Friday, October 31, 2008

The Dog Ate my Homework

What do dogs eat? If your dog is like Kelly, just about anything. Unfortunately, sometimes dogs get into things they shouldn't. Our year-old Dalmatian once got into an entire giant gift-sized Hershey's kiss. He was so sick afterwards, but recovered. We were lucky--even smaller amounts of chocolate are unhealthy for dogs.

My mom once baked a beautiful cake and, knowing her Black Lab could reach up onto the counter, she put the entire finished and frosted cake back inside the cold oven for safekeeping, and went out on an errand. When she returned, her dog was lying on the floor, belly bulging, with cake crumbs and the empty pan beside him. Somehow he'd figured out how to open the oven door.

It's not just food that tempts dogs either. A friend's German Shorthaired Pointer once ate a leather wallet, complete with cash and IDs. According to an article by Corky Siemaszko in the New York Daily News, a New York veterinarian has compiled a list of the top 10 items that dogs swallow (when they shouldn't):

1. socks
2. underwear
3. pantyhose
4. rocks
5. balls
6. chew toys
7. corn cobs
8. bones
9. hair ties
10. sticks

What has your dog swallowed?

Tail's End: My cooking isn't great, but it's got to taste better than a sock.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'll Be Meeting You it wasn't this bad. But we did have snow yesterday in upstate New York! Brrrrr.

Have you ever had one of those events that you really want to get to, but somehow all the forces seem to be against you? (You may already be surmising how the snow is going to play into all this.) Not something you just felt you should go to--like a class or a business meeting. But something you were looking forward to, more like a birthday party when you were a kid. That's the way it was for me last night. It was to be the first meeting of a newly-organized writer's group, and I was excited and anxious to meet with these women and learn all about their writing and goals. To say that I'm rather isolated, writing full time from my home office, is an understatement. I'm the one responsible for keeping the FedEx guy from timely completion of his route because I insist on chatting with him about the weather, finding out about his family, and if I didn't think it would look really suspicious I'd probably invite him in for coffee.

The group was supposed to meet at a local bread cafe at 6:30pm. The first glitch was that my husband needed the car to go to a meeting, and he had to be there an hour earlier. So I arranged to get a ride from my kind-hearted mother-in-law. At this point it's raining and frigid, with little flecks of white trying to make their way into the mix. About half way there, we hear a horrible grinding, only to discover that we have a flat tire. Well, it's dark, freezing rain out, and although we both knew the basic procedure for changing a tire, neither one of us felt we had the strength to crank off those nuts and secure the spare. So we called AAA, and awaited their arrival.

About this time I get a call from my husband, who says it's snowing a blizzard where he's located, and he was traveling in white-out conditions. Then some of the members call my cell phone and say they can't make it due to the weather either. One member, who was coming from the farthest away, however, was still able to make it, although she was lost in a strip mall.

In the end, it all worked out. The tire got changed, and we made it to the cafe. The other member waited, warming herself with a cup of hot chocolate, and we had a great opportunity for a one-on-one visit. My husband made it home safely, and my mother-in-law got a new tire the next day. Just one of life's little detours.

I look forward to meeting the rest of the group next month. Let's just hope mother nature is kind.

Tail's End: If you can't change the circumstances, you can at least change your attitude toward them.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


My sunflower garden on the side of my house boasts beautiful yellow flowers all summer. But when the flowers die and turn to seed, that's when they're my favorite. From early August through October, the huge heads attract a variety of little songbirds. Mostly little yellow finches and a few chickadees. I love watching these birds hang on the edges of the stems, or hang upside down on the top of the flowers, pecking at the seeds. Their beautiful chirps and calls fill the air. Sometimes there are more than a dozen little birds there at one time. This is a treat for a city gal. Unfortunately, these pictures were taken through my porch screen. Every time I tried to go outside and capture the birds on film, they flew away. I tried waiting inconspicuously, but they always outlasted me. Whenever I hear the cheerful chirps, I creep silently to the window so I can watch.

Tail's End: The beauty of one season gives way to the hidden beauty of the next.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tight Belts in Tough Times

Mike and I are dissecting our bills, trying to determine where we can cut back. The reason for this is not necessarily today's economy, the falling stock market, the exorbitant price of gas. Although they all play into things, certainly. Our new budgetary strategies are due to that little slip of paper originating from the ominous Bursar's office. We're sadly all too familiar with tuition bills: our own, from Syracuse University--where Mike and I met. (go Orange!) Then, Kate's private school since 7th grade, and Andy's since 3rd grade. Then, Kate's tuition at Cornell University (go Red!) and now Andy's at RPI (aka Rensselaer) (go Engineers!) Way too much higher education!

