Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Invisible Fence -- Day One

We got the Invisible Fence installed today. Yes, it's a registered trademark or something proprietary, but as we actually bought that company's product and installation, I think I can use their mark without risking dilution.

Kind of a cool system: a delightfully chatty woman named Dorie came around last week to walk the metes & bounds of the area to be wired and calculate from that distance the price. She then stayed for a couple extra hours just chatting; that's the kind of woman she is, and the kind of job she has. We said yes, please, and got today as The Day.

Now, I had rather naively assumed that we'd just need to walk Mimi around the white flags ("Back, back. Good dog!" about a zillion times) for three days, then let her go figure out for herself why we kept tugging her back from those oh-so-enticing fluttering flags. Nope -- this actually has a 30-day training system. And we're just the sort of people who'll try hard to stick to that system. One obnoxious aspect is that we're really supposed not to let her out of the fenced area -- even with the electric collar off her -- for thirty days. That means no more walks along the air strip. Eventually, that will be okay, but for now it sucks. She wasn't getting enough exercise before when I would walk her for 45 minutes (and do 10 minutes of obedience training) and then later in the day, Starman would exercise her for another full hour. Now we have to keep her on leash for a week (!!) and get her exercised inside the fenced area. It's a big area, but there's not an easy walk on the property. I so long to let her off leash! Oh well, this too shall pass.

The installation was a hoot -- and quick, too. Shawn arrived at 9:00 a.m., timed perfectly to coincide with the end of one phone call, a mad dash to pull on some clothes (Starman having driven off to collect Mimi from the kennel), answer a call of nature, and then take another phone call. The poor woman (a client, no less) who called that time was nearly enough hung up on. (I did call her back...) Finally, I ran downstairs to let Shawn in.

He was big & burly, and sported tattoos on each shoulder/arm: A shark's mouth wide open with little fish swimming into range on his right bicep, and an elaborate cross with "Only God Can Judge Me" on the other. As we were walking around trying to figure out the layout of the wiring and so forth, I asked him if it was a one-person job. "Yup," he replied. "Must get lonely," I commiserated. "No," he stated baldly, then offered as how he didn't like people. Oh-kay . . . Nonetheless, I rather liked him. If he seemed surprised when I leapt on the tractor to mow an additional bit of the meadow, he didn't show it. He was great with Mimi, too.

The whole system was in within two hours -- there's a trench-digging tool that also unspools the wire (a "Ditch Witch"), so all he had to do was go back a second time tamping the earth back in place. Some simple wiring, and we were in. Then he demonstrated the training with Mimi, who was fresh from two days at the kennel, and full of beans -- back flips, standing leaps, etc. He had her well in hand, and clearly likes dogs even if people leave him cold.

We then took turns with the training. The "back" command is easy enough -- let Mimi wander near the fence until her collar beeps, then tug her back with the verbal "back" command followed by lavish praise. What's harder is to allow her to play with toys still on the leash. I managed, but I'm glad I only have to do that a few more times.

And that's that for now. In a week, she will be allowed off the leash for good -- she can play and gambol and frolic and get the occasional shock. It sounds like nirvana crossed with The Prisoner.

Friday, July 25, 2008


A year ago, after what was for me an amazingly long period of contemplation and review, I took a monumental step.

I did nothing.

I'm talking about my siblings, who don't get mentioned in this blog much at all. Last summer, after a year of living with the Starman, I decided to stop all my efforts to get my siblings to like me, appreciate me, let me join in their reindeer games. I took two months to decide whether to implement this step. I thought about what they might do, or write, or say. I questioned whether I owed anyone an explanation before taking this step. I talked about it to a few key people in my life, to get their reaction and perspective. Then I pulled the (non-)trigger and did . . . nothing.

Turned out to be surprisingly easy. My sibs all have birthdays in the autumn; they didn't get cards. No Christmas presents or cards, or my Totally Impersonal Christmas Letter. [We got gifts from two of them; I wrote thank you notes on Christmas afternoon.] By my birthday, which is in February, the silence seemed to be in place on both sides.

Now, I could write something about how no one questioned this or contacted me to inquire if everything was okay, but that would totally miss the point. I actually don't know and don't care what they think. I just knew that it cost me too much to make what should have been casually affectionate gestures. A birthday card from me wouldn't just say, "Have a great day," it would also say, "Like me, please!" A gift would have dangling from the elaborate wrapping & bow a silent plea for appreciation. It was all too much -- exhausting to maintain, and impossible to satisfy. It was a relief, for me, to stop wanting love from them all the time.

