The Disconnect

On Tuesday I did what I said I would never do.  Three years ago, as I was buying an iPhone 5, the Verizon guy was intent on selling me a $70 case called “Lifeproof,” which was guaranteed to be exactly what it sounds like—you can drop it on concrete from five feet up, a horse can step on it, no harm done, and most importantly it is waterproof.  I looked at the salesman and said, “I’m not an idiot, I wouldn’t put the phone in water!”  He smiled knowingly and said, “Women drop their phones into the toilet ALL the time.  They wear tight jeans and put the phone in their back pocket and forget about it and when they stand up, it pops right into the toilet.”  I said, “I don’t wear tight jeans and I don’t take my phone to the bathroom, so THAT will never happen–but a horse stepping on the phone is a distinct possibility!”   Thirty minutes later I walked out with my new iPhone and a $70 case.

I was so very pleased with my Lifeproof case that last summer, when Verizon informed me that I was “due for an upgrade,” I hurried into the nearest Verizon store and got my new iPhone 6, a trimmer sexier model which required—you guessed it—a new $70 Lifeproof case.  As someone who now drives her fourth Chevy Suburban, product loyalty is a big thing with me.  If I like something, the only way to pry me away from it is to give me a new one, same model, perhaps with an upgrade or two.  The last Suburban is fifteen years old and going strong at 250,000 miles.  The upgraded new one cannot hold two 700 size dog crates the way the old one can, which in my opinion is a major design flaw.  This prompted a two hour phone call to a Chevy customer service rep in India, to no avail.  No such problems with the iPhone 6 or my new Lifeproof case.  They function perfectly—no glitches.

So on Tuesday I loaded up the Suburban and headed north to Pagosa Springs, CO, a beautiful town in the Rockies which boasts some of the best trail riding around.  I was going to meet some girlfriends for a 4 day ride.  When I got to my cabin, I put my cell phone in the back pocket of my jeans while I unloaded the car.  And promptly forgot about it.  So imagine my surprise, sometime later, when I noticed a strange blue light emanating from the—well, you guessed it—the toilet.  As I fished it out, the screen gave a last little flutter of activity and then, suddenly and irredeemably, went black.  Lifeproof, as it turns out, is only waterproof if one closes the charging port, which one did not.  Twenty four hours and one bag of white rice later, I ordered my new phone.

If I was going to be disconnected, I only wish there had been a little more excitement—my horse sailed over a rocky cliff, the phone went flying into the air, and landed in the West Fork River but we survived the tumble a la “The Man From Snowy River.”  Next time, that’ll be my story and I’ll be sticking to it!

The View From Here

For Mrs. Shirley Wiley

 

Last Saturday I suddenly found myself flat on my back on our gravel driveway.   The events leading up to this are all too familiar to my fellow deerhound owners—sometimes even walking with bent knees doesn’t work if you don’t see it coming—“it” in this instance being an 85 pound seven month old deerhound puppy who has absolutely no sense of personal space.  At least not MY personal space.  He came around the corner of the garage at a hard gallop, his six month old borzoi “brother” in hot pursuit.  And quite literally knocked me off my feet.  As I gazed up at the sky, I thought to myself, “What the HELL was I thinking?”  When I went to shower Saturday night, I caught a glimpse of a bruise the size of Texas on my derriere.

When good old Magic died a year ago in January, I was down to only three dogs.  Practically “dogless”—at least for me.  The girls, Queen and Quicksilver, were aging themselves and little Yoda has never really caused any trouble.  There was a time when my household contained (well, contained is hardly the right word, but you know what I mean) three kids, eight horses, five Scottish deerhounds, a toy dog, two cats and a couple of guinea pigs.  I drew the line at birds. They required far too much attention.   My friends say I thrive on chaos.  But that has been true only at home.  Work has always been a quiet haven, a place of order and even relaxation.  It’s all relative.

People have been wondering where I’ve been, and why I haven’t been writing.  The reason is two-fold and can be summed up by two names:  Pibb and Cole. Pibb is the six month old borzoi–his “fancy” show name is Russian and unpronounceable.  Cole is the seven month old Scottish deerhound, registered as Jaraluv Unforgettable.  They are very busy boys, and even under constant supervision the casualty count is rising—a favorite antique trunk…the inlaid veneered Italian cabinet, the coffee table books, the lawn, the television remote control, and various and sundry shredded dog beds.  And judging from past experience, they’ve only just begun.

