Deconstructing the House

Photographer’s notes:

Please have the home prepared before the photographer arrives.
1. Turn on every conceivable light.
2. Open window coverings.
3. Remove pool hose, pool supplies and backyard toys.
4. Open patio umbrellas.
5. Remove BBQ cover.
6. Remove cars and trash cans from driveway.
7. Remove laundry, toys and cleaning supplies, brochure stands, etc.
8. Hide the dogs (and yucky evidence of dogs), if any.

My house is for sale and yesterday was the day for taking photographs.  I read the instructions carefully—I like to be prepared.  Numbers one through seven were easy, although removing two very conspicuous red cars, a Suburban and a Corvette, took a bit of doing.  And fortunately I have no brochure stands in my family room, or magazine stands in the bathroom (who has time?) But number eight—“Hide the dogs (and yucky evidence of dogs), if any”— say WHAT?  That was going to take some serious planning.  It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that not everyone loves large gray hairy dogs as much as I do.  It is interesting that horses add ambience because you can’t smell manure in the photographs, and even more interesting that there were no comments about hiding the yucky children.  The horses are pretty and the kids are grown and gone anyway.  But dogs, well, dogs are just yucky.

I tried my best.  I had the carpet, nearly new but already showing the telltale signs, cleaned professionally on Tuesday.  By 8:30 am, the dog beds were all dragged outside and piled on the patio outside the master bedroom, hidden from every conceivable camera angle.  The dog bowls were emptied and neatly stacked in the pantry.  The crates in the garage had new clean pads installed, and smoothed wrinkle free.  The grooming table was stashed behind the crates, out of sight.  The morning “deposits” were scooped and emptied into a heavy duty, heavily scented drawstring bag which was in turn, placed in the small shed where the garbage cans are duly hidden.  The footprints from the previous evening’s wandering through the freshly watered grass were wiped from the kitchen floor.  The three deerhounds themselves were fed early, and were napping in their kennel runs.  The only trace of dog impossible to erase was my vocal little rescued terrier/Chihuahua mix Yoda.  I resigned myself to the fact that the only way to keep HIM quiet was to carry him around with me.  Four hours and one aching left arm later, mission accomplished.  I sent the photos to my kids with the note: “Look ye upon these photographs and know ye, that ne’er before has this house looked so perfect, and ne’er again will it.”  I didn’t want them to miss that one brief moment where we could pretend that we had no muss, no fuss, no chaos, no life, and no love.

Last night I dragged the dog beds back in, and then for good measure–because one girl just finished her heat season, and as sisters often do, the other just started hers—I took throws accumulated from 20 per cent off discount coupons from Bed Bath and Beyond and completely covered the master bedroom floor in a patchwork of riotous color.  I refilled all the water bowls and made sure that the pillows on the couch were fluffed and arranged just the way Queen and Yoda like them.  I made sure that the house, so ordered and neat and perfect for the photographer, was once again, perfect for the dogs.  After all, they are the ones who live here now with me and my husband.  I took new photographs of life as it really is—messy, chaotic, sometimes downright dirty.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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!

Facebook Flicks

Fourteen years ago, writer/actor/director Christopher Guest made a little movie called “Best in Show”, supposedly a movie about dog shows, but more accurately a very funny movie about people who show dogs.  The film was eagerly anticipated in the dog show world, since many of us knew which dogs of each breed had been chosen to represent their kind at the penultimate show, a spoof of the upcoming Westminster Kennel Club extravaganza happening in New York City next week.  When the film premiered, murmurs of disappointment echoed through the hallowed halls of the AKC and crescendoed into harrumphs of “We’re not like THAT!”  Ever the klutzy owner-handler, I stood on the sidelines thinking, “Oh yes you ARE!”

Today, thanks to Facebook, I experienced a deja-vu of that moment when I watched my very own Facebook movie.  For the few holdouts reading this who eschew the “social media”, Facebook describes itself as “a social utility that connects people with friends and others who live, study and work around them.”  For many people, “around them” today literally means the whole world, and folks with interests in common, say, Scottish Deerhounds or thimble collecting, find themselves as fast Facebook friends with likeminded ladies and gents around the globe.  In honor of Facebook’s tenth anniversary, the shadow minions of Mark Zuckerberg decided to celebrate by making a movie of each of our very own lives.

The movies starting rolling in on my news feed late last night, and finally this morning, I could stand it no longer—I hit the little arrow indicating the start of my personal Facebook Odyssey.  Exactly one minute and two seconds later, I had to greet the contractor working on my house with tears streaming down my face.  My life was before me–so “poignant”, so “in the moment”, so “true.”  Or so my Facebook friends said.  It was only after the second or third viewing that I began to realize that my movie was all about three things, in descending order of frequency:  my dogs, my Dad, and my youngest son.  But especially about my dogs.  By the end of the day, I noticed more and more comments from my Deerhound friends that their own movies were dominated by their dogs.  “Where are all my people?” one friend asked.  “Maybe the little computer elves making the movies just happen to LOVE Scottish Deerhounds,” I joked.

At last viewing, I found myself asking the same question.  Where are all my people—my husband and my two older children?  Where are the horses?  Where are my colleagues?  Where is my belated and much missed cat Timmy Tom, and where the heck is my red Corvette?  It was then that I had my Best in Show moment.  If my Facebook flick says it’s all about the dogs and Dad, then maybe it is…perhaps just a little bit too much.   Maybe I need a psychiatrist.  But maybe, just maybe, I need to spend a little less time on Facebook and a little more time on what matters most—living life.  I’d best get on with it.

Empty Nest

My sister was here recently to help me out while my father was in the hospital.  She is much kinder and more patient than I am, so I was very grateful for her help. She is leaving to go home to New Jersey tomorrow.   Tonight before dinner we took the deerhounds for a walk.  In my better days, I could walk four at a time.  Last weekend, I tried three on three leashes and it did not work out too well.  They spotted a man they did not know walking up our street.  Perhaps they found him threatening.   With three hundred pounds of dog lunging and barking, it took all my strength to maintain control.  It turned out to be a very short walk.  Today, my little sister took Magic, who outweighs her by at least 20 pounds, while I took the two Q’s, Queen and Quicksilver.  We had a pleasant time.

As we ended our walk this evening by coming through the back gate, near the barn, Norman the Lipizzaner stuck his head out the stall door and nickered softly.  I said to my sister, “Let’s go visit the horses before we cook dinner.”  Into the barn we went, where the two old geldings called to us with some degree of impatience.  We loaded their mangers with Purina Equine Senior and horse treats and prepared to close up.  As we walked by the closed door of the tack room, I stopped.  I said to my sister, “Do you want to see the saddest thing?”  She looked at me, her eyes questioning, then said yes.

I pulled open the door to the tack room.  In that room there were five closed tack trunks, each stamped with the initials of a family member.  Saddles were cleaned and covered and neatly perched on their racks, ranging in size from a small child’s Western saddle with full Quarter Horse bars, to my husband’s beautiful dressage saddle.  Blankets were washed and wrapped in plastic.  Shipping wraps were bleached white and stacked in place.  Bridles were oiled and ready and bits were gleaming and polished.  But there was no one home—just old framed photographs on the walls.  I said to my sister, “Enjoy your children while you may.  This room is the ghost of childhood past.”

I hope that my children appreciate and look back with fond memories on the years when we would saddle up and ride out together.  It was a special time to me.  Lucky and Harmony and Veronica are gone now, but Dash and Norman and the memories remain.  To me, it was time and love and money well spent, and I hope that my kids, now grown, feel the same.