Saturday, November 14, 2009

My younger child, Billie-Goat Bowie

WARNING – this posting contains some mush and goofiness – indicative of my open heart regarding Billie.

Older, grumpier Marley has a Facebook profile, but I have resisted creating one for Billie. It feels odd for a hyper-articulate person like me to say this, but Billie is hard to write about. The living beauty that is Billie is a bunch of disconnected things that it doesn’t matter if I can’t group neatly and assess with my usual degree of edginess.

It’s impossible not to slide into barely qualified mush when talking about her…she is a perfect warm temperature, has perfect hair – silky but not too fine, not too coarse. She loves my touch but doesn’t beg for it and doesn’t cling when I move away.

Billie is extremely attached to me and Craig and Marley and has done almost nothing naughty in the last 3 years. (Yes, I feel superstitious when I write this, as any dog owner would – knock on wood! She may be eating a piece of furniture right now…) She can be timid about strangers and noise and is definitely phobic about thunderstorms, but her whimpering and burrowing when things crash outside is more appealing than annoying (I wish I could say the same of my phobias, which annoy even me).
I have been taught that dogs push near us to dominate, but with Billie (Oh, here I go again with goofy overstatement) it feels like a delicate gift of the pressure of her presence. Although I’m not sure Craig feels that when he has to push her off his side of the bed and she leaves red hairs on his pillow – but not too horribly many, even in her shedding Billie is relatively delicate.

Billie’s hair has little oil and she has a naturally sweet smell – yes, I’m used to the smell of dogs after 13 years but I can still discern that some dogs on some days smell better or worse than others - and of course that our own dogs smell better than anybody’s. But it’s not just my opinion – other people have commented how clean she smells (yes, these particular people were dog lovers…not exactly a scientific sample).If not for her allergies – which, whew, is a blog series in itself, for a while I even had her on an $experimental$ Pfizer medicine (so my baby would not scratch herself, bleed and cry!) she would be an almost maintenance-free dog. Doesn’t throw her back out, doesn’t cut herself, etc. – matured into a little lady with of course a veneer of the greyhound inertia. I'm sure she is the product of many different dog breeds, but she has enough of the greyhound attribute of only hurrying when they are really chasing something.

She doesn’t seem to favor either Craig or me, so neither of us feel jealous. I am her comforting mother sun but Craig’s arrival home always makes her stretch and sigh in relief: Ah, Alpha Dog is back!

When we brought her home with us in 2002, she immediately attached herself to Marley, although that wasn’t necessarily mutual – he mostly ignored her but she didn’t seem to notice. She was less than 8 weeks old and it was like the children’s book where the little bird asks every creature she meets, “Are You My Mommy?” Billie looks to Marley for many things, of which he provides almost none, but other than occasional good-natured wrestling matches and very occasional teenagerish tricks – barking at the back door till he ran outside to check it out, then stealing his dog bed – she has always deferred to him. (That was several years ago – Marley no longer runs, or sleeps on a bed…only smooth, cool tiles for him.)

Years ago our vet was calling her “Silly Willy” and I said, “No, it’s Silly Billie!” He immediately agreed. She has had many nicknames since then, most related to her proprietary approach to sofas and beds and to the nasty gas one brand of dog food (whitefish and sweet potatoes – who could blame her) gave her.

The shelter people described Billie as a “shepherd mix,” which we later learned is a euphemism for medium-size dogs of completely uncertain parentage. I guess mystery small dogs are called “Chihuahua mix,” etc. It was a puzzle for months how big Billie might get, whether her ears would straighten, and what her adult stride would be – as a little puppy her long legs were so ungainly we worried she couldn’t learn to walk correctly. She cried to get up on the bed with us – we had a double mattress then and it was too high for a doubting puppy to jump…we usually scooped her up.

I can’t help wondering if my own lack of physical coordination, not to mention my lack of self-confidence in anything physical, has somehow rubbed off on my pet. Like me, when she doesn’t over-analyze, she does better. Unlike me, she has incredible reach with her legs – she doesn’t have to jump up on the couch, she can just do a Daddy Longlegs type step. Once she was chasing Marley and jumped all the way over the couch – and from the look on her face, she hadn’t planned that. Kind of like the cow jumping over the moon – she knew she was jumping but didn’t know where it could take her. The rare times that she runs she has an incredible, graceful greyhound stride, but I don’t think she sees herself as a sleek racer – she probably imagines herself more like a Marley clone, since she doesn’t look in mirrors and he’s the dog she sees every day.

I have written many stories – well, more like essays…not fiction, they are all true! – about Marley, especially in his younger years. It’s not that Billie has not been naughty, or naughty in a funny way, or otherwise leaves me without inspiration – but I have written less than 10 Billie stories compared to about 50 Marley stories. (I could probably have listed that statistic instead of writing the whole rest of this posting – those numbers say a lot.)

Several people have asked why only Marley is on Facebook, and a friend recently suggested I position Billie’s Facebook persona as a defender of me, as opposed to Marley’s negativity. At the time it made perfect Sarah-support sense but on reflection…

Yes, cyber-Marley is critical, but I feel relieved, not jabbed, when I post his alleged thoughts online. I think that speaking for Marley helps me work through the guilt I feel when he glares at me. He is my main experience as a parent, with hard experiences like the tough love of giving him only a carrot when I know he wants so many other, softer, greasier things. He does have his sweet moments (convincingly suggesting that he wants nothing but me to rub his belly) but in general Craig and I are there to serve him, and usually found wanting in this regard.

Despite the broadsides Marley levels at Billie on Facebook, he doesn’t have anything specifically negative against her – he just has never seemed to see the point of her. She doesn’t have access to the treat jar, and she is not a sexual mate – sorry to be so blunt but I believe Marley processes in those terms. However…I think he does act much more obliging toward Billie when Craig and I are not at home, giving Billie friendly sniffs and maybe even laying next to her for naps. Beneath the surly, disdainful, overbred parts of him lurks a pack animal.

When Marley follows me around after breakfast, I’m almost positive it’s food – or specific scratching attention for some body part (sometimes he gets a carrot stuck in his teeth and wants me to massage his jaw) he’s after. When Billie follows me, she doesn’t have a specific gimme agenda, but…so…she’s the one it is harder to leave. After early breakfast she is so sleepy her eyes drift shut within minutes after she eats. When I pet her she gazes at me only briefly – I’m almost bothering her, but I can’t resist touching her soft, sweet self anyway.

