Cheesecake

My family often accuses me of being a control freak. This makes me feel bad. Not because it’s true, but because I’m obviously a failure at controlling their thoughts.

Recently, my husband Gary and I planned a large party to celebrate the engagement of our son Harrison and his fiancé Kasi. It wasn’t enough just to plan the party. Oh no. I decided to also embark on an ambitious landscape and patio project.

partyover

Gabe

A few weeks before the event, Harrison called to ask if Gabe (a puppy belonging to Kasi’s sister) could stay with us while they were in town. “Sure,” I said. He and our dog Lucy would have fun together. The following morning, I woke at zero dark thirty in a panic. I had visions of the puppy and Lucy racing around the new landscaping, ripping it to shreds and ruining everything. No, no, no, Gabe could not come.

I sent Harrison a text telling him to have Kasi’s sister make other arrangements for her dog. He called to negotiate, and offered to erect a temporary fence around the new landscaping. I told him that determined dogs can easily knock over such a thing. He said Kasi’s family looked forward to being able to enjoy Gabe and Lucy.

I fancy myself as easy going and cool. I hate it when I’m revealed as uptight and neurotic.

“Okay.” Sigh. “Gabe can come, but the dogs will not be allowed outside unless one or both are on a leash. And I will not be responsible for supervising them.”

Deal.

Bethany2

The only reason Bethany does Spartan races is because they allow her to climb tall things and yell Cheesecake!

The next day at the gym, I whined to my trainer Bethany and friend Kathleen: “I can see it now—the puppy and Lucy will tear around the house and break things. They’ll get out and destroy the yard. Even though I say I won’t get involved, I’ll end up supervising them.”

“Do you think you can work at giving up control?” Bethany asked.

I couldn’t imagine. Like base jumping, ice climbing and crewel embroidery, I’ve never tried it. (Sometimes I really don’t like Bethany.)

I took a deep breath. “It’s going to be hard.” Another deep breath. “But yes, I think I can give up control.”

“Good,” Bethany smiled. “What will your reward be if you’re successful?”

“I think success will be reward enough, don’t you?” (I am such a perfect liar.)

“You’ve got to give yourself something, like nachos or cheesecake.”

cheesecakeYum, I remembered the nacho challenge. The reward was delicious. I love cheesecake, but rarely eat it because I can consume vast quantities in one sitting. While thoroughly enjoyable, my stomach regrets it later.

“Cheesecake! Yes, I can do this!”

withgabeThe following day, Gabe and Lucy met and became instant friends. Harrison and Kasi took them to the field behind our house and supervised while they ran and played.

Cheesecake!

Inside the house, their play was subdued and nothing got broken.

Cheesecake!

Whenever Gabe went to the door to signal he had to go outside to potty, I summoned Harrison. Not my dog, not my responsibility to take him outside.

Cheesecake!

When I discovered poop in the living room—Cheesecake!

withgabe2Puddles of pee in the hallway—Cheesecake!

When Kasi’s family arrived on Saturday and wanted to go to the beach, I declined because the party was a mere two hours away. Harrison put on his therapist tone and convinced me that everything was in order and we’d be back in plenty of time.

Cheesecake!

At the beach, I let Harrison run with Lucy while she jerked and tugged on the leash and went wild with delight.

Cheesecake!

The dogs were locked up during most of the party and when they emerged, Harrison and Kasi kept them on leashes.

Cheesecake!

Sunday morning, Kasi’s family came over for brunch. Harrison took the lead in preparing the meal.

Cheesecake!

Late Sunday afternoon, after everyone left, I sat in a chair on our new patio feeling proud. I’d spent two and a half days relinquishing control. At times it was difficult—like on our Coastal Trail walk when I wanted to take Lucy from Harrison and make her heel. But most of the time it was freeing.

I learned a valuable lesson: giving up control is a lot easier than wrestling for it.

On Monday, Kathleen and I went to lunch.

