Thursday, December 28, 2006

Practically Perfect

At last we have a little snow, maybe four inches here. More on the ski slopes, less in the warm valleys. I drove to Burlington this morning. Slippy roads close to home got better and better, giving the lie to dire traffic reports on the interstate.

The snow is the fluffy, shiny type flocking the trees at the Christmas farm. When I take the puppy out to the pen in the backyard, I glide over seqinned velvet. The puppy is wild. She can’t find her tennis balls, covered up by snow, so she digs until she finds a rock, a bowl, something, anything to toss into the air. What fun!

Life is back to what passes for normal here on the hilltop. That is, if magic be normal.

May you all have shining memories of 2006 and hopes of a spectacularly beautiful New Year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Brown Christmas

Today’s hopes for a major storm dissolved in rain. Less than half an inch of slush covers our brown Vermont hills, but we remain steadfast in our hopes for snow.

We really like the stuff. It is good for sliding and skiing and snowshoeing. Handy for insulation once it builds up above the level of interior floors. It covers up all things unsightly, indeed it covers everything and makes everything beautiful. We miss it.

Watch old reruns of White Christmas and think of us, wishing we had white stuff with which to entertain the few tourists who have come despite internet searches. Think of the hotels and the restaurants. Think of the grocery stores and the auto shops. If the tourists don’t come, they don’t eat, and their cars don’t run off the road. Think, too, of the snowmobile shops. If the snow stays away too long, it’s hardly worth buying the annual license.

Vermont’s economy needs snow. Our aesthetic sense of what makes winter right…that needs snow, too. We choose to be cold, believe it or not. In choosing four seasons, snow is not just part of the deal, it is a blessing.

Think of us and think snow.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Making room for Christmas

I remember vividly the year that Christmas changed for me. For the first time, the shining array of toys and presents became just a pile of stuff. For the first time, I heard greedy little snorts mixed in with shouts of delight, and not only from my younger siblings. For the first time, I was aware that the gift was often not nearly enough. Rather, there were criticism and imagined slights. My parents did their best to teach how to give and how to receive, but we—and they—remain human.

That year was also the first year that I crept into the living room before sunrise to find the quiet space that has come to mean Christmas to me. I sat on the sofa, looked at the tree lights, and read a little. I did take a look at the glittering pile of booty, but it didn’t enthrall me as in previous years. I was ten.

Since that time, I have learned the lesson that all adults learn—that things don’t always turn out as expected.

If you had asked me when I was ten what Christmas would look like when I was fifty-two, I would certainly have expected to be bustling in the kitchen, wrapping in the attic and doing all the things that people with children do at this time of year. When I married at nineteen, my outlook would have been more hazy, since by then my husband and I had decided not to have children. By thirty, I was in the middle of a divorce and completely confused about how to predict my future. We were happily married for seven years, then unhappily married for four. That kind of experience burns away any illusion that we can predict the future.

I never, ever expected to be divorced. The last Christmas we spent together was miserable. My husband gave me luggage. How’s that for a message? By New Year’s I was packed and gone. But even that Christmas was really Christmas. Christmas strips away illusion, leaving only the truth of the moment. That year, the truth was that we needed to make a change. Knowing the truth may be uncomfortable, but it is always a gift.

I don’t think I have ever had a bad Christmas. Maybe there were one or two when I didn’t make plans to see anyone and regretted it—I honestly don’t remember. Even when I have no plans, I take a walk with the dogs, look at all the lights, and find that place of stillness that means Christmas to me. By this stage of life, I know that I have to make time to allow Christmas to happen. Not too much travel, no overcrowded schedule, keeping the flurry of baking and decorating and shopping to a minimum. It’s not really important to have seven kinds of cookies, but creating that still space—that is the advent preparation that allows Christmas to enter into our hearts.

Here’s what I predict for this year’s Christmas. For Christmas Eve, I will cook a nice meal…or maybe go out for Chinese. I might drive into Burlington to church…or not. I will start the pumpkin and pecan pies for tomorrow’s dinner, and maybe the chocolate chip cookies and brownies requested by the two 22-year-old Brazilian men visiting my friend. Tomorrow, I will join them all for Christmas dinner. We are expecting six people and seven dogs. And sometime in the late night or the early morning, in the kitchen or sitting in front of the fire, at some completely unexpected moment, Christmas will come.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Through the woods

We didn’t travel far for our Thanksgiving celebration, just down the hill through the maple grove to our new neighbors. We took pie and champagne, celebrating an outstanding sunset and a couple of puppy romps.

My single friends understand what some others don’t, that holidays can be wonderful even when you don’t travel far from home, maybe especially when you don’t travel far. The heightened bustle of the airport, the holiday higgledy-piggledy stop and go of the freeway are things I prefer to avoid. Instead, I have a series of outstanding home improvement projects that have taken place on holidays.

In my Staten Island house, there was the Easter wallpaper in the bathroom and the Thansgiving diagonal grid stained on the kitchen floor. Painting projects are holiday favorites—they make such an impact for so little effort. Usually the projects are ones that have been long planned and prepared, with all or most of the materials on hand.

Today I took advantage of a beautiful, sunny November day to install wire mesh between porch wall and ground, all in the effort to reduce the wildlife taking refuge in my cellar. I had been thinking about it for awhile, particularly since the unfortunate incident of the rats chewing holds in the dishwasher supply and drain lines last spring. There used to be lattice, but that clearly was not working.

Bright and early, I was off to the hardware store for hardware cloth, staples, and a bit of molding. It worked! I dug a trench along the porch edge, staples the hardware cloth in place and covered the edge with dirt and gravel. Tomorrow if we have a repeat of this beautiful weather, I will cover the whole structure with lattice again.

Fewer small animals in the cellar—there’s something to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What have you been doing?

Well, nothing much. It has been a long summer and fall of moving and moving again. Painting and taking dogs for swims, but those cheery summer projects are long past now.

No, I didn't finish as much of the house painting as I hoped, but then again it was a lot of good work. I will spend the winter looking at a patchwork house, the gable ends still staring white in an otherwise muted color scheme. Very Vermont in its way.

The time for swimming is also past. That first day in August when the temperature dropped, however unnoticed by us humans, was the day that Miss Cassandra let me know that she had no further intention of getting wet. Not this year, no way.

Instead she romping with young Acer, the golden retriever mix who moved in next door. Acer is named for the genus of maple trees, beloved by his owners. She goes for play dates with Lola and Amiga and sometimes with Ellie. Some kind of relative (aunt, half sister, or second cousin--we are not really sure), Ellie and Cassie are well matched. Down to the pond and around, then back up to laugh at slow, stolid humans, they are twin furry streaks. They both love Toby, too, but at ten he takes the run a bit more deliberately.

Tonight we are expecting snow, so it will be time to hunker down, draw in as the days shorten. Feels just like November. The best thing about November is knowing that there is only one more month of days getting shorter, one more month until we can have a little more light to accompany snowshoeing ventures with the dogs.

Friday, September 15, 2006

So tired

My office moved this week, or more accurately, I moved the office this week. I did have the help of good movers, though my assistant chose a bad time to flake out completely. She is now done, as they say in Vermont. I sent her off with her last paycheck and words of cheer, nary a syllable chastising her for leaving me to do all the packing alone. Surely there must be some good rationale for such behavior from a person that I had come to trust, but I do not assume the right to intrude on her privacy once she has refused to answer questions.

Oh well. We have all been there. So tired and fed up with a job that we phone it in for days or weeks or longer. So weary that we tread on bonds of long association, heedlessly snapping them in our rush to get on to the next thing.

Moving from one town to another, I have also spent three evenings in meetings in the hope that I can reassure constituents that they will enjoy uninterrupted, solicitous attention to their needs. My tolerance for evening meetings is about one per week, but making change successfully requires heavy doses of reassurance.

I enjoy moving, actually. I like walking into a new space and seeing possibility, then making it happen. But there is no denying how much work it is, how draining of resources physical, mental and emotional. Yesterday I started to feel it. The kind of tired that when you bend down to plug in a printer, you just aren’t sure you have the energy to stand up again. The kind of tired that makes the carpet look like a good place to lie down for a quick nap. The kind of tired that makes you start to make silly mistakes, that makes you think seriously about having somebody come pick you up from work and take you home for a long soak, a long sleep, returning to our animal nature its due.

So tired.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Clicker training

Bright puppy Cassandra has figured out that many of the best things in life are immediately preceded by the click-click-click of the car's turn signal. Now that sound is associated in her furry head with arrival at a place to run or swim, even return home. She now loudly signals her approval with "uunh...uunh...UUNH...woowoo."

We have been enjoying outdoor Vermont this summer with walks and swims and road trips to new places to walk and swim. It's fun to watch Cassie learn. She prefers wide, deep brooks to rocky spills with deep pools. She likes to watch canoes and kayaks come off the lake. Task-driven, she likes to go after sticks, although retrieval is not her strong suit.

Toby meanwhile finds rocks and moves them. Sometimes he makes pyramids, sometimes he takes a rock across the brook and buries it in a new place. I think back to college geology class lectures about all the ways that rocks and soil get transferred from place to place and I wonder if they thought about Toby.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vacances de blog

It has been a summer not for blogging. Too much to see and do, too many new places to swim, too much to paint. We are still in this vacation mode, still feeling as if the summer will last forever.

But the trees have begun to turn. And the first frost warnings have sounded for the coldest hollows. Time to get the wood in.

The painting continues, although all other house and garden work has been put on hold. I don’t care if I ever cut the grass again—well, maybe once before frost—but I am determined to finish my painting project.

