They Call Him Fluffy

Every dog has a signature move.

They have some weird quirk, or funny game, or strange physical ability.  Every single one.  If your dog doesn’t, it just means you haven’t noticed it.

Riker, our two-hundred-pound Anatolian shepherd was, literally, a big crybaby. 

He cried when he wanted love.  He would lay in the living room, look as pitiful as caninely possible and weep and wail.  He also cried at night when he went to bed, until I went over and tucked him in with his blanket and gave him a goodnight kiss.

Yeah, he wasn’t spoiled at all.

But the big payoff was when you went over and showed him some love, he would actually purr.  Like a sofa-sized kitty.  Purr.

When we go on walks, Crowley, our current pup, has one of the nuttiest moves I’ve ever seen.

He’ll take a few steps, lower his left shoulder, and drop like he’s been shot.  Then he lays there, on his side, and laughs while looking to see if I’m watching him.  If it’s not 1000 degrees or I’m not in a rush, I run over and make a huge fuss over him, “Oh poor Crowley fell over!  Whatever shall we do?”  He thinks the whole production is hilarious.

Our boy, at 4 months.

Turns out, it’s the actual technique for stuntmen to fall dramatically and also something the army teaches for hand-to-hand combat.  I’m not quite sure how Mr. Crowley Pants learned it, but I’m seriously thinking about trying to get him a gig as a self-defense instructor.

 All the love and knowledge that I have to show my dogs came from the original dog; Fluffy.

We got him when we lived in Puerto Rico.  He was the surprise love child of a chow and a Borinquen terrior, which was the colloquial term for a mutt of indeterminate lineage.  He and I would sit on the curb, watch the world go by, and share a Charms pop (I took a lick, he got a lick…).

My big brother Homer who was also stationed in Puerto Rico adopted Fluffy’s brother.  Unlike his black, extremely hirsute littermate, Eric was short-haired and as red as Opie Taylor’s tresses.

Just like that.

As for Fluffy’s move, he jumped.

He didn’t leap into swimming pools like those frenetic pooches you see on ESPN when there are no human sports to televise.  He didn’t jump over felled trees and across brooks and streams like National Velvet.

From a sitting position, he would leap straight up.  If you held a piece of cheese as high as you could, he would vault toward the ceiling, grab the nosh, and land again into a sitting position.  And all in the blink of an eye.

My dad is 6’4” and his reach is somewhat north of eight feet.  No sweat for Fluffy.  That dog would make Zion Williamson weep with jealousy.

He had one other odd “talent”.

In San Diego, we lived in a house with a chimney.  In that chimney was a beehive.  Periodically a bee would fly out of said chimney.  The first time we saw it after we moved in, Mom freaked.  She was just about to call an exterminator when Fluffy walked over and caught it and ate it.

We were afraid he’d get stung and swell up and get sick.  Never happened.  The dog just loved the taste of bees.  And for the entire time we lived in that house, Fluffy never missed one.

That dog and his insect predilection would have come in very handy a few weeks ago.  Instead of stinging me more than twenty times, Fluffy could’ve just gobbled them up.

Thanks for your time.

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Miss Mary

“Would you like to pet my dog?”

Yes, Gentle Reader, looking back I now realize the question sounds like it came from the mouth of a seven-year-old.

But that query fell from the lips of this loquacious scribbler three years ago.

Which was the very first day I took Crowley, our brand new puppy, for his very first walk.

My street is very small, but there are two neighborhoods very close to us.  This was where I’d decided to do the dog walk thing. 

The first development is one quiet, shaded, U-shaped street.  There are mature cypress trees everywhere.  The houses were built in the early sixties.  Until about 1995, it was still unpaved.

Most of the houses are still occupied by the original owners.  Back when the neighborhood was young, in almost every house there lived at least a couple of kids.  The streets that rang with the shouts and laughter of children in the 1960s and 70s now host sporadic visits from grand-and even great-grandkids of that first generation.

