Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Back To School

Twenty-five years ago Lucy started as a kindergartner at Park School. Her sisters followed and I was a parent there for fourteen years in a row. When Allie graduated from fifth grade I cried because I was so sad to leave Park.  Now I'm back.

For the first time in my life I'm not a student or a parent. I'm a teacher. Well, an assistant teacher. I am  "Miss Wendy".  Selling candles is all well and good and I still do that three afternoons a week, but selling candles doesn't mean anything. It isn't twice as good to sell two candles.

A few months ago I had an ugly realization. Because I have my health benefits through marriage and my husband is seven years older, there will soon be an insurance problem. You’ve heard of Medi-Gap? I will have my own, personal Medi-Gap. Eric will have Medicare coverage in four years. I won't be eligible for eleven. How will I be insured in the interim? This concept really depressed me.

Somehow I thought that after a lifetime of caring for others, I would be cared for too. Not so. Working part time with no benefits is awesome, if you already have benefits and don't need them. It was a purely practical decision to look for work in academia. I was open to working just about any job in any local school district that would ultimately lead to a position with benefits and maybe a small pension. I didn't know I was going back home.

The fact that I am in kindergarten in my neighborhood school where my daughters had so many happy years is sweet. It’s eerie how much I feel the ghosts of their younger selves when I’m on the playground or walking through the halls. The children are SO adorable. They are engaged and imaginative and funny as hell. One of the five year olds announced that because she is Jewish she will be out for all the holidays. Then she paused and said, "Except Valentine's Day!"

So much has changed in a generation, yet much is the same. The families are larger. Gone are the days of zero population growth. Big families are now a status symbol. Three and four children are common. Parental units range from overly protective to seemingly indifferent. That has not changed. The Dads are young and cute. Some of the mothers are so skinny you just want to force a cupcake on them.

Kindergartners are still really short. Sometimes they miss their mommies and cry over the strangest things. They have trouble keeping their shoes tied. That anyone would still wear shoes with laces amazes me. That's what Velcro is for, people. When Lucy was in third grade she had a wonderful Japanese teacher who made them take their shoes off in the classroom. A couple days of that and Lucy demanded I buy her shoes with Velcro. She was not about to waste precious minutes of recess tying her shoelaces.

I am lucky to be working with a wonderful teacher. Someone described her as being like Snow White with birds fluttering around her head. It's an apt image. The program is very academic and structured. There are high expectations for behavior, which dovetail with my own philosophy. School at this level a wonderful break from technology, not just for me, but for the students as well. It's gratifying that I have yet to see a single kindergartner whip out a cell phone. They are learning to read and write the old fashioned way, through repetition and experience.

The principal is named Andy and so is the guinea pig. My first cold has come and gone. I got a flu shot. I pedal home for lunch and take a short nap before going to work at the shop. My afternoons are so peaceful compared to the frenetic mornings.

This job with the school doesn't have enough hours to qualify for benefits, so that problem is as yet unsolved. Maybe something else will come up in the district in the future. For now I get to be part of magic being created in the classroom. I am the magician's assistant.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cupcakes and Carmageddon

In NY LA SF, the most popular post on Pearls and Lemons, ( ), I wrote about how much I love to hate Los Angeles. Now I’m confused because I had such a wonderful time visiting Allie in Santa Monica. Travelling was peachy except for when I got detained by security for holding. Holding Greek yogurt. Isn't that ethnic profiling? It seems yogurt is a gel and gels are bad. I also thought it was amusing that American Airlines couldn't decide what to call us. In short order we were referred to  as “customers, passengers and guests". Call me passenger, please.

Flying is always so stressful, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to ask for a cocktail on the way down. The guy behind me was VERY disappointed that American didn't serve alcohol - just tea and coffee. After all, it was ten am. As much as I joked about the jet lag, a one-hour flight is pretty painless.

The LA car culture has not abated. Allie told me a funny story about a recent "Carmageddon". The 405 had to be completely closed one day for construction. Residents bought groceries the day before and then the city stopped. Nobody left home. They couldn't. It wasn't possible to drive anywhere.

