The Barbecue, the Bird Nest and the Bench

My last few posts have been more personal and emotional. This one not so  much. It’s also only marginally dog related.

ELBEE I hate when I hear that.

Sometimes the daughters hand me material that is just too good not to use. I admit that I started it by sending them a photo but they were quick to chime in via text message.

We had an old broken down barbecue that should have been put out of its misery years ago. The husband doesn’t like to part with anything and said he was still using it. When I opened it, trying to convince him to say goodbye, I found a bird nest inside.

The daughter who might hike if there were Starbucks on the trails, thought it was disgusting. She didn’t like the one I found a month ago and brought home to show my granddaughter either. I think she used the word, “vermin.” And let me assure you that no birds were harmed in the taking of the nests. They were long gone.

I had no idea how the nest had gotten inside the barbecue. One daughter suggested that Elbee might have had something to do it. Another thought that maybe he ate the birds.

ELBEE As if! Although I admit these photos look incriminating, I was just curious and I don’t eat bird. I’ve even considered becoming vegan.

 

 

 

GUS For the record, I had nothing to do with it. I’m too short.

Then the oldest suggested that since we were cleaning out, it might be time to get rid of the ashes from Charley, Larry and Cody, three of our wonderful dogs who we keep in urns by the fireplace. Being practical and having a sick sense of humor, she actually said, “Why not wait for a Santa Ana wind and scatter them off the balcony.” Wonder where she gets that sense of humor.

I told her that if I was ever going to do it, the mountains would be the most fitting place, which led to the conversation about my bench. For years, I’ve been telling all three daughters that I want my own bench up in the mountains. I just have to find the right place. It doesn’t even have to be memorial. They can work on it while I’m still here.

After I sent these bench photos they asked, “Why can’t you just use one of those?” When I explained they were already taken, two of them wanted to know if I really expected them to schlep up into the mountains to visit my bench.

ELBEE What is this? “The Price is Right” for benches?

 

Today I saw a faux leather sofa up on a hill. It screamed pizza and nachos rather than nature and spirituality but it gave me an idea. Why not have the daughters put an exercise bench up in the mountains.

ELBEE I knew it! It’s the new year and this is a thinly veiled excuse to share one of those photos. You know the ones I mean. I’ve tried to get her to stop but Pack Leader will never get over her glory days.

THE CONFUSED DOODS What is that??

Dogs…Better than Moisturizer?

I think I have some sort of strange gift.

A few weeks ago I started jotting down ideas for this post about how dogs help with aging. Then, maybe by coincidence, I saw a piece on the NBC news that dealt with that exact topic. By the way, it was as if they’d read my notes.

After that there was the crossword puzzle, another sign. I was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle and the clue was, “Crisis of the Middle Ages.” The answer was “sag.”

ELBEE NBC read her notes? Seriously? But kudos for not reminding us that she does the puzzle in pen.

 

As if that’s not enough, back in January I wrote a post called “Rock On” because I was seeing so many man made rock formations on the trails. Since then, guess how many I’ve seen…none.  See, I’m putting something into the universe.

ELBEE Okay, I admit Pack Leader is telling the truth. I not only saw the rock formations, it’s been months since I’ve peed on one.

 

Back to aging. Did you know that it’s no longer politically correct to call it anti-aging? I guess that implies it’s a bad thing, rather than something we should accept and try to do gracefully.

GUS I’m sorry but I’m so confused.

 

My conclusion, and one that was backed up by the news report, is that dogs definitely help with the aging process. From a purely physical perspective, they keep you active. You’re much more likely to take a walk if your dog is standing by the door waiting to exercise. To me there is nothing more restorative and that keeps me in better shape than heading into the mountains with the Doods.

It almost makes up for the younger hikers who comment, “Wow, you’re strong,” and let the phrase, “for your age” hang in the air. There’s even one guy who calls me “ma’am.”

Aging can come with it’s own emotional issues. Oops am I oversharing? There’s nothing like the unconditional love and support of a dog to help you cope. No one has ever been as happy to see me when I get home as the Doods, yes, even Elbee. That moment of pure joyful greeting lets you put everything aside for an instant.

