Monday, December 24, 2012

Dogs of the season

Dottie says: These are MINE! 

Cisco says: Get me outta this thing.

Dover says: Whatever! Just throw the thing.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A blessing we like

Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. 
So be swift to love 
and make haste to do kindness. 
                                                           Henri-Frederic Amiel


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The smell of sulfur

Not our real skunk.
We were sitting peacefully on the couch this morning, Dover and I, when he went eagerly to the door for his first foray out into the morning. I took a cautionary sniff, a necessity this time of year;  the air passed the sniff test, so I slid the doors open and let him out. He tore around the house, out of sight, and within  seconds I knew I had made a grave mistake. Organic sulfur compounds suddenly filled the air. It was only 6 AM, but I called Dover back in a commanding voice. Dover eventually returned back around the corner, looking sheepish and somewhat confused.

I sniffed him, but the outside aroma was so strong due to the surprised skunk that I thought the skunk had missed, but I erred in this judgment. Once Dover was in the house, I realized my mistake.

Tom and I went into action with peroxide, baking soda, and dish detergent. We were short on supplies, because we had recycled old, depleted peroxide in our home-made skunk-off kit but, being optimists, we had not yet laid in a new store. We put together the concoction as best we could with the supplies at hand, washed the repentant creature, followed by a trip into the shower for a further scrub down. The washing machine has been going all day and the downstairs is passable; we have closed off a few rooms upstairs, the ones to which he had repaired for a good roll around on beds and rugs before we understood the extent of this household disaster. He apparently didn't like the smell either, but that won't prevent him from future encounters of a sulfurous kind.
Contemplating his actions.
Repentant or plotting his next exciting encounter? 
Skunks, very cute to look at and reportedly quite appealing creatures to know, are notorious for their chemical defensive prowess. Doing laboratory research on skunk compounds does not endear a researcher to others in the lab area. One curious researcher went around collecting road kill to figure out the compounds in the skunk's defensive spray, but his lab mates forced him to turn to another line of inquiry. The predominant chemicals are now pretty well known to be a mixture of 6 organosulfur compounds and one nitrogen containing compound; the complex mixture also includes smaller amounts of other sulfur compounds. The up close and personal smell differs from the smell from further away for two reasons: dilution, as the compounds go off in their various directions, and chemical composition, which varies with distance because the volatility of some of the most offensive compounds. The compounds are both obnoxious smelling and detectable in very small quantities - it is estimated that we can detect 10 molecules in a billion molecules of air.

The only true remedy (other than time or distance) for a dog who has met a skunk is a mixture of 3% hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, detergent, and water; this mixture chemically changes the compounds. The new compounds don't react with the fur, and they are them more water soluble than those produced by the skunk. When this washing solution was first reported, the chemist had used 30% hydrogen peroxide, but he found that he had changed his chocolate lab into a yellow lab; he revised his recipe to use only 3% hydrogen peroxide. The ingredients must be mixed on the spot, because if they are mixed and stored, reactions will occur that form carbon dioxide and  oxygen gases, which will cause the bottle to explode.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

One Dog's Tricks

Dover has several tricks. He does the usual: he sits, stays, lies down, heels, turns, and poses majestically when a passer-by stops to admire him. He brings in the newspaper every morning, exchanges the Peace when asked (using his left paw), stands ever so briefly on his hind legs and hops towards an extended dog biscuit lure, and, reluctantly, weaves in and out between my legs.

But his real tricks involve tennis balls. He is an expert shortstop, shagging balls from any angle with graceful leaps and twists. When he brings them back for more, he deposits them a few feet away from his partner, and gives them a determined swat with his snout which propels them into the partner's playing field. I guess that counts as a trick also.

His newest trick is in the water. He has braved the waves to find his quarry since he was a puppy, but now he stands mutely on shore until we hit a second tennis ball out into the sea. Then he plunges in, cuts a straight line through the waves to snatch the first, and with an expert eye, tracks down the second, captures it, and brings both in.

And then he requests a repeat. And a repeat. And a . . . .  
[The second ball is tucked into his
jowl behind the lead ball.]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Place at the Table for Everyone

Eating one by one: The day started inauspiciously with the usual mix of Cheerios and granola for me, assorted other cereals, breads, and eggs on toast for others. People straggled down at different times, took their breakfast to private places in the house or on the porch to eat in morning solitude, enjoying the morning papers and the sight and sounds of the waves, gulls, and osprey diving for her own breakfast.

