Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Love your inner winter-idiot.

Do not bring your inner winter-idiot here unless
 you've provided it with snowshoes.
According to Yourpurebredpuppy.com: 

"English Pointers, especially youngsters, become restless and bored when confined too much and may resort to destructive chewing and barking. A walk around the block is barely a warm-up for this superb athlete!"                                                                                                                   
Soon after we adopted Abby, we visited our town's athletic fields, where many bring their dogs to run off-leash. Once we trained Abby to return to us with the "Come around" command, that was that. 

End of backstory. 

When I was small, and believed I'd never die, even if other people did, I had an argument with my mother. I told her that if I were on a plane that crashed into a house, I'd probably live because I would want to badly enough. 

She gave me a kind, skeptical look and said, "I don't think that would be possible."

I said, "If I made up my mind not to die, I wouldn't. I can imagine living through that because I would make it happen."

"I don't think...."
"But if I wanted to..."

We went back and forth like that, until Family Affair came on. 

But, don't you love her for not saying, "That makes no sense. You'd die because when planes crash, people die, including the ones who don't want to. What do you want for dinner?"

We were talking about will. Not common sense. Even if they work on the same floor. 

Last month, I wrote about loving your inner idiot - the part of you that gets loose when you're not thinking, but are still operating. It was the third most viewed post of the year, and more than a few people said, "I'm glad it's not just me."

It's not just you and we need to stick together. 

Here's another true thing about inner idiots. They tend to be active when their outer person is faced with something he or she doesn't always deal with. For example, if I'd owned a superb-athlete dog before now, who liked to run in the snow, I'd know that will alone does not make it a good idea to take her to a place where the original terrain is buried under three snowstorms, and has now drifted to make the depth, in some places, anyone's guess.

But will can go a long way when you've been snowed in with an English Pointer for a day and a half. 

"We're doing this," I said to Abby. 

We arrived at the picturesque fields, which were white and majestic and not the least bit life-threatening.  A snowbank fringed the fields which was the height of many Abbys standing on each other's shoulders. She skittered up and over like a superb athlete should.

I got up and over with surprising agility, which impressed my inner winter-idiot who cheered, "Keep going!" 

We headed into snow which was deep, but manageable, and walked alongside a skinny, frozen creek, crowded with stalks. Abby raced up and over mounds of snow, only once venturing too far for me to see her. 

"Come around," I shouted. Back she came.

Rinse, repeat. 

Suddenly she darted across the creek to reach the field that lay on the other side to the right. I followed her carefully, edging downward to the creek which I planned to cross before edging upward to the other side where Abby now romped. The snow below me gave and I stepped with one foot and then the other into a drift that swallowed half of me.  

Have you ever had a moment when you looked at the ocean and been both mystified by its beauty and terrified by its immense power over you? It was like that. 

Straight-legged, I raised my thigh and felt my boot come off. If I could even free myself I was still separated from the field where Abby now ran in wide manic circles, prancing and racing through the snow like she still couldn't believe we'd actually come here today. Because, even Abby had probably looked out the window earlier and thought, Fine. I'll just chew some more books.

First, I said some bad words.

Then I pictured how this would appear to the rescue unit that I might have to summon and how I would defend my thinking which of course, had played no part in any of this.  
I'm doing this, I thought. 

It was an ugly show of crawling, twisting and lunging, and I lost my boots twice, and I was miserable and cold but I freed myself, and eventually, reached a stretch of concealed, but level ground that led to the car. 

I gathered Abby, brought us home and moved stuff out of chewing reach. I got warm and dry and made us an early lunch. I did some writing while Abby snoozed.

Later, on Facebook, I saw a picture of a nice couple and their dog out in the same whiteness I'd come from. The caption described their lovely walk in the snow with their grateful, good dog. They both wore snowshoes.


Here's the thing. Would I do that again? Of course not, I'm not an outer idiot. 

But will I do something again where I employ will over common sense? I know too well, that I will.