Dogs also offer companionship and comfort. Who else would listen to all of your concerns and your opinions without judging or offering their own? Who else can make problems disappear simply by sitting at your side?

Even the responsibility for their constant care, training and nurturing is important. Mentally dogs can keep you on your toes. Try forgetting to feed them and see what happens.

Having therapy dogs is really my true gift, other than the one about putting things out into the universe. At this stage in my life, they have given me a passion for what I’m doing and the ability to make a difference. When we walk into the hospital, I never know what little miracle or what special quiet moment I’ll have the privilege of witnessing. Now if the Doods could only do something about the grey hair and wrinkles!

 

 

 

 

 

Me, the Mountains and the Stick

The mountains are my sanctuary, my think tank and my personal fitness center. I’m so comfortable up there that even my sense of direction is better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE That’s not saying a lot. Sometimes we pee on trees to make sure we can find our way back.

Okay, I may be pushing it but I figured I’d better justify this post because I’ll probably get some static from my daughter/mothers. They think I have a little streak of crazy but I prefer to call it a streak of adventure.

Awhile ago, I found a stick that gives me a certain sense of security. I started carrying it whenever I’m hiking alone. I use it for balance and for checking under rocks but figure I can use it as a weapon if I ever have to. I would share a picture of the stick but I don’t want anyone questioning my sanity or laughing at me. And no, I don’t think it has magic powers.

ELBEE Let me put it in perspective. If I fetched, which I don’t, the stick would almost be too ridiculous for me to bring back.

I was walking on dirt Mulholland when I decided to take the stick and head up a ridge trail that only the “regulars” use. For the record,  I’ve done it countless times. I was enjoying the climb, watching at least twenty ravens soaring over the canyon, putting on a spectacular air show.

Then there it was, right in front of me, a big rattlesnake. As you may know I’m not a huge fan of snakes but I do respect them and try not to bother them. This one, however, started getting on my nerves. It wouldn’t budge so that I could go by. Finally, I gave it a gentle nudge with the stick and it took off.

Snake on the Ridge
Relative of the Snake on the Ridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started climbing again, using the stick to make sure that none of the snake’s relatives were hiding in the rocks or bushes. Unfortunately, as I got near the top, I missed one little turn and instead of arriving back on the main trail, ended up looking down a mini cliff.

ELBEE She was probably “rattled ” after meeting the snake.

GUS Good one Elbee!

Since I had absolutely no desire to back track, I decided it was “doable” and slowly slid my way down. FYI: I’m writing this post from my house and not from a hospital bed.

Seriously, I am truly appreciative of my ability to climb these beautiful trails, especially with the wild fires that have been ravaging California. I also have such gratitude for my health and for my sense of adventure, which I admit has grown stronger as I’ve gotten older. I think that challenging yourself is a way to feel vibrant and alive, no matter your age.

It’s like the grandpa in the commercial who tells his wife he’s going fishing and then goes surfing with his grandson. I totally get it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Birthday, Another Butt Burner

Some people celebrate their birthdays with dinner at a favorite restaurant. Others like to get a cake from a special bakery. I celebrate by hiking up the butt burner, which maybe I should rethink considering that my birthday is in July and it’s really hot outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE Maybe she should consider going to a senior cooling center instead.

The birthday was on a nice morning as far as summer mornings go. There were a few clouds and a soft breeze. As I began my way up the trail, I was enjoying the scenery and the tranquility. It was challenging, but I was happy that I could still do it.

ELBEE Hello, she just did it last week so it’s not really much of a stretch. On the other hand, I’m impressed that she can still do it at her age. I’ve done the butt burner and it’s not easy. I absolutely refuse to do it in the summer heat, though. It ruins my hair.

As for this unfortunate photo, it’s her first birthday since Charley passed so I let her dress me up. I’d prefer to be anonymous but I’m so well known by now, that’s almost impossible.

Then the air warmed up, the sun got stronger, the breeze disappeared and I started thinking that going shopping might be a better alternative. To add insult to injury, the show offs who had set out early were smiling and waving as they passed me on their way down. Not to mention the young ones who ran by me on their way up. Hey, I never said anything about not complaining.

