Woman’s best friend

His hair is dark brown, like my favorite Godiva chocolates. His eyes are large and the same liquid umber color. He is long and lean; he runs fast and furious. His favorite sport is catch; he is so athletic. He is in great shape due to his exercise and smart diet of chicken and sweet potatoes, low-fat yogurt and blueberries. He is my favorite cuddle partner, molding himself to me, back to back, in my queen bed, or sometimes curled next to me, his head on my shoulder, his breath softly whiffling in my ear. He has a far grander lineage than me. His name is Muirfield Marley West. He’s my dog.

Marley is a Chocolate Labrador Retriever, seven years old, used to be male. He turns heads at the vet’s and in pet stores. He is man magnet; when we are out walking, not a male can resist his wiggly butt and eager tail-wagging. Perfect strangers approach everywhere to ask his name, comment on his beauty, pet his shiny coat. He loves the attention; he loves people, men especially. He hates most animals, though, especially squirrels, crows, cats and small dogs. He has two canine friends: his cousin, Tug, a goofy English Springer Spaniel who likes to lick his drool and carry balls for him, and Bam, the rambunctious Yellow Lab, belonging to his boy’s best friend.

I love him as only a mother of a son can love a male creature that slobbers, leaves muddy footprints across the clean kitchen and eats me out of house and home. I baby him, he provides me with companionship in my “empty nest.” I cater to him, he gives me the security of a big dog bark whenever a stranger approaches our door…or walks down the street.

But, he is such an embarrassment.  Not the kind of embarrassment that comes from an ugly mutt that you love anyway. He doesn’t act like a Lab. He looks like the quintessential Labrador Retriever. But, he is afraid of water. He even walks around mud puddles. He loves the snow, but hates the rain. He will not go near the swimming pool. He has to be coaxed into the walk-in shower for his “bath”, where he hangs his head and tucks his tail between his legs during the entire 10-minute ordeal of warm shower spray, expensive oatmeal shampoo and coconut conditioner for his sensitive skin.  I cater to his fears as best I can. He showers instead of bathes, I take the long way around any puddles and keep him away from rivers and the ocean.

On Wednesday, I took him with me on a few errands; since his boy has been gone, he gets fretful and into the wastebasket when I am gone for more than an hour or so.  I promised a reward if he waited patiently while I popped into DMV and used the bank’s drive-thru window. He was happy in the back seat on his doggie blanket, catching treats in mid-air as I rewarded him at each stop. Our last errand was at the library. I pulled into the far corner of the parking lot, near the newly completed nature trail.

Marley loves to walk in the woods, whether it is a real forest, like Kinns Road Park, or just the overgrowth along our development’s outer edges. We headed down the asphalt trail, my unsure steps on the hard surface, his paws on the grass, wet leaves and weeds. I knew the Town had recently competed a small bridge over the small muddy stream that meandered through the woods. As I stepped onto the bridge, he pulled to the right, toward the stream. I called him back. He then veered to the left, down the shallow bank. I made him come back to me and sit. I shortened the leash and told him to “heel.” I took two steps onto the planks before he brought me up short. Butt planted firmly on the pavement, tail tucked between his legs, he dropped to the ground and refused to move. I cajoled, I ordered, I scolded, but nothing I said or did could make him move. I pulled him up to sit and looked in his eyes. Abject terror. My big strong doggie boy was afraid of a small footbridge. I flushed. His tail began to wag. He turned about and headed back to our car. I looked around to make sure no one had witnessed my humiliation. My big brown dog is a wuss.

“Candy ass,” I muttered as I opened the car door for him. He happily jumped onto the backseat. When I got in, he pushed his head onto my shoulder and slurped the side of my face. In the rear view mirror I could see that all was now right in his world. Mom, car, blanket, treats, after a walk and some sniffs among some new bushes. He slept the rest of the afternoon curled up on my bed, with his big red ball, the tip of his tail twitching with remembered adventures.

It is a good thing that he has his looks to rely upon, else I am sure most would mistake him for one of those pocket-book toy poodles. Sigh.