It will probably be sometime in the spring. It will have something to do with mud, and most likely I'll need a professional before it's over. 

But, I'm thinking, by then, I'll probably have those snowshoes. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pet Peeves #7 featuring the DMV, where no good mood is safe.

This building should be much less attractive for
the way it can snap a perfectly
good mood right in half.
I was worried about me recently. 
I realized that while I enjoy writing my Pet Peeves posts, sometimes I'm too okay with things to spot them whilst out and about. 
Then I had to go to the Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles, and I was not worried anymore.
Herewith, Pet Peeves #7

This is a tired complaint, but I'll make it anyway. There is not a person I've encountered at the DMV who does not seem a tiny bit relieved when they have to a) send you to another line that has the population of a small town standing in it, or, b)  tell you that you'll need a vital document that you can't remember laying eyes on, or, c) tell you it's not even something handled by  Motor Vehicles, but Fish and Game or Transportation or Comcast.
Nine times out of ten, that apologetic smile is as real as the perforated tab that never opens the rice box. 
The perforated tab that never opens the rice box. 
It doesn't. What happens is that when you flip the corner tab and try to tear along the "dotted line," nine times out of ten, you have to get scissors or a serrated edge knife to finish the job and then you're at risk for cutting yourself, not that I did that last Tuesday.
People who say "nine times out of ten" 
They do this to bolster their point, as in "Look at any car on the highway that almost ran you off the road. Nine times out of ten, it's a Volkswagen driven by someone who's had their license for fifteen minutes and has moved the driver's seat back as far as it can go in order to slouch like a badass and drive with a fully extended arm."
This percentage of 90%, like the perforated tab on the rice box, is fake. 
Junk Mail. 
I don't only hate junk mail because it takes up space in the box, I hate it because in my zeal to throw it in the trash, nine times out of ten I'm at risk of throwing away something I really need, like a tax document that is stuck between the pages. Not that I almost did that last Thursday. 
And, I hate junk mail because your tiny hope, that among all those items might be yummy, old-fashioned personal mail, is dashed.
People who think through their calendar out loud while trying to make a date 
It goes like this. Date requester asks, "When can we meet and discuss (whatever)?" And Date describer responds like this. "Let's see, Monday I have a conference call with (whoever)  and in the afternoon, I'm attending a fundraiser and on Tuesday, I'll be in Boston and let's see...hmmm...Wednesday won't work, it's my day to (whatever) and, how about Thursday? Does that work? Oh, wait. Not Thursday, I'm seeing the dentist, but actually, you said Friday might be good, right? Let's see.. Friiiiiiiiidaaaaay. Friday, Friday Friday. That could work." 
I've polled people on this. Everybody wants everybody to stop doing it. 
The use of the word "snowflake" 
The use of the word "snowflake" unless it refers to pretty window decorations of kindergartners, has become a way for older, cynical people to describe younger, progressive types who don't want things to be like they were back-in-the-day, when girls were girls and men were men and nine times out of ten, people were having silent nervous breakdowns because therapy was only for crazy people.

Here, is a piece I didn't write on the subject, but wish I had. 
This concludes Pet Peeves #7, but check back for specials. I haven't even begun to talk about winter weather in New Hampshire, or Facebook newsfeed ads. And - bonus - I have a conversation with our town tax collector coming up which already sounds like it will qualify for #8. 

Stay warm and friendly, and if possible, out of the DMV.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Abby Bonifant, quick study

"And stay off the second floor,
and don't touch my litterbox, and
don't smell me, and everything

will be fine."
At this moment, we've had Abby, who is a bird dog, for almost two months. 

I don't have a lot of  dog experience, but I think she's a quick study. She's learned what to do and not do, and how to look really sorry when she gets caught doing the latter.

My husband Larry is an experienced dog person, but back in that day, dogs were dogs and did not ever wear sweaters or eat gluten-free kibble or go outside in velcro boots. They ate Gravy Train and were not allowed out of the kitchen. 

Our dog is of this day. 