For dessert—Cheesecake!cheesecake2

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Parking Lot Grace

mycarI exit The Purity and walk across the parking lot towards my car. An eighties-style mini-van with patches of missing blue paint whips around a line of parked cars and screeches to a halt as if to avoid hitting me. It is several feet from making actual body contact, but screeches nonetheless. Burning cigarettes dangle from the corners of the lips of both the driver and his passenger.

The passenger jumps out like he’s late for an important interview. He takes a few sprinting steps and stops in front of me. With his thumb and forefinger, he pulls the cigarette from of his mouth. His face is bright, lit by a smile of anticipation.

Perhaps he’s a fan of It Happened at Purity.

I’m on my way home from the veterinarian where I’ve learned the sad news that our dog Lucy has to have another Luxating patella surgery. I’m in no mood to sign autographs.

He’s of slight build, about my height, short blonde hair, wears a camo T-shirt, and looks vaguely familiar. He pauses and opens his mouth. Perhaps he’ll say My buddy wanted to run you over, but I told him not to.

Instead, he says, “Ma’am?”

I’m thinking here it is—he’s going to ask for money. A couple months ago, I found a dollar in The Purity parking lot. It’s in a cup holder in my car. I keep waiting for someone to ask so I can give it away. This could be the day.

“Yes?” I say.

“Have a nice day.”

This makes me smile. “Thank you. And you, too.” I start to walk past.

He takes a drag off his cigarette and with smoke exiting his nose and mouth, says, “I really like your blouse.”

My heart fills with gratitude for him. He has lightened a very dark day.

I get into my car and pat Lucy on the head. “It’s amazing how little it takes to keep us going, isn’t it girl?” She wags her tail, looking out the front window, excited about where we might go next.1385952_10152162649041844_1036009523_n

Lucy & the Luxating Patella

cuteAt 17 months, our puppy Lucy was diagnosed with Luxating patella, a genetic condition that sounds like a fancy hi-tech washing machine but actually refers to a displaced knee cap. It can vary from mild to severe. Her case was severe.

Surgery after-care included keeping her confined either to the living room or her crate for eight weeks. She could only go outside to potty and only if on a leash.

bedsWe were sent home with three types of drugs—from mild sedation to the doggy equivalent of oxycodone. After witnessing the dramatic way the oxy pill relaxed her, we named it after a local street drug dealer. (Don’t ask me how I know him, I just do. In my wanderings around the streets of Fort Bragg, I see things.)

In the event you ever find yourself dealing with this type of surgery, let me offer a few survival tips:

DSC03343Diagnosis: Your puppy is an orthopedic wreck. You need to subject her to a horrendous surgery and lengthy recovery. Cry and whine to anyone who will listen. When they respond with sympathy, pretend that you’re handling the situation with courage and grace.

In reality, you’re a wienie. The universe knows this and accepts you unconditionally.

You hate the universe.

Life sucks.

Surrecoverygery Day: Do not waste a moment worrying about the outcome. It will all go well. Enjoy your time away from your dog. It will be your last moments of peace for the next two months.

Rearrange the furniture in your living room. Everything that can conceivably be jumped on has to be blocked. By the time I finished, our living room looked like the morning after a drunken frat party—overturned ottomans, dining chairs blocking sofa access, an air mattress leaned against the front windowsills.

After Surgery: This is the worst. You dropped off your happy girl in the morning. Late afternoon, you pick up a drugged, confused puppy with no hair on her right leg and a sutured gash along the side of her knee.

When Lucy saw me in the waiting room, she cried and dropped to her side on the doormat. Vet tech Phil crouched down, petted her, and cooed as she involuntarily pooped on the mat. It was heartbreaking. He carried her to the car where she leaned against my husband Gary in the back seat and screamed out her bad-awful-horrible experience on the ride home.

JJ

Let her watch as much Judge Judy as she wants.

