Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Sentinel Bee

I took a break this afternoon, between walking Rigby and painting the living room to sit outside behind the garage for a spell. It was ninety degrees and sunny, with a cool, dry breeze. Beautiful, really. As they say so often up here in these parts, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity!" So true. I think it could be a hundred and I wouldn't mind it too much as long as the humidity was low. The sheets and blankets I hung on the line were dry almost as soon as I finished hanging them, and they snapped in the breeze, startling my little dog Rigby.

I was sitting in the shade with Rigby, just noticing how green and lush things are getting out there. We have a hedge of forsythia separating us from our neighbors to the west, and right now it is a riot of shocking, brilliant yellow. It's so bright, it almost hurts the eyes. The grass really needs cutting now, and I watched a male cardinal fluttering about in it. His bright red color was so striking against the new grass. Everywhere, the ubiquitous robins were hopping around, or singing loudly from the trees. I've heard that the first settlers named them after European birds with similar plumage, but that our American Robins are really thrushes, and would be more accurately called "black-capped thrush", or "orange breasted thrush". At this time of year, they are by far the most commonly seen bird on suburban lawns in these parts.

A robin suddenly started up an alarm call as I sat there, and I could see him calling from a low branch a few yards away. At first, I thought I was the reason for his distress, until I saw the big hawk rise up and flap away over the treetops. I haven't been able to identify him yet, but he is lightly colored underneath and is pretty large. I've never been able to get a good look at him, except from beneath.

Mac and I have both noticed that there is a big bumble bee that apparently lives underneath the eaves of the barn, behind the gutter. There's probably a bunch of them living in there, but we most often see this one huge, solitary guard hovering around the edge of the roof. It's as big as my thumb, it seems much bigger than other bumble bees I have seen, and the rear end of his body is shiny and leathery looking. It has a habit of zooming down and investigating anything going on in the yard. I don't know much about bumble bees, their habits, or how they live. I've seen them flying up out of holes in the ground, and I'd assumed they always lived underground, but this guy(or girl, maybe), seems very intent on guarding this spot under the eaves. Maybe it's a different kind of bee altogether. Today, the big bee sentinel suddenly appeared in front of my face. It hovered a few inches away from me and I had the distinct impression it was "reading" me...deciding whether I, or Rigby, might be a threat. I looked into those big black eyes and stayed still for a moment. It studied me for a few seconds, then dropped down for a look at Rigby. I was glad that Rigby didn't snap at it - she generally tries to eat any insect she comes across. It hung in the air for a moment longer, sizing us up, then buzzed off toward the barn, apparently satisfied that we weren't any cause for concern. I intend to do some research and find out more about them, because this big bumble has peaked my curiosity.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Legend Of The Fall

Another sunny, unnaturally warm spring day here in the northeast. Mac and I were talking about going down to the shore today. Before I headed out to Mass this morning, I checked the forecast and found that the tide would be high right around the time we got there, and cloudiness, along with a potential for thunderstorms were also predicted. It's an hour and a half of driving to get there, so once we commit to going, there's no turning back.

In the end, we decided to wait for a more settled day and low tide so we could really enjoy the beach. Plus, we have so much to do around here. There's a lot of yard work still to be done, and we're doing the living room over. In order for it to look halfway decent, we had to tear out the old paneling and put up new sheetrock before painting. Today we stained the wood work and Mac sanded down the joint compound on the sheetrock seams. Tomorrow I should get to do some painting.

As I type this, Rigby is dropping her favorite ball on my feet every few seconds so I will stop and throw it across the room for her. She gets bored so easily!

So, back to the legend of the fall!

I drove home, late that night with my head spinning. Mac had been admitted to the hospital with a broken pelvis. My daughter was living away at school, and my son was working all kinds of different shifts, so Rigby was crated during the day. I'd called my sister from the hospital and she kindly went over and took her out for a walk. It was late as I drove home, but hopefully my son would have gotten home and was taking care of her.

My second concern after the well-being of my husband was financial. Mac is a self-employed contractor. He either works directly for homeowners, or with other builders, roofers and carpenters as a sub-contractor. If he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid. He can't collect unemployment compensation, as I am now doing. If he stays home, there's no money at the end of the week. Of course, he had no short-term disability insurance either, so this was not a good thing. Our income had just been cut in half. On the up side, it could have been so much worse. He could have injured his spinal cord and lost the use of his limbs. He could have injured his spleen or some other organ. He could have landed on his head and been killed. All things considered, he was very lucky. My daughter would be graduating in a month from the University of Massachusetts. I couldn't imagine that Mac would be able to be there. He'd be so disappointed to miss his only daughter graduate from college. I made up my mind that I would not let everything overwhelm me, and I would take it all one day at a time.