This morning, though, something wonderful happened. I'd been talking yesterday about how my need for friendship had abated over the past couple of years. (I totally credit Starman for this wondrous change, btw.) When I woke up this morning, I had an image of the younger of my two brothers approving of the distance I've let grow between us. Twenty years ago, he'd told me how powerful he thought it had been that I'd insisted people call me by my full name, Magdalen, rather than the nickname ("Maggie") I'd had as a child. "Your name," he told me, "is so personal, and to tell Mum and Dad what they have to call you, that's a great step." (I'm paraphrasing, obviously -- even I can't recall verbatim what someone said to me 20 years ago.)

Well, I can imagine that same brother acknowledging now how powerful it is for me to have stopped seeking their love and approval over and over again. Again, there is no reality here, only my perception. I walk around all the time worried about someone's anger or disapproval; there's no one who feels that way toward me, but old, old experiences die hard. It was nice to wake up with a vote of approval in my head.

A postscript: I read someplace that what made siblings so important was that they are contemporaries with a shared history; you can grow old with them, and that history will always connect you. I'm not sure that the history I share with my sibs is worth revisiting in our sixties and seventies, let alone real old age. But I understand the power of having someone in the same age range who knows where you came from. For that, I have Hub 1.0.

H. and I met in 1971 when we were both 15. I vaguely remember him as a shy, gangly English schoolboy. I'd have been a fat, spotty American teenager. (I've been told by H.'s sister that her recollection was that I was funny. They both seemed impossibly smart and well-educated to me, but I did notice that Sis teased H. unmercifully, which just make me like him more.) I was in London for four months, and had dinner with H.'s family every week. Not quite the same as growing up in the same household, but a lot more knowledge of a spouse's upbringing than most people get.

Hub 1.0 stayed with us last weekend, and it was so nice just to hang out with him. I'm carefully resisting the "ewww" factor if I refer to my ex-husband as being like a brother to me, and anyway, it's not true. We're contemporaries, and both youngest children. We're friends, and our marriage was all about friendship, companionship, and . . . okay, so I was just a BIT bossy! But in a loving way, of course. When Starman married me, he knew that Hub 1.0 was part of the package deal; I wasn't going to lose that touchstone of history and affection that I share with Hub.

I am so aware today of the progress I've made vis a vis my siblings and my complicated, nuanced feelings about them. I've made that journey, I walked every step and climbed every obstacle, and as the forewords put it, every mistake made was mine alone. But I couldn't have done it without Hub 1.0 or Starman. Each of them has played an essential role in helping me to see that I'm not alone. With them, I have my family, and with family, I have my sense of myself.

And that's real progress.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

State Maps Update

I promised you updated state maps. First, the Mimicles:

She's sticking pretty close to home, mostly because we've not been many places since we got her. She's not complaining, though. We're hoping we can get faithful reader Sharyn (Hi, Sharyn!) to renew that invitation to come visit -- maybe late October or early November?? That would score Mimi tons of new states.

And here's the revised state map for Starman. Hub 1.0 noticed that I hadn't credited Starman with Arizona, even though they had walked across the Hoover Dam from Nevada to Arizona. Hey, that counts! Hub 1.0 and I crossed many a bridge (well, okay, a few bridges) connecting two states. New Jersey & Pennsylvania, Vermont & New Hampshire, Indiana & Kentucky (Hub 1.0 did that one, not me), just to name all the ones I can think of. (Okay, three bridges, and that's my final offer!)

[Erratum: In my original post, I had written "New Jersey & Delaware" as two of the states joined by a bridge we had walked across. It's actually Pennsylvania & New Jersey, and my thanks to Hub 1.0 -- who's got a better memory for these treks than Ido -- for pointing out that not only did he and I walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge (a walk I remember all too painfully well, as I blew out my knee and he had to do the tourist thing on his own for the rest of the day) but all three of us walked across a smaller bridge at New Hope. Thanks, Hub!]

I will now leave as an exercise to the reader -- or, to be more precise, Hub 1.0, who's much more likely to find this an interesting research project -- the question of whether you can walk from New Jersey to Delaware. I know there's a bridge, but does it accommodate -- legally! -- foot traffic?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Our Vermont Vacation

I promised you more photos from our trip, and -- if you ignore the ten day delay -- I am delivering on that promise.