Once there was a way to get back home

The Beatles and I have some history. I fell in love with Paul McCartney in 1964, I fell in love with John Lennon shortly after when “In His Own Write” was published. McCartney was my crush because he was so damn handsome but had that bad boy glimmer in his eye. How much that foretold I was not to learn for 30 years. John Lennon wrote irreverent and witty little verses accompanied by squiggly drawings that endeared him to me forever. Bad boys and quirky poems would always make me smile.

I grew up to travel quite extensively for a time until marriage, children and widowhood slowed me down then directed my ventures to weeks at the shore or in Lake Placid and Disney World. The children were the focus of my travels, even when I attended the annual labor relations conferences in Ottawa and Washington, DC. Then finances and college calendars called a halt to most of our adventures. Finally, my son announced that save for our annual Thanksgiving gathering with the family in Lake Placid, he would not be going on vacation with his mom again.

My daughter suffered no such qualms: a free room and meals, often with airfare, at a really nice hotel, chilling with Mom sounded pretty good to her slim grad student wallet and her over-worked brain.

We headed to Seattle in 2003 for just such a conference. Staying in the famous Edgewater Hotel right on the glistening waters of Elliott Bay, we shared a junior suite that looked out on docking cruise ships and the daily ferries. The cries of gulls and the blasts of fog horns startled us from sleep, the lapping of waves against the pier was a gentle lullaby at night.

And then of course there were the Beatles.

They had stayed at the Edgewater in 1964. No other hotel would take them, but the newly built Edgewater suffered no qualms. As a result of the famous photograph of the Lads from Liverpool fishing from the window of their suite, many have made their way to the Edgewater over the years to touch a piece of history. All we could afford, apart from our room, was a yellow rubber ducky, wearing a jaunty sailor’s hat emblazoned with an “E”.

While we shared rooms again at my labor relations conferences and then my conferences for romance writes, we did not reside in any hotel that had also housed the Beatles again until recently. The tables were turned because now my daughter was attending a conference – International Neuropsychology Society, no less –  and I was invited to share a room with her. I gladly accepted because I had not seen her in almost two months and the four-drive to Montreal from my home near Saratoga Springs beat the hell out of the 18-hour drive to her internship site in Memphis! And she was staying at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

I arrived while she was still in a seminar and busied myself by reading the hotel brochure. I was reminded that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had staged one of their famous “bed-ins” for peace in a suite at the Queen Elizabeth in 1969. In fact, it was there that “Give Peace A Chance” had been written and recorded. Another Beatles hotel!

We dined in the Montrealier Restaurant, swam in the Queen’s swimming pool and lunched in the underground during my brief 24 hours with my daughter. Not too much sight-seeing was possible but that was fine with us. We spent the morning of my departure day cuddled under the down comforter, her head on my shoulder while I ran my fingers through her hair. We spoke of family and friends, the future and the past, triumphs and tragedies. We shared some secrets, some giggles and a few tears. My beautiful and brilliant, almost-a-psychologist daughter was still my baby girl. My woman-child who I could still comfort, still mother, still protect for a little longer.

Golden slumbers,
Fill your eyes
Smiles await you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling
Do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby.

Once there was a way
To get back homeward

Once there was a way
To get back home

The Beatles and I were still a part of her life.

Superstition…or faith?

It was damn cold this morning; not as cold as yesterday, but still cold. And it had snowed. I awoke at 5:30, 45 minutes before I had to get up for shul. My chocolate lab, Marley, was pressed against me, taking up 2/3 of my bed and making me too hot to stay under the covers. The bathroom floor was icy and I cursed my middle-aged body for forcing me up earlier than I had to be to answer the call of nature. I climbed back under the covers and began my twice-weekly predawn argument against going to shul.