It’s gratifying to hear comments from friends and neighbors.

From the wife of a fellow Rotarian: “I am following your progress with interest. It looks like it is going well.” -- “Oh, please keep sending those positive thoughts every time you drive by.” –“Should I honk?” –“Yes! No, wait, perhaps not while I am on that tall ladder.”

From the guy in the hardware store who lives up the road in an impossibly well kept house: “I like the color. It will really ground that house. Good choice!”

From a colleague who lives even further up the road: “Did you fall off the ladder?”—“No, I am moving to the next section of wall, and it is hard for me to move that big plank, so I left it tilting from one ladder while I move the other around to the far side.”—“Oh, good, I was worried.”--"Thanks for watching and worrying."

And from everyone who sees hands or hair or even dogs, “What are you painting? Are the dogs helping?”

Why yes, they are. Toby sports a racing stripe from a porch windowsill, Cassie has frosted the tips of her ears.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Beaver beaver

Beaver beaver
Build your dam
We’re the best team in the land
Beaver beaver
Bite and chew
We expect a lot of you!

(Old MIT fight song)

Our relaxation regimen these days consists of two dog swims a day, morning and evening. Yesterday we did a road trip to some swimming holes further away; today it was nearby Green River Reservoir. We drove all the way to the end of the road, then hiked for awhile, passing beaver ponds and following moose tracks.

A beaver pond is a remarkable achievement. It is a little spooky to be walking on a trail with a pond to your left two feet higher than the trail. You can see why the MIT boys at the turn of the century referred to the beaver as “nature’s engineer.”

One of my Vermont books says that seeing a beaver is unlikely, although you might see a nose in the center of a v-shaped ripple. And you very well might hear the sharp slap of broad tail as a warning. We heard two loud splashes today at the beaver pond, and Cassie made a swim for the source, but turned back. Whether it was my command or her native caution, I don’t know.

We love Vermont, but would happily forego close, personal encounters with beavers or with moose. We would just as happily avoid any repeat of Toby’s attempt to capture a woodchuck. This evening we found big goofy dogs at the Reservoir—that’s more our speed.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Water baby

So much younger than her brothers under the skin, puppy Cassandra is almost an only child. I am very conscious of what I want her life to be like, and how her life enhances mine. But after knowing many German Shepherds in my life, I am startled that this one unique and particular girl likes to swim.

I now find myself slowing down at water crossings, looking for likely spots for a puppy to have a refreshing dip. The many possibilities are keeping us both occupied in this otherwise dreary summer. This hopeful exploration is one of the things I need from Cassie, and she needs from me the results: places to go where dogs can splash in contentment, maybe swim alongside a canoe or kayak for a few minutes before the otter imitation fails.

Cassie needs from me exercise (channel the Dog Whisperer chanting Exercise-Discipline-Affection), as I need all three from my interaction with her. It is a happy bond that gets us both out to revel into the Vermont sunshine.

On this day when the puppy turned one year old, we skipped a day of painting and went on a field trip to Dog Mountain. Three ponds! Trails for hiking, Stephen Huneck’s dog art, and the Dog Chapel. I took a step into the Dog Chapel, but could not stay, so overwhelmed the small space was with grief and remembrance.

Toby and Cassie had the right response, I think. They took a brief stroll around, sniffed everything and headed right back out into the sunshine. There was a golden retriever to chase, and something smelly that required a roll in the wildflowers with all eight legs in the air.

Dogs are masters of the moment.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

O guru of paint

O guru of paint, I am most grateful for the loan of your ladders and the plank that spans from one to another. I am learning to scrape from that plank, learning to ignore the bounce.

O guru of paint, I used to wonder how I would recognize boards that need to be replaced. Particularly after you told me that with plenty of caulk and spackle, my aged clapboards would last “as long as you want them to.” But today as my scraper plunged deep into what looked like a board, dislodging black mold and green gunk, I could see that even I do indeed know them when I see them. That board needs replacing, as does the one with a big hole full of dry rot, covered over by a thin veneer of masonite, now a red flad signaling all kinds of things that should never have been hidden thus. It is good the former owner has moved away, far away, as I unearth these hidden treasures.

O guru of paint, I thank you for guidance. Is it lead? Am I poisoning myself? “Well, it probably is. Just don’t sand much. Scrape and keep moving.”

O guru of paint, I thank you for power washing. What a lot of old paint that removes! I honestly did not expect so much.

O guru, that tall gable above the porch roof. While I understand your concept of a plank on the roof line, another two by four upright and a couple of screws, I must confess that I do not yet believe. Perhaps another few days bouncing on the scaffold, a day or two caulking from a stable position on the porch roof, and I will be ready to call you for further guidance as I reach for the upper peak.

It’s a step by step process, painting a house, and some of it has to do with building one’s nerve, or remembering the nerve one once had. I used to paint from tall ladders, not happily it is true, but step by step I will do what I can, then call for help.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Water rushes in

When you turn fifty, you become eligible for all kinds of interesting extracurricular activities, including the first round colonoscopy. This is not a fun procedure, although I hasten to add, it is life-saving, and it is not completely unbearable. The day and night before the procedure are trying enough, thanks to a dose that chemically reverses the normal digestion process. That’s how my nurse described it to me. Instead of taking water out of the colon, water rushes in, washing away everything in its path.

I handled the pre-procedure steps well enough, but apparently I did not handle the procedure itself very well, since they gave me double Demerol. Still, eventually I woke up enough to be driven home to snooze the afternoon away.

But no.

Late afternoon, I received an emergency call from the building where my office is located. The afternoon thunderstorms had overtaxed something—whether roof or drainage system is still unclear—but water was rushing into our offices through light fixtures or any tiny gap in the ceilings. Thanks be to the colleagues next door who pulled our computers out before they were swamped!

Two days later, we are on the streets looking for alternative accommodations, but determined not to return to the still wet, increasingly moldy offices that we once inhabited. There are several alternatives, and we hope to have a new home soon.

In the grand scheme of things, it is not a major crisis, but gratitude springs anew, both for the help we have received this week and for the overwhelming good fortune that we normally enjoy. Water was less than an inch deep in our offices—how much worse was it for this year’s hurricane victims?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Making hay while the sun shines

The wettest May since eighteen-ninety-something relented with the gift of a sunny weekend, so we all headed out to cut the knee high grass. Hard work! Doubly hard on a holiday weekend, when we all feel we ought to be remembering or barbecuing or both.

When the grass is this tall and lush, it is slow going—take two steps and back up, stop and let the blades clear. Do a chunk and take a break. Normally it takes me three sessions to cut my lawn, trisected into manageable parcels. This time I did the toughest parts first—six hours so far—and I am about two thirds done. Maybe this afternoon...if the sun is still shining...I will finish the remaining hard patch in the back and the easy one in the front. Then I can plan to do everything over again this weekend and be back to summer norms.

I am toying with dramatically decreasing the size of my garden this year, probably just putting half or more of it into green manure. With the aid of the grass, the garden keeps me tied to home all summer long. I’m thinking I may get out more this summer. See a little more of beautiful Vermont.

Besides, the mice ate big holes in my hammock.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


When I started picking a color for the upstairs bedrooms, I let myself in for gentle joshing at the paint store as I came back again and again for more of those little sample jars. I am the target market for that product. At four bucks a pop, I can afford to try colors over and over again, until I get exactly the right one. Upstairs, I went through seven samples before picking Coastal Fog—the first color I started with, but I don’t care because now I am confident that it is perfect. Now, I am attempting to pick exterior colors. Oh, my.

I live in a classic Vermont farmhouse, which is to say it is a Greek Revival clapboard covered house with a corrugated metal roof. It is currently painted white, and until I ripped them off in a fit of good taste, it had black plastic shutters. I can’t afford to be a preservation perfectionist, but I do draw the line at plastic, non-functional shutters.

I started with the view that it would be nice to have some contrast in the paint scheme to accent the architectural details which now disappear in a blur of white. Historical research is not particularly helpful, since it reveals the following contradictory stances:
1. All Greek Revival houses were always painted white, which was meant to represent pure cut white marble.

2. It is a myth that all Greek Revival houses were painted white—other appropriate colors are light yellow, tan, or gray.

3. Domestic buildings of the period were not generally painted, or if they were, they were painted red or ochre because those paints were the least expensive. Only very wealthy people could afford white paint.

4. Buildings that were heavily used and esteemed (churches and meeting houses) were usually painted in polychrome schemes that we would now find excessively bright.

Well, huh. I took a side trip into investigating deeper colors—maybe a nice charcoal gray—then decided that I don’t want to emphasize all the architectural elements of my house. I particularly don’t want to emphasize the slight bow in the roofline, with corresponding swag in the back wall, which I fear a stark contrasting paint scheme might betray. It was nice to think that a darker color might deter my ongoing infestation of ladybugs, which are said to prefer light colored houses.

I have some other constraints—the rather bright green roof and the white replacement windows don’t fit with every color combination, but I won’t bore you with the details of how I have gotten to one possible conclusion: Clarksville Gray with Lancaster White trim. New London Burgundy doors. I wanted a nice grassy green for the doors, but that green I will have the pale blue porch ceiling of my dreams.

I accept the rightness of obsession with colors. These choices stay with us for a long time and have such an impact on how we experience surroundings.

Being boring

Shy people have skills, just not the skills of the extroverted. For example, we know how to fade into the background. We can do it at will.

I remember using this technique on several boyfriends or would-be boyfriends. If they ceased to amuse, I did not need to resort to confrontation or heavy discussion. I just became dull to them, emphasizing the parts of myself that they were unlikely to care for—braininess, attention to detail, rule-following, or a tendency to disappear into books for days at a time. Boring! And soon they would be gone, leaving me to sigh in relief.