Allie had all the parking garages scoped out and knew which ones validated and or had free parking. Some of the garages now have lights along the middle of the aisles. There is a red light in front of every parking spot that is taken and green lights where spaces are empty. All the thinking is done for you. They still have the medieval contraptions to prevent one from backing up or risk severe tire damage.

We needed to do some birthday shopping for Lana so we went to the trendy, open-air shopping center called "The Grove".  As soon as we got there we were almost bowled over by paparazzi chasing after Mario Lopez. He was pushing his baby in a stroller and ducked into an elevator. As soon as the door closed they all spun around and went the other direction. Dylan's Candy Bar was doing a special event with Janet Jackson and other celebrities. The place was surrounded by security but you could see in the windows. On the way out we saw Apolo Ohno. Just another celebrity. Yawn.

I showed Allie where I used to live in Hollywood, back in the late seventies, and the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, which is now featuring, you guessed it – a Starbucks. All the hordes following us trying to take photos got to be a bit much so we ducked into the Chateau Marmont for a bite to eat in the garden. Oh, that’s right. It was just us. No paparazzi. Photographs aren’t allowed at the Marmont, anyway. Of course I broke the rule and took pictures of the powder room. The engraved mirror and orange toile wallpaper are to die for. Must have it. Lunch was lovely and the lattes were only seven bucks each.

On the way out to the beach we passed through some tony neighborhoods on the west side. We cracked up when we saw a lost dog poster. The reward for a missing Australian Shepherd was five thousand dollars. The beach was glorious – perfect water temperature, hot, beautiful white sand. We walked down to the Santa Monica Pier, which was teeming with all kinds of people.  A little trip across the overpass and we were in Nordstrom, still in bathing suits with sandy feet. What’s not to like?

I think I was most surprised by how normal people seemed everywhere we went. What’s happened to LA? Where were all the perfect Barbie dolls with cosmetic surgery? I only saw two women with noticeable fish lips. I see more than that in Nor Cal. In Beverly Hills I was most charmed by the cupcake ATM at Sprinkles. You put your card in, make a selection on the touch screen and out comes your cupcake! So clever. I can just imagine the late night munchies that would inspire a trip out for 24- hour cupcakes. You could probably have them delivered, assuming there’s no Carmageddon.

The highlight of my trip, other than being with my darling daughter, was overhearing someone say this: “Remember, if you can’t figure out who the sucker is in a poker game, it’s you.” 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Code of Conduct

This year July brought The London Olympics AND the annual BTC Family Tennis Tournament.  I asked my brother, Doug, to play with me and he agreed. It was good of him considering he's not really a tennis player. He also has no racquet and needed to buy tennis shoes. He's such a natural athlete - I had total faith in our prospects as a team. I figured after one practice we could hold our own against any adult brother sister team. There were no brother sister teams. We were the only one, so Doug got to look like a good guy but didn't have to play with me.

Initially, I didn't want to play with my husband. We were taking a tennis break.  "Mixed Troubles" 
explains a bit about the perilous marital dynamic.;postID=5372590367407561333 We weren't having fun playing together, so why keep doing it? This time Eric wanted to try it again so I agreed.

The tournament is sponsored by Esurance and is USTA sanctioned. There was even a referee. Before the first match the referee gave us all a stern lecture. A family tournament, we were to set an example for the children. I shot a look at my husband. He ignored me. The ref went on to explain about sanctions and that swearing or over-gesticulating and other bad behaviors would be reported.

We started match play and got right into the thick of it. At one point Eric got frustrated and sat down on the court at the end of a point we'd lost. Mortified, I hissed at him to get up. He got up, but he was pissed that I had hissed. Something else happened and he smacked the ball at the fence. We got through the match and went on to the next round.

I found myself saying, "crap" when I missed a shot. We won that match and I mentioned it to the ref. He said it depends how loud it is and if it's directed at someone. It wasn't loud or directed at anyone. Miss Goody Two Shoes was in the clear, but I wasn't so sure about my partner. What was the chance he would get through this unscathed?