Eating in small groups: For lunch, we had shakshuka, an Israeli/Arab dish prepared by a friend visiting from Texas. This is, essentially, poached eggs in tomato sauce, with bread for dipping and scooping, and, in this instance, the added attraction of Mexican chorizo along with it. People showed up and ate in small groups of 4 or 5, depending on when they arrived for the meal, who they hadn’t seen for a while, and miscellaneous other variables. Children ate their trusted and true sandwiches, but a few of the older kids, plus the 2-year old, tried the shakshuka and, like the adults, pronounced it outstanding. The 2-year old was even heard to ask for more.

A place for everyone at the table: The dinner menu started with an appetizer plate of assorted cheeses, crackers, grapes, and cherries, accompanied by wine, beer, juice, and pop. About twelve adults gathered by the kitchen sink and out back by three charcoal grills to preside over peeling, trimming, dicing, slicing, washing, marinating, lighting, and organizing stations. Others took their turns on the porch to demolish the appetizers, and kids set to work trundling knives, forks, plates, and other eating paraphernalia from their resting places in the kitchen to the tables lined up on the porch. Everyone took turns shepherding the two-year-old future marathon runner as he careened from the front to the back of the house, up the step stool to inspect the pantry shelves, and onto the swing on the front porch.

The meal was produced, carried in, divided up, and eaten by 25 friends and family of greatly varied ages amidst delight, pleasure, and raucous laughter. 

Here is the menu:
  • Roasted garlic from our son’s organic farm;
  • Butternut squash roasted with grapes and onions;
  • Corn on the cob;
  • Mussels garnished with a mystery topping – check out the picture;
  • Sweet Italian sausage with an optional garnish of sautéed peppers, onions and other stuff;
  • Grilled flap loin, flank, and t-bone steaks, seasoned or non.
  • Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and sliced ham for the culinarily suspicious. There were to be hot dogs as well, but the wrong package was taken from the freezer in Boston and transported south, only to have it be discovered that it was marked by an X, meaning it was full of rotting hot dogs destined for trash pick-up rather than the grill;
  • And one of the pieces de resistance: home fried French friesl We mowed through 4 huge batches and not one strip was left.

Finally: Ice cream topped by Tom’s homemade, chemically inspired, crystallizing, private-recipe chocolate sauce.

The take away message: Everyone had a place in planning, providing, and preparing (except, perhaps, for the two-year-old) and everyone had a place at the table. There was plenty for everyone, and some was even left over for another day. Listen up, World!

Blessings all around. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dover the Bat Tracker

We were watching a fairly inscrutable mystery on the tellie last night when Dover went on maximum alert. A graceful blackness fluttered and dipped from one end of the room to another. A bat in the house! Yikes! Ever the optimists, we opened the back door and continued to try to figure out what was going on in the mystery. The problem was that all the guys in the show looked alike - all slightly smarmy and cetainly hinting that each could eventually be tagged as the malfeasant. 

At one point we figured that the bat had made its way out into the darkness, but a sudden lurch by Dover and we saw we were wrong. We stayed calm, and by the end of the show we were quite certain we were bat-free. None the wiser about the plot but satisfied because the detectives had obviously gotten their - woman, we went upstairs and prepared for bed. So did, apparently, the bat; Dover kept us informed about where it was and when it was on the move. By the bookcase. Down the hall. In the bathroom. Back by the bookcase. We opened windows and shut doors, but every time we peeked, it was still somewhere out in the hall, and Dover, who was keeping me company in my room but eager to join in on the peeking, continued to be keen to do whatever dogs dream about doing with bats. 

When at rest, the bat was quite beautiful - it was a dark, velvety, matte black. It was, however, understandably alarmed, and it finally hid itself behind some books. Tom peeled off the books, and there it lay. I suggested he get a towel, gather it up, and take it outside, which he did. Now we are all wide awake, except Dover, who is out cold in font of a fan, and I hope the bat is happily devouring the mosquitoes and their ilk outside in the 98% humidity. We have passed into the next day.