Let me emphasize this is not a strategy for long-term friendships which deserve more openness and honesty. When a friendship deserves saving, it is worth risking by exploring what has gone wrong. No, this is a strategy for the short term acquaintance who has turned out to be not quite as interesting as on first encounter.

So I have been boring lately, not so much as a strategy as because I have been busy with house painting estimates and garden planning (is it possible I might take a year off?) and a couple of major projects at work and dog obedience classes (which as everyone knows are really about training the human in the partnership). But partly I have been boring because I was writing for two blogs, Vermont Diary and a group effort that increasingly weighed me down. I felt obligated to write for both, so ended up writing for neither. There is no reason to go into detail as to why I did not enjoy the group blog, but I didn’t. And now that I have been adequately boring, the group blog has thrown me out. All I can say from my cozy briarpatch is “Woo Hoo! Let’s hear it for being boring!”

This experience has reminded me of that old chestnut, “Not to decide is to decide.” And thinking of all those old boyfriends has reminded me that not to play along can indeed be a strategy. Maybe I’m not as socially unskilled as I tend to think. Hmmm.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Close your eyes and jump

I’m getting stressed about a major event next week, no make that this week. (Feel the stress increase with that tiny realization.)

Still, I have always been good in crises, whether they arise unexpectedly or are planned. It’s probably something about how I process adrenaline, although there are other aspects of life where that physical function does not serve my best interests. It is certainly something about how I plan. In detail. Obsessively.

After all the plans are laid out, there is—time permitting—a period of secondguessing, re-thinking, burrowing down into even more detail. This is the period when I wake up in the middle of the night with visions of disaster. (How will we hang the banner? Will all the participants show up? Will we all behave ourselves?)

There are so many ways we small humans struggle against physical limits of time and space. But here’s one for what I am grateful, that time marches forward to a tipping point, the blessed moment when all the planning has to be declared finished because it is time to perform. There are still problems to be solved, dance steps to re-choreograph on the fly, but the time for anxious re-thinking is past.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Who’s training who?

We have been doing our homework for dog obedience class, including exercises on attention, walking on a long line (well, maybe we will do this one when the deluge abates), and sit and stay. With roast beef rewards, my two dogs both want to participate.

Cassie is a little shy today, so she retreats to the dining room, and I work with Toby on “stay.” I have him sit, then I put a palm toward his forward and say “Stay!” To my amusement, he slides down into a prone position and executes a perfect stay.

I try it again: sit and “Stay!” Same result. Almost furtively, he slides down. He looks at me apologetically, and he stays. Perfect.

Again and again, the same result. The stay is flawless, but he will not stay in a sitting position, only prone.

Ha! Now I have it.

This is how he was taught to stay when he went to obedience class with my mother in….are you ready? 1998. Eight years ago. A command never practiced, but Toby remembers. He knows “Stay” follows “Down.” And he is mildly embarrassed that I do not know something so simple.

Who’s training who?

First day of school

If you apply the traditional multiple of seven, nine-month-old Cassie is now ready for kindergarten, so we went. There were ten or eleven other dogs in class, along with their humans. Big ones, little ones, pushy ones, shy ones. About half were puppies around Cassie’s age.

After the rains we have had, we were fortunate to have a relatively deluge-free evening. We doused ourselves with the insect repellent thoughtfully provided by the instructor and scoped out a portion of the ball field that was almost free of puddles.

We hung out between Odie, a black-tipped German Shepherd who at six months is bigger and heavier than Cassie, and Tad, a six-month old field Golden Retriever.

Oh, my! That Cassie is so smart! She excelled on looking at me when I call her name, and because she was clearly so good at “sit,” she was selected to demonstrate the first steps of learning “stay.” (The dachshund demonstrated "sit," not too effective as a demonstration given short legs and long grass.)

She is, however, willful, and we amused our classmates with the exercise of walking (dog on a long line) randomly in different directions. This is supposed to teach the dog to pay attention to where the human is going. We don’t have this down at all, not at all. But it was amusing for others to see what happened when I repeatedly went the opposite direction from a seventy-pound German Shepherd girl.

I thought I lavished attention on my dog, but ninety minutes of undivided attention had her enthralled. Did I really need to be reminded how much German Shepherds love to work? How much they crave a job to do? Apparently I did.

Cassie loved school. Younger puppies Tad and Odie collapsed for naps when they got home, but Cassie was calm and relaxed, then ready to try again the following day.

I’m trying to teach her the word “school,” as well as a word my old dogs understand and appreciate: “tomorrow.” In our little language, “tomorrow” means “tomorrow we will do something fun, okay?” It’s one of those words I taught my dogs by accident, kind of like “Max-don’t-lick-that-baby!” You wouldn’t think dogs would be able to anticipate pleasure “tomorrow,” but it seems to work for us.

Why are you here?

I’ve been going through a flurry of routine medical checkups—physical, mammogram, and pap test—and I find that I am not equipped to deal with the medical establishment. I don’t understand their rules. I don’t understand their approach—in fact I am offended when the first question is “Why are you here?”

“I’m here for a physical,” I replied.

“No, you’re not,” countered the nurse. “You only have a fifteen minute appointment.”

Not even testy yet, I said I was quite certain that I had scheduled a physical, and eventually—after reading me far too much of another Karen’s chart—the nurse realized that not only was I there for the wrong reason, but I was the wrong person altogether. I was directed to go back out to the waiting room and fix that.


After I was called back for a second look on the mammogram, another nurse greeted me—without actually looking at me—with “Why are you here?”

“Because you called me back. Surely that is in your records.” By now I was getting testy.

Yesterday the routine pap test. “Why are you here? Did you want a pap test or a full physical?”

“Well, your office called me to say it was time for a routine pap test, and that’s what we scheduled, so I guess that’s why I am here.”

Since when do physicians attempt to up-sell? And if you’re going to pursue that revenue enhancement strategy, you might want to do it on the phone at appointment time, not when I have blocked time for a simple pap test. Not that I wanted a physical.

“Have you ever had a negative pap test? Are you still having periods?”

“Gosh, I think that information must be in my file, since I have been coming here for four years.”

This is the second time I have had this experience with the same nurse. I would change doctors, but it appears that it is standard practice in my town to greet a patient not with “Good afternoon, Karen. I see you are here for your test. I’ve taken a look at your file and this seems to be routine. Do you have any questions?” but with an abrupt and disorganized “Why are you here?”

Speaking as only one patient who—thank heaven!—does not see a lot of the medical community, I find this greeting disrespectful.

Perhaps there is something about the medical community that I do not understand. Perhaps I am oversensitive—well, actually, I am. Perhaps it is that I spend a lot of time trying to create an environment of acceptance for the clients who walk into my office for business advice. I just know I would never use such a blunt greeting. People looking for help with their businesses are a little vulnerable, and they need to be encouraged that it is okay to ask for help and that help will be forthcoming. Are patients that different?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


As a hobby, it has a revolutionary ring.

“What are your hobbies?”

“I’m really into demolition.”

As stress reliever, there are few better ways to refocus the mind from grant-writing and job descriptions, budgets and the details of annual gatherings.

As instrument of history, the crowbar is a surgical tool, prying away layers of cheap building materials, dirt and accumulated crud to reveal the beautiful bones of old houses—instant gratification in which we indulge at our peril. Some of that admittedly substandard material provides insulation—important not to remove more on a sunny summer day than can be replaced by the time the snow flies.

Sometimes the payoff is a startling discovery. When I ripped up carpet from my living room, I found fourteen-inch maple boards. Not exactly pristine condition, but I far prefer their scarred and pitted warmth to cheap carpet and accumulated dog hair. This weekend, the carpet in one upstairs bedroom came up. While not as dramatic, the payoff was still sweet: a painted floor in reasonably good condition. A new coat of paint, and it will be much easier to sweep away the piles of ladybugs. (Can you have too many ladybugs? Oh, yes.)

One more bedroom and a hallway to go. It is such a pleasure to watch the house become mine, project by project. Every owner of an old house dreams, I suppose, of having the money to do it all at once, but I’m not sure we would make wise decisions if we had all that money to spend in a single swoop. And we wouldn’t have any demolition projects left to brighten rainy weekends.

The outright destructive steps—swinging hammer or crowbar—are relatively short, satisfying as they are. Demolition is a process of removing material layer by layer. It requires a fine touch, attention to detail, and always more hauling of debris than you imagined possible. It takes patience. It takes an eye to see where to stop. It takes listening for the house to tell you when you have peeled back to its essentials.

Demolition is more than a hobby, more than raw escape. Demolition is a metaphor.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Love suddenly

Bang bang bang bang bang!

In rural Vermont, it is a shock to hear someone banging on the door at 8:30 in the evening.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said the nice man in the baseball cap. “There is this big black dog in the middle of the road, looking like a deer in the headlights.”

Oh. I see her, and I let out the universal puppy call. “Puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy-eeeee”

And the dog head back down the side road along my property.

“Ah, uh, okay,” says the nice man, who then leaves me to watch for the dog.

Sure enough, I get into the car and head down the side road. There’s the dog, but when I stop, it moves on. I toss my cookies in the dog’s directions—the dog biscuits in my sweater pocket—but no joy. The dog is having none of this. I give up, and turn my car back toward home when the owner meets me on the way.
“Her name is Love,” he says, “I guess she must have followed my truck.”