We have very different views of the game. Eric sees it more like a scrappy, playground battle and I am aiming for the genteel country club experience. Think Wimbledon versus the US Open. When I attended my first tennis match I was deeply struck by the quietness of the sport. It was peaceful to watch the games punctuated by polite clapping. What a difference from all the years at swim meets with spectators screaming their heads off the whole time. I would often go home hoarse. I truly believed that my "cheering" would propel my girls faster through the water. Sometimes it actually did which just reinforced my mania.

Days of swim meets ended and tennis became my focus. Playing, watching, housing tournament officials. I was all in. I've had numerous partners and played 143 matches in nineteen USTA in leagues. I've played in Grand Prix tournaments. I've played in and helped run the Club Championships.

Imagine my surprise when I got the letter. We came home on a Friday night and there was a letter from USTA - hand addressed to me. I assumed it had something to do with fund-raising for the Boyle Courts. Or perhaps thanking me for being a captain. I opened the letter. Wait. What is this? A Code of Conduct violation! An audible or visible obscenity/profanity- "God damn " heard over three courts.

What the HELL? Was this some kind of joke? Where was Eric's letter? I had been reported to USTA for swearing in the Belvedere Family Tournament. I swear less than anyone I know on the tennis court. I love to swear, but it doesn't feel right on the court. I was shocked. When I read the letter again it showed I had racked up two points. If you get ten you're out of competition.

In fact, I did say it, but it was certainly not audible even on the next court. What did this mean? Was it like the DMV and points on your license? Could you get rid of them by taking a class? Was I the only one cited? Eric was thoroughly bemused. I figured his letter had been lost in the mail and would arrive shortly. It did not. I consider this circumstance to be one of my life's bitterest ironies.

In the few weeks since the letter came I have heard players dropping all kinds of verbal bombs on the court, including the "f" bomb. I watched the finals of a tournament at our club and three of the four players said "dammit" over the course of several games. They were all board members or former board members.

The violation form stated a player and the USTA must be informed of the violation within three days. The letter was dated almost three weeks after the tournament. An email address was listed on the form. I immediately sent a message asking for clarification. If it were beyond the time limit would it count against me? If not, why bother sending it? I got no response from USTA.

Our friend Don always says he's not mature enough to play in tournaments. Maybe I'm not, either. I'm certainly not mature enough to play in a family tournament, which may end up working out well for my brother in the future. God dammit.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Dotty

Connecticut, you've done it again. I've left part of my heart in the Constitution State, and unlike the first two times, I won't be getting it back. The initial wrench was when I left Lucy, my firstborn, at college in 2000. I said goodbye and drove two hours to the airport with tears blinding my vision. When I got to the ticket counter I begged to get on an earlier flight home. I needed to see Lana and Allie. Eight years later I went through it all again with Allie, my last born. I came back to California, but part of me was still there with her.

Fast forward four years. College for Allie was a smashing success. She has graduated and best of all, returned to California. Southern California, but still, so much closer. I just had one more goodbye and it was a doozy.

Dotty married my father in 1965, when I was seven years old. She's been in my life ever since even though Dad rudely left her after fourteen years. After my stepbrother was killed and Dotty lost a breast to cancer. My father chose then to be his worst self and look for another life. That was the beginning of the end of our life with Dad.

Ironically, Dotty took my father away from my mother (and ended her own marriage as well) but then she gave him back to us. She adored him and thought the four of us were wonderful extensions of the man she loved. She valued us and she kept us all on a schedule and together as a new family with her two children. Even though we lived two hours away we saw them every other weekend and every vacation.

Dotty and Dad worked in schools so they had the summers off. We took the epic trip from New York to Florida in the VW bus, camping along the coast. They bought an old boat, Xanadu, but with six kids there wasn't a lot of spare cash. We had big, family dinners at home. Dotty cooked for everybody. I don't remember all of us eating out in a restaurant except for the occasional breakfast on a road trip.  