The First Night: Sleep on the floor on an air mattress next to her. No matter how many times she tries to climb onto the mattress and cuddle (i.e., force you off), maintain that this is your space by saying, “No. Leave it.”

Wake up out of a deep sleep to find that you’ve rolled onto the floor and the dog is sleeping comfortably on the air mattress. Curl up on her doggy bed and finish out the night.

Days 2-29: Life as you knew it has come to an end. Your puppy’s mobility is restricted to being in a room under your supervision or confined to her crate. Each time she has to potty, take her out on a leash and coax her to get her business done so you can go back inside. As she gets better, she’ll realize these are her only outside moments and will procrastinate as she sniffs the entire yard. This becomes even more fun when it’s raining.

Begin to longingly eye her drugs.

napDay 29: After four weeks of sleeping on her doggy bed, move back to your own bed upstairs.

Days 29-55: Each night, gently coax your puppy into her crate. (Lucy required a tractor pull to get her out from under an end table.) It helps to use candy as a bribe.

Don’t tell me that candy is bad for a dog. You’ll earn that right when you’re in the midst of an eight-week stint of recuperating puppy lock-up.

(Lucy’s “candy” was Canine Carryouts. After purchasing, I discovered the second ingredient—after chicken—is corn syrup and the thirteenth ingredient—before beef—is sugar. Ingredient number nine is something called animal digest. Yummy!)

After four weeks, you’ll be told to stop the pain killers. (This applies to the dog, not you.) However, in a couple weeks, she’ll start feeling a whole lot better. She’ll think she’s training for the circus as she races around the living room. Slip her a half Doggie Oxy in the evening so you can have some quiet television time. (Don’t tell the vet.)

She’ll also start spending many more hours in her crate. At six weeks, you won’t allow any misstep to harm that fragile knee.

VET1

Vet techs DeeDee and Phil help Lucy celebrate her recovery.

Day 56: Take your puppy to the vet for x-rays. When she shows them to you, say “Oh. Hum. Aw,” like you understand what you’re looking at. When she says, “She’s good to go,” blubber your thanks. At the car, instead of lifting your puppy, let her jump in.

When you get home, take her on a short walk. Watch her trot down the alley, tail held high, like it was only yesterday—not several weeks ago—that she sniffed along this path.

You and your spouse have risen from wienies to survivors.

You love the universe.

Life is good.

Go inside and undo the wreck of your living room.

911

PJsIt was one of those Sundays when three in the afternoon seemed like an appropriate time to get into my pajamas. I was worn out from a weekend of visitors and frivolity—but pajamas at three o’clock? I could have distracted myself by writing a blog post, taking the dog for a walk, jogging, or making a quilt square. But I didn’t want to do any of those things. I wanted to curl up on the sofa and watch hours of mindless television.

So I did.

About six o’clock, I went to the kitchen, poured a glass of water and looked out the window.

“There’s a big black cat in our yard,” I shouted to my husband Gary who was in the living room.

“Wait a second—it’s a dog.”

“What?” Gary cried in alarm.

In an attempt to disguise my jammies, I put on a jacket and went outside.

scottyThe Scottish terrier responded to my cooing and trotted over, tail wagging and head down. I sat to pet him and looked around to determine how he’d gotten in our yard. The front and back gates were closed and he was too small to jump the fence. Maybe he squeezed through the wrought iron front gate. Could he have flattened to the thickness of a pancake and slipped through the back gate?

The irony of a dog dumped in our yard and having a puppy dumped on given to us a year ago did not escape me. But this one we would not keep. Oh no, we would not.

I went inside and dialed 911.

“I’d like to report a stray dog in our yard.”

“Ma’am that is not an emergency.”

“It is to me.”

“All of our officers are involved in responding to crimes and arresting people.”

I made a mental note to check the online booking logs the following day to verify she was telling the truth. “I didn’t know who else to call.”