Billie has helped me tremendously with accepting my need for naps, and early bedtime. She often goes to bed even before I do – curls up in a bedroom that’s dark and empty, not waiting for the rest of us, in respect for her body clock…something out-of-whack humans like me should emulate.

On days I’m home, she entreats me to take naps – if I even walk through the bedroom to get something out of a drawer, she jumps up on the bed and gives me the look I want to interpret as, “Is it nap time now?”

No, Billie is not selfless – my cousin/sister-friend/petsitter Amy christened Billie the Love Magnet, because Billie can apparently sense from dozens of feet away, even through a brick wall, that you are petting Marley…and she zooms in from outside the room, and tries to dog-elbow him out of the path of your hand and position herself optimally. But who could be mad at her for wanting love, and being so open about it – heck, we should all follow her example.

I know that humans’ interpretation of anything to do with dogs is questionable, but it seems to me that Billie watches to see whether and when I will sit down near her, or sit down anywhere she can joins me – because she finds me interesting, and likes to be with me. As compared to Marley, who only wonders what I’m doing because he is hungry…

I guess that writing about unconditional love/acceptance/affection (I’m trying to find a term I feel more comfortable with in this list, and it’s not really working) is not exactly in my tool kit. But…having Billie in the house, in my life, bolsters me in not always conscious ways. For example, when I have my blood pressure checked I try to visualize both dogs sprawled out for cuddling, but really it is more Billie that I see and sense – warm, red, smooth, relaxing under my touch, my breathing slowing to hers. Aaahhh…

And part of that relaxing image is the way Billie relaxes, especially how she sleeps – in 2 varieties: sprawled out as big as a continent, or curled up in a tiny red ball. The continent is funny but I find the ball adorable. She is literally wound into herself as tight as a tortellini and barely responds when I carefully stroke her, since she is in ball-mode. Marley snored even as a puppy – he is deep-chested and has mucus and God knows what else going on – but the loudest thing Billie does is breathe deeply, sometimes, and other times grunt slightly during her dreams.

How can I not adore a creature who has not only pretty sleep but such sweet dreams. And adores me, even though I am larger and clumsier and don't have silky hair.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bowie Christmas tree revisited...?

Even before Billie ate actual trees, she gnawed on a lot of my favorite ornaments, which always amazed me - I put my precious collection of mini teapots higher on the tree (token attempt at dog-proofing?), so why did she reach past the boring cheap stuff and how did she know...? Did they smell like me? (Does she think teapots are extra cute, like I do?!)

When Marley was a puppy his preference was those cheap glass ball ornaments, especially if they had metal hooks. So many panicked calls to the vet, who just told me, in a how-many-million-times-have-I-heard-this-from-people tone, Give him some gummy white bread and it will work through his system. Now, why should I reward naughty Marley with food when he has eaten ornaments?! Not to mention, I don't have any doughy white bread in my house, since bourgeois me is trying to lose my small-town roots and not be Texan or even Southern...although who am I fooling, drinking Dr Pepper for breakfast... In Marley's first year I actually bought a small loaf of Mrs. Baird's to keep in the freezer - of course Marley was thrilled, never mind the sharp metal objects in his tummy, when I dragged it out to microwave for him. Anyway...

In 2006 we celebrated the 25th with my brother's family in Michigan, so we only put up our mini tree, on a bookcase top, with mini ornaments - too boring even for a dog to attack. The mini-tree was brought back in 2007, a no-decoration year since I went to Tomball for Christmas and Craig was in Australia for his cousin's wedding. In 2008 we were both in Hawaii with Craig's mom - we didn't even bother with the mini tree and it didn't make the big 4-mile move with us to Bowie Manor West.

So this year - it is time to have faith in dog and plastic and wiring, and to set up & plug in the tree we bought on sale after Billie's 2005 destruction.

Is it corny to say I can't wait?

I have figured out the perfect spot - against the white-painted brick wall in our garden room (not sure why Craig named it that - there is no garden, only wine and a china cabinet and more wine and a painting of flowers...and a deck outside with dead leaves that fall on it, and where people smoke cigarettes and watch smoke come out of a chimenea).

To make space, all we have to do is move the rolling table that's against the wall - voila! Christmas Tree Central! Oh, and Craig has to drag down the sections of the non-mini tree...that are larger than the mini opening to the attic.

I wonder if Billie is ready...if we are ready.

As the HOLIDAY continued...

From 2 days later in December 2005...

Billie Holiday must have wanted to restart the party yesterday - there was nothing left to drink, so she looked for snack food. Since we had done such a good job hiding the tree light plug, she had to be very resourceful. She pulled down a low limb of the tree and started picking off the green light holders like fruit. Munch, crunch, munch. By the time I came home there were discarded plastic wads everywhere, like olive pits left from her snack.

Craig had originally had a theory that Billie attacked the plastic cord because she was plastic-deprived - the month before I had taken away all her plastic chew toys. Our vet suspected she was allergic to the toys, since her gums and lips had gotten irritated, which he said was a symptom of dogs with plastic allergies. (Craig doesn't believe that dogs have allergies, but that's not relevant to this story.) I didn't want my precious sweet doggy to itch and scratch, but after the Amaretto party, Craig persuaded me to return Billie's plastic toys so that she'd have a distraction from the tree. Surprisingly, she didn't seem excited to see her old favorites - her plucked chicken, her football, or her Tweetie bird. Last night she did have one favorite chew toy laid out by the tree - her brown plastic tree branch. I guess that got her in the mood for the real thing!

Speaking of "real," the reason we haven't tried buying a real tree is that we've seen what Billie does to our woodpile. She turns the smaller logs into toothpicks for herself and uses the larger ones to fill her excavations in the backyard.

As we have yelled at Billie, we have been praising Marley as the good dog, which is rather ironic - in his puppyhood he was a Christmas Terror. He only ate one light cord, but he ate many Christmas ornaments, and some ornament hooks. In the house where we lived back then, we had a breakfast table sitting near the tree. I'll never forget chasing Marley around and around the table, trying to get a half-crushed ornament out of his mouth before he swallowed the hook that was attached to it. Beagles are bred to chase rabbits, which means they can turn corners on a dime. This suits them well for evading their parents.