“Dorfy” was strong willed, so bright and very affectionate. From our earliest days together we bonded. I'd crawl in her lap and comb her hair, which she loved. We had a special hairstyle for her that we called a "Poofontay". She made us all play recorders and wear matching sweatshirts with embroidered initials. A librarian, she shared her love of books and reading. Dotty made me feel special and loved.
Wendy, Doug and Dotty - hair combing

Fun loving Dotty really enjoyed children and vice-versa. My girls got to know her as they grew. We'd visit and always get up to some kind of adventure. Synchronized swimming in the pool was hilarious. She was never too old to get right in there with the kids and have a ball. One year we formed a club with her called "The Red Devils and Black Dragons". I can't remember the point of the club, but one of the by-laws was that you had to wear one of her crazy hats during meetings.   
Dotty and Lana

Now Dotty's life is in limbo. At eighty-seven she has a dreadful disease. A God- awful confluence of symptoms - it's the worst of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Called “Lewy Body Dementia”, this disease has cured my lifelong fear of cancer. I've seen loved ones dies from cancer. It's horrible. LBD is a nightmare that lasts for years. She's probably five years into the disease with several more to go before her body shuts down completely.
Now Dotty is in a wheelchair, but keeps trying to walk. One of the symptoms of Lewy Body is that there are "good" days and bad days. It all looks bad from here, but when we visited she was able to recognize me. It made her cry to see me. She knew I would leave her again and became agitated. Yet, she was able to crack a couple jokes. One minute she can't get the words out, the next she says something you understand. That's what so horrified me. She KNOWS. She knows she's trapped in her own body, not getting better. It just seems so unfair and wrong.  

My stepsister, Ann, has Dotty in a wonderful facility right near her house and she is an angel to her. I do not know how she does it. I guess you get used to it, but I don't see how. In a previous visit Dotty was in a different care center. Allie and I took her swimming in the pool there. I knew she was having some dementia, but it was nothing extraordinary. That was two years ago.

Dotty has classic symptoms of Lewy Body Disease. It started with visual hallucinations. She was talking about drain bugs for a few years before any other symptoms were noticeable. It also makes victims prone to falling and several falls were the beginning of the trip down. Into the hospital, in long term care, out of her own home. The predictable pattern repeated by so many of our elders. Knowing what I know now, seeing what I've seen, I wish one of those falls had done her in. Knocked her out cold. We probably wouldn't have known it was a blessing.  

It was so hard to see her - unable to feed herself, struggling to speak. Even now, if I really think about her and how she is I feel almost hysterical. Such a wrench knowing I can't do anything for her and will never see her again. Annie loses her Mommy over and over again - every time she sees her. When Dotty goes, Ann has to lose her once more. When someone has died the sadness eventually eases. The traumatic images are replaced by better memories. This unspeakable limbo seems so unfair. I know Dotty never wanted to be like this, but here she is. There is no healing, no closure, only the prospect of something even worse.

A couple years ago Dotty and I talked on the phone. I was in California and she in Connecticut. I apologized for not calling more often. She said, "That's okay, honey. I know how much you love me." Thank you for that, Dotty. For knowing and for loving me so much. And thank you, Annie, for taking such good care of Dorfy.   

Photo: On the trip from New York to Florida with all six kids. I'm the one in front with the camera.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Allie's Wild Ride

For many Americans, getting your first car at the age of sixteen is desired and possibly expected. A rite of passage. Not so in our house. Allie, the youngest of four sisters had a decidedly unspoiled, downwardly mobile experience. Yes, she was fortunate to have car to drive at all, but not as fortunate as many of her friends.

Somehow Lucy ended up with an old Volvo and some jeeps to drive but none of them were her own. She did learn to drive a stick. Lana lucked into the Tank, AKA Big Blue. It was a Dodge Dynasty that was so uncool the other teenagers wouldn't be caught dead driving it. Lana made it cool and it only cost us a grand. The Tank was so low tech that it wasn't even destroyed when our street flooded. All the other cars were flat-towed off and had to be replaced. She just hosed that baby out and went on her way.