She sighed. “Give me your address and when an officer is free, I’ll send one out.”

Wait—doesn’t 911 automatically know your address? It was a bit disconcerting to be asked for mine.

I gave her the information, thanked her for her help, and let her return to the business of dispatching officers to major crimes. I went back outside to comfort the little lost dog.

A minute later, the phone rang. It was the dispatcher. “Is it a black dog?”

“Yes.”

“About a half hour ago there was a report of a missing black dog. May I call the people and give them your address?”

“Yes, thank you.”

A few minutes later a car pulled up in front of our house, a woman got out, entered the yard and yes indeed it was her dog.

His name is Simon and he lives around the block. In preparation for giving him a bath, she’d removed his collar. Then she remembered she’d forgotten to put out the garbage and recycling bins. As she was doing this, he managed to scoot out the gate without her knowledge.

She cuddled him to her and I gave him one last pet. She headed to her car, stopped and turned. “I forgot to ask if you’d like a reward.”

I chuckled. “That’s so kind of you, but no thanks. My reward was being able to spend time with your sweet puppy.”

An even greater reward was finding the owner so he wouldn’t end up being our sweet puppy.

I went back to the sofa.

Two days later, a large bouquet of flowers was delivered to our house with a note: “Thank you for harboring our little ‘angel’ Simon.” Amy & Tony O’Neill.

Two days later, a large bouquet of flowers was delivered to our house with a note: “Thank you for harboring our little ‘angel’ Simon.” Amy & Tony O’Neill.

Lucy – A Year in Review

1185822_10151983487546844_1659436086_nWhen our adult children came to town Labor Day weekend 2013—two weeks after our fifteen-year-old dog Wilson died—they despaired at our empty nest and gifted us with what they felt was the perfect “filling”—a puppy. My husband Gary was elated. I wanted to curl up into a ball and be taken to an asylum.

When Lucy was brought into the house, all I could think of—as I pasted a smile on my face and screamed with what I hoped sounded like excitement—was how much work she was going to create.

destructionOver the course of thirty-five years, we’ve raised four puppies. Gary might have forgotten, but I knew the drill. Even with obedience training and supervision, Lucy would learn about life mainly through the destruction of property—sofa pillows, socks, underwear, plants, holes dug so deeply in the yard that a visitor asked if we’d had trees removed. Given Gary’s disabilities, the majority of transforming her into a “good” dog would fall on me.

My obsession with wanting to skip the puppy stage of her development caused me two weeks of insomnia and vertigo.

559798_10152017172491844_2118415971_nThank God I found Puppy Kindergarten where every Saturday morning for ten weeks, Lucy had the chance to play with other puppies and sweet Elaine Miksak gave me direction on how to calm the hell down and enjoy my baby girl. For the first month, both Lucy and I returned home after class to take naps. After an hour, I’d awake to find my open mouth drooling on the pillow.

By January, Lucy had grown too large for the class (forty-five pounds), and we found Julie Apostolu, who convinced me Lucy was ready for AKC Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) training. I had no idea what that was, but hoped the eight-week course would help me continue to learn patience and understanding.

The CGC class was held in a clearing in the woods next to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society. The first day, Lucy kept tugging on the leash and gagging. She thought she was at a new Puppy Kindergarten and wanted to be free to play with other dogs. When that didn’t happen, she discovered the pine needles covering the ground hid buried cat poop that could be rooted out while pretending she was deaf to the command, “Leave it!” (She waited to come home to vomit on the carpet.)

CGC class is obedience training geared towards a test that certifies the dog is a bona fide good citizen of the canine community. She becomes licensed to do things like bring joy to hospital patients while having the good sense not to jump into bed with them.

The first few weeks of class were brutal. Lucy would not listen, jerked at her leash, and when she got tired, rolled onto her back and refused to move. Julie offered encouragement and direction, but I felt inept and humiliated.

dirt

After a particularly rigorous digging session in the yard.

