

Why yes, that is a shout out to my graduating class of my alma mater -- well, the high school I graduated from that is. (I count two high schools as "alma maters" as I attended boarding school briefly before needing to return home when my mother got ill with cancer the first time.)

Let's just say that for an absolutely excellent reason our "senior theme" was Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Heck, I even wrote one of my college application essays on that movie as the answer to the most profound book / movie / poem, etc that had an impact on me.

Because yes, yes that movie is profound.

But I digress. Again.

I'm here to talk about Rilke and Hollow and their latest adventures -- as there is never a (X&#!*&@$!) dull moment around here.... And I'm not even talking porcupines this time!

There was the evening they took off at top speed when I opened the door for their last of the day potty break around 10:30 at night. And didn't come back.

And didn't come back. Finally, at midnight, with steam coming out of my ears, I decided that I was done waiting up, and they would have to learn the hard way. So I went up to bed.

I had just fallen asleep when the phone rings. I glance at the clock: it's 12:30 am. What the....?!

It's my handyman, who happens to live in the nearest small town to me. And by small town, I mean a population you can count with body digits. This is the same town I referred to in an earlier post where the "Mayor's" response to the Sheriff warning of a a potential road wash out with "Hmmm, well, you'll just airlift in beer, right?"

This town is 0.6 miles from the trail head parking lot to the town sign on the main road. It's 0.25 miles from my house to the trail head parking lot. As I discovered a couple of weeks later, it's at least that far from the town sign to my handyman's house. So this is at minimum a mile away -- up a road where the locals laugh at speed limits.

So I calmly say, "Hi Dave." As really, how else does one behave after midnight when one's loved ones are missing? Dave calmly responds, "You missing your dogs?"

Now, I gotta admit, I was half-tempted to do a "Blue Collar Comedy Tour 'Here's Your Sign'" and respond, "Why no, Timmy's down a well and I sent them after help." But I resisted. Mostly because the steam still hadn't disappeared yet.

Seems my dogs were on his porch at that moment. On a porch over a mile away. On a porch where I didn't even know where it was! As I had never been to my handyman's cabin. Yet my dogs had tracked him, and stopped by to say hi. I'd like to think they were following the parental advice of "if you're lost go find the nearest adult you trust and ask for help".

In reality, I think they were inviting him out to play. Him. Not me.

So I get out of bed (grumble grumble), get dressed (grumble grumble), go downstairs (grumble grumble), grab the car keys (grumble grumble), go out in the cold (grumble grumble), get in the car (grumble grumble), drive to the gate (grumble grumble), get out in the cold (grumble grumble), open the gate (grumble grumble), decide at this hour it doesn't matter and leave it wide open (grumble grumble), and drive up to the town (grumble grumble), realizing as I pass the town sign that I have no idea where my handyman lives and I forgot to ask him (grumble grumble), so I drive to the only stop sign in the town (which happens to say "STOP Hammertime" and so I giggle slightly because I can't help myself every time I see that sign), open my car window (grumble grumble), and whistle and call for the dogs (grumble grumble), who come running down the side street at top speed, with Hollow virtually flying into the car as I pull the door open quickly, and Rilke suddenly remembering he hates cars and starting to do the crab-scuttle away before I grab him, pick him up and throw him in the back seat too (grumble grumble)....

But it appears Dave was not the only one the pups had decided to start paying visits too or hanging out with. As every time I went on a hike or drove out to leave for errands, people starting stopping me and asking me if the dogs were mine. Seems the dogs were introducing themselves all around, and choosing people to go on hikes with regularly. In fact, one woman actually complained that she saw them, and wanted them to accompany her as she cross country skied, and was upset they had taken off to go after some one (or something) else!

The same turned out to be true with one of my other neighbors. I had briefly met him several weeks ago. I had opened the door for the evening walk, they spotted him and his dogs on the trail above us, and immediately headed up to say hi as I scrambled after them. He and his girlfriend live in the house up the road slightly from the trail head parking lot -- so perhaps a half mile all told from my cabin.

I go out of town for a week (more on that later), and upon my return am giving the dogs their evening walk when I run into said neighbor again. We chat and he informs me that the dogs had been showing up on their porch every single night around 10 pm. His girlfriend shows up from work, and chimes in -- oh yeah. Every night! Even came in the house a couple of times when we opened the door. Except this last week -- we didn't see them once for the last week.