Those first days were grim. He was on a lot of pain medication and so he wasn't himself, to say the least. Sometimes we would talk and he would not remember anything of our conversations. I'd spend a couple of hours with him and he wouldn't remember me being there. The nurses had him up and were making him walk with a walker which seemed very wrong to me, and I told them so, but what the heck did I know? He told me through gritted teeth, that he could feel the pelvic plates grinding against each other, which I thought was a very bad sign. When the Orthopedist finally saw him, he confirmed that my suspicions were correct...he shouldn't have been up and moving for he first three days - it apparently takes that long for the bones to begin to knit together, and he could have made things much worse by shifting them around. I felt a lot better about everything once the Orthopedist took over his care.

Meanwhile, I continued working full-time and taking care of Rigby and the apartment, and I also took over all the household tasks that Mac normally did, like doing the dishes, taking out the trash and recyclables, and mowing the lawn. Although we rent here, taking care of the property, which includes an acre of yard, is part of the deal. My son helped me as much as he could, and my sister and her husband, as well as my brother, all lent a helping hand too. I was so lucky to have them living so close by. I came to really understand how difficult it must be, for people that have no close friends or relatives to help them in times like this. We all really need someone to rely on.

It turned out Mac is a really fast healer. After two weeks, the doctor announced that he was ready to go to a rehab hospital and begin physical therapy. I was concerned that they were rushing it, but they disagreed, and Mac wanted to get home and get back to his life. At fifty two years old, he had excellent blood pressure, was not on any medications (except for the pain meds, at the moment), and weighed one hundred and fifty pounds(soaking wet with all his clothes on). He was really in great health, except for his injury, which was healing nicely. They claimed he was ready, so off to the rehab hospital we went. Once there, he made excellent progress, and after ten days, they released him. He'd be walking only with a walker for a while, then he'd graduate to crutches. He had a home health aide scheduled to visit a few times a week, and a physical therapist would be coming by too. He'd be doing exercises on his own as well. The trickiest part, was that he would need help getting outside for fresh air, or to take Rigby out, since we live entirely on the second floor. I took six vacation days off from work so I could be there with him for the worst of it.

For the next two months, he hopped around in the yard on his crutches, played with Rigby, ate three meals a day(a real novelty for him), and watched "The Deadliest Catch" on cable T.V. so often, he soon knew every fact about Alaskan crab fishing that there is to know. By mid-July, he was back to his old self and was ready to climb up on the staging again, and so he did.

The only good thing about Mac being hospitalized, was that he couldn't smoke. He was a two pack a day guy at that point, but he was forced to quit, cold turkey the night he was admitted. It was wonderful to have him in the house at night, instead of outside or down back in the barn, smoking. But, it was too good to last. After three solid months without a cigarette, as soon as he could drive again, he drove to the convenience store and bought a pack. I was so disappointed, I don't think I spoke two words to him for at least a couple of days. He says he will quit again, but he won't say when. I thought he'd gotten the monkey off his back for good, but alas, it was not to be. He knows how much I hate it, but it's his decision, not mine.

That's the story of the fall. By the Grace of God, he had a full recovery, and we somehow survived it. Mac attended our daughter's graduation at the end of May, on crutches, but he was there, after all.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

An Unhappy Landing

Today was a day of record setting warmth here in southern New England. Temperatures hovered around eighty five degrees Fahrenheit. Trees are exploding with pink and white blooms, and the grass has sprung up, new and sparkling in a an amazing shade of green.

Rigby was panting, and I was drenched, as we walked around our usual route today. That little dog was in such a hurry to get to her water bowl when we got home, that she dragged me into the kitchen without waiting for me to take her leash and harness off. Even though it’s still April, today really felt like the first day of summer.

Today is also an anniversary of sorts. It was one year ago today that Mac fell off the scaffolding while he was roofing. I got his phone call around four o’clock while I was still at work. He sounded like his calm, normal self, but his first words were that he had some bad news for me… He needed me to take him to the hospital because he couldn’t drive… or walk.

Just outside my office door in the common area, some of the girls were setting out wine glasses. It was our custom to have a glass before closing up on Friday afternoons. I shut off my computer and grabbed my handbag. “I can’t stay…I need to go. Mac just fell off a roof and I have to take him to the hospital”, I babbled as I ran out the door, leaving my co-workers looking shocked and concerned.