All throughout college Allie pined for a car of her own, but since she was in Connecticut it didn't really make sense. There was no easy way to get it back and forth. When she was on school breaks we shared our cars and it worked out pretty well, but enough already with the cooperating. The girl is twenty-two years old and moving to Santa Monica. In LA you've got to have wheels. Personally, I’m still in the pink Barbie car stage in my mind, but time waits for no one, particularly mothers.

The search began in earnest in late May. Buying a car is like most things. The more cash you can throw at a problem, the better your choices are. There was a little money left by her grandmother, but it needed to be used wisely. Five thousand dollars was the initial budget. In order to get a good car at that price point you need to be very lucky. Allie was not that lucky. In fact, she wasn't lucky at all. She looked at one pile of crap after another. So frustrating.

The search continued throughout June into July. Priorities shifted. The Saabs were cute, but potential repair prices a bit terrifying. We tried to dissuade her from going that route, but one really caught her attention. It was being sold by a used car deal we trusted. I know. Oxymoronic. She was so enamored by this vehicle that she was willing to buy it and THEN learn how to drive a stick. Now that's pretty gritty. She got a cashier's check from the bank and got out her UConn Alumni license plate holders. Woo hoo.

We took Eric with us to pick up the sexy, black Saab and he drove it for Allie since she couldn't. After the test drive he turned it off. We decided to turn it back on to check the phone charger. Nothing. Nobody could get it to do anything. It was like it had completely shorted out. Shit. There goes that car AND the ten dollar fee for the cashier's check. Allie was deeply disappointed, but I kept imaging her on the way to LA, stopped at a gas station in hundred degree heat with her phone battery dying and the Saab completely seized up.

The Saab sojourn took the starch out of Allie. She complained that all she'd done all summer was look for a car. Time was running short before she really needed to have it. Time to move onto advanced, strategic problem solving. Add more money. Also, forget the Audi's, BMW's and Saabs. Those cars are better for people with an income - not newly graduated aspiring workers.

Upping the ante came at the right time. Last week Allie announced she would buy a car in one day. She's enough like me that I knew not to argue. That tenacious and determined apple did not fall far from the tree. The girl was on a mission. Far be it from me to interfere with the PLAN. She found a used Honda at a dealer about an hour away in Palo Alto and set off by herself to take a look.

During the time Allie was negotiating (as in paying full price) for the car which was "super cute and clean", her friend Kelsie was arriving at the airport for a visit. Allie left the dealership, went to the airport and then they went back to the dealer. The decision was made to purchase the car (with a three day right of return) and Allie handed over her debit card. Who knew you could buy a car with a debit card?  Forget the cashier's check.

The dealer wouldn't let Allie drive the car away without proof of insurance. At first she was going to use our insurance, but then decided to go get her own. Doing the paperwork, obtaining insurance and having the bumper painted took another four hours! Finally, at eight that night, with poor, jet lagged Kelsie following behind in my car, Allie pulled up to the house with the new car. It is clean and super cute, with leather seats and a sunroof. It's all hers and it was worth the wait. Watch out, Los Angeles, here she comes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An Irish Wake

Eric and the Delaney Boys
A light went out in our lives. Eric's cousin, Chris, lost his struggle with cancer. Although he'd been sick for several years, the final stage was amazingly fast. It was a fight to the end. Three weeks earlier he was still up and around and we all went out to breakfast. Chris was in a lot of pain, but his mind was sharp and his legendary sense of humor was still in tact.

The last couple weeks were brutal but mercifully short. After a brief stint in the hospital he was sent home for his final days under the care of his sons, seventeen and twenty years old. They were kids when their father became ill. Now they are men, albeit young and broken-hearted men. These two guys took turns taking care of dad while juggling their own lives and commuting two hours to his place. Sam had two part-time jobs and Max was still finishing high school.

When Hospice entered the picture in the final stage they weren't too sure about these arrangements, but what could they do? It was the best situation for Chris. The boys did it all, the feeding and cleaning and administering pain medication. They stepped up in ways a lot of people wouldn't or couldn't. We are so proud of them.