They say that great new jobs and wonderful love does not come to find you in the confines of your home. Today I wonder.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Faithfulness rewarded

It probably was not lost to Toby. He probably knew right where he put it sometime last summer on a day when I didn't manage to intercept his trip outside with my boot. By the time the snow came, I gave up hope and replaced them.

Somewhere in my psyche there must have been a grain of faith because I didn't discard the remaining boot, the left boot, the one on the right in the photo.

Today the right boot came back. I walked around the house, and there it was between house and dog pen, as if it had just been brought outdoors in the mouth of a boot and rock loving dog.

It is not in bad shape, all things considered. It doesn't appear to be much worse for spending the winter outside under snow--a little algae, a little damp, but it does not seem to have been buried.

There must be a moral here somewhere, but for now I am just enjoying the surprise.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Beautiful girl

Ah, Oceans, it does not take much to get me to post pretty puppy pix. How are your girls (Cassie's sisters)?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gal pals

Friday I got a message that the puppy was loose, so I came tearing up the hill. I found Miss Cassandra sitting regally at the top of the driveway, all her chest fur fluffed out. Chin level, she panned left and right and back again, scanning for likely intruders. Every molecule of her eight-month-old body screamed, “I’m in charge here.”

It’s a German Shepherd thing.

Digging under the gate is not so much a German Shepherd thing. Cassie’s accomplice was her best gal pal, Lola, who is an escape artist of retriever-ish extraction. Leap tall fences at a single bound—that’s Lola, formerly Sweet Pea, one of the puppies born at my house last year—although my six-foot dog fence foiled even her remarkable jumping capabilities. Undeterred, they went under.

It can be daunting having a smart dog, but I take comfort that I am smarter, sneakier and have the only set of car keys. I put concrete blocks in the holes they worked so hard to dig, and I don’t leave these two alone for long.

But, oh! it is a delight to watch them romp! They take turns rolling each other over, biting at legs, tail and snout. They part covered in doggy drool, but neither blood nor toothmarks appear. The noise Cass makes is remarkable, somewhere between a whine and a roar, something like a low flying jet both in decibels and in how it grates on human ears. I never knew a puppy could make that sound.

Here they are plotting escape. From right to left, it’s Cassie, Lola’s friend Amiga, Lola, and mournful old Toby, who can only take a little of the girls’ society.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Seeking society

A card-carrying introvert, I cherish my time alone. I need it. I crave time to let the many potential responses to colleagues, friends, neighbors and family—especially family—settle to the point that I am measured and calm in what I actually say. I conjure up a stunning variety of scenarios as I try to figure out what is “really” going on. There is no question that I am over-sensitive—my life experiences have led me to where I am, as yours, gentle reader, have led you, although we would all like to think that we can rise above such simplistic conditioning.

All that therapy, all that writing, and I am left with the irony that if I want to respond simply and authentically to another person, I have to spend a lot of time processing, thinking, mostly just musing about not only how I want to respond, but more basically, how I want to perceive the situation and my range of possible responses.

I do have friends and family, some more distant than I would prefer, but that is not in my control. And I understand that my social safety net of human connection is frayed as a result of moving three times in the last decade. Big moves, like divorces, take about three years to re-establish equilibrium. I do have a life, which has many, many satisfactions and much happiness, and I am blessed that I enjoy my own company.

But all that thinking, all that time alone—there is a sense in which it is unhealthy. There is nobody to pull me out of abstraction, nobody to say to me, “Just a cotton-pickin’ minute….you are way off base,” preferably in a loving and respectful tone. Oversensitive, doncha know.

So, I’m thinking I need to meet more people. Can you sense how my teeth are gritted when I say this? It is so much work for me! And yet, I know there is a payoff. Two decades ago, when I was first living in New York, a painfully shy bumpkin, I undertook to conquer my basic shyness by committing to talk to three new people a day. Anyone. The counter man in the coffee shop, people on the subway platform, the person sliding by on the opposite escalator (very safe, that one!) It worked. Very soon, I was talking up a storm to anyone and everyone. I ended up dating someone from the subway--one of my healthiest relationships with a very nice man.

Meeting more people in rural Vermont is tougher, but I refuse to believe it is impossible. Now past the magic three-year mark, I get invited to parties from time to time and I make a point of going. It is time to take up contradance again, and maybe some group hikes. The first step is getting out in the world more, since nobody is likely to come uninvited to my front door to bring me a fuller, brighter life.

The next step will be to pay attention. Again and again in my life, prospective friends and would-be lovers have stopped me, lectured me, whacked me silly to say, “Hey! You! I am trying to be friendly. Could you please notice my efforts?” Who knows how many interesting new people are circling even now, while I make my oblivious march through a good but solitary life?

Monday, April 03, 2006


A friend, Vermont born and bred, came by today to help me figure out how to fix the dishwasher. During the last subzero snap, it did a little snapping of its own, pouring water down through the kitchen floorboards into the cellar. Not a pretty sight.

I figured it had something to do with the cold, frozen lines popping free of connections. Maybe even, I mused, it was my own fault for filling that big hole with spray foam. I learned years ago that insulating old houses can be tricky, sometimes blocking warm air flow that kept pipes cozy. Not this time.

“Dear,” intoned my friend, the only man I know who can address me in such a way without being remotely flirtatious, “You have a rat.”

Oh, ick. This is not the pastoral haven I dreamt of in Brooklyn. There were rats there, big, honking, muscled ones, but I thought Vermont had only cute little mice. Maybe a skunk or a porcupine now and then, unpleasant rodents all. But rats?

Behind the dishwasher, the intruder had a superhighway from outdoors, and tasty hoses to chew. He got them all, the water supply hose, the squiggly little connector, and the drain hose—big holes bitten out of them. Over fifty dollars worth of parts, before I pay my friend for his time.

All the holes are filled now, with that trusty expanding foam. I think I will stock a couple extra cans and go on a rampage filling holes in cellar and utility room. A mouse or two or even twenty—I never minded sharing my warm house with them as long as they stayed off the kitchen counters and out of the drawers—but rats? No, thank you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Now that’s what I call customer service

The puppy loves the vacuum cleaner. She likes to chase it, barking her fool head off. And she absolutely loves to chew on the hose. She chewed the hose so completely that she severed it from the connection into the main compartment.

Sighing, not even daring to think about how expensive it might be, I placed a call to the source, Jeff Campbell’s Clean Team online catalog. Teresa called me back. Imagine that, she called me back. And then today, she called me back again, and she left a detailed message including instructions on how to salvage my vacuum cleaner hose.

It turns out that it is designed to have a chunk of the hose cut away, then it simply screws back into the fitting. I tried it. The repair works, way better than my last repair which relied on duct tape. And I no longer need a new vacuum cleaner hose.

Now that’s what I call customer service. Teresa could easily have sold me a new hose, but I am much happier to spend money on other products from the Clean Team. And yes, the Swedish Big Vac vacuum cleaner works great—I have had mine for at least four years.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why I write

The most annoying thing about therapy—yes, therapy, I spent a lot of time in New York and learned the value of therapy—is when the therapist tells you something and you say, “No, that’s wrong,” only to realize an hour later that it is right. Humph.

“You use your writing as therapy,” she said. “Yes, I agreed,” while inwardly thinking “It’s soooo much more than that.” Outlet for the rant of the day. Communication with family and far-flung friends in a kind of overarching, ongoing holiday letter. Platform for discussing issues that are important to me at work or in human interactions. Artful rearrangement of the events of my life in a way that might speak to my readers. A way to play with words or ideas, a rollicking gambol through my interior world.

“Doesn’t it bother you that it is so public?” Sometimes it does, but mostly it intrigues me, this border between private life and public, writing for self and writing for reader. There are issues that are not suitable for blogdom, either because they impinge on someone else’s privacy or are not adequately respectful of my reader or myself.

I try to write as if anyone might be reading, particularly the person that I least want to have read my writing—say the person I most annoyed lately, or the person who most annoyed me. I try not to be flippant, which I view as disrespectful, or to fall into the trap of ranting “Ain’t it awful!” which I view as lazy and irrelevant. I try very hard not to use cheap tricks to be amusing at someone’s expense, not to dine out on anyone’s distress. I fail in these goals from time to time, but I try to keep the overall thrust of my writing is respectful and thoughtful.

In the end, maybe the best reason I write is to cultivate that attitude of thoughtful consideration and respect. I’m as quick-tempered as anyone, but when I sit down to write about someone or some situation that is at the top of my consciousness, I am often amazed at what comes flowing out of that process. Many, many times, I have sat down thinking I knew exactly what the issue is—“that so-and-so is a jerk!"—only to have the writing process change my opinion, while I look on helplessly. Or I start writing about one subject that I think is top-of-mind, only to find that I need to change my title at the end. Humph.

Words are treacherous. We keep grasping for the right ones, falling back as we realize that we don’t have anywhere near enough common meanings to be able to communicate, and then in a flash, we do. It is a kind of magic, that moment of insight, just like that scene in The Miracle Worker when Helen Keller first understands what a word is.

Writing, for me, is like that, over and over again.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Interior life

You may have the power to force through the changes you want to see but with Mars and Jupiter at a rather dangerous angle to one another you will encourage opposition and, later on, those you have forced to do your bidding will in some way or other hit back at you. Persuasion is always better than compulsion. Remind yourself of that fact today.

Oh, dear. I am weary of persuasion. I recognize the need for a gentle touch, and I do respect my fellow creatures. But it can be such very hard work.