When one of my sons was young, he became quite a fan of bats. He drew them, he painted a "Save the Bat" shirt, and he sewed a stuffed bat to sleep with. This morning, while bringing order to piles of my own drawings, I came upon some archival artwork -  bat pictures! "Bats are nice," one proclaimed. The bat above is definitely nice in that it has caught and will soon devour a poisonous spider that had been lurking in the cracks, waiting for a tasty meal to pass by.
[If you have trouble seeing what is going on
 in the bat den,click on the picture for a larger image.]

Thursday, July 19, 2012


It has been hotter than proverbial blazes here during the last week - over 100 for several days. Dover and I had entered the inner zen state of wet noodle and could hardly move off the couch, much less visit patients in nursing homes. But the wind came up last night and a slightly cooler mass of air rolled in (no rain, alas), so Dover and I suited up, which entails clipping his photo ID on his harness, and off we went to visit his friends.

The bed of the first patient (J.) was empty, the second patient (also J,) was cozily asleep, and the third patient (another J.!) had vacated her room also. There were plenty of others we met in the doorways and halls along the way who pet, stroked, scratched, and talked with Dover, but we were perplexed about our official crew. After a leisurely stroll down a third hallway, we turned a corner and there was out first J. in a small group waiting to play a game. We had a joyful visit, and then we continued on our quest. We turned yet another corner,and there was the second J. chatting with some friends. After greetings all around, we slowly made our way back to the other end of the hall, but the third J. was sill asleep. We loitered and visited a few people outside her room.

Then J's roommate, who had never acknowledged us or even looked at us, in fact had never been in any other posture than wrapped up in bed with her face to the wall, appeared at the door. Without a word spoken, I understood that she had come out to tell us that J was awake. We went in and had a lovely visit.

On the way to the elevator, I noticed a woman in a doorway watching us; we turned back to visit with her. She knew dogs, and was very expert in her technique of stroking Dover's head and ears. Then she said: "I stole a dog once."

I asked her to tell me about it. Once upon a time, she and her husband had been driving along a road when she saw a man came out of a house. He put a small dog on the top step, and proceeded to kick it down the steps. "Stop the car!" my new friend shouted to her husband. "Back up!". She leapt out of the car, scooped up the dog, and told her husband to step on it. "You are stealing that dog," he said. "I know. That man doesn't deserve this dog," she replied. She gave the dog a new life. "It was a good dog," she said. "People who treat dogs like that don't deserve to keep them." Dover and I were clearly in the presence of a star of a person.

Kindness is noticing and acting, doing the unexpected and taking a risk to bring comfort where it is needed. Dover brings out the kindness and the memories of kindness in the people he meets and greets, and I am privileged to be a witness to these conversations, spoken or taking place through mutual presence, dog and person held in silent communication.


Thursday, June 28, 2012


Trains come in all sizes, from small,
to larger,
to a size fit for a dragon.
Large enough to ride,
and large enough to take several passengers.
Then there is my train, the largest yet, 
leaving at 2:00 this afternoon!

Monday, May 28, 2012

May Parades

Dover made it to 3 parades in May; he was in one and watched two. He stepped off with the Episcopal contingent for our home town Pride Parade on Mother' Day weekend, enjoying company, color, many pats. friendly comments, and a very enthusiastic stroll through town.

On this, the last weekend in May, we joined friends to watch two Memorial Day parades. Dover has a friend in a high place, namely, the clarinet section of the high school band. Actually, she is more than a friend; to Dover, she is a goddess. He also thought the horses, Kung Fu School, and the potato truck were all pretty nifty. He sat calmly as the fire trucks and police cars passed by at full tilt; at his first parade at age 1, I worried that he might be deaf, but since he can hear the slightest twist of the peanut butter jar top from rooms away, I don't think I have to worry about his hearing.

On Monday, we watched a quieter, shorter parade in another neighboring town which featured the same high school band. Dover was intent on the band, but, alas, the clarinets ended up on the other side of the street. For this parade, if you arrive 5 minutes late, you've missed it. That is what happened last year; this year I made sure we were early.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Good Deeds

I was headed towards the bridge over the Connecticut River yesterday, girding my loins for a three hour drive east, when I noticed a car pulled off to the right, parked askew, having just missed the turn onto the interstate ramp but definitely making the island that divided the on and off ramps.