This is a rest area in New Hampshire. We wanted to stop at the Mount Washington Hotel for lunch, so we asked at the tourist information desk here for directions. Well, you can imagine what those directions were: keep heading west and you can't miss it. They were right -- it's hard to miss. It's also hard to visit, as their parking was all under construction. We were being really careful about having Mimi in the car, so with no shady parking we regretfully turned around and kept going until we found a lovely coffee shop with outdoor seating and yummy vegan food. Mimi was allowed to sit with us, and it was a lovely shady spot. And even better: the Mini Cooper that had been so visibly annoyed because I don't drive as fast as I used to, and which had stopped at the same coffee shop, didn't "accidentally" side-swipe us as it was leaving the parking lot!

Next stop: TopNotch Resort & Spa in Stowe, Vermont. This place is clearly hopping in the fall and winter; it had a slight mustiness in the heat of July (and yes, it was hot even in the mountains). The decor indoors is all about huddling together for warmth: communal fireplaces with lots of comfy furniture clustered around them. We literally never set foot in the lounge -- if we weren't in our room, the pool, the spa, or the dining room, we were outside walking the dog.

The spa was great though -- I had an energy realignment "massage," which turned out to be one of those odd admixtures of reiki and some other stuff involving scooping up the air over the client's prone form and sending all the bad juju someplace else. I might have scoffed but for two facts. First, I really enjoyed Ananda Willow (nee Nancy Wright), a woman around the same age as me with a fascinating backstory, starting with how she got that name. Second, I think the massage was having some effect on my subconscious, seeing as how tears were streaming out of the corners of my eyes the entire time. I felt perfectly fine chatting with Ananda Willow, but some part of me was crying!

This is the main pool, where the kiddies are permitted to swim. We used the adults only pool, out of the frame to the right. Check out those mountain views, though! Cool, hunh? this was also the view we had if we ate a meal on the patio. We didn't realize that dogs were allowed there until we saw the Sheltie pack described below. We just never got the nerve to bring Mimi. That would not have been a restful meal!

Lake Champlain. Impossible to describe how beautiful it is, so I won't try. The photo is not doing it justice, even with the Adirondacks in the distance. It's a shame it wasn't a sunnier day. We actually had pretty good luck with the weather. It was pretty hot, though, and that made it a bit harder to do things that seemed like they would be fun, such as renting bicycles and doing the 5 mile bike trail into town. Maybe next time...

I have tons of pictures of the Shelburne Museum, but they can wait for another post. Here's our Mimi at lunch with us at a nice restaurant in Shelburne. I forget the name of the eatery, which is a shame as they deserve the credit for realizing that they could accommodate us up on a paved terrace alongside the restaurant.

We're still learning about travel with a dog. One thing we've figured out is that it doesn't hurt to ask. We were in Ambler, PA the other day and we asked at a bar/restaurant if we and Mimi could eat in the alley (which was set up with tables and already had a foursome of young thirtysomething women, one of whom was showing off her newborn). The woman bartender I asked seemed doubtful but finally relented. It turned out to be a huge success. Mimi was very well behaved, the waitress was charmed ("I don't like dogs, but yours is cute," she exclaimed), the bartender even came out to meet the dog that the waitress had been raving about.

But I was a bit startled when I went to the ladies' room to see a poster up for the "Dog Days of August," an Ambler festival for dogs. A parade, prizes for the best behaved dog, the dog that looks like its owner, etc., and in small print, "dog-friendly dining at select area restaurants." I gotta figure this place was one of those restaurants. Did the bartender not know that her place of business had touted itself as "dog-friendly"?

I tipped very generously, partly because the food had been cheap and partly so that the next time someone wants to eat there with a dog, the staff will think, "Big tippers!"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Back home, with a different dog

We have a few photos of Vermont, which I'll post in a future installment, but for now can I just tell you how different Mimi seems? She's not perfect by a wide margin, but she's better than she was. She's willing to settle down in a room we're occupying, which means she can be allowed out of the crate for longer. We also think she's housebroken, but that's one of those "how do you prove a negative" situations, so all we can do is continue to reinforce the good behavior and watch out for the bad.