So, now it's time to determine what we can do without. Would we miss reading the morning paper every day? Perhaps we can peruse our news on the internet instead. That's what Kate does, and she's pretty up to date on current events. What about losing our land line? I calculated that this move would save about $700/year. That seems like a lot of money for what I consider a fairly redundant service--we all have cells. But, is this concession enough to make a difference when we're talking about $52,000/year tuition bills?

I know there are many ways to reduce our utility bills. How much will we really save if we remember to turn off the lights when we're not in a room, or crank down our heat another couple degrees? And where do we stop? Is it worth freezing in our own home to save a couple dollars a month?

The answer is different for everyone. As we grapple with these tough questions, we're always trying to determine the difference between needs and wants, how we can wisely use our resources, where we should sacrifice, and what is right for our kids' futures. We're no strangers to tightening our belts. But it's time to take things in a couple more notches. Ouch!

Tail's End: Possessions are only things. We can get by without things. We can't do without you, all our friends and loved ones in our lives.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hey, Shaggy, time for a snack!

Kelly and I share a love for snacks. Now we've discovered that we can enjoy the same snack--well, almost. I started giving Kelly these Snausages Scooby Snacks, shaped like little dog bones, for rewards or treats. A short time later, I discovered Scooby Doo Graham Cracker Sticks, in the same great dog bone shape. At first when I saw them in the grocery aisle next to the crackers and chips, I thought they'd been mis-shelved. It took some close reading to decide they really were intended for human consumption.

Scooby Doo Graham Cracker Sticks are low in fat, and not too bad for you, in moderation. (They are so good, however, that I tend to keep dipping into the box for "just a few more.") Rarely one to turn up her nose at any food, nonetheless Kelly loves her Scooby Snacks. Now, if I don't get the two mixed up.

Some organizations have found ways to combine Scooby Snacks and physical fitness. "Popular Crunchy Dog Snack Takes a Stand to Help America's Youth "Get Out & Doo" describes a fitness campaign designed to help kids, and the family dog, get active and fit. Citing that today's youth are too sedentary, they promote playtime with pets as a healthy route to physical activity for both dog and owner. And, of course, why not treat your dog with Scooby Snacks as you play?

Scooby Doo Graham Cracker Sticks are available in honey or cinnamon. They contain 130 calories per 9 dog bone pieces. I've yet to eat just 9. They have 4 grams of fat per serving, which is better than most cookies and crackers. The Daily Plate, a website for "helping you eat smarter" tells us that the average person could burn off the 130 calories of a serving of Scooby Snacks by jumping on a trampoline for 34 minutes or hauling water on a farm for 27 minutes.

Tail's End: Watch what you eat. Not only in terms of calories and fat, but make sure it's not intended for dogs, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On the Radio

I've never been comfortable with publicity. But I'm learning that it goes along with writing and publishing.

Last January, I was interviewed on two local television stations, regarding my story in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. A timely topic for the season or a slow news day, whatever the reason I was a hot ticket at that time. I was pretty nervous going into both interviews, but mercifully both newswomen were totally skilled at putting me at ease and making the interview flow smoothly. So, although I still felt like an awkward teenager trying to fit in with the flawless cheerleader types (hey, they were both really pretty), I got through the interviews unscathed.

This morning I got the radio experience. I was interviewed by local (WGY) radio talk show host, Joe Gallagher. He wanted to talk about my story in The Ultimate Dog Lover book. The interview was conducted over the phone. Yay--I could do my part while still in my pajamas (It was early in the morning) At the appointed time, the show's producer called and asked me to hold the line. My mind raced wondering what Joe might ask. I reminded myself to treat it just like I was talking to a friend on the phone--something my husband will attest that I do for the better part of most days.

Fortunately, Joe was extremely easy to talk to, with a smooth, friendly voice, and he put me at ease right away. We talked about my story, "Happy Together" and the book in general, and about dogs including, of course, Kelly. He signed off with my blog address (hello to anyone who happened to have listened, and is here today as a result! Hi there!!)

