Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Today, September 19th, is Cleo's first birthday!

Cleo's Grandma Jan wrote her a birthday card:
"In the wee hours one year ago, I was blessed with your birth along with your 6 siblings. I knew you were special when you snuggled up to your mom with a big yawn and smile.  What a wonderful and fulfilling time it was for us. I got to love you for 9 weeks and then off you flew to your forever home.  How lucky you were to be the chosen one to make children and young adults smile, to be loved daily by your doting new mom and dad."  

Yesterday, my husband turned to me and said, "She really is our little girl."  We have loved every moment with her.  We feel so fortunate to share our lives with Cleo.

The school has resounded with "Happy Birthday, Cleo" all day.  One of the girls offered to lend her a birthday princess hat, but I thought that might be going a bit too far.  Teachers have stopped by to give their good wishes and tell her how special she is.  She soaks it all up with good grace, just smiling up into their faces.  

We have just come in from our pre-lunchtime romp on the field.  It is Indian Summer here in Monterey, the most beautiful time of year--sunny and eighty degrees.  From our hilltop we can see all the way down to the Bay.  Cleo investigated new gopher holes, regarded a ground squirrel with interest and chased her favorite ball, running back with it to snuggle in my lap on every return.  It's been a great day so far.

For me, It has been another happy day in a string of happy days since Cleo and I met at the Phoenix airport.

Happy birthday and many happy returns of the day, big one-year-old!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


This past Thursday and Friday, I went on retreat with the eighth grade, their class dean, one of their teachers, and the head of school.  Our school is unique in California and very rare in the whole country in that we begin with the eighth grade, essentially allowing a small group of students to start the high school experience a year early.  It’s a wonderful experience, allowing a few highly motivated, very bright teenagers to acclimate to the demands of high school before their grades will be reported on their transcripts.  The eighth grade take almost all of their classes together and become very close over the year. 

So eighteen teenagers (and nearly teenagers) plus four adults loaded into three vans and headed out for an overnight at a youth hostel that is attached to a beautiful lighthouse about an hour north of Monterey.  It is amazing what one learns on a car trip.  My lexicon of teenage slang has been completely replenished, for instance.  It seems that this year, slang has undergone a more profound shift than in previous years.  I remember when “sick” gradually replaced “phat,” but the latter hung on for a year or two.  “Awesome” was the descriptor of choice for an unusually extended period.  This year, I heard not a single hold-over from the slang of last year.  Should you want to talk to thirteen-year-olds, the two words you might want to keep in mind are “troll” and “hack.”

Hack (verb): to cheat; to bend or break rules.  Noun form, hacker.  Sample sentence: “Bro, you totally hacked that.  There is no way you can win that game in five moves.”  Also, “You hacker!  Go to the back of the line, bra.” 

Side note: It seems that “bro” and “bra” have virtually replaced “dude.”  I’m not sure whether to be happy about this or not.  I do know that it is a symptom of lameness to call someone “Dude.”  Actual overheard conversation:

Girl: Dude, let’s go down to the beach and throw the Frisbee.
Boy: You did not just say “Dude”!  Tell me you didn’t say that, bro!
Girl: Whatever!  C’mon, bro.

Troll (verb): to purposely insult someone in order to make the victim angry.  Noun form: troll.  Sample sentence: “I didn’t mean it.  I was just trollin’ ya.  That shirt looks good on you.”  It is an odd form of entertainment, I grant you, but it appears to be very popular.  A frequent topic of conversation was online game forums on which participants trolled other participants, making fun of comments they had posted or questions they’d asked.  This gives rise to the phrase, “Get off the forum, newb.”

Newb (noun): newbie; newcomer.

Another useful word to know is “seriously.”  This word has become more interjection than adverb and can be used singly (“Bro, seriously?  I can’t believe you dealt me this hand”) or in strings with varied inflections which subtly alter meaning (“Did you just troll me?  Seriously? Seriously.  Seriously!  That is not cool.”)