One afternoon, as Lucy headed off for the fiftieth time in one direction while I tried to coax her into another, Julie’s assistant, DeeDee, came to my rescue and took the leash. Her expert handling and swift corrections got Lucy’s attention. I watched in awe as my dog looked at her and obeyed commands. Tears filling my eyes, I wanted to get into my car and drive away.

Eight weeks after we started CGC training—Lucy was nine months old—came the test. The dogs had to do things like heel (yeah, right), sit and stay (maybe), down (Lucy liked to lie down because it put her closer to the cat poop), and remain calm when left with a stranger (this would be easy—she loves everyone). All of this had to happen without benefit of treat reinforcement.

We were doomed.

My anxiety grew as I watched others go through the course while Lucy jerked on her leash and gagged. While we were on deck, she calmed down to watch the dog being tested. I looked at her sitting with such dignity and my heart surged with love. I crouched and hugged her, petting her neck and chest, and whispered, “I don’t care if we pass. I love you and am so proud of you. Let’s have fun with this.”

Lucy rose to the occasion, messing up on only a couple of things. At the end of the course, I had to hide behind a crop of redwoods while she stayed with a stranger for a couple of minutes. When I was called back, Julie held out her hand—“Congratulations, she passed.”

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

“What? Really?” I grabbed Julie in a hug and howled with laughter.

I looked at Lucy who sat wearing her calm snowy fur like a halo. “Good girl! Good, good girl!”

I wish I could say from that moment on, Lucy sprang from puppyhood to maturity, but no. She’s a work in progress, a spirit we enjoy despite or maybe because of her quirks (pretending she’s deaf to commands, the ability to destroy any toy in less than twenty-four hours, and a need to prune fuchsia bushes).

Since CGC, we’ve taken at least 30 weeks of other classes (Rally Obedience, Jumps and Tunnels, Nose Work) where we learn, have fun, and meet wonderful people and dogs.

I’m happy that our empty nest has been filled with fresh, rambunctious life and grateful to our children who filled a need we didn’t know we had.

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interpreted the command "Sit!"

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interprets the command “Sit!”

Yelp!

For twenty-two years, we’ve lived next door to the Mendocino Coast’s only mortuary. We’re often asked, “Doesn’t it bother you?” No, it does not. (Read my guest blog post “Neighbors.”)

In addition to the mortuary business, there are two apartments on the property—the one directly above the main building is rented to a full-time tenant; the other, above the alley garage, is unoccupied.

In recent years, the owners allow friends to occasionally stay in the vacant apartment. If they rented it for money, it could get listed on Yelp and subject to reviews, which might pose a problem.

My husband Gary is in the habit of waking early. I know the term “early” is open to interpretation. To some people, 6:00 a.m. is early, to others eight. I think we can all agree that three or four o’clock in the morning is damned early. By the time I get going—usually five-thirty or six, Gary is in mid-morning mode and delighted to have company.

I enter the kitchen to, “Good morning! How are ya?”

I groan, stumble to the coffeemaker, pour a cup and search out the nearest dark space.

Our dog Lucy is a slow riser, but usually ready to go outside by six-thirty. Today, she announces to the world that she does not like the vehicle parked in the normally empty space across the alley. Gary yells at her to stop barking while he carries a container to the alley and dumps cans and glass into the large recycle bin.

I pour a second cup of coffee and sigh.

Overall, the apartment above the mortuary garage is a great place to stay. It’s within walking distance to downtown and a short drive to the beach. It’s quiet on the east side, but not so much on the west.