This morning I caught Marley checking out the bottom of the tree. I had left the plastic and wire mess there overnight, figuring more would be added to it before Craig hauled the tree out to the curb. Marley was quietly sniffing and nibbling, like a person grazing on leftover party food - the plastic probably tasted about as good as morning-after tortilla chips and stale popcorn.

Craig and I hope this is the last installment of this year's HOLIDAY tale. Billie has ruined two trees in less than three weeks. That must be a record for dog resourcefulness and dog-parent stupidity.

A dog named HOLIDAY

Every year I recycle this story for new friends - I'm sure you will agree that it is timeless! From December 20, 2005...

Our beagle Marley is named after reggae genius Bob Marley, and we named our mixed-breed Billie after scrappy songstress Billie Holiday. And yes, the names have created confusion since "Marlee" sounds like a girl's name and "Billy" is a boy's name. Maybe Billie Holiday Bowie is a bit confused herself regarding her name and its meaning...

Some of you know that two weeks ago, Billie devoured the outlet plug and lower three feet of cord from our new prelit tree. The tree was unplugged at the time, but she nibbled enough copper wire and plastic housing to ruin the entire electrical setup. Craig titled that scenario, "When Billie ate Christmas." After much debate we bought a replacement tree, and with our breath held and our fingers crossed, we put it up and decorated it - but to be on the safe side, we didn't put it up until the morning of our Christmas party.

The dogs were exhausted by all the socializing (and barking) of the party Saturday night, and they napped in one spot all day Sunday. However, Monday has historically been Billie's naughtiest day - too much of a lonely contrast after the weekend when Craig and I are around. Yesterday when I got home I immediately noticed a strongly pleasant smell, which was odd since our house usually smells like dogs and dust. It was a clean, fresh smell, but not acidic - like a combination of floral-scent Lysol and bread baking.

I soon discovered how two dogs were able to produce such a smell. We had left under the tree several gifts we received during the party. The dogs had gotten tired of waiting for Christmas and had shredded and scattered wrapping paper and boxes in classic doggy style. One friend gave us an ornamental candle - the dogs had taken off the metallic lid and rolled the votive glass around, but after a couple of unsatisfying nibbles they abandoned it next to the sofa. The scented candle (Frosted Cranberry) contributed partially to the house's lovely smell.

The cause of death of the second gift took longer to figure out. Combing through the living room wreckage like a CSI tech, I found two decorative drink glasses that had been rolled to opposite sides of the room. Under a large pile of red and white paper was the bottle of booze that went with the glasses.

The huge Amaretto bottle was lying on its side, it was sticky, and the screw-top was loose. There was less than an inch of Amaretto left in the bottom. I immediately played a mental movie of Billie gnawing at the bottle's seal, her gnaws loosening the cap, Amaretto starting to ooze down the side, and Billie and Marley rolling the bottle back and forth, happily licking all the while. When Craig got home later, he did find a small wet spot on the area rug - but this was a very small wet spot for so many ounces of Amaretto.

The house smelled of evaporating Amaretto, but the dogs did not. I thought of sniffing their breath for residual signs of alcohol, but getting that close to a dog's stinky mouth is just too off-putting, regardless of the circumstances.

Their behavior had seemed normal when I got home - crowding me at the door and howling for their dinner as usual. However, as soon as they ate they started acting goofy, doing belly-flops on the carpet and making enormous yawns. I was reminded that the bottle held Amaretto "di Amore" when they started engaging in romantic play. But since they're both fixed, since Marley is 70 in dog years, and since they were both drunk, not much happened romantically - except a lot more belly flops.

We also received a bottle of Korbel champagne as a gift. Billie had nibbled all the foil wrap off the cork, but fortunately the cork was still in place. I can only imagine how startled the dogs would have been if they accidentally popped open a champagne bottle and the cork blew loudly across the room - that would be more partying than even they had bargained for.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grownup Furniture Takes Me Back to Childhood

My childhood bedroom furniture was caked with scaly white paint, which I later learned was over 1930s jade green, originally my mother’s parents’ set – wow! No wonder it was caked & scaly – which gave me nightmares when I had chicken pox and my skin resembled the paint – but I never saw a shred of green.

I had several inherited dressers in the years after first new pieces were white-lined laminate, from a catalogue, a short and a tall dresser, each put together by a different boyfriend of my then-roommate cousin. LOL – all parties concerned were trying to be modern and sophisticated and friendly and it all went well except when I accidentally mentioned to new boyfriend that old boyfriend had put together the taller dresser.

I loved the clean-seeming white lining of these dressers and kept them for many years, and squinted to pretend they matched Craig’s dresser, which was also an inheritance – from his father’s mother, fairly new but with peeling cork board that I guess was to attach family photos beside the mirror. (OK, is it just me or is furniture built for stuck-in photos a LITTLE bit country?!)

After we moved into Bowie Manor West we decided it was time to splurge on – gasp – a dresser so big we as a couple could share it…or at least his & her dressers that matched. I was working from home the day the furniture was delivered and my first reaction was that the wood was darker than I remembered – not my preference – but Craig seemed very happy with it.

Interesting: When I first met Craig, he had Pier 1 mod-ish furniture…black, aluminum, blue-flecked… It fascinates me that the longer we’re together, the more he seems to be channeling memories of Grandma’s house. Actually this syndrome started right after he moved in with me: “Should we get doilies to put on these wood surfaces?” Uh…no. This is 1996! I am a modern woman! NO DOILIES. Even wire hangers would be better than that…

I have added a little more art and a more colorful quilt to try to compensate for the dressers' dark wood, which I’m sure Craig thinks needs no balancing out.

I guess there is something comforting about sleeping next to a tall dark monolith. I remember as a child visiting my mother’s mother and if the house was crowded with other company, sometimes sleeping on a pallet in Grandma’s bedroom, near her dark wood tallboy. Everything in that room was bigger than me, and it felt fine.

Our dog Billie is afraid of thunder and lightning, and her favorite safe place is next to my side of the bed – in the shadow of the dresser. I’m sure she finds it cozy, like a cave. I guess I do too.