Don’t get me wrong-once I am there, I love shul. I love the menorah shaped window that looks out into the ancient oak that guards the path to the cemetery. I love the cadence of the service. I love my fellow minyanaires, several men and a few women who are much older than me, who attend Monday and Thursday morning services religiously. They are an eclectic assortment of formerly Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, professionals and homemakers, retired and still working, life-long residents of Saratoga or newcomers. But we all join together in the early morning for an hour of prayer and Torah reading. Followed by a shot of bourbon or Scotch – no Manischewitz drinkers these – and bagels and lox.

And, it’s a mitzvah. It’s a good deed. Often there is someone who is saying Kaddish, the prayer of mourning for the deceased that is really a reaffirmation of faith. But Kaddish cannot be said unless there are 10 adult Jews present. Frequently, I am the tenth Jew, since I am often late for services and I travel the farthest. That was my argument to myself this morning: I have the longest drive but the Rabbi is on vacation and I knew at least one other regular would not be there. I also knew that there was at least one person who would be there to say Kaddish for his recently deceased mother.  I was needed.

But, the dog was whimpering beside me as he felt me stirring. He had been acting out a lot lately, especially when I left him alone for more than a short time. I really should stay home with him this morning, he needs me. I argued to myself.  Flimsy argument I also admitted to myself.  So, I got up at 6:20 instead of 6:15 and shuffled downstairs to feed said dog and let him out in the backyard. The snow looked slippery on the street in front of my house. And, damn it, I then remembered that my fuel gauge had been flashing so I was going to have to get gas before I made the 20-mile drive to Exit 15. I was going to be so late, I might as well stay home.  But, I needed favors from on high, so I stumbled back up the stairs and into the shower.

Raised Catholic, I had been blessed by my mother with serious Catholic guilt and superstition. If you weren’t good, evil would befall you. If you wanted a favor from God, it did not come free. “Offer it up” was one of my mother’s favorite expressions. Complain about any hurt or inconvenience and she would turn it into a bargaining chip with God. So, as I swung my throbbing arthritic knee over the edge of the bathtub so I could shower, I offered up my pain to Hashem.  See, see what I am doing for you? I am schlepping in the cold and snow, in the dark, 20 miles north, to shul, just for you.

Of course, once dressed and with my tallit bag under my arm, I had to pause before I limped downstairs, to find my cell phone. Then the garage door stuck…twice. Then the dog decided to be extra playful and run a few extra laps around the yard. I HAD to put the garbage cans in the garage in case the snow got heavier and I would need to shovel upon my return. I HAD to go into the family room and pick my tablet up from the coffee table where I had left it the evening before lest my mischievous dog, unable to find any goodies in the wastebaskets, decided upon an electronic treat, recalling the day he ate my son’s iPod in a fit of pique.

So, it was almost 7:30 when I got on the Northway after buying the minimum amount of gas to save time. Of course, I got behind several vehicles spread across all three lanes, driving the speed limit, each marked on their rear bumpers with a yellow “CAUTION.” On the sides of each was the announcement: “Escort vehicle for unsafe load.” But for 20 minutes, all I saw were the three escorts and my dashboard clock creeping quickly to 7:45, then 7:50 when I finally turned the engine off and headed into shul. See, I’m here, I muttered to myself and the Almighty as I put on my tallit and kippah, dug my reading glasses and a dollar for the pushke pot out of my purse and slipped into the sanctuary. The minyanaires were already standing, which meant we were at the Amidah, right before the Torah service. The Torah cannot be taken out and read unless there is a minyan and looking around, I saw that I made the tenth person present. So, a mitzvah.

I cast my eyes to the menorah window, noted a glimmer of sunlight shifting along the stark branches of the old oak, and said to God, “I made it. I could use a little help. Ben hears about a job tomorrow, let the answer be yes. Leah is waiting on a response from David (her adviser) on the last chapter of her dissertation, let him like it or at least not hate it. And I am a little short this month, I forgot the water bill was due, so I could use a check or something.”  I had made it a practice lately to not ask the Powers That Be for anything specific. My plan of attack was just to ask for protection, benevolence and peace for my family and friends. I had been worried that I had become too bossy with the Lord and that was why my prayers had been resoundingly answered with a “NO.”