I was hoping Kelly wouldn't suddenly bark like crazy, or someone didn't knock on the door, or my cell didn't start ringing too-- which generally all happens when I'm on the phone. I also considered that I might fall back asleep while waiting for the phone call (I'm no morning person) or we'd have a power outage and the phone would go dead, or I'd faint from excitement, or that possibly my husband would have some emergency--involving loss of blood and/or gasping for breath--and require my medical expertise (of which I have none) and........well, that's why I'm a writer.

I'll post the podcast when it becomes available.

Tail's End: Anticipation is often worse than realization.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Can College Kids Communicate with Mom?

My friend commented that she was up late last night, into the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep because her daughter had not yet returned home for the evening. Her daughter is in college, but living at home. I know just how she feels. I never liked when my kids were out with the car. My mind wandered to dark "what-ifs"--and being a writer, my imagination really could take me places.

Throughout high school, I had the kids call when they arrived at their destination, then call me again before they left. That way I reduced my window of panic to the times they were actually on the road. Even when Kate was in college, I appreciated her calls that she was back in her dorm safe and sound. We kept in touch often, and I generally knew what she planned on doing on the weekend, who she'd be with, and sometimes even what she'd be wearing. That's just the way we've always been, sharing comfortably about our lives.

But my son Andy is not at all the same! He's away at college now, and when I ask him any questions he becomes frustratingly vague.
Who are your friends? "Guys in the dorm. On the baseball team."
What did you do last night? "Hung out."
What class do you like best? "They're all bad."

Even a young 20-something friend of Kate's tried to get some information out of Andy when they met last weekend. After attempting several direct questions and getting nothing but vague answers, the guy shrugged, looked at me and said, "He's a tough nut."

Of course, each kid is different. The way that works in communicating with the first may not work with the second. I'd love Andy to tell me as much about his life as his sister. I'd love to be more aware of what he's thinking and feeling. But I'll take the little victories, like the other day when he called to tell me it was sports bar night in the dining hall, and how many mozzarella sticks he could cram into his mouth at once. Try as I may, I can't change him. I have to adapt. It's my job. I'm the mom.

Tail's End: This has nothing to do with the blog today. But if you are in the New York Capital District listening area, tune into WGY-810 News Talk Radio this Sunday at 8:15am, to hear my interview with Joe Gallagher. We'll be talking about my story in the new book, The Ultimate dog Lover. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How Not to Introduce a Dog and a Cat

What do you get when you put five people, a cat and a dog together in a small, two-room apartment? This Columbus Day weekend, we found out!
We spent a lovely vacation visiting our daughter Kate and her husband Aaron, who moved down to Virginia a little more than a year ago. Andy was on break from college, so he came along. And Kelly joined us to visit her new cousin, Cinnamon--Kate and Aaron's new kitten.

The drive takes us about 9 hours. Kelly is a wonderful traveler, very comfortable sleeping in her crate on the middle seat. We stopped about 4 times to walk her, and fill ourselves up with Diet Cokes.

Kelly made herself at home in the apartment. Kate decided to keep Cinnamon in the bedroom and connecting bathroom, while Kelly joined us in the main living area. When we arrived, we all took turns going into the bedroom to meet the kitty. She's a beautiful little tortoise/tabby. Funny, her coloring is about the same as Kelly's--sable reds and browns. She's very friendly and playful.

Kate said she had a dream that Kelly and Cinnamon became friends. So we thought we'd try to introduce them. I suppose we could have just opened the door and let the two of them figure things out. But, always the overprotective mom, I erred on the side of caution and held Kelly's collar, while Kate held Cinnamon. Kelly quivered with excitement, locking eyes with the cat and straining to investigate. Cinnamon seemed curious but calm. We let her approach, but Kelly couldn't contain her excitement. She lunged, Cinnamon reared--her back arched and fur standing on end. "I've never heard her make those noises before!" Kate said, as Cinnamon hissed are growled. To her credit, she didn't try to swipe at Kelly's nose with her sharp claws. I was surprised (and happy!).
We tried twice more to introduce them, but each time Kelly was too quick and excited.
One time, however, the two did manage to introduce themselves. The bathroom door got left open, and Cinnamon slipped out. Suddenly, we heard wild scrambling of paws, hissing, and bowls being knocked over in the kitchen. Kelly had poor Cinnamon cornered. Dog food and water was all over the floor. Neither animal was aggressive. I'm not sure which one was more frightened.
After that, Cinnamon stayed in the bedroom. She tried to be a part of things by sticking her paw, all the way up to her armpit, under the crack in the door. Kelly stared at the door, waiting for The Paw, most of the night.