OCD Complicates Hanging Sneaky Pictures

Sneaky pictures means - doing it when Craig isn't home and hoping he won't notice when he returns. He is pretty good with a hammer & nail but grumpy (Where do you want this again?!) and a procrastinator (picture hanging keeps getting bumped off his to-do lists, funny how that works). Plus I think he considered that nothing more should be hung on these walls since March, and we moved here in February - so since that time I bang around myself, when he's not here, averaging 3 off-center nail holes per hung frame - usually, not always, managing to cover up the extra holes with the picture.

I was so excited about my new Carol Nelsons ( but couldn't quite get them where I wanted them - it's impossible to make them look bad anywhere you put them, but being me I got very frustrated with myself.

The first part was easy - placing Autumn Beauty 8 on a windowsill - what could be easier. Yes it's a lot of art without an obvious unifying theme but it's the Sarah Room - I like it that way, at least tonight.

I liked the colors of the sunflower painting in our bedroom, since there is a lot of orange in there (I didn't photograph the whole room because then I would have had to make the bed, but trust me there is orange around), and that top bureau position is a rotating spot anyway - sometimes I have a red roses painting, sometimes yellow roses, now the sunflowers can take a turn.

My next plan was to add one new floral pic on each side of the French doors, which theoretically was a great idea - but after 4 nail holes on the left side, 3 for the 3rd frame and a 4th to try to center the 2nd frame, I realized the frames and styles were not meshing and it would take too many more holes to center what was already there. Two off-center frames look better than 3 off-center frames...there is probably a physics principle to support this. After all those holes I did not want to attempt hanging anything on the right side.

On the left side, in desperation, I switched frames back and forth between 2nd and 3rd position, and even tried a larger painting I only hang at Christmas, Uncle Harvey's 1960s greeting card painting of the lit tree at NY's Rockefeller Center. Reasons for throwing that in the mix were: Christmas is coming, our tree will be in the room with these pictures, and the tree painting's mat matches the top mat on the left side of the French doors (grasping at straws, yes).

Finally I made myself put the hammer & nails away but still went back and forth several times - art on the high table, art on the little round tables, etc. Meanwhile the dogs, who other than having had food thrust down before them an hour before had otherwise been completely ignored - I wasn't talking or humming or anything - were starting to scratch and lick themselves with their own anxiety symptoms. Yes, they sense my moods, which are all the more obvious when Craig is not home. I am a faulty pack leader and that makes them uneasy.

At this point I'm trying to focus on how beautiful the colors are in my new art and how happy I am to have new pieces. Deep breath - in and out. I have wine and Xanax on the premises. It will be OK.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

George Foreman Defeats Marley

One night in Feb. 2002 I made some steaks for Craig in my George Foreman grill…they were thin steaks and I left them in a little too long, so unfortunately they came out kind of a gray shade.

I could hear Craig’s knife making a loud sawing noise while he ate the steak (probably in small pieces it was easier to chew). After I finished cleaning the grill I came and sat down across from Craig in the den – he was still sawing and chewing – he claimed the steak was good but to him, all beef is good by definition.

We don’t usually do this (no table scraps, no begging), but when Craig was almost done eating he dropped a small piece of steak onto the den rug for Marley. Although Marley had been lying under the coffee table (supposedly on full food-dropping alert), he didn’t see, smell or hear the meat hit the carpet. Craig and I stared at him for about 20 seconds and he still hadn’t moved. When I made a “good grief” gesture with one of my hands, I guess it startled Marley so he got up…he actually stepped right over the steak piece to come toward me. As Craig and I were hooting with laughter, Marley then dropped his butt to sit down on the carpet, essentially sitting on top of the steak.

Finally I reached out my arm and pointed directionally at the steak with my index finger – now Marley “saw” it and gobbled it right up. Craig and I agreed that he really didn’t deserve to get it (what kind of scent hound is he?!) but Craig sure didn’t want that piece any more, so…

For the next couple of hours Marley continued to pay close attention to the carpet in the den, living room and hallway. He seemed to think that since he had been surprised once, he could be surprised again – a food item might appear at any time.

Impulse Buy Goes Bad (a Marley poop story...sorry...)

Doggy Archives, spring ’99… Last weekend at Pets Mart, I saw a new type of dog chew, a two-pack bacon-flavored square of something stiff. The label said things like, “biodegradable…from a natural renewable resource…” An eco-friendly dog treat made of cornstarch! I thought, surely this will be better for Marley than pig ears (which are greasy/fattening). It looked so hard and inflexible that I envisioned hours of chewing pleasure for my sweet little dog.

Once again I underestimated Marley’s consumption abilities. He lay belly-down and worked on that chew square for 45 minutes straight. When I realized he was going to be so darn focused about it, I thought of taking it away from him but that type of action always carries with it the danger of Marley reprisals.

After he finished the treat and licked the remaining scent up off the carpet, Marley drank two full dishes of waster. Then he lay down on his side and watched his belly swell. Based on all this, next time I took him out for a walk I was not surprised to see diarrhea, but I WAS surprised by the green color of it.

Historical perspective: Our vet has fussed at us for continuing to feed Marley when he has an upset stomach. Craig always has reasons that even if Marley seems listless or ill, we should give him food anyway, to see if he will eat it, which will tell us how he is really feeling. (???) The vet said, dogs will eat even when they are nauseous, dogs are not the best judge of this kind of thing, when your dog has the runs or is vomiting STOP FEEDING HIM.

Marley always knows what time it is, and next time I let him out into the back yard, he retaliated for the delay of his dinner hour by seeking out and eating his previous poop of the week. (Dry, high-fiber stuff, but still completely disgusting…at least to me.) Craig tries to keep the yard picked up, but of course Marley is much better at finding stray pieces than we are.

So I shrieked, Craig, Craig, what should I do?, Marley won’t stop eating his poop. True to form, Craig insisted that I feed him, reasoning that Marley was eating his poop out of sheer hunger and dog food would turn this cycle around.

Since Craig wasn’t watching me serve it up, I cut down Marley’s rations 50-75% of the usual, kind of a sorry compromise. Not effective, either, because after gulping this down, Marley evidenced a strong desire to go back outside and eat more poop.