We fumphered our way through the service, most present could say the prayers with their eyes closed. I was called up to dress the Torah, another mitzvah. So, God, you could maybe take care of some of this today, because I have been a little worried lately. Thank you.

I was the target of the usual jokes from the regulars for being late and for not remembering all the words to the blessing over the whiskey, but the bagels were fresh and the tea was hot, so I just enjoyed the warmth of their companionship and smiled. I couldn’t really complain about my travails of the morning, they seemed trivial now, and complaining takes away any credit you get for the mitzvah. At least that is what my latent Catholic guilt imposed upon my Jewish sense of “whatever bad that could happen likely would.” I left shul a little after 9:00 with a clear conscience and a smile on my face.

The dog had not eaten anything dangerous in my absence although he had overturned the wastebasket in my home office searching for a Dove wrapper or a crumpled napkin inside which there might be hidden a few crumbs of something. I checked my attorney e-mail first and there was the notification that an upcoming arbitration had finally been scheduled for April 2. Thank you, God. That will bring in some much needed income. I tried not to add “but I could really use a little more this week, thank you very much.” An hour or so later, in the mail there was a notice that I was receiving a small check from my life insurance company later in the week. Okay, this is better.

But then, as the noontime sun was beaming in through my office window, a call came from  my daughter.   If she called in the middle of the day it was either something very good…or very bad. I nervously answered the phone. “Mommy, I just got an e-mail from David. He said there were a few changes needed on the model chapter but that we are good to go!” Tears streamed from my eyes. I cast my eyes Heavenward and whispered “thank you.” And then, in my heart of hearts, Just one more, Lord.

Faith, not superstition.

Experimenting in the techno world

This is a test to see if I have enabled the link between my blog and my FB wall properly. Sometimes I long for the days of hand-written letters and long, long telephone calls, but I am grateful for the venues that enable me to stay in touch with so many friends so easily and make new friends so quickly. Keep your fingers crossed!

It’s always your favorite sin that’ll do you in

“Cause you and tequila make me crazy.

Run like poison through my blood.

One more night could kill me, baby.

One is one too many

One more is never enough.”

Kenny Chesney

Open Source Technology

We met to discuss the creation of a website and a blog for our writing group, WritingWomensMinds, born out of a Personal Memoir class at East Line Books. Over cups of chai, we compared notes about how to make ourselves known in the world of social media. We’re mature women but novices in the world of Face Book and Twitter. We had been told by agents and editors, by teachers and book doctors, that we needed a platform, a presence, an interest group, to sell our novels, memoirs and art. We had thought it would be enough to write well, to write relevantly, to write from the heart. And besides, if you are spending moments, hours, days on e-mails, blogs and websites promoting your writing, when are you doing the WRITING?

Our faltering conversation was interrupted by a techno guy, on his way to the Men’s Room or to get a refill of his coffee, black, who just had to tell us that what we needed was “open source technology.” We needed to be linked to and immediately accessible on Face Book, Twitter, Google and any other damn place that people were looking for the newest “trend” because books were “dead.” Without a moment to mourn the demise of our second careers before they had even begun, he was steering us to “droupel” and google.com/insights/search for what was “trending” today, tomorrow, around the corner.

When he suggested that we give up our own projects to ghost write for famous people, I felt a twinge of pain. Was not my own story good enough? Did I have to murder my child, have an affair with a married politician or experience an “out of body” moment while near death for anyone to be interested in my life? Was a book only a vehicle for a speaking tour?  I had been raised to love reading, to cherish the feel of a new or well-loved volume in my hands, to look forward to quiet moments curled up with a story that I could fall into and forget everything else. He dismissed the notion that anyone read anything that was not “trendy” and that anyone would write for any other reason than to make a lot of money.

After he left, we shook our heads and smiled. He had technology at his fingertips and we would never understand half of what he had said or believe much of what he had preached. But we had more. As he said, with no small admiration, “you can write” as though it was a gift, a lost profession, an honor. About that, at least, he was right.








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