An older woman was out of the car, in the street, trying to get attention from passers-by. No one stopped, and two thoughts collided in my mind: one - I  was afraid for her, and her safety; second - I was afraid for me, and my safety. The former won out in an instant, and I pulled over, taking care to miss her and her car. She charged toward me before I could even stop, much less roll down the window. But stop and roll down I did, and she poked her head in the window. "Is this the entrance to 91 south?" she asked. "Yes, I replied, and she hustled back to her car and I continued on my way. It was a simple, ten second good deed.

Several years ago, I was in a neighboring town and another woman hailed me down. i stopped and rolled down the window, but she stepped off the curb, opened the door, and got in. She asked to go to a local eatery, perhaps five blocks away, and we preceded there. However, when we got there, she asked to go to the next town, which was where I was going anyway, so we continued. When we arrived, she asked to go back to the town we had just left. At that point I made my excuses, but she didn't get out of the car. After a lithe more conversation, she did reluctantly leave. For the next several years, I saw her occasionally, hailing rides, always in a big floppy hat and with a very determined step, but I never stopped for her again.

I am glad I stopped for both women. Their situations were different, but their needs equally urgent if of unequal clarity. Another rider whose memory I hold less benevolently flagged me down on an early morning several years ago as I drove to work. He was urgent in his need for a ride, and thinking he was probably one of the students at the college where I taught, I stopped, and he got in the front seat. He then beckoned to a friend who was hiding in the underbrush, who dashed over and got in the back seat. I had read enough mystery stories to think of kidnappings and drivers being garroted from behind, that my alarm level soared. Since I was close to school, I quickly turned in and told them that that was as far as I was going. They didn't like it, but they did get out. I am not glad that I stopped for him/them, although I must say, I was, after the fact, quite curious to know more of their stories.

So, as I sit here, happily typing with Dover dozing at my feet, I ask myself, in each case - What Would Dover Do? (WWDD?) His thoughts are less nuanced, perhaps, but I would guess that he would only stop for people carrying tennis balls that were clearly marked "FOR THE DOG;" that is how he could tell the good guys from the others. I, however, have to use different criteria, and so far my batting average is 0.667.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Easter and the Unfound Egg

Between the Easter dinner main course and the concluding and much appreciated multitude of desserts course, the older kids hide Easter eggs for the younger kids to find. This has always been the kids' idea, and the older ones spend a good deal of time secretly plotting the perfect in-plain-sight hiding places. At the end, they always solemnly swear that all the eggs have been found and accounted for.

A few years ago, in the dark and cold of winter, I found an old Easter egg down amongst the bath towels; a subsequent year I went to pour coffee into a mug and only to spot pinkish, quite well preserved, pink fossil egg bits lurking. A few days ago my eye fell on a spotted specimen, clearly not left over from this year's hunt, nestled on top of some texts in the computer room. Curiously, these forgotten eggs have never advertised themselves with the signature rotten egg smell, known to chemists as hydrogen sulfide. [In the department of miscellaneous information, hydrogen sulfide is more toxic than carbon monoxide, but it isn't the stealth killer that carbon monoxide is because of its stench.]

Meanwhile, I have left the spotted egg in place, to see if anyone else finds it and wants to put it in their Easter basket. Dover probably would be quite eager to lay claim to it, but it is on a top shelf, above his sniffing level.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Yesterday morning provided the first moments of spring perfection this year. After days of cold, raw, yet sunny weather that didn't invite one into the garden or to leave the yard without a sweatshirt, Monday dawned bright, and crisp, with daffodils at their peak and tulips just making their appearance. Dover and I walked out for our three-mile stroll around the fresh and renewed neighborhood byways just as the sun was coming up.

In addition to the usual spring pale yellows and pinks, the blues and the new greens, the dandelions in particular caught my eye that morning, each one more gorgeous than the previous; fearful that I would miss the most beautiful examples and displays of dandelions opening business for the day, I took dandelion picture after picture. Why these gorgeous, unassuming spring flowers are so resolutely dug out of yards totally escapes me.

By mid-afternoon, the temperature had climbed to 90, and this morning is chilly and breezy, but Dover and I will step out again to see what new sights (for me) and scents (for him) we will find. There is no holding back spring!

Monday, April 9, 2012


Mollie's cake,

Sherry's flowers,

and a meal shared with 26 family and friends. 
Twenty-six people, fifty-two hands lugging tables 
and chairs and other eating necessities, 
and twenty-six contributions to the table. 
If one item went missing, it wouldn't be Easter dinner!