When I was a senior in high school, I had an English teacher, Mrs. Wiley, who changed my life by teaching me how to paint a picture with words.  When I started this blog, I decided after much deliberation–because I love photographs and photography–that it would be words only and no pictures—that I would force myself to be descriptive enough so that my readers wouldn’t need the photographs to accompany the stories.  So picture this:  two nights ago I left the kitchen/family room area to go to the study to find a calculator so I could run some numbers. I was gone maybe 20 seconds when I heard a loud THUMP!  I ran back into the kitchen to discover the source of the noise—Pibb, standing on his hind legs, had shredded a 4 pound FROZEN and wrapped package of hamburger meat meant for a lasagna. Whole Foods free range grass fed expensive hamburger meat. The sound came when he inadvertently pushed the now gnawed and bloody meat into the sink from the countertop. The lasagna never happened.

Years of experience tell me that this too shall pass. I am working with an excellent trainer. Someday people will admire my elegant and well behaved hounds as we walk across the Plaza.  Children will stop to pet them and I daresay they will both have a few titles to add to their names.  In the meantime, I’m going back to work where it’s quiet and the patients are well behaved and none of them knock me down or steal my dinner.  You’ll be hearing from me more often now!

Make Yourself At Home

I try not to sweat the small stuff.  Really I do.  But when I leave home, and leave my menagerie in the care of a house sitter, I am nothing if not explicit.  The directions for the care and feeding of my four dogs and two horses (the cat got a reprieve from his Boston eviction until May 9th) come to a total of four printed pages, small font, single spaced with nice paragraph indentations and bold headers like EMERGENCY!!   A walk through prior to the departure date is mandatory, to demonstrate the intricacies of the garage door and the cable TV.  The house sitter is equipped for every possible natural disaster. The keys to the van, already loaded with dog crates, are left on the kitchen counter and the van itself has enough water, canned goods, leashes and dog food to last a good month. Thermal blankets are located behind the driver’s seat, just in case hell freezes over here in sunny Southern California.  Flashlights are industrial quality, and batteries are included.  You could say that I am a “Be Prepared” kind of person.

Last week the rare occasion occurred where my husband and I had different trips planned at the same time.  He was going to Japan on business, and I had plans to meet a friend in Albuquerque for a three day getaway.  I tried to round up the usual suspects for housesitting, but all were previously booked. So rather than cancel my trip, I took the plunge and hired someone new.  She came over a week before the trip, loved the animals, memorized their names quickly, and took notes on top of my printed instructions.  She said she would leave her own dogs at home with her daughter and that she had no prior commitments during the time that I was to be gone.  I left home with a sense of relief that finally, I had found the right person for the job, and my parting words were, “Use the latches on the doors leading to the living room and please do NOT let those dogs pee on my brand new living room carpet!”

As I pulled through the gate onto my own driveway on Saturday night, the first thing I noticed was the horse trailer sitting inside.  A horse trailer?  My horses haven’t traveled in years.  I briefly considered peeking inside the trailer, but I could see my own horses down at the barn, and decided to go inside.  My dogs were lying down, relaxed, fed and happy–no worse for the wear.  So far so good.  My house sitter was seated at the kitchen table.  She beamed at me and said, “I enjoyed staying at your house SO much!  It was like having a vacation.  I should be paying YOU to stay here!”  She then elaborated, “I hope you don’t mind that I brought my horse over.  He didn’t get along with the white one so much, but he was fine with the chestnut!”  Seeing my look of surprise, she said, “I only wanted to take a little ride up the street to see the neighborhood.  I hope that was okay.”  I nodded numbly, wondering how far behind my horses were on their vaccinations.  She then went on cheerfully, “The dogs all got along great—my Great Pyrenees managed to go swimming in the muddy stream, so my daughter and I had to hose him down with the garden hose but we got him clean, and washed all the towels.”  I resisted the urge to run look at the certain hairballs in the washer and dryer.  She stood up and said, “I’ll come back ANYTIME!”  As she walked out she grabbed a large blue accordion that I had somehow missed on the way in.  She smiled and declared, “The dogs loved my music!”

As the horse trailer crunched out the driveway, I decided to have a look in the living room.  The stampede of pawprints were unmistakable, as were the large yellow spots on the white carpet that kept me occupied until around nine pm, when the sound of geysers through my open kitchen window led me outside. A trail of broken sprinkler heads crushed by the wheels of the swaying horse trailer created a fountain effect not entirely dissimilar to the fountains at Bellagio.  Unfortunately the water was not falling on the grass.

Multiple applications of pet odor and stain remover plus one brand new Bissell vacuum later, along with a hefty repair bill for the sprinkler system, parts and labor, all is well with the world.  My traveling companion said, “Did you call her?  Did you yell at her? What did you say??”  I shook my head.  As I said, I try not to sweat the small stuff.  After all, the “kids” are all right.  Anybody know a good house sitter?