The group was endlessly entertaining, most often hanging out all together, sometimes breaking into two smaller groups or ever-shifting duos and triads.  When they did try to troll each other, the end result was always raucous laughter, led by the “victim.”  The truth is, they are a caring, sensitive group, more inclined to defend and protect each other than to harass and insult.

In their defense,
it was a sunny day...

On Thursday evening, we gathered together in the living room of one of the cabins to talk about what students were enjoying about their new school or what they would like to see changed, and what their goals were for the year. 

“I like that, here, my friends congratulate me for getting a good grade.  At my old school, people made fun of you or called you bad names if you did well academically.”

“I like it that everybody here is friendly.  Nobody is mean to anybody else.  I can be myself.”

“I like it that, even though I’m in eighth grade, I can talk to a senior.”

“Yeah, that’s my goal—I want to talk to one particular senior!”

“Ooooo!  We know which one!”

            (Much laughter)

“My goal is to learn a lot of math.  I mean, a lot!  I’m not so good at math and I want to be.”

“My goal is to survive science fair.”

“You will!  I’ll help you.  My goal is to do well in Chinese and you can tutor me.”

Each student had had a chance to speak about what he or she enjoyed and a goal for the coming year.  The class dean was bringing the conversation to a close.  Suddenly, a hand shot up from the corner of the couch.  “Wait!  Can I say one more thing?”


“It’s something I like, but it’s something I’m really thankful for, too.  Is that okay?”

“Of course!”

“I’m really thankful that we get to have Cleo at our school.”  Many murmurs of assent.  “I love that whenever I’m stressed, I can just go and hug Cleo and I feel better.”  Many nods and “Me, toos.”  There was a little silence as the students considered this.  Then one said, “Too bad she’s so funny looking.”

Consternation all around!

He laughed and added, “Nah, I’m just trollin’ ya!”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

“Those curious locks, so aptly twin’d…”

When you are the parent of a Bedlington Terrier, you become somewhat dependent on your groomer. 

Cleo has astonishingly soft, fine hair.  People who pat her always exclaim about how soft she is. 

“I wish my dog were this soft.”

“Oooo, she’s so soft.”

“She feels like one of those plush stuffed animals.”

“The softest dog I’ve ever touched.”

It’s one of the qualities that help to make her such a great therapy dog.  You can’t help but be comforted just stroking her side. 

When I was five, I had surgery on one of my eyes and had to be in the hospital for a week.  During that time, I spent several days blindfolded.  My parents gave me a small stuffed dog with satin lining on its floppy ears.  The dog tucked perfectly under one arm, its nose at my shoulder, its hind end at my waist.  Throughout the scary, dark days and nights, I held that dog against me and rubbed his ears for comfort.  Even out of the hospital, I rubbed the ears as I fell asleep at night until I eroded them into tattered, grubby, unidentifiable shreds of fabric.  My mom performed multiple emergency surgeries to save that stuffed dog, stitching on a procession of satin, flannel, felt and cotton ear insides over the years.  The softness of Cleo’s hair reminds me of that dog.  Among her advantages, of course, are that she doesn’t wear out and her hair replenishes itself.

When it’s on the longer side, it curls, giving her even more of the lamb-on-a-leash look.  It’s an adorable, scruffy-chic look.  It is also the reason we call her the Velcro dog. 