I could see the white van in the driveway as I drove up the street toward the house. As always, there were about six ladders of varying size strapped to the roof. I saw Bart and Nash, Mac’s friends and co-workers, their arms linked, forming a chair, and Mac in the middle, being carried. I pulled up beside the van and jumped out to open the passenger side door so they could slide him in. All three of them were laughing and joking as they made their way over to my car. This was to be expected of tough guy roofers. Questions roiled about in my mind at that moment, foremost among them, “Why didn’t they take him straight to the hospital…better yet, why didn’t someone call an ambulance?” But, I already knew the answers. Mac didn’t want them to. He didn’t want anyone making a big deal over him. The staging had buckled, and the plank he was standing on gave way and he fell, landing squarely on his hip with a sickening crunch. His first thought was, "I hope my legs still work". They did, thank God, but he found that although he could move them, he couldn't walk. He was in excruciating pain. This had happened in the early afternoon. He didn't want to be a bother, so he sat and waited until the other guys had finished the job. That's Mac for you.

We started out toward the hospital which was about thirty minutes away. I was balancing trying to drive fast with trying to avoid sharp turns and bumps, because my husband’s yelling and moaning corresponded directly with the smoothness of the ride. I realized that he must have broken bones at the very least. He was never one to complain much, but he was obviously in terrible pain now.

About a mile away from the hospital, I grabbed my cell phone and called the emergency room desk. “ I’m bringing my husband into the emergency room”, I said to the nurse who picked up the phone. “We’re a few minutes away, and I need someone to meet us in the parking lot. He fell off some scaffolding and he can’t walk.”

“Sorry”, came the reply, “You’ll have to call an ambulance, we can’t come out into the parking lot. It’s against regulations.”
“Call an ambulance from the hospital parking lot? What?!” I was incredulous. No one was going to help us. I’d be damned if I was going to call an ambulance to get us from the parking lot to the front desk. And you wonder why your health insurance premiums are so high, my fellow Americans?

I pulled my car right up to the door of the emergency entrance, parked in the “no parking” zone and flicked on my flashers. I jumped out and ran up to the automatic doors, bolting inside. I told the first four people I saw that my husband was injured, he couldn’t walk and I was going to carry him in myself if someone didn’t come and help me. From behind the desk, the nurse in charge pointed out a fleet of wheelchairs in a corner, and I grabbed one and headed for the door with it. A young nurse took pity on me, and looking back over her shoulder toward the desk, muttered, “I’ll help you”, as she turned on her heel and followed me out. Somehow, the two of us wrangled him into the wheelchair.

Then began a long night of x-rays, examinations, scans and waiting… lots of waiting. At one point during the wait, I was astonished when a woman about my age, carrying a clipboard, entered the cubicle we were in. She announced that she had come to collect the one hundred and fifty dollar emergency room deductible on our health insurance. This was possibly the rudest thing I had ever experienced. Here we were, in the middle of a crisis, my husband obviously in pain, I'm distraught, and they want the money now. I was beyond irritated, but the woman’s kind demeanor and obvious empathy for our situation quickly softened my attitude. She was only doing her job, after all. As I wrote out the check, she talked about her children and asked about ours. Her gentle smile and soft spoken words were a comfort to me. She left after telling me that she would pray for a good outcome for my husband.

After many hours, a doctor came in and announced that Mac would be admitted to the hospital. His pelvis was fractured in four places, front and back. Unfortunately, since it was Friday, a orthopedist would not be able to see him until Monday at the earliest, but at this point, they expected Mac would be hospitalized for probably six weeks. Physical therapy would be required after that, of course.

Thus began the lost spring of 2008. The rest to follow...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Back To The Office

I had been trying to stall. I tried not to think too much about it, but in the back of mind, I knew I had to go back to my office and test the waters. I needed to know what the climate there was, whether business had picked up at all since I’d been “Cut Adrift!” I initially told myself that I would wait until April first to start looking for a new job in earnest. Spring is the season when my workplace had always kicked into high gear. At this time of year, it was not unusual for me to go in an hour early, and still find myself in the office after 6pm each day, because there was so much work to do.
Surely things would be better by April, I’d assured myself, back in the dark days of January.

When last week came, I could wait no longer. I got up early on Thursday morning and prepared myself. I took extra time styling my hair and carefully applying my makeup. I donned pantyhose ( my most hated accessory), and dressed in my spring suit. It’s light green, and textured in a mossy cross-hatch pattern. I wore a dark pink shell underneath and accented the jacket with a sparkly pin studded with pink and green, fake jewels. Finally, I slipped on the dreaded high heels, cream colored patent leather. I am a girl who usually wears jeans and flats (preferably, flip-flops), so this was a foreign state for me to find myself in, to say the least. Truth be told, the suit’s a little small for me now, but it looked okay. I thought I looked pretty good and felt I would make a good impression.