Tail's End: Make new friends.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Flying Geese

This is one of my favorite sights. I was standing out in my front yard last week when I heard the loud, strong, rhythmic honking of Canadian Geese. I happened to have my camera in my hand, so I looked up and snapped this picture.

Why I love flying geese:
1. I live in the city, and I'm awed whenever I see nature in the city. Even if they are just passing by.

2. Sometimes they fly by so low, I can see their wings, their feet tucked up under them, their beaks.

3. The V-formation intrigues me. Science explains why they do this. But how do they know? Who is the leader? When do they change leaders? Does everyone get a turn? Is one goose directing the formation--"Hey you! A little to the right. The small one there, you're out of line!" (I think of other questions when I watch the geese. How do they decide when to stop? How do they know which way to go? What happens if some can't keep up? Do they get left behind?)

4. I love that honking sound. I fall silent and just stare upwards when I hear it.

5. Canadian Geese are big and strong, and brave to travel so far.

6. My mom lives in Canada.

Why I don't like flying geese:

1. (At least at this time of year) It means winter, and the cold weather, is coming.

2. They are leaving.

Tail's End: Look Up.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Let's Play!

Like most dogs, Kelly's downright playful. And she's pretty determined when she wants to play. When I'm pressed hard on deadline, typing away at my computer, she'll come up and nuzzle against my leg. Sweet. Nice Kelly.
Then, she'll paw me on the thigh. Not as cute. Okay, good girl. I might give her an absent scratch on the head.
If I continue to ignore her, she'll pull out the heavy artillery. Standing up on her hind legs, she slaps a front paw down on my keyboard. I'm in the midst of typing the most brilliant line of my novel, when suddenly, dwqiuhfd4xg;z52gagaaaaa. Haven't I taught that dog to use the space bar yet?
Anyway, this always gets my attention. I might throw her a tennis ball and hope that she'll take the initiative to play with it herself. But more often, she wants me to play with her.
I used to sit and work all day, without take a break for any physical activity. This suited me, but not my waistline. Now, I guess you could say that Kelly takes me for a walk every day. When we get outside and the fresh air hits me in the face (right now it's getting brisk) I'm always glad to be out there. Before, however, it was a major effort to get crowbarred out of my chair.
We go around the block, up the street, for about 1/2 mile, and back. Not an amazingly long walk, but enough for her short little legs (okay and mine too.) If, by chance, Kelly feels she's not ready to return home, she'll take the leash into her mouth and pulls me in the opposite direction. She's surprisingly strong. A determined dog makes a great personal trainer.

Tail's End: Take a break from your work today and enjoy some good, rigorous activity. Get a dog to show you how!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