My First Day Off

I’ve rarely been a real risk taker when it comes to physical activity.   I’ve never jumped out of an airplane, rappelled down a mountainside, or skied in fresh powder after being dropped from a helicopter.  When I swim, I like my pool water warm, and when I ride, I like my horses elderly and as they say, “bombproof.”  I like my skin and bones, well-padded as they are, intact.   Do I dare to eat a peach?  Yes, but you won’t find me scuttling across the “the floor of silent seas.”  I keep to the surface.  And the older I get, the more my apprehensions and hesitations apply to those around me as well, including but not limited to my dogs.

Today was my first day of retirement, and incidentally, the first day in four that it hasn’t rained here in Southern California.  Ellen DeGeneres joked at the Oscars last night that we’ve had a tough few days–“it’s been raining, but we’re okay.” Although the Scottish deerhound’s ancestral home is in the highlands where it never stops raining, or snowing, the SoCal brand of deerhound does not like to get its feet wet, and so the dogs have had very little exercise these last few days.  Today the sun broke through and all hell broke loose.  In my younger days, when my deerhounds would run full tilt and chase each other through the tall grasses of Sherborn Massachusetts, the ground would rattle and I would experience a thrill quite unlike any other—the thrill of the chase, the hunt.  I could almost see that red stag bounding up a hill, ever elusive, the dogs nipping at his heels.  Now, I see dollar signs.  Anterior cruciate tear?  Five thousand dollars.  Fractured radius?  Five thousand dollars.  Collision with a tree?  We won’t go there.

I had been outside with them for maybe ten minutes when the wild rumpus began.  Queen, the smallest of the three, and the fastest, is always the instigator.  She took off through hedges and around corners with her sister, Quicksilver in hot pursuit.  Magic, the old man at 9 and a half, has slowed down quite a bit.  He was never the brightest, yet over the years he has learned to use his bulk to “head them off at the pass.”  As I was hauling slightly mildewed dog beds out onto the patio, he intercepted one of Queen’s speedy zoom arounds and the next thing I knew, she was yelping in pain.  Rushing to her side, I saw the damage, a four inch tear in her skin, just at the groin fold.  Suddenly, my “to do” list for the day was narrowed to only one task.  I took her to the vet.

As always, I should have known better than to let close to three hundred pounds of aggregate dog loose simultaneously after being in the house for three consecutive days.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that the accident wouldn’t have happened if I’d been, say, at work, the way I normally am on Monday mornings, with Queen and Quicksilver ensconced in their separate yard, and Magic and the little dog Yoda in the house.  After a brief anesthetic and fifteen or sixteen sutures, Queen is home and will be fine.  My “to do” list will wait until tomorrow to be done—I guess that’s the nice thing about being retired.  No bones were shattered, no ligaments torn– we’re all still standing.  And my veterinarian’s children will be able to attend college.

As I’ve said before, when you run with the big dogs, it’s always something!

A Month Late and Several Dollars Short

San Diego is a desert and the last few years have been completely rainless from April to November with a few light sprinkles in the winter months.  So I didn’t think too much of it when some of the lesser landscaping started to die off—an azalea here, a rhododendron there, a wilted geranium.  And the grass, well, you can tell I’m a bit of a fanatic when it comes to my dogs, and the worst case of bladder cancer I ever saw was in a young woman who worked for ChemLawn, so when the grass started to die I was philosophical:  maybe it will come back when it rains.  But “Sugar Magnolia” was always one of my favorite songs and when the beautiful thirty foot magnolia tree failed to sprout new leaves this past spring, I began to realize that the problem needed investigating.  The withered palm trees and the parched horse pastures were the proverbial last straw, but my water bills still came with a warning: “We are in a state of drought: PLEASE CURB YOUR USE OF WATER!”

Just before I left for Jamaica in October, the Santa Ana winds came from the east, and parched branches began to snap and fall heavily across the driveways and corrals.  As I walked out to check on the horses, a huge limb from a water starved eucalyptus was jettisoned towards my head.  I put my arm up to ward off the blow, and was rewarded with cuts and bruises worthy of a prizefighter.  That’s when I called Dave, my friendly arborist and landscaper. As we walked the property, he said, “What has happened here?  It used to be so beautiful.”  I looked at my old check registers and realized it had been six years since he had last done any work on the old homestead.  I was living on three acres of dirt.

