Decorating Tips for Dogs and Their Humans

Training a deaf dog has its own challenges, but one thing hasn’t changed – you are still training a dog. And dogs don’t always see the world as humans do.

I remind myself of this when Doodly Doright is barking and scratching madly…at the floor. Who knows what he smells? Perhaps legions of squirrels have taken up residence under our slab, and we humans are too pathetic to smell them. If he could talk, I’m sure he’d tell us that we have no worries – he will defend us against the invisible enemy.

Then there’s the living room rug. Sigh.

Years and dogs ago, our sheltie, Inspector, became very fond of peeing on the piano leg, saturating the rug and the wooden floor beneath it. We replaced wooden tiles, had the rug cleaned many times, changed the rug mat, but it didn’t matter – our living room had become the favorite spot for relief. Inspector was the first, but he was hardly the last. Later dogs and cats alike followed his example until we finally threw the rug out (yeah, we’re a little slow on the uptake). We then waited until our last cat, Frankie, an inveterate spoiler of rugs, breathed his last. A week later, we had a new throw rug back in the living room.

I figured we were safe. We were down to our perfect dog, Boo, who would never do such a thing.

Yeah, right. The ghosts of our rug past whispered to Boo, “They won’t care, Boo! They want you to pee here! Honest!” Boo, a trusting sort, listened and repeated the sins of our now-gone fur friends.

So. After Boo left us, I sent the once-new rug out for cleaning. I got a new rug pad. We enjoyed our pristine rug for six weeks – and then we adopted Doodly, our 10-month old ball of energy and puppy joy, whose house-training is a little questionable. To be generous.  Within two days, the Dood had added his contribution to the proud history of rugs in our living room.

Years ago, Dave Barry, one of the funniest writers to have walked this earth, wrote that when he and his wife looked in their living room, they saw a beautiful Persian carpet. But when their dogs Earnest and Zippy looked in the same room, they saw something very different (I couldn’t locate the original article but recreated the image he included in the book for your entertainment):

toilet rug


So this got me thinking. Do we:

  1. Get rid of the rug and live with bare floors for the next (I hope) 15 years?
  2. Clean the rug so Doodly will have a sanitized bathroom?
  3. Replace the rug with something that won’t show the pee stains so badly?

I’ve decided on option 3. In fact, I’ve designed the perfect rug to meet the needs of humans and dogs alike:

Pee rug

And I thought all those years as an art major were for nothing! My talent cannot be hidden – it demands to be seen by the world. Perhaps I can convince QVC to give me own show: “Decorating Solutions for Dogs and Their Humans”. You’d watch, wouldn’t you?


The Little Mermaid and Me

My daughter was 7 and my son 5 when Disney’s My Little Mermaid came out in 1989. We all loved that movie, but the film always choked me up at one point in particular. It’s the scene where Ariel chooses to live with her true love on land, and must say goodbye to her water-bound father. Here’s how it reads in the script:

Triton: She really does love him, doesn't she, Sebastian?

Sebastian: Well, it's like I always say, Your Majesty.  
Children got to be free to lead their own lives.

Triton: You - always say that? (sighs) Then I guess there's 
just one problem left.

Sebastian: And what's that, Your Majesty?

Triton: How much I'm going to miss her.

Yeah, Disney always knew how to stick it right to you…

Our year of living magically has ended. The magic was pretending that our daughter and her family would now see that living in the U.S. was the best choice for them – and that our miserable economy would make an exception so our son-in-law could find a job. That dream went “Poof!” on Tuesday when I dropped Carolyn, Juan Carlos, Lucas, Matilda and Amalia at the airport where they caught their flight to South America.

They’re heading off to a good life. Juan Carlos landed a great job, and they return to loads of family and friends. Soon they’ll be settled in a new house, with Lucas and Matilda enrolled in school. We’re happy for them. And we’ll all make the best of it, between Skype and visits. But you know what? It still sucks and I’m still sad.

I don’t feel like being a good sport about it. Give me some time and I’m sure I’ll come around…

Blessed Again

Our house has been a very busy place this summer. With our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren living with us for a couple of months, there is never a dull – or quiet – moment! And on July 31, at 5:01 in the morning, we added to the chaos – and joy – when our new granddaughter, Amalia, was born.