That morning with Crowley, I had just turned onto the last leg of the “U”.

There was an older man working out in the yard. I could tell he found my new pooch completely captivating (dog people recognize each other), so that’s when I asked the infamous question.

Turns out his name was Mr. LP, and he did want to meet my fuzzy, adorable boy.  He also wanted to play with him, talk to him, talk about him, and introduce him to his wife, Miss Mary.

Mr. LP told me that he’s always liked dogs but his wife was the hard-core, take no prisoners dog lover of the family.  After that first day we became friends and when they were on the porch when we were out, we’d stop and talk a spell.  Crowley adores them.

The first spring and throughout the summer I discovered that Miss Mary’s green thumb was the size of a pup tent.  A florist could make a mint with the volume, quality and variety of the blooms out front.

Out back is the vegetable garden, every year equally as beautiful as it is bounteous.  It’s like a tiny, adorable farmer’s market.

A couple of years ago, I brought her some paw-paws, a fruit native to North Carolina that’s a  member of the passion fruit family.  It looks like a chayote and is sweet and tastes of tropic-grown citrus and vanilla. 

She hadn’t seen or tasted a paw-paw since she was a child.

Last summer she took me out to the garden and showed me this enormous pawpaw bush.  I thought I had inspired her to get a plant, but I was wrong.

The year before she’d thrown the remains of the fruit I’d bought her into the garden as compost.  The bush had just sprung up, she said.

It was taller than the top of my head.

From trash.  Miss Mary casually threw an eaten fruit on the ground and a healthy, pawpaw bush sprung up.  Growing really sweet and tasty snacks.  

In 1951, Miss Mary was 16 and she and Mr. LP had been dating for six months. 

“I was sitting with Mary on her mama’s couch.  And I said, ‘Mary, can I ask you a question? Do you think we should get married?’”Mr. LP smiles before he says, “And Mary said, ‘yeah, yeah I think we should.’”

2020 is their seventieth year of marriage. 

I am furious one day when she tells me that when she got married, she was thrown out of her high school because, as her principal told her, “You are a wife now.  Go home.”  She’s philosophical about it, telling me that’s how it worked back then, no one even questioned it.

In the time I’ve known her, I have never heard a harsh tone, or a strong thing said against another.  She’s the sort of person that when they say, “Bless her heart” they mean it.  By that, I mean that they sincerely want that person’s heart to be blessed.

Miss Mary passed last week.  Honestly, she was already an angel.  Her kindness will inspire and fortify my own humanity forever.  My heart breaks for Mr. LP, their three daughters, and the rest of the family.  She was a five-foot tall walking heart, topped with a crown of curly, silver hair.

She was a giant.

Mary Elizabeth Spell
December 5, 1934 – August 30, 2020

Thank you Miss Mary.


Thanks for your time.

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The Four-legged Good Will Ambassador

I let my dog pick my new friends.

Well, maybe “pick” is a little inaccurate. 

There’s nothing quite so petulant as a 120-pound adolescent dog.

If you think a toddler demanding your attention while you’re on the phone is annoying and distracting, try an Akita who thinks he’s keeping you from danger and is also bored and wants to look for Mr. Crane (an actual crane that lives near us) and chase Danger Squirell (a neighborhood squirrel that seems to think he’s immortal and loves to play chicken with my pooch, Crowley).

I’ve had dogs my whole life, but my relationship with this dog who could pass for a bear cub is as unique for me as a shy used car salesman. 

When puppies are about four weeks old, they form a bond with their mother and litter-mates.  This is where a dog figures out he’s a dog, learns dog behavior, and is taught not to date outside their species.

If you’ve ever seen a youtube video and they say the dog thinks he’s a goat, or a lizard, or a carrot, it’s a real possibility.  That puppy may have been separated from his mother too early, and instead of learning he’s a dog, bonds with an armadillo.