Undeterred and sweating, I kept going. About forty minutes later,  I made it to dirt Mulholland, an unpaved road that crosses through the Santa Monica Mountains. Since it was the birthday hike, I climbed a little higher where there is a beautiful ocean view. From there I decided to really go for it and come down a short steep hill that only the “regulars” use. It involves a bit of slipping and sliding but is really fun.

ELBEE No wonder the daughters think she’s a shade short of cuckoo.

As I made it to the bottom, feeling pretty good about myself, I saw a guy holding his phone and leaning against his bike on the side of Mulholland. He looked at me and said, ” I was just watching you and waiting to call 911. Figured you were going to wipe out at any moment.” I debated whether he was being thoughtful or making an age crack.

GUS Even I know that was an age crack. 

ELBEE Apparently, dressing us up has become another birthday obsession for Pack Leader. I mean, look at Gus (are you kidding me) and poor Riley!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diva Is Back!

ELBEE Finally a post about me. In respect for Charley’s passing, I have been like a saint waiting my turn.

 

I was hiking with my friend Dennis, solving the world’s problems, when I asked him if he thought the term “diva” had become gender neutral. He said it probably had because  the only divo that came to mind was the singing group Il Divo. Then, never having met a pun he didn’t like, Dennis added that Elbee could have been a “barkitone.” Don’t groan at me. I warned you.

ELBEE Good one. You go Dennis!

It suddenly occurred to me that each of the Doods works in a way that is comparable to a different singer.

ELBEE Where is she going with this?

 

 

 

GUS Even I’m confused.

 

Charley was the classical singer with the most beautiful voice. He was like the Josh Groban of therapy dogs. He could touch your soul. Gus is like the child with the sweet angelic voice that wins hearts and talent shows.

Charley and Gus as a Duo

Which brings me to Elbee. He is the ultimate diva. Whereas Charley and Gus often “sang” as an amazing duo, Elbee is a soloist. He is the Mariah Carey of therapy dogs.

ELBEE OMG I may cry. I love Mariah Carey.

Last week was no exception. He was so happy to be at UCLA that he was even more over the top than usual. It was like he was finally back on tour. He didn’t just walk into the hospital. He made an entrance. When the kids in the neuropsych units sat on the floor, he flopped into their laps. After he did his tricks, he was more concerned with the applause than with the treats.

As I watched him bask in the attention, I realized that he would probably love to have a personal assistant. Then it dawned on me. I am his personal assistant. I chauffeur him, get him food and water, clean up his poop. I don’t get paid enough for this job. Which reminds me, someone who saw us in the hospital asked if I rented him.

It’s hard to believe that Elbee almost didn’t become a therapy dog. When he was a puppy, I contracted a serious virus that had me laid up for months. Most of his time was spent in the house with me. One day when I was finally able to take him for a short walk, I noticed that he was backing up and shying from people. I later learned that I had missed his crucial socialization period at 12 weeks.

If Charley hadn’t been a therapy dog for a few years and if I wasn’t hoping to have another one, I might have given up. Instead I became a woman on a mission. I took Elbee everywhere with me. If someone so much as glanced in his direction, I asked them to say hello and give him a treat. Bike riders in the mountains, strangers on the street, yes, even a few homeless people helped to shape the dog that he is today.

Looking back, did I go to far? Did I create the diva?

ELBEE She may have helped, but I was born fabulous! 

Rock On!

ELBEE Many of you know that as much as I enjoy hiking, I am hesitant to go alone with Pack Leader. (See 7/11/2016 Post: “I Am Never Hiking with that Lunatic Again”). One time I faked a paw injury to get out of it. Another time I ate grass and made myself throw up. And no, I do not have body issues. 

Recently, against my better judgement, I gave in and went with her and found out something disturbing. She has a new obsession with rock formations! Seriously?

No, not these rocks. That’s just her showing off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excuse me, let me explain. Over the past few months, I have noticed all sorts of man-made rock formations. Well, to keep the daughters on their toes, I told them I thought they may have been created by aliens.