What a dilemma…if we didn’t let him out when he banged on the patio door, how did we know he wouldn’t have diarrhea on our carpet? But if we did let him out, he would surely eat more poop. Earlier in the day, Craig had been raking up stray pieces, and there was a motherlode sitting on the poop shovel. Marley made the most of this buffet until Craig dragged him back inside.

Next thing I knew, Craig had given Marley a pig ear! Now I was really shrieking. Craig, why did you give him that greasy thing!, that is the last thing he needs!, remember what the vet said?, we need to STOP feeding him. Marley just munched and ripped away (pig ears are very cartilaginous and noisy to eat), oblivious to the domestic strife around.

Later Craig experimentally let Marley out again. The poop buffet from the shovel had now been encapsulated in a plastic bag and Marley, disappointed, could only sniff around in the grass for strays. A few minutes after Marley came back in, I heard him chewing something ELSE. Craig tried to head off more shrieks by explaining, “I saw he still had the runs, so I gave him a carrot. That should bind him up.”

(Medical science alert! Previously believed to facilitate healthy and frequent elimination through the digestible fiber they provide, raw carrots actually act as a constipating agent!)

Believe it or not, after an evening of excessive doggy flatulence, Marley started to feel better. By noon the next day, his much-studied poop had become virtually normal. Naturally Craig took credit for thinking of the carrot. Naturally I was blamed for thinking Marley could digest a biodegradable, naturally renewable resource.

Under the Lava Flow - Layered Rooms, Houses, Family Memories

Uncle Harvey has owned his Tomball house since the late 1960s and has had a renter/part-time roommate for many of those years, who moved out this spring. This deprived Harvey of a helpful though unofficial caregiver, but also freed up a room he hadn't had access to since his mother died in 1975 and Mark moved in soon afterward. When I spoke with Harvey after Mark’s exit he sounded more excited about getting the room back than disturbed about losing his healthy, mobile, younger (younger than Harvey’s 79) care person. Harvey said that despite the number of years (decades) that had passed, Mark left the room almost as he had found it - the wallpaper (a rich red floral) was still beautiful, the furniture still had a sheen, and the closet still contained the possessions of Harvey and his mother. (God knows where Mark had squeezed his own stuff...poor guy.)

(The room in these 2009 photos, minus the only slightly archaic electronics box on the dresser, looks exactly as it did when my sister and I spent the weekend there in 1976, while my dad was on his honeymoon.)

Probably as a result of losing a mother in my preteen years, giving up my single bedroom to share again with the younger sister from hell at the same time I gained many stepsisters who I hardly knew, etc., one of my prevalent dreams is Finding a Hidden Room. In this dream I realize there is a room I didn't know about or forgot about behind a wall or door, ready for my decoration! storage! or whatever I want to do with it. It is a nice dream until I wake up. Actually though, since we have lived at Wildgrove, where I have, yay!, the Sarah Room (bookshelves and a closet for my Converse shoe collection) and a guest room (the room itself is not cluttered but the closet is full of my clothes), and a connecting bathroom that is MINE (until we have a house guest), the dream has decreased in frequency – although I still have really weird versions, such as finding a secret room with dead goldfish in aquariums, or accidentally entering a room of a neighbor’s house because I thought it was part of my house (Officer, I swear that has never happened in reality, even though in my last dream someone did call the police).

My dad remarried when I was 14, to a woman who added her 6 children to our family’s 4. Since my mother had been gone for more than a year and ill for longer, our Scholl family traditions had already begun to fade, and I understand why the family dynamic shifted to the new majority, Jordan people. However as I grow older I have increasing angst for the original Scholl holiday traditions, Scholl milestone memories and everything else about our family of 6, now seemingly buried under what I once, in early 30s bitterness, called “the lava flow” of the Jordan stepfamily.

Other do-overs and cover-ups occurred – again, for understandable reasons – during the same decade. After my mother and uncles moved their parents to Tomball, other relatives bought their College Station house and remodeled it almost to the point of my non-recognition, at least the interior. The new-version house was well-appointed, well-lived in and gracious…but where went my grandpa’s office with the dusty hardwood floor and the nap bed where Grandpa snored every afternoon, the hall closet that held the 1930s toys we 1960s children had a ball with, the original simple, single bathroom with rose-pattern tiles, a tub that was slow to fill and a finicky toilet…

My dad made practical decisions when new dependents moved in with us in 1976, and he made appropriate changes to our house. My brothers’ childhood bedroom – with archaic floral paper that even they probably hated, even in the 1960s – was painted over 1970s lavender, and my mother’s collection of Christmas crèches and other old-school holiday decorations (I still have no idea how our Snowman candles never melted in an un-air-conditioned Texas house) were moved up to ever-higher cabinets, and eventually disappeared. If a manger scene homemade from a corrugated cardboard box – for weeks every winter my mother painstaking applied pine cone scales as roof shingles on this forever project – had been offered to me in my 20s, as in,“Do you want this thing, whatever it is…?”, I’m sure I gave the decision to toss it. And you don’t get a second chance with those youthful toss decisions.

In the early 1990s my dad and stepmother moved a few blocks west, to an affordable, available house that was – literally, coincidentally – next door to Uncle Harvey’s. Even stranger was the fact that 732 James was so similar to 730 James, although smaller, with fewer rooms and less expensive materials. I still remember the thrill of playing in 730 James when it was newish and empty in 1968/69– vividly remember the stone floor in the den and oatmeal sculpted carpet in the bedrooms and hallway – so how could it not be strange now when I’m now in my dad’s house next door, a house that although perfectly fine does not have an extra half-bath, a sewing room with built-ins, or the spacious feeling of what I consider the original.

For many years I have struggled to try to update memories and theories of my mother to the present. Not long ago I had a small breakthrough when I bought a 2-sided floral comforter on – I wanted it for the green side but it had an alternate side beige with roses. One week I switched it to the beige & roses side for a change, and immediately thought: this looks like my mother’s older-generation taste…if she was visiting us today she would like it…and if I was visiting her today she would have something like it.