Then between seven and sixteen weeks, a puppy can imprint on a human.  This person becomes their bringer of adventure, fun, and food.  They’re the first one they look to when they’re scared or hurt. 

They can’t stand to be away from this person because they miss them, and when they’re not close, the pooch cannot protect them.  They must keep their human safe at all costs, for they are the wellspring from which all good things flow.

I think Crowley imprinted on me the night we brought him home.  I carried him to the car and he sat on my lap on the ride home.  As he snuggled into me he became familiar with my scent and sound.

The puppy Crowley.

What really sealed the deal though, was when we were about halfway home, he peed on me.

One of the most important things you can do for a puppy is to socialize them with both humans and dogs.  And with a pupper roughly the tonnage of a water buffalo, the only thing about him I want to be scary is size.

But of course, Mom proposes and dog disposes.

He is extremely protective of me.  If I were a teenager on a date and he was my dad, he’d be waiting for me on the porch with a shotgun.  He always positions himself between me and anything or anyone unfamiliar. 

Crowley is also a little skittish.  He may be my bodyguard, but if a school bus, dump truck, or a UPS truck approaches, I’m on my own.  He jumps behind me so that I am between him and the big scary thing.

Taken together, this makes him very choosy about his friends. 

His list may be short, but once you’re in, you’re in for life.  And the chosen are not just liked, they’re adored.  He knows where each buddy lives and walks right up to their front door and stands aside so I can ring their doorbell to see if they can come out and play.


With a couple, he usually becomes friends with the male first.  But it takes time and persistence until Crowley shares his heart.

Once the guy puts in the work to make friends, Crowley grandfathers the feminine half of the couple in.  Once you’re in the “Crowley loves me club”, you get a plus one.

It’s like my dog’s a country club, or destination wedding. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Quarantine Shame

“How many likes did you get in the quarantine, Grandma?”

If you had to pick a time period in which to be quarantined, now is actually a pretty convenient time.

With high-speed internet access, computers, and smartphones, you can contact almost anyone on the planet.  With the plethora and variety of companies that deliver to your front door, it’s much easier to not leave the house.

Just this week, I finished The Kid’s birthday shopping, got a new trashcan for my station wagon, and had a doctor’s appointment.  The Kid played bar trivia, had a beer with old friends, played a board game, and met with co-workers.

All without leaving the house, or having anyone over.

But in the true spirit of yin and yang, there’s also a dark side to that wifi.  I’m talking about those camera-ready folks who are masters of social media.  The kind of folks who post photos of perfectly lit rainbow avocado toast captioned, “Breakfast on the run.”, pics of themselves standing in front of a Greek sunset captioned, “Blessed”, and a perfect Princess birthday party captioned, “Threw it together this morning.”

Under normal circumstances, this crowd is mildly irritating.

But during quarantine, when even the most stable personalities are operating with some level of anxiety and depression, those people make me feel like a complete, glow in the dark loser.

Some guy named Thomas Cervetti who lives in Malaysia “was bored during quarantine”.  So he and his equally bored family decided to gather up all the bath towels in the house and make an elaborate stop action surfing movie.  It looks like the love child of Peter Gabriel’s 1986 Sledge Hammer video and the classic surf movie, Endless Summer.

Truthfully, it’s a creative, adorable, and highly entertaining diversion.

Using only bath towels.

Here’s my fancy quarantine plan for our bath towels at Chez Matthews: getting them out of the washer and into the dryer before they get moldy.

A couple spent an entire day making a rodent-sized art museum for their pet gerbils.  Smaller than playing cards, there were “Vincent van Gogh” canvasses, a furry little “Mona Lisa”, and some pretty impressive impressionist paintings.

Again, adorable.  Especially the photos of the gerbils standing around them, looking like art critics.  All they need are tiny little glasses of cheap, warm Champagne.

I’ve been artistically serving our dinner on matching plates and coordinating my hair elastics with my sweatshirt.