CHARLEY Not to be rude, but these rock monuments have been around for a long time. I’ve even seen them. 

 

 

The youngest daughter and the middle daughter immediately remarked that it reminded them of the Blair Witch Project. I wouldn’t know because I can’t watch scary movies. I’d run out of the room screaming whenever the kids had them on. Oh, and hand held camera makes me throw up.

THE DOODS That is over sharing and embarrassing!

One of the first formations I noticed was a heart, later turned into a horseshoe.

Then I saw several that seemed like random piles of rocks but had obviously taken some effort. I remarked to my hiking buddy Mary, the one who is surprised and a little disappointed that we’ve never found a body, that maybe people were just adding their two rocks worth.

THE DOODS OMG! If that was a joke, it was lame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELBEE What Pack Leader is not sharing is that she and Mary built the one on the bottom right. That is just sad.

Now look at this one. Someone took the time to balance it on top of a sign

And imagine the thought involved in creating the two formations below. They both seemed to fit beautifully in the mountains, especially the peace sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLEY That’s a peace sign? I thought it was a Mercedes emblem.

ELBEE I discussed this whole rock thing with Charley and Gus. We decided that people, unlike us hard working dogs, have way too much time on their hands.

Oy Vey

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Last Wednesday was Yom Kippur. As far as holidays go, that’s a really big one. It’s a day of atonement, reflection, remembrance, fasting (some of us are not so great at that). Unfortunately, it was also my regular day to bring a Dood into UCLA Medical Center to cheer up the patients. To make matters worse, Gus and his friend Tommy, an adorable Bichon, had been requested for a very special visit.

I was in a Jewish quandary. Would going into the hospital, a good deed referred to as a mitzvah, make up for my total lack of traditional observance? I called Tommy’s person Donna who was having the same dilemma. We decided that dealing with the Jewish guilt would be worth it because what the dogs do is so important.

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GUS Excuse me, did anyone ask me or Tommy how we felt about this?

As it turned out, the visits were a huge success. Tommy and Gus brought so much joy. People were laughing, smiling, picking up the dogs and cuddling them. And on a a bright note none of us was hit by lightening and we all made it home safely.

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Later in the day to add insult to injury or to celebrate the holiday, depending on your perspective, I hiked up into the mountains, my own spiritual place. I needed to see the ocean. My brother’s ashes and those of my dearest friend Eileen, both of whom passed away too young, are in the Pacific. Looking out over the water is my special way to connect with them. I stood on a hill with tears of remembrance rolling down my face.

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I made it down the trail unscathed, no bruises, scratches, broken bones. I decided that was an excellent sign. Then it dawned on me. My mother had died 47 years ago to the day. I had to believe she was up there shaking her head, but smiling at me.

 

 

“Tails” from the Trails

 

get-attachment.aspxTHE DOODS We love the play on words in the title and are very happy that this post is going to focus on us.

Sorry about the misleading title Doods. It was just too good to resist. I actually have a few “tales” from the trails to share.

THE DOODS That is not even funny!

If you hike long enough, you’re bound to run into some strange people. The daughters think I’m one of them and I almost object. Until recently the naked hiker, yes naked, was at the top of my list. Well, he was naked unless you count his red baseball hat and hiking boots.

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ELBEE Excuse me, but how does a naked guy decide that a red hat works with his non-outfit? And the weirdest thing is that Pack Leader and the guy casually said “hi” to each other as if nothing was out of the ordinary. 

Another time I saw a cyclist in a mesh onesie. That almost scarred me for life, but was nothing compared to an early morning encounter with a young, seemingly homeless man. Yes, Im judging.

I was hiking with my friend Mary when the man approached and casually asked if we knew what time it was. He was disheveled and caked in dirt as if he had slept in the mountains. He was carrying a small thick tire on a heavy chain, and what appeared to be a large quilt.

He seemed a little confused but knew exactly where he was headed, a donut shop on one of the streets leading up to the mountains. Suddenly he asked, “Do you want to see what I found?” As he started to slowly unwrap the filthy quilt, all I could think was that he was going to pull out a shot gun.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the blanket fell open and there was a big, white drone. I don’t know if we were more shocked or relieved. Then he very politely inquired, “Do you happen to know who lost this?”