I thought about saying I had a job interview in the area, so I thought I’d just…you know, “stop in.” I knew I couldn’t pull it off, though - I’m terrible at lying. I decided I would go to the unemployment office, which is pretty close to the office, to pick up a schedule of events. I would swing by the office too, since I’d be in the general vicinity. Besides, I had a book which had been loaned to me by the president last fall. “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett. It’s a humongous tome, about nine hundred pages, and since I have the bad habit of reading three or four books at a time, I’d only just finished it. I could just say I wanted to return the book, since I was, sort of, in the neighborhood. Sounded kind of legitimate, and not too pathetic, right?

It was important to make sure my supervisor, as well as the company president were there when I went in. I scanned the parking lot for their cars and once I located them, I pulled into a space and shut off my engine. I sat for a minute and took a few deep breaths. I realized I was trembling and hoped I could keep it in check when I went in.

I was nervous at first, then I started to relax as four or five of my former co-workers came out to the lobby to see me. We stood around in a circle, chatting casually. Everyone acted glad to see me.
Then, as if he knew exactly why I had come, the president knitted up his eyebrows in that expression of sympathy and said; “Well, I wish I had better news for ya, darlin’. We’re only doing about half the business we should be now. We’re back to the numbers we saw in 2001.”

My heart fell. Nothing had changed. I made a little more small talk, then mumbled something about having to get going over to the unemployment office and I tried to move with some shred of dignity to the door.

It was hard to get out of bed for the next few days. I did, and I forced myself to go out and go through the motions of chores and errands, though I felt like a cinder block was sitting on my chest and a small, black cloud hung over me. I find it hard to reflect upon the day ahead and realize that I have no one to meet, and nothing of importance to do. The highlight of most of my days now is my walk with Rigby.

I realize now that I have to focus harder on finding a new job.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Stunning "Secret"

In 1975, I read a book that truly changed my world view forever. At the time, I was struggling with trying out a vegetarian lifestyle, not for health reasons, mind you, but because of a love for animals, in fact, a love of all living creatures. I had been raised on meat and potatoes. If beef wasn't on the menu for dinner, then it must be chicken. I was not enjoying my new diet.

My then boyfriend,(now husband) Mac, was an ethical vegetarian at that time and had been, for about ten years, refusing to consume anything; "that had ever been alive." By that, he specifically meant anything that walks, swims or flies. Anything else was fair game. Plants were not considered in his theory of alive things. Good thing, too, because at five feet, ten inches tall, he weighed in at only about one hundred and thirty pounds.

One day I took a stroll uptown and was browsing through the racks at my local library when I came upon "The Secret Life Of Plants" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. My thinking about what constitutes "life" and consciousness was about to be challenged in a major way.

The premise of the book was fascinating. What if plants possess a sort of consciousness, and can perceive their environment? What if they have an actual awareness of their surroundings, and of us? At first, it seemed too far-out to even consider, but then, I read the case that the authors had put forth, including experiments in which the leaves of various plants were attached to polygraph (lie detector) machines and registered reactions to water, a lighted match, music, and even human thoughts. The effect of the book on me was that I now have to consider that plants may be just as "alive" as animals, somehow aware, possibly capable of some kind of feeling, however different from our concept of such things as those feelings might be.

After reading the book, I gave up my vegetarian aspirations. My husband Mac started eating meat again shortly thereafter as well. If plants too were possibly sentient beings, or at least in some way conscious, how could I continue to eat them while eschewing animal flesh? How could I make the judgement that a bird or cow or fish was somehow more alive and thus, more important than a lettuce? And yet, we all have to eat something.

In the end, I decided that my approach would be to try to honor, respect and appreciate all living things to the best of my ability, and to eat from all food groups. I avoid the unnecessary killing of insects and "weeds" alike. It seems to me that "life" may be subjective, and the understanding of what constitutes "being" could possibly vary widely across the vast span of species found in creation.

I have also realized that I could not blame a carnivorous predator for eating me either, if I were ever to find myself in that situation.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dandy Little Lions

I’ve never been quite clear on what makes a plant a “weed.” Take the lowly dandelion, for example. It has a bright, pretty, yellow flower, When it goes to seed, it turns into a whimsical puffball, that when blown, sends dozens of tiny parachutes off on the breeze, the stuff of fairy tales. In my estimation, a boring expanse of plain, green lawn is enlivened by a sprinkling of the sunny, up-turned, yellow faces of dandelions. The leaves of the dandelion are edible and make a nice addition to a salad, and the flowers may be used as a garnish, or can be made into wine. In fact, all parts of this ubiquitous plant are edible and also have medicinal purposes.