If it was subject to Yelp reviews, I imagine they would read like this:

yelpThis is a wonderful place except for the cat that clawed at the front door in an apparent effort to seek asylum. We believe he’s demonic. We will never stay here again. Laine R., Oakland CA

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yelpWe were awakened at daybreak by what we thought was a homeless meth addict flinging things while hollering in the alley. Trembling with fear, we peeked around the curtains to find the man next door dumping cans and glass into the recycle bin and yelling at someone named Lucy. We will never stay here again. Kasi H., San Francisco CA

yelpWe found the apartment well-appointed and roomy. But as we moved our luggage from the car, an albino animal with a brown patch over one eye barked incessantly from the house across the alley. Efforts to ignore it only made the howling louder. As we approached the gate to get a better look, it let out a puddle of pee and rolled in it. Each time we went to or left our car, the creature yowled. We will never stay here again. Jenn H., Kirkland, WAcloseup

yelpWhen we arrived at nine o’clock at night, all was quiet and peaceful. Little did we know this was because the inhabitants across the alley were asleep. At the crack of dawn, we were startled awake by the baying of a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog and a man yelling, “Leave Little Mister alone!” What kind of freaks are these people? We will never stay here again. H. Riley, San Francisco CA

yelp

Kris S. (who refused to disclose the identity of his city)

Noyo Harbor Treasure

DSC03355A few weeks ago, I took an informal tour of the Grey Whale Inn. Later, out of curiosity, I went to TripAdvisor.com to read guest reviews. While the vast majority are positive, one review stated, “Stayed there last minute as we were passing though the awfull (sic) place that is fort bragg (sic), the hotel is a old hospital built 1919 with ghosts whom must have been cleaners the place needs a good scrub….”

I feel sorry for this person. (Not really—I only say that because it sounds more mature than revealing my true desire to punch him in the face.) If he had worried about getting stuck in “awfull” Fort Bragg, he should have stayed in Willits (which is actually spelled with two “l’s”).

DSC03352For the most part, Fort Bragg is funky and we’re proud of that. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one definition of funky is “odd or quaint in appearance or feeling.” Awful is defined as “extremely bad or unpleasant” or “the person who wrote that grammatically-incorrect, nasty review of the Grey Whale Inn.”

One of the areas that best illustrates Fort Bragg’s funkiness is Noyo Harbor. It is a working harbor where commercial boats land fish to be processed. It’s also home to restaurants offering good food and magnificent views. At the far south end is Sportsman’s Dock where people can board charter boats to cruise the Pacific Ocean and watch whales or catch fish.

DSC03393I’ve been to the restaurant at Sportsman’s Dock many times, but have rarely spent time wandering around the area. The dock was built in the fifties by Richard Lucas (father of my friend MW) and his cousin Ray Welch to provide a recreational spot for sports fishermen.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Lucy and I decided to go on an explore.

Gary: “Where are you going?” Me: “Sportsman’s Dock.” Gary: “Why?” Me: “A voice inside my head commands me to go.” Gary: “Have fun.”

As I snapped pictures and Lucy sniffed seagull poop, a couple pulled into the parking lot and got out of their truck. The man shouted, “How much you want for that dog?”

“A million dollars.”

DSC03396After exchanging some banter and Lucy petting, he introduced himself as Dusty. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a Dusty I didn’t like. This one was no exception. He graciously took Lucy and me on a tour of the World’s End Rowing Club and Dock Services. He talked about the Lost Coast Chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association and led us behind the scenes where the boats are built.

DSC03385We went to a fenced-off dock where he encouraged me to let Lucy off leash. I was being overprotective, worried about her wiggling through the slats in the fence (she is, after all, a blog celebrity). He said, “She won’t jump into the water. She isn’t stupid.”

I hate to disappoint Lucy fans, but she sometimes does very stupid things (like trying to catch bumble bees). I made a quick assessment as to who would dive the 30 feet into the water to rescue her and determined it would be me.

She stayed on the leash.

DSC03358I encourage everyone to take some time and stroll around Sportsman’s Dock. That is, everyone but the aforementioned TripAdvisor.com critic. I wouldn’t want him to write something “awfull” about it. The rest of you will find it delightful. I promise it will make you happy.

DSC03365