The Sunday before Chris died Eric visited with him and he was still lucid, but aware he was running out of time. Chris asked about his oldest son, who lives in Texas and his brother, Robin, who lives in D.C. When would they be here? He needed to see them. They weren't scheduled to arrive for a couple weeks. Chris insisted they needed to get here sooner, so they did. His son, Christopher, arrived the next day, joining his brothers in a harrowing time. Robin arranged a flight for Thursday.

On that Wednesday the boys said Chris was taking a turn for the worse and we should get there soon. We got to the house early afternoon Thursday. Robin arrived from D.C. about an hour and a half later. Max was in school and would head up afterwards. Chris was really suffering. The guys all agreed that when Max got there they would try to convince Chris to let go. It was time. They surrounded his bed and told him how much they loved him. Three sons, one brother, one beloved cousin. At 5:50 p.m., less than an hour after Max arrived, in the living room of his white, clapboard cottage, Christopher Day Delaney took his final breath.

Irish immigrants who worked in the railroad industry in upstate New York, the Delaneys had an indelibly sad story two generations back. In another white, clapboard house Chris and Eric's grandmother died in childbirth. The baby was lost as well. As was the Irish tradition there was a wake at the house. The remaining children, Eric's mother and Chris's father and another sister, all under ten years of age, were locked in a bedroom upstairs with a fifth child- a toddler. During the wake the toddler choked on a marble and died. The children frantically banged on the door to no avail. They weren't heard.

 In a matter of days, Chris and Eric's grandfather had lost his wife and two children. He was never the same. Eric's mom was farmed out and raised by her aunt. The other sister was also raised by family members. Chris's father stayed with his Dad, who was haunted by the demons of his loss. It was not an ideal childhood. Perhaps as a reaction to the chaos, Chris's father became a military man.

Perhaps as a reaction to HIS upbringing and as an adaptation to the times, Chris became a rebel. Flaunting authority, flirting with danger. Chris was responsible in ways and a very hard worker. He was a practical man and got the job done, but he liked his recreation and it got the best of him at times. His cancer was lifestyle cancer. Such a shame.

Chris Delaney was a concrete form supervisor and buildings he worked on stand all around the country. His last project was the parking structure at San Jose airport. When the interferon treatments made him too sick to get to the job he managed it from his apartment which became command central. Eventually, he could no longer work and had to go on disability. Two years ago he went in for surgery and they took out part of his liver. Surviving the surgery was not a given.

 Chris knew how much he was loved. The entire family trooped up to Sacramento the night before his operation. We had a huge dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Chris and Eric and Robin told some great stories which I videotaped. Three generations waited for hours at the hospital, nervously playing games and waiting. The surgery went better than expected so Chris had more time. Still, it's never enough. 

The service for Chris was held on St. Patrick's Day at St. Patrick’s cathedral. Eric was incredibly brave and gave an emotional eulogy that was perfect for Chris. There was a wake with corned beef and cabbage and a slide show that had everyone bawling.

 It's been four months now and it's still sad but we try not to think about him. I so miss the way Chris made Eric laugh. Sam turned twenty-one and Max graduated from high school, the first of many milestones without a father. The boys have a large and loving family on their mom’s side. They obviously have more than enough guts to succeed in life. They’ll be alright. So will we.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Purse Dog

Purse dog. Don't leave home without it. I'm not sure when this happened, but it seems that dogs have ascended to eye level. I have a lifetime of living with dogs, but I've never seen them treated the way they are now. They are just too precious for words. No wonder Mitt Romney is in so much trouble for strapping his Irish Setter to the top of the car.

People are spending a fortune on their pets. Can we talk about accessories? Boots and jackets and hooded raincoats. Playpens and carriers festooned with glitter. You can get a cute collar with a charm from Coach for only $78. Cats have gotten precious, too. We have a cat boarding establishment near us with fireplaces. It costs extra to have a "Kitty Worshipper" sleep with your cat!