So who decided that this useful little plant was a scourge to be eradicated? What is so terrible about it? I cannot imagine looking out on an expanse of green grass dotted with sunny yellow blooms and feeling an overwhelming urge to poison them at the nearest opportunity, but hey - that’s just crazy old me. We don’t appreciate all the wonderful things plants can do. There are probably plants being wiped out right now in some vanishing rainforest that hold the key to a cure for cancer or some other terrible disease. I think it says a lot about us humans and our damaged relationship with the natural world. We would all benefit by getting back to our roots, literally.

The worst thing I can imagine is spraying poison around your lawn or garden...think of the all the living creatures that will be affected. Birds, bees, butterflies, small animals and possibly children will be exposed to these toxic chemicals. Please don’t do it! You can reduce the possibility of dandelions taking root on your lawn by mowing high and leaving the clippings behind as mulch. Seeding any bare spots in the fall will also help. Pulling dandelions isn’t very effective, as the taproot generally breaks and the plant can regenerate from a small piece of it. If the thought of having yellow flowers on your lawn really angers or depresses you, you can try using vinegar as a natural alternative to chemical herbicides. Myself, I’d rather just enjoy them. A flower is a flower to me.
photo by David Beaulieu

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Werewolves In Wisconsin?

I've just finished reading a really interesting book. Linda S. Godfrey's, "The Beast Of Bray Road" investigates reports from Wisconsin of hairy, upright walking creatures that appear to have canine features. These "dogmen" or "werewolves" have apparently haunted the cornfields and backroads of southeastern Wisconsin for the past eighty years.
The sighting that inspired Godfrey to write her book took place in the fall of 1989, along Bray Road, in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

Lori Endrizzi was the manager of a cocktail lounge called The Jury Room in Elkhorn. At 1:30 in the morning, while driving home from work along a desolate stretch of Bray Road, she came upon a strange sight. On the side of the road, apparently eating roadkill, was an animal, about the size of a man, covered in long, brownish gray hair. She described the creature as manlike, but with a head resembling that of a wolf. Rather than standing on all fours, it was kneeling, and using its arms and hands as a person would. Ms. Endrizzi noted that it had long claws and that its eyes glowed in her car's headlights. She later visited her local library to do some research and came across a drawing of a werewolf. With its human-like body and wolfish head, this was the closest thing to what she had seen that night.

A few years later, a similar sighting occurred. In October, 1991, Doris Gipson hit something with her car, while driving at night on Bray Road. When she got out of her car to look for what she hit, she was surprised to see a large, wolf-like creature running toward her. She barely made it back into her vehicle and pulled the door shut before it caught up with her. Gipson described the animal as larger and more muscular than any dog she had ever seen. When she arrived home and inspected her car, she found claw marks on her back bumper.

I find all these accounts fascinating, but for me, the most interesting and scariest incident related in the book was one dating back to 1936. Mark Schackelman was the night watchman at St. Coletta's convent just outside of Jefferson, Wisconsin. While patroling the convent grounds late one night, he came upon a strange sight. Atop a Native American burial mound on the property, knelt a hairy, upright being, clawing at the dirt of the mound. The creature fled as Schackelman approached.

The following night, Mr. Schackelman returned to the mound at midnight and again saw the creature atop the mound. This time, however, the being did not flee, but stood up on two legs and stared him down. The watchman estimated it to be roughly six feet tall and noted that it gave off a strong odor of rotten meat. Mr. Schackelman felt in fear of his life and began to pray. The beast glared at him, and uttered three syllables, which sounded like: "ga-da-ra", in what the witness described as a "neo-human voice", before growling and slowly walking away. When asked whether he thought the being was an animal or something better defined as "supernatural", Schackelman reportedly said: "That thing came straight out of hell."
Interestingly, Gadara was the name of the place referred to in the Bible, where Jesus cast a demon out of a possessed man who had been living among the tombs there.

The book is packed with recounted tales, legends, sketches and eye witness accounts of wolfish encounters in Walworth County over the years. It's a great read if you are intrigued, as I am, by the unexplained. I recommend reading it with the lights on!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Knowing

the knowing

for a long time now
I tried to deny him, and yet,
the hunter has followed me

I felt him on my heels
and I dodged and ran
as I crouched in dark thickets, I felt him coming
dark hooded rider
searching for me, only one step behind
I managed to elude him
time and again, but
yesterday I felt the arrow
pierce me
the old familiar pain
as when I was small, an orphan
bewildered and left in an empty room

the wound never really healed
only closed on the surface
proud flesh

he too has longed for
what others take for granted
ghosts, fleeting and ephemeral
try as I might
can’t find my way out of
this empty space
then he said, with knowing:
"it’s hard to be what we are…the least".

copyright 4.15.09/ N.McIntyre

Monday, April 13, 2009

Come With Me On My Walk

Hi, my name is Rigby. Wanna come on my walk with me? I'll show you around. Get your leash on and follow me!

