Monday, September 30, 2013

Product Reviews: A Sign that All is Well with the World

Back in July, I was contacted by our friends at to do a product review on my choice of a few different dog chews. With all that's gone on this summer, I just haven't been in a space where I could enumerate the virtues of and write a really good product review. 

Well thanks to the enduring power of the human spirit, support from friends, family, and blog readers, or maybe just a sense of duty to acknowledge those consumer products that have some real value in a world in which we are bombarded with exhortations to buy buy buy consume eat and buy some more almost constantly, it is time at last for a product review!

We chose the True Chews lils beef bully sticks. The dogs were immediately intrigued when they saw they had a new chewy treat to enjoy.

Of course, the best test of a really good chew is whether it has the power to make a dog feel better about frightening or unpleasant things like nail clippers or deshedding.  

Though clipping the nails is still not exactly a breeze with Fozzie, the prospect of a good chew definitely made a bit of clipping possible.

The dense, chewy sticks last a while even in a determined chewer's mouth, so they are great for providing sustained distraction and entertainment. 

Lamar was so happy working on his chew that he didn't even notice me going at his coat with the dreaded Furminator. 

I still had Lady at the time we received the chews; she just got a free chew since I didn't feel like making her work too hard. She, like the boys, was very contented going off into a corner to work on her tasty roll of beefy goodness. 

You can get your own True Chews lils beef bully sticks at the True Chews page.

My only quibble with the product is that the small bag of dog chews was shipped in a large box and surrounded by packing materials. An overall excellent chew, but why all the waste?

Thanks for the great chews!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Joy of Kayaking

There was so much that was wonderful about our week at the beach, but I think the most wonderful thing  might have been the kayaks. 

There was some kayaking just about every day, first with my sister, then with Florian, then, the morning of my birthday, with my sister, Florian, and our buddy Eric. 

My sister and I agreed that we were born to kayak. 

There is just nothing more relaxing than being out in the water and sun and breeze, feeling the gentle rhythm of the waves, and locomoting by means of a paddle or just drifting with the current. 

We were on the Chesapeake Bay, so there were nowhere near the waves you'd experience on the open ocean--though there were some gentle waves and over the course of each day, the wind and the waves picked up in the afternoon. 

Each day we got up early and went out to explore the weird sticks coming out of the water in the distance, which turned out to have fishing nets attached. How I would have loved to sabotage them and let the fishies and crabs go free! 

Or we went down the coast toward the southern tip of the Western shore of the Bay, 

past the incredible vacation homes and lots of seagulls and herons perched on the decaying piers. 

The weather was incredible pretty much the whole time we were there. A kayak trip was a perfect way to relax in the sun, get a bit of exercise, and see the sights for a few hours.

The only thing missing was a dog compact and well-behaved enough to go with us. 

I missed having shy little Pager to tuck into the kayak with me, but I knew Genghis and Lamar were just too big and unwieldy to make a kayak trip enjoyable or safe. So Lamar hung out on shore, and Genghis explored while they awaited our return. 

One afternoon, my sister and I set out to explore an inlet along the shore where the water ran swiftly inland toward a swampy, shallow marsh

We knew about the marsh because Genghis' favorite activity in the mornings was to immerse himself in it, and emerge covered in mud and smelling of sulfur.
We tried kayaking in to the inlet to explore, but turned back when we realized the current was going to be too strong to go against on the way out.

Then we realized the current went the other way in the morning, producing an area of turbulence right where the two fronts of water--the inlet water flowing out, and the waves coming in from the Bay--collide. I would love to stand there and watch just as the tide turns, and I tried to get our in-house astronomer, naturalist, and Renaissance man Uncle Johnny to explain to me just when that might happen. 

But like most of what Johnny says, the explanation went way over my head.

In any case, the important thing was that on our last morning there the water was flowing out, and I decided to finally explore that stream.

It took some work to go in against the current, but it was worth it. The sun lit up the senescing late summer vegetation, the inlet was protected from the wind coming off the Bay, the just-past-full moon hung in the sky, and birds perched in the limbs of a ghostly dead tree. I felt like I was on a safari in some exotic place. 

Then I turned my kayak around, and drifted back to the windy Bay, my wacky family, my velvety dog, and my ridiculous future spouse obsessively wading into the water up to his chest in search of large fish. 

I have to say, so far being 40 is not so bad.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Week on the Beach

As has been the tradition for the past several years, my sister gave the whole family the gift of a beach house for all of last week. This time, we went to Scotland, MD on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay instead of the Outer Banks of North Carolina as in 2010 and 2011.