Amalia – hours old…

No, it doesn’t get less thrilling just because this is the third grandchild. We are bursting with pride and happiness at Amalia’s arrival. And  to hold this tiny bit of a person is wonderful beyond words.

Lucas and Matilda have had to make some adjustments. By and large, Amalia’s entry into the family has been pretty easy, although I think my Matilda feels a little left out. Lucas, at the grand old age of 3, is old enough to understand about the baby. Matilda, who at 20 months is still a baby herself, is less certain.

Lucas and Matilda checking out the new addition.

The kids are so close together in age, though, that in no time at all it will feel as though Amalia was always there. And soon enough she’ll be playing and fighting with her siblings.

We’ve been blessed to have our family living with us this summer. If you hear a tinge of sadness in my voice, though, it’s because it’s all coming to an end. Unless a miracle (called a job here in the States in this crappy economy) happens, our kids will all be returning to Santiago, Chile, where they’ll build their lives.

We know they’ll be happy, and that they’ll have a good life there, surrounded by his family and their many friends. And yes, last time I checked, Lan Chile still flies between Los Angeles and Santiago.

But it won’t be the same. So we welcome Amalia, and at the same time, get ready to say our farewells.

Small Helpings

I admit defeat. With my daughter and her family living with us this summer, it’s impossible for me to find the time or concentration to string together much more than a few paragraphs. But I hate to just have this time fly by with nary a word from me. Because it’s a pretty amazing experience. So rather than try to wax long and eloquent over deep subjects, I’m going to try to do shorter posts that hit some highlights. Let me know if you like it or not…

Some quick background. Last year, my daughter, son-in-law, one grandbaby and one grandson, moved from England to Palo Alto so Juan Carlos could get his Masters at Stanford’s Sloan business school. He quit his job to make this investment in their future, and between a strenuous academic program and the demands of little kids, the two of them worked their butts off all year. Juan Carlos graduated last month, and without a job to return to, we convinced them that moving in with us was a practical and reasonable solution to their summer plans. JC could job hunt, and Carolyn, who is expecting baby #3 next month, could live in an air-conditioned house with built-in babysitters who work cheap (that would be us, the grandparents).

The Monday after graduation, we helped them pack up their stuff and drive down to Los Angeles. On Tuesday, Juan Carlos left for a two-week trip to South America. The trip was the last part of the business program, and a wonderful opportunity for JC to network with movers and shakers in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. But it was also a chance for him to spend a few days with his family, who live in Santiago.

So the trip was all goodness. But.

Not ALL of us had two weeks of dinners out, sightseeing, intelligent conversations and cocktails. SOME of us had conversations like this:

Cue in the sound effect: Matilda is shrieking.
Carolyn: “Lucas, don’t hit Matilda. Stop that right now.”
Lucas: “But she stepped on my train track.”
Carolyn: “It was an accident. Could you please use your words? Hey, stop that right now, Matilda! No hitting your brother! Lucas, no shoving!”
(More wails, this time from both children)

Repeat this episode over and over and over.

We have varieties on this, of course. Sobs ensue from Matilda when she is cruelly kept from poking the dog’s eyes out with Thomas the Train. Wails celebrating the unfairness of life vibrate from their room when they are unceremoniously put down for naps. Howls of protest when diapers require changing, a favorite t-shirt gets dirty, or it’s time to get out of the pool.

Now mind you, this is intermixed with the pure joy of being with our daughter and her family. Which is no little thing. And I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. But I do have an insider trading tip for you, my friends. Go invest in Bacardi, which produces Bombay Sapphire gin. Because I’m predicting killer sales for them this summer, all coming from my house.

Martini, anyone?

Forgiving Myself

My son’s kindergarten teacher was named Mrs. Beasley.

And she, despite her efforts to be a sweet-faced doll, was tough and more than up to the task of herding a bunch of out-of-control five-year olds. My favorite Mrs. Beasley moment came during story-telling time:

OK, children, we’re all going to sit down and listen to Mrs. McKenzie read us a story.”

Children sit down, with varying degrees of speed and interest.

“Let’s settle down, children, so Mrs. McKenzie can read us a story. Oh, Michael, darling, that means you, too. Please sit down.”