I grew up with big dogs. We had a series of German Shepherds: Dusky and Dusty, Freida and Schwartzie. Later on I had two Dobermans, Albert and Tiggy. For a short time my mother even had a Saint Bernard named "January". She could barely squeeze into the pumpkin orange Honda and did she ever drool.

We had numerous litters of puppies and all sorts of doggie adventures. One loved to roll in dead animals, another chased after the mailman. When we lived in Michigan we had a notorious chicken killer. Poor Freida was afraid of thunder and actually died of a heart attack during a thunder storm. We were away on vacation and she was at the kennel.

My mother is a dog lover through and through. Sometimes I even think she liked the dogs more than the kids. They were certainly easier to understand, if not train. They barked but didn't bite. They also didn't talk back. The kids weren't spoiled and neither were the canines. They did not sleep on beds or chairs. I don't even remember them having dog beds. For dinner we fed them Gravy Train with a little warm water. Dog feeding was one of our chores. I was fond of snacking on the kibble and remember being so small I would practically topple over into the fifty pound bag of food.

Those days (when pets and children knew their place) are long gone. Now people take their dogs everywhere. Shopping and on planes. They sit on public benches and on chairs at restaurants. People's precious pooches are so entitled they deserve a seat at the table. If you question someone they'll claim they have a "service" dog and god forbid you don't allow them access everywhere. What kind of service? Companion?

The biggest change I've noticed has been at the local shopping center which has become very upscale. Until recently dogs were not allowed on the premises. Now they are "welcome" everywhere but Nordstrom. Rules of "Petiquette" are posted. So, dogs no longer have to stay at home or in the car or left outside. They're in all the stores. I find it unnerving to be nudged by an Irish Wolfhound while checking out bras. These dogs really need to be in the lingerie department?

Of course it's not the dog (or the child). It's the owner. I was feeling bad about being such a hater when a couple things happened. I was walking to work on Valentine's Day in my new hot pink tights when a dog came tearing by me, splashed in a puddle and splattered me with mud spots. I was so pissed and turned to glare at the owner, but guess what? Rover was out on a solo jaunt. When I got to work there was an enormous pile of shit on the sidewalk in front of the store. Thank you again.

This all followed a weekend adventure. Eric and I were in the woods and came upon a wayward lab self-walking. He was such a good looking guy and obviously alone. Eric called the number on the tag to alert the owner to his pet's present whereabouts. No answer. No return call thanking Eric for his concern. Nothing but rude silence. Over the years I've tried to rescue numerous lost dogs and found it to be thankless and frustrating. It led me to this ruthless conclusion: people who can't keep track of their dogs are jerks.

I have observed that there are dog people and baby people. I am a baby person. I LOVE babies. Whenever I see one I want to make eye contact and get them to smile. I have to restrain myself from touching if it's not a baby I know. Eric is a dog lover. We stop and greet every dog - get a wag of the tail. Eric has to flirt with every leashed critter and I have to flirt with all the babies. It can be a process getting down the sidewalk sometimes. All the flirting and greeting, tail thumping and gummy smiles.

I have loved my dogs deeply. My heart has been broken when they died. They were like part of my family, but I didn't expect them to be part of your family. I don't love your dog. I may not even like them, but I absolutely adore your baby.

Photo: Toby the Purse Dog

As an antidote to going negative on the four legged friends, here's a cute piece written by Leslie Martin about Gina's dog, Boomer.

Once upon a time there was a little black and white border collie named Boomer. His parents called him Boomer because they thought it was a cute name and he was such a cute puppy. But Boomer didn’t like his name. All the other dogs called him Doomer Boomer and Boomer Sooner and made fun of him. The bulldog down the street, who was named Spike, said “What kind of dog is named Boomer? That’s not a name! That’s a sound! Ha! Ha! Boomer doesn’t even have a real name. It’s just a sound!” All the other dogs laughed and growled, “Yeah, a boom is a big noise. Hey Big Noise, how’s it going?” Boomer was so sad. He hung his head and tucked his tail and walked slowly back to his yard. I’ll show them he thought. I will become Mighty Bitey Boomer and then will see who makes fun of me and with that, Mighty Bitey Boomer was born.