Yesterday, John took Cleo on a brand new adventure.  They explored a lovely walking path in Pacific Grove that runs along the old bed of a small-scale railway that a century ago shuttled people between Pacific Grove and Monterey.  Though they were electrified in 1904, the cars were originally pulled by horses.  The only reminder that there was once something here is a wide, flat path that separates the expansive backyards of the houses on either side.  One can walk for miles in peace and quiet and, in fact, the area is permanently posted due to occasional mountain lion sightings.  John and Cleo turned around yesterday when they encountered a doe and her very young fawn.  (Refer to an earlier post for my cautions about deer…)

By the time they got home, Cleo was bristling with burrs, foxtails, grasses of multiple varieties, bark, leaves, seeds, a large pine cone, and the medium-sized branch of an oak tree.   You can watch it happen: She walks past a pine needle, it snaps onto her leg, and before you can reach down to pull it off, the hair has wrapped itself around the pine needle like octopus tentacles and is drawing it inexorably into its embrace.  Even with brushing and combing, there are mats on her mats.  Her leg hair is crossing over into quilt batting.

And so we are eagerly awaiting Tuesday morning when she goes to the groomer to be brushed, bathed, clipped and scissored.  But the real reason you become dependent on the groomer is that the really good ones, the ones who know what they are doing with Bedlington Terriers, are few and far between.  Bedlingtons have an extra ear flap and horror stories abound of inexperienced groomers who have sheared (literally) the extra flap right off, never knowing it was there.  Simply knowing how to get the distinctive Bedlington profile requires more expertise than your average groomer is likely to possess. 

Bedlington Terrier Club of America's
guide to grooming Bedlingtons
We have dozens of groomers in our area, but only two who have any experience with Bedlington Terriers.  One, the patient and masterful Todd, actually used to show them.  I can’t say that Cleo loves going to spend the day with him.  Once she figures out where we’re headed, she usually tries to make it impossible to get there, hanging onto the door jamb with eight claws (all of which need dremeling) while I work to pull her loose.  Once, I arrived to pick Cleo up while she was still on the trimming table.  Todd was fussing over individual hairs, trying to assure perfection.  Cleo’s look of long-suffering boredom turned, the moment she saw me, into the expression that crossed Judy Garland’s face when she saw the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion.  She knew I’d come to spring her.  As Cleo did her best to haul me bodily out of the shop, Todd bent to give her a last fluff, a final pat and to tell her what a sweetheart she is.

So we the humans happily embrace our dependence on our groomer.  Cleo, on the other hand, has never uttered a word of complaint about her matted hair.  She likes quilt batting.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Zen and the Art of Puppy Maintenance

There are times in the summer when we can go for days in our part of the world without seeing sunshine.  The marine layer rolls in and just stays put.  This summer, the fog has been particularly thick, lying along the freeway in pea soup pockets and clustering in the trees to condense and drip down onto the earth in plate-sized splotches.  There is a house along our morning walking route with a giant spreading scrub oak in its front yard.  This tree is such an effective fog-catcher that it has created its own little microclimate.  Fog condenses in its leaves and along its branches, the droplets become heavy and patter down onto the ground around the tree’s base.  It sounds as though there is a sprinkler running in the yard twenty-four-seven.

Tourists coming from the hotter parts of the country or the world rave about our natural air-conditioning.  During the worst part of the heat waves this summer, my sisters came west for a sisterly retreat.  As they talked with their families back home, I’d hear them say, “Ninety-five by 9 AM?  It’s fifty-five degrees here!  I’m wearing a sweater and a jacket!”  The envy on the other end virtually flowed from their cell phones.  I’ll admit, it’s taken me all twenty-six years that I’ve lived here to develop an appreciation for our fog-bound summers.

Still, sometimes a body just needs some sunshine.  So this morning, I promised Cleo that she and I would go in search of the sun.  John had a gig ninety minutes’ drive away, so after he left, the puppy and I popped into the car and headed out toward Carmel Valley.  Often, the fog breaks just at the mouth of the Valley, but today we were nearly to our destination, Garland Ranch, a regional wilderness area, before the day brightened.  But then, it opened up into the quintessential summer day, blue skies, cool breeze, scraps of high clouds.  In a word, glorious.