(Michael ignores Mrs. Beasley.)

“Michael, sweetheart, please have a seat so Mrs. McKenzie can read us a story.” (voice getting a little higher and more stressed)

(Michael continues to ignore Mrs. Beasely.)

“Oh, Michael, honey, it’s time to sit down.” (steel definitely entering voice now)

(Michael continues to play, totally oblivious.)

“MICHAEL!!! SIT DOWN THIS INSTANT!!” (all restraint gone)

Michael immediately sits down, a little paler for the experience.

Ah, Mrs. Beasley. I totally loved you. You lasted one more sweet “Michael, darling” than I would have. OK, maybe two.

This past week, Scott and I babysat our two grandchildren, ages 15 and 35 months. It was a very good reminder that motherhood is lovely, rewarding – and an unbelievable amount of work and stress. I felt like Mrs. Beasley many times in the last seven days, but happily for all, never got to the screeching end of that rant.

I was nervous about this week, because I carry a lot of guilt with me from my own days as a mother. I struggled with balancing the needs of our family with an incredibly demanding – and fulfilling – job. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog (Bless you!), you may recall the post, Confessions of a Working Mother, about a confrontation with my son some five years ago about my mothering style. With this guilt inside me, the questions were if I would be up to mothering small children again, and would I do a better job that I did before.

It ended up being wonderful. Aside from creating a deep bond with Matilda and Lucas, I had the opportunity to relive the emotions I experienced as a young mother. But this time with objectivity, experience and insight. In fact, I took the liberty of giving myself a report card at the end of the week. Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s what I learned about myself. While I certainly made my share of mistakes and didn’t always exercise terrific judgement, I did a lot of things right, too, as a mom. For some reason, I only remember my weaknesses, not my strengths. This week reminded me that there was more to the story than what I did wrong. I wasn’t always freaking out – that was in my mind, not in reality. We did have good times together – tons of them. Reading books together, making up silly stories for bath time, traveling together, cooking together. It’s no accident that together, Scott and I raised strong, grounded children who are kind and caring. We get some credit.

I hereby forgive myself for my flaws as a mother. I will go forward with my head held high, remembering not only the things I did right as a mother of small children but as the supportive mother of our adult children. So sayeth I.

My Weekend with Ted Danson. Sort of.

If I won the lottery, I would have a massage three times a week. No, wait. I mean three times a day! Yeah, three times a day. Because I’m part cat (could you scratch my head just a little longer?), part dog (yes, right there, rub right there),

and part stressed out human being (I don’t care how much it hurts – I need deep pressure on those shoulders!).

Alas. I haven’t won the lottery. But this past weekend my sister and I decided to have our first annual Sisters’ Spa Extravaganza at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

As it turns out, so did Ted Danson.

Now you need to understand that despite living in Los Angeles, I am oblivious to the presence of the rich and famous. Partly this is because when that gorgeous actress goes out in public sans make-up, perfect hair and killer clothes, she looks a lot like, well, you and me. OK, better than me. But not up to Silver Screen images. So when people are screaming, “Oh my God, look! Isn’t that …. (fill in the blank?),” chances are I’m whipping my head around saying, “Where? Where?” while looking straight at the famous face. Who I don’t recognize because she isn’t made up like a movie star.

So here we are, relaxing in the co-ed pre-massage lounge in our fancy Ojai robes and sandals, sipping herbal tea and waiting for our treatments to start. When in walks…a man.

Frankly, the ratio of women to men getting massages is something like 5 million to one, so those hairy legs were a surprise in and of themselves. As our gaze went up from the legs to that famous face, my sister and I casually averted our look so as not to be caught in a classic Midwestern gaping pose. Which of course we both had on our faces but were trying not to overly humiliate ourselves.

Disclaimer: These are NOT Ted Danson's legs!

Really, why were we surprised? We were:

  • In Southern California,
  • At a place that is just ridiculously expensive (Two coffees and one granola yogurt parfait for breakfast cost $26. Without tip.), and
  • Hanging out with people who clearly live in a different universe than these two Cleveland girls (Clue: Conversation overheard on our early morning fitness walk: “I live in downtown Carmel, you know, where we don’t have addresses on our homes.” Why? Because these houses have names like “Tara,” that’s why.).