Initially the plan had been to trim the trees for safety’s sake.  Just the trees.  The eucalyptus grow like weeds here, and mine were over 100 feet tall.  There are at least forty of them. The estimate was ten days at $1500 a day.  You have to pay people a lot of money to climb trees that high.  A month later, the wood chipper was a permanent fixture in my driveway, the horses no longer spooked at the noise, and I could heat my home for the next ten years with the wood piles, if such a thing were necessary in San Diego.  While the men who looked like Cirque du Soleil performers were lowering huge branches with ropes from treetops, Dave was investigating the sprinklers.  As he suspected, broken pipes underground were pouring water into the creek at the bottom of the property.  Over and out.  There was no water where water was sorely needed, yet I was using more than my share.

Ten weeks after the work started, today the men finished up.  I’ve gotten to know them, their children, and their preferences for fast food.  Matt took it upon himself to get my fountain going for free, with a pump that was being wasted in his garage.  That fountain which had not worked since we moved in sixteen years ago is now bubbling pleasantly, masking the noise from the street.   The dead juniper bushes lining the driveway have been replaced, and there are new pink and purple geraniums blooming amongst the azaleas and ice plant.  Norman and Dash have grass again in their pastures and the dogs will no longer make mud pies when they venture out at night by the fence line which was inexplicably always wet and dark.  A state of the art weather station will now dictate how often and how much the sprinklers sprinkle.  All is right with the landscaping.

I had hoped to go back to Africa for my sixtieth birthday, but that isn’t happening. I have a week off after Christmas and I will be taking a lovely “staycation” here in the paradise that is my backyard.  Today I signed over my end of the year bonus check to Dave, who complained, “We went so long over time and budget on this project, I could barely pay my men.  My children won’t be having Christmas this year. My wife is going to divorce me.”  I am very gullible and I have a soft heart.  I threw in an extra $200 and said, “Dave, please use this to buy presents for your wife and kids. “  I figure I’ve got about a week before the deerhounds start their landscraping.

It’s Always Something

When you are owned by a Scottish deerhound, or two or three, you get the pleasure of their company on your couch, the soulful gaze of their soft brown eyes as they gently interfere with your reading and typing, and occasionally the crunching sound of the prime rib that was marinating on the countertop before your dinner guests were to arrive.  Sometimes you also get hurt.  These dogs may lounge around your home looking like gray shaggy throw rugs, but trust me, they do move, rapidly and with great force.  Children in a deerhound home learn to walk with their knees bent, because a speeding hound colliding with a locked knee pays college tuition for many an orthopedic surgeon’s kid.  The Deerhound discussion list abounds with hilarious takes on how many ways an unsuspecting owner can suddenly find herself in harm’s way—sprained wrists from leashes getting tangled, broken noses from an exuberant hound kiss, road rash from that time your canines spotted a feral cat at a truck stop on the way to the National Specialty and the occasional broken ankle because your dog decided spontaneously to cross in front of you to exit the show ring.  We tell each other stories and have a little laugh—most of the time.

 

On Monday night after a grueling day traveling home from Colorado, I pulled into the driveway at 10 pm.  Immediately the dogs were out of the house and all over me, and as I picked up my purse from the driveway where it had fallen, I managed to look up just in time to see a giant paw on a collision course with my right eye.  A searing pain and blurred vision followed, and in a moment of hysteria to rival Gene Wilder’s in “The Producers” I screamed at my husband, “I am BLINDED and it’s YOUR FAULT! I have to go to WORK in the morning, and I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS!!”  I cupped my hand over my right eye for dramatic effect, moaning softly. Eventually, I calmed down and went inside to inspect the damage, which consisted of a scratch across my lower eyelid.  The blurred vision was due to the fact that a large deerhound toenail had dislodged my contact lens, and the searing pain was the result of said contact being firmly lodged in the inner corner of my eye.  I was quite relieved that I could still see out of the eye as well as I ever could, which isn’t saying much.

 

Last night I had to attend a faculty dinner meeting.  Midway through the meal, I spotted what appeared to be a gnat or a small fly whizzing around my food.  I batted at it, and then remarked to the physicist sitting beside me that there was a bug bothering me and my dinner.  He looked at me quizzically.  He didn’t see any bugs.  I continued to smack away at thin air until I came to the embarrassed realization that what I was seeing, was in my EYE, not on my plate.  My right eye, which had been home to a dirty deerhound claw two nights prior.  When the bug was still there this morning, I made an appointment with the eye doctor who was kind enough to see me during his lunch hour.  Thirty minutes later, I emerged with a right pupil the size of a stealth flying saucer and a diagnosis of a vitreous “floater”, dislodged by trauma, annoying but not anywhere near annoying as a retinal detachment would have been.  My afternoon patients were kind enough not to notice that their doctor appeared to be hallucinating bugs.

 

When you run with the big dogs, trust me, it’s always something!