Actually, I haven’t put a whole lot of effort into the ponytail holder thing.  Tonight the tie I have in is an entirely different shade of blue than my shirt.

Someone else designed and sewed a bunch of felt dolls.  That may sound mundane, but these dolls look exactly like every single member of her entire extended family.  Now she has the cutest soft, fuzzy family facsimiles to share her quarantine with. 

When I try to sew a button back onto something, I usually end up needing a quick trip to urgent care and seven or eight stitches.

One family has a small door that leads to a space under the stairs that’s used as a dog house for their gorgeous Golden Doodle, Rusty.  They decided to spend some of their quarantine time going all canine curb appeal on it.  They put in a tiny leaded glass front door, vintage-style mailbox, a porch light sconce that looks like it’s straight from Pottery Barn, and a faux window with attached window box full of blooms.  There is a painted, weathered sign with his address: 7878 Doodle Drive.

And I’m sitting here covered in Crowley fur and dog slobber feeling about as creative as a mimeograph machine.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Thoughts While Walking The Dog; Yule Log Edition


Petey and I alternate getting up and walking the dog.  I know we do.  It’s his turn every other day.  So why is it that it seems like it’s my sleep-deprived carcass rolling out of bed and pulling on my sneaks every single day?  Is it some kind of Jedi mind trick Petey’s working on me?

“Easy Crowley…the UPS man is going around the corner.  It’s okay, Buddy.”  How does a dog have a super hero-level nemesis?  Is it the big brown truck?  The knees?  Why and how does every person in this neighborhood get five or six packages every single day?  If it’s not UPS, it’s FedEx or the Amazon guy. 

Do people never actually go into stores?  Have they never experienced the joy of eating cold sub-par pizza while sneaking peeks of the cute guy at Orange Julius?  How did they fall in love?  Where did they work soul-sucking part-time jobs for gas and tennis shoe money?

All of these deflated blow-up Christmas decorations around here.  It looks like the last stand of the Santa Village massacre.  They might take up a lot of space when they’re all inflated, but they get no credit in my very own Griswald Christmas decoration lunacy scale.  They take no work or creativity. 

I want holiday decorations that take time, sweat and possess the very real possibility of falling off a ladder and spending Christmas in traction.

When I left the house I was freezing.  It’s warmed up so much that if I take off any more layers and tie them around my waist I’ll be arrested for indecent exposure. 

“Crowley!  That is not a dog.  That is a plastic reindeer, it does not want to be your friend, and you’re making us both feel uncomfortable.  Knock it off, and get over here!”


How is it so dark at 5:30?  It seems like just a few months ago it was light ‘til 8:30 at night.

“Crowley, I am happy to take you to visit your friends.  But you need to make up your mind whether or not they actually are friends of yours. I will not stop and visit with somebody so that you can stand six feet away from them and bark for ten minutes.  That’s just plain rude.”

That guy’s lights over his garage are listing like a sinking ship.  He’s either really unobservant or had imbibed in a bit too much Christmas cheer before he got up there with a stapler gun.  I don’t know, maybe it was intentional—it is kind of festive, in an amusing, too much egg nog kind of way.

That “As seen on TV” searchlight, holiday flood light thing is unsettling.  I think it’s supposed to be holly and berries sweeping back and forth over the front of their house.  But it looks disturbingly like a radioactive swarm of extra-terrestrial termites at an all-you-can-eat wood buffet.

“It’s too dark to play ball right now, Buddy.  I’m sorry…ok, we’ll play right here under the street light.  Nope.  Too dark.  I just picked up what I thought was the ball, and it turned out to be a big, slimy, exploding toadstool.”

No way!  The crankiest, most anti-social guy in the neighborhood; the man about whom everybody will say “we absolutely saw it coming” when the news shows up;  the misanthrope who I only heard laugh once and which scared the heck out of me, has decorated for Christmas and put up lights.  This I never, ever saw coming.  Crowley my big baby, I think we may be witnessing a Scrooge redemption moment. 