The truth is that I nearly reneged on my promise to Cleo.  This is a long weekend off from school and I have a million projects on my To Do list.  I have an article to write, annual school-oriented training to complete, student reports to submit, a presentation to the trustees to polish, and all of my usual weekend chores to check off.  In short, my list for the “holiday” weekend consists of a week’s worth of projects, and though I had started on several of them, not one was completed and crossed off the list.  My anxiety was mounting, the world was too much with me and the thought of taking an hour and a half out of my day to walk the dog was sending my usual stress level into the vicinity of the space station.  I almost fell back on our default neighborhood walk just to get the exercise over with so I could chain myself back to the desk.  But I had told John we were going to the sun, and I could all but hear the concern in his voice if he learned on his return that I’d spent virtually the whole day sedentary and working.

So off to Garland we went.  The trip out seemed interminable.  Heavy traffic; every light red; Good God, has it always been this far away or did I somehow manage to pass it?  At last: arrive, park, turn off the car, leash the puppy, lock the car, hustle, hustle, let’s move.  Quick swing by the river, hurry-up-and-sniff, time to march.  Aren’t we having fun soaking up the sun?

We passed a family: mother, father, tot and toddler (clad in a t-shirt and fetching pair of diapers).  “Next time we’re here,” the dad said to the tot, “we’ll bring your bike!”  They strolled along.  I marched by with a purpose.  Cleo trotted around them, fascinated by the children, casting her nose in the direction of the diaper, then hurried to catch up.  I wanted to put some distance between us and the family so they wouldn’t be a lure for her.  I began to run.  She loped exactly beside me, keeping perfect pace, glancing up at my face from time to time.  Enough distance covered, I started walking again.  Cleo led the way, a jaunty angle to her tail, turning back to check on me every few seconds.  We took a spur off the trail into a clearing with several old barns.  I stopped, Cleo kept going.  “Here we go!” I called, and she spun in mid stride and came back to my side.

Go ahead, call me slow on the uptake.  It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how perfectly she was behaving.  I was so obsessed with getting the walk completed that I was failing to recognize that my little girl, the puppy I had once despaired of ever teaching to heel, was joyfully walking the trail with me, behaving respectfully with toddlers, and all around proving a source of pride and pleasure.  I’d almost missed the moment.

Garland Ranch in spring.
Photo courtesy of the Ranch.
Woody Allen said that ninety percent of life is just showing up.  It seems to me that sometimes we can be so caught up in getting things done that we forget to show up while we’re doing them.  The air as Cleo and I walked was rich with the scent of sage, eucalyptus and dry grass.  Underlying everything was the loamy smell of the Valley’s topsoil.  This, I thought, is exactly what this area smelled like a hundred years ago.  More.  The river flows, warm and lazy, nourishing a riparian thread that runs through the valley.  Scrub oaks, Manzanita, mugwort, purple thistles and Sticky Monkey flowers climb the hills and ring open meadows full, at this time of year, of multiple varieties of dried grasses, but which, in the spring, are bursting with blue and white lupines and dazzling splashes of California poppies.

Time slowed as Cleo and I moved on.  We greeted fellow hikers, canine and human, stopped to admire the vulture gliding on a column of warm air just over our heads (though we made it clear to him that we were feeling healthy and very much alive), breathed in the fragrant air, and, yes, replenished our vitamin D and generally celebrated the sun’s rays.

True to form, by the time we got back to the car, the Velcro-dog bristled with burrs, sticks and foxtails.  We sat in the back seat, the breeze blowing across us and the whoosh of cars as our soundtrack, carefully separating fine, soft hair from plant matter.  Cleo flopped on her side, panting, gazing up at me and presenting one leg after the other for inspection and cleaning.  As I passed my hands over her, feeling for any remaining foreign objects, I realized that for the last several minutes, I had been solely focused on my task and the little body before me.  All other thoughts had simply stilled, quieted.  There was nothing but this one moment and the peace that accompanied it.  Taken down to a single point, my mind, and the world with it, opened up.  Puppy Zen.

Post hike torpor.