She was such a good travel companion, always happy to be in the car with us. For big trips between venues, her crate was folded up and wedged between the front & back seats, preventing her from trying to join us up front. That still allowed her to rest her chin on either my left shoulder (I was usually the driver), or Starman's right shoulder. We realized that we need a "Dog is my copilot" bumper sticker. Mimi started out barking occasionally in the car (potentially deafening!) but we figured out that if her leash & choke chain were still on her, we could correct that behavior with pretty good results.

We stayed in two Holiday Inn Express hotels -- neither charged us the "non-refundable pet deposit" (an oxymoron in my book), so that was nice -- and then at the TopNotch Resort & Spa in Stowe, Vermont. I'd never been that far north in Vermont; it was great to be within day-trip-distance of the Shelburne Museum. Mimi was welcome everywhere she went, provided she behaved herself. It's evident that TopNotch caters to guests with dogs; we were on "dog row," a ground-floor hallway in the main hotel section. Which was fine until a dog went along the hall and all his/her neighbors started barking in protest/greeting/group dynamics!

We were startled at our first breakfast to see a fellow with three Shetland Sheepdogs at his feet. Then a St. Bernard wandered by and the Shelties got moving: four, no -- five Shelties. This guy (one half of a gay couple, we later realized) had a complete pack with him! The real issue, though, was that there wasn't anything much to do with Mimi at the resort, or even nearby. There was a bike path, but it wasn't quite wide enough to bike with Mimi, so while we both walked her along the path, this proved to be an exercise in control more than a nice stroll in a pretty mountain setting. What would be good would be a dog park at TopNotch, so that Mimi could play with the five Shelties, among others.

We're big fans of the dog park concept, and Starman in particular has gotten good at researching "dog-friendly" travel possibilities. One has just opened up in nearby Scranton, so we figure we will combine a trip there with some yoga for Starman. We're also going to take Mimi with us to Philadelphia for an overnight visit with Hub 1.0. Don't worry -- this time, I asked him first!

So why do we feel like we have a different dog? Well, it's a question of attitude, I guess, or maybe energy. Mimi seems to be more "with us" now that we're back home. She's a bit more attentive, a bit more relaxed, a bit more mature. I suspect we'd have gotten to this place eventually, but it is nice to see her developing into the dog we want.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Our Travels (part 1)

Here we are, in Warwick, Rhode Island, about to enter the church where two people we had never met before got married. No, not wedding crashing. The bride is Mary's daughter (and Harry's stepdaughter), Laura. Under the little-known federal law, The Nuptial Reciprocity Act of 1874, because we'd invited Harry & Mary to our wedding, we got invited to Laura & Ryan's. (I'm kidding about that law, btw.)

The wedding was lovely, the reception was at a nice country club (which is high praise indeed) with a stunning view of Narrangasett Bay, the bride was particularly gracious to us, and we had a lot of fun. There was even a picnic on Sunday, with new opportunities to eat wedding cake!

But before we could go to the picnic, we had to revisit the awesome dog park in Warwick. We'd gone there on Saturday with Mimi, who really needed more time with other dogs. There were only three dogs when we arrived: a brindled boxer named Damian, an amorous cocker spaniel (you can make the obvious pun; I'll refrain from doing so) named Joey; and a really mellow bull terrier named Bogey. Bogey, despite being un-neutered, permitted Joey's insistent if useless advances. The people at the park on Saturday (we were eventually joined by a retired record company executive with two English springer spaniels) all agreed that Mimi has the look of a Rhodesian ridgeback. Right color, right ears, and even a slight suggestion of the characteristic ridge of fur on her back. Mimi's way too small, though -- she's about 19" at the shoulders. Anyway, every time we've seen a "Rhodie" mix on TV, it's looked like Mimi.

Until we met Gee, pictured here with the yellow football we donated to the dog park. Gee, we were told by his owners, is pure bred pit bull. Now this is perplexing to me because the two breeds recognized by the AKC associated with pit bulls, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, are both not Mimi. She has a faint look of an Am Staff if you catch her just right, but neither type comes in her distinctive cinnamon brown. Gee here is an Am Staff, clearly -- the color (buff) is right, and the ears are right.

Which isn't a huge surprise -- we'd been told that Mimi was a pit mix. It's what she's mixed with that so engages people. Oh, and the fact that she's a love-slut. No, seriously. Other dogs and owners would arrive and she'd be right there at the gate, greeting each new human with a look that fairly shouted, "Hi, there, big guy/gal. Come here often? Care to scritch a bitch who's all alone in the world?" Mostly, people were thrilled to comply.