Communications is hard work for everyone. I keep reminding impatient colleagues that research shows that feckless, inattentive humans (that is all of us) do not hear a message the first time, the third, or sometimes even the tenth time. So we are not allowed to give up on our chosen audience until we have said the same thing ten times. Boring? Yes. We can’t invest in crafting, strategizing and multiple delivery of every message, but we must do the work to achieve the goal for the ones that are important enough.

Those of us who are introverts have so little desire to venture outside our own heads that we must learn technique to make those forays as fruitful as possible. We learn superior communication techniques in self-defense, so that we can spend as little time and energy as possible getting our messages across, with the reward of retreat back to the interior life.

Introverts are not exactly rare, but we are in the minority, some 20% of the population by most estimates. Why should we be surprised if people think us odd? And why should we care? For all the discomforts of standing on the sidelines while others are picked for teams or of being the wallflower at dances or of being the one in the office that people forget to invite out for drinks—for all that, we have the amazing gift that we are happy in our own company.

I tried, and failed, to explain this to my dental hygienist. “Please don’t keep asking if I am okay,” I pleaded. “I need to zone out. There is a lot going on inside my head, and if you talk to me, it spikes my anxiety—not what you were trying to do, I know.” She didn’t understand, but never mind. I will keep trying. Nine times to go, then I give up and change dentists. Well, not really. Why on earth would I accept care from a person who didn’t hear me after three or four times?

Analytical to a fault, I can divide the world into people who think I do too much to explain and communicate, and those who think I do too little. As I age and become more comfortable in my own skin, I am less patient with those who think that I need to do more and more and more to explain who I am or to be different. I have communications skills that are above average, skills in which I have invested to a significant degree—I know that. So I need to accept that people who do not hear my message simply may not agree with me—that’s really okay. And if they disagree angrily, it usually has nothing to do with me.

There were times in my life when I did not like myself much, although others preferred the more placid, people-pleasing version, and I changed. After a lifetime of being put in the wrong, I now take the Popeye position: I yam what I yam. Or more elegantly put, I am as God made me—introvert and all—and I like how I am.

All this self-knowledge does not change the fact that sometimes I just get tired. I have had a few weeks of a lot of demands from clients and colleagues for interaction—it wears on anyone, but especially on an introvert. I need a break.

As I write this, there is a flash of rust color at my vision’s edge. Robins—two of them, a whole flock of little grayish brown birds, and a stunning black and white striped woodpecker with a red head. The birds are back, so is the mud, and it is spring. Can flowers be far behind?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Conflict and stress and tears, oh my!

There may be a great deal of conflict in your life today, dear Leo, and different people and situations seem to be pulling you in all directions. Your sanity is being put to the test. Try not to be too stubborn, for this will only cause more tension among you and the situations that you encounter. You have the potential of stressing out over the smallest things. Try to avoid this scenario if you can.

Sometimes it seems that the world is all too ready to chew me up and spit me out. It has been a week—or more—of days like that. Honestly, where do people get the idea that I need to think and be exactly like them?

I have clients who want more, more, more. I have colleagues who want to second guess my decisions and pile their work on my plate, then other colleagues who are franticly trying to regroup after losing key team members. I have issues to track in the legislature, where they seem to be making a lot of sausage this year (don’t we say that every year?). I have a eight-month-old smart puppy who wants to test every single limit placed on her, working—as we say in the South—on my last nerve. I have an assistant who is home with a sick child. Everybody has their reasons for being where and how they are, and I don’t really think they are conspiring to make my life miserable. Not really.

On the contrary, when life seems altogether too, too much, it is often…well….me. It is time for a change of direction. Time to say no and dance away. Time to let projects slide. Time to disarm attacks with, “You may be right.” Time to do something entirely different. Likely my change of approach will cause yet more anger. Never mind. I can’t control all of them or any of them, but I can get out of reach.

None of this is worth tears.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Frost heaves

First day of spring. Big, long, wavy icicles vote otherwise. New snow last night tempted us out for a round of snowshoeing, just me and puppies old and new. It was a beautiful morning, but springlike? No.

Still, the roads think it is springtime. They have metamorphosed into washboards. Frost, as they say, heaves the pavement up, but not in any uniformity. Just here and there. Others rate the winter’s rigors. My friend over on Stagecoach Road rates spring’s rambunctious turn by how many cars bounce right off the road and into his sugarbush. Four, this year. So far.

It is one of those repetitive, seasonal events that is almost a commentary. Frost heaves. Both noun and sentence whole, the relentless slowing of molecules somehow causes the road’s surface to move further than you would think possible. Frost heaves, causing frost heaves, causing cars to bounce and shimmy.

Careful readers of my blog will have noted that I love a duplicitous title, a name that works two ways or even more. Frost heaves. And when the frost heaves most heartily, spring isn’t far behind.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Life with pictures

Had to replace the umbilical cord for my digital camera. Here as promised is Miss Cassie watching the Westminster Dog Show. She only likes shows with dogs.

And here is what a tired puppy looks like. Tired puppy equals good puppy.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Quiet friendship

The dogs and I had a nice visit with Robert of Beginner’s Mind and his family yesterday. We got a little lost trying to find their house, but once there Cassie and Toby were delighted to meet Cain. They romped and played, then snoozed while we ate lunch and spent hours at the local library’s annual book sale. Baby Ethan watched dog antics and human browsing with equanimity—a cheerful baby, the kind that lures young parents into having more.

Blowout extravaganza of cookbooks and gardening books and crafty guides: total price eight dollars. Who says entertainment has to be expensive?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I meant what I said and I said what I meant

Jola writes,

But do you really believe what you wrote, and what the horoscope said? For example, I think that life here on earth is to be taken very seriously (whether there's nothingness or a form of heaven afterwards or not). Unfortunately, it all too often it doesn't "come right in the end." (I just realized that there's an offcolor interpretation to the latter phrase - and that indeed does happen, figuratively speaking.) I don't view life as a country dance. Collaborative teamwork can be like that, yes, but not my life. I don't experience my own life as a passing through before I become disconnected atoms and "swirling spirit." (Sorry, I don't even buy the swirling spirit part!) I'm sure I'm taking your post too literally, but it started me thinking about what I DO believe.

Karen - you're kidding about Bush, right? You must be aware that he's led the nation on a "glorious adventure" in Iraq and despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, and many slipping into thoughts of doom and gloom, he continues to insist it will all come right in the end...

I do believe what I wrote, although I take no responsibility for the horoscope. I do view life as a contra dance. I do believe this life on earth is only one stage in a much broader existence. While this may be the only part of existence of which I (this particular configuration of atoms) am conscious, it is not all there is.

I agree it does not all come right in the end, that there is pain, heartache and darkness in the world. From a theological point of view, I even believe that darkness is necessary if we are to see the light. That does not mean that I think any individual evil (death, illness, injury, mold and mildew) is sent from God. When evil intrudes into our lives, I believe we should take time to grieve, but that the end of grief is acceptance and return to the dance—which can take a very, very long time.

As you may have figured out by now, I am a card-carrying Christian. I believe that God wants us happy, and I believe that in the end (whereever you measure the end) it often comes out beautiful. I believe that heartache can bring lessons to a listening heart. This is, however, a matter of faith, which is a gift from God, not something that the most talented preacher can convey.

Is life serious? In the sense that we owe ourselves and others respect, yes. In the sense that we have any control over the ultimate outcome—death—no. We might as well dance.

Re Bush, I am not particularly a fan of trashing either political party. It is all our representatives in Washington working together who made the choices that led to the Iraq war, and it is all of us who put them there. I am a registered voter, but with no party affiliation, because I don’t see much to choose from—no leadership on right or left. In fact, I am not—in general—a fan of the “ain’t it awful?” school of conversation. It bores me. I would rather dance.

Yes, I am serious. This is what I believe. Opinions will vary, and many, many people disagree with me. Next!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Glorious adventure

Your naturally optimistic nature will come to your rescue today. As others slip into thoughts of doom and gloom because of what's going on in the world you will go right the other way and see it all as a glorious adventure. And you're right - it is. Nothing in life is to be taken too seriously. Rest assured it will all come right in the end.

There is no question that how we greet the world shapes our reality. Perhaps the most powerful little word I ever learned is “Next!”

When colleagues fail to live up to their part of the bargain, there’s a time to renegotiate and a time to move on. I have been talking to several colleagues who just don’t see the point of collaborating. They would rather moan about how bad things are than get excited about what could be. I think they have given up too easily, missing the dance by sitting it out. But I can only encourage them to play, then move on myself. "Next!"

When family members berate or ignore you, “Next!”

When plans don’t turn out as expected, take a breath, then “Next!”

If this sounds suspiciously like turning the other cheek, it is that and more. It is recognizing that in the long term, our physical bodies return to dust and mold, and our swirling spirit can only brush the cheeks of those other physical bodies we once loved, counseling joy.

Meanwhile, this short time as overly serious, dumpy, earthly physical beings should not get us down. This life is a glorious adventure, a dance. Sometimes we clasp hands, sometimes we let go. Holding on too hard or letting go too soon spoils the dance. Getting it right, using our bodily weight and our clasped hands to counter momentum and free us from gravity’s earthly bonds is a foretaste of heaven.

If I can keep this attitude in my daily practice and in my interactions with other creatures, perhaps when it is time to give up this glorious adventure, I will accept willingly the return to a state of being as disconnected atoms, swirling spirit. Meanwhile, I am called to the dance. Next!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

First Tuesday in March

Five Town Meetings today. I work for one of those nonprofits that derive funding in part from a line item in the budget or a specific article. Not surprising, then, that from time to time questions arise at Town Meeting about what we do and why the voters should support us. I am happy to oblige, because I am truly grateful, but even I could only manage five Town Meetings today representing half of of the Towns that support us.