She doesn't eat Gravy Train, but a twice a day helping of hamburger, rice, and vegetables that I prepare and top with state-of-the-art kibble, which she spits out. 

So that they remain safe and nice to be around, dogs need training and of course no training should commence without goals. Here is where Larry and I are as different as kibble and rice.

He wants Abby to stop and heel and come back on command so that he doesn't lose her in the field.

I want her to not jump up, or steal food, or maul Gus who is the "established" pet. 

I spent much of Abby's first week reading "introduction" advice like: NEVER let the dog bark at the cat or chase him or do anything to scare him," "NEVER leave the dog untethered  in a room with the cat," even if you just have to tee-tee. And, this gem: "Reassure the cat whenever possible that he or she has not been replaced." 

I turned to my intuition over instructions, with good results. Abby does not jump up because I refuse to hug her until she sits down and Abby likes hugging more than eating. When the hug is over, the urge to leap straight up from the ground has passed. 

When she stole my cinnamon mini-bun the other day, she looked at me and said with her sad brown eyes, "Oh, I'm sorry, was that yours?" 

She doesn't maul Gus, nor did Gus have to be reassured of his place, because when Abby lunged within mauling distance, Gus reared back, hissed like a cobra, and displayed more dagger cat teeth than I ever knew he had. Then he raised his paw and cocked his head like he was taking aim and Abby backed away, schooled but unhurt. There will not be mauling. 

Meanwhile, my husband roamed the internet for ideas on contemporary field training methods. There he came upon "Dave," a renowned trainer who also offers sleep away camp should the dog need a retreat. 

Larry has been bringing home the Dave Doggie Bag: 

"You have to say 'Whoa,' when you want her to stop and be still," he said. "It's for your own protection, so she doesn't pull you over."  He demonstrated, using a low baritone: 


Abby stopped. 

"And you have to say 'Free,' when it's okay for her to move," he instructed.

"FREE!" he said to Abby, who, praise tramp that she is, trotted right over to Larry for enthusiastic reinforcement which sounds like this:  

"WHO'S a good girl? WHO's the best dog in the world? WHO's the smartest, most beautiful bird dog in her whole class? WHO???"

"What if you forget to say 'free' and leave the room?" I asked. 

"She'll stay there until you come back, right in position."

"No, she won't."

After Abby was whoa-ing and free-ing on command in class, Larry encouraged me to try it before serving her food. 

"Whoa," I said. 

She trotted away. 

"Maybe use a deeper voice."

"Whoa," I said not doing that. 

She stopped. 

"Okay, free," I said. 

She didn't move. 

Here is a fox after
learning that there is
cheese under the snow.
"Go ahead, free," I repeated, waving her on. When she still didn't go to her food, I said, "Come on, try it. I put some cheese on it," and made a kissy noise from her bowl. She jumped on it like a snow fox-->

I told Larry  that I can't say "WHOA in a deep voice because it makes me feel like a cowboy riding into town for a whiskey.

At some point Abby developed a gentle but annoying biting habit upon greeting us, sending Larry back to the internet. 

"She bites because it's part of how dogs play," he reported. "When one crosses the line, the other one yelps and retreats. Then the biter feels bad and stops doing it. They suggest mimicking the yelp when she's mouthy to see this effect." 

"Like say 'ow' in a hurt voice?"

"No," he said, "actually make a high-pitched yip." 

"I can't. It's too awkward."

Later that afternoon, while I was writing, I heard a short, high, shrill burst: "YIPE!" 

It sounded like a scream.  A frightened old woman kind of scream. Fearing Abby had crossed the play line with Gus, I rushed to see.  

"Oh, that was me," Larry said. He was pleased. "It worked, she backed right off."

Abby is a quick study but I'm on to her. She respects the "whoa" and "free" and "YIPE!!!" commands that Larry and Dave have taught her because she's a praise hound. 

But I'm thinking she's learned to not jump, not chew the cat, and not take my cinnamon mini-buns because she also knows who controls the cheese and hugs, and likes the sound of complete sentences. 