Here's a partial list of the other dogs we saw: a blue Weimaraner, a foxhound, a corgi, two basset hounds (different owners), two puggles (pug/beagle mixes -- a designer dog) (also two different owners), a Shar-Pei, two golden retrievers in very different weight classes, a Wheaten terrier, a chocolate lab, a border collie, two greyhounds, a great dane, an Irish Setter (everyone went "ooh" when that dog pranced in) and Gizmo, a black Chihuahua - Miniature Pinscher mix. We went today to a wonderful, 6-acre dog park here in Portland where the dogs can run around paths through the woods -- the entire place is well fenced. We met two Old English Sheepdogs and saw -- their owners weren't really feeling like socializing -- another lab and a pointer. On our walk this morning to the Prout's Neck Cliff Walk, we saw a whippet, or at least, a small dog that seemed precisely like a whippet. (I really have to stop looking at the AKC website...)

So, yes, we went to Scarborough Beach, briefly. (Dogs not allowed on the beach, and anyway it was fogged in.)
Here's what we could see at low tide, through the marine layer.

Five minutes of that -- long enough for Starman to get his English toes wet in the Atlantic -- and we decided to head back to the road on foot and go find the famed, but notoriously hard to access, Prout's Neck Cliff Walk. I kept having to explain to Starman that the Cliff Walk is not meant to be used by anyone but the locals. If you happen to know how to get to it, fine, but they (the Prout's Neck Association) isn't going to make it easy for you!

This is on the Cliff Walk, looking at Scarborough Beach through the haze. Winslow Homer lived on Prout's Neck, and there are quite a few of his painting in the Portland Museum. Didn't go see them, though. Nope, we did the Cliff Walk, didn't get a ticket because we carefully parked legally at the state park access to the beach, and marvelled at the REALLY high-end real estate, all inaccessible to mere mortals like ourselves.

Here's Mimi, enjoying her day by the sea. Tomorrow it's off to the mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont. We checked Google Maps on the best way to get there -- we can go 240 miles in 5 hours on all interstates, or 175 miles in 5 hours on the back roads. With gas at $4/gallon, it's back roads all the way!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday Travels

Introducing today's guest blogger:
Greetings, blogreaders. Mimi here. Today my pack went on a bike ride, all three of us. I got very excited to see Magdalen (don't ask how I know her name, I just do) on a bike because although Starman (I was told to use that name here; whatever) takes me on bike rides in front of the house, Magdalen never comes too. I like running with my pack.

Today we all got into the other car and drove someplace with a nice place to bike. I run alongside Starman, who holds my leash. This new place to run was very nice, and I could see cars and other people on bicycles. Very exciting, and a bit distracting, which seemed to upset Starman. I don't care. Cars are so wonderful, I just want to eat them up!

After our bike ride, M & S went into a library and came out with four books on CD for our trip on Friday. The first book they tried was "Marley and Me," and it made them laugh because that dog is so obviously unbalanced and out of control. Not like me. I'm very good, although I did have a bit of trouble last night at school. Magdalen takes me in the blue car and I get to be near -- but not near enough! -- other dogs. I get lots of hot dog bits, although honestly I'm getting tired of hot dog bits. Anyway, something was bothering me last night -- bugs kept biting me and there was poop on the asphalt and really no dog could concentrate with that smell right there. It's like sitting at a people school desk and discovering someone left something nasty under the writing surface. And you're supposed to sit still? I so don't think so!

Anyway, I'm a very balanced dog, not like that Marley dog, and I'm very happy. I wish I got to chase more rabbits, and there's that bear smell up on the airstrip that gets me all riled up, but mostly I'm very happy. Oh, right, I forgot. I am NOT happy when they insist on giving me a bath like they did this afternoon. Bleccchhhh. I don't cooperate, though, which is doggy language for "I strenuously protest this insane business of pouring water over my body, you cretins."

But I like running around naked afterwards. M & S blocked both set of steps leading to the deck and I got to run around with all kinds of play toys. Oh, but then there was this rawhide bone, and I really wanted to keep the bone safe. I didn't want to eat it right then, and if I left it, who knows what might have happened to it, so I had to get it off that deck right then and there! I managed to wriggle through the space between the railings and run off with my bone! As soon as I hid it in my den (it's under a pine tree, but it's well protected and no one comes in after me!), I came back and let M & S put my pretty collar back on, and (alas) the leash.

And that was the end of the fun and excitement for me. For today, at least!