Dover, Cisco and Dottie dyed eggs.  
 Dover snatched one,
 but it was resnatched in the nick of time!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Ballpark Calculation

For whatever reason, my mind turned to numbers the other day.

Melting the snow.
After successfully creating Dover's first (and probably only) snow mountain of the winter season, I wondered - just how much snow did I move to create this dog playheap? I scavenged around to find my trusty 2 yard stick and measured the terrace, which ended up being  21 feet long and 13 feet wide, for an area of 273 square feet. Then I melted down a one foot cube of snow and measured the water that formed; this gave me the figure that one square foot of this particular snow weighed 6 pounds. So, I moved  273 x 6 = 1,638 pounds of snow, more or less. I was disappointed I didn't make a ton, only eight tenths of a ton. In the process, I learned that the word "ton" comes from "tun," which referred to "the largest barrel."

Three dogs.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Saint David, Leeks, Daffodils, and Dover

[Click on drawing for a larger picture. ]

March 1st commemorates Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. St David is associated with daffodils, which bloom near the anniversary of his death, and leeks, which we all should be eating on March 1. While I do not much care for leeks, daffodils are one of my favorite flowers, second only to daisies. Daffodils do have their dark side, however. The bulbs contain a toxin, licorine, which can cause gastric symptoms, perhaps convulsions, maybe even death. Apparently some primary school youngsters showed mild symptoms after a cooking class, where a daffodil bulb was mistakenly included in a soup being made with onions brought in from the children's home gardens. In addition, florists can acquire "florist's itch" from frequent handling of the bulbs; the toxin in this case is oxalic acid. 

Dover's name means water in Welsh, so Dover is eager to celebrate St. David by rejoicing in the six inches of mixed solid and liquid H2O in the form of ice, snow, sleet, and slush that we received overnight. His snow mountain, the first of the winter, is probably not long for this world, but he and his pals will make the most of it while it lasts. Hidden below the snow, below the mud underneath, and below the frozen ground still further underneath, are 100 daffodils I planted last fall, lying in wait to rise in glory and gladden our hearts. Even this most welcome of snow will, in a few weeks time, succumb to the steady advancing of springtime light and warmth.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Daisies, mud, and days of note

Early February is a big week for marking several commings and one going in Dover's circle of friends.

Two birthdays on the 5th, including my daughter-in-law, who is responsible for the beautiful daisies along a small patch of shoreline; she and daisies occupy the same section of my mind and affection. Spring will tell if the daisies survived the salt and erosion that came along with Irene. Anther birthday on the 6th. The week almost ends with a birthday on the 11th - the lap on which Dover slept as he made the journey from his birthplace in New Hampshire to our home to the southwest.

Dover comes home!
But getting down to dogs: Mungo, the dog who ate things and who was the scourge of little children with their low lying food, died unexpectedly and precipitously February 9th, 2008, at age 5, of hemangiosarcoma of the spleen

Dover was serendipitously born the day after, February 10th; he celebrated his 4th birthday by having a glorious roll in our backyard mud, and Dottie, his partner in mud, known as the Mud Queen, was adopted on February 12. Since she was born on Christmas Day, her adoption day is a particuary significant milestone. 

February 5 - the 12th -  a week to notice!
Dottie does mud.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Little trains

The last Saturday in January I abandoned the doggie and went with a friend down to the Amherst Railway Society Railway Train Show - four huge buildings at the Eastern States Exposition filled with all sizes of trains - tooting, whistling, clacking along on tracks or silently waiting on table tops for a passers by to decide they couldn't do without them. Train cars, engines, scenery - ready made or in kits - and all manner of accessories - bridges, stone walls (painted or ready to paint), trees, tree kits, people, cargo, dogs, and tracks of all sizes. There were simple to complicated layouts; the layout for the Amherst Belt Lines ran an engine with a camera connected to a TV so you could careen down the tracks and enjoy the sights as if you were the engineer. The artistry, imagination, skill, and technical ingenuity that was on display was wonderful.

One layout had circus cars and dragons riding the engines. When I saw the dragons perched on the cars, I thought - this layout has nothing on our living room trains - where lizards ride the locomotives, 
dragons wait for for the local express to come in,
giant burmese pythons lurk atop bridges,
Russian nesting dolls are in charge of the stations,
and Dover, the local godzilla dog, spreads terror among the train masters 
as he hunts for hidden tennis balls along the track side wastelands.