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Puppy On The Couch

Mr. Crowley Pants.

When The Kid turned 15, Petey and I were constantly high-fiving each other.  We had a teenager who was kind, polite, helpful, and an all-round joy to be around.  We were the best parents in the history of parents.

And then.

And then, The Kid went upstairs for bed one night and didn’t come down the next morning. 

Instead, what came down those stairs was some kind of monstrous, hideous mockery of our sweet child.  We, the parents, were deemed too lame to exist.  There was so much eye-rolling it’s a wonder blindness didn’t ensue. 

We asked ourselves how we could’ve been so wrong about our parenting skills.  No two worse parents ever lived.


Before Crowley, our Yugo-sized Akita, we had another Akita, Steve, and a 200-pound Anatolian shepherd named Riker.

Riker was the most loving dog I’ve ever known, and Steve was as gentle as the breath of a fawn.  Although a full-blooded Akita, he never showed a hint of the aggressiveness that many people think define the breed.

So, of course, Petey and I thought, “We got this.  We could make rabid badgers docile enough to sleep with newborn babies.”

Then, we got Crowley, a black Akita puppy as solid as a tank. 

He and I walk miles a day around our neighborhood, greeting everyone we meet.

Everything went well until Crowley was about eighteen months old. 

He started becoming aggressive.  With us, and a short list of humans that he adores, he was and remains, sweet and wildly affectionate.  But he’d growl when anyone else got too close.

Then came the day my father; the man who gave me my love for canines, the man who’s almost more dog than man, met him.  When he knelt down to him, Riker knocked him over on purpose.  My dad wasn’t hurt, and Riker didn’t bite him, but my heart was broken.

My Dad and Riker. Can you see the grin on that happy dog’s kisser?

I felt like a parent who’d raised a serial killer.  I called our vet, crying so hard I could barely tell her what happened.  She suggested a behaviorist.  We made an appointment.

The thing was, he didn’t do a thing for the dog.

I was the patient. 

I kept saying, “But Steve…” 

Finally, he said, “debbie, this is not Steve.  You need to accept that and help Crowley to have the best life he can.  He’s not dangerously vicious, but he is what he is.”

So, we learned coping strategies to keep him focused and bought a soft, flexible, plastic muzzle for when he’s outside.  It’s really for me (no smarty-pants Gentle Reader, I don’t wear the muzzle).  It’s so that I know no matter what happens, my dog will never bite anyone, human or dog. 

I’ve kept up the long walks, and he’s become calmer and steadier.  We’ve begun carefully reintroducing familiar people, and each encounter has gone well.  We’re cautiously optimistic.

The lesson I learned with Crowley is something we should keep in mind with everyone, every day.  Preconceptions, and assuming someone knows the lines of the script we’ve written in our heads is the road to disappointment, discord, and the deepest of doo-doo. 

Like that dog shrink said, “This may not be exactly what you expected, but it’s what you have.  Deal with the reality you’ve got.”

And that horrible teenager/hobgoblin that resembled The Kid?

About ten months after it showed up, one morning our sweet child came downstairs for breakfast, and the teenaged beast was never seen again.  Heck, every once in a while, The Kid even apologizes for the trauma that pod person rained down upon us.

So yeah, I think we crushed that parenting thing…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

The Couple Next Door

Crowley blogI started visiting because my Yugo-sized dog Crowley is obsessed with birds of every kind.

In a neighborhood that’s on our walking route, there are a few retention ponds.  Ducks and geese can usually be found in the largest one.  When we go for a walk, we take a short detour to look for the water fowl. winter pondWhen the winter came to an end, two couples; a pair of Canadian geese and some mallards decided to stay and set up housekeeping.