I wish I could tell you that our “rube-ness” stopped with the stupid expressions on our faces but it didn’t. Hayseeds that we are, we were busy texting and Facebook-ing our friends about our amazing near-fame moment. (We do have enough manners that we didn’t take his picture with our cell phones, so I guess we get one point for that.)

But seriously? Kind of a crappy life, if you ask me. Yeah, he has more money than God, and could afford to order a granola parfait all for himself at breakfast, instead of splitting it. But he doesn’t have what we have, which is anonymity. And that’s no small thing. We get left alone; he doesn’t.

I’ll take my life over his. But Ted, could I just touch your hair to see if it’s real or not? Come on, you’re a movie star, after all!

Send in the Clowns

I was talking with my sister a couple of weekends ago, and we both realized that our mom would have been 90 this month, if she was still alive.  And just to show that time does heal, we were able to have a little chuckle at her expense (Mom, if you’re watching from heaven, forgive us!), talking about how weird it is to celebrate someone’s birthday when they’re gone. Kind of like celebrating your wedding anniversary years after your spouse is gone.Which we’re experts on because our mother would get furious with us every year if we didn’t send an anniversary card to commemorate the day, years after our dad was gone. Which I consistently refused to do, with the result that I celebrated her anniversary by getting an earful every fall.

OK, so I was a bad daughter.  And it gets worse. I pointed out to my sister that if Mom was still here, we would have been tensely planning yet another birthday celebration for her.

I know, I know, I’m horrible.But her 85th birthday party almost did us both in.

We were good daughters and we carefully planned a lovely luncheon for her. Surprises for people in their 80s are generally a bad idea, so we worked with her on the attendee list. Instead of bringing gifts, we asked guests to bring memories, along with a small remembrance of the event.

The day of the party came. It was February and it was Cleveland. So we slogged through the snow and ice to the restaurant. My sister, Joan, and I had cooked up a little memory of our own to share, but we knew we’d need several glasses of wine first to pull it off.

The room was filled with chattering ladies, many of whom were of a certain age. I was politely chatting with someone whose name I didn’t remember, when my sister, Joan, took my arm in a death grip and pulled me away.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, not really that sad at being rescued from a conversation I was totally lost in. “Oh my God,” Joan responded. “Do you see that lady over there, the one in the purple? Well, I couldn’t remember her name or who she was so I asked her the most innocent question: ‘How’s your lovely family doing?'”

She paused to take a big gulp of wine before continuing. “And do you know what she said? She said that her husband died last month and her son died three months before that and that her daughter-in-law had a stroke!”

Another gulp of wine. “So then I went over to talk to that lady – the one in the plaid skirt. Because I’m an idiot, I asked her the same question. And she told me that her only child died last fall and she’s all alone in this world. Now I’m terrified to talk to anyone!”

Together we drained our wine goblets, and decided it was clearly too treacherous to make nice chit chat with people we don’t know. So it must be time for the happy birthday ceremony. We clinked wine glasses and got everyone settled down for lunch and birthday cake.

After everyone ate, sang and cake slices were passed around the table, Joan and I left to get ready for our big close-up moment.

Years before, we celebrated yet another birthday with our mom by taking her to a spa in Cleveland for the works – facial, massage, hair and make-up. What we didn’t know was that we had apparently chosen a spa popular with Ringling Brothers, because the make-up we received was so thick and dreadful that we looked like clowns. You could scrape it off with a credit card…

As a family, we’d had many belly laughs over this experience, and so to properly share it with our mom’s friends, I had bought clown outfits for us – big shoes, big horns, red noses (although by then we had enough wine that those really weren’t necessary), wild wigs. Giggling so hard we were in danger of peeing on ourselves, we emerged from the ladies room to bewildered stares.

Well, we OWNED that moment! If I do say so myself, we had the whole room convulsed, and all memories of dead family members were tucked away for awhile. It ended up being a wonderful party, and a good time was had by all. Although I’m certain some of her friends still think we’re more than just a little whack.

But my sister and I agreed: we were traumatized by the hidden pitfalls of chatting with nice old ladies. And if we had to do this again, we would simply run away to circus. After all, we had the perfect outfits to wear.