Well. It appears my rare social life of visiting friends near the largest city nearby interrupted their regular social life.

~ sigh ~

Speaking of the trip: my friends have an older shiba inu, a really cool adorable looking dog that is actually an ancient breed from Japan bred for hunting. This dog is not particularly sociable with other dogs, and had snapped at Rilke twice (drawing blood) and Hollow once (no contact) on previous trips. But they also had recently adopted a German Shepherd puppy. Tiny, cute, will get huge.

And, I gotta admit, I wondered how Hollow would do. I wondered about the wrong dog.....

Hollow was patient, sweet, and would do a careful snap or two when she finally lost patience. Rilke was mean, vicious, and even managed to draw blood once. Yes, you read that right: Rilke! 

He hated that puppy, and we were constantly having to break them up and separate them. It was nuts. My only thought on this one is that perhaps after being beaten up by the shiba inu the last couple of visits, he was thrilled to pass on the bullying.... Which is awful and sad -- and also really really dumb. This puppy is going to be 150 lbs in a couple of months! In fact, this puppy will be doubled in size the next time we visit! Rilke better damn well hope the puppy is the forgiving type....

But the dogs did seem to love that my friends have a huge yard with a nice high 8 foot fence. So I didn't walk them once, we just left the door open in the basement all day, so that they could come and go as they pleased. They loved this lifestyle. Or so I thought....

We get back to the cabin, and both dogs promptly take off running. Clearly, as before, they had a lot of "peemail" to catch up on. So I don't think twice.

I start to think twice when I discover over the next days that they are no longer listening to me on hikes, no longer staying near me in the least, and no longer even waiting for me for the hikes. Either they are getting back at me for not walking them, or they've lost what little discipline I had instilled in them during our week of "demotivation".

I finally lose it -- ironically on the same evening I ran into the neighbors and learned about their "nightly visits" -- on an evening walk when I get all suited up, open the door, and they take off at a full sprint up the drive. Neither of them even glancing back as I scream after them.

The steam reappears.

I storm up the drive -- well, I go up the drive as forcefully, angrily and fast as is possible when you're talking about a snow-covered hill with a 10 percent grade. At the top of the drive they both reappear with innocent expressions of "Oh cool mom, you're coming too?" I have none of it, grab them both with separate hands and pull them down and flip them over on their backs. I am enforcing "alpha" if it kills me.

Hollow is so freaked out, she pees a little bit. I actually expect this, and so have flipped her away from where I'm kneeling. So she pees half on herself, and half on the snow on her far side. (Meanwhile, Rilke is all teenager, and I swear he is rolling his eyes at me and making faces every time I turn to address Hollow.)

I release them, and we do our hike -- running into the neighbor and his dogs, and I notice Hollow is paying a tiny bit more attention to me.

In fact, in the days since, she has generally stayed closer on hikes, though she is still prone to wandering, and when they both take off at full sprint, there is no getting their attention. (As I discovered the evening walk a few days later when they saw the neighbor getting home as we were heading back to the cabin, and so took off at full speed down the trail, across the parking lot, and across the road -- right in front of a car!!! -- and to the neighbor's house.) But on the whole, she's actually spending a majority of the hikes hanging out in the general vicinity.

Plus, they are no longer going on hour long plus evening potty breaks -- I tell them "short break" as they go out the door, and they've been coming back within a half an hour or so now, with Hollow leading the way.


I've always believed in the 'rule of alpha', and in all the small things you have to do to help establish yourself as alpha (always enter and leave the house before the dogs, holding them on their back till they stop struggling, etc) -- but will also admit these seemed to be having little effect on Hollow. Of course she also seemed to not be fully -- well -- domesticated. So perhaps she is getting a little of that -- and so a little more willing to focus on me.


Even more interesting? Perhaps I don't need those expensive doggy cams any more -- I just need to post an ad in the paper or, even better, on the bulletin board at the trail head parking lot, with photos of the dogs and offering an email address asking for information on their adventures...


Excellent adventures indeed! 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quills Not Meant for Writing...

I have a lot to catch up on. So first things first. Let's talk about quills.

Not fancy, old-fashioned writing tools -- though those things are damn cool. (Have you ever written with one? There is something so comforting and so "I am creating something important" about the loud scratchiness of quills.)

Oh no. I mean porcupine quills. These lovely things.

And I am sure all of you now realize exactly where I am going with this.