My imagination comes with many walls and booby traps, but suddenly I could visualize the kind of guest room my mother would have created in my childhood home, had it and she been allowed to continue. My original bedroom was smaller so would have become an office or sewing room, and I imagine my brothers’ room would have become the guest room. My mother did love florals so might have updated the old wallpaper only slightly, probably would have gotten a new bedroom set for herself sometime in the 1980s or 1990s and moved her old furniture to the guest room, and would have very likely bought for the guest room a bedspread similar to the underside of my Overstock comforter.

Using or even thinking about the flip side of that comforter (in earlier decades we called everything other than a homemade quilt a bedspread, so it would be that to my mother) brings Mother to life – but although a very credible image it’s still an imagined life. Sometimes the comforting image of being in Mother’s contemporary guest room works, when I am ill or tired. Sometimes that’s almost enough.
Every middle-aged Chucks addict should have an enabling 20-year-old Facebook buddy.

Sarah to Jonathan (with Chucks image): Hey Jonathan, I need to buy these, right? As soon as my Amex cycle clears...

Jonathan to Sarah: HOT. WANT.

(10 days later…)

Sarah to Jonathan: waaaahhhh - last week I experimentally had 4 pairs in my Converse cart. When like a good girl (ha) I pared it down to 4 I accidentally deleted the Lips pair instead of the boring blue-green deck shoes. Imagine my disappointment when the boring deck shoes arrived! I do not have unlimited funds - yes I reordered and will return The Boring but mad at myself $$$.

Sarah to Jonathan: And the moral is - next time buy all 4 pairs?

Jonathan to Sarah: Exactly!

(few days later)

Sarah to Jonathan: I need sympathy - dragged my tired butt to Office Depot after long week to return the ugly Chucks I ordered by mistake...after 30 minutes it was realized by all parties that my local Office Depot does not have toner for their UPS printer (...yes so ironic I pretty much lack words for it). I can come back on Monday...or guarantees they can print a label even then...or drive farther or pay more to ship back the damn shoes. I'm sure the post office is cheaper but there is no convenient post office anywhere in my future. I know the Overspending God hates me. But this scenario he has smote me with will only encourage me to keep the shoes to avoid more hassle and paying $13 in shipping. Why oh why doesn't Converse offer free returns - oh, because they make a fortune off lazy guilty people like me?

Jonathan to Sarah: Dude. That sucks. I completely sympathize. No one should have to be forced to wear ugly shoes (ESPECIALLY ugly Chucks!) My sympathies all around.

(next day)

Sarah to Jonathan: This morning tried again to return UglyChucks - a man with no bottom teeth (a couple of bloody stumps) at the Office Max said they ship Fedex which is always more expensive than UPS - I made him give me an estimate anyway - 20 flippin' dollars. ...He directed me to walk around the corner to a UPS store - farther walk than he said plus I forgot where I had parked my car and the day was heating up... Waited in line, again, but shipped off the damn things for $12.90 - done - tired and fussy from 10 errands - feel punished now. Not so punished I won't buy more though. I am tough like that.

Jonathan to Sarah: You are a trouper!


I won’t post an image of the Boring/Ugly Chucks because the online pic looks much cuter than the shoes did! A Master Card credit did finally go through for the darn things. And the Lips Chucks look fabulous in my shoe closet! No I have not worn them yet – what’s important is that I have them. Jonathan would understand.

Evolving Chins and a Primitive Attitude

When I weighed 115 pounds (I seem to start out a lot of sentences, and thousands of thoughts, with that phrase lately) and Craig made fun of the skin under my neck I screeched but it was different...back then I could just hide the occasional photos that showed my chins, because there were many that didn't.

Since then...the chin timeline has not been kind...

2007 photo taken to thank a friend for the necklace she gave me:

Tipsy self-portrait from my 2008 Cancun trip:.

When I posted my 2009 birthday jewelry photos online I cropped out my neck, although that meant my earrings didn't show. Self-portraits are especially dangerous because holding the camera out in front of me makes a bad angle for the underneck. Here are the outtakes:

Now, if I could gaze at these Sarah photos and truly embrace everything in the images (HAHAHAHAHA), that would be a truly healing moment. A really mature person would not sacrifice the earring shot in obliterating the chin shot.

And it doesn't help to know that in the future when I look something like this lady, I will look back with such nostalgia to my relatively petite chins of 2009 and wish so hard I had them back.

But the silver lining to having chins - is the knowledge that if I lost weight, they would look even worse, like deflated hanging tires... So I guess I will keep feeding them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Serpent's Tooth

More from the Dogstory Vault – this one from spring 2002.

My title comes from Shakespeare’s King Lear:
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless child!”

Billie (now at 12 weeks) is our first real experience with parenting puppyhood – Marley was 6 months old when we got him and although he was a big challenge to us for the next year and a half (and chewed things ranging from our underwear to kitchen curtains to AA batteries), we probably avoided a few of the less-cute developmental stages.

Billie is more aggressively playful (paw-swipey and mouth-y) than I remember Marley being but she’s still small enough and has a short enough attention span that so far, her toothful attentions are not too destructive – she might put her mouth on the corner of the coffee table, a ledge of the fireplace brick, or corner of the back doormat but we usually yell at her in time to stop major damage. So far she prefers to swipe and bite at us (she thinks we’re puppies too and we’re not well enough versed in dog training premises that we know how to disabuse her of this) instead of destroying household property.

I soon learned though that I couldn’t do my stretching exercises with her in the room – as soon as she saw me prone (lower than herself), she was dive-bombing my arms, my legs, basically any part of me that was moving, and trying to dominate me. It was really funny one day when Marley joined the action – Billie was trying to “dominate” me and Marley was trying to dominate Billie. A less than 10-pound dog hanging on my leg (I was wearing thick sweatpants) was kind of a pleasant exercise weight, but a 30-pound on top of the 10-pound dog climbing on my lower back was too much – I had to laugh, the “dogpile” concept was just too ridiculous.

When Craig and I are around the house, we’re usually wearing jeans or sweatpants and we just bat or brush Billie aside if she attacks our legs. So I had no idea what she could do to thinner fabric – until my second day back at work, when I walked through the living room in my new pants, fully dressed and accessorized with belt, loafers, etc. I had found these pants on sale at Mervyn’s and had spent $10 having them hemmed for my short height - I had made a mad dash to the dry cleaners in the rain the night before to pick them up after being altered, I was anxious to have a new outfit to help motivate me to get re-acclimated to my old job. (In fact, the guy at the dry cleaners had told me the pants would be ready on Monday, which was either a happy-lie or a Chinese-English miscommunication, so that I ended up making consecutive two trips to pick up the damn pants.)