A female mallard lays eggs the same time she and the male molt which grounds them temporarily.  Then male stays close to protect the nest and care for the female.mallardsOnce the eggs hatch though, and the male regains the power of flight, he’s history.

Canadian geese are very different.  At approximately three years old, it’s time to start a family.  There are elaborate mating behaviors by the male, and the female chooses her spouse by how much she enjoys his dancing and how well she thinks he can protect her and her brood.goose coupleThen the geese mate for life.  The female makes a nest and lays four to nine eggs. She sits on the nest with the gander nearby.  They also molt now, and for the four weeks the eggs take to hatch, the female doesn’t get up, eat, or drink.

There’s deep affection within a goose family.  There is no sibling rivalry among the goslings and youngsters are very respectful to their parents.  Most of the children stay with their family until they choose a mate.  Geese are celibate until they pair bond.  Often unattached males will help care for the children of their siblings.goose familyCrowley and I visited the pond every day.  Soon five tiny ducklings and four little goslings made an appearance.  Like a scene out of Robert McClusky’s Make Way for Ducklings, tiny fuzzy birds walked in straight lines with parents both leading the way and bringing up the rear.

One night our walk was delayed until nightfall, so we didn’t visit our aquatic friends.night walkThe route we use takes us through a field, then out onto the sidewalk of a busy road about fifty yards from the pond.  As we came around, I noticed something in the street that looked like a tree stump.  As I was trying to convince myself it must have fallen off the back of a landscaper’s truck, we got closer.

That’s when I got a good look.

It wasn’t a stump, but a large goose that had been hit and killed by a car.  Even though there are many geese in the area, I got a really, really, bad feeling.morningThe next morning, I hurried to the pond.

Standing on the pond’s causeway, surrounded by her four children, Mrs. Goose searched the skies.  I stood there and cried as she called for her missing mate with a series of slow, plaintive honks.  But because she couldn’t leave her flightless babies, she’d never know what happened and where he was.  It was heartbreaking. mrs gooseMy best guess is the male made a test flight to try out his regrown feathers which weren’t quite ready, and he fell into the path of a car.  But he was a good mate and a good dad.

He’d be very proud of his family.  The goslings are big, healthy, and almost old enough to begin flying.  But there’s a gander-shaped hole in that little family.

goose 1

I took this photo yesterday of Mama Goose and her four almost grown children.  To the right, in the water is Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings.

And, there always will be.

So, to every kind of dad out there; to my dad, to The Kid’s dad Petey, and especially to the ones who want to be with their kids but can’t anymore: Happy Father’s Day.jfkThanks for your time.

I Resolve

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know:

If you don’t complete a New Year’s resolution before midnight on December 31st, it’s totally legal to roll it over to the next year.

Which is great for me because I’ve been working on burping the entire alphabet for about twelve years now.But I do have some fresh ones for 2019.

The majority of people do not get out of bed in the morning hoping to hurt and cause harm to their fellow humans.  Most actions, regardless of repercussion, make perfect sense to those committing them.  I need to always keep this in mind.  I will strive to be more understanding and forgiving.On the flip side, I need to consider the consequences of my actions.  Before I let rip with a one-liner which is hilarious in my head, I must put myself in the other’s shoes, and determine how that witticism would impact my feelings.

I will try to remember that an entire party-size bag of Utz dark russet chips is more than one serving.  A Cook-out milkshake isn’t the AMA’s recommend method for women to get their calcium.  And no matter how hard I wish, frosting is not a food group.I need to speak much less and listen more.  There is no telling what truths and wisdoms I never heard because what I wanted to say had to be said immediately.  How many people were there that needed me to just shut up and receive the trust of which they felt I was worthy?  How many moments of intimacy and human connection did I damage or destroy because I thought my words were more important than theirs?492I promise to regularly venture outside my comfort zone.  At least three times in the coming year I will read books from unfamiliar numbers of the Dewey decimal system.  I will sample more than ten new foods.  Listen to unfamiliar musical genres and watch movies that I would not normally see.  And, each month try an increasingly spicy dish.