~ sigh ~

Rilke, my smart boy, had one interaction with a porcupine this summer. I was lucky in that he only had maybe 10 quills, mostly in his nose. This meant softer tissue, making it somewhat easier -- but a hell of a lot bloodier -- to get the quills out. But he also learned his lesson, and at the next sighting of a porcupine he most definitely barked his butt off at it -- at a nice safe distance.

This is due to the first fun fact of the day: porcupine quills have slight "ridges" on them (for lack of a better word) that act as little reverse hooks once they have entered something else. That is, they enter the other body easily, but resist being pulled out by "grabbing" as you pull. To be more exact and scientific sounding (thanks to this website):
Quills vary in size from half an inch to 4 inches (1.2 to 10 centimeters) long. Despite their appearance, quills are really specialized hairs. A quill consists of a follicle that attaches to the skin, a shaft with a spongy interior and the notorious barbed tip. If you look closely at the tip, you'll see multiple layers of barbs that cause the quill to embed deeper into a victim's skin after penetration.
Fun fun fun...

Second fun fact of the day: porcupines are the third largest rodent, behind the capybara and the beaver. According to Wikipedia (read more here): Most porcupines are about 25–36 in (63–91 cm) long, with an 8–10 in (20–25 cm) long tail. Weighing between 12–35 lb (5.4–16 kg), they are rounded, large and slow. They are herbivores, and the North American version can climb trees in search of food.

Don't they sound like cute little critters?

And to be honest, they actually are pretty damn cute looking and cool looking. It's just when your dog decides to introduce themselves and forgets basic etiquette about personal space.... Ever met a "close talker"? Well then you understand why porcupines might be a bit offended by a dog's lack of respect for distance in communications, and might shove a few quills down them....

Okay, so porcupines don't do the quill thing "pro-actively". They are not capable of shooting them out or even flinging them at a predator -- or a non-personal-space-respecting creature. They merely are released due to contact (damn close talkers!) or may fall out as the porcupine shakes its booty.... er, body.

So. What does this have to do with me, besides the Rilke "incident" over the summer? It appears Hollow is not quite so smart -- or quite so willing to back down -- or quite so willing to.....

Not. Get. Porcupine. Quills. 

First time: Hollow disappears, as usual, towards the end of our walk, and finally reappears as we get close to the cabin. (My calling "Hollow, Heading home. Heading home, Hollow" might have something to do with that. Might.) I notice several quills in her front legs. Deep sigh.

We get inside, and I have to get to work on a half feral dog (I'm starting to think) that I've had for barely two months, pulling out porcupine quills. My mind flits back to me sitting on Rilke in the kitchen, him screaming, and blood every where. I shake off the image.

Hollow is too big for me to sit on. I try to hold her still with one arm, using that hand to try and hold her jaws shut, while trying to use the other hand to hold the pliers and yank. I move as fast as I can, and get perhaps half of the quills out before she really understands what is happening. Blood starts coming out of a few locations.

Now she's not happy. She shakes her head out of my grip, grabs my cheek as hard as she can while also being gentle enough to not break the skin and pulls my head away from my work. Now I'm not happy. But there are three quills left.

Damn. I rub my bruised cheek, grab hold again, cussing Hollow out the entire time (I would say this would most definitely fit my mother's definition of an appropriate moment), and try again. I get one and two halves. And then I think she might actually kill me.... So we come to an agreement: She will not hurt me, and I will stop.

Yup. With her squirming, two quills broke as I grabbed for them. One in her leg, one in her paw. I've decided Hollow is the Sicilian in this equation, and I give up entirely.

Well. Except I'm a damn stubborn gal. And stupid. Did I mention that? So two hours later, she's sitting in the dining area, after finally having come out from hiding behind the front door. There's dried blood on her foot, and her eyes are wide and looking damn wild. But I can see the quill in her leg. I can see it. And of course that means, I can touch it, right?

And somehow it works: I look in to her wide, wild eyes, not breaking the stare, grab the pliers, and yank. She yelps, gives me a dirty look -- which I actually find reassuring as I was expecting a life-threatening look -- and retreats behind the door again.

Half of one left.

And so it remains. She'll barely let me touch that leg, let alone that paw. I give up.

Second time: We go on a hike, off on a route I hadn't traveled in at least a week. Probably more. I hear barking in front of me from both dogs. Oh..... frick. I rush up the "trail" (this is one of my "make a trail" trails), and find both dogs seeming to "play" with .... something. It takes me a moment to realize what it is, but I'm already yelling "Get away! Get away from it!"