I’m always challenged by the whole alteration exercise – usually I leave pants too long or have them hemmed too short. Somehow with these Mervyn’s pants I had figured out the exact right length – it helped that I took the time the week before to prewash/shrink them, and I also remeasured the pants’ inseam several times, comparing it to other pants of mine to be sure I was having the pants altered the correct length. When I put these pants on Tuesday morning, I was excited to see they were actually a flattering length – I felt my time/money/effort had paid off and I actually had an office-worthy outfit (I feel that frequently I push the boundaries of what is casual/sloppy and what is appropriate).

Well, as I walked through the living room on my way to pick up my purse/work bag and go to my car to drive to work – Billie playfully wrapped herself around my leg and I immediately heard a loud ripping sound. If she analyzed these things, she would have probably have been as surprised as I was by how much damage her little teeth (my dad calls them “milk teeth” in the country way) could do to a thin fabric – which, hilariously, was a black and white HOUND’S TOOTH (jagged check) design. I yelled at Billie and lightly bopped her on her soft head (she of course was unfazed) but there was nothing else I could do other than to change my outfit.

Tuesday was a bad clothes day for me in general – that night I was sorting dirty laundry in my walk-in closet and somehow rolled the closet door over a sleeve of a Land’s End shirt (my nicest/newest long-sleeved white t-shirt) – I’m not sure how? but both sides of the sleeve received oily stripes, meaning that even the sleeve if rolled up the stains will show (detergent and stain products haven’t made a dent). In the white shirt scenario, I do accept some blame (unlike the Billie serpent-tooth pants situation) since on Tuesday night I was drinking beer and doing laundry while simultaneously checking voice mails/emails/paying bills etc., maybe a little too much going on.

I hated to spend more money in having the hole patched, but I had already bought the pants and paid to have them altered…plus my office has a casual dress policy and my coworkers are used to me looking a little different so I thought maybe I could get away with patched pants. I took these back to the dry cleaners, hoping for the best – when I picked up the pants I was shocked to see that they had used gray thread for the patch? but I guess since the fabric was black and white check the tailor thought this would be the best compromise.

While I was waiting for the patching to be done, I went back to Mervyn’s (against Craig’s advice, which was kind of a comment on “throwing good money after bad” and/or being my usual obsessive/compulsive self) and looked on the sale rack again – there were no more black and white houndstooth pairs in my size, but there was a darker-fabric version. I hadn’t bought the darker pair before because I didn’t like them – now I was compelled to “make right” the Mervn’s pants situation so I did buy them, meaning I now had two pairs, both of which needed altering, and one of which had been ripped and needed a patch.

I picked up the shortened darker pants the same day as the gray-patched pant, and I was definitely nervous walking through the house in them (thinking maybe I should pull on my pants in our garage from now on?, with a shut door between myself and Billie?) but actually Billie seemed to have no interest in this pair.

I was still looking for a way to wear the original hound’s-tooth pair, but the gray-thread patch really was not attractive and since it was on the front of a leg, all too obvious. I came up with the idea of buying an iron-on patch?, maybe a black and white flower? to put over the patch, and when I had an opportunity I went to JoAnn Fabrics to look around. Their Appliques display was rather skimpy, meaning most of the good stuff had been purchased already. There were several doggy-type patches - I wasn’t necessarily above patching my dog-ripped pants with a picture of a dog but all the available dog appliques were brown or beige and my pants were definitely black and white.

I finally settled on a hippie-type emblem of a Volkswagen, a silly concept but the colors were right (white, gray and black with a touch of floral decoration) and a second/backup choice, a black-white-floral “LOVE” emblem, also quite hippie in nature. However, after paying for these I spotted more appliques on a rack at the front of the store, these were small black-and-white flowers (maybe not large enough to cover the gray thread but more artistic) and rather than return my first two appliques, I bought two more – the checkout procedure at JoAnn Fabrics, featuring a wizened lady cashier with the name badge of “Midge” (the receipt said “Mildred”) was not exactly streamlined and I really wasn’t up to doing a cash-return at this point, I thought I would take everything home and see how it worked out.

I ended up attaching the Volkswagen emblem (the least decorative of what I bought, but the best coverage) but and will probably try wearing the pants this week – I know I will feel silly wearing the pants to work but I’m determined to wear them at least once. It will be interesting to see if anyone stares and if anyone comments, “What a cute patch” or “What is that?” etc. Rather than brave JoAnn’s and Midge again I may keep the other patches (although they do add somewhat to my total pants expenditures) in case Billie rips more wardrobe items.

Actually there’s another post-script to this story…the day that I went to JoAnn Fabrics, Craig and I were running several other errands and were gone from the house longer than we usually are on a Saturday. We had left Marley loose (like we’ve been doing since we started putting Billie in the crate) and didn’t expect any problems – he’s been good loose for the last two weeks and stupid us, we thought that was a predictor of the future. When we got home we saw that Marley had overturned the trash (a flashback to his puppyhood) and had discovered not just a fragment of my morning McDonald’s sausage biscuit but also a foil-wrapped energy bar that had been inserted as a promotional item in the morning newspaper. Unfortunately the bar was chocolate-flavored, I know chocolate is bad for dogs but when I read the ingredients list on the partly-shredded wrapper, it looked like cocoa was included in a much smaller amount than healthful things like soy, brown rice, barley malt, etc.

I watched Marley carefully for signs of illness over the next few hours, but the only change I noted was that he seemed to hold his own more strongly when fighting with Billie – more energy?, more concentration?, more focus?...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bad Morning Dogs

A favorite story - not a favorite event but a funny story - from Marley's younger days - he was 7 and able to get where he wanted to go. Billie was scary young - less than 2.

(September 2003) Last week Craig took the dogs to the vet for their shots (not Craig's usual job - but he was working nights that week and had his days free) and when the vet told him that we need to reduce Marley's food, Craig had a "Eureka!" moment - now that a male authority figure was saying the same thing I have been telling Craig for years, Craig suddenly heard the truth of it.