Johnson is the most polite and orderly. Cambridge is civilized enough to take a break at mid-day for chicken and biscuits. Morristown has the biggest turnout in person, but strangely almost no food--dry muffins and watery coffee. Stowe has the best food (chicken pie and carrot cake, yum!)

But Hyde Park is home. I see the same neighbors on the same spots in the bleachers, and when someone calls for a paper ballot, we all enjoy the opportunity to stretch and jabber for a few minutes. Then it's back to the bleachers to knit, nod and whisper as neighbors opine, and solemnly intone "Aye" or "Nay."

As a Vermont transplant, I love Town Meeting Day. My first year I was amazed at the tolerance of diversity of views and the highly developed skills of social discourse. By now, I have come to recognize that what I once saw as politeness is sometimes the Yankee economy of not spending much energy on a fight you can't win or on a fight that has already been held many times over in generations past.

Today in Stowe, for example, the Town decided not to go to Australian ballot to vote on the budget. Recapping the argments, one Selectboard member pulled out an almost identical proposal from the 1976 Town Meeting notes.

Most towns are done by early afternoon, even contentious Stowe. Then it's off for a romp in the sunshine, an afternoon free to play in the snow, spring's advent teased into our consciousness by another Town Meeting Day. It may not be spring yet, but surely it is coming.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Step right up. Get your winning ticket. Pick your entry in the springtime lottery. No, it’s not in the raffle for when the ice goes out on Joe’s Pond.

My mother sent me today a big box of spring flowers—daffodils and forsythia and spiny pink flowers and spiky white long stems. One vase on the television, one on a side table, they do brighten my wintry living room.

One of the shocks of living in Vermont is that the forsythia does not bloom. Before Vermont, I was accustomed to the bright yellow cascades as a sign of spring, and even after I learned that the bush is pretty darn invasive, I still welcomed its annual show. In Vermont, where winter temperatures can drop to forty below zero, buds freeze and there is no show. Not forsythia and only sometimes crabapple.

So it is lovely to have some blooming sticks in my house. It hasn’t been a hard winter, not at all, but spring will still be very welcome.

Still you have to wonder how long I will have these flowers. The puppy circles. I fear we may be looking at hours rather than days. Get your winning ticket soon.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Winter ways

I’m getting the hang of burning wood. And I am watching my own perspectives shift. I used to set the thermostat and wait for oil deliveries, like anyone who has an oil furnace. Now I start the weekend with a wood fire in the combination furnace, and I enjoy my house all the more because it is warmer than my penny-pinching would tolerate of the oilman. Actually, I run a three-fuel household, applying oil, gas and wood each in its best use as I see it. The oil is the backdrop, with a small gas stove in the living room for a cozy fire that warms my toes when the north wind kicks up. I have appreciated both, but I revel in the dry, toasty warmth of a wood fire in the furnace.

Now it seems luxury to be able to sleep through the night without stoking the fire. The oil burner kicks in, and I stay cozy under the covers. This morning I went down and found warm ash that sparked when I stirred it. Ah. A little newspaper, some kindling, and a log, and we are in business again.

You have a relationship with a wood fire that you don’t have with an oil burner. A wood fire takes skill to build (learnable), it needs tending, and it repays your care. I can see how burning wood could be an essential element of the Vermont winter experience—its warmth, its fussiness, the daily repetition of task. Not to mention the extended work of getting wood in. City-spoiled as I am, I will order up a couple cords to keep my weekends toasty. I know how hard people work to bring in their wood.

Yesterday at a neighbor’s sliding party, I met a guy who brought a big black sled with a rope handle. Heating his home entirely by wood, he needs to make trips into the forest from time to time, hauling back the little stuff and bigger stuff on his sled. I suspect that despite the gruff exterior, he also needs a slide or two each winter. I gotta get me a sled like that.

The sliding was great to watch, the party a little daunting. I have been here three years, and I don’t get a lot of invitations. Shy to a fault, I force myself to accept most invitations so that I put myself in a position to interact socially—not so bad once you get past the reserve. Fortunately, Vermonters don’t really care if you talk to them or not. You can just stand there and admire the sliding technique, later bring out the puppy on a leash to get her a little socialization, too.

I am here to report to my Southern kin that if these people were magically transported to a Georgia hillside on one of those biennial occasions of four or five inches of snow, they would be amused at how little we warm-dwellers know about sliding. I had been to a sliding party once before, but that one was populated by transplants, who simply do not get it.

Everyone of every age took some kind of trip down the hill in total abandon to the triumph of gravity over friction. The Vermont-born take to the snow like otters to a stream, whooping and falling, going down in groups, then scrambling out of the way before the next slider knocks into them like bowling pins…or sometimes daring collisions and rolling in the snow. Teenagers were present in number, and despite a few moans, “Maaaaa, do I have to be here?” were the most active sliders. One girl, pepped up on cold and laughter, stopped on the way to her parents’ car to flop down and make one more perfect snow angel. I have always thought of sliding as an activity for little kids, but it was clear that they were just learning. The parents were right in there, falling off their tubes and rolling in the snow, laughing at themselves and along with their offspring, demonstrating that sliding technique does take decades to perfect.

Clothing and equipment and party venue all are designed for this kind of an afternoon. When I first moved here, I would not have believed that people can have a party that is mostly outdoors on a twenty degree day. There was a heated garage space to accommodate people who needed to warm up—that’s where the food and beer were—but mostly people were outdoors for hours at a time. Warm boots, snow pants (no fancy schmancy ski clothes here), and peculiar looking but functional headwear make this possible. Sliding equipment ranged from tubes (the ones for sliding are filled in the middle) to snowmobiles to the hot new skateboard-on-a-ski. No making do with cafeteria trays or cardboard boxes for these serious sliders.

In the hours I was there, I eventually unbent enough to consider going down the hill. It helped a lot to see one of my board members demonstrate the superior sliding technique developed over his forty years of life in Vermont, whooping and hollering as he did so. He also confided the important tip that you should never go down the hill with your beer in your pocket. But by then, I was cold and the puppy was fussy. Maybe we will get our own sliding equipment and she can pull me along—I think she would like that kind of work. Or then again, maybe you can only properly slide at a party, laughing and bouncing off your neighbors, warming up with chili and hot chocolate, and going out to do it again.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The curse of February

This morning it was clear and not too cold (that’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit for you non-Vermonters) so we continued the pedometer challenge, again on snowshoes. The calendar has moved forward, renewing the gift of light. By seven, it is now light enough for an enjoyable tramp, a good—no, make that great—half hour with landscape and romping dogs.

Suddenly, I realized: it is March. March, march, march. Tramp, tramp, tramp. If it is March, that means that dreary February is past. Woo hoo! Yippeee!!!!

I have always hated February. How can such a short month pack in so much hatefulness? As a sufferer from the aptly named SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I know to watch out for autumn retreat of light and to be particularly on guard in February. I know, the days start extending at the winter solstice in December, but my personal experience is that the world is not quite right until February is over. Ever optimistic, I hope every year will be different, but no.

Still, this year it didn’t seem so bad. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention to dreading February, and it slipped right by me while I was doing something else. Or maybe it is because we really have had an easy winter, hardly even any snow and few subzero days. Or just maybe I am actually learning to moderate my own behavior to live with the rigors of the outside world, including February’s call for enhanced indoor lighting, disciplined physical activity, and patience.

One way or another, for this year at least, the curse of February is broken. Let us March forward toward spring!

I once knew a little girl, not so little by now, whose birthday was March fourth. How perfect is that for a birthday?

Please read Julia’s exquisite comment to Dancing on Snowshoes. A woman with her priorities straight, that’s our Julia.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dancing on snowshoes, with dog

These are the mornings you dream of when you think of moving to Vermont. About four inches of fresh, fluffy snow, bright sunshine, not too cold, and a puppy who wants to romp in the snow. Yesterday was a morning for snowshoes, and Miss Cassandra and I tramped up the field and back, stopping from time to time to do a little work on her “Come!”

The challenge in training for long recall, the experts tell me, is that you have to be more interesting to the dog than anything else in the area. Roast beef works for us, larded with heavy praise. The technique I was taught is to say “Come” only once, stand still and wait for the dog. It’s okay to talk encouragingly, but you don’t keep saying the command or the dog’s name, which are loaded words. When the dog does come, you give a really good treat and praise for a full thirty seconds, which can seem very long when you actually do it.

It is only one command, but Cassie is doing well with this one, better perhaps in the open field than in the back yard where she wants the freedom to roam the yard outside the fence or to visit next door big dog Jake. We are having our little clashes of will over the back yard, but I intend to win, since the big payoff is knowing that Cassie is safe from traffic and pedestrians and wildlife. The big, wide world is no place for an unattended dog.

Toby and Max got very good at recall, with the result that I could take them anywhere and know how they would react off leash. I want Cassie to have this freedom, too, a freedom earned by good manners. So a few times a week, off we go to work on manners.

Yesterday morning, though, did not feel like work. It was sheer joy to be outdoors. This may be the most ideal snowshoe conditions I have ever experienced. Tramping along, feeling long muscles stretch and sunshine on my face, I was a happy girl. If anyone had seen us out there at the back of my neighbor’s field, they would have seen a figure in black and red, striding in time to the iPod, with a furry streak loping lazy circles around me. They wouldn’t, of course have been able to hear me singing along, “You can’t always get what you want….but by and by, you get what you need.”

We might even have danced a little, snowshoes and all.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Painting with puppies

By this I mean “painting with puppies in the house” and not using the little blighters as brushes. Here is my best practice, honed over several houses and quite a few puppies.