World's Largest Garage Sale

A few weeks ago I blogged about holding a garage sale. This weekend I experienced the flip side. Every year when the leaves begin to turn and the air grows crisp, Warrensburg New York hosts "The World's Largest Garage Sale." I can't speak for anything beyond my little corner of the world, but in my experience, it really is "the world's largest." We browsed for treasures all day Friday and Saturday, and honestly we only brushed the surface of the sales. In addition to private sales at homes dotting every side street, the main street is lined with vendors for miles and miles. Bundled up in layers of fleece and hoodies, Mike and I enjoyed strolling the streets and hunting for bargains. Mike's biggest bargain was a bag of 15 unopened cartons of printer ink--all a little past their expiration date, but presumably (hopefully!) should still work, for one dollar. I got an immersion blender for a dollar. It works! I had to pass up a great pair of black Manolo Blahnik heels (also $1!) because they squished my toes, but I did find a few other great deals on shoes, books, sweaters, desk accessories a really cool cat toy for my new "grand-cat" which just joined the family of my daughter and son-in-law (shhh it's a surprise!).
At the vendors, we found brand new socks (3 pairs for $5) and new cashmere scarves in a multitude of colors and patterns ($8 each). They also have wrapping paper, dvds, framed prints, handmade crafts, candles, carved wood, tons of food items, and so much more.
The knock-off Coach handbag vendors always amaze me. These booths sell these fake designer pocketbooks for $35 to $40. Well, guess what happened today? A neighbor was standing in line to purchase one of these bags when the police busted into the tent and arrested the proprietor for selling the rip-offs. But, the story goes on! The vendor who was being arrested tried to accuse our neighbor of stealing the pocketbook! It was quite a mess, but fortunately our neighbor was able to convince the police that she was waiting in line to pay. And the booth was closed down.
Although there was this kind of dishonesty and hustling for deals, there were also many lovely moments during the day of friendly people, kindness and honesty. At one sale at a private home, a woman was browsing through a plastic box of teen jewelry and nick naks, when she spotted some gift cards and loose change, obviously overlooked. She told the owner of the home so that he could retrieve the items. That made me feel good. At another sale, I saw a velvet covered stand used to display necklaces. The woman had several of these stands, and many lovely necklaces she was selling for $3 to $5 each, which seemed a very good deal for the nice quality necklaces. Since I started beading and making necklaces, I have acquired more necklaces than could be held in my little jewelry box. So I asked her where could I find a stand like she was using to display her necklaces. She told me that she had several, and she'd sell me one for $2. When I went to check out with the stand and a few other small items, she changed her mind and said she'd give me the stand for free, since it had cost her nothing when she acquired the stands originally. I was all ready to pay without hesitation, so I thought that was very sweet of her and I walked away smiling and feeling good.
Before I close, I have to tell you about the food. Here is what we usually get at the World's Largest Garage Sale: we'd usually have a big, greasy sausage and peppers sandwich for lunch. On occasion we've shared a Bloomin' Onion. Even we couldn't finish that! Later, I'd have to have a Columbo frozen yogurt AND a maple cotton candy. Mike would usually get Kettle corn or warm, cinnamon and sugar coated cashews. But since we've been eating healthy, all that was out. But, believe it or not, we still found relatively healthy options. One woman had a beautiful set up in her driveway with a little "kitchen" and some tables and chairs, and she was selling her homemade hamburger vegetable soup. It was delicious. And the word was out, because she had a long line waiting to buy her soup. Friday we had steaming bowls of chili. Other fairly healthy options from vendors were chicken or steak shish kabobs and roasted corn.
When we finished our hamburger veggie soup, we ducked by the kitchen area and told the woman how much we'd enjoyed her cooking. Her face lit up. I hope it helped her to feel a little brighter, since it had to be a long day standing on her feet all day in the cold, serving soup for hours.

Tail's End:
You'll meet all types...and although the dishonest and unkind exist, expect and celebrate the honest and the kind.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Boy, is my face red

Here's Kelly with her, "Mom, what did you do to me" look. Okay, so here's the embarrassing story. Yesterday I was giving Kelly her belly rub, when I noticed a tick. I may be a bit hyper-paranoid about ticks, because both my dogs have had ticks before, and they both acquired Lyme disease, which is prevalent in this area. Lyme disease was expensive to treat, required weeks of medication and blood tests, and resulted in joint and muscle weakness in my Yellow Lab. It can be fatal if left untreated. So, when I find a tick, I do freak out a bit.
My husband held Kelly in his lap while I got out the handy tick extractor. This works by gripping onto the tick, and then with an easy twist, the tick is removed. But, try as I may, I couldn't get the tick out. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to break the tick, removing half the body and leaving the other half embedded in the dog. So I tried again to be real careful and get it out. But it wouldn't budge. Worse, it started to bleed a little. And Kelly was squirming and whining. Something didn't feel right to me. I knew the tick should have come out easier. And, it was natural for a dog to squirm a bit, but Kelly shouldn't be that uncomfortable. So I stopped. "We're going to have to take her to the vet's tomorrow," I said. "I can't get it, and I don't want to hurt her."
The next day the vet examined her, parting the long hair to get a good luck. Okay, I might as well tell you now. It turns out I was trying to remove one of Kelly's nipples. ( I Know!!! as Craig Ferguson would say.)

Not only did I feel totally stupid. But I also felt horrible for twisting and tweezering poor Kelly's nipple. Fortunately, I didn't pull or twist too hard, and knew to stop when things didn't seem right. But I feel horrible! I have been around dogs all my life. I should know a nipple when I see one. I've groomed Kelly, brushed her, clipped her, and rubbed her belly enough to be familiar with her anatomy. So what can account for this misidentification? Who can say. I'm just glad that she doesn't have a tick. And, in addition, all her body parts are well and still intact.
Sorry Kelly!
Tail's End:
Be careful what you try to pull off or Look before you Tweeze.