Solange Knowles-The Queen of Fierce

I will do things that scare me.  Like wear mixed patterns or purple lipstick.  I’ll rock sequins or sparkle during the day (but not both at the same time, I’m not Liberace for heaven’s sake).  I’ll leave the house in heels with no back-up flats.  I’ll buy a bathing suit and wear it at the appropriate public venue.I will acknowledge that my judgement is not superior to the rest of the planet.  No more lessons, lectures, or pointing out the errors of the ways of my fellow man.  On a related note, I am also not the hall monitor of the world.  If it’s not hurting anyone, what other folks do is none of my business.  Although, I do reserve the right to point and laugh—discretely.

I’ll accept that I am not the world’s leading authority on anything or anyone except myself.  And I still get me wrong on a regular basis.

crowley snowface

My dog, the tank.

I will try to be a bit more careful when playing with Crowley, my 110-pound Akita puppy who’s built like a tank.  My goal is to eliminate all black eyes and busted lips, and vastly reduce my number of concussion protocols.And finally, be more grateful.  For everything.  For the good things in my life; but that’s easy.  I want to be grateful for the tough things in my life, because those are the things that temper the soul, make us stronger, and give us confidence once on the other side.

In that vein, Gentle Reader, I want to make sure that each and every one of you know how very, very much I deeply appreciate you, and your time.

Living Deliberately, In Small Doses

Some people love the summer.  They love the sun, and the heat, and the beach.  They adore the green, fertile earth, and the sounds of birds and crickets.  They look forward to the long days, baseball games, and cookouts.

I have a theory about those people.They’re Canadian, British, or live in northern New England.  If a North Carolina resident says this to you they’re either lying or transplants who’ve never had the peculiar joy of receiving twelve brand new mosquito bites walking to the mailbox.  Or paying $75 for a blow-out and have the humidity make your new coiffure transform into a cheap fright wig in the time it takes to walk from salon to car.All honest North Carolinians must admit that our summer is a hellish endurance contest. Research tells us that native Alaskans have 280 names for snow.  People living in the heart of Carolina have 187 names for sweat.  And, another 72 for chafing.

But, no matter how horrifyingly demoralizing our summer gets, we all know it will eventually end, and thus yearn, from the depth of our flushed, blistered, overheated, cranky souls, for fall to commence.I’m usually over our summer by about May 14th.  Then I exist in sweaty limbo until the weather breaks.

And, boy howdy, has it ever broken.  The heat and humidity are gone, replaced by crisp dry air that smells vaguely of woodsmoke and nutmeg.  The sky is art school-level cerulean blue, and the clouds are usually solitary, lacey, and white.  The leaves are in mid-change with enough green left to make the scarlet, tangerine, and goldenrod all the more spectacular by comparison.Almost every day I put on my wellies, and the dog and I disappear for hours into the woods.  We follow paths and make our own.  We climb, and jump, and splash through puddles, ditches, and creeks.  And occasionally, when the Akita known as Crowley is nose-deep in a hollow tree and still for a moment, I take a look around.

And in my head and heart is wonder and gratitude, in equal measure.It is the very definition of beautiful.  Even the lane cut and maintained by the natural gas folks looks like a Hollywood set for an autumnal movie.  The underbrush has died back, making the forest floor manicured and verdant.  Leaves with colors Titian had no name for dance and swirl in the breeze.  The air has a crystal quality that makes everything look glossy and photogenic. And this ostentatious, glorious Monet landscape is only one block from my house.  I wouldn’t trade it for ten pairs of Stuart Weitzman boots and all the Lindt milk chocolate truffles in Christendom (but it’s probably best that no one’s ever offered me that deal…).I treasure my solitary hours among the trees—all of it.  I can loudly, badly, sing along to Aretha Franklin with no one to critique, but seconds later stumble into giant, sticky spiderwebs or briar patches that leave me plucking thorns from bloodied flesh.