Buy a house with blue carpet (I hate blue carpet), preferably aged blue carpet. As you live through either the puppy housebreaking stage or the incontinent old dog stage, remind yourself that you hate blue carpet.

Plan relentlessly so that wallpaper and paint colors flow nicely through the house. You may redecorate one room, but make sure you love the colors. Don’t worry about stains on the blue carpet. Don’t include the blue carpet in your color scheme—like that would happen!

Generally, I like to have one trim color throughout the house, and I use a lot of nice grayish greens, usually a historical blue-green, sometimes a pink but not too much to the Pepto-Bismol end of the scale. Pale lavender is nice. In this house, I may do a deep red dining room since there is not too much wall space anyway in a room with three windows, two doors and an archway to the kitchen. Or maybe a deep goldenrod.

When you start to paint, have a staging area in a room with a door that latches. I cannot stress how important this is, having learned the hard way. Speak lovingly to your puppy, keeping attention focused on your own sweet self and away from the intriguing equipment. Putting the puppy in the fenced yard is cheating.

Once you have completed all your walls--this will take several long holiday weekends, as evidenced by my Easter bathroom, my Thanksgiving stencilled kitchen floor, and now my President's day upstairs hall and half a bedroom--you are ready to call someone to rip out the blue carpet. Then you can do what you want. This step is best timed for when your are between puppy housebreaking and incontinent old dogs.

Meanwhile, don’t paint for too many hours at a time. When you get tired, you stop talking to the puppy. Tired, you are also more likely to do things like step on the can to close it tight and send it shooting across the floor on its side, still open. Clean up promptly and put brushes—which attract puppies—up high. Higher.

Today this worked. It doesn’t always. In the event it does not work, please remember not to apply turpentine or denatured alcohol to your puppy. And do try to ignore the swirls—so beautiful!—left on the dining room wall by the fluffy tail. I wonder if the people who bought the Chattanooga house ever noticed.

What fun!

Is there anything in the world as appealing as a six-month-old puppy? Despite the rigors of housebreaking and cleaning up wreckage, Cassandra really is a love. She is old enough now to learn, and she is attentive, quick, lively and responsive.

Yesterday we did a long walk in the fields, a pre-launch of the winter challenge I am beginning today. Start with 5,000 steps (two and a half miles) a day and work up to twice that over eight weeks. Simple compounding at ten percent each week will do it. The first, perhaps the biggest challenge is to get back to some meaningful level of activity every day.

I am the Queen of Behavior Modification. If there is something I want to introduce into my daily routine, I know how to do it. Set goals, measure relentlessly. No self bashing, but keep measuring. If you don’t get there, analyze the roadblocks and systematically remove them.

For many years that I lived on Staten Island and commuted to work on Wall Street, I had a healthy daily exercise routine. I caught the six o’clock ferry, was in the gym at 6:30, which gave me time for daily aerobic conditioning, weights three times a week, stretching (sheer joy to me), and even a leisurely shower and sauna before I got to my desk at 8:20 or so.

Obstacles that I overcame in designing my workout mornings were many. Here are a few of the solutions.
• Have five sets of workout clothes so that laundry is never an excuse.
• Sleep in them.
• Put your suit on over your workout clothes—nobody on the ferry cares. If you put on your suit, rather than carrying it separately, you are less likely to forget critical items like your blouse.
• Wear your sneakers and keep your dress shoes (black and navy) at work.
• Go to the gym every day. When the clock goes off, get up and get dressed. Don’t even think about the possibility that you might not go. If you think you can’t do it this morning, never mind, go. Once you get there, the odds that you won’t actually do something—even just a little stretching and sauna—are very slim.
This schedule worked for years, until I changed jobs to work on the trading floor where the workday starts at 7:00. I never successfully made the transition to late afternoon workouts.

So I am trying to design a similarly robust exercise schedule that I hope will last me for the rest of my life, now that I know that working on trading floors and in investment banks is dangerous to my health, now that I know I absolutely must manage my daily routine as a matter of life and death.

One approach that is helping me is to think about activity not only in terms of steps but in terms of time. Most people walk at a rate of two miles an hour, so my beginning level can be equated not only to 5,000 steps but also to an hour and fifteen minutes of activity a day. Think of my friend Mary ( ) who walks in her home. She breaks up her ten miles a day into three sessions—so many minutes in the morning, the largest block at lunchtime, and so many in late afternoon. Taking off from her model, I might do forty-five minutes in the morning—lark that I am—, then twenty minutes at lunchtime to learn to take a break in the middle of the day, and then a short stroll to unwind at the end of the day. I put the greatest number of minutes at the time of day I can most control, before other people’s demands have wrought havoc with my schedule and my energy level.

Next week, I will have to add more minutes, miles, and steps to each time of day. This week it is enough to establish a new routine.

My best hope, of course, is that being obligated to go out and play with this wonderful little girl puppy does not feel like obligation at all. As daylight hours lengthen, we will be out in the morning for a long romp across the fields, working on solidifying her recall skills and refreshing brother Toby’s. At lunchtime, I come home to take the puppy out of her kennel for a break, and this enforced schedule has already—over the last several months—pried me out of my office and away from the computer for a healthy mid-day break, to which I can now add a short walk. Evenings will be my new challenge, but maybe not even. As we slink toward spring, it will be no burden to prowl my two acres, picking up sticks and debris scattered by the winter winds, peering this way and that at how the garden might be reshaped, and watching for the first new green shoots.

This is after all why I moved to Vermont. To live closer to the earth. To live a healthy life. To live a happy life.

What dogs really want

We like to think we play an important role in our dogs’ lives, not just a kibble provider and romping companion, but as somehow central. A book I read many years ago put this vain hope into perspective: it turns out that what dogs really want is other dogs.

See Miss Cassandra enjoying the Westminster Dog Show last night. [Sorry, I have a lovely photo, but have lost the cord to my digital camera.] I had to laugh. I don’t think I have ever seen her watch television so attentively in her short six months of life.

Meanwhile, her house-wrecking has escalated. I had a long day Friday, and it was too cold for her to come along, so I came home to an azalea plant flung around the living room—two piles of potting soil ground into the carpet and one pile of thrown-up azalea leaves as evidence—and an almost empty jar of peanut butter. This new assault on items on counter height and above is very alarming, as is the capacity to take lids off peanut butter jars. Pincushion and balls of yarn were easy, expected targets, but the bag of flour and the carton of eggs stolen from the kitchen counter—unexpected and not a good trend.

The new phone ($8 at Big Lots!) still in its armor packaging may have survived its turn as a chew toy, but the old phone did not, its cord wrapped around and around the foot of the guest room bed and chewed to shreds. If you know me outside blogland and you are trying to reach me by phone….leave a message, okay?

For reasons too complex to go into, my internet connection has been moved from one end of my house to the other end—where there is only one outlet. I operate a wireless network at home, so my internet lifeline is unaffected, but it will take some time before I can get an electrician in and have the Vonage phone set up again. It will happen, Mintaining communications in this fast-changing, technological world can be challenging, but it will happen—after all, just as what dog really want is other dogs, what people really want is other people.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Tropical vacation

Honestly, having the house really warm for a couple of days is as good as a tropical vacation. I am wearing only one layer, a long fleecey dress that sometime serves as nightgown without even any long undies. I just passed over the heat vent and thought I would swoon with delight.


Why don’t we have a warm house all the time, you ask. It’s not easy to get drafty old farmhouses warm in the first place, and keeping them warm requires an unacceptable financial commitment.

As time goes on, I will get accustomed to my wood furnace. I will learn how to manage the amount of heat I generate, which is controlled partly by the number of times I toddle downcellar to add a log and partly by the thermostat that controls air flow to the fire. Again from T the wisdom, “There is a fine line between keeping the fire going and letting your wood heat go up the chimney.”

Ayuh. Right now I see all that wood downstairs as a free resource, but as I learn to manage it, I will see each log as an hour (or so) of heat and will be able to trade off the cost of wood against the cost of oil in the furnace.

So far I really like burning wood. I am off today to buy an ash bucket. Ask me again next year when I am weary of hauling and stacking wood, doubly weary of hauling ash up the stairs. But I am fortunate that I can burn wood when I want and let the oil come on betweentimes, so I am not as tied to the daily clean and burn routine as many of my neighbors.

For today, I am enjoying having enough warmth to do some sorting and organizing, moving from room to room without having to worry about keeping warm. I am making bread without having to coddle the yeasties in the oven with a pan of hot water. The dogs will likely entice me out for a run later in the day, and when I come home I can luxuriate in warmth all over again. I might even take a bubble bath.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Three degrees above zero, that’s what the weather says it was this morning in my town. When the temperature dives, things start to go wrong at my house. The clothes washer’s drain freezes so water backs up all over the utility room. The dishwasher freezes, and this time it is sending sheets of water cascading into the cellar.


But I have been waiting for a cold weekend to try burning wood in my combination wood-oil furnace. When I first bought the house, I was intrigued by this large metal contraption in the cellar and by the even larger stack of wood down there. But then I saw this episode of This Old House, the one where the plumber’s brother burns his house down, and—to my dismay—he had the same model furnace as mine. Of course, their strategy was to build the fire up high in the morning, then leave the house, returning only after the fire had burned down to nothing and the oil had kicked in. Not a good idea to stuff your firebox full, then leave the house.

Living alone, it takes a long time to get accustomed to new systems in the house. Like what to do when the washer drain and the dishwasher freeze.