These are some flowers in my yard.

I was trying to smell 'em, but they don't seem to have much smell.

Let's go down by the river, okay? This is the Charles River near my house.

Here's the brook that flows into the river. There's some ducks out in the middle.

This is a stone railroad bridge, but my friend Deedee says the trains have been gone for a real long time now.

This is me, checking out the brook. This part is where the muskrats live.

These are fairy houses. I've never seen the fairies, but I can tell this is where they live. It's a little ways down the street from my house.

Here's some more of those yellow flowers. These ones are a little different, but they still don't smell too much. My friend Deedee calls 'em daffydills.

Here's some blue flowers. They don't seem to have much smell either, but they're pretty.

Here we are back home again in my yard. Whew, I'm tired now. I'm gonna go in and have some cookies and a big drink. Thanks for comin' on my walk with me.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Peace and Love To You

Here we are. It's Passover, and the first weekend after the full moon. According to ancient tradition, this Sunday I will celebrate Easter. This is a holiday of hope, renewal and rebirth, a time to honor the magic and mystery of the universe. For me, it is a celebration of life, of the rising from the dead, of life eternal, for energy never dies, it is only transformed. The darkness of winter surrenders to the bright spring. Light triumphs over darkness. So shall it ever be.

Whatever your beliefs, have a wonderful weekend. Celebrate the season of life and rebirth.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ours At Last

So now we had a puppy. The first and most important thing we had to do was house break her. We started taking her out every couple of hours. After only one or two accidents, she knew that she was to only go outside. Many of our other, previous dogs would wander around the yard aimlessly, taking their sweet time, which was not much fun late at night in the dead of winter, especially during an ice storm. Our yard is not fenced, and ours is a busy, main street, so letting her out alone was out of the question. But Rigby is a fast learner. Very quickly, she learned what we wanted her to do when we took her out to a certain spot in the yard. When we snap on the leash and go out to the yard she immediately goes to one of two spots and does her business quickly.

By the time she came to live with us, it was time for her to be spayed. She came from the shelter with a discount coupon, but the veterinary practices that would honor it were almost two hours away. The thought of spending hours waiting in some strange and distant vet's office, and then driving her home over that long distance, after her surgery, in an uncomfortable crate didn't set well. If I brought her to my vet here in town, I could drop her off in the morning and pick her up after work. Plus, she would need follow-up appointments. It just made more sense to stay close to home.

The initial surgery went well, but there were complications in the healing process. Her incision became infected and didn't respond very well to the antibiotics precribed for her. The scar was an angry, lumpy, scabby, red and brown gash running the length of her tender little belly. After several weeks, several prescriptions both oral and topical, and several office visits, the doctor made the decision to recut her abdomen and clean it up. I was devastated that she would have to go under anesthesia again, but it seemed necessary. I cried when I dropped her off, feeling that I had somehow let her down, even though I knew full well that there was nothing I could have done to change things. This time she healed up beautifully, and today you cannot even detect a line in the clear, pink skin.

As she grew, so did her hair. The vet told us she had hair, rather than fur and it would continue to grow. After six months, she had thick, wavy hair curling off her back and down over her eyes. Off we went to Petco for a haircut. She seemed to have a lot of terrier aspects about her, so we went with a cut similar to the kind given to Westies or Scotties. Now she had reached her optimum cuteness.

The next hurdle would be integrating her into a home ruled by cats. I held my breath at first, fearing that she would lose an eye to one of them. When she chased them, we squirted her with cold water, but it only worked if we were watching and could grab the bottle in time. After a few months, the war zone experienced an uneasy truce, but even today there are still skirmishes from time to time. At times, Rigby will bring her favorite toy, a squeaking rubber ball, and drop it at Cat Boy's feet, then stare at him, as if waiting for him to play with it. He responds by getting up and walking slowly away, but Rigby is undeterred. She will follow him, whining and poking her nose into his side until he tires of it and swipes at her.

Cat Boy has learned some valuable things from Rigby, most importantly, how to beg. Neither of the cats had ever shown any interest in human food before Rigby arrived. Rigby never begs at the table. She sits or lies quietly a few yards away until we finish eating. But when I am preparing food, she is at my feet waiting for something good to fall. Having learned by observing, Cat Boy now joins her, and the two of them sit, side by side, waiting for scraps like a couple of old hobo friends. Things are not as good with the other cat, Ceecee. She is cranky by nature and has a low tolerance for everyone. If the dog gets within a few feet of her, she starts hissing and her fur stands on end. Rigby cuts a very wide swath around her at all times.