That's my kind of smart. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

No words today. But a feeling worth mentioning.

I had a pretty good post planned for today. 

But I'm sad and worried about what's happening to our country, and I need to stay in this mindset for now, while I consider people who are living lives I'm not sure I could survive, much less survive whole and unhaunted. 

I don't want to write political posts, as I've said before. But this is not about politics.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

We lost more than Mary Tyler Moore

I miss you already.

Mary Tyler Moore has died. Just when we needed Mary Richards most.

Mary Richards was more than a role model.
She was a signpost for growing girls and teenagers: Here's where to head when you're lost.
In my anxious teens, she was confident and optimistic.
In my late twenties, when my first marriage was leaking air, even the reruns were inspiring.
She was funny when I was depressed.
She was as nice as everyone should be.

She made it look easy.

She had trouble with confrontation, but stood up when she had to.
She liked her parents.
She kept Phyllis in perspective.
She inspired Rhoda.
She never got on Mr.Grant about his drinking.
She lived and let live.

She was a feminist.
She didn't use her femininity for position.
Nor did she trade it to make it in a "man's world."
She behaved as though her potential was not limited by anything but her own choice.
She climbed the ladder at WJM in heels and Evan Picone.
She didn't treat anyone like the enemy.

Even Ted.

She was simply a nice person who knew what she wanted and deserved, and expected to work for it.

We should all be more Mary Richards.

At a time when so many are bitter and combative and frustrated and drawing from the meanest parts of themselves to express it, I consider what Mary Richards would do with her tools of confidence, elegance, smarts and class.

Mary Tyler Moore has died.

But I already miss Mary Richards, just as much.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tall Order

This would have been an  impossible
 thing to picture six months ago.
My cat Gus has been my constant companion for four years and our arrangement suits us perfectly. I write all day, he sleeps in a spot near my laptop. 
A month ago, we adopted our dog, Abby. I felt that with guidance, Gus who is serene and clever, might share space with Abby, who is excitable and pleasing, in my office. 
What else could he do? 
What he did was go as far as he could to the other end of the house and stay there for days while I wondered, unhappily, what I'd do without him.  
Last week, my husband suggested I write a post encouraging people who can't stand Trump to give his presidency a chance nonetheless, because: 
What else can we do? 

I wanted to get as far from that idea as I could and stay there. My instincts are good. Trump's words and deeds have moved him from obnoxious to abominable in my view. The mocking of the disabled reporter was enough, the pussy-grabbing video made me ill. 
When Trump won the election, I went into plain avoidance. I didn't want to see his face, hear his voice, or see him make that stupid "O" with his finger and thumb again. I'd given this playground bully enough time to grow out of his dysfunction. I would stay in for recess, now. 
What else could I do?
Columnist Kathleen Parker, who is no fan of Trump, used a lot of ink over the weekend to rehash the things we already know we don't like about him, but ended with this: 
"Even with all of that, Donald Trump is our president. He deserves a chance to prove us doubters wrong; to create a government that he thinks will bring jobs and money back to the United States; to enhance educational opportunities for the less-privileged; to enhance our military defense without yearning to test it; to reform the tax and regulatory codes with deference to economic realities." 

I'm struggling now. It is counter-intuitive to give Trump a chance. He has a way of pitting those who are trying to remain openhearted and fair-minded against themselves, because in the next interview, or tweet, he behaves like a mean girl who wishes to be more powerful than admired. 

Here's what else.

I can protect my own mental health. I can try to cope with the intolerable, while recognizing the acceptable. I can practice coping with what is, over hoping for what won't be. 

I know I can't be angry for four years.  

"However people feel about him and how the press reports on him," said my husband, "In six months, we'll have new information. Because in six months, he'll either have done something good for the country, or we'll know he's a disaster." 

Trump's election left me and other lemonade-makers between keeping faith in the potential for something to go right as well as wrong, and learned helplessness, when attempts to object to a bad situation are no longer made because you no longer think it will make any difference. 

I know I can't do that.