Thankfully, they come running, and I don't want to get too close. I have no idea if it's dead or alive, pissed or what.... As this is what I see:

First Porcupine Sighting
First Porcupine Sighting

Okay, so maybe I'm a wuss, but seriously! Did you look at those quills in the link above? I am so not getting close to a porcupine myself.....

Plus, I just figured out where Hollow got the quills the first time, and am thrilled she has only one in her leg this time that I can grab immediately -- as soon as I finish taking pictures of course!

That evening, I talk to my friends in town about it (they were spending their days skiing), and the husband graciously offers to help me get the remaining quill out of Hollow's foot. I hold her down, he pulls, tada. Though I'll admit I'm a bit jealous that she seems to give him an adoring look the entire time, not a possessed-I-will-kill-you look....

The next day, we go on the same hike, so that this time I can see if the porcupine was indeed dead (as it did strike me as strange that it seemed that Hollow was "playing" with it like a ball or something). This time, Hollow seems to go nowhere near it, and I come upon it, in the same place, as Rilke is trying to "bury" it by digging snow up on to it.

Which is actually rather adorable if you think about it:

Partially buried porcupine
Partially buried porcupine

Needless to say, I finished the job for the poor porcupine, and, especially now, several snow storms later, it is thoroughly buried.

I wiped my hands satisfactorily, and started hiking again, half thinking I should whistle a little tune... The smug feeling lasted exactly 24 hours.

As, if you're keeping track, there's a third time: The next day, on our morning hike, Rilke by my side, Hollow off on her wanderings, I suddenly hear Hollow barking like crazy. Close enough to bloody murder to freak me out. I race down the side of the mountain -- as in, completely off any semblance of a trail, jumping over fallen trees, flying through bushes and brush, screaming the entire time: "I'm coming baby! I'm coming!"

Yeah. Ummmm. Let's just say I'm very glad there are no people who hang out in "no man's land" beyond me -- especially no people with video cameras.

Mostly, because they would have caught me committing bloody murder -- almost. As I get down the hill, after my frantic pell-mell race, and find Hollow has cornered a porcupine. Another one. A live one.

Oh. My. God. I will kill this dog.

The "oh baby, hold on, I'm coming" is now "Are you kidding me?! You X&#!*&@$! dog! Get over here NOW. Away from it!"

~ sigh ~

I spot quills in her nose and her mouth this time. "Are you kidding me?! You X&#!*&@$! dog!"

And I felt sorry for the porcupine:

Porcupine in the willow bush

Close up of porcupine in willow bush

Smile! You're on Candid Camera!

Needless to say, I did not feel sorry for Hollow. I yanked 3 quills out right then and there -- and frankly, hoped they hurt so she would learn the lesson. The remaining quills were in her mouth, sticking out of her lip, and I figured those required pliers. Those would have to wait.

As unlike a smart, handy person and hiker, I not only do not carry something like a "leatherman" on me at all times, I don't even own one. Clearly this must go on my birthday list. Along with the generator and the river pump.

~ sigh ~

I got home, and decided to try the staring contest method again. I got two quills out immediately. The two in the gums on the front of her teeth (!). The remaining mouth ones, which were inside of her mouth, scared me though, so I decided to let her rest and let me rest.

Then I realized it scared me more to leave the quills in.

I started the staring contest again. There were three quills left. I got one and yanked. She stared at me, and her eyes got big and wide. She looked possessed. I panicked, grabbed again, and got another. She yelped. The stare was broken. I panicked even more, frantically grabbed, and the last one broke off in my pliers. Damn.

I gave up. More like she made me.

I kept my eye on it. A dark black pole sticking out of the roof of her mouth. Nothing budged, she wouldn't let me near her, but she didn't seem to be having any problems eating, drinking or having treats.

Eventually, a few days later, I decided I needed to make one last try: mostly because my friends who were in town were leaving that day, and I was about to lose my "help". The wife uses her body to hold Hollow down, I use all my strength to hold her mouth open, the husband tries to wield the pliers. Nada. Hollow is having none of it -- and frankly, neither we were we.

I wash my hands of the whole thing. So I have no idea if the quill eventually fell out or worked its way in further. It was on the roof of her mouth, which as we all know is a particularly bony and tough area, so my guess is it finally just fell out.

All I know is after that last incident, we have had no more interactions with porcupines. And I am pretty damn happy about that.