Here, the beach was smaller but it was also much less populated. 

The house was right on the beach, so at any hour you could just go out there and sunbathe, 

relax and read, 

walk with the dogs, swim, do some birdwatching, or kayak. 

Between the houses were old deteriorated piers that the birds used for perching, watching out for their next meal, and nesting. 

The big nest just outside our house was an osprey nest, but the only critters I saw using it now were seagulls. 

It was so fun to kayak right up under it and see what it was made of--mostly branches, with a fish skeleton and some bits of rope and feathers thrown in. 

So resourceful!

The weather was incredible, so we spent lots of time outside. 

Genghis and Lamar were with us, and though Lamar is nervous around Genghis, I think he managed to enjoy at least some of his time on the beach.

Lamar, more than Fozzie or my old cattle dog girl Tashi, is a dog who likes his comforts and will generally take a nice soft bed and some pillows over any sort of outdoor relaxation situation. 

Nonetheless, he adjusted quite well to the outdoor relaxation opportunities on offer. The important thing to Lamar is to be near his tribe, wherever he is.

Lamar, I can relate to that.

There was something so wonderful about having the option to walk alone with Lamar on the beach, or space out with my brother and his girlfriend or my dad, or go kayaking with Florian or my sister, or discuss the tides and astronomy with Uncle Johnny. 

Of course we all missed my mom. Last time we were all on the beach together, I remember how much I loved watching the big spider and amazing sunsets on the porch with her, and having Science Hour with Mom and Johnny.

This was also my first birthday without Mom, my 40th no less. 

We carried on though. Though every last one of them is a certifiable wacko, my family members are all good people who love animals and nature and support each other. I loved falling asleep in a house where they were all just a few doors away.

I loved watching the stars with Johnny and learning a new constellation, Cygnus the Swan. Our necks got sore but we spent hours on the deck with the nice binoculars Johnny inspired me to buy, finding Cassiopeia and Cygnus and the Milky Way even though the moon was almost full, so the sky was too bright for maximum visibility.

What an ideal vacation, to be immersed with nature while surrounded by family. I am reminded again of how it was to be twentysomething, camping out alone with my sleeping pad on the side of a road running next to an oil field in West Texas, or camped in the sandy alcove up Left Hand Canyon of Mill Creek outside Moab, Utah, or falling asleep with my dreadlocked boyfriend on the top level of a Westphalia camper van in Vancouver after a day of busking, our bandmate and his teen girlfriend crashed out below.

Though I relished being that free spirit, and part of me still longs to roam from one beautiful place to the next, subsisting on almond butter and dried fruit and putting down roots that can be lifted in the time it takes to withdraw a tent stake from red Southern Utah sand, I know now what makes me even happier. 

Having attained the big 4-0, with a mortgage and  a couple of dogs and a pair of budgies and a steady job or two, along with a Swiss guy and the engagement ring he gave me for my birthday, I have to say that I know now what was missing even as I lay gazing up at the Milky Way with my 20/20 vision from a perfect slickrock camp site at the edge of the Grand Canyon twenty years ago. 

And I think Lamar knows too. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Patapsco River

Florian and I had another chance for an escape into the woods last weekend, and he wanted to go check out the Patapsco River and State Park.

He teases me when every hike we go on, I say This is the best one. But this one was definitely in the running.

It started out not so auspiciously, with a parking lot full of vehicles so I was sure we were going to be encountering other dogs and people and kids every step of the way. 

But I was wrong! A short, steep trail brought us down to the water, then another trail through the woods brought us to the railroad tracks where we could walk for a bit to get away from the heavily traversed areas. 

After a short while, we were among just one or two other hardy travelers and we went back down to the water. 

The river had opened out and was wide and clear. 

Perfect for wading and walking in the water, with the dogs happily doing their thing around us. 

There is nothing that makes me happier than a beautiful place out in nature where the dogs can run free.

Especially where there's water and the humans can join the dogs. 

Lamar loves to wade and cool off, but doesn't go in much for swimming anymore. I thought it would actually be helpful for his arthritis to be in the cool water, but he seems to prefer to lounge on the banks.

Fozzie, on the other hand, can't get enough of it. He kept jumping in, doing a lap, then going back in just for the joy of it. 

Must be that he's a lab-mastifff mix, don't you think?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back on the Trail

With the New York apartment cleared out, things are finally returning to some sort of normal and we've been able to get out and about to some of our favorite places. 