After the first few nights, we decided that Rigby should have her own bed and sleep in it at night, instead of on ours. We brought a crate into our room and put a plump, flannel covered cushion and a few of her toys in it. It seemed pretty comfy, but she was very unhappy and cried most of the night. On the second night, we caved in. Luckily, she is small, so we are not too crowded, and I bathe her frequently. Now she begins each night tucked into a tight ball between us. After a short time, she stretches out and works her way down to the foot of the bed where she spends the rest of the night. We are her pack, and she needs to curl up with us at the end of the day. Mac and I are so used to it now, that we would feel something was missing if she were not there.

Rigby's assimilation would not be complete without training. She took beginner classes and quickly learned to sit, lie down, shake hands, roll over, stay, come when called, and a number of other skills. She is now in a second session and is the absolute star of her class.

Our only dilemma now, is what will happen when I am again employed full-time. When the weather is good, Mac works from dawn until dusk. My daughter is living here until the fall, but she works in the city and is away from home as long as Mac is each day. My son has floating shifts and is sometimes here during the day if he works a night shift, but has to sleep. When no one can be with her and she can't come with us, she has to be crated and she hates it. She barks and cries endlessly. There is a dog daycare in town, and I have a few people in mind who might be able to come over around mid-day and take her for a walk. I'm hoping to have something figured out soon.

I'm so glad to have Rigby in my life. She is the best gift anyone could have given me. There have been days since I was cut adrift, when I don't think I would have had the impetus to get out of bed, but for her. She is always there waiting for me. She needs to be fed and walked, and I won't let her down. She gets me up and moving and out into the world. I think that God worked through my daughter to bring her to me. I never would have taken it upon myself and gotten a dog while I was working and He must have known that. But I think He also knew how much I was going to need her, so He made it happen. I'm forever grateful that He did.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rigby Comes Home

So my daughter and her roommates had adopted a little female puppy. She was part Schnauzer and part Australian cattle dog. She had been given her first round of shots and worming, and came with a reduced cost coupon for spaying at a western Massachusetts Vet's office. Almost immediately, my daughter and her friends started to learn how much responsibility a dog is. The girls were in classes most of the day and out at their jobs, the library, the bars, or parties most nights. The little dog was crated for most of this time, and her barking quickly annoyed the other tenants in the building. After a few weeks, the landlord called to inform them that they were in violation of their lease, and the dog would have to go immediately.
A few miles away, their friends lived in a big house with no restrictions on pets. This was a house full of young men. The boys were initially enthused about taking in the little canine orphan, but soon, the realities of house training, feeding and exercising a growing puppy became apparent. This was not as easy as it had seemed, especially when there were mid-terms to study for and keggers to attend. She was crated too much of the time and she barked a lot. She was still not house-trained. She was not happy, and neither were the boys. Tentative plans had been made for one of the girls' parents to eventually take her when school got out.
One day, about a week before Thanksgiving, my daughter called me to talk about the dog. Things really weren't working out. They were thinking of posting her for sale on Craig's list; that was it for me. "Bring her home", I said. It would be a long, holiday weekend, and Mac and I said we would think about what to do with her for those three or four days.
So, just before Thanksgiving weekend, my daughter arrived home in her tiny, little car, with a huge crate in the back seat. Out of the crate popped the funniest looking little dog I had ever seen (I submit the photo up at the top left as evidence). She was skinny and had long tassles sticking up off her ears. My first impression was that she looked like a little alien dog. She was wild, and ran in crazy circles around us, and could jump up as high as my head. She peed on my brand new living room carpet. But that first night, she crept up onto our bed as we slept and nuzzled between us.
She clearly needed a stable home and some real training. The other parents were no longer willing to take her, due to unforseen circumstances. I could not possibly let her be put up for auction on the internet or sent back to the shelter. This little puppy was between a rock and a hard place, now, through no fault of her own. She was a victim of circumstance, and there didn't seem to be any alternative but for us to keep her and try to give her the best life we could. She deserved that, at the very least. She would be our dog now.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Best Friends

It was the fall, and my daughter had just started her last year at UMASS Amherst, out in central Massachusetts, at the edge of the beautiful Berkshires.
I was pretty lonely at the time. She and I used to be close and spend lots of time together, but in recent years, not so much.

Mac goes to work at dawn, before I am awake. He comes home at supper time and because he is a heavy smoker and I quit years ago, he retreats to the barn right after dinner. He comes in after an hour or two and usually falls into bed and is unconscious almost instantly. I was remembering how good it was to have a dog, but when I was working and away from home for nine hours each day, I just didn't see how it could work.