It’s just the price of admission to this other world; but so, so worth it.  So this week, Gentle Reader; I urge you to take it outside.  And you can do it gently.  Drink your morning coffee on the porch.  Sit outside with the kids while they do their homework.  Eat lunch al fresco (Outside, not naked, but hey, you do you.).

Because in February, when you pull on that third pair of socks ‘cause your toes are frozen fish sticks, you’ll remember these precious fall days.  And, whether you’ll feel pleasure or chagrin is up to you.Thanks for your time.

Dog Years

I’m a sucker for a puppy (and all dogs are puppies—always, no matter their age or size).

I’ve had dogs almost my whole life, and every dog has taught me something; even if the lesson was that I needed to be a better pet owner.

When I was in kindergarten, my parents bought me a beagle puppy.  Since my maiden name is Ross, we thought it smart and witty to name her “Betsy”.  I learned two things from the very short time I spent with Betsy.It’s not just a good idea, it’s vital to do some research on dogs in general, and specifically, the breed in which you’re interested.  My family had no idea that in addition to being more energetic than a bus full of sugared-up cheerleaders, they’re hounds, which means they’re loud.  Really loud.  Like, bloodhound loud.

The other thing I learned; it’s kinda important to know if someone in the family is allergic to pet dander.  I was, and it, along with chocolate, threw me into an asthma attack.  I outgrew it by the time I was about seven or eight.

Sorry, not this Snoopy.

After Betsy, we had Snoopy.

One day, Snoopy got out and a neighbor found him and delivered him to our front door.  I learned that there is no angry quite like the angry that a woman can feel when they’ve just had their hair done, and on one end of a leash with a very strong dog on the other end.  To this day I still don’t understand why she didn’t let go when our dog took off through a backyard with a bad septic tank.Honest, she showed up, dripping in malodorous “mud”, hair completely ruined, and thermonuclear danger in her eye.

“Here’s your dog.”

She never spoke another word to anyone in our family.

The lesson?  Sometimes it’s better to just let go of the leash.

In Puerto Rico, we got Fluffy.Fluffy was the one that taught me that a dog can be your very best friend, full of constant, unconditional love.  The two of us used to sit on the curb in front of our house and share Charm’s lollipops.  We’d take turns, lick for lick.

Hey, I didn’t say I was bright, I just said I loved my dog.

After Petey and I married, we were in a mall in Virginia, and in a pet store, saw a chow puppy that had grown so big, he couldn’t sit upright in the largest crate the store had.  There was no way we would be able to look each other in the eye if we left that poor guy in that situation.

That’s how we got Harry.

This isn’t Harry but looks like him.  I was never able to get a pic of our boy because he was afraid of cameras, and the clicking sound they made, and me with my face hidden by a camera…

We’re pretty sure Harry’s mother drank heavily when she was pregnant—Harry wasn’t quite right.  He hid under our bed for the first three days we had him, and continued to fear most of the world.  But he loved us, we loved him, and he had a good life.

Harry’s lesson was that love and patience can change lives and work wonders.


Our Riker.  A 200-pound heart in a dog suit.

Last January, we were heartbroken from the loss of our last baby, Riker.  It was then that I learned one of the most important lessons yet.

I learned that just like falling in love, somehow, the right dog comes along at the right time; when we met a goofy, adorable black akita puppy.  The night we brought him home, I carried the thirty-five pounder.  We named him Crowley, from a favorite book; Good Omens.

Last week our now ninety-five-pound baby turned one.  He fills our home with joy, and dog hair and drool.

But mostly joy.

Crowley before and after

Left is the day after we got Crowley, right is yesterday.  The thing he’s chewing in the new photo is the empty, decapitated head of the bunny in the old pic.  The blue woven rug is the exact same, and it’s the same size.

Thanks for your time.