My dad is moving in to a retirement home near me and my sister, and we've had the chance to even get him out on the trail with us a couple of times. The first place we took him was Great Falls, which is stunning no matter how many times you've seen it. 

My dad has always loved impressive views, and Great Falls is certainly that. 

We took a pretty long walk and my dad did great, and loved it. 

Another time, we decided to take my dad to Sugarloaf Mountain which afforded stunning views 

as well as a cool big bird--is it a turkey vulture?

Weekends and evenings have mostly been spent with my sister and dad, but one day recently Florian and I made a point to get out with Fozzie and Lamar for one of our epic hikes.

We haven't been to Gunpowder Falls state park for a while, so we decided to go to a part of it we've never been to before.

A gorgeous trail shaded by a sun-dappled forest canopy, flanked by verdant ferns in the understory on either side.

The trail went steeply down the side of a canyon, then arrived at a wide stream and traveled along its bank. 

It was a hot and humid day, so what a relief to see the cool water and watch the dogs jump in. 

The water was crystal clear and deep in some places, with a magical mist rising up off it that suggested warm water or even a hot spring. 

Florian and I were ready to jump right on in and join those dogs, but as we waded in and our ankles turned to blocks of ice we quickly changed our minds.

How did it get so cold? It had been hot for a while, and it had been warm at night, and its not like the stream could have been glacier-fed. 

One of those mysteries! The dogs didn't seem to mind, and that's the important thing. 

Then we walked downstream a bit and across a cool bridge then found a historic mill, which was now a private residence.

I love those historic Maryland places, love the stone architecture that reminds me of something you'd see in Switzerland.

Adding to the feeling of mystery was another small creek, a tributary to the main one, that was much warmer. 

The dogs made no distinction between the cold water and warm, but seemed to love them both. 

That's the spirit guys! You go in so I don't have to. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

An Ode to Stuff

 Last I posted, I was on my way to New York to go through my parents' apartment with my Dad and help him move what he wanted, take what Florian and I and my sister wanted, and designate the rest for donation. 

So the past month has been devoted to going through old photos and knick knacks and art supplies, old curios and collectibles and kitchenware, albums and scrap books and thank you letters, notes, and postcards sent by friends and family since the 1950s. 

There's the furniture, some of which I kept. Like the old desk that my Mom loved, where she used to sit in the evenings paying bills and making her lists.

That desk was the setting for one of my all-time favorite Mom moments, when I was in the rocking chair next to her, at age 15 or so, and lamenting how difficult it was to write a thank-you note to my grandmother after Christmas. 

My Mom looked at me, her eyes went Heavenward, her shoulders slumped, and in that scathing, exasperated voice she reserved for her kids at their most moronic, she said "You IIIIIIIDIOT!," a statement I will never forget for how it captured my mom's unique brand of love.

I'm glad I have that desk. I am using it to organize my own thank you cards and stationary, and maybe someday I can get Florian to lovingly berate me into sending them. 

I also saved a really nice loveseat, that is less spacious for the dogs but more elegant. Fozzie finds it perfect for taking a bit of Me time, you know, those moments when a dog bed just won't do.

As I have written before, my mom was incredibly artistic and creative. So there are her ornaments and trees and angels that she made every Christmas, 

as well as the hollowed-out eggs she decorated in incredible detail for Easter. 

Of course I kept all of those. Maybe at some point I'll have a holiday benefit auction, so friends can go home with something beautiful and the proceeds will go to the shelter or some other worthy cause Mom supported. Mom would like that. 

There are the albums from my parents' wedding, scrapbooks from when me and my brothers and sister were kids, sepia-toned photos of relatives from both sides of the family. 

I am actually finding it enjoyable to go through it all, to sit at home with the dogs and when I get emotional about a picture of my mom in her wedding dress, know that Fozzie will be there in a flash, his velvety head under my armpit and his hot, foul-smelling breath  enveloping me in a comforting miasma. 

A couple of weeks ago I started dreaming of my mom. The first couple of dreams were of her absence, but though she was gone I was in the ocean or in the forest, surrounded by friends, playful animals, nature, people who reminded me of her. 

In the most recent one, she was walking out ahead of me, strong, almost skipping, happy to be alive. 

The message I think is that all the things I miss and love about my mom--the kinship with nature and animals and family, the joy in life and the feeling of utter acceptance--are still present in the world and accessible to me.