Since then Marley has been on very slim rations since Craig and I are actually, finally in agreement about how much food to measure in his dish. Marley is totally PO'd by our united front and glares at me every time I eat in front of him (Craig only eats one meal a day so there is less potential for harassment), sending me not-so-subliminal messages that I could lose a few pounds myself, breakfast bagels are more carbs than I need, etc.

I'm on antibiotics and this morning I cut my breakfast bagel sandwich in half so I could have part at home with my vitamins and the other half when I got to work, with my morning pill. I wrapped up the remaining half and stuck it down inside my carrier bag, then went to take a 10-minute bath.

Oh, how disturbing it is to hear the sound of ripping & tearing when one emerges from the bathroom...yet I have been met with this sound more times than I care to remember.

Here is the scenario of those 10 minutes, as best I can recreate it: in pursuit of the sandwich he smelled, Marley stood up on his hind legs and knocked the carrier bag down from a chair. He couldn't unfasten the bag clips so he worked at widening the opening between the front clips.

The first item he pulled through the opening was not the sandwich, but a package of all-natural feminine hygiene products that I had just bought at Whole Foods Market. He tossed that aside (in manly-dog disgust, I am sure) and dug further for the sandwich.

Marley takes the lead role in this kind of endeavor but Billie was hovering closely at his side. As soon as she saw the bag of fluffy feminine items, she excitedly realized their potential - all-natural means all-cotton, which means...fluffy stuffing! (She destroyed her last remaining soft toy last week and has been eyeing our sofa cushions as potential replacements.)

Within the short time they were unsupervised, Billie shredded several dollars worth of feminine products, lots of organic cotton fuzz became embedded in the nylon fibers of my black carrier bag, and Marley ate not just the sandwich (I'm sure that was a 2- second job) but most of the waxed paper it was wrapped in.

I yelled & screamed at the dogs and terrorized them with the vacuum cleaner - no true remorse, of course, but they seemed a bit sad that they wouldn't get their usual morning kisses & hugs goodbye.

I think I'm most upset that I have to go back to Whole Foods for replacements since that store annoys me - I always end up in line in front of someone buying organic Oreos for their bratty kids who are banging their cart into me, the counter, and the organic candy & throat lozenge rack. (Clearly organic food is not helping those kids and they might as well get Nabisco.)

A search for big-picture meaning brings me to the thought that most of this mess can be blamed on Craig - when he bought dog food yesterday I asked him to get more stuffed dog toys for Billie to chew up, but he pretended I was joking.

I still haven't convinced him that the stuffed tigers, etc. that Billie loves so much (and consumes so expensively) must be regarded in an old-time, pagan way - as small-animal sacrifices thrown into the jaws of the evil beast so that the beast doesn't ruin our crops (or eat holes in our sofa).

Marley Houdini (Marleydini)

An email from October 2003 that seems timely to post since Marley keeps yacking on Facebook about being Super Dog...

Today's adventure of the Amazing Marleydini! Left alone in the house for only a very brief time, he uses his marvelous Marleydini Nose to sniff out for himself a 2nd breakfast worth thousands of calories!

Even though the prize is deep inside a buckled bag on a chair taller than himself, Marleydini manages with his short yet preternaturally powerful paws to extricate the tasty almonds! He completes this task without moving the book-bag even a fraction, so that his mother remains unknowing of this near-miracle...until she spies an empty sandwich bag upon the floor, licked microscopically clean by the amazing Marleydini Tongue!

This adventure cannot surpass Marleydini's Grand Feat of 2002 - when he consumed a great quantity of Sunchips that, by the testimony of both his parents, had been left high atop the refrigerator. The Sunchips mystery is a true marvel that has not been solved to this day!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another life milestone - Chucks euthanasia


My first custom designed pair of Chucks, purchased many years ago (haha, really only early 2008 - don't do the math, you will be shocked how fast I have accumulated my huge collection), are looking really limp and gray.

Now, granted, the actual fabric is gray, but there used to be more contrast between the 2 shades of gray, the white rubber, and the red stitching. Today these shoes just kind of look like they have the flu.

I guess I could trim the frayed edges that are part of the design, but that would be like trimming a pig's toenails. (Sarah Palin has pretty much ruined for me the lipstick version of that comment.)

Maybe it's more that they have served their purpose. (Yes, my Chucks have a purpose, or purposes.) Last spring I felt so bold getting shoes monogrammed BossLady on the heel. Craig squawked and I felt proud but shy to wear them. Since then I have grown into the name of Boss Lady, mostly because Craig pretty much substitutes it for my name in all situations. And I have even moved beyond Boss Lady to Princess Sarah and most recently (deliciously), Queen of Damn Near Everything (not self-named...a friend gifted me with that one).

Below are Gray BossLady's birth photos. I could post current ones but it would make me sad, and I know readers would squint to see what's wrong with the shoes - they don't look awful to the untrained eye, but to me who has lived with them so closely for so long, the visible change is too painful.

I think these Chucks are too gray & grubby for Goodwill. I may just put them into the trash - not the kitchen trash (so disrespectful, coffee grounds and cupcake icing) but maybe wrap them in a separate bag to gently lay in our green dumpster.

Not today - but soon. When I am ready.

(Original design photos for the BossLady Chucks.)

Desire for juxtapositions makes me buy more art

Of course I love this painting I bought several months ago, Red Leaf Tree by Carol Nelson ( I love all my art babies equally but in special ways (the closest I get to understanding maternal instinct).

It wasn't a huge deal that Red Leaf Tree never quite synched with my other artwork...but when Carol's recent blog feed showcased a new piece, Autumn Beauty 8, I knew this was just what I wanted-needed-must have to balance/accent/complement/amplify/glorify both works.

I am always interested in Carol's abstracts but this was the first one that moved me to the point of clicking Purchase. There's something I especially like about the unexpected color combinations and the plant world mixed with non-plant shapes.

Sometimes it almost feels like a selfless thing I am doing - artistic matchmaking - putting together lost halves with their mates. Not sure that ameliorates the sin of debting, but what does...

Both paintings are 6 x 6 inches, plus framing. This small size makes it so much easier to sneak them into the house - Oops!, I mean, easier to incorporate them into my current collection.