Last week, Gus's desire to be in my company trumped his distaste for sharing it.  He marched in, took his spot and fell asleep while the dog watched from across the room and kept her distance. 
It's a tall order, but I am going to put my skeptical nature in the same room with my capacity to be surprised, and ask them to share the space, while I follow Trump's progress. 

That's all I can do.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Love your inner idiot.

Here is a summer image of the Hooksett
Rest area, where inner idiots have
plenty of room to run loose.
As happens to everyone, from time to time my inner idiot gets loose and I do a thing I hope nobody saw me do, like falling up the stairs.

Inner idiots can live inside smart people.

It's one of the best things about maturity to realize that you can do a stupid thing without being stupid, and that it's better to be unthinking than thinking hard when your inner idiot gets away from you.

Loving your inner idiot is essential for two reasons. First, because we all have one, and second, because you risk becoming intellectually obnoxious  if every once in a while you don't repeatedly "push" the "pull" door at the tire store. Or, wonder why the nozzle at the pump won't fit your tank before you realize it's because you're trying to put diesel fuel in your car. Or, drive your vehicle with low clearance over a short snow bank because you feel your will alone will keep it from getting stuck midway which it won't.

Loving your inner idiot assures you'll have sympathy and not contempt for yourself when you have to have your car towed off the bigger-than-it-looked snow bank.

Inner idiots are usually specialized. Mine is a car specialist and almost every stupid thing I do involves my vehicle, despite how I adore it. Otherwise, my common sense is fully engaged and operates without problems. 

Last weekend, I left New Hampshire for a shop day in Boston with my daughter. We'd had snow the night before which left the roads wet, which means you should expect to use your washer fluid every five or six seconds.

Right before I hit the highway, I ran out of washer fluid, which I know is blue. No problem, I thought, I'll stop at the Hooksett Rest Area where they sell everything, or something that looks like it, in one of their many stores that take up the area of a small town, and are unsightly even if they are useful.

Inside the plaza was a pyramid of about 200 hundred jugs of washer fluid which I passed on my way to ask the information man at the desk if he knew where I could buy any. 

He frowned, "Well, there's some right there," he said, pointing.

Back inside the car, I began to look for the hood release which I'd never used in two years.  It was nowhere, not on the underside of the seat, not on the steering column, not hidden discreetly on the inside of the door. Furthermore, I'd taken the owner's manual out to make room for something else, never mind what.

I googled and found instructions. The first, very secretive step of two required I pull an unmarked, small flap until I heard the hood pop. If I traveled to the front of the car next, I would easily locate the latch to complete the raising of the hood. This part was true.

Under the hood lay a foreign land of cables and hoses and other things I don't know the name of but nothing that looked like a washer fluid reservoir. There was only one fluid receptacle at all, and the fluid in it was pink, not blue. In several spots on the container were tiny warnings and danger icons.

Back inside the car, I googled and found a picture of what the reservoir looked like. Here it is:

Back outside though, I found nothing under the hood that looked like a oddly shaped milk jug with a blue hat. 

It was eight degrees, the wind had picked up, I had no gloves on, and I'd parked where I wouldn't attract attention. But looking around now, I hoped I would. In front of the car I stood with my jug, looking ridiculous.

A car pulled over. The window came down and a man leaned forward.

"Excuse me," he said, "do you know where to put that?" 

And here is why it's good to love your inner idiot. You're not embarrassed to introduce it to others.

"I don't have any idea,"  I said to the man. "I can't find it."
He got out of the car, walked over and said, "Let's see, maybe it's tucked away somewhere. With a little brush of his glove, he located it under some snow.

"I'll tell you what," he said. "You hold my glasses – they're too expensive to drop again, and I'll take care of this." 

Possibly the man had an experience where he left his expensive glasses in a place he couldn't remember. Possibly they fell off his head when he was looking down into a canyon. Possibly his inner idiot specializes in losing things.

But all of us have one, and they're all really good at something. 

And just the same, we can be pretty good people. Just the same.