THE DOODS OMG Do you have any question about why we’re sometimes hesitant to go hiking with her? And what’s even more disturbing is that she doesn’t make this stuff up! We need to talk to the daughters!

 

A Funny Thing Happened at the Drive-Thru

Hike with Dennis

A few days ago I was at a trailhead waiting for a friend to go hiking. While I was standing there, I started chatting with a young woman who was also waiting for a friend. Turns out both of them were stuck in “back to school” traffic.

This lovely stranger and I got into a wonderful philosophical conversation about hiking. We shared stories, compared different hikes, and both agreed how spiritual and restorative it was to be out in nature. In short, we bonded. Soon after, my friend arrived so I said goodbye and started up the canyon. By the way this is only marginally a dog story.

Yesterday, after spending the morning with Elbee at an adult health center, I was driving home, made a wrong turn and passed a fairly new McDonald’s that I had never been to and had actually never even seen before. It was at least 15 miles from my house and nowhere near the area where I hike.

20160819_095317_1471632427797_resizedELBEE Excuse me, wasn’t this post supposed to be about me and my great accomplishments not about me just sitting in the car. If I could get my license I would really branch out.  And is there a point to this story?

 

 

I was tired from our morning at work, so with Elbee in  the car, I headed to the drive thru for my guilty pleasure…McDonald’s mocha frappe. For what it’s worth, I get a small and leave off the whip cream but it’s like the energy drink of fast food. My son-in-law refers to it as my “crack.” I don’t even want to know what’s in it. By the way, there is a point to this story. I know if you’re like the daughters, you’re probably rolling your eyes by now.

Dealing with all of my guilt, I placed my order and drove up to the second window to pay. You’ll never guess who was behind the window. The young woman from the trail! We broke into huge smiles and greeted each other like long lost friends. It was a moment.

Talk about a small world. Call it synchronicity or serendipity, what are the chances?

ELBEE 20160722_142050_1469301227649_resizedCall it boring. Aren’t I the real story here, even in these stupid glasses?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Dogs Do Laundry?

Walking with the Doods seems to unleash creativity. I’ve heard that it’s the rhythm of your steps that allows ideas to flow more freely. On the other hand, it could be that the dogs are a captive audience. They listen without judging.

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CHARLEY I hate to admit this. We do judge but we talk among ourselves. We know that Pack Leader is a little sensitive.

 

The problem is that if I don’t stop to make notes on my phone, all of my brilliant ideas are long gone before I get to the car. The other day I was thinking, wouldn’t it be great if the Doods could take dictation. I could talk while I walked and they could get it all down.

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ELBEE Hold the phone! I have a few things to say. First, I really hope that remark about “unleashes” wasn’t a play on words. That’s just embarrassing. Second, my phone comment was LOL. About the dictation thing, I’m speechless. 

Then I thought, with all of their talents, I could really put the Doods to work. For instance, Charley and Elbee can “counter surf.” They stand on their hind legs, put their paws on the counter and walk around the kitchen. Fortunately, Gus is too short. Yes, I know it’s very bad behavior (one day they grabbed a whole chicken) but it’s kind of funny and could be helpful.

I mean look at these pictures of Elbee standing up to get something out of the sink. I wouldn’t expect him to cook but who’s to say he couldn’t wash dishes?

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ELBEE Really? Wash dishes?? I watch the Cooking Channel so often I could probably win Chopped.

 

 

 

Gus has this habit of stealing  my clothes out of the closet and hiding them behind the ottoman that we refer to as his “throne.” Maybe I could teach him to help with the laundry.

GUS It was bad enough when I was a puppy and PL took my picture in a shopping cart at Target, but in a laundry basket? 

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CHARLEY & ELBEE We feel for the little guy. We’re afraid he’s going to have a lot of emotional issues when he gets older. 

And since they all love to pee on the grass and dig, why not have them garden?

THE DOODS Now she’s finally making some sense!