So I waited, biding time until I could have the chimney cleaned and the furnace serviced. Each professional who came through counseled me, Be careful! Don’t build the fire too big! But each one encouraged me that burning wood was just fine. Better than fine. It’s the Vermont way. Of course, you want to burn wood.

The man who sold me the house knows wood well. He makes furniture for a living, and left the cellar lined with neatly split logs as well as bags of small stuff from the factory. I always figured I would have to haul it out of there. But then again, why not try burning it? The former owner always said how nice it was on a very cold day to have a wood fire to keep the toes toasty, and being a native Vermonter, he meant a day like this when the temperature drops toward zero and below.

An hour after I started, I was still struggling with newspaper and kindling trying to get them under the big logs that I had thoughtless chunked right in there. I have built fires before, but somehow it is easier in a fireplace, when the whole operation is in front of you rather than deep in a metal firebox…and you have been warned not to build above its doorsill. Hours later, I found the directions, online—honestly, isn’t it amazing?—and another set in my file cabinet, thoughtfully left by the former owner. Oh, yes, perhaps I should read this. And what does a water softener do, anyway?

The wood in the cellar is as nice as you could possibly want. Cut to the proper length for the furnace and split, oh so nicely. Big logs. Piles and piles of them, three layers deep against the cellar wall. Aged for at least two years now, nice and dry, well aged.

It’s five o’clock now, and I have been luxuriating in warmth all day long. This is not the way life is for me when I burn oil. I keep the thermostat at an aerobics-encouraging sixty degrees when I burn oil, but when I burn wood, the thermostat serves only to provide more or less air to the spectacular, intense blaze down there in my furnace.

I had to call my friend, T, and exclaim, “My house is warm!” She understands. She knows far better than I do the cold, clammy, insidious fingers of Vermont winters, creeping in through mousehole and crevice, but in fighting them off, she is a pro. A lifer. She heats her house with wood all the time, or rather with wood and several golden retrievers. It’s generally pretty cold there, because like other native Vermonters, T’s response when the temperature drops is to put on another sweater. Now it is my response, too.

Today, she was ranting about another friend on the end of a telephone line, a friend who was complaining about how cold it was. “Only sixty degrees!” (Yeah, right…) “And last night, it was down to twenty-five degrees! How do you stand it up there?”

At the very instant that T was relaying this lament, I was walking with my trusty cell phone (911 pre-programmed just in case I need the fire department) to the front porch, where I was mightily encouraged to see that the temperature had risen to a bearable twenty-five degrees. I burst out laughing, then had to explain, “I was just thinking. Now it is twenty-five degrees, so it is warm enough to take the dogs out for a run.”

It’s all in your expectations, isn’t it?

Still, being able to take a day to be toasty—and better yet for free—as you burn cheerfully through the wood left in the cellar. That is a day of riches.

I might do it again tomorrow.

“Half your wood and half your hay by Groundhog Day.” T intoned this piece of Vermont lore over the cell phone today. I think I’m okay. Plenty of wood for a few more toasty days. And no hay eaters to put us off, to cause anxiety to intrude in our slow, steady passage to spring.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Night out, damage minimal

“We do this every Friday night,” my friend said. “You just haven’t been since you got the puppy.”


She’s right. I have been tied close to home, checking in for crate escapes every few hours since the end of September.

And all my mental, emotional and psychic energy has been drained away as I kept watch over old Max. Somewhere in the archives of this blog is a piece inspired by a friend who counseled me not to worry so much over old dogs, that their end days would come all too soon without the aid of my anticipation. She was right in that comment, and also right that all the worry ahead may ease the shock of parting, but not the pain.

Love and parting are like light and dark. Experiencing the one makes the other vivid. I, for one, would not give up light for fear of the dark, nor love for fear of parting. Still, there is a time, sad but blessed, when grief recedes, and there is room for a giggle again.

I sat around the bar last night with some old friends and some new ones, having done a hard, good day’s work, and we had a giggle or too. We made bitchy comments, bemoaned our politicians’ labors, allowed as how they (politicians) were probably well intentioned, nattered about local characters, compared Yankees and Southerners, and generally chewed the proverbial. It was a night out.

Driving home under the stars, I considered the price I would have to pay. Since I knew it was a long day, I had left Cassie out of her crate to terrorize Toby and entertain herself.

A sock, a roll of masking tape, and a library book. A roll of paper towels shredded on the stairs. Not bad.

And a mournful puppy who needs a lot of attention today to make up for my night out. But with a little practice, we both might be able to handle mom’s night out again, if only now and then. I’m really not a social creature, you know. But a night out, now and then, is good for me, I think.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Busy, busy

I am looking out the kitchen window watching my six-month-old German Shepherd puppy dig to China. Cassie desperately needs something to do, having spent way too much time in her crate yesterday. Her much older brother, Toby, steadfastly refuses to allow her to chew on his heels. He plays with her more than I have ever seen him play in his nine years with me, but really, enough is enough.

I have been busy, too, trying to organize my office, trying to meet the needs of my clientele as they churn through their resolutions to change their lives and start new business ventures—this is a busy time of year for us—and also trying to re-establish the blessed rhythm of my daily routine.

In a wave of synchronicity, I have been encountering all kinds of advice that people like me need to pay attention to daily rhythms. For people like me, too much difference day to day is dangerous, causing anxiety, stress, binge eating, and flaring temper. My personal daily prescription for happiness consists of seven or eight hours of sleep; a diet rich in high quality, low fat protein, vegetables, and whole grains; an hour’s walk and then some more activity; laughing and talking to someone I love; good productive creative work; and a romp with the pups and some time writing. Now it appears that science supports what I have found to be true for myself, at least for people like me.

Who are people like me? Introverts. People who react badly to too much stress. Women who tend to gain weight around the middle. Middle aged women. That’s about as much self-disclosure as I am up for, but there are many people who are like me, and there are enough who are not like me that my daily prescription is not universal. I have had to learn to be firm about my requirements for my life, even in the face of skepticism and downright disapproval.

So, as much as I loved traveling, it is not for me, or at least not often. And as much as I loved living and working there, New York City became like an addiction to a highly enjoyable, ultimately toxic and fatal drug. My soul craves the peace of rural Vermont. Here I am healing.

Busy times intrude. From time to time, we all have to rise to demands of others. Holidays are a challenge, and loss—however carefully anticipated and prepared—takes a heavy toll. Too much clutter overwhelms me. Meaningless chatter is toxic to me. But the sweet repose of a quiet life beckons, and I am grateful for every day I have it.

Too many days are spent in mindless chatter, and really, why should I bother? There is a reason the puppy is named Cassandra. It is to remind me that people will make their own choices, and that no matter how I rant, they are unlikely to believe what I say. Now I practice saying what I think, then letting people absorb my message. More and more often in this new regimen, they come back to ask my opinion. It is easier on everyone.

The puppy has work to do, but it is not the excavation project that she has undertaken. Her real work is to distract me, to drag me out for walks and romps, to help me live a happy life. Toby’s life work, not assigned but chosen by him, is to love me. They both do their jobs well. I can never repay their joyful industry. A romp or a walk every day is just a start.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Animal communication

Mary Beth’s comment brings back vivid recollections of a cat I had years ago. She was named Walden to pay homage to the part of Massachusetts where I lived at the time, and also because she was a bit simple. A simple life, in many ways.

Walden took as her mode of communications a small stuffed snowman finger puppet that someone gave me one Christmas. Mr. Snowman sat on the mantle in the living room, but every day it seemed, I would find him face down on the floor. Finally, I gave in and allowed Walden to claim Mr. Snowman as her own. It was then that I began to suspect that I might have underestimated her intelligence.

On the occasional day when I was home at eleven in the morning, kitty Walden would go hunting for Mr. Snowman and beat the stuffing out of him. She would throw him in the air, leap up and catch him between her front paws, then kick his belly with both hind legs, claws extended. Ow.

Mr. Snowman was not only her favorite playmate, he also became a mechanism for communication with me. When Walden was hungry, there would be Mr. Snowman, face down in the food bowl. And every evening at my accustomed bedtime, she would pick up Mr. Snowman, bring him into the room where I sat, and drop him at my feet. Then, like Mary Beth’s old cats, she would lovingly sing us all to bed.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Missing parts of my brain

The good thing about having a laptop computer with high speed access and your own blog is that you have extra processing capacity and storage….outside one’s own feeble brain. If I want to remember something, I send myself an e-mail. If I want to think something through, I blog. If I want to touch base with someone I love, there is always e-mail. If I need to expand my horizons, Google is there for me. My computer and the internet are vital links to a whole wide world beyond the small, sometimes parochial, town where I live and work.

Oh, the sadness! Oh, the woe! that piles on day after day of constrained, restricted, intermittent internet access. Some people find e-mail a burden; for me, it is a lifeline. But entropy is the way of the electronic world as of every world, and we have been down, disconnected, debilitated and depressed at home and at the office for about ten days. Not sequentially, but intermittently, and that is almost worse.

Today, Saint Keith and his acolyte Chris came to visit at the office and at home, and I do honestly believe that the wireless networks are working. Going to work. Soon. Really. I believe it.

Technical glitch begat dark cloud, which the radio signal could not penetrate. It’s mythical and mystical, and—-we trust—-it is almost beaten.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back in dogland. Toby continues to grieve for Max, as we all do, but it is Toby’s job to carry emotion in our little mixed-species family. I honestly do not believe that Toby wants to be the number one dog. He wants Cassie to take on that role, but he knows she is still growing into it. It’s transition time here on our Vermont hillside. We are getting better, getting older, decaying and exploding, all at the same time.