Our last dog was a big, female, shepherd/lab cross, rescued from a local shelter. Gretchen had thick, white fur, and a bad back leg. At some point, we think she may have gotten hit by a car and was never treated. In spite of this, she was a joy and a blessing, sweet and loving as she could be. Gentle with the kids and obedient. I was working part time back then; mother's hours, nine to two thirty, so she was never alone for too long. She became a part of our family.

She started to deteriorate from old age about seven years after we'd gotten her. She had been hospitalized with pancreatitis a few times, and she had developed cysts all over her body. In addition, she had arthritis and could no longer get down the stairs by herself. We live on the second floor, and since she weighed more than 80 pounds, she was too big for me to carry downstairs. I had to make a sling, so we could lift her back end and help her get outside to relieve herself. Worst of all, she had vestibular syndrome...what the vet referred to as; "old, rolling dog syndrome". In the wee hours of the morning, I would wake from the sound of her crying. I would find her on the floor outside our bedroom, with her big head rolling around, and her eyes spinning in their sockets, while she whimpered and her legs thrashed. She was so frightened, it was utterly heartbreaking. All I could do was hold her head in my lap and talk softly to her to try and comfort her until the episode subsided. The vet told us there was nothing else we could do about it.
Then she lost control of her bladder. I found her one morning, lying in a pool of urine, looking embarrassed and miserable. I brought her to the animal hopital that day on my lunch hour, and I knew what was coming when the vet came out into the waiting room and said: "Let's have a talk".

Her ashes are in a canister hidden somewhere in the barn. Mac knew how devastated I was about it, so he never showed them to me. I want to plant a tree in the yard for her and empty the ashes into the ground around the base of it. Maybe this year we will finally do that.

A decade had passed after Gretchie's death, and although I had the two cats and a couple of rabbits in the meantime, I longed for a dog. I knew I should not be selfish about it though, and resigned myself to waiting until I was either retired, or could work part-time.

Then, one autumn day in 2007, I turned on the computer, signed on to AOL Instant Messenger and saw this on my daughter's away message: "A dog - what a terrible idea...what a WONDERFUL idea!" Oh, no! Oh my goodness, she'd gotten a dog! I quickly called her and asked her if she was crazy - her lease had clearly stated; no pets were allowed in the house. She was unconcerned. She and her three roommates had gone to the local shelter and picked out a puppy, and had already bought all the necessary equipment, a crate, a bed, two big aluminum bowls, a variety of toys. And what if the landlord told her she couldn't keep it? One of the roommates' parents had supposedly agreed to take it in that case. All the same, somehow I knew, I felt it in my gut, I would have a dog soon...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Foolish April

Here's the story of my daughter's April Fool's day last year when she was a senior at University of Massachusetts in Amherst... It's too good not to share!

One year ago, I remember settling into my bed in my tiny second floor room in a house I shared with 3 roommates, and thinking that the next day, (April 1,) was sure to be eventful.

What I underestimated however, was the ingenuity of several of my closest friends. After what they did, they’re lucky I still refer to them as such. I was too tired to really worry about what could befall us in the morning, though I had a strong feeling we wouldn’t escape April Fools day unscathed. Boy, was I right.

I woke up earlier than usual to a text from one of my roommates, Erica, who was always the first one awake, as she worked full-time. “be careful if you go to the bathroom.” Strange, I thought. Did she spill something? Was she warning me about the usual flood of water that covered the floor after showers were taken? “Why?,” I responded. “You don’t know? Go downstairs.”

I wish the following events were filmed. I would pay to see our reactions. My roommate Kristen and I flung our bedroom doors open and raced downstairs, just as Kelly was emerging from her room. Powder covered the living room and kitchen floors. Pigs feet were in our coffee maker and refrigerator, Jello too. Peanut Butter and feminine products covered each of our cars. Then, the thing Erica warned me about. There was a (dead) lobster in our toilet bowl - RIP ‘Pinchy.’

Under the veil of darkness, the group of them assembled, discussed a plan of action, purchased supplies, dressed in black, snuck up on our house, climbed in through a kitchen window and wreaked havoc. And not one of us woke up - which is perhaps the most horrifying element of the story.

What was most upsetting to me? I was so disgusted by the pigs foot in the coffee maker, I couldn’t have my daily cup. I still teeter on the edge of gagging when I think about it.

Several angry text messages, and one scared friend and boyfriend later, the mess was cleaned up (for the most part,) by early afternoon by two of the perpetrators. However, I swear there was lingering white powder on everything from dishes